Sunday, December 29, 2013

Chasing (and missing) a Godwit at Fred Howard Park

So it was twitch time. With the predicted heavy rain still far off in the Gulf and with a couple hours to spare thanks to my understanding wife, we made a bee-line for Fred Howard Park to look for a possible new Life Bird: A Bar-tailed Godwit. I wasn't even going to try but a post came through that the bird was there now and we arrived in less than 90 minutes at the described location.

We arrived and, as Dad paid the entry fee, I jumped out to scan the flock in the area where the bird was not long ago. The bird...was not there. All we found were a few Marbled Godwits hanging with Willets on the beach.

Marbled Godwit

We decided to walk around the parking lot and take a rest stop. The most obvious birds were Red-winged Blackbirds feeding along the vegetation.

Red-winged Blackbird

Laughing Gulls were resting on top of the restrooms so I had to take a quick close-up while I could.

Laughing Gull

The rain was beginning to move in on us, wave after wave, as we rounded the western edge of the park. Not much there but a Semipalmated Plover.

Semipalmated Plover

Back by the initial flock the best I could discover was a Wilson's Plover. Not too bad, but not the bird I was after.

Wilson's Plover

I had thought I saw a possible candidate bird as we drove in so I opted to go back and see if it was THE bird. Nope. Just another Willet. I had to retreat to the car as the rain increased and we watched another Semipalmated Plover along the embankment.

Semipalmated Plover

On the opposite side of the road I spotted a few Common Loons coasting in the gloom.

Common Loon

Not willing to conceded defeat yet, we headed back and the flock had shifted to the other beach. Right by the road was a small flock of Short-billed Dowitchers in the seaweed.

Short-billed Dowitcher

People were crossing the beaches and flushing the resting flocks, especially the hundred Black Skimmers just looking for a place to relax.

Black Skimmer

Still no Bar-tailed Godwit. Dang. Time to give up. Rain was still coming. On the way home, we made a stop at a water treatment plant where we noticed a TON of ducks on the ponds there. Dad stopped the car and I got out in the pouring rain to get some shots for later processing. Most ducks we have ever seen in one spot ever. I am guessing 6,000 Redhead.


The shot above is just one frame of a couple of dozen I took of the entire scene. I made panoramas of each side but am not sure how to present such a large photo here. I did make sure to take a closer shot of one very lightly colored Redhead before I had to escape the rain. My camera was getting too wet.


We headed home. Life Bird #2 missed for the trip. Oh, well. According to later forum posts, the Bar-tailed Godwit headed North and was spotted miles away and even returned to the first spot after we got back to Orlando. Thanks, Godwit. No year-ending new birds for me. Guess I will just have to gear up for local birds next week.

Walsingham Park in the Rain

Heavy rains were forecast for the day but they weren't too bad so I headed over to Walsingham Park to see if anything was on the water. There was not of birding activity as I drove in but after I parked and walked to the playground I could see a lot of birds in feeding flocks streaming across the pines and oaks. Most were Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warblers so I decided to not chase them too hard in poor light and with sprinkles moving in.

I scanned the main lake and found a male Anhinga trying to dry out on a Wax Myrtle branch in the wind.


Behind me, in a pine tree, a Palm Warbler was busy grabbing bugs when it could.

Palm Warbler

I continued to check the edge of the lake when a sudden rush of Yellow-rumped Warblers moved through. I took up a spot under a palm tree and waited for a photo op to arrive. Again, the lighting was poor but seeing so many birds feeding in the trees made it fun to watch. Most were females like this one.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Every now and then a male would swing by to feed before moving along. Note how he is transitioning to his Spring colors already.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Another female Yellow-rumped Warbler inspects the Wax Myrtles, a favorite tree for them which also gave them their initial name.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Moving on, I was hearing Gray Catbirds but they were being too shy for a photo. Soon, I began to hear another sound I was trying to ID. I knew it from the past but it had been a while. Then it hit me. Eastern Towhee! I tracked the sound and in a couple seconds, a female emerged from the scrub.

Eastern Towhee

I spotted the male hiding in the back but had to wait a bit more for him to come out into the open.

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhees are primarily ground feeders and you sometimes only know they are there by hearing them scratching on the soil to find seeds and such. I stayed stationary for a couple more minutes and they began to forage right in front of me along the roadside.

Eastern Towhee

We used to catch Eastern Towhees at my old banding site and I really miss this species. They bite like crazy but they are amazing to watch and to hear. Did you know they are actually sparrows?

Eastern Towhee

I moved down to the next parking lot to see if I could find anything else hiding on the lakes before heading out but only saw some gulls and Red-winged Blackbirds before a Northern Mockingbird jumped up onto the top of a dead snag.

Northern Mockingbird

Then I heard another bird calling. A bit different from before but it turned out to be another male Eastern Towhee on territory. It continued to call as I got into position for a new shot.

Eastern Towhee

One last picture of the Towhee before heading back to base.

