Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Belated Christmas Present: Green-tailed Towhee

Reports flooded in around December 10th that a rare bird had arrived in Pinellas County, FL. A local Audubon group took a trip to a small preserve in Safety Harbor and found a Green-tailed Towhee. The last one reported nearby was in 2003 when I just missed it then. My mind was spinning on trying to get to this bird sometime during the St. Pete CBC but I knew there was no way I could get there in daylight. Sigh.

So, I had to hope that it would stick around for the rest of the year. The next shot I would have would be either Christmas Day or the following morning. As we drove to my parent's house I knew it would be too late to get there on Christmas. Window was closing and it all came down to a couple hours the day after. Fingers were still crossed.

Dad and I headed out just before dawn. I had dreamed about perfect light in case the bird was there. One of my presents was a new IS lens. My old lens was about dead and this was the most amazing gift I have received in a while. Things were lining up. Then the fog rolled in. Perfect light was now removed from the picture.

I had read that an American Wigeon had been seen in a park that was said to host another bird I was after today, a Gadwall. The park was on the way so since it was still cloudy/foggy we swung through to try for the ducks. The Wigeon was spotted as soon as we exited the car.

American Wigeon

We searched around but found no Gadwall. I was surprised to see a bunch of Limpkin, though. We counted at least 6 adults in the relatively small space.


As we rounded a bend, I spotted a Black-crowned Night Heron resting in the trees across the pond.

Black-crowned Night Heron

It seemed the fog was not going to clear quickly so we figured it was time to head to the Towhee spot and get situated. Possum Branch Preserve is a small parcel of land in between a bunch of developed areas but it is well maintained and has a very interesting habitat. I would love to get back there in better weather. As it was, we walked the trails to get to where we were headed and watched Sparrows and Myrtle Warblers fly back and forth on our way.

We reached our destination and waited for a bit. The fog rolled in thicker and it appeared it would be turning into night. Birds shut down. We decided to walk around an edge of the pond and back just to wait for more light. Back at the Towhee spot all we had was a Northern Mockingbird popping up into view.

Northern Mockingbird

Previous posts from the past week and a half suggested that many folks had to wait hours before the Towhee would show itself. This seemed to be later in the day. I decided to get out here closer to dawn. When the birds are more active. Soon after that Mockingbird shot was taken, Dad and I both spotted movement in the bushes. Target acquired! The Towhee was at hand.

Green-tailed Towhee

It came out to scratch for food in the low light. However, the new lens seemed to handle it well. Such a pretty bird. This species is suppose to stay well to the West but we are having a few sightings in Florida this year.

Green-tailed Towhee

It appears someone has thrown bird seed in the area lately. The Towhee seems to like it. I seem to like the Towhee. Nice Life Bird. I took nearly 100 shots before we decide to head back for the Gadwall search.

Green-tailed Towhee

On the way out, the fog was just a bit less dense and some birds began feeding and moving about. Under a Wax Myrtle I noticed a Downy Woodpecker searching the lower branches in the deeper shade. Still, I managed some nice shots as this male probed for insects in the ends of branches.

Downy Woodpecker

Back at the other park the Wigeon was still in its feeding spot. The light was just a bit better.

American Wigeon

We focused hard on every bird we saw, almost willing a Gadwall to appear. No luck. It was nice to find a couple new birds that were not there earlier like a female Wood Duck and a Lesser Scaup.

Lesser Scaup

Several miles were walked. Many ponds were scanned and rescanned. No Gadwall. Oh, well. I will have to find my new Nemesis Bird elsewhere. This park was next to a park called Moccasin Lake so we dropped by to just get a feel of where it was. Dang. Park closed on Mondays. Go figure. BUT! The gate was surrounded by birds. Peacocks, actually.


Several were inside and out. Might as well get a close-up before heading home.


So, 2 out of 3 birds found. Not a bad few hours. Seems I keep getting to pick up a Life Bird every Christmas. Cool that they are so close to family. We all get to share.

Now I can relax until 2012. Nice way to wrap up the birding for the year. Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve Wood Duck

Took a quick run around the lakes to see if there were any early Christmas presents out there. Nope. However, I did get another run at the small Wood Duck flock at Lake Emerald around the corner. Not bad for early morning.

Wood Duck

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

St. Pete CBC, 2011

Ready for the tale? CBC stories last a while. Kick back.

I had the pleasure of joining long-time friends and birding activists Don and Lorraine Margeson for their crew on this latest St. Pete Christmas Bird Count (CBC). I have been helping out for years in other areas but it was nice to hang out with them and see some new territory in the county. We did very well with species and numbers counts. The weather was perfect! The past two years were rather cold and miserable so it was excellent to dress for the warm weather and go bird counting.

