Monday, February 27, 2006

A Welcome Sight

I was on the way to the Sunday night grocery shopping and pulled over for a quick scan of the lake to see if any of the gulls resting there might be something other than Ring-billed. Nope.

Counted the Ruddy Ducks next. Then the Ringed-neck Ducks. Then the...WHAT THE HECK!? A pair of very large birds floating gracefully on the far side of the lake.

Somehow the Mute Swans were back! Yippee!!

Mute Swan

I swung around the lake to get a closer look. Someone was parked in an odd spot on the street. I parked behind them. Their car was still running maybe they were watching the swans.

I got out and started taking some shots. Soon, a woman walked down behind me asked if I thought the swans would be safe. I said that I thought so and that I had missed them being here. How long had it been? Three? Four years?

The story was that one of the swans got sick and died so they rounded up the other and had it in rehab. Not according to the woman, who I wish I would have gotten the name of.

She said that they were her swans. Both this pair and the previous one. She was guessing that a dog had gotten the other one and took the other out for safety. She raises them and this pair was being pushed out by the parents. A decision was made to see if they could hang on here again.

She was going to come and check on them everyday. I said I passed the lake every morning and would do the same. I thanked her for bringing swan back to the lake.

Must have been meant to happen, this whole quick series of events. Once I sat down in the car I realized that I had forgotten my wallet. Only had to go back 3 blocks instead of 4 miles.

The swans were having a positive effect already.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

A Riot of Robins

Few Robins have made it to the ground around here this season. They have been flying over every morning in the hundreds leaving me to wonder if they are roosting just off to the East of the house. This morning, however, was a different story.

The birds sounded different. A light rain had been falling for a while and the din began to rise as the morning progressed. Soon it was loud enough to drag me outside in the chilling wind. Robins were EVERYWHERE.

Feeding Robins

I grabbed my binoculars from the car and scanned the end of the street. Hundreds of Robins filled an oak tree. Then another. Then all of them. Scanning closer to our yard I discovered dozens of Cedar Waxwings, first from the yard this year, staying just out of the craze of feeding Robins.

Feeding Robins

Our street has numerous Camphor trees scattered about and the birds were making fast work of the berries still hanging in most of them. The ground underneath these trees was also being carefully attended by Robins gathering up the fallen bounty.

Feeding Robins

They moved into our backyard and began the berry picking process there. I managed a few OK shots of the birds in the close trees but the true spectacle is hard to catch on film, digital or otherwise, as they are obscured by branches or diving through the trees so fast they become a blur.

Feeding Robins

The noise chased the Goldfinches and Mourning Doves to cover as the Robins barely noticed me stepping out onto the deck just feet away. At one point a bird appeared on the roof 3 feet from my face before it saw me and quickly hopped toward the Cherry Laurels. I was concerned about all of the berries still on the trees as they had begun to bloom again already.

Situation fixed. Very few berries remain on any of our trees. By 10:30 AM, 2 hours after the frenzy began, the Robins moved on. Probably in search of a new feeding table.

The only more interesting sight was that of a pair of Wood Ducks that braved the swirl of Robins to land in the neighbor's oak tree. The female seemed to be trying to grab something from the tree and then flew to the next oak to join her mate.

Wood Duck

Now things should be about ready for the Goldfinches to arrive in larger numbers.

Monday, February 20, 2006

GBBC, Day 4

Last final swing through some new areas to try and grab a few new species that weren’t gathered on the previous 3 days. Fog was served up in the proverbial “pea soup” flavor as I headed toward work early. Not great weather but I swung up the back way through the Hooper’s Farm area just the same. fingers crossed.

First birds of the morning were 5 Western Kingbirds up on the Harmon Road wires. Actually a GOOD start. Several sparrows were winging their way across the grasses and into the palms. Probably Savannahs. An unrecognized call sounded in their direction. Still trying to figure it out.

Just after trying for a bad shot of one of the sparrows I edged down Harmon and was met by a Scissor-tail Flycatcher in the company of 2 more Western Kingbirds. As I slowed for a photo, the Kingbirds spooked first and I had a brief couple of seconds to try for the Scissor-tail.

Click. Flash. It flew off. Not a great photo considering the fog and the early hour but the closest I have ever been to one. I’ll take it. For now.


Swung down Lust Road. Dump trucks were warming up in the fields. Eastern Phoebes swooped along with the Northern Mockingbirds. An American Kestral was at its usual post, waiting to snag a dove or Warbler.

