Saturday, December 23, 2006


It was becoming Sparrow season for me suddenly. Finally got good looks, and bad photos, of Vesper Sparrows a few weeks earlier and the LeConte's was new to the list. Now, there came a flood of emails from fellow birder Danny Bales all about Sharp-tailed Sparrows out at the Cape.

Time to twitch.

After confirming the spot Danny had been reliably finding the Sharp-tails over on the Shilo Marsh I found a morning to run over and do some walking in the muck. Shilo Marsh is on the northern edge of Merritt Island Nation Wildlife Refuge and usually can be accessed through roads winding around the Indian River.

The roads were closed for hunting season, however, so I had to head through Titusville and toward the Volusia county line. The spot was down a gritty road chock full of potholes that eventually finds its way to the marsh. The parking lot where boaters set off for hunting and fishing held few clues to the birds hiding deep within the marsh grasses.

More accustom to hiking through pine flatwoods and across beaches, I have little in the way of proper marsh footwear. Most have waders or galoshes. I had only swin shoes. Not too safe in case of snake encounters but a boy can't make a detour to the shoe store when the sparrows are waiting!

I slowly entered the marsh in the area indicated by email. I could make out weak trails leading out toward the water and into the grass. Most likely these trails were left in evidence by Danny's early visits. Not many other humans are casually walking in this environment.

As the mud flowed into my shoes, small birds began leaping ahead of me to find a new hiding spaces. Most of these were Savannah Saprrows. Once I got farther into the marsh the Savannahs were replaced by Swamp Sparrows. The target sparrows should be close but they prefer an even more specific zone down near the edge of the water.

30 minutes after slowly sloshing, watching, and listening I got my first Sharp-tails. I spent the next hour or so among them and tried to get a few photos. Not an easy prospect with such a shy subject. Throw in cloudy skies from large front that hit hours before and shadows can trick one into seeing things.

Persistance paid off as I had a few Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows occasionally leaping into view acting as scouts.

Nelson's Sparrow

The Nelson's seemed to be the most numerous. Took quite a while to actually convince any Saltmarsh Sparrows that I wasn't there to harm them. But, before I left for the day, a few made their way toward me as the sun started to break through the clouds.

Saltmarsh Sparrow

Now I have Sparrow Fever! My thoughts quickly started tryign to figure out how I could find a Seaside Sparrow before the year was through. It seems that window is closing fast. Christmas is here.

I was happy enough to have passed the 300 mark for the Life List.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

LeConte's Sparrow

Headed back to Lake Jessup to try and focus on Sparrows. I had the Vermilion Flycatcher checked off and there are so many more birds to search for. In fact, I barely flinched when Vermi showed up again a couple hours after sunrise. We waved hello and went about our merry way.

The only problem with locating the Vermilion was that I felt I had to share the news with the birding world. Now the place was beginning to crawl with humans and their 600 mm/stacked telephoto SLR digitals where last week I was all alone with much less hardware and a cheery morning.

A few heavily armed guys approached me to ask if I had seen the flycatcher. "Yep," says I, "he is right over thataway." I had already begun my sparrow search but I led them over to where Vermi flew to and they set up. Told them to have fun, I was hunting other prey this day.

Sparrows were everywhere out here. Mainly Savannah Sparrows but someone thought they had seem a LeConte's out here not long ago. Habitat sure is favorable for all kinds of sparrows and a LeConte's would be new for me.

Sparrows are hard to see in a place like this. The wire grass and bent over reeds make an excellent hiding place and you usually don't even know they are there until you are almost on top of them. Then, they fly up and away from you and dive into the next hiding place before you can even ID the species.

Not long after I showed the birders the flycatcher I noticed one sparrow that landed quicker than most. It also behaved differently in the fact that after it landed it actually came up unto the weeds and...posed. Turns out that this was my first LeConte's.

LeConte's Sparrow

Pretty sparrow. More yellow/orange than most brown and white sparrows we usually see around Florida.

LeConte's Sparrow

After a few minutes (yes, it stayed there for a couple minutes instead of seconds) it dropped down into the weeds and basically ran in the opposite direction. Though you see sparrows when they fly up and away to escape, they often prefer to run along the ground. With thick grasses all around you can loose or never even see the birds that are all around you.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Vermilion Flycatcher

Got an email from Paul saying he and Ken were out at a new location: North Lake Jessup Conservation Area. There, they found a Vermilion Flycatcher that was earlier reported during a November bird count in the area.

I have been trying to track down this species for 3 years with only email posts and roundabout directions to go by. Once I tried to follow the directions, I either got lost or the bird in question was not there.

