Saturday, June 27, 2015

Jay Watch 2015, Part 1

It's that time again! Back out into the Summer heat to count Florida Scrub Jays. This weekend I was stationed at Buck Lake Conservation Area near Mims, Florida. Always nice to meet up with old and new friends and hopefully get some shots of the Jays and other discoveries in the scrub.

While the instructions for our procedures were given to the new volunteers I spied something more interesting. Up on one of the powerless I spotted a Great-Crested Flycatcher. A few minutes later it actually stuck its head into on end of the large pipes and then flew back to perch. Another flycatcher arrived and then the two seemed to have a bit of a quarrel leaving the original bird sitting on the wire. I can only surmise they have a nest in that pipe. Cool.

Great-Crested Flycatcher

The group leaders seem to have finally nailed down how to get group photos of the daily volunteers. Used to be they would wait until the end of the morning but by then either half the group has gone home or is just too exhausted by the heat. Now we get the shot before heading out for the counts.

Volunteers

I had the closest count points with Jane and Maria (who runs the event on this side of the state). Approaching our first count point I spotted a pair of jays on a dead tree snag. We had to walk past the birds to get on the best side of the morning sunlight. Shortly after we settled in with our binoculars to get the leg band data. Soon, one of the Florida Scrub Jays flew among us, grabbed something from the ground and found a spot to cache it in the sand.

Florida Scrub Jay

It then hopped up into small tree right in front of me allowing me some nice shots.

Florida Scrub Jay

Maria had been looking for a photo that showed the pattern on the back of adult Florida Scrub Jays and our bird was happy to oblige me as I moved behind it and I got some excellent shots. Turns out that this shot serves a duel purpose as it is also a good example shot of tail molt.

Florida Scrub Jay

That bird flew back to the tree but the second one soon replaced it, again, right in front of me. This is a good shot of the leg bands on this bird which would be recorded Silver/Black/Mauve.

Florida Scrub Jay

We moved off to survey some other points before returning to this general area. I played my jay tapes and a pair of Florida Scrub Jays flew in from a quarter mile away. Took a few minutes to confirm but it was the same pair we hung with earlier.

Florida Scrub Jay

While I was positioning myself in the oaks for the best angle I could get of the Jay above me a juvenile Northern Mockingbird flew in to see what all the fuss was.

Northern Mockingbird

The next set of points was near the large ditch that cuts across the property. It stays a bit more damp and typically have some interesting flowers blooming like one of our species of St. John's Wort.

St. John's Wort

Tucked down in the grasses, a few Rhexia swayed in the gentle breeze.

Rhexia

A yellow flower I have yet to identify caught my eye as I headed back to the roadside to meet my ride.

TK

Once I got settled a flash caught my eye up in the blue. First the sky was totally blue but suddenly an area of white would appear like a rotating advertising sign an disappear again. Wood Stork flock I figured but I took a shot just to document it. I thought that the Anhinga following at the bottom of the flock was interesting, too.

American White Pelican

Once I got the image on the home computer I was a bit more than surprised. Those weren't Storks. They were American White Pelicans! I am use to seeing them only in the Winter but I guess some do stick around sometimes according to records. Just a pretty rare sight for June.

American White Pelican

I play my first round of Jay calls per instructions then have to stop before the full minute was up. A Swallow-tailed Kite was flying right toward me. Kites have been known to prey upon young birds so we try not to attract any jays when raptors of any kind are in sight. The Kite eventually headed out over the tree line and I played the tape for one more round before my time was up.

Swallow-tailed Kite

Grasshoppers were constantly flying out of the way of my step at every stop. This one posed for a nice morning shot in the road.

Grasshopper

It was taking a while for Maria to get me for the next round. Maybe she had a bird or two at her stop. As I waited I spotted a small dot on the horizon, high in the sky. Didn't seem like a Red-tailed Hawk to me so I snapped a few shot to take home and analyze. Turned out to be a Short-tailed Hawk, another excellent bird for this time of year. I have only seen a few of theses birds ever and never got a shot as clear.