Found one Sparrow in the brush and tried to remember the details. Even sketched them out in the notebook so I could rely the info to Paul. Later checking with the Sparrow book showed it to be a 1st Winter White-crowned Sparrow.

Cattle Egrets, Killdeer, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and Palm Warblers rounded out the morning run. Off to work.

Thoughts of the birds and potential new ones swirled through my head all day. Work was slow, for once, so I wrapped up and headed back out for one last gasp and got to the Zellwood area by 3:30.

The Common Goldeneye seen earlier in the season was not around. Or it could hold its breath for 10 minutes. Did pick up 31 Hoodies, 2 Cattle Egrets and a Little Blue Heron. Something dived in the distance bring hope for the Goldeneye but it was just a Pied-billed Grebe.

To Laughlin Road.

Some Sparrow was hiding in the brush as I arrived. I parked and walked back and began pishing. To my complete surprise it brought up 2 Northern Waterthrush immediately. A Savannah Sparrow lit briefly, crown raised, and then disappeared. The Gnatcatcher couldn’t care less.

A walk into the field flushed a Wilson’s Snipe. 2 More soon followed the call and flew 15 feet from me. Myrtle Warblers tried their best impressions of Sparrows but all I could manage were a few more Savannahs.

Suddenly, I noticed I was under a Tree Swallow storm. The first circled past but as I was scanning the horizon to count Vultures I noticed that the flock consisted of a large number of them far beyond the 100 swirling past me. I put the conservative estimate at 1,500.

A Red-tailed Hawk was trying to grab the thermals as a Harrier swooped at it repeatedly. A Sharp-shinned Hawk flap-flap glided in their general direction. I gathered a few more common species and headed back to Lust Road.

Once there, a small group of birds jumped up into a roadside tree. 6 White-crowned Sparrows! They were soon joined by some Chipping Sparrows toward the parked dumptrucks. A couple Western Kingbirds hung out on the distant wires past the gate.


Counted a few more common species and made one last run at the Kingbird Roost which was now becoming the Robin Roost. I stopped counting at 400 as a lot were dropping into the orange groves but they were joined by more Kingbirds and other birds I could determine without a scope.

A Red-shouldered Hawk perched nearby and was harassed by another Kestral. The birds continued to make their way to the roost site. The sun was setting fast. No more Scissor-tails to round out the day.

The last good pass as the light was fading was a cruising Northern Harrier.

Northern Harrier

The longest day of my GBBC counting ended before nightfall but it was a good weekend. Despite the missing of the Snow Goose on Sunday.

Now it seems I need to try and verify my Least Tern sighting in Orlando. Never been officially documented in Florida in Winter. A couple weeks to get it.

You can still enter your own bird counts to the GBBC count for a while. Just go to here.

Can’t wait until the next year’s count.

GBBC, Day 3

A bust.

Hoping against hope I headed over to Barber Park where the Snow Goose was found earlier in the month. Not there anymore. Just 150 Boat-tailed Grackles, some Red-winged Blackbirds, a few White Ibis and some Mallards.

Oh, well.

I think is actually a good thing. Didn't want it to get too used to handouts before migration.

If you would like to see the earlier post on the Snow Goose, click here.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Orlando Wetlands Park Festival

Duty calls. So Day 2 of The Great Backyard Bird Count would have to take a backseat. Maybe a post about birds seen there but nothing that one might find there on any average day. Seemed like a good turnout for this relatively new event, though.

The Wekiva banding group was asked to participate, again, and I got to the park about 6:45 AM as the Sun was just beginning to color the East. Richard and Christine were soon to follow and we set about deciding the best spot for the nets.

Results from the previous banding "demos" had been reported as fairly disappointing and we had to think of a new strategy for netting some birds. The main problem with this situation is that the nets have to be pretty close to the entrance of the event and a lot of the birds in this area are scattered throughout a large expanse of marshland and lakes.

We needed to be close to the event action so that the attendees could wander over to witness any banding going on.

I suggested setting up near the marsh edge since all of my previous visits to OWP seemed to suggest that the birds travel across the roads and dive down toward the trees and marsh plants nearby. We set 7 nets, 2 near the road side of the berms and 5 near the marsh side. It proved to be the best banding the Wekiva group had seen in this location.

