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.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

St. George Island Vacation, Pt. 1

We headed to the Panhandle for a much needed vacation and I hoped for some new birds along the way. That ended up not happening but there were a lot of birds to keep me searching, nonetheless.

We stopped for lunch at the western side of St. George Island before heading to the campgrounds. While we waited for our pizza to cook, I noticed a large flock of birds calling across the street. I had to go check it out.

Many, many Brown-headed Cowbirds were there on the lines.

Brown-headed Cowbird

Probably the most exciting find was right at our campsite.

We were set up in one of the many areas around the grounds. Our site was backed up to some shrubs that were growing in very moist ground. Part of the area there actually had made a small pond of water that we could see through the branches. I looked through to spy what might be in there and, too my complete surprise, there was a Clapper Rail!

Clapper Rail

I had only seen one of these before in the early dawn at Cape Canaveral and it was pretty dark. Here was one right in afternoon light paying very little attention to me. Could signal a good birding trip, after all.

Not long after that, our fellow campers, longtime friends, settled in and broke up some firewood. Turns out that one of the logs was filled with termites. Upon releasing them, birds flew in from the surrounding bushes and hungrily devoured the insects.

Most successful of these birds was this Eastern Towhee.

Eastern Towhee

Joining him were several smaller birds and this Gray Catbird.

Gray Catbird

We had to get ready for dinner soon but we took a quick walk to the beach on the intercoastal side of the island. Not much there as it was high tide but I did spot something out in the waves.


A nice flock of Bufflehead ducks rounded out the arrival here before Thanksgiving.

The boys had a great time walking the beaches and picking up trinkets and we steeled ourselves against the thought of a very chilly night to follow. Tomorrow, we would hit the main beach and explore some more.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lake Lotus Cruising

Not much happening in the area of late but I managed to stop by Lake Lotus for a few minutes. There were a lot of small birds to keep me busy trying to focus on their fast travels through the branches.

Most numerous were the Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. Hardly ever stopped looking for bugs.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Except to stare at this stranger with a giant contraption glued to his head.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Don't usually see the male Ruby-crowned Kinglets showing off their trademark but I got lucky with one OK shot.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

A nice diversion for a pretty day.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Lake Davis Walk

The boys wanted to walk around one of our neighborhood lakes. This request is often followed with, "You can bring your camera, Dad!" as they know it is another carrot they have in their back pocket. Rarely have to ask twice, if I have the time.

Lake Davis is right near downtown Orlando and is regularly voted "Best Lake to see Ducks" in a yearly poll. Most of these are Mallard and Wood Ducks but there are many Winter visitors that swing through every year, mainly Ring-necked Ducks. The number of American Coots gets pretty high, though, and for the past couple of years there have been a couple of Coots that now stay year-round.

American Coot

We almost always can find White Ibis at the lake and around the neighborhood. Sometimes in the dozens in any given flock.

White Ibis

Which often makes it a challenge to get a single bird in the frame.

White Ibis

Also around the lakes are the Anhingas. They often dry off up in the Cypress trees but occasionally rest near the lake's edge when the dogs aren't let off of their leashes.


This female has a better spot with her back right to the sun.


All by itself, watching the other waterfowl romp and play, is one of our Muscovy Ducks.

Muscovy Duck

Another day in the neighborhood.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Of Bobwhites and Albino Wrens

Friend Paul Hueber found an albino House Wren at Lake Lotus last week so I took a lunch break to see if I could relocate it.

Just as I pulled into the parking spot, I noticed a small lump along the edge of the trees. Maybe a small bird? I got out the camera and eased out of the car. Sure enough, a Bobwhite Quail was sitting perfectly still in the grass.

I got closer, snapping pictures and using the swing set as a barrier between us, and suddenly spotted another. And another. And another! There was a small flock of the birds there quietly feeding in the grass.


Talking to Gary, one of the park rangers, I got the whole story. They released 11 quail in the park to try and establish the bird which once used to be found here until a few years ago. No wonder they didn't seem too afraid of my approach.


Hope they survive the hungry hawks!

I continued to search for the House Wren. Arriving at the location given by Paul, I could hear a wren chattering in the trees. Quite a distance from me but I was eventually able to spot it following another small bird around. The best I could manage was this far-away shot as it displayed on a branch.

House Wren

Then, like the ghost it appeared to be, it vanished. A few minutes later it emerged quite close to me as it flew under the boardwalk beneath me and across to the other side into the dense lake grasses. I never saw it again.

What an interesting find.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Wood Duck

I love Wood Ducks. It is difficult to get them in proper light sometimes but this drake decided to take a chance and swim out near me.

Wood Duck

I enjoy their rainbow colors even when they have a dripping nose.

Wood Duck

When calling out to their mates, they extend their necks and show every bit of color they can.

Wood Duck

Another fine day in the neighborhood.

Ring-necked Ducks Arrive

O.K., so it is only one but the first of the Ring-necked Ducks has arrived. Last year they showed up in a small flock on October 31st.

One day late. Could only get distant shots but they count.

Ring-necked Duck