Short-tailed Hawk

Maria finally headed down to get me reporting that she did, indeed have a bird at her area. It seemed to be unbanded so we hurried back with my camera to try for documentation. Sure enough, an unbanded Florida Scrub Jay panting in the warming morning.

Florida Scrub Jay

The scope was brought out for a closer view and to verify there were no bands on this bird.

Volunteers

No more birds for us on our remaining spot but I am sure some of the other teams had some. Tomorrow is Part Two at Lake Monroe. Hopefully, we can keep the nice breeze around. It wasn't as hot as I had feared it was going to be today

Saturday, June 13, 2015

A Trip to the Banding Site

This is a cross-post from my banding site blog but since it the only 'birding' I have done this month I thought I could share it here, too.
I headed to the banding site to get a fell as to how much clean-up we might be doing next month especially after we had a couple of big storms roll through that could have felled some of the dead snags. Surprisingly, there was not a lot of damage and the water level was lower than I had expected. Some tree parts have fallen near Net 3 but it looks like the rangers may have moved them out of the main path.

Branches

I was also went to see if we had any beneficial beetles emerging but all of the Air Potato leaves near the banding table appear to be untouched. Just below the table in the river I spotted a few very large Armoured Catfish apparently digging out a burrow in preparations for starting a new family. Not good. These non-natives can be very destructive.

Armoured Catfish

By the time I got to Net 6 I did start to see some encouraging signs. The Air Potato leaves higher up are showing some wear and tear.

Air Potato

A bit farther down the lane at Net 12 I noticed a lot of damaged leaves and a bright red beetle floated past me as I walked deeper into the ground cover. Under another leaf I found a pair mating. Bring on the larvae!

Air Potato Beetle

Behind Net 22 I found several Silver Argiopes (AR-GEE-OH_PEE) on their squiggly webs in the shade.

Silver Argiope

There was not a lot of bird activity out here today. I did spot a couple of our banded Northern Cardinals along the way and Titmice and Carolina Wrens were calling back in the woods but not much else. As I neared Net 21, a female Downy Woodpecker flew by at shoulder level, lit upon a tree trunk, and quickly faded back into the shadows. Just then, a Great-crested Flycatcher flew in across the river.

Great-crested Flycatcher

It silently followed me as I headed to the end of the net lanes but soon vanished in the direction of the woodpecker.

Great-crested Flycatcher

Most turtles dive back into the water when approached but this Red-bellied Cooter was pretty defiant as I walked the Net 21 bank. It never flinched.

Red-bellied Cooter

The only other thing stirring in the breeze were scores of Dragonflies.

Dragonfly

I was hoping to catch a glimpse of Swallow-tailed Kites but the only bird riding the thermals was a very distant Black Vulture.

Black Vulture

On the way out I did some more exploring around Net 12 and found more and more Air Potato Beetles.

Air Potato Beetle

The adults was flying back and forth and nibbling on tender shoots of the Air Potatoes. I expect to find a lot of skeletonized leaves which will mean we can skip pulling vines, at least.

Air Potato Beetle

Get to work, beetles! I will come back to check on your progress soon.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

One Red-shouldered Hawk Makes it 1,000

Wow. I just noticed that this is post Number 1,000 for Drew's Birds! A couple of nice photos for this landmark, too. It has actually been a pretty slow year, birding-wise, and who knows when the next opportunity might come along. So...


I was heading home from the store not expecting much along the way. There was little around the lakes and this stretch I take through a neighborhood is basically void of bird life even when we walk it for high school fund-raising. To my surprise, a Red-shouldered Hawk was perched on a lamp post at the end of a driveway smack in the center of the block.

