Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Butterflies, Warblers, and Cormorants

Continuing my walk form the previous post, I took my leave of the Loggerhead Shrike and spent a few minutes trying to get some butterfly pictures as I continued home. Small wings fluttered all of the side of the road in the short-cut grass leading to the airport property. I just had to wait for them to rest from their zig-zag flights near me. The first critter to stop for a couple seconds was a Fiery Skipper.

Fiery Skipper

One of the more common butterflies I could make out were loads of Ceraunus Blues. It has been a while since I have taken butterfly shots. I need to get back to that. One fun thing to notice is the differences in the inner- and outer-wing patterns. When open, a Ceraunus Blue can be seen as blue.

Ceraunus Blue

When the wings are closed, as is often the case, they take on a gray appearance like many other small butterflies.

Ceraunus Blue

The other copious species in the area were Dainty Sulphers. These guys seem to never stop flying but for only a split second.

Dainty Sulpher

I couldn't pick out any other species (except for the White Peacocks which I am kind of bored of right now) so I continued on to Colonel Joe Kittenger Park. This park was opened a few years ago and has a little playground, a couple benches and a pavilion that has speakers under the roof that plays sounds from the control tower at the airport just across the way. There is a fence that surrounds a retention pond (which I have never seen filled with water) that sits in the middle of the park property. Today, everywhere I looked near the fence I saw Western Palm Warblers.

Western Palm Warbler

They love to feed in the grasses and zip into the chain-link fences. Some of my first ever photos of Palm Warblers is of them in fences. I love it. Makes them visible in various poses.

Western Palm Warbler

I could have taken Palm Warbler photos all afternoon if I had the time. Heading back toward home, I finally could see downtown Orlando come into view. Almost there.


I decided to cut through Greenwood Cemetery and check for ducks. Instead, I heard a Belted Kingfisher flying by, saw an Osprey chase off a Red-tailed Hawk, but the roadside pond held no ducks. Resting on an unseen perch in the water were Double-crested Cormorants.

Double-crested Cormorant

These guys had very crisp feather patterns but I also love their bright faces so I provide a closer crop for you. I also dig that dotted circle around their bright blue eyes.

Double-crested Cormorant

Here are the other two birds. Notice the darker adult on the left.

Double-crested Cormorant

Soon, my walk home was complete and it was time to find out if the car was ready. Turns out it was just the battery, after all. Now I can do the lake checks later.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Airport Loggerhead Shrike

What a way to start the day after Thanksgiving. I wen tout to the van to do my lake checking and "CLICK-CLICK-CLICK" is all I get. AAA claims it is the alternator so I get it jumped and drive to the Sears. They doubt it is the alternator. I leave the van and begin walking home. It is only just over 2 miles and the weather was perfect. Might see some birds along the way.

Not too much until I got to the edge of the airport. There I saw a couple birds wrestling on the grass. Just seeing gray and white, I assumed they were Mockingbirds. Nope. Loggerhead Shrikes. One stayed on the fence and the other flew off. I walked over slowly and the remaining bird and I hung out for a while.

Loggerhead Shrike

It was fun standing on the edge of a busy street side and the end of the airport runways watching this little bird hunt for food. It would scan the air and the ground between me and fence and suddenly...

Loggerhead Shrike

...jump off the edge.

Loggerhead Shrike

There, only about 6 feet or so away from me, it would double check the grass up close. Still amazes me that I am staring at the same spot and only see grass and a few butterflies but the Shrike sees something.

Loggerhead Shrike

Only once or twice did it even appear that this bird even paid me any attention.

Loggerhead Shrike

Then, pluck!, it snatches a caterpillar and heads back to the barbed wire.

Loggerhead Shrike

It began trying to do the signature motions of the 'butcher bird' by thrashing the prey against the barbs in an attempt to impale it for eating.

Loggerhead Shrike

However, it never succeeded in that endeavor and often stopped between tries. It finally gave up and swallowed the insect whole.

Loggerhead Shrike

Before I left the scene the bird did a move I had not seen before. It jumped to the ground next to me, squatted, and fluttered its wings while staring straight ahead. I wasn't able to get the shots I wanted but I watched as it fluttered 2 or 3 times until another unseen bug flew up from the dirt and was quickly grabbed by the Shrike for a tasty snack.

Loggerhead Shrike

Back to the wire and I figured it was time for me to head down the trail.

Loggerhead Shrike

I am so glad to have so many Loggerhead Shrikes in the area again. I never tire of seeing them and watching them go through their hunting behaviors. Wonder what is awaits at the park ahead...?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Barber Park Warblers

On Thanksgiving morning I headed out to do my daily bird count around the neighborhood. The weather was very nice but the wind was up so there were not as many duck sightings as I would have liked. I figured I would head over to Barber Park since I haven't been in a long time and on rare occasions a duck or stray goose shows up. Nothing in the front pond except the local Mallards, Muscovy, and White Ibis today.

