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.