Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bald Eagle at the Cemetery

A few days behind with this one but it is one of my new favorite shots.

I spun around the cemetery to check on the nest building and they are still in the same dead pine. I didn't see anything right away except for dozens of Fish Crows circling around. A few were actually at the Bald Eagle's nest.

I drove on past the nest tree and found an eagle perched on the very same branch I took shots of an eagle years before. It had a large fish and was probably the thing attracting the crows.

This bird tolerated me for a while while took a ton of shots. This is my favorite.

Bald Eagle

I will keep checking in on the progress when I can.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Red-shouldered Hawk Still Hunts

For a hawk that was never here before, it seems to like it here!

The same Red-shouldered Hawk is still hunting in the neighborhood.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Pretty bird. As long as it leaves with some Mourning Doves I can stand it for a while. Mess with my Goldfinches though...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Goldfinch Time!

No photo, but just a report of the return of the American Goldfinches to our feeders. A single female birds was feeding but another was heard.

I have been checking the feeders for signs of activity lately. Two days ago I could tell something had been there since the nyjer seed was outside the feeding ports. Last night I checked again and there was bird poop beneath a feeder!

Arrival time is exactly the same as last year.

Let the flocks come in. Christmas wish? Bring some Siskins with ya...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

St. Pete CBC

Time again for the Christmas Bird Count season! Once again I helped fellow birders and major environmental activists, Don and Lorraine Margeson, count birds near the Largo area. We missed the Great-horned Owl that I got great shots of last year but there were plenty other birds to keep us busy.

Sit back. This will be a rather long post.

The day started, well, in the dark. We got up and out around 5 AM to call for Screech Owls. We managed to get 4. No Great-horned Owl, though, as I mentioned.

We headed over to Joe's Creek Preserve to begin the real counting at dawn. Problem was fog. It was just a tad foggy. Imaging trying to locate birds in this:

Foggy Morning

Or this:

Foggy Morning

However, once we settled into positions along the marsh edge we began to hear and see many small birds. Goldfinches came down within yards of us. Myrtle Warblers jumped from perch to perch and Swamp Sparrows peered out from secret mangrove hideaways.

Swamp Sparrow

Every now and then a flock of Red-winged Blackbirds would erupt from the cattails and fly directly overhead.

Red-winged Blackbird

We didn't find much at the cemetery but this American Kestrel added to our species count.

American Kestrel

The fog eventually did burn off around 10:30 AM. Over near the treatment plant we found Cooper's Hawks, a ton of Fish Crows, herons, and numerous Ospreys. This one was mere feet overhead.


Eventually we made it back to Veteran's Memorial Park. There we added a lot of new birds like Blue-headed Vireos, Black and White Warblers, and out at the beach a Spotted Sandpiper.

Spotted Sandpiper

Among the feeding flocks of smaller birds, a Downy Woodpecker fed in the palms and in the oaks.

Downy Woodpecker

My favorite encounter, though, was this Yellow-crowned Night Heron. We first spotted it stalking a meal in the grass just off of the beach.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

It was fairly cooperative of my approach. How cooperative? Beat this for a handheld shot from 6 feet!

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

What a beautiful heron. I am sure this was my best photo op this count.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

But, we had to move on. Off to our last stop: The country club around the corner. We were given access and carts to ride in and we headed around the course, to the slight annoyance of some golfers, to get the rest of our count done.

One of my other favorite sights is that of resting Anhingas. Especially when they preen on the branches while drying off.


I also have grown quite fond of the growing numbers of Wood Storks in the state.

Wood Stork

Our day all but over, we got back to our cars to depart. I had to make one more check of the boat ramp to get the last few birds. A Great Heron here, a Royal Tern there, and one last set of shots of loafing Brown Pelicans.

Brown Pelican

All in all, a great day. Could have had more birds but that is the nature of the count. 12 hours later I headed for a shower and long trip back to Orlando. Can't wait until next year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A New Neighbor

This was strange. All the birds were going crazy. Especially the Jays so I figured there had to be hawk around somewhere. Now Cooper's in sight. What was it.