This time Paul provided not only photographic proof but exact directions to the spot they had all found the bird. I wanted to head there right away but had other commitments and would have to wait another day or so hoping the bird would remain in the same spot.

Good thing I stopped biting my nails 20 years ago or I would have been searching for Band-aids...

Next opportunity to head for the bird would be after banding at Wekiva. Not the best time to hunt for birds since I wouldn't arrive until at least 11 AM, but you take what you can get. So, I bolted from the banding station as soon as possible and made my way through the lefts and rights toward the area.

I did make it to the spot by 11 AM on the dot. Following the precise directions provided, I head down the trail and made my way through the ancient oak woods and emerged in a pasture area at the northern edge of Lake Jessup on a clear and warm day. Here were the lone oaks described to me and the weedy growth areas teaming with sparrows.

Sparrows would draw me back here later. I had a flycatcher to try and find in this vast pasture land.

I began by taking in the vista and then slowly walked toward the lone oaks sprouting from the gold and dried brown grasses, scanning the vegetation as I stopped and started. The bird was seen near the water perched on a sign on one day and in an oak another.

As I moved the binoculars from left to right I stopped quickly by the time I got to the cattails about 200 yards ahead of me. There it was! A single dot of brilliant red against the rich greens of the lakeside plants. Vermilion Flycatcher? Check!

I was honestly happy enough with this view. I got the bird and a positive ID with the binoculars. So what if it was from far away. My cameras wouldn't register much more than a speck out there so why even worry. Instead, I decided to move a little closer to the smallest oak out there using it as a blind to get a few feet closer and be able to enjoy the fact that it was indeed here.

Then something weird happened. The bird flew directly at me! It landed in the small oak I was approaching and began to preen while perched in the center branches.

Every now and then it would fly out of the tree to grab a quick bite and land at the tree top and look at me. I was shooting film from 15 feet away. Like I say, birds dig me.

Vermilion Flycatcher

I took a lot of shots of this bird. For some reason, my trusty digital just ended up giving me extremely grainy shots. That's why I carry 2 cameras. As long as they keep processing film, I am safe.

Vermilion Flycatcher

The flycatcher and I spent at least 30 minutes together. It would continue to feed and then head back into the branches to preen. Eventually, it headed off into the dense forest edge and disappeared.

Vermilion Flycatcher

It was a magical morning out in the pasture. Just me and this gorgeous little bird. It was the first time I had been to this location and definitely would not be the last.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Return to the A.R.C.

On fairly short notice, I got a call that Richard and Christine were being summoned to the Avian Reconditioning Center in Apopka. Seemed there were a few owls to band before release which was going to be that evening. It was a Wednesday morning. I would have to be late for work. What's a poor boy to do?

Band owls, that's what! Like I get that opportunity sitting at a desk. Easy call.

I first wrote about the ARC in my very first post nearly a year ago. It is a wonderful organization that takes care of injured or orphaned raptors and releases them back into the wild if they are able to recover. You can find a direct link to their site over at the earlier post linked in this paragraph.

This time they had 5 Barn Owls and a few Screech Owls that were bound for freedom that night. Turns out that the Barn Owls were going to be used in the war on an exploding mouse population currently plaguing the Apopka region. The mice were reaching overwhelming numbers in the rural farming lands just as they did in 1999.

So, these 5 young birds were going to be released nearby in hopes that they would have very healthy appetites.

In a light but steady rain, Scott and Carol McCorkle started bring the owls over to a dry space where the birds could be weighed and banded one by one.

Barn Owls

Richard started banding right away and the procedure went fairly quickly almost in a an assembly line fashion.

Barn Owls

Sometimes the owls were nervous. Sometimes they seemed rather relaxed.

Barn Owls

Once the Barn Owls were all taken care, the Screech Owls were brought out. Richard even asked me if I wanted to have a try. Duh! Got to band my first Screech Owl today.

Screech Owls

How cool is that?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Blue-headed Vireo

The Blue-headed Vireo is a bird I have been seeing in larger numbers the past 2 years. However, it is only the second they have been able to capture in the nets out at Wekiva Springs State Park.

Blue-headed Vireos tend to stay high in the tree tops and glean the vegetation for bugs.

In hand, it is even more regal than when seen at a distance.

Blue-headed Vireo

This Winter I have had one hanging out in the backyard for weeks. This is FINE by me!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Masked Duck in Melbourne!

It is one of those birds you just don't even keep on your radar for long. Cute little duck. Would be nice to see. But they stay in Mexico and south Texas. Oh, well.

