Monday, February 29, 2016

Ding Darling NWR Hosting a Rare Visitor

Tuesday February 29th

Great White Pelican seen at Ding Darling NWR on Sanibel Island

Yesterday morning the first alerts of the sighting of, perhaps a first for North American, of a female Great White Pelican at nearby Ding Darling NWR. Big crowds quickly gathered to spot this large bird as it rested on a sandbar along the Wildlife Drive in the company of American White Pelicans.

 The contrast between the two species is quite apparent. The Great White Pelican is larger, with big bulging eyes.  It is normally found in parts of southeastern Europe, Africa and Asia.

So this morning I joined the crowd and got a tremendous look at the pelican, who was nice enough to hang around. Best time of the day to try for this bird is during low tide.

Common Loon also on hand

Spotted Sandpiper

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Looking for Exotics

Tuesday, February 16th

Timed today's birding trip to avoid early mornings thunderstorms sweeping across Florida as I traveled eastward on Alligator Alley toward Broward County. By the time I reached Markham Park in Sunrise, by 10 am, the weather conditions were beautiful, but the park closed just as I arrived due 
Spot-breasted Oriole seen in Markham Park in 2015
to high water conditions. I was hoping to re-find the Spot-breasted Orioles Bob Pelkey and I witness last December.  These orioles are ABA countable but are exotics originally from central America. They are beautiful birds.

Next stop was the Chapel Trail Mitigation Area on Sheridan Road in Pembroke Pines.  Here the Gray-headed Swamphens are easily found at close range. We used to call them Purple Swamphens, but recent evaluations have determined that the invasive species we are seeing  in south Florida are the Gray-headed sub-species. The state and federal Fish and Game people had been trying to eradicate  the swamphens before they could grab a foot-hold in the state. Just as they had succeeded with scared ibis. But this is a very successful species that has been expanding in new areas around the world.  The game people have given up on the trapping and the bird is now ABA countable and has expanded as far north as Gainesville. A pair have recently appeared locally at Harns Marsh
Gray-headed Swamphen

Gray-headed Swamphen

From here I visited a site by the Pembroke Lakes Golf Course were I saw a pair of Egyptian Geese with a brood of goslings. These geese have also recently become ABA countable established exotics.  This is another species finding some success in expanding to areas outside there natural range.

Papa Egyptian Goose at Pembroke Pines Golf Course

Momma with her Brood

Egyptian Geese goslings

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Broad-billed Hummingbird and Reptiles

Monday, February 15th

This Gray Catbird would pose for optics, unlike the hummer or vireo
Hummingbirds can be very challenging to photograph and the spectacular and rare to Florida male Broad-billed Hummingbird proved to be the case today. At Fred W Coyle Freedom Park in Naples a Broad-billed Hummingbird is drawing crowds as it feeds on Coral Bean. I didn't even try to grab a shot as it was only briefly posing as it feeds. It is an assume bird.

Broad-billed Hummingbirds are generally a Mexican species which ranges within the United States in Arizona. This is certainly a special visitor to South West Florida

 After getting a couple of good sightings I ventured off to look for the reported Bell's Vireo, another infrequent Florida visitor. Lucky I quickly spotted the vireo in dense brush not far from the hummer.  But again I could act fast enough for a photo. 
A four foot Yellow Rat Snake was seen sunning in a strangler fig
 at Freedom Park
Yesterday, the 2016 Python Challenge concluded after a month long competition, were hundreds of python hunters vied for various prizes. Latest numbers reported were that 102 pythons were removed. February 27th the final counts and prize winners will be announced. Earlier this month a nine-foot Green Anaconda was captured, another invasive species, further  north of the Everglades, in Brevard County.
A foraging Raccoon seen at Freedom Park

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Merritt Island NWR

Wednesday, February 3rd

Day 3
Lifeguard Station at Ponce Inlet

Day three, on this birding vacation, was supposed to be spent at Florida Caverns State Park near Marianna, plus searching the barren cotton and peanut fields for horned larks and such. But thunderstorms are expected, so we're skipping this day's scheduled venues and heading over to the Atlantic Coast a day early.
A young Great Black-back Gull at Ponce

So we left Tallahassee for the long drive toward Ormond Beach for some sea watching. At a location at Gamble Roger State Park we checked the skies for sea birds and Bob did point out that the winds weren't good for us.  