I almost left just then but thought that maybe I should check the plants and trees across the parking lot just because. Glad I did because it lead to nearly an hour of warblers and other birds. I thought I would be able to get a shot of one of the Palm Warblers on the lawn but I was pleasantly surprised that one of my best subjects of the morning was this Myrtle Warbler.

Myrtle Warbler

While other birds fled my advance on a stand of shrubby trees in a marshy area, this Myrtle Warbler (commonly called Yellow-rumps) paid me little attention as it hopped and gleaned its way around the ground and branches. It mainly stayed in the shade but I did get a shot in a small circle of sunlight.

Myrtle Warbler

This is a nice example of an adult male in Winter plumage. The bright yellow crown feathers are peeking through nicely and you can even see dark spots around the bird's brow. Females don't have those.

Myrtle Warbler

Even as he fed in the shade I was pleased to get some nice shots when he would stop for a couple seconds every now and then.

Myrtle Warbler

A beautiful warbler. Too bad we only get to see a few in Spring that reach their full colorful plumage molt before they fly back North.

Myrtle Warbler

I followed the path of several warblers that were heading out from the lot area and appeared to be heading toward Lake Barber on the other side of the soccer fields. In the trees near the lake there were dozens and dozens of Myrtle and Palm Warblers. I was also happy to see several Orange-crowned Warblers feeding, too. I get to hold them but rarely get natural photos of them.

Orange-crowned Warbler

Besides the large amount of feeding small birds in the trees, there were many larger birds in the sky. Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks, Black and Turkey Vultures, many migrating Ring-billed Gulls, and few Bald Eagles took advantage of the strong winds.

Bald Eagle

I took a few minutes to ignore the warblers so I could try for a shot of this Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Turned out pretty well, no? I only saw a couple of them in this area.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Nearby, the Western Palm Warblers were a little more secure feeding here than over on the lawn. Easy for them to duck back into the bushes if needed. Every now and then they would sit out in the sunlight to strike a pose.

Western Palm Warbler

I probably like this shot better but there were so many to choose from today.

Western Palm Warbler

Soon, the birds seemed a bit sated and they settled into the leaves for some rest and I headed home. I will have to head back again soon. After all, it is in my Breeding Bird Atlas block so I will have to do more research over the next few years.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Chipping Sparrow

To wrap up my Shingle Creek experience, I wanted to share a special bird for the day. In the previous post I mentioned that I had heard a tiny sound at the entrance of the East Pine Island Loop. The bird was in the pine trees and I could see the outline of it. I had a suspicion as to its identity but was not completely sure. I wanted a photo to confirm.

The bird quickly vanished back into the surrounding brush and I couldn't relocate it. I continued my walk around the pine island and got all my shots of the flowers in the last post. When I got to the entrance again I heard the sound again. The bird was still here and this time it landed a bit more in the open on a pine branch.

I moved slowly toward the tree and finally positioned myself in a spot almost clear of the pine needles. I was right. It as my first Chipping Sparrow of the season!

Chipping Sparrow

I spent a few minutes with this little sparrow before it moved back into the brush. I actually was doubting my identification when I looked at the bird on the computer at home. Chipping Sparrows are suppose to have clean breasts. This one has a bib line that is pretty prominent. Weird.

Chipping Sparrow

I am used to seeing a few Chippies, as we birders sometimes call them, in Orlando. I occasionally get them in the yard at the feeders but never in large numbers. I did find a lot of them in 2010 in the Palm Cemetery. So I enjoy any chance to see them and I especially like this pose.

Chipping Sparrow

Now to wait for them to come back to my yard this Winter. I great way to wrap up my hike sightings out in a place I am sure to revisit. For more information about Shingle Creek, head to the official site and if you are in the area, do make it a point to spend some time out there.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Shingle Creek, Part 2

As mentioned in the previous post, besides just wanting to get out to this area for a hike, my visit was an attempt to find out if any Red-breasted Nuthatches might be around out in the pine trees at Shingle Creek. Once you leave the swamp that lines the creek, there is an open hike that leads to a couple of areas known as pine islands. They are areas that contain mainly pine scrub in the middle of the wetlands that make up most of the Shingle Creek property.

Pine Island

I figured if there were going to be any Nuthatches out here it would have to be in this excellent environment. Nothing but pines and palmetto out in these spots.

Pine Island

There was a tiny sound near the entrance of the trail and I saw a small bird. I wanted to verify the species and get a picture but it disappeared. I walked about 50 yards down the trail when I realized that my hopes of finding Nuthatches were about fading to zero. There was a not a sound out here. Just wind. My next thought was that this is going to turn into a flower finding hike from here on out. OK. First up on the edge of the trail was one of the many species of Golden Aster.

Golden Aster

I noticed these flowers up ahead. At first I thought they were a species of rare milkweed that I had seen on a Jay Watch day. The more I studied the plants I noticed they didn't have the proper parts for milkweed.

