Monday, May 14, 2012

In Search of Nuthatches

For some reason, I had the urge to go hiking out at Wekiwa Springs State Park. Perhaps it was because we heard the calls of Eastern Towhees at the banding site last week. When we banded at Wekiwa we heard them constantly but this was a first for us at Lake Lotus. I also figured I could check on the old stomping grounds and set a main goal of finding Brown-headed Nuthatches and trying for better shots than I have gotten in the past. This would mean a lot of walking. Been too long. Need the exercise.

This would require a long hike. Nuthatches only show up in the pine flatwoods portion of the park way out along the hiking and horse trails. Most of it is in the open. First, you have to cross a small creek and head out. As soon as I got to the other side of the creek I heard calls all over. Calls of Carolina Chickadees!

Carolina Chickadee

Easy to hear and see, not so easy to photograph. There were several pairs of adults being pursued by hungry chicks. I tried to get the begging behavior they show but most of those were obscured. I got one chick in the open for a few seconds.

Carolina Chickadee

Fun. But also in this section was a wall of Deer and Robber Flies which zoomed around and onto me relentlessly as I tried to photograph the Chickadees. Time to hike into the open and be free of these pests. After about 20 minutes of hiking I heard a White-eyed Vireo in a bush up ahead. I was happy to think I could get a close shot of one of these guys today, too. Just before I got to the bush, a small shape dropped out of the sky and then back onto a branch of a pine tree. Nuthatch!

Brown-headed Nuthatch

I was listening for their 'squeaky play toy' calls but this family was not making a sound. If not for that bird dropping out of the pine I would have walked right past them. Now I had to try and get a shot as they zipped around the branches and kept their backs to me when actually in the open. I still like this shot for the color and the feeding behavior it demonstrates.

Brown-headed Nuthatch

Flying around with the Nuthatch family was another bird you would expect here. A Pine Warbler. They were calling all over the place today but tend to also stay way at the tops of the pines.

Pine Warbler

A bit of patience (not my strong suit) finally paid off with a shot of a Nuthatch looking my way with a seed ready to eat.

Brown-headed Nuthatch

They soon headed to the tip-top of the trees so I headed on. The vireo moved on so I continued up the trail and toward the water. I was actually kind of disappointed with what I found. The map shows Rock Springs Run along the property but all you see from the trail is a little open spot of water to put in your kayak, I guess. I had hoped to have the trail go all the way down the run where I could see it. At least a Pearly Eye made it more interesting.

Pearly Eye

I walked all the way to Camp Cozy and back out into the open and began my turn back to try and find more Nuthatches or other birds. A 1/4 mile down the trail a Summer Tanager flew in for a brief minute and then headed off into the distance.

Summer Tanager

I heard another call up ahead but didn't recognize it right away. Finally I could see it. An Eastern Bluebird! The bird would never let me get closer than this but it stayed along the trail occasionally perching and singing before flying ahead of me again.

Eastern Bluebird

The next stand of pines revealed a couple birds that I thought were Nuthatches but turned out to be Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. Easy to find but I noticed it was flying back to a spot on a high branch, flying out for food, and flying back to the same spot. I could finally tell it was returning to a nest! More interesting is that this is a male, told by the black eyebrows.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

The trail led me back to where the Chickadees were and it forks off to a blue trail blaze I have never been on so I decided to take that. It goes back into the trees along the creek a couple of times. Down in the creek at one spot I discovered an Ebony Jewelwing resting in the one spot of sunshine. These are very large damselflies and so green it is amazing.

Ebony Jewelwing

Now up into the palmetto scrub section of the park and I finally got a White-eyed Vireo to come down to eye level for a moment. Still need a better shot but it was off in a hurry.

White-eyed Vireo

I also began to hear Eastern Towhees the closer I got to our old banding territory. Luckily, a male jumped up out of the scrub and sang while I got to a good spot for a shot.

Eastern Towhee

Another stoke of luck. Just after the Towhee flew off two White-eyed Vireos flew in with competing songs and in search of bugs. One flew fairly close to me and I managed to catch a shot of that bright, namesake eye.

White-eyed Vireo

I was almost back at the banding trail and hoped to find some Red-headed Woodpeckers. No luck there but I did find all the old net poles still where we left them many years ago. The trees have grown up over the paths but if you know where to dive in... I did like the patterns on the young Pine Trees now growing in various locations.

Pine Tree

Whew! Long post. 7 miles of walking. Tired but I got what I came out here for with the Brown-headed Nuthatches and got some other fun experiences, as well. Now, still nearly an hour drive home...

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