Sunday, May 12, 2019

They're Back

Tuesday May 7th

Carlos Point is oriented at the southern end of Estero Island and has been active nesting site for the pelagic Least Terns, Black Skimmers, Wilsons Plovers, Snowy Plovers and the occasional American Oystercatchers. But now the Skimmers and Terns are back to nest perhaps on the same sandy beach were they were born. This is an important nesting location for all these birds and needs every protection possible here for their species to succeed. So much is against them.  From unexpectedly harsh weather to predation and harassment from people, dogs, cats, raccoons, ghost crabs, gulls and night-herons. Many of these predators have made an easy meal on these baby birds and eggs. A few years ago someone managed to drive a truck onto the sand and destroyed several nests, eggs, and sitting mothers birds. I don't believe there was any justice for this event. 

Black Skimmers have returned

Ghost Crab
A young Common Tern
The skimmers and other seabirds had become somewhat scarce  in this area ever since the Red Tide event of last year. So I was so nice to find that they have retuned. 
Last years Red Tide had destroyed thousands maybe millions of fish, plus hundreds of sea turtles, manatees, dolphins and seabirds. 
The loggerhead turtle nesting season is also at hand and evidence of nesting can be seen on our beaches already.  Chatted with a Turtle Time volunteer on the hopes of a successful nesting seasons, but their are concerns that with loss of so many turtles that future nesting seasons maybe less active. So much effort has been made to help these species to be sustainable, but it all can be lost so easily.
Red Knot in breeding plumage

Snowy Plover

Marsh Rabbit

Sanderling in breeding plumage awaiting flight
 to their nesting grounds in the High Arctic

Turtle Crawl -
 tracks in the sand were the female loggerhead crawls 
up the beach to lay her eggs. 

Least Terns have returned to there Carlos Point nesting grounds

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Shiny Cowbirds

Saturday May 4th

A young Red-Shouldered hawk
Spent the morning in Everglades National Park with my goal for the day was the see a Shiny Cowbird that's been hanging out at the visitor center at Flamingo. Made a few stops along the 42 miles of road before reaching Flamingo. Most weren't very active, except for the biting flies. But Long Pine Campgrounds was worth the stop.  Had calling Bobwhites, White-eyed Vireos, Northern Cardinals, Great Crested Flycatchers, Pine Warblers and Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers. Lots of American Crows and Swallow-tailed Kites seen roadside.

Brown-headed Cowbirds with a Shiny Cowbird

Shiny Cowbird

Shiny Cowbird

Reaching Flamingo, at the end of the road, a Shiny Cowbird was found actively feeding with a flock of Brown-headed Cowbirds.

Great Crested Flycatcher at Mahogany Hammock

Brown-headed Cowbird at Flamingo

Shiny Cowbird at Flamingo

Wild Allamanda blooming along the road

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Birding the Keys

Friday May 3rd

Mangrove Cuckoo seen on Key Largo

 Began birding this morning with a stop on Card Sound Road near the former toll booth. The old toll booth is gone now and replace by computer tag readers to digitally collect the toll.  When I arrived at the location I was greeted by a calling Yellow Warbler. Not much else was active though besides some gulls, brown-headed cowbirds and more curly-tailed lizards. 
Made my next stop on Carysfort Circle on Key Largo. On my last visit to this site, I was rewarded with Bobolinks. This was a goal for today, but dipped on  the bobolinks.  However there were several White-eyed and Black-whiskered Vireos calling, plus Palm, Northern Parula and Cape May Warblers. A female Brown-headed Cowbird popped up, Northern Cardinals were very active and a Great Crested Flycatcher was flitting about the canopy.  The best bird was the arrival of a calling Mangrove Cuckoo who would even give a couple of brief poses for he camera.

With a very successful stop here, it was time to head south to Marathon.