Narrow-leaved Sabatia

Nearby, another clump of white flowers was beckoning. These turned out to be Narrow-leaved Sabatia. When I got the photos side by side at home I determined that the first white flowers had to be a withering example of the same flower. They just look different at different stages of their blooming period.

Narrow-leaved Sabatia

One of my favorite little flowers out in flatwoods is the Yellow Star-grass. Sometimes it is hard to get the exposure right if the day is super bright since their petals are so bright yellow.

Yellow Star-grass

I still am not sure about this yellow flower. It is even smaller. If you happen to know, feel free to pass it along.

Yellow flower

As the trail reached to farthest point to the North it curved and the path was basically taken over by tall grasses. I had to press on to get back to the scrubbier parts on the far side of the curve back.

Grassy Trail

Once the soil got more moist, the flowers began to appear again. In one little patch some small flowers could be found among the thinning grasses. Turns out to be a Butterwort.


I then turned my attention to another tiny flower, this one more purple. I later made the discovery that these flowers, like the Sabatia earlier, are the same species but at different stages.


Another favorite flower of mine is the Batchelor Button. They are hard to miss with their large, bright yellow heads bobbing in the breeze. The orientation is correct. This flower was hanging sideways.

Batchelor Button

Less seen on my travels is the Bog Batchelor Button. They are similar to the yellow Batchelor Button but tend to be shorter, almost attatched to the ground, and orange. I found a lot of them here today.

Bog Batchelor Button

Armed with a new gallery of flower images I headed to the exit of the East Pine Island Loop. I was almost out of the loop when I heard a little chipping sound in the pines near the tables. The bird was still here so I might have a chance at a photo. But that short tale will be in the next post...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Shingle Creek, Part 1

I keep seeing reports from Shingle Creek more and more lately and wanted to get out there at some point. Today would be the day. It is only 15 minutes from work so it was about time I made it over. I was a nice day to hike to 6-plus miles in a couple hours. I took a lot of photos so I will split this journey into three different posts as to keep them a bit more compact but they will still be fairly long, screen-wise.

This post will focus on the birds and the main stretch of the hike. The next post will be about Pine Island and the flowers I found there. The final post will be about a special bird I found at the entrance to Pine Island. I thought it deserved its own spotlight.

Shingle Creek is considered the "northernmost headwaters of the Everglades watershed" and the trail head begins behind the Hunter's Creek Elementary School. A kiosk provides a lot of information to savor before heading into the swamp.

Trail head sign

Just past the sign, a nice bridge gives us our first view of Shingle Creek. Lore has it that the name comes from the fact that settlers used to use the cypress trees as a source of shingles for the area's houses.

Shingle Creek

A few steps later and you are staring at the surrounding swamp comprised mainly of Cypress and Gum trees. There was a feeding flock I could her way in the distance but it was difficult to make out all of the fast moving birds and too far for photos. There were Titmice, Yellow-throated Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets and more.


My secret objective was to try and locate any Red-breasted Nuthatches but I need pine trees for that so I head down the trail to continue to the right habitat.


As I emerged from the swampy area I was met by a White Ibis and a Tricolored Heron keeping watch over the bridge spanning the creek at this end.

White Ibis and Tricolored Heron

Not far from the open area here, I could hear a bunch of birds in the woods just off the trail. I walked in and was surrounded by Titmice, Pine Warblers, Downy Woodpeckers, Blue-headed Vireos and a Black and White Warbler which commanded most of my attention. Primarily due to the fact that it was the one bird giving me good views as it fed along a nearby tree.

Black and White Warbler

Round and round it went and only paused for a brief second of two as I snapped away. Love these little birds.

Black and White Warbler

Before I continued my trek I couldn't resist getting a shot of the Climbing Aster blooming in the shade.

Climbing Aster

Water flows along the open trail away from the main creek. During wetter times the area is very damp and provides habitat and food for many species. Another of the birds out in the open was a Little Blue Heron that paid me little attention.

Little Blue Heron

Many Eastern Phoebes were foraging along the ditches but most flew off when I walked down the trail. This one at least gave me a curious glance before taking off.

Eastern Phoebe

I have no idea what scared up this Great-blue Heron. It was completely out of view and far ahead of me when it took off squawking and landed up in the cypress stands. Check out those cool feet grasping the perch.

Great-blue Heron

Just after I took that shot, a Red-shouldered Hawk came zooming out of the trees, landed about 20 feet in front of me, picked something up, and flew back into the trees. I had no time for a shot while it was on the ground so I had to settle for a perched shot. A good view of the 'red shoulders', though.

Red-shouldered Hawk

The other fun sight along the open trail was a Florida Cooter sunning along the bank as I headed back toward the swamp in route to the van.

Florida Cooter

A nice selection of sights down the main trails. Again, the next post will be mostly flora and the trip around a 'pine island' on the property. Stay tuned!