Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk

During a heavy rainstorm two days ago I noticed a female Mallard walking through the parking lot toward a retention pond. On her heel were 6 ducklings, all in a row.

The rain let up as I was heading home and I stopped for a couple of pictures.


The next day, someone mentioned that there were 3 ducklings. I mentioned that that makes 3 less. We have a healthy population of Red-tailed Hawks in the office area and I am sure the ducklings make an easy catch.

Today, a co-worker came over to me to say she thought there was a hawk that might be injured since it wasn't flying. It was just standing on the grass near the pond. I looked out and saw that it actually appeared to be eating something.

Not a duckling. Looked more like a lizard. I headed down and got a couple of shots. Other people were watching it outside by now. This juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk didn't seem to notice.

Red-shouldered Hawk

I followed it around for a while, taking more photos, and it soon flew to the opposite side of the building.

Red-shouldered Hawk

As for the fate of the remaining ducklings...time will tell.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Jay Watch, Day 2

Day 2 of Jay Watch and, indeed, I was assigned a new route. Maybe providing a photo from day 1 helped determine that they would like photos of other birds. This day we would be fairly guaranteed Jays to count.

We did pass a Jay preening along the trail side as we headed to our early check points but we couldn't count it. It wasn't in our area. It would have to be picked up by a trailing group assigned there. The next stop yielded nothing more than Downy Woodpeckers, Mourning Doves, and Carolina Wrens. Fun to watch but not good enough to count officially.

The following stop was close to the area where I got shots of one family the day before. I was even dropped off at a counting station in view of the tree where my shot was taken. I heard Scrub Jays almost as soon as I stepped toward my designated spot and didn't even have to play the recorded Jay calls.

I saw a couple of the Jays swoop in from the left. Hummingbirds fed from the overhead branches and soon Chickadees surprised me from over my shoulder. Then I noticed one of the Jays moving from shrub to shrub. It appeared to be the unbanded bird from yesterday.

Florida Scrub Jay

The other bird I photographed was back up at her treetop perch soon afterward. I wanted more shots but the transport vehicle was heading back toward me. Time for the next check point.

There, I heard a couple of Jays off in the distance and could barely make them out in the heat shimmer. They just wouldn't head toward me and the tape player. Perhaps it was because they were right next to another check point blasting Jay calls as well.

We headed to the next points being told to keep a sharp watch out. A known family group usually stayed nearby. I played the tape and watched for my alloted time and then started to walk toward the other groups. As I watched the Black Vultures and Swallow-tailed Kites rising to meet the morning updrafts I noticed some small shapes bouncing through the pine branches and heading in my direction.

Seconds later, the scout landed just above me.

Florida Scrub Jay

He was soon followed by 2, 4, maybe 5 other Scrub Jays. They landed close and then flew to new branches quickly. I decided I would be better off snapping photos than trying to get band IDs with binoculars so I fired away. I got many identifying shots. Even when they end unbanded like this bird it is good for record keeping.

Florida Scrub Jay

We all met up near the transport vehicle and compared notes. The scout was now at the top of a pine tree right next to us. The remaining birds had dropped down into the scrub. We called to them once more. An adult female jumped up to investigate soon to be followed by a juvenile!

As far a cuteness goes, this young bird stole the morning. I hadn't even realized this shot looked like this until I got home and processed files. It is now my computer desktop.

Florida Scrub Jay

It hopped around right in front of us for a while. Then, we found out that this bird was a young female. How? She began attempting the hiccup-like calls only used by the females. This shot was taken in mid-call.

Florida Scrub Jay

We had a couple more check points to go but I ended up with probably my favorite pose just as we were leaving.

Florida Scrub Jay

The last few check points were mixed. No birds where they had been seen before and some birds where they hadn't. The light was bad then as the rain clouds were building but we managed a few band readings. With those birds the day was concluded.

Not a bad tally. Only another year until the next counts.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

(Scrub) Jay Watch

A weekend of tracking Florida Scrub Jays. What could be better? It is a yearly count that is held across the state of Florida to try and document the declining Florida endemic in many known habitats and determine the health of existing colonies and, hopefully, record any new generations as they appear.

Jay Watch counts like this are held just after breeding season so any new surviving chicks can be observed. It also tries to learn if any new birds have joined an existing family group or if a family has relocated to another area.

The only down side is that it happens when it is HOT! With many days of afternoon rain, however, it seemed much cooler than last year. I was also assigned to a new location. Last year I was next to the coast at Buck Lake. This year I helped at the Lake Monroe Conservation Area just off of Lake Monroe as it empties into the St. John's River.

