Sunday, July 31, 2011

Swallow-tailed Kites - Hernando County

Thursday, July 29th

Black-necked Stilt at The Celery Fields
Had an open day to spend on some birding and was considering heading over to the Everglades agricultural area around Hendry and Palm Beach Counties for barn owls, swallows and early migrant shorebirds.  But instead my daughter Katie and I headed up toward Tampa to visit with my older daughter Melissa and her husband Robbie. There was still to be be some birding involved. 

We revisited a few of my spots from my June "Big Day". Namely The Celery Fields in Sarasota, the Power Line and Rock Lake Roads near Brooksville in Hernando County.

Began with a quick check of Domestic Street in south Lee County and started with a Red-tailed Hawk, Burrowing Owl and Chimney Swift. At The Celery Fields, the sandhill cranes had already dispersed, but was able to add the first Bald Eagle I have seen in over a month, several Osprey, a dozen Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, several Black-necked Stilts with chicks, Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Egrets, White Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Mottled Ducks, Royal Tern, Laughing Gulls, Moorhens, American Coots, Limpkins, Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, Anhingas, a Great Blue Heron and my FOS Least Sandpiper.  Missed were wood ducks, least bitterns and any swallows.
Observation deck being constructed at The Celery Fields.  Could use such a structure at Harns Marsh

Juvenile Black-necked Stilt at The Celery Fields.

My FOS Least Sandpiper at The Celery Fields

Next stop was Power Line Road on the border with Hernando and Pasco Counties.  It was here, a few weeks ago, that mississippi kites were being seen in a small concentration.  I did get one at that time, but did not expect anything today as they were probably already on the move to migrate south.  Did get five Southeastern American Kestrels and a trio of Swallow-tailed Kites, but no mississippi kites while we were there.  There was supposed to a burrowing owl colony located nearby, but again we missed on them.  Did get Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks, Turkey Vultures, Wood Storks, Cattle Egrets, a calling Red-eyed Vireo, Eastern Meadowlarks, Eastern Bluebirds, Northern Mockingbirds, Loggerheaded Shrikes, Northern Cardinals, Mourning Doves and Rock Pigeons.
Swallow-tailed Kites

Ended the birding phase of our trip with a return to Rock Lake Road, which is located where the Withlacoochee State Trail crosses Croom Rital Road.  The Trail seems to be very popular with bikers. Here I found a nesting tree for a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers, plus an other pair of young Red-bellied Woodpeckers and a noisy Pileated Woodpecker. Also added several Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, a calling Blue Jay, American Crow, a Male Summer Tanager, Northern Cardinals and a LIFER  - ACADIAN FLYCATCHER.  A rough count for the day was around fifty birds.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Long-billed Curlew at Bunche Beach

Thursday, July 21st

Early this morning I had a dental appointment, which was located close by to Bunche Beach. So off I went to look for any returning migrant shorebirds. The temperatures were still tolerable, as we are expecting 95 degrees later in the day, and the tide was falling.
Long-billed Curlew at Bunche beach

Walked to each end of the beach and was rewarded with numbers of Marbled Godwits, Willets, Short-billed Dowitchers and Sanderlings. It is too early yet to find any little peeps back from the Arctic. But the migration is underway. The Reddish Egrets were putting on a show and the Black Skimmers were found close to beach. Had a few Brown Pelicans, laughing Gulls and Royal Terns did not see any sandwich terns and a bit early yet to find black terns here. Did find black terns at Gandy Beach in St Petersburg three weeks ago. Had several Wilson’s Plover, most of which seemed to be juveniles.

Green Heron flying across beach

Green Heron
A few Black-bellied Plovers were on hand and had a couple of Yellow-crowned Night-herons including a very young juvenile. Saw my first Spotted Sandpiper in a couple of months and spotted a pair of Barn Swallows too. These are the first swallows I have seen locally for some time now. I had a couple of spots were I was finding purple martins or northern rough-winged swallows regularly through June, but they had moved on a few weeks ago. The best bird of the day was a Long-billed Curlew. About mid-July for the past few years I have been lucky to locate the curlew at this beach.

Reddish Egret dancing for its meal

A pair of Reddish Egrets


Semipalmated Plover

Black-bellied Plover

Black Skimmers in need of counciling


Marbled Godwit


Short-billed Dowitchers have returned from the breeding grounds

Yellow-crowned Night-heron

Snowy Plover - at Little Estero Lagoon

Friday, June 24th
Little Estero Lagoon

Visited Little Estero Lagoon on Ft Myers Beach early before it gets too hot. The tide was high, but I still got looks at a lot of birds.  The Least Terns, Wilson's Plovers and Snowy Plovers have taken over a lot more of the beach than they had last year.  The terns had to be in the hundreds and it was evident that they were experiencing a great deal of success.  Noted fledged birds as well as young chicks, birds sitting on nests and  some terns were still courting.