Plenty of White Ibis flew over as dawn broke. Myrtle Warblers, House Wrens, Northern Cardinals, and Gray Catbirds flew and called from all of the nearby bushes and trees. A White-eyed Vireo called off in the distance. Good luck getting it to venture our way.

Things started well with several Myrtle "Yellow-rumped" Warblers hitting the nets first. I believe this was our most common species banded all day with at least 6 or 7 for a total.


A bit later, a female Common Yellow-throat blundered into the nets. As I approached it to get her in the bag, two Sparrows looked on at her plight. In the lower light I figured them to be Chipping Sparrows even though I wanted to make them Lincoln's as one was reported a couple days before. Oh, well. Nice to see some yellow in the morning.


Next, we got two male Northern Cardinals. Tree Swallows began emerging from the skies but they are too savvy to get caught up in the nets with their great sense of surroundings. A Downy Woodpecker made a teasing appearance near the edge of the nets along with an Eastern Phoebe.


The problem with banding demos for events is that most birds hit the nets before any planned start times. Most of our birds hit the nets from sunrise to a couple hours in. The event wasn't officially open until 9 AM so much of the action is over by the time the public starts to trickle in.

However, a small group did make it by for a Yellow-rump and then another group, including my family, made it in time for some Catbirds which became the next biggest total for the day as the morning warmed up and the Vultures took to the thermals. A Double-crested Cormorant and Wood Stork flew over as the Gnatcatchers joined the breakfast bonanza.


We closed out the morning with another Yellow-rump as the last visitors stopped by. Temperatures in the 70s forced the air to quiet as expected and the winds picked up, making the nets more visible to any remaining birds.

I closed out the day by joining the family in a quick tour around the event and over to the Maitland Birds of Prey station which had some birds which are either in rehab or are in permanent residence there, injured to the point of never being able to survive on their own in the wild.

American Kestrals are fairly common in Florida in the Winter but they are hard to get close pictures since they are so skittish to human presence. Fortunately, the Birds of Prey folks had one on display. My youngest actually pulled me close along with him so he could get a good look.


His next interest was this magnificent Bald Eagle. Very encouraging to hear the reports of their comeback in the wild.


Overall, a nice morning. We were pleased to get 12-13 birds, most ever at this spot, and look forward to modifying our layout for the next year's event.

Now, to get out and see if I can add the Snow Goose and more Bald Eagles to the GBBC for Day 3!

Friday, February 17, 2006

GBBC, Day 1

The Great Backyard Bird Count kicked off today and I made sure to swing through certain spots to be certain that some winter visitors would make it to the tally for the Orlando area. Then I started to wonder what photo op might arise so I could send in a shot to the Birdsource folks.

Would it be the Hooded Mergansers? The Scaups? The Ring-necked Ducks? Hmmmm... Then, as I headed around the office complex looking for an opportunity, it struck.

I was on the way to revisit the Mergansers when a bird dropped to the ground, grabbed a stick and went right back up into the tree it came from. Soon it began to sing. I found my photo op.

Not from some exotic visitor. From one of the most common birds around in these here parts. How soon we get distracted by something "new". Something that will take flight as soon as it can.

Instead, I was reminded of a familiar face I have learned to really appreciate over the past 5 years. A bird with so many songs and so loud a voice. A bird of my childhood.

Yep, my Bird of the Day was the Northern Mockingbird. A fine choice, I think.


Sunday, February 12, 2006

Rainbow Springs

I have a love/hate relationship with my Pentax film camera. Mainly it involves the 80-320mm zoom and the auto-focus feature. Sometimes it gives me great results but in other instances it drives me off of the deep end.

For instance, it allows me to take fabulous photos of my surroundings if the are static. Throw in a different light and fast movement, however, and it turns me into a raving, longshoreman-like curser.

Folks who know me know that I am a man of very few words. Spoken aloud, at least. Catch me trying to grab a shot of a fast moving warbler in a series of moving branches and there you will find me at my wits end, grinding my teeth and mumbling under my breath to no one but the birds and Nature.

Such was the case out at Rainbow Springs yesterday just after our banding demo went bust, thanks in part to a slew of Red-shouldered Hawk busting up the party and the remaining birds just feeding too high in the treetops, unwilling to make any foray down to our level.

We folded up the nets and I decided to take a walk out on the nature trail just beyond our setup to see what I could see. I ditched my camera bag and cooler in some dense foliage and headed out down the yellow trail.

Pure early Florida. Pines and oaks surrounded by scrub and palmettos. Just like I remember as a boy in this upper Central Florida habitat. Still quiet, though.

