Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Lake Davis Shorebirds Revisited

The variety of shorebirds arriving at the local lakes continues to surprise. Feeding along side the Solitary Sandpipers was a Spotted Sandpiper now.

Spotted Sandpiper

Killdeer continues to patrol the area, protecting there territory and I bet a nest hidden somewhere. I haven't seen it yet but the behavior of the adults seem to verify it. Like this wounded display presented to me as I was trying to get Sandpiper shots.


I left them to their living space, trying to lead a neighborhood cat out with me.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Great Weather. If You're a Gannet!

Well, that was a long couple of days. But typical of my forays into camping trips.

A strong front was moving in and the winds at Jetty Park picked up significantly after we arrived. By noon they were clocking 25 mph with higher gusts making the tent set-up...interesting. We were situated on a higher point next to the Jetty Park canal where the ships move in and out of the area and the wind seemed to be focused right at that point.

By night they continued but we managed to get a fire going for some smores just as the light rain were dragged along for the party. We spent the night in an on and off sleep as the tent shook in random bursts until morning. The next night was more of the same minus the rain.

Ah, camping.

The only birds who seemed to enjoy the weather were the pelicans and the Northern Gannets. I had hoped that the high winds might push some other birds on shore but there were not even any traces of warblers and very few gulls. Resident Turnstones hugged the jetty but other than that I had to settle for a family of Mockingbirds and a flock of Cedar Waxwings.

At least I would manage to get my best Gannet shots up until now. I rarely get out into the ocean anymore so they are still a seldom seen bird for me. The last time I had a really good look at a Gannet was when we had one get hooked on our trolling lures nearly 20 years ago.

That is a whole different story but wass the first time I ever actually held a bird. Who would have guessed I would do so regularly at this point in life during banding? Not me.

Over the course of the next two days I saw many Gannets feeding just inside the canal and every now and then I could get the camera to auto-focus on one. They moved so fast with the strong winds.

Northern Gannet

That adult was often cruising the shoreline but there were also birds in every plumage variation along the way. Like this in-between version.

Northern Gannet

Joining the throng were a lot of juvenille birds.

Northern Gannet

I guess some pictures of seldom seen birds was better than nothing. Maybe the winds provided that so I shouldn't be too upset. Would have liked to have had more little birds on their way North, though.

Friday, April 20, 2007

My, What a GROSbeak!

How to make your family a bit perturbed.

We had packed up the car for our camping trip, the kids were in their seats, we were ready to drive off but I decided I had better check that I had locked the backdoor one more time.

I reached for the key to lock the door I had actually forgotten to lock and stopped in my tracks. A black-winged bird had flown down to the tray feeder. Then another. The white belly and red breast were unmistakable. Two Rose-breasted Grosbeaks had found our house and right when I had to leave.

I ran back to the front of the house, reached into the running car, muttered there was a bird out back and hurried back inside. I knew the eyes of my family were rolling and sighs were expelled but this was the best view of these birds I had ever had. But with so little time I only managed to lean out of the backdoor and get at least a confirming shot.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

I would have loved to stay and try for better light or angles but we HAD to get going. Later on, the oldest, who was suppose to be at a different overnight camping trip got a migraine and asked to come home. Which meant I had to actually drive back home, pick him up, and head back to the campsite.

As we rounded the lake to make it back toward the highway and the coast I noticed a Black-necked Stilt and a couple other birds. I had the camera with me so I stopped quickly and jumped out for a few shots to ID later. I was surprised to find later that one of the birds I was seeing was a Stilt Sandpiper!

Stilt Sandpiper

Nice addition to the growing list of new birds at the lake.

Off to high winds for the weekend.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Solitary Sandpiper

Got a report from fellow neighborhood birder, Jeff. He was interested in the earlier swan story but he also reported a couple other birds in Lake Davis. One really jumped out at me: Solitary Sandpiper.

I was on the way home a couple nights before and thought I had caught a glimpse of a bird that was shorebird shaped out of the corner of my eye. I had to be home at a certain time so I had no time to stop. Luckily Jeff tipped me off because I had about forgotten about it.

I stopped by after I dropped the kids off at school and, sure enough, shorebirds were feeding on the now exposed parts of the lake bottom not far from the sidewalks. Whether it is due to the new mud and flies or winds or the drought drying up other feeding spots, I don't know. I had never noticed shorebirds around Lake Davis in the past.

Now, here was a Life Bird. No, two! A pair of Solitary Sandpipers.

Solitary Sandpiper

The birds were rather skittish and as soon as I got past a certain point from the sidewalk they would fly a bit farther down the new beach. I vowed to come back at a later date to try again. These shots are actually from the future! Taken a few days after this blog date. I was going to put up worse ones. Whew!

Solitary Sandpiper

Other shorebirds are showing up, too. Killdeer, Yellowlegs, and Black-necked Stilts. But these Solitary Sandpipers and pretty cool. Love that white eye-ring.