Eastern Towhee

Finally, the only other birds near the reeds were a couple of Common Yellowthroats and a few American Coots.

American Coot

While I did not find any ducks as I had hoped, it was a nice quick stop near my folks house. The rain is lighter than predicted. Should I make another run at a Life Bird before going home to Orlando? Hmmmm...

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Chasing (and missing) a Gull at Fort DeSoto

This will be a long post. Bear with the length to see some interesting shots and a couple cool bits of information on migrating birds.

Once Dad and I finished our looking at Redhead ducks up the road, it was time to hit the beaches of Fort DeSoto and try to find a new Life Bird. A Franklin's Gull had been reported for a couple of weeks and this was my one chance to find it. Last year, my after-Xmas present was going a bit farther South the get the Razorbills at Anna Maria Island. A new Life Bird this year would be a nice end to the year.

First, we decided to stop off at the North Beach and look for anything that might be in that area. Most of this stretch is closed for the breeding season but you can walk down much of it now. Our first bird to greet us was a foraging Reddish Egret prancing along the interior before the shoreline.

Reddish Egret

I then turned my attention to the waves and soon spotted an American Oystercatcher walking in the water. Always a striking bird.

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatchers are not a new bird for me but I have had trouble getting good shots of them on my visits. This birds did not seem to mind my presence as I approached and scanned for other birds.

American Oystercatcher

Off to my left a Sanderling braved the waves and a wandering photographer (me) and probed for food under the sand.


Soon, beachcombers approached and were agitating the birds which led this Willet to fly up and land next to me. Thanks (?) beachcombers!


Time to head to the pier and search for the gull. We scanned the first flock of birds on the Bay beach but it was just a mix of local gulls and terns. Then we headed to the Gulf beach and saw a promising flock resting. Except for these two Ring-billed Gulls having a quarrel.

Ring-billed Gull

We examined all the gulls one by one. There were many Ring-billed Gulls like this juvenile.

Ring-billed Gull

Adult Ring-billed Gulls were also well represented.

Ring-billed Gull

Then we came to this dozing bird. Could this be our Franklin's Gull next to the Forster's Tern?

Laughing Gull

Alas, no. It was just a Laughing Gull trying to fool me.

Laughing Gull

Dad needed a bite to eat so we headed up to the snack bar before returning to the flock to do more searching. More birds were flying in and some were busy feeding along the waves like this Forster's Tern.

Forster's Tern

Suddenly, a small flock of Red Knots dropped into the waves next to us.

Red Knot

I soon noticed that a couple were banded! Red Knots are studied a lot as their numbers have been in decline so I made sure to get shots so I could report the band numbers later.

Red Knot

When I got home and processed the photos I reported them and discovered that both birds were originally banded in this area and have been migrating back and forth for many years.

Red Knot

I figured we had struck out on the gull we were after. All that was left to photograph was a few Ruddy Turnstones.

Ruddy Turnstone

The clouds were finally breaking as we headed out. I always like to make sure I get some sort of flower shots while I am out and the Beach Sunflower would be just fine for the records.

Beach Sunflower

On the way home we decided to make an attempt to find a Whimbrel which I was told years ago about it always being near the bridge. On the Inter-coastal side there were plenty of Red-breasted Mergansers.

Red-breasted Merganser

I noticed a white patch on one of the birds meaning it had to be more rare bird. A Bufflehead or two were diving midway out. Thanks for the photo bomb, Herring Gull!

Bufflehead and Herring Gull

Nearby, a Brown Pelican remained positioned in front of a fisherman. Hoping to snatch a meal, no doubt.

Brown Pelican and Fisherman

Way out in the waves I could just make out a black and white bird. Turned out to be a Common Loon.

Common Loon

We switched our search across the road to the Gulf side but only found a few more Loons but a pair of diving Horned Grebes was a nice way to round out the visit.

Horned Grebe

So, we headed home feeling some disappointment for striking out on the Life Birds. However, we did have a fun time. Out back, a pair of House Finches were at the feeder.

House Finch

Something spooked them into the tree and only then could I tell that the male was a seldom seen yellow variant. House Finch males are usually a purple-ish red but I have had yellow and orange variants at our house before.

House Finch

Rain is forecast for tomorrow. Not sure if I will chase another Life Bird or not.

Tierra Verde Birds

Word had it that there was a special bird out at Fort DeSoto. Since we were nearby for the next segment of Christmas I decided to head over and see if I could find it. Dad tagged along and we took a quick stop before the park to scan the duck ponds on Tierra Verde along the way. An earlier report said there were hundreds of Redhead ducks but today we only found a few dozen.


Still, it is rare for us to get them in Central Florida so it is always fun to see any Redhead during the Winter. This spot has them every year. There was also a report of a Widgeon being here but we could not find it.


The next pond over had a few more Redhead and few Red-breasted Mergansers.

Red-breasted Merganser

Hopefully this fog will clear once we get to the beach a few miles away...