The terns had taken over so much of the beach that it was difficult to get past the nesting area without being dived at and pooped on by terns defending their territory.  Tryed to give them a wide berth, for everyone's sake. As with the terns could to see several Wilson's and Snowy Plover chicks.

Snowy Plover

Snowy chick


Laughing Gull

Least Terns

Snowy Egret

Wilson's Plover

Wilson's Plover

Another species I had not seen here before were a trio of Gull-billed Terns.  Had witnessed two of them fly by when I first arrived and then later sighted three resting at the lagoon with Least Terns, a couple of Royal Terns, Laughing Gulls and several Double Crested Cormorants and Brown Pelicans.  Also seen in the Lagoon was a Whimbrel in the company of several Willets. A small sampling of several species that I did expect to see right now included a lone Dunlin, a couple of Semipalmated Sandpipers, a Short-billed Dowitcher, a couple of Marbled Godwits and some Black-bellied Plovers. There were still a lot of Semipalmated Plovers and Sanderling present and most all of the expected waders, like Reddish Egrets, Snowy Egrets and White Ibis.  The Ospreys are always busy and several yard birds were present including House Sparrows, Mockingbirds, Northern Cardinals, Mourning Doves, Ground Doves, and Eurasian Collared Doves.  Found a couple of Mottled Ducks and a Gray Kingbird up by Estero Parkway, hawking from the wires.

A Mississippi Kite on a June "Big Day"

Thursday, June 30th

June can be a very slow birding month in Florida.  The wintering birds are gone, the spring migration is over and the early fall migrants don't start showing up till mid-July.  Many of the serious Florida birders conducted a contest on a county basis, just to keep birding interesting during the lull. I think it was pretty close between Pinellis County and Dade County.  I did not really participate, but got a 95 count for Lee County.  My count for June which included my trip to Illinois came to 158. But on the last day of June I elected to have a Big Day.

One goal for the year was to get a tick on a Mississippi Kite. I had figured on going up to Paynes Prairie near Gainesville to look for the kite, acadian flycatchers and summer tanagers.  Needed all of these for my year list.
But reports on described a reliable roost of the kites closer to home in Hernando County near Brooksville. I elected to try the site first and if it failed, keep on going to Paynes Prairie.

A juvenile Black-necked Stilt
Sandhill Crane at The Celery Fields
My actual first stop for the day was an unscheduled visit to The Celery Fields in Sarasota.  Was passing the area about 7:30am and figured I had time to add it on and it was a good idea. The recently planted wetlands was was very active with several good birds including two dozen Sandhill Cranes, and several calling LimpkinsBlack-necked Stilts were nesting and numerous.   Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were active and I was pleased to see a Least Bittern and a Belted Kingfisher. Had all of the waders, plus Anhingas, Ospreys, Common Moorhens, a Black-crowned Night-heron, a Chimney Swift, a trio of Northern Rough-winged Swallow and a Black Skimmer.  After thirty minutes it was time to move on.

The Mississippi Kite
The kite roost was located on Power Line Road which actually is the border between Hernando and Pasco Counties.  Found a lone Mississippi Kite excatly were the reports said they could be found.  It had started raining so I did not stay too long waiting for additional kites to show up.  Also located in the area were Swallow-tailed Kites, Red-tailed Hawks, a Red-shouldered Hawk, Tufted Titmice, Cattle Egrets, White Ibis, Blue Jays, Mourning Doves, both American and Fish Crows, Eastern Bluebirds, Cardinals, Grackles, Eastern Meadowlarks and four Southeastern American Kestrels. Missed on the burrowing owls as I was not sure which pasture they were in.

Had noticed signage for access to Withlocoochee State Forest, which I decided to explorer for any likely birding sites. Quite by accident I came to Rock Lake Road were I was going to turn around. But I noticed a little yellow bird in the live oaks and took the time try and identify it.  I, at first, thought it maybe an orchard oriole, but in fact I had a family of three Summer Tanagers. Then a Red-headed Woodpecker took off from the trees and I thought I had a glimpse of an acadian flycatcher when a small olive green bird with wing bars made a brief appearance, but not really sure.  Would have been a lifer.  In the same tree I found a Yellow-throated Vireo. Also encountered Carolina Wrens, Carolina Chickadees, Eastern Bluebird, and Eastern Towhee, Tufted Titmice, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Blue Jay and a calling Bobwhite. Not bad for a rest stop.