Was able to spot a few Northern Gannets and Brown Pelicans off shore. I've been lucky in the past  to witness hundreds of gannets as well passing jaegers and sea ducks at this location.  On the beach were a few gulls and terns including Herring, Ring-billed and Laughing Gulls, plus Royal, Sandwich and Forster's Terns and Black Skimmers. 

After this short stop at the beach, we moved onto Ponce Point Lighthouse Park. Most winters this location is one of two or three venues in Florida to find Purple Sandpipers. Today the the winds a blowing hard and the surf is crashing. The are actually people trying to surf. 

Purple Sandpiper
Ruddy Turnstone

Ponce Lighthouse

We were able to easily locate and photograph the Purple Sandpiper, as well as a few other shore birds and gulls. Resident Gopher Tortoises also gave us a show.

This Tortoise was very aggressive with another tortoise and did attach it
Finally, we moved onto Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge to see if any waterfowl could be seen. But just as we saw with the Canada Geese in Tallahassee and the ponds at St Marks, the waters were bare of ducks. We estimated a count of 5000 American Coots along the Black Point Wildlife Drive and the along the Peacock Pocket Road. As for ducks we only counted twenty-four Blue-winged Teal, three Shovelers, five Lesser Scaups and a pair of Mottled Ducks. A review of e-Bird records shows that the waterfowl usually remain well into March and later. However its apparent  that they have left early to return North. No doubt due to the high water levels  here and a very mild winter. 
Great Blue Heron

Horned Grebe

Wood Stork

Other bird like observed included lots of the expected waders including over twenty Rosette Spoonbills and Reddish Egrets, But not many shorebirds - Dunlin, Sanderlings, Least Sandpipers and Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. Didn't see any American Avocets.  Other birds included Common GallinuleCaspian, Royal and Forster's Terns, Ringed-billed Gulls, Pied-billed and Horned Grebes, a Wild Turkey, Ospreys, Northern Harrier and Bald Eagle

Our exit from Merritt Island ended the birding vacation. We ended up cutting two full days out of trip, mostly due to the weather. Just the same we had about 125 species and three Lifers for me. All Good.

Trip Count ( 125) 
Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Wood Duck, Mottled duck, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, Wild Turkey, Common Loon, Pied-billed Grebe, Horned Grebe, Wood Stork, Northern Gannet, Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, American White Pelican, Brown Pelican, Sandhill Crane, American Bittern, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Reddish Egret, Cattle Egret, Black-crowned Night-heron, White Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Northern Harrier, Bald eagle, Red-shouldered Hawk, Clapper Rail, Sora, Purple Gallinule, Common Gallinule, American Coot, Limpkin, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Lesser Willet, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Dunlin, Purple Sandpiper, Least sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Wilson's Snipe, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Caspian Tern, Forster's Tern, Sandwich Tern, Black Skimmer, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Common Ground-Dove, Mourning Dove, Great Horned Owl, Vaux's Swift, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbird. Calliope Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, American Kestrel,  Eastern Phoebe, Vermilion Flycatcher, Loggerhead Shrike, White-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, American crow, Fish Crow, Tree Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Wren, Sedge Wren, Marsh Wren, Carolina Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, Eurasian Starling, American Pipit, Cedar Waxwing, Orange-crowned Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Palm Warbler, Pine Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark, Boat-tailed Grackle, Common Grackle, Baltimore Oriole, House Finch, Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch and House Sparrow

Friday, February 5, 2016

On To Tallahassee

Tuesday, February 2nd

Day Two
St Marks Lighthouse

On day two of our birding trip to North Florida, Bob Pelkey and left Gainesville, skipping our missed venues from yesterday, and headed to Tallahassee.

Whooping Crane?

Savannah Sparrow
Our first stop were the cow ponds along Biltmore Avenue to see the whooping crane that has been roosting here.  Seems a local birder, Marcelle Praetorios, advised that the whooper hadn't returned to the pond last night and wasn't present today.  we also missed the canada geese as they had left the pond a short time prior to our arrival.

Carolina Chickadee

A Young Chipping Sparrow

We did see four Buffleheads, a flock of American Pipits, Savannah Sparrows, Song Sparrows, a flock of Cedar Waxwings, Killdeer, Least Sandpipers, White Ibis, Tree Swallow, Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers and Eastern Meadowlarks.