Don and I did some pre-dawn birding in the neighborhood and scored 5 Screech Owls and other local birds in the dark. Later, we gathered as the Sun rose and began to grab the birds we knew were around before sweeping the general area. The main bird we needed to add was the Lark Sparrow that Don first found last year. It returned this year and it was a Life Bird for a couple of us.

Lark Sparrow

I caught a few shots with my ailing lens in the harsh morning light, but at least they were good enough for ID shots.

Lark Sparrow

I have had a Lark Sparrow before on the East coast of Florida but it hid until I drove away so I heard it and saw it from my rear view window then. Now I had it right in front of me. Next year I should be better armed.

Lark Sparrow

Don and I went through the water treatment plant right before dawn and recorded more birds along the way before heading back to his house to gather forces with Lorraine and Marianne before heading out into the light of day. From their house we tallied a lot of birds flying out into the area as the sun rose.

Our next stop as a group was back at the treatment plant to try and flush birds from the grasses and to listen for others passing overhead. here, Don and Danny Sauvageau watch the edge of the marsh for sparrows. Danny pegged some incoming Green-winged Teals soon afterwards.

Danny and Don

I beat the bushes as the rest of the crew stayed up top and after I spooked an otter in the reeds, I got a shot of one of the seen Marsh Wrens around the pond.

Marsh Wren

In small waves, Black-hooded Parakeets would sail overhead. There have been reports of flocks over 500 in number in the area lately. Can't imagine the noise.

Black-hooded Parakeet

Taking more time to get a fix on the birds we were searching for, Lorraine and Marianne help track down our Grasshopper Sparrow for the day.


We recorded many more species along the way but this moment was interesting. An Anhinga with a fish impaled on its bill was moving along a retention pond. Not only does it seem that the bird can't really get the fish down its throat but what you don't see is the Great-blue Heron and Great Egret stalking the Anhinga to steal the fish. It was fun to watch.


Next, back to the house for lunch and a look around. We found a Hermit Thrush, American Redstart and other birds along the way. Plus, White Peacock butterflies were everywhere.

White Peacock

On the way to pick up lunch, we stopped by a housing development. On the way in we spotted a bunch of water-loving birds but didn't stop to photograph them. Fortunately. most of the same species were right a around the corner, including a remarkable flock of nearly 300 Lesser Scaup.

Lesser Scaup

One of the birds near the entrance and now here was a White Pelican.

White Pelican

One of the fun parts of CBCs is grabbing all the little unseen ponds along the way. At one such stop we found gulls, Ring-necked Ducks, and a few Pied-billed Grebes.

Pied-billed Grebe

Our final territory for the day was the golf course. We tallied up even more species while waiting for carts and then headed out around the course as our day was rapidly coming to a close. Fortunately, we racked up some more good birds for the count. In the weedy areas were Song Sparrows and Prairies Warblers.

Prairie Warbler

One of our 9 Loggerhead Shrikes posed long enough for a nice photo.

Loggerhead Shrike

As you try to get every bird counted by the end of the day, even a Northern Mockingbird counts as a nice find.

Northern Mockingbird

As does another Anhinga around the course.


We still managed to grab a few more species out on the golf course, including House Finch and this nearly hidden White-winged Dove. Every species counts!

White-winged Dove

We ended up shy of the past few years counts but the weather was way different all across the country. Results will still be pouring in from other sites and soon we will get an overall view of bird patterns in North America. Can't wait for the results. Can't wait for next year, either.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pied-billed Grebe

That's it. Pied-billed Grebe. I was trying for some new shots of the Mergansers but the light was bad and the birds were antsy. As I prepared to just head home, a Pied-billed Grebe surfaced in front of me.

Pied-billed Grebe

Love these little birds. Winter is here.

Next weekend is the St. Pete Christmas Bird Count. I have helped out there for the past several years, driving from Orlando to help out my friends on the Gulf Coast. Always a blast. Always good photos. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Revisiting the BirdCam

Being short on funds last year really had me cutting back. Sadly, one of the obvious cutbacks was bird seed. Got enough mouths to feed. So I shut off most of my feeders at the beginning of Summer. I also shut down the BirdCam. It was hot, seed was costly, I was unemployed and not happy.

Now, back in a full-time job and seeing more migrating birds, I decided to get it running again. Birds being captured in the lens haven't changed much. The unit is even more beat up. Squirrels have knocked it over a couple times and the focus seems a bit weird at times. BUT! We are up and running again. So get ready to be reacquainted with some familiar faces and, hopefully, we will get some new ones in the upcoming months.

You remember them. Mourning Doves. The most common visitor to the feeders. They were slow to slow up again but are back in force.

Mourning Dove

They may be a dime a dozen but I still really like Mourning Doves.

Mourning Dove

I did keep a couple feeders active over the Summer. One with a baffle and one without. I kept the Titmice and Cardinals happy and they really didn't need too much extra attention. The Titmice quickly switched from the front of the house feeder to the cam side fairly quickly.