Black Terns at Gandy Beach

A Black Tern in breeding plumage

Royal Terns at Gandy Beach
Heading back toward home, I stopped at Lettuce Lake Park in Tampa with the idea that I could locate a prothonotary warbler as they do breed there. Trouble was I got soaking wet in a heavy rain storm.  Did not get the warbler, but did add Wild Turkeys, more Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Swallow-tailed Kites, Great Crested Flycatcher, a Roseate Spoonbill, Wood Storks, more Limpkins, Barn Swallows, more Tufted Titmice and Carolina Chickadee.  Also Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers, Cardinals, Ospreys and all the waders.
A Black Tern and a Royal Tern

From Lettuce Lake I headed toward St Petersberg to check out Gandy Beach. Here I located the first American Oystercatcher I had seen in some time.  Even better was a flock of about Least Terns, about a dozen Black Terns , several Laughing Gulls and a Sandwich Tern.. Was especially keen on locating the Black Terns. We also had a few Ruddy Turnstones and Semiplamated Plovers. It wasn't too cool when a guy in a big pick-up truck drove through the resting birds. But you are permited to park there.

Least Tern at Gandy Beach
Fort DeSoto Park was nearby so I made it my last stop.  Checked the Terra Verde ponds for anything interesting.  No ducks, but had five Pied-billed Grebes and more Least Terns.  In the park had Brown Pelicans, Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Tricolored Herons Yellow-crowned Night-heron, a Red Shouldered Hawk, Gray Kingbird, Marbled Godwit, Black-bellied Plover, Wilson's Plover, Willets, Ruddy Turnstones, Short-billed Dowitchers, Laughing Gulls, Royal Terns, Black Skimmers Loggerhead Shrikes, Fish Crows and Brown-headed Cowbirds. Later while crossing the Sunshine Skyway Bridge sighted a Magnificent Frigatebird.

Got home about six pm, but had to check on the Burrowing Owl family off Lee Road and Domestic Road. Here I added the Burrowing Owls, Eastern Meadowlarks, Anhinga, Mottled ducks, and American Coot. 

My day's count was 80

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Willow Flycatchers - Illinois trip - Day Five

Saturday, June 18th

Today birded new locations in McHenry County - Moraine Hills State Park and dam, and Glacial Park Conservation Area.  As the names suggest the geology of the terrain is the results of the melting of the ice sheets at the conclusion of the last Ice Age.  Rolling hills, steep moraines and various wetlands formed from kettles.

Moraine Hills State Park and dam

Moraines Hills State Park

Boardwak at Lake Defiance

Started out the day at Moraine Hills State Park, arriving just as the gate was being opened for the day.  Hit the first picnic area near the gate.  Barn Swallows, American Robins and Gray Catbirds were active here.  Green Herons seen flying over head.  Moved onto the Pike Marsh Trail, venturing onto the floating boardwalk into the marsh.  Here were found singing Swamp and Song Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Yellowthroats.
Lake Defiance

Baby Tree Swallows
Next drove up to Lake Defiance.  Walked segments of the trails around the lake passing through marsh, forest and grasslands. While on another floating boardwalk in this marsh I was able to add  Lifer in a pair of Sedge Wrens. these wrens would pop-up briefly then quickly retreat back into the protection of the reeds. Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds everywhere here.  Another Lifer for me were Willow Flycatchers. Had good views of a couple of the flycatchers and was surprised to follow one that had flown into some brush to find it sitting on a nest.  So I left her alone.  Other nesters included eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows using the nest boxes provided for them.  My walk along the trails provided a count of thirty species. These included Mallards, a Double Crested Cormorant and a Great Egret. A pair of drifting Red-tailed Hawks were seen soaring over head.  Also found a male Ruby-throated Humminbird, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested Flycatcher, eastern Kingbirds, American Crow, Brown-headed Cowbird, American Goldfinch, a House Wren, Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Cedar Waxwings, Yellow Warblers, and a Savannah Sparrow.

Common Grackle at Lake Defiance

After three hours, headed over the McHenry Dam section of the park. The dam straddled the Fox River and it being a Saturday the park was busy with people picnicking and fishing. The trail leaving he parking lot and circling the Black Tern Marsh was much more peaceful. Here I had a conversation with a park employee and it seems that the marsh has not seen any black terns for a few years know and he had not heard or seen any yellow-headed blackbirds or common moorhens this season. As we were talking a pair of Sandhill Cranes made an appearance.  Other birds of the marsh included Great Blue Heron, Great Egrets, Mallards, Blue-winged Teal, Canada Geese and Red-winged Blackbirds.  Along the forested path was able to add another hummingbird, Red-eyed Vireo, Black-capped Chickadee, Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, more Robins, a Cedar Waxwing, Yellow Wabler, an American Redstart, Northern Cardinal, American Goldfinches, an Indigo Bunting and a Baltimore Oriole.

Glacial Park Conservation Area.

