Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Cooper's Hawk

I had been wondering why I haven't been seeing the hawks lately. The wait is over.

I was just staring out the backdoor enjoying the site of one of the recently banded Western Palm Warblers and Tutfted Titmice when a small bird joined the preening warbler in the laurel tree. Couldn't quite place it. Not a Palm for sure. Maybe a Kinglet.

Suddenly, all the birds froze. We know what that means. Raptor just flew into the party. A dozen Mourning Doves were not pleased but held their positions perfectly still. And me without a camera...

I went out to the van to grab the camera and binoculars and circled to the side of the yard hoping to find the raptor without causing the doves to try and fly past it. A flock of Goldfinches flew in overhead as I made my way back.

I wasn't fast enough. The doves burst upward in all directions and the streaking missle of a hawk dove downward. The mist net shook hard. It was in there!

With no direct entry into the backyard from where I was, I ran back around into the house and out through the backdoor. Maybe it got out. If not, how was I going to deal with it? I have never held a hawk before.

It was there, alright. The intended target dove was also in the net a foot away. How I managed to get the hawk untangled and then the dove with one free hand I am still not sure of.

The young Cooper's Hawk was nice and confused, occasionally looking at me but never tried to bite or grab me with it's talons. I didn't have the Pyle's reference book so I had no idea what size band to put on this bird. I would have to let it go without one.

It did need to get documented, though. I called for my boys to come see the bird and had a picture taken. I don't end up in many photos but I wanted to pose with my first hawk! I got rid of the bag soon but at the time I wan't taking any chances.

Cooper's Hawk

An hour later, the same bird tried to get the doves again before flying off. I am sure it will be back by many times. Maybe in the net again.

Cooper's Hawk

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Myrtle Warbler

One of the birds I have often wondered about has been a Myrtle (Yellow-rumped) Warbler that I noticed in the yard years ago when the American Goldfinches finally found our yard. Myrtle Warblers don't usually hang out in our yard for some reason even though they are all over the place near the lake a couple blocks away all Winter long.

Then, this single male began stopping by one of the feeders where it would eat rather quickly before dropping down to the birdbath for a drink and then would fly off. Next day, same thing. Over and over. One male Myrtle. By the time the Goldfinches moved on so did the warbler.

The following year it returned with the Goldfinch flocks. Then the next. Then again this year. It is a week or so ahead of the Goldfinches being at the feeders now but it sure acts like the same bird from past years. But how to be sure.

The best way would be to band it, of course. Today I did. We will have to be in the same spot next year to be sure but it is now identifiable.

Myrtle Warbler

Pretty, isn't he? I was about to take the nets down when I heard a Cardinal chipping and backed up to see if it would fly into the yard. Instead, the Myrtle flew in behind me and over to the net. With this great plumage he won't be hard to tell apart from most Yellow-rumps.

Myrtle Warbler

Let the tracking begin!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Backyard Birding

Well, the home computer has died. Right when I was about to start a bunch of posts about the banding I am doing of my backyard birds. It seems to be just the power supply so hopefully I should be able to get the files recovered and play catch-up later.

In the meantime, I will start with what I do have. Starting to get exciting. Later we will go backwards and get to the Cardinals and Thrashers and such.

Now able to take some gear home in between our Wekiva banding days, I am able to stretch one net form one side of our backyard to the other and try and get my local birds banded for further study. Too bad the new families of Cardinals and Blue Jays started dispersing before I was able to get this set-up ready.

However, one of the jays did return this weekend and was quietly waiting in the net near the end of the day.

Blue Jay

The families are still around but I hear them farther down the street these days. When it is time to nest and raise the young ones they tend to hang out in our yard. Must be all the seed I put out.

They probably don't need me right now as every oak in the area is producing more acorns than I can remember ever seeing. The acorns carpet the ground everywhere I go.

One species I will not be banding is the Mourning Dove. They are one of the most numerous birds in the yard but I figure I won't waste bands on birds that are easy pickings for the raptors that travel through or live in the neighborhood. If we get them at Wekiva they have a better chance of escape but my birds are fat and happy.

And easy targets.

Fortunately, most of the doves that do end up hitting the net manage to free themselves once they put their minds to it. This is the first dove in a long while that actually couldn't figure it out.