So, the Florida birding community was all excited to read the report of a Masked Duck found at Viera Wetlands just west of Melbourne. Most interesting, it was reported the next day, and the next, and the next...

Maybe this little duck would actually stay put for the season. Probably not, though. Rare birds seem to head to new locales just as quickly as they arrive. You have to be pretty quick to go make a personal sighting.

I headed over as early as I could which was actually 5 days after the first sighting. A virtual lifetime in rare bird time! Certainly it would have flown on after 5 days.

I started looking at the Click Ponds at sunrise. Loads of ducks out in the center of the north pond but most were obscured by fog. I would have to come back around here once the fog burned off a bit.

Time for the real search. Met up with a photographer in the general location and there, bobbing under the water, was the Masked Duck!

Masked Duck

Bob and I sat and shot a lot of pictures as other birders started heading toward us as the morning sun rose higher. I was happy enough with all of my tries at the duck photos and made my escape from the growing crowd to hopefully find more birds on this beautiful day.

Masked Duck

I was happy with this new bird but more were waiting just around the corner.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Kissimme Prairie, Pt. Two

The Kissimmee Prairie is just incredibly gorgeous. Looking in any direction once you are inside the park even just a little ways and the vistas can be rather breathtaking. Stand out in the grasses for any length of time in the Fall through the Winter and you could find yourself smack in the middle of a flock of Tree Swallows numbering into the thousands swooping just feet away from you on all sides.

Or you can take in the interesting sights found all over this amazing location. One of my favorite views from the sparrow round-up was this old dead tree resting in the scrub and tall grasses.

Kiss. Prairie

There is so much life hiding in this vast expance of land that you can easily pass most of it by unless you stop, get out and explore the area around you. Sometimes that life can stay beneath the vegetation without ever being seen, such as the sparrows we scare up, or it can just crawl right out at you as the day warms up like the sudden appearance we had of dozens of millipedes making their way across the road.

This one was about 4 inches long.


Besides the Sparrows, we often have to remove several beetles from the mist nets. The most beautiful are the Phanaeus vindex which are a type of dung beetle. They are also called the "Rainbow Scarab Beetle" The males have the long single horn on their heads. Both male and females are similar in color.


Birds can be found all over the place out on the prairie. Besides the smaller birds hiding in the plants, probably from the raptors, I am always surprised when a flock of wild turkey come streaming out of the palmettos. The morning of the round-up I had an flock of 8 birds file in front of me as I drove near the campground.


More secretive are the Sedge Wrens. Every now and then, one will pop up far enough away when they feel safe.

Sedge Wren

My favorite find of this day, however, was a small lily I had been hunting for a couple years. I expected it in a more moist environment or at least around some pine woods but as we dragged the ropes out for the first run at the sparrows one of the volunteers almost stepped on one.

We found many more Pine Lilies hiding around as we wandered around though the scrub. I hear we missed the riches blooms a couple weeks before. Date noted.

Pine Lily

There is so much more of this area I have yet to explore. Should get another good look at another part of the park at the next round-up in January.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Kissimmee Prairie Sparrow Round-up

Ah, November is finally here. Which can only mean one thing. The Sparrow Round-ups can begin! This is the second year for this series of events where volunteers and folks wanting a look at some more rare sparrows get together and try to 'drive' the secretive birds into mist nets which are strung out across several hundred yards across the gorgeous Kissimme Prairie.

Even without the birds we are here to try and band, I could stare at the surrounding vistas for hours.

Kiss. Prairie

I'll share some of the others sights I found in the next post and leave this one for the actual sparrows.

A front moved through overnight. The crew that runs the banding operation here stays and tries to band all the time and the round-ups are special events. They had to set nets in a hard rain to be ready for this day.

The rain cleared a bit before dawn. I drove along the Turnpike before sun-up and could still see patches where the rain had not begun to dry. I hoped it had pushed on to the south so we could actually band.

The rain did clear and the clouds scudded at a hurried clip at behest of a strong northern wind which turned out to be our real enemy for the day. The nets were at what I like to call 'full sail' at ALL times with winds constantly blowing and every few minutes gusting to 35 mph.

Kiss. Prairie

Fortunately, many volunteers showed up despite the daunting conditions to give it a go. Expectations were not high for catching many birds. After a brief course on net procedures for the first-timers we set out to man the ropes.

The 150 ft. rope was stretched out from the beginning of the net line and everyone began to drag, follow behind, an sweep the rope through the knee-high scrub in hopes of stirring up a few sparrows. Shouting and clapping also helps to spook the birds and drive them away from the volunteers and toward the nets.