Solitary Sandpiper

We need the rain but a lowered water level attracting shorebirds is actually kind of nice.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Trail Walking Wekiva

With a front moving in for the weekend, threatening to cancel Sunday's banding, I was thinking of heading over to Ft. DeSoto. I figured it may be a tad crowed (later reports said as many birders as birds!) and I knew I would have to work late and have to drive early.

I decided to stay close to home and check out some trails at Wekiva I hadn't fully explored. There was an earlier report of fledging Great-horned Owls down the trails and I wanted to find them.

It was a pretty hot day but I knew I needed to get in about 5 or more miles to get where I was headed. Not a problem. Most of the hike is in the shade.

Usual suspects were around and first of the season Red-eyed Vireos made an appearance half-way through the hike. Lingering warblers and singing sparrows. When I got to the area that the owls were suppose to be, however, I found little.

I was choosing which way I should head on a new trail when I saw a white-tailed deer to my right. It watched me warily and moved on. I decided to head down that way farther and soon found a break in the brush, apparently created by animals walking through.

Following that, it opened onto the shore of Lake Prevatt. Not much of a lake left. A bit of a pond and a few mud holes and a LOT of dried mud. I walked out onto the lake bed and as I rounded a clump of bushes the far side of the lake was teaming with deer. At least 12. Another deer flushed off to my left.

Soon, a bird also flushed from the bushes to the left. It turned out to be a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron! It flew over to where the deer were, near a mud hole. I followed to try and get a closer shot.

Once I got closer to the mud I began to notice a few tiny heads around the edge of the mud where the last of the remaining vegetation. Baby alligators! First a couple, then several. I stopped walking when I noticed the series of dark bumps resting in the wettest part of the mud. Mama was keeping watch and began to push herself deeper in the muck when she sensed me approaching.

I would have to change direction. I respect the power of gators enough to know better than to mess with one protecting young.

I got back onto the main trail and headed around the other side of the lake. There I found a few tom Turkeys out on the lake bed checking me out. Suddenly, 4 more popped up around the other corner. More surprising was that a couple of them decided to leave the lake bed and walked right past me.


Time was running out for my hike so I headed back. Nearing the net lanes again, I heard some birds scolding around the bushes near the trail ahead. Out popped a Pine Snake right in front of me! I was trying to get a shot of it but it turned and fled back into the scrub. The birds continued to scold and some warblers appeared before me.

Pine Warbler

I can't remember seeing female Pine Warblers before but here she was, down out of the high branches to chase away this 4 foot snake. A male joined her, as did Gnatcatchers, Prairie Warblers, and a Titmouse.

Pine Warbler

I didn't find anything spectacular today but at least I got some shots of the Pine Warbler. The most important event would happen a bit later. This long walk in 90 degree heat sealed my decision that had been brewing for years.

Time to cut off this ponytail.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Easter Waxwings

One final day with the visiting in-laws and we were all together for Easter Sunday. Of course, I managed to squeeze in a little birding along the way.

The most fun site of the day was a flock of Cedar Waxwings feeding on the Loquat fruit in the tree across the fence. There were around a dozen birds and they were basically oblivious to me as they fed.

Cedar Waxwing

Shots like these were not that easy, though. They kept hanging upside down or ended up behind leaves while looking for that perfect slice of fruit. Every now and then they were argue with one another.

Cedar Waxwing

A great site to have around. Won't be long before the larger flocks depart.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Monk Parakeets, No Foolin'!

A few days earlier, Paul emailed that another birder was reporting some nesting Monk Parakeets not too far from my house. By the time I could have gotten there that night it would ahve been near dark so I planned on trying for them after banding.

Directions placed me at an intersection with a convenience store on one side and a power substation on the other. Since I have seen parrots and parakeets hanging out at substations around Tampa/St. Pete I decided that must be the best place to look. The direction didn't pinpoint any one exact spot.

My main concern in these times of paranoid officials was who was going to jump me once I started scanning such a structure with binoculars. There have been many reports of birders being detained or questioned intensely by Men in Black just because they were staring in the direction of some government structure or another.

Luckily, I didn't have time to look too hard.

As I approached the the intersection I heard a loud noise behind me, away from the substation. I tracked the noise to a telephone pole located just behind the store. Whew.

The light was bad as it was noon and the birds were up in the transformer on the pole. The only spot to stand was next to a ditch in order to see the birds. There were 4 shapes that I could make out and the nest was obvious. After a few minutes, one of the birds walked out to the edge of the nest.

Monk Parakeet

A minute later another pulled a stick out to the edge and tryed to place it in the right spot.

Monk Parakeet

I have been meaning to track down Monk Parakeets for years but never found a chance. Nice to have them even closer this time.

Meanwhile, the morning banding session yielded the usual suspects, including this beautiful male Prairie Warbler.

Prairie Warbler

We checked out the nest boxes again and now there were 4 eggs in the nest. As we approached, there were 2 Bluebirds in the area, one of which was the bird we banded the week before.

Eastern Bluebird

Not a bad April Fool's Day. No tricks.