Morning Dove

Another interesting thing I find about the doves is that they tend to drop down and fly out in pretty much a vertical motion as opposed to flying away horizontally. Most days they drop down onto one of the many feeders on one side of the net or the other and never cross the yard.

Fine by me.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Since the Kissimmee Prairie sparrow drive was canceled I had a little time to arrange for another birding fix. Fortunately, fellow birder Danny Bales was available to shepard me toward a long sought after Life Bird.

Danny helps with the monitoring of the various colonies of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers (RCWs) out at Hal Scott Preserve located just off of SR 520 from Highway 50 near Christmas, Florida. He was gracious enough to drive me directly to an active colony located in the sprawling nearly 9,000 acres of pine and scrub flatwoods.

I had been considering a bike trip out to some of the sites after missing the bird when I ventured out last year at dawn with my wife, Carolyn. We got there just a little late that morning and all we heard were some knocks as the birds fed out in the pines.

Knowing the habits of some of these birds, Danny brought me straight to a couple of marked trees which identified the active nests of several RCWs and mentioned which spot would be best to try and get a shot of these fast moving woodpeckers. Knowing when they arrive back at their cavities, always made in living pines, helped a lot.

Robins and Myrtle (Yellow-rumped) Warblers signaled the evening feeding patterns typical of the area and many Bluebirds and Pine Warblers joined the fray of birds either heading toward roosting points or feeding just before dark. Tiger mosquitoes were cloying and quite large.

Before we staked out our spots to get pictures of the RCWs, we walked around the scrub to see if we could scare anything else up into view. We were hoping for sparrows but I suddenly noticed a bird flying out from a tree about 70 yards away. It sure FLEW like a woodpecker.

Closer inspection through the binoculars confirmed that it was a RCW, my first ever! I tried to get closer but it flew off away from where we needed to be in a short while so we did not follow. We decided heading back to the nesting trees would be best, just in case.

Just around 5 PM, the sounds of RCWs were heard and the male made a quick flight toward his home. Many birds followed, including several Bluebirds that seemed intent on chasing the bird after it landed in several spots. Danny was 50 yards from me as it flew in close to him and indicated that this was the bird.

It finally made a return to the nesting tree and began to peck around the entryway, just as Danny said it usually does. I had mere moments to get any shots of of the bird as it kept it's back to me. I did manage one 3/4 profile.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

It flew off again and was still harassed by the Bluebirds. Once it came back to the tree, it dove into the cavity and was done for the day. I almost had a better shot. If only it had stalled for 2 seconds more.

As we headed back to the truck, the female flew in and dove straight into her tree. The day was done for the woodpeckers.

Someday, I will head back out to try again. However, getting the first Life Bird in many, may months was reward enough.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Red-headed Woodpeckers

Banding was slow today so I took one trip past the net lanes to see if anything was happening closer to the pine flatwoods.

Suddenly, I could hear the calls of the resident Red-headed Woodpeckers all around me. They were flying in to gather acorns for the Winter and were right near the trail about 50 yards out from the last net.

And me without a camera...

I hurried back up the long trail to grab my gear and made it back as quickly as possible. The birds were still gathering food.

When the Red-headed Woodpeckers do this, I notice that they pick a certain oak, grab an acorn, fly back to their stoarge places, and then come right back to the same oak again and again. This pattern was holding true today.

I positioned myself with the sunlight to my back and got as close as I dared as to not deter them from their chores and waited. Sure enough, the birds still flew in and continued the gathering. Though getting a picture was harder than I had hoped.

They would fly in directly over my left shoulder into the chosen tree and land with their backs to me. Seemed that the best food was on the side facing me and easiest for them to grab. I missed a couple of flight shots as they left before I got one with the digital. The camera is more of a point-and-shoot so that may give you a sense of the close proximity.

Red-headed Woodpecker

Over and over again, they flew in and I have numerous shots of their backs! Finally, I got one good profile before the gathering was over with the film camera. I am SO old-fashioned!

Red-headed Woodpecker

They are noisy and conspicuous while grabbing these morsels and use several trees to store them in for later. It certainly brightens any morning while watching this event.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Banding Sharpies

I miss out on all the fun!