Kiss. Prairie

As expected, there were few birds popping up from the scrub. Most that did simply bounced against and back out of the nets. By the end a long day of dragging and running through the vegetation we had managed only a small count of birds and didn't find the Florida Grasshopper Sparrows which are the main target for these events.

We did happen to get a more common 'pratensis' variety. This version of Grasshopper Sparrow is a migrant from the north.

Grasshopper Sparrow

Always on the list are a few Bachman's Sparrows. This one was ready to get back in out of the wind.

Bachman's Sparrow

Our final Sparrow species was a Savannah Sparrow. This very common wintering bird can be found all over the state. This is the first any of us had seen with such an interesting bill deformity, however.

Bachman's Sparrow

Throw in a Sedge Wren and a Palm Warbler and that was the haul for the day. There were many other birds around the park, though, and I will go into more detail about them next post.

The next round-up is in January. Hoping it won't be as windy or too cold.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Migration Over?

Well, it does look like it. The number of birds banded per day has dropped dramatically. The Ruby-crowned Kinglets are increasing, though, as represented by this male showing his bright ruby crown.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Also in good numbers are the House Wrens. Hearing them everyday.

House Wren

Our newest returning species was this nice Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. The previous week, this or a similar bird flew in to search for food right by the banding table. This bird was caught in a net not far from the table.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

As I was taking pictures for the banding website, I noticed a slight ring of darker feathers across the breast of the bird. The most striking part about it was that the feathers were not black but a black/blue with an iridescence.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Next week I am off to round up some sparrows on the Kissimmee Prairie! With any luck.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Migration Winding Down

A few new birds on the move but most have moved through already. Where are all the Black-throated Blue Warblers this year? We caught one more but the past couple of years we had dozens in a day.

Birds joining us this week were the first arrival of a Wood Thrush. Such a stunning difference in color from their more numerous cousins.

Wood Thrush

Speaking of other Thrushes, the last of the Swainson's are trickling through.

Swainson's Thrush

While Bachman's Sparrows prowl the higher grasses in other parts of the park, we only get a few sparrows flying by the net area. We did manage to snag a couple of Swamp Sparrows which were moving according to schedule.

Swamp Sparrow

The only other special bird for the morning, besides our usual suspects, was a female Indigo Bunting. We actually got a few in the same net as they fed in a small flock. Note the blues on the wing edges. Males become solid Indigo.

Indigo Bunting

May have a few more interesting birds next week but most have gone on to their Wintering grounds.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Visiting Towhees

We have a lot of Eastern Towhees at the Wekiva banding site. You can hear them from just before sun up and through the morning. Heck, if I ran a straight line through the scrub I bet I would trip over several in any direction!

So it took me aback when I was nearly speechless when we pulled the first of two Towhees out of their carrying bags at the table. These were certainly Eastern Towhees but not our locals. These were travelers who had stopped by to feed and probably hobnob with their Southern cousins.

The differences are slight but to me they were downright striking today.

The colors are very defined and deeper. I was jabbering on and on about the rich color for many, many minutes.
May not mean much to some, I know. The female was first out and the chocolate brown jumped right out at me.

Eastern Towhee

Notice the bright white spots on the wings. The resident birds hardly have much white on their wings at all. I wish I had had more time to document the wing differences. In the shot of the male below you can notice the way the colors blend together along the back from white to brown. And talk about black, black!

This picture also shows the fasted way to tell differences in the locals and migrants. The migrants have that amazing red eye.

Eastern Towhee

One more difference from the local and migrants: The migrants bite like deranged Northern Cardinals! Those who have been bitten know what I mean.

Eastern Towhee

You can compare these birds to some locals at my Towhee page.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

More Fall Visitors

The waves of advancing Palm Warblers continues and just behind them are more birds that hang around Central Florida during the milder Winters.

Every now and then, the banding site manages to capture an Eastern Phoebe or two. I had just seen my first of the season Phoebe on the Friday before at Mead Garden but was still surprised when I took another bird out of the bag on Sunday at Wekiva.

Eastern Phoebe

Heard often giving there "Phoebe!" calls while perched in more open spaces, these little flycatchers are a joy to watch as they glean and dive along the grasses or around the branches of the oak trees.

Just the week before we had another surprise when we captured a Yellow-billed Cuckoo. We couldn't remember exactly when we had caught one last but we did remember an earlier bird. Turns out that it was almost a year before. Could we have an annual event beginning? Next year will tell.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Most of the Veery have moved through and a few Swainson's Thrushes can still be seen around the state. Gray-cheeked Thrushes are now replacing those other birds at Wekiva. This was our second in a week.