Headed out to get the paper and up on the telephone pole out front was this guy.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Strange thing is, I can't recall ever seeing a Red-shouldered Hawk in our yard. EVER.

Cooper's Hawks? Check. Sharp-shinned Hawk? Check. Red-tailed Hawk? Check. Bald Eagle? Check.

Red-shouldered? Only when the Blue Jay s pretend to be. Yet here it was.

Go figure.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Interesting Feathers Ya Got There!

The front from yesterday cleared out and brought in cooler temperatures and many, many Sundogs.


Later in the day I walked back to my desk and noticed a large bird on top of the pine tree across the parking lot. I took a couple of distant shots and thought nothing more about it. Until I got home and actually looked at the photos.

What the heck was THAT!?

Red-tailed Hawk

Not a familiar bird to me. Several species of hawks hunt in this area but none look like this bird.

I quickly emailed more experienced raptor birders and the reviews were mixed. The final answer of a dark morph Red-tailed Hawk was settled upon.

Red-tailed Hawk

They do not breed this far east and are rarely seen here.

Always something new.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bald Eagle from Work

We had a front moving through the area. Storms were predicted to be severe so we kept a watch on the sky. Glad I did.

Midway through the morning the clouds darkened and the dark shape of a Bald Eagle began flying in looping motions over our parking lot.

Bald Eagle

Sometimes it would swoop low and lower its legs as if landing atop one of the tall pines nearby but most of the time it would just soar in steady circles.

Bald Eagle

Then, it suddenly headed closer to our building and flew off into the distance.

Bald Eagle

Now I will have to try and find a nest!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Some New Birds Banded

Things have really gotten quiet at the banding site but we did get a couple of nice birds today.

Always nice to have a Hermit Thrush stop by.

Hermit Thrush

We also banded our first Swamp Sparrow for this site. A very pretty adult with fresh feathers.

Swamp Sparrow

Now where did those other birds go?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Red-shouldered Hawk

I stopped by a couple lakes on the way home. Nothing unusual but this young Red-shouldered Hawk made for a nice photo-op.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Monday, December 01, 2008

Conjunction, Junction

I mentioned a few days back that I would try to catch the conjunction between the Moon, Venus, and Jupiter. Here are a couple of the results.

I found a spot across the street from work that offers the best uncluttered view of the sky here in town. As the sun was setting I grabbed some distant shots for scale.

Moon Venus Jupiter

A closer view proves even more beautiful.

Moon Venus Jupiter

Next year, the meteors are suppose to be rather good. I will keep practicing night photos until then.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Hooded Mergansers Perform

I often check the retention pond across from work as every year a number of Hooded Mergansers call it home for the Winter months. I really enjoy watching these birds, especially when I can find them doing mating dances in the swallow waters.

This day would find me over at the pond as night was closing in. The ducks were also at the far end of the pond since they are very wary of people but I can sit in the van and try for some shots from there. The shots aren't that great but I thought I would share some of the behaviors that I observe just to illustrate.

So, on with the show! First, the males circle around the female and every now and then stretch out their necks while flaring their crests.

Hooded Merganser

Once they think that they have the female's attention, they get ready for the next dance step. This involves tucking in their chins...

Hooded Merganser

...hovering in one spot while they start to paddle in the water. They then open their mouths and begin to raise their body out of the water.

Hooded Merganser

Then they tilt back and thrust their chest upward, head all the way back to their backs. They settle back into the water and observe the female.

Hooded Merganser

What he usually gets for his trouble is the female chasing him away!

Hooded Merganser

Meanwhile, the next male stretches his wings to prepare for his display.

Hooded Merganser

I have never observed them mating during this display ritual but then I am not there all of the time. It is a really interesting sight to behold.

Male House Finch

It took a while, but the male House Finch finally posed for a photo. The females are much less jumpy.

House Finch

Enough said.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

St. George Island Vacation, Pt. 4

The boys and I took one last walk down the shoreline on the northern edge of the island. I had only been over there during high tide and wanted to see what might be feeding there on the mudflats. There were a different variety of species on this side.

Out on the far edge of the flats were Killdeer and a Semipalmated Plover.