We next visited with a nice lady in Tallahassee who has a fabulous bird sanctuary in her backyard. There, we also met a nice couple from Canada who were also there to enjoy the hummingbirds too. Bob I both had Lifers with the pair of Black-chinned and a Calliope Hummingbirds. The feeders also attracted a Ruby-throated and Rufus Hummingbirds, Baltimore Orioles, American Goldfinches, Pine Siskins, Downy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Eastern Bluebirds, Chipping Sparrows, Cardinals, and even an Orange-crowned Warbler taking a drink from a hummingbird feeder.
Baltimore Oriole

Pine Siskin

Calliope Hummingbird

House Finch

Chipping Sparrow

St Marks National Wildlife Refuge

Our final stop for the day was at St Marks NWR. We spent the final three of day light here looking to photograph birds. First off, there were few waterfowl. The ponds near the lighthouse were virtually empty of ducks. Looks like migration is underway.

Black-crowned Night-heron

Vermilion Flycatcher
See spotted four Wood Ducks up at the visitors center, and a few Buffleheads, a few Blue-winged Teal, Ring-necked Ducks, a nice raft of Redheads and Lesser Scaups later. One target we did succeed in was a Vermilion Flycatcher at Stoney Bayou. Also seen were American White Pelicans,  a lot of American Coots, Common Gallinule a rare bird candidate in a Purple Gallinule at Headquarters Pond, a family of Black-crowned Night-herons, a calling Clapper Rail, a Marsh Wren, a Sedge Wren, heard a Great Horned Owl and Eastern Towhees. Shorebirds included Sanderlings, Short-billed Dowitcher, Dunlin,Willets, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs.
American White Pelicans in fishing formation

Eastern Phoebe




White-tailed Deer

Operation Migration

When we arrived at St Marks, we met a couple of folks from Operation Migration setting up one of there ultralight aircraft for a special event this weekend.  This is in anticipation of the arrival of the latest class of young Whooping Cranes being trained to migrate from Wisconsin to there winter home here at St Marks.

Due to the bad weather that has been plaguing the South this winter, whoopers have been held up in Georgia. From there, when weather conditions improve they will make their final push to reach St Marks. You can follow there progress at Operation Migration

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Looking For Birds in Gainesville

Monday, February 1st

It's vacation time and I've planned a five birding trip around North Florida looking for seasonal specialties. On Day One, Bob Pelkey and I, started out from Ft Myers to bird our way up to Gainesville.
A scene from Bayport Park

Double-Crested Cormorant at Bayport Park
But not all plans work out as scheduled. First off, a bad weather front was expecting to move in by Wednesday, spoiling our itinerary. But as were passing by Tampa, there was flat tire. Luckily the the delay was only a couple of hours. 

Horned Grebe with it catch

Red-Breasted Merganser at Bayport
Ruddy Turnstone

Our next stop was a visit to Bayport Park near Hernando Beach to look for a brewers blackbird that has wintered here the past few years. Missed the blackbird but found Horned Grebes, Common Loon,  and Forster's, Laughing and Ring-billed Gulls.

Then we stopped briefly at Tuscawilla Prairie Preserve at Micanopy in Alachua County. The target was a brown creeper. This are a very uncommon bird in Florida and would have been a nice to find one.  But not today.  We did add a Hermit Thrush, White-eyed Vireo and Yellow-rumped Warbler.

A View at Tuscawilla Preserve in Micanopy

By now time is getting tight. We'll have to pass on stops in Gainesville at the La Chua Trail and Magnolia Parke. We have an option to check them out on Tuesday morning before leaving town, but that approaching  weather front had to be eliminated that option. 

Blue-Winged Teal at Sweetwater

We did stop at Sweetwater Wetlands Preserve in south Gainesville. A new venue for us and outstanding property for birding. We only spent a couple of hours, but could have spent twice the time. We found Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shovelers, Limpkins, Coots, Common Gallinules, Glossy and White Ibis, lots of other waders, Osprey, Soras, Wilson's Snipe
Limpkin at Sweetwater
Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

A Northern Shoveler


A Wilson's Snipe

A Gainesville Gator

Lastly we had to be at Dauer Hall on the U of Florida campus before sundown to witness the wintering Vaux's Swift as they came into roost in the chimney of this building. We arrived by 5 pm and had almost a hour's wait till we spotted the first swift at 5:57 as it circled the building. No more were seen till the flock arrived about 6:10 and enter the chimney in a sudden burst. Due to the diminished light and the birds rapid movement we could not capture any photos.

Vaux's Swift are a far western bird and it is highly irregular. though not unheard of, for these birds to winter in Florida instead of Mexico. The swifts were Lifer's for both of us
Dauer Hall, University of Florida