My final stop was the nearby Glacial Park Conservation Area. The park has grasslands, marsh and forested habitat. Parked by the Marsh Education Center and walked the Marsh Trail. Was able to locate a lone Bobolink and another lone Dickcissel in the grass, along with Red-tailed Hawks soaring overhead. In the marsh was able to add Canada Geese, Mallard and lone Blue-winged Teal. Added Red-winged Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds and Barn Swallows. Searched for any yellow-headed blackbirds, but struck out once more. However I did at first heard and later located a Common Moorhen. A very common bird back home in Florida but not so much up in Northern Illinois. Strange that I had not noted any coots at all on this trip.

View of Glacial Park prairie

Education Center at Glacial Park

While walking the forested areas I was able to add another Willow Flycatcher that had flown almost to my feet.  Another uncommon bird here, but a yard bird back home was a Northern Mockingbird. Other birds to add included Tree Swallows, Common Grackles, Eastern Kingbirds, Common Yellowthroats, American Robins, Yellow Warblers, Song Sparrows, American Goldfinches and a lone Indigo Bunting.

Glacial Park
This concludes my family/birding trip to northern Illinois. Had a great time visiting with family and lots of good birding.  gained two lifers and had a count of 72 birds.  Wonder if I had been here a month earlier if I could have easily exceeded 100 species. Some good finds were the willow flycatcher and the sedge wren, but I would add finding the swans, blue grosbeak, warbling vireo etc.  Misses included both tanagers, rose-brested grosbeak, red-headed woodpecker, and any thrushes.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tree Swallows - Illinois Trip - Day Four

Friday, June 17th

Blue Flag
Today's birding involved visits to Volo Bog State Nature Area and Chain-o-Lakes State Park, both in Lake County to do my birding.  Was interested in yellow-headed blackbirds, mute swans and black terns. The geography of this area of northern Illinois was greatly influenced by the effects of glaciation during the retreat of the great ice age.  My birding these last two days were in parks featuring these effects including moraines and kettles. The moraines would be either tall grass or oak forested preserves.  Whereas the kettles would become the many lakes, marshes, wetlands and bogs common throughout northern Illinois and up into Wisconsin.
Volo Bog
Arrived too early at Volo Bog Nature Center and had to burn a little time before the gate was opened at eight am.  Spent the time birding the roadside and the marsh across the way.  I was aware that willow flycatchers have been seen and heard in the marsh.  But I missed on them.  Did get lots of Tree Swallows, a Mallard, a Mute Swan family, Double Crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron and a Great Egret. American Robins continued to be about the most commonly seen bird of the day.

Floating walkway through bog
Once the the bog was opened I took the 2.75 mile Tamarack View Trail, which circles the bog wetlands. The trail passed through forested and grassland covered moraines and down close to to the edges of the ancient bog. The bog was the creation of glaciation were the melting ice left a deep, steep sloped kettle.  First it was a deep lake which through time and sedimentation evolved into the bog we see today. I concentrated on my birding, but the botany here is just as interesting.  Such as bog plants like pitcher plants and rare orchids. The tamarack trees are a species that loves the acid bog environment, but is rare in most of Illinois.  I missed seeing any, but the bog is also home to mink, muskrat and beaver.

Tree Swallows
As for my birding I was able find a wide range of bird life including the mute swans, Canada Geese, a single Blue-wing Teal and more Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets and a couple of Green Herons. Other species enjoying life in the bog included a great many Red-winged Blackbirds a family of Sandhill Cranes and another family of Marsh Wrens. In the forests and fields we had  Northern Flicker, Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbirds, Blue Jay and a lone American Crow. The Tree Swallows were active in the nest boxes provided for them.  As could add Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Eastern Bluebirds, more Robins, Gray Catbirds, a Brown Thrasher, several Cedar Waxwings and Yellow Warblers. Lastly I can add Common Yellowthroats, Savannah Sparrow, several Song Sparrows, several Northern Cardinals and American Goldfinches a lone singing Indigo Bunting and  Brown-headed Cowbirds. One of my favored sighting was an American Kestrel seen in flight.

Chain-o-Lakes State Park
I had never been to this park but found there was a lot of space to explore. Found Red-tailed Hawks and more Tree Swallows soaring over the grasslands. The ponds and marshes held a family of Wood Ducks, more Canada Geese, Double Crested Cormorants, Great Blue Herons and a Great Egret. Other birds included Red-eyed Vireo, Northern Flicker, more Robins and Catbirds.  Plus the usual Northern Cardinals, Indigo Bunting, American Goldfinches and an Orchard Oriole.

My sister and brother-in-laws business in Antioch
Later we joined my Mom for dinner up in Antioch. Here I was able to add a trio of Chimney Swifts soaring over her yard and a Black-capped Chickadee could be heard in a nearby tree, but the most interesting sighting was hearing then seeing a trio of Bobolinks fly overhead.  They certainly seemed out of place.