Or is it enters the lake? The river does flow North...

On this first day of the three day count, I was given a ride by Alex, one of the several Saint John's Water Management team. The four of us stopped at our determined check points. At each stop we exited the car, played tape recorded Scrub Jay vocalizations, and waited to see if we could observe any jays.

We heard one at an early spot but did not see any until check point 28. There, Susan (another volunteer) was greeted by a family of four. I asked Alex to let me try and get a photo and to try and see any bands that might be on any of the birds. I could make out some yellow and white bands but the real proof was delivered by the couple of shots I got before the birds dropped into the surrounding scrub.

Florida Scrub Jay

In the field I could only make out the bright colors but the photo revealed two more bands. Silver and dark green.

We had to call the last check points off due to Swallow-tailed Kites in the area. Unknown to me, these Kites are now considered predators in this instance as they have been seen swooping down at Jays in the area. Using tapes to call the Jays into the open would be inviting them to dinner.

These were the only Scrub Jays for our group on this day. Tomorrow, I might get a new route. We shall see what birds are in the other areas.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Burrowing Owls

Almost exactly 2 years ago I was tipped off to a Burrowing Owl location. To this day I have kept that location a secret and will continue to do so until told otherwise. I still get a rare occasion to drive near the spot but have not had the time to drop back in again to see if the owls were still there.

This year, I had to make a swing around the area and decided to spend at least a few minutes making sure if they were there or not. Developers are getting closer all the time. I feared the whole field that they inhabited would be paved over.

Happily, I was wrong.

I thought they may have moved on after a quick scan of the fences lines but I finally spotted a bird about 60 yards outs. I knew pictures would not be good but I snapped a few any way.

On the way back to the van I looked to my left and there, on another fence post much closer, was another owl. Watching me. It even let me get a closer view.

Burrowing Owl

So, the birds are still hanging on in this changing landscape. I just hope that the owners of the properties can claim them as their own for as long as possible. These birds deserve a nice home.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Peach-faced Lovebirds

There were reports today of some 'new' birds not far from the house. I put new in quotes because they were actually reported 2 years earlier but never relocated by anyone. Even me.

But there they were. Peach-faced Lovebirds.

Peach-faced Lovebirds

This time, they were noisy and easy to find. Better yet, they appear to have hatched some chicks this year after using the rocks on the side of a business building as nest holes.

Peach-faced Lovebirds

I will have to keep some notes into the future.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Hawk and Owl Banding at ARC

A full slate of birds to band and an equally large group of volunteers and viewers! There are more pictures than usual in this post as we had so many birds and banders.

The birds to band today included 8 Red-shouldered Hawks a a few Barn Owls and an American Kestrel (Southeastern sub-species). Many got to take turns banding different birds. For several volunteers, this would be a first opportunity to do so.

Carol brought in the first hawk for banding and we all enjoyed viewing these beautiful birds about to be released back into the wild.

Red-shouldered Hawk

After Richard and I got the first few hawks banded, Richard's granddaughter, Sydney, had a first try at banding.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Once the hawks are banded they are weighed for the records. To do this, they are placed inside of a cardboard box...

Red-shouldered Hawk

...and placed onto a digital scale. The weight of the box (weighed previously) is subtracted to get the actual weight of the bird.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Christine looks on as Carol shows the stress bars on the young hawk's tail. Stress bars indicate growth rates on a bird much like tree rings suggest feeding rates of trees. You can see the points were the bird was growing fastest by the growth patterns in the tail feathers.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Next up, Cameron takes a turn at banding.

Red-shouldered Hawk

For the last Red-shouldered Hawk, Sydney's boyfriend Maxx gets the honor of banding a raptor.

Red-shouldered Hawk

The hawks were returned to their mews (a large structure where the birds can rest and recuperate) and the Barred Owls were brought out.

Barred Owl

Scott McCorkle holds an Owl as Richard applies the band.

Barred Owl

A close-up of the band being applied. You don't want your fingers in the middle of those talons!

Barred Owl

FInally, the Kestrel was brought in. What a pretty bird. I am so used to seeing them so far overhead.

American Kestrel

On the way back to the car I wanted to check on the progress of the Red-shouldered Hawks that I included in an earlier post. Just a couple of weeks and they are so much bigger!

Red-shouldered Hawk

As the season moves into Summer there is usually an increase in birds to be banded as storms displace young birds and are brought into the rehab center. Hopefully, there will not be too many but we will be ready to band them once they are fit enough for release.