Saturday, January 26, 2008

Sparrow Drive at Weekie Wachie

We headed out to a new spot for this sparrow round-up and thing looked like they might be a little different as far as the weather was concerned. Maybe we could have a day off of the prairie and a chance to net birds out of the punishing winds that prevail far to the wide-open south.

No such luck.

A fast moving front appeared in the past couple of days and looked to smash into us just in time for the banding opportunity. Some weather reports seemed to suggest it might keep the rains from reaching us until late in the day. Other reports fudged toward a little earlier in the day. It turned out that we got small amounts of rain throughout the entire morning.

It failed to dampen any of the volunteer spirit gathered for the day as we toiled to haul cinder blocks to anchor the net poles out in the open spaces of what was a former limestone quarry. It still looked like it could be a promising day to find some hidden sparrows.

There were no real surprises to the day's catch but we did manage to get more than enough birds to keep things busy. The only things slowing us down were some interesting terrain changes to walk through and the occasional calf-deep ponds of water hiding beneath the tall grasses.

Then the rain began and sprinkled on us for the remained of the day. A couple of highlights made up for the damp.

Definitely the right time of year for some Savannah Sparrows including this early capture.

Savannah Sparrow

The better birds were still come follow and, though there was a slim chance to see them, we were happily greeted by a couple of Henslow's Sparrows throughout the day.

Henslow's Sparrow

IN the middle of the round-up we also managed a few LeConte's Sparrows. They are more rare but the habitat was good for them being near watery edges and now flooded fields. This bird was actually caught earlier in the day and released but returned to nearly the same spot and was recaptured by me just walking back to the nets.

LeConte' Sparrow

The crowd that was there just to take photos swarmed this bird's first capture so I made this a more private moment without alerting the crowd. Besides, it was getting cold and rainy so we wanted to get it back into the wild as soon as possible.

All in all, a fun day despite the cold and rain and a nice chance to band outside the usual spots we have banded before. Still waiting for a nice calm day in a new spot in the future.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Kissimmee Prairie Sparrow Roundup

Finally time for a little Kissimmee Prairie sparrow round-up again after having to miss the last date. This round-up was fairly typical but did bring a few surprises.

As I was loading up the van at 4:30 AM, I glanced up at the telephone pole at the end of the neighbor's driveway for some reason. Even in the near dark, I could tell that there was some other shape atop the pole and quickly grabbed the binoculars. Definitely the shape of an owl!

Barred Owls and even a few Screech Owls have started showing up nearby but this one looked much larger. I attempted to focus on the dark shape and hoped I could get at least some ID from the shot. To my surprise, it turned out to be a Great-horned Owl! The first I have ever recorded in this area.

Great-horned Owl

I found this to be a good sign for the day to come and headed off 3 hours to the south.

I arrived near the front gate right at dawn and listened in on the waking birds around me. I was pleased to hear an American Woodcock over the morning calls of a distant rooster. I tried to get a recording of the Woodcock but it soon ceased calling but I did begin hearing another call that seemed very strange.

I managed to get some recordings of it by sticking the tape recorder out of the van's window but I could not find the singer. It was totally new to me, almost robotic. Maybe I had found some new sparrow to add to my list.

I stepped out of the van and decided to play the call back toward the brush and see what might happen. TO my surprise, the birds flew directly toward me. They were not anything new to me, though. Turned out to be Eastern Towhee's, a male and female, and the male started his strange call again just 4 feet in front of me!

I am used to Towhee calls, but this one seemed to have a completely new and alien dialect.

Eastern Towhee

I usually take my time driving toward the banding site and I still find the abandoned farm house an interesting sight.

Farm House

Moving on, I drove down the road to see what else might be up before I had to help with the net array. Down near the campground, a flock of turkey crossed the road and passed in front of me.


Off in the distance, I noticed some Savannah Sparrows out in the grasses and I had to head over to join the arriving crew. THere was an impressive amount of volunteers for the day, each hoping to find some new bird for their lists and some close-up photos of seldom seen species.

Most of the birds captured were fairly typical. The most exciting point of the day, however, was the Yellow Rail we flushed on one of our early rope drags. It flushed just feet in front of us a few times before heading toward the net directly in front of me. I jumped the rope line in hopes of getting a good capture but the bird dropped into the bottom panel of the net and rolled out and managed to escape across the road from us.

Luckily, we all got great looks as it flew just a couple of feet above the scrub several time. Life Bird for all of us!

We recorded many Bachman's, Grasshopper, and Savannah Sparrows as well as a couple of Sedge Wrens before we had to call it a day. Not bad.

On the way home back out of the park, I got a good dose of Loggerhead Shrike views before I prepared for the long trek home.

Loggerhead Shrike

I also had a 'warning' from a Northern Mockingbird not long before that.

Northern Mockingbird

Though we didn't get as many sparrows as we had hoped, any day with a great Life Bird is a good one.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

No Say's. Scrub Jays, Though.

Paul and I headed to try and check off the Say's Phoebe for the New Year's list but it was no where to be found. Most likely hiding in the trees so early in the day. We decided to head around the end of Ranch Road to see if we could find any sparrows. No luck there, either.

While we were searching, we passed the usually reliable spot for Scrub Jays but they were not there on our initial pass. I mentioned that I hadn't seen them for a while. There was a report that one or two were actually found dead recently and it appeared to be the fault of humans.

We ended our rounds and headed off separately as I had to head back home. I decided to swing by the Jay spot one more time and saw a bird on the electric wires. I stopped and got out for a closer look. It was a Jay!

Just then, one flew out to greet me personally.

Florida Scrub Jay

One of the first things I noticed was that this particular bird was not banded. A majority of the Florida Scrub Jays throughout the state have been banded for study purposes in attempts to save this endangered species.

Moments later, the entire family began to show up a provided excellent photo opportunities. The color-coded bands are very visible on this bird.

Florida Scrub Jay

Florida Scrub Jays are one of the friendliest birds you will find. I love their curiosity and lack of fear. Of course, that can lead to danger when humans with bad intentions show up as has happened to this family.

Florida Scrub Jay

I heard an Eastern Screech Owl around the corner and figured it was Paul playing a tape to bring in some sparrows. He arrived soon after and said he wasn't playing the tape. So Screech Owls are here, too. Excellent.

Paul joined me at the fence for some photos of his own as the Jays continued their poses and fed on the ground at our feet.

Florida Scrub Jay

Hopefully this family will continue to thrive and avoid those wishing them harm. I still say that they should be the state bird of Florida.

Florida Scrub Jay

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Scaup On Cherokee

Finally getting back into the blog zone for the new year. Not a lot happening but I did notice a new duck out on Lake Cherokee. Much like a Ring-necked but a bit darker.

Turns out to be a female Lesser Scaup. Not entirely uncommon but scarce enough for me.

Lesser Scaup

She was way out on the lake but not too far to be unrecognizable.

Later, just before dark, there were a few dozen Scaup out on Lake Davis, 2 blocks over.

In these quiet times, I will take it.