Semipalmated Plover

A bird I find more and more attractive as I photograph them, Willet, feeds in great morning sunlight.


Out at the tip of the island, a large gull fed on something mysterious on the beach. As we got closer the gull walked to the edge of the beach and I could see it was an adult Herring Gull. I am used to juveniles on the Atlantic side of the state so the adult version was throwing me for a minute.

Herring Gull

But what was it feasting upon? Yum! An octopus!


On our walk back, we had many other birds fly past us. This Brown Pelican made a close pass.

Brown Pelican

As did this Laughing Gull.

Laughing Gull

We got back to the campsite and packed up and began our trip home. There were a couple of stops I wanted to make along the way so we headed over to Bald Point. The weather was taking a turn for the worse (it had been raining inland for a day or so) and there were not a lot of birds to be found.

The best spot was the main entry to Bald point which was alive with sparrows, Blue Birds, and more. I stepped out to investigate and heard a familiar voice. A Carolina Chickadee!

Carolina Chickadee

Finally, I found some Brown-headed Nuthatches. Not the Siskins I was hoping for but something nice all the same.

Brown-headed Nuthatch

A great trip. Some day we will have to get back here and really go through the other bird sites such as St. Marks. Until then, back through the rain, into the night, and home.

Friday, November 28, 2008

St. George Island Vacation, Pt. 3

I had read that a good spot to see some interesting birds was close to the park gate at the Youth Camp. Off I went early in the morning. I stopped at a boat launch along the way.

The tide was out so the oyster beds were exposed. Still not a lot of bird activity. A few Palm Warblers searched through the shrubs along the shore. Out in the channel, way out, there were a couple more Bufflehead and swimming with them were a few Red-breasted Mergansers. At least a new bird for the list today.

Red-breasted Merganser

I reached the Youth Camp and found the parking lot quite full of birds. Over in the trees on the small incline, dozens of Myrtle Warblers snatched insects from the air while Ruby-crowned Kinglets searched the branches.

I tried to get some shots but the Myrtles did not want to play. The Ruby-crowned Kinglets, however, are pretty easy to watch close up as they are more concerned about finding a meal than worrying about some big mammal staring at them. They have the speed advantage.

So much speed that every time I took a picture of them here I ended up with ghost Kinglets!

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

I was really after Pine Siskins which were reported a few days ago but I never found them. I searched for a while and headed back to camp. There, a few Chipping Sparrows flitted through the sites.

Chipping Sparrow

While Northern Mockingbirds kept a careful watch.

Northern Mockingbird

The whole group went out to the Youth Camp later in the day but we still only found the same birds that I did in the morning. On the way back to the campsite I went alone via a side trail that seemed to head back the right way while everyone drove back.

It was a nice walk. There were some birds I could only hear but never see but I did find a good marsh section near a bridge that was being scanned by a Northern Harrier.

Northern Harrier

Much to my surprise, there were actually two of them. I have only seen them singularly in the past. I kept wanting a closer flyby
but they eventually moved in the direction of the campsite.

Northern Harrier

I made it back a bit before sunset. Tomorrow we pack up and head home.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

St. George Island Vacation, Pt. 2

Once we had a hardy breakfast, we took a walk on the beach. St. George is a great dune island with excellent beaches and few people. At least this time of year.

There were actually fewer birds on the beach than I had anticipated but enough to keep my attention. Like this Laughing Gull.

Laughing Gull

There was another flock of Laughing Gulls nearby and with them were a few Forster's Terns.

Forster's Tern

One of our shelling companions, a Sanderling, made for some nice photos.


Not much else out there. Close to shore, anyway. Many birds were seen foraging far out over the waves but I could only ID the pelicans and a couple of Common Loons.

We made the rest of the day hanging around the campsite and getting ready for Thanksgiving dinner (steak instead of turkey). Being out on the island provided a lot of overhead viewing as we could see the Milky Way and a few shooting stars. This was also the week that the planets were aligning.

This is the view looking down the path from our campsite as Jupiter and Venus move toward one another in the night sky.


Next week, I will have to try and catch the main event when the moon joins these two planets in very close proximity.