Least Tern found at Marathon, Florida 

Roseate Terns are nesting atop the local government building in Marathon

Roseate Tern seen at Marathon, Florida
 Next was a stop at the Marathon Government Center to check-out the Tern Nesting Colony using the flat roof tops of these buildings for nesting sites.  Least and Roseate Terns have arrived on site and can  be seen flying about the area. The access I used in the past to photograph these birds, at rest on the dock behind the buildings,  has now been posted. So from the parking lot I walked behind the building to the shore and found a spot to take my pictures.  Several huge iguanas did not appreciate my presence, as they scrambled into the mangroves.

Gray Kingbird photographed at Key Deer Refugee at Big Pine Key

From Marathon, I moved south on the Overseas Highway and past the Seven-mile bridge to reach Big Pine Key.  Big Pine Key is the home for hundreds of Key Deer who have benefitted from the creation of the National Key Deer Refugee and Protection as an endangered species. These small deer are a subspecies of the White-tailed Deer, but are isolated on the Lower Keys. These diminutive deer are examples of what is described as the Island Effect or Foster's Rule, were large animals will genetically reduce in size when isolated on an island.

I didn't stay around till dark to find any Antillean Nighthawks, but my friends were able to see and hear several of the birds as they staked out a spot at the north end of Big Pine Key.  

Key Deer are found living on the islands of the Lowered Keys 
and benefit from the protection at the Key Deer Refugee

Another popular activity here in the Lower Keys is Star Gazing. With the wide open skies and low light pollution, winter time astronomy can draw hundreds of amateurs and professional astrometry to the Keys   The Southern Cross Astronomy Society of Miami,  sponsors the Annual Winter Star Party at Big Pine Key The Lower Keys are one of the few places within the US were the Southern Cross Constellation can be observed. 

After locating a couple of key deer I began heading back to the mainland. Made a couple of stops at Curry Hammock SP and Long Key SP. Neither location was very birdy today. At Long Key State Park the damage from Hurricane Irma was still evident, as the camp ground structures were  still being repaired and acres of mangroves had been killed by the storm surge. 

Hiked the Golden Orb Trail at Long Key, despite the uncomfortable temperatures and lack of shade. Was interested in finding any Six-lined Racerunner Lizards to photograph.  Maybe another time as these guys can quickly scurry away.

 Also noticed a couple of other points of interest along the path.  One was the signage warning to avoid touching the Poisonwood Trees. Relatives of poison ivy, many people can have a bad skin reaction. The other were point of interest was the Miami Blue Butterfly introduction project. The Miami Blue is a species on the edge of extinction and biologists from the University of Florida are endeavoring to establish a population here on long Key.

Red-bellied Woodpecker nesting at Curry Hammock State Park on Florida Keys.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Fort Jefferson

Thursday May 2nd

Today had to be at the docks in Key West by 7:30 to board the Yankee Freedom for the 70 mile sail to Dry Tortugas National Park and Fort Jefferson. On the long drive down the Keys in the pre-dawn, I was able find a calling Antillean Nighthawk in Tavernier.

A look at Fort Jefferson

Fort Jefferson
The waters were calm and the skies were clear as the Yankee Freedom approached the Tortugas. With a pass by Hospital Key we could see the only nesting colony of Masked Boobies within the United States. And as we came up the Garden Key and the huge Fort Jefferson structure, the skies were filled with Magnificent Frigatebirds, Sooty Terns and Brown Noddies. These four species use these isolated islands as their only nesting sites within the continental United States.

Thousands of Sooty Terns and Brown Noddies are currently nesting on nearby Bush Key. These birds, plus the expectation of finding birds in spring migration taking a rest at the fort are why birders from around the world visit these islands. They come on the ferry, on private tours and by seaplane.

In 2014 the Coast Guard Cutter Sawfish 
had collected Cuban 
refugees that had land in the Tortugas, 
Fort Jefferson or to just enjoy the beach. I set about looking for interesting birds.  There were a few migrating species om hand including Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Gray Kingbird, Cape May, Black-and-White, Black-throated Blue and American Redstart Warblers. A Purple Gallinule had also somehow managed to reach the Garden Key. Bridled Terns, Brown Noddies and Frigatebirds were relatively easy to photograph, but the Sooties tended to be more challenging.