I figured I had no chance of a photo since I was close and hawks tend to take off if you slow and back up to get at a good angle. But this bird was so intent on scanning for a meal it couldn't have cared less if I was there mere feet away.

Red-shouldered Hawk

The Red-shouldered Hawk swiveled its head left to right and back again several times hoping to catch anything in the open. Even small lizards are fair game for these birds but nothing seemed to be coming out into the open.

Red-shouldered Hawk

I got a few more shots in as the fading sunlight glided a few feathers and then I headed on my way. By the time I reached the end of the block it was still on patrol.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Those little surprises alway make a quiet drive so much more special. Now into June and the really quiet birding months.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Moss Park

It took me awhile to get through the photos from last weekend so this is posted a few days after the event, but...done. My wife's company picnic was scheduled for this past Saturday and the event was held in Moss Park. Nice place. We have camped there before. Only problem is that it is like dropping a kid in a candy store. Birds are always around here so socializing becomes more of a formality for me once I start seeing and hearing birds. Selfish? Yes. I am working on it.

As soon as we got out of the car I could see scores of birds flying around the lake. I was already twitching. Once we made introductions and had lunch I went off for a little hike. As soon as I neared the edge of the lake the bird sound was raucous. The main species flying by were Wood Storks.

Wood Stork

Turns out that the small island just across from the shoreline was teaming with wading birds nesting. A lot of Wood Storks were there but the edges of the island were covered with White Ibis nests.

Nests

There were also Anhinga and Double-crested Cormorants but I was more pleased to see a Black-crowned Night Heron join in with the crowd. I do recall seeing a lot of these birds the last time we were out here.

Black-crowned Night Heron

I came off the dock and began to head to the North, following the sounds of Boat-tailed Grackles. They would not stay in good light for me but flowers were more accommodating. Right next to the dock was a nice spread of Rhexia.

Rhexia

Just around the bend were a scattering of Yellow-eyed Grass swaying in the light breeze.

Yellow-eyed Grass

Tucked next to the reeds I spotted a clump of Bog Buttons. I did not relocate the Sun Dews I remember from years ago.

Bog Buttons

Standing higher were shocks of a variety of St. John's Wort.

St. John's Wort

Another yellow flower was there but I can't recall the name as of yet.

Yellow flower

Back to the birds! My next goal was to find where the birds from the island were heading for food. They were going to a shallower part of the lake to the North. The storks and Ibis were flying over to gather food for chicks...

Wood Stork

...and then head back in short order.

Wood Stork

The White Ibis are in full breeding plumage and are just as active.

White Ibis

One of the birds we always remembered from our previous camping trip was the Sandhill Cranes that can be quite bold in searches for food. They even try to steal food from your picnic tables! This family was wandering around a large gathering leading their new colt through the pavilions.

Sandhill Crane

The colt took it all in stride as kids tried to follow it around the campgrounds.

Sandhill Crane

I headed back to the company event hearing Pine Warblers near the gathering. I kept seeing them flying high in the pines and finally had a closer look as an adult brought some food down to a juvenile.

Pine Warbler

Once the meal was consumed, the adult Pine Warbler flew off for more and the juvenile fluttered its wings and called for more.

Pine Warbler

Near he table, a family of Tufted Titmouse swooped in and began calling loudly. Was I in the way of something or were they warning of some other danger? I never found out.

Tufted Titmouse

As I was about to put the camera away I noticed another bird flitting through the branches. I couldn't tell exactly what it was immediately but by the time I went through photos and asked for thoughts from a friend I can only conclude that this is a late 1st Spring Blackburnian Warbler! Not a common sight here this time of year.

Blackburnian Warbler

I made one more walk near the parking lot to see what was in a fenced in area and had a pair of Great-Crested Flycatchers hunting around the moss. It is called Moss Park, after all.

Great-Crested Flycatcher

A nice morning of discovery today. Next time, have the company event indoors and I will be all full of meaningful conversation. Until I spot something outside the windows...