Gray-cheeked Thrush

Gearing up for the Yellow-rumps. Perhaps tomorrow.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Palms are Back

A week ago as we were about to close the nets I saw a bird near the top of a pine tree on the trail's edge. Nice yellowish breast and a constant bobbing of the tail. The Palm Warblers were returning!

Today we captured and banded our first of the season.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warblers were one of the first birds that were part of my 'awakening' to the world of birds, bird watching, and eventually banding. The first was a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher on Christmas which forced me to start going to length in identifying new birds and Palms were the second.

Someone asked me 'what are all these little birds moving so fast around the parking lot' at work so I set out to get a picture of one. After a week of stalking at work and near home I was finally able to get a shot through the branches of a cypress tree (First picture, top row).

From there it was a good amount of time scouring some books to get the positive ID. I was hooked on tracking down birds ever since.

Which led me to fun experiences, new discoveries, and an official banding permit which now allows me to get bitten REALLY hard by birds like this Cardinal. If you ever wanted to know what an angry Cardinal looks like, here ya go.

Northern Cardinal

I wouldn't have it any other way.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Black-throated Blues and Other New Arrivals


We were awaiting the return of the Black-throated Blue Warblers last week but they were just outside of our range. Following that previous day of banding, reports were coming in across the state of sightings. It took almost the whole morning but we finally got a young male pretty close to the banding table.

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Not sure where exactly they place in my favorites list but it is up there. After all, it was my first picture I placed on my photography site years ago.

Just as the sun was rising last Sunday I extracted and banded our first House Wrens of the season. First banded, anyway. I have been hearing them in the scrub for a couple weeks. Beautiful birds in their own right, especially up close.

House Wren

Another of my favorite birds continues to find our nets. We have banded many White-eyed Vireos ranging from the resident adults and loads of newly hatched birds all Summer. The young birds have gray eyes but the adults white eyes are just stunning.

White-eyed Vireo

Now, if we can just talk the Golden-winged Warbler into a net soon. There have been sightings near the springs.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Peak Approaches. Lifers banded.

Been so busy with the birds lately that I have been neglecting the blog!

Fall migration is nearing its peak here in Central Florida and the numbers of birds we have been banding supports that quite well. In the past couple of weeks or so we have gone from banding between 7-12 birds in a morning to nearly 60 today, September 27th.

The Gray Catbirds have arrived right on time. The Common Yellowthroats are here in large numbers and account for nearly half of the birds banded for the last 2 sessions. Thrushes have returned (or been replaced more likely) represented by Veery and Swainson's Thrushses.

We are also catching a few birds that are Life Birds for many of us. One of the birds I have been hoping to see for years but always fell a little short was a Tennessee Warbler. We had confused a young Pine Warbler for one once but now that I have seen and held one I doubt that mistake will occur again. Tennessee Warblers are much more green.

Tennessee Warbler

A great Life Bird. However, the bird I have been waiting for all this Summer was the Blue-winged Warbler. Reports began flowing in that some had been seen around Florida nowhere near me in Central Florida. Then, the last bird we banded on September 24th turned out to be one. I knew what it was as soon as I saw that black eyeline.

It received a LOT of attention before being released. I followed it as it flew from bush to bush before disappearing toward the southwest.

Blue-Winged Warbler

This year has also been good for birds we only see once or twice. We are still getting Acadian Flycatchers and many Magnolia Warblers like this one below.

Magnolia Warbler

Next banding is in 4 days and I predict a lot of birds. Maybe the Black-throated Blue Warbers will arrive. I'll take a Golden-winged Warbler, too...

Friday, September 15, 2006

Migration Increases

I checked my noted from last year and noticed that certain birds began showing up at the nets right at the 2nd week of September. I announced that we should start seeing the Common Yellow-throats and thrushes if the migration patterns held true.

Sure enough, we immediately began getting Veerys and Yellow-throats September 10th. This Veery was ready to head back on the southbound fast lane.


A few days later they had the first of the season American Redstart. I am still waiting for some more blues and yellows to make it down and into the nets. Catbirds should arrive in numbers any day now.

Another bird that graced us with it's presence was this young female Chestnut-sided Warbler. Only the second one I have held. They are beautiful birds. The males are flanked by patches of chestnut under their wings, thus the name.

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Radars are showing large movements of birds heading south today. Stay tuned. The next few weeks should be veeeeery interesting.