As I reached the edge of a clearing, an Eastern Phoebe was flycatching near an old pine tree among the old pasture land. A White-eyed Vireo called off to the south.

Eventually, I reached the fork in the trail and a House Wren began scolding and was soon joined by some Carolina Chickadees up in the oaks.


Nice find.

Later, I discovered a Pine Warbler searching the branches and noticed that there was a lot of activity up in the nearby oaks and pines. A House Wren jumped out of the brush and was scolding quite loudly.

House Wren

I followed its path and found myself surrounded by over 100 birds. Mainly Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. These were soon joined by more birds including Pine and Palm Warblers, Downy Woodpeckers, Eastern Phoebes, Eastern Towhee, Carolina Wrens, Blue-headed and White-eyed Vireos, and a stray Catbird or two.

A remarkable experience.

However, the auto-focus was not up to the challenge. Every time I tried to get a clear fix on a bird, it decided instead to focus on distant vistas or any breeze-born speck passing by. I was relaxed by the birds but getting totally stressed by the fact that I couldn't take any shots of them.

Granted, the lighting was horrible as a strong cold front was passing through and causing an extremely flat choice of light and shadow. This problem with the lens has been ongoing for ages, though.

Once I get a new camera rig to prove it is not systematic to this rig, I will have to deal with it for now.

Until I actually snap the thing off of the camera body, as I have been close to several times, I can only live with the fact that I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by such beautiful birds even if I cannot get the pictures that I think I can get.


Time to go look at the springs and relax.


Thursday, February 09, 2006

Brave Cattle Egret

As we brace for the cold this weekend, (Hey, 30s are COLD for us. Even the upper 30s.) I found the sight on the way to work a bit warming.

A Cattle Egret was flitting about in the intersection to the complex my workplace is in. It decided that a fine place to land and stare around would be in the lefthand turn lane which quickly fills with drivers at anytime of the day or night.

So, there it stood, like a defiant student in front of a giant tank in full view of the world. The signal turned to green and I waited for the movement of the first car to force it aside.

Instead, to my astonishment, the driver turned the wheel and went around the Egret. Then the next car. Then the next. Wow.

Yes, a bit warming. Seeing all of those drivers allow the presence of this bird in this time of wanton environmental paving over.

I even turned off the heater in the car.

Cattle Egret

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Oakland Nature Preserve

Sunday, February 5th found me headed out to find the Oakland Nature Preserve. I left about dawn and figured I had a good idea where it was. So much so that I left my map from the web at work. Piece of cake, yeah?


Mostly, the switchbacks and guesses were my fault. Once I got closer, however, the lack of signage provided weren't much help either. They are working on getting established with the Great Florida Birding Trail and that should get them some proper directional signs.

In the meantime, Oakland, Florida is a small town in between Winter Garden and Killarney on the southern edge of Lake Apopka. Quaint little town.

A large cold front moved through the state the day and night before so it was a crisp morning with some gusting winds. The ample sunshine made up for the chill and I almost left my jacket in the car. Glad I didn't.

Headed out to find the boardwalk which leads to the lake. Noticed a path off to the right but decided I would head straight out first. I could hit the wooded path later.


An excellent boardwalk leads 2/3 of a mile out to the lake. I really like the wire mesh along the sides of the high railing to keep young ones out of the swamp and swamp things off of the boardwalk. Zone markers line the way.

Almost immediately onto the boardwalk I was met by 2 Blue-headed Vireos and a Black and White Warbler. Soon after, a White-eyed Vireo joined in singing all the way. A Palm Warbler flew into the thickets as a large flock of Common Grackles made their way from the direction of the lake.

I headed toward them and they were joined by a flock of Red-winged Blackbirds trailed just behind the Grackles. The air as punctuated by the cries of Red-shouldered Hawks.

Along the way, Common Yellow-throats "chucked" just under the marsh plants. More Western Palms and Myrtle Warblers ushered me toward the edge of the lake. Familiar Cypress trees swayed their moss covered branches in the cold breeze.

A photographer of considerable-gear was at the edge of the overlook at the lake's edge. I asked if there was anything interesting out and about. Not much. An occasions Bald Eagle and the Great Blue Herons were building nests across the way which were easily seen from the overlook. I wished him luck and headed back as an Osprey glided overhead.