It sure seems that way sometimes. I can only band on weekends though the banding station often operates during a select number of days during the week. I have missed the Tanagers, Yellow Warblers, and lately, the Sharp-shinned Hawks.

For 2 consecutive weeks on a Friday, Sharpies were captured in nets near the banding table. Maria has been bragging the whole time.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

With good reason.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Bald Eagles Return

For many years now, a pair of Bald Eagles have been nesting and successfully raising young in the cemetery just blocks from my house. While other Bald Eagles in the area stay year-round, this pair seems to show up only to breed, nest, rear young and then take off again.

I finally had a few minutes to make a swing through the cemetery a couple weeks ago and was happy to see a bird in the nest already! The tree the nest has always been in is looking worse than ever, however. Not sure if it can make it through another wind storm.

I got there just before night-fall and checked the tree from this point. The bare tree on the right is the pine with the nest. You can see the nest up top.

Eagle's Nest

Before our bad hurricane season of 2004 there were several trees in that spot. The nest tree was filled out with branches and the nest was shaded and the birds were harder to see. There was another pine tree on each side of the nest tree which were knocked over or compromised and later cut down. The bark of the surviving tree is nearly all gone.

However, the birds are back and trying again.

I only saw the one bird from that angle and I made my way around the road so that I was under the tree. Suddenly, the other eagle showed up across the cemetery and I managed to get one shot off as it arrived at the nest.

Eagle's Nest

It dropped the material that was in it's talons and sat for a minute. It then flew to a nearby pine with what appeared to be a snake and began to eat with it's back to me.

I will check back soon. I look forward to seeing if they set up a nest in another tree someday. Because that current tree can't stand for too much longer.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Ring-necked Ducks Return

The waiting is over for the return of the "Winter ducks".

I delivered the boys to school and headed back home and noticed more activity on Lake Davis. Once I found a place to pull over I focused in on a likely group of ducks. Sure enough, 1 male and 3 female Ring-necked Ducks were cruising the wind-swept water.

Noel, now officially a hurricane, finally pulled away from the Florida coast and opened up the skies for better flight. Strong winds still presist but that should settle down soon and we will be bathed in cool temperatures. Maybe if Noel was not here the ducks would have made it here the same time as last year: October 31st.

Over the years they have been getting here at least in the first week of Novemeber. Basically right on time.

Now I can relax. For some reason I always get a bit stressed awaiting the arrival of the Winter ducks. I even confused the arrival date with the start of school this year as I always tell the boys to check the lake as we drive past to see when we can first spot the Ring-necked Ducks.

Can't wait to band next Sunday!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Swamp Sparrow Surprise

Sparrows are back!

Birding friend, and excellent photographer, Paul Hueber emailed me about a small flock of Swamp Sparrows and a Song Sparrow he found at Lake Lotus yesterday. The Song Sparrow is an excellent bird for Florida.

This morning, I added myself to the Swamp Sparrow list.

I headed out to fill feeders just as the Sun was trying to fight through the clouds being spun our way by Tropical system Noel. Sometime overnight, the winds felled a frond from the palm in the back so I decided to move it off of the deck and onto the palm frond resting place in teh backyard.

On the way out I noticed a small bird making an escape through the 4 O' Clocks along the back fence. I stopped where I was and figured I would try to pish it up. Once. Twice. Then movement as the bird came back to check out the sound.

I could see the branches of plants shaking, indicating an advancing bird, and waited a few seconds. Out popped the bird. A Swamp Sparrow!

I figured that was all the action I was going to see but it decided to drop down into the yard and began picking at seed heads provided by some new weeds under the sunflower feeder. It made it's way from plant to plant and eventually just about 6 feet in front of where I was standing.

I guess it figured I was just a harmless bit of flora as I was still holding the frond in front of me. I wanted to see how close it would get but had the kids waiting to go off to school. This would have to be my only view. For now.

This is not THE bird, but rather a Swamp Sparrow from earlier in the year.

Swamp Sparrow

Time to hone those Sparrow ID skills again. Finally!

Wekiva banding could prove a little more interesting this weekend now that a front is pushing down and will also provide some cooler temperatures.