I didn't snorkel, but the waters were tempting. By walking the moat, observations of various fishes are possible. Like tarpon, grunts, bluehead wrasses,  beaugregory damselfish, sergeant majors, rainbow parrotfish, purple sea fans and more reef life.

It got too hot for me so I escaped early to the air-conditioning aboard the boat. By 3:30 we were on the return leg back to Key West. A trio of juvenile Northern Gannets  flew with boat for a bit about an hour from reaching port.

Magnificent Frigatebird 

Bridled Terns

Brown Noddies

The water was so clear

Brown Noddy

Had a enough time left in the day, after returning to Key West, to check-out the birding at Fort Zachary Taylor SP. Lots of Cape May Warblers and American Redstarts, plus Black-and White, Black-throated Blue, Magnolia and Northern Parula, Got good looks at White-crowned Pigeon, Least tTrns, Frigatebirds, Gray Kingbird, Green Iguanas and Curly-tailed Lizards.

White-crowned Pigeon

Cape May Warbler

Northern Paula

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Exotics in Miami

Wednesday May 1st

Loggerhead Key
The Florida Keys is such a unique place. A string of sandy, lime-rock islands stretching over a hundred miles, from Key Largo to Key West and beyond to the Dry Tortugas. People come to the Keys from all over the World.  To fish the waters, to dive on the reefs, to enjoy the beaches and to Party. Many of us come on down here to Bird the Keys. 

Tomorrow I'm taking the ferry from Key West out to the Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas National park for some birding. Today was spent time looking for interesting birds in Miami.  Especially the exotics. 

Red-Whiskered Bulbuls

Checked on a number of venues. Mathessen Hammock Park, A B Barnes Park, Kendall Baptist Hospital, Snapper Creek Canal, Pine Woods Park.  For the most part, I didn't see too much today.  Never even heard a parrot, dipped on spot-breasted orioles, but did  find the Red-Whiskered Bulbuls  and Cedar Waxwings at Pine Wood Park. 

A male Rainbow Agama at Mathessen Hammock Park

A female Rainbow Agama
Curly-tailed Lizards are native to the Bahamas and West Indies
 Exotic reptiles are a problem in Florida. We have heard able the Burmese Pythons and Monitor Lizards, but we have lots of other exotics.  My home, for example, has been a host to Cuban Brown Anoles, House Geicos, Brahminy Blind Snakes and Greenhouse Frogs.  Haven't seen any Cane Toads around here yet, but have experienced them most everywhere we have lived in South Florida. So we have a great many exotics gaining  a foot hold. Iguanas are everywhere and on this trip I noticed Curly-tailed Lizards all through the Keys. And the African Rainbow Agamas are easily seen at Mathessen Hammock Park in Coral Gables.
A huge Green Iguana at Matheson Hammock Park

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Apex of Spring Migration

Thursday April 25th

Chestnut-sided Warbler
Spring migration is in full swing these days and this third week of April is usually the apex of activity. So many interesting birds are stopping over for rest on Sanibel, with the Sanibel Lighthouse being our Spring Migration Hot Spot. 

Northern Parula and a Summer Tanager
at the Sanibel Lighthouse

Many of our local birders had wisely purchased annual parking passes from the Town of Sanibel, to save money, as we have had such great birding activity at the lighthouse, that parking fees at the lighthouse add up quickly as we extend our time enjoying the day.  At $5.00 an hour the fees add up quickly.. And you will be ticketed with a hefty fine if you overstay your time. Not so long ago the parking was $2.00 hour, 

Great Crested Flycatcher at Rotary Park

Hooded Warbler
Sanibel Lighthouse, Sanibel Island - April 2019

Baltimore Oriole 

Bronzed Cowbird 
Have had a couple bronzed cowbird hanging around the neighborhood. 

Common Nighthawk
Was observed at the Sanibel Lighthouse

A flock of Orchard Orioles spent some time in this Black Olive Tree on Sanibel Island
Indigo Buntings are recharging on figs