Back at the start of the boardwalk, I took the path leading toward the woods, now on my left. Flushed a Mockingbird from a low platform feeder on the edge of the path. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets gleaned the oaks. A Catbird began to scold just ahead.

The end of the path isn't too far so I hit that end and headed back.

Noticed something flying off from the feeder up ahead and then the birds came back. I then noticed the photographer back under the oak branches, lens pointed toward the feeder. I then noticed the birds there were Painted Buntings! Excellent. I waited until Mike (I later introduced myself) was done and motioned that I could walk closer.

I got as close as I could, taking shots along the way. The Buntings flew off eventually and I headed over to chat with Mike. Mike's shots are all part of the Oakland Preserve web site, BTW.

We talked a bit longer and then headed back to the parking lot. Mike pointed out another path through another section of the preserve. We said our farewells and I headed down the trail. Still, I could feel the tug of the Buntings. Hard.

I cut the other trail walk short and made my way back down to the feeder. I sat about 15 feet away and stayed as still as possible and waited. Turns out I didn't have to wait long. The Buntings came back into view in about 5 minutes and cycled through every 15-20 minutes. I actually stayed there for 90 minutes after planning on 30. Just couldn't get the birds to stop on the branches longer.

There were at least 3 males and 1 female granting me a look and a few shots. The Mockingbird and Cardinals were too spooked to trust me.

Painted Bunting

I bet this is a nice spot during migration. I am sure I will drop back by often. More Painted Bunting photos can be found here.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Robins Have Landed

Last year, there were huge outcries about the amount of Robins descending on the state. There was even an article about how the strawberry growers were out lighting firecrackers to scare them away. To no avail.

Damage to strawberry crops are common and rather mild in any year so it was just another reason to unduly rile people up from what I have gathered. Set a table and someone is bound to show up sooner or later. Besides, there are always plenty of leftovers!

This year, the amount of wintering birds seems a lot lower than last year. Friends and I have been discussing the quiet around here, especially the lateness of the arrival times for Robin, American Goldfinches, and Cedar Waxwings. Maybe it is the milder climate. Maybe it is right on schedule.

January 30th, 2005 found a large flock of Robins in the backyard. 100s of them. They were hanging out in the oaks and on the ground and taking drinks at the backyard birdbath. I refilled the thing 3 times and they drank it dry every time and then moved on.

I found that date just recently while wondering what last years was like and thumbing through the notebook I keep for bird sightings on trips and in the yard. Though I remember more Robins in the area last year, maybe they are still here in the state as much but not setting down in MY yard.

After a trip to Oakland Nature Preserve yesterday, I arrived home to a lot of noise in the yard. Front and back as far as I could tell. I grabbed the binoculars and scanned the trees. Robins were in the oaks out front. Still more high-pitched calls around the neighborhood and I could tell they were in the back of the house, too.

In the back, dozens of Robins perched in the trees and were landing in the next door neighbor's yard. Most seemed concerned with our Cherry Laurels which began blooming for the first time after Hurricanes Charley, Francis and Jeanne tore through the state in 2004.

Now full of berries, the Robins were having a great feast. This is one view from the boy's window.


In the preceding days, there have been 100s of Robins flying over the Orlando area. My friend Paul reported 700 the other night. I saw over a 100 just walking to the car that morning. When the boys and I came home on Saturday the sky was a steady stream of flying Robins and cheery flight calls.

Now they are landing to feed again. Only a few days off of last year's date. The Goldfinches are taking longer food breaks and time singing again making them even EARLIER than last year for me.

Let the fun begin. They all leave in a couple of months so I can enjoy them while they last.

Fewer birds than last year? Not so sure. Maybe we were waiting a little too hard. Any Winter visitor is welcome to me.


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Sapsucker Feeding Behavior

Finally had a Sapsucker sighting at the house. First ever. Got to work and was told the female made a return here this morning. Wondered where she had been.

Back to the house sighting.

There was a male streaking through the branches and he landed in the neighboring Camphor tree. He made his way up into a high branch and started grabbing berries. I continued to scan for anything else.

The Sapsucker then flew down onto the trunk of a large oak. Figured he was going to start hunting some more. As he turned its head, however, I could see a large Camphor berry in the end of his bill.

Suddenly it wedged the berry in the crevices of the rough bark and began to work on the berry. He squeezed it around, pecked and prodded for a minute and then pulled parts to consume before heading back into the Camphor to grab another berry or two.

Interesting use of the environment while eating, no? Clever birds...