Tufted Titmouse

Now, they are drifting past and onto all of the feeders. Fine by me.

Tufted Titmouse

One problem the cam seems to have now is low light shots. Things are getting too blurry. But I like this one because it shows that the Carolina Wren I banded in the backyard a couple years ago is still around. I knew he had a brood last year so it is nice to see him still hanging out. Guess we are supplying the right environment.

Carolina Wren

In fact, we put up a windchime at the entrance to our front door. It is a little watering can with the Cardinal points on the bottom. Soon after we set it up, the Wrens took up residence in it! Extra cool.

Monday, December 05, 2011

A Closer Look at Mergansers

Headed home from our latest banding session and was greeted by two good fortunate events. Slightly overcast skies and 20 (!) Hooded Mergansers feeding right near the parking lot. Since I get there near 11 AM, I usually have bad light for photos and this is the largest gathering of Mergansers here in years.

So, I present a gallery of different Merganser looks. First off, A typically standard male pose with the crest relaxed and above water for a while. Bit of a flat-top.

Hooded Merganser

The females were there, too. Many flattened by water after dives so I was glad to have this more elaborate spiked version float by for a brief while.

Hooded Merganser

Here, a male displays a fully revealed crest while trolling the pond.

Hooded Merganser

Of course, we all need to stretch once and awhile. Nice to catch such a move in close proximity.

Hooded Merganser

Finally, I did not take offence at this male showing me its rear-end. It was simply preening and I do enjoy the layers of color on the undertail coverts.

Hooded Merganser

Nice to see this many Mergansers here this year. Now I wait to see what else arrives before the cold sets in.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Lesser Scaup Sighting

Before heading out to get groceries, I did a quick search of mapping software to see if there were any names for the retention pond I just found over 60 Blue-winged Teals. No such luck. Just a retention pond. However, I did notice another body of water not far from where I sometimes buy groceries. Time for a swing-by.

It is a small pond in a little neighborhood complex (pre-planned and faux exclusive) so I wasn't hoping for much. I was surprised by the variety of birds. Several species of heron, Mallard, Coots, Ringed-necked Ducks, and my first shots of Lesser Scaup for the season.

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup are not rare in this part of the state in the Winter but always nice to find. The clouds moved in as I tried to get some shots as night closed in but... Next to the pair was a Ring-necked Duck for comparison.

Lesser Scaup

Then, appropriate for a new discovery, a rainbow appeared off to the left as I prepared to head home.


A nice end to the day.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Anhinga Encounter

As we move into December I continue to watch the ducks on Lake Davis. The Long-tailed Duck only stuck around for a couple of days but the Ring-necked Duck numbers are on the rise. Close to 300 of them gather daily. I was hoping for a discovery of something more interesting but it was not to be.


Anhingas are very common here. In fact, the other day I counted nearly two dozen of them positioned around our small lake. Anhingas, in my opinion, are rather cool. They come ashore or land in the trees to dry off between feedings. They are often rather jumpy when people get too close to them. So, it was a great surprise to have one actually come over to me as I did my duck count.

This female seemed to have no fear as she swam over and climbed up on the rocks a mere 6-8 feet from where I was standing. With my lens acting up as of late, it was easy pickin's to get some shots of this excellent Florida bird.


She was so close that that was my zoom lens pulled all the way back. I took as much time as possible doing a more close-up set while I could. Anhingas are often called Snake Birds due to the fact that when they swim all you can see is a long serpentine neck gliding just above the water's surface.


Females have the tan/brown neck and breast seen in this bird. Males are darker, nearly solid black, and have many white spots on their wings during breeding season. Once she let me take a ton of close-up shots, she relaxed enough to start sunning.


Anhingas need to dry their wings between foraging and they almost always do it on the shore line here throughout the year. I feel so honored that this little girl felt so comfortable around me to hang out for a while. I left her to her drying right after that shot to go look for more birds during the day.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Hooded Mergansers Return

We had a very interesting day at the banding station today. A lot of species and a few surprises. You should check it out.

Once I finish banding this time of year I like to make a slight detour by my old workplace to see what might have flown in to settle on the retention ponds. I have been expecting the Hooded Mergansers to return and today was the day. Near the road was a pair of females diving for food.

Hooded Merganser

Across the pond, a couple of males drifted back and forth. The light was horrible for shots but these will do for the sighting ID.

Hooded Merganser

They will stay in this general area through the Winter so I can try for better pictures week by week. Kind of comforting to know they are back in this spot year after year.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Finally! An Eagle Sighting!!

Following my daily duck counts I swing through the cemetery in hopes of seeing the Bald Eagles again. Today, success!!! Looks like the female is sitting comfortably in the nest. Yay! No sign of the male, however.

Bald Eagle

Now to keep a close watch for more signs of progress.