Thursday, October 31, 2013

Fresh Air and a New Woodpecker at Mead

Some birders are retired and have free time to go on long trips on a whim to see birds any day. Some live near great birding spots that only require a short jaunt to see fun sightings nearly any day. Some of us have Life to deal with. Like me. Kids to run back and forth to school, chores, shopping, and job searching. Leaves precious little time to bird. Sigh.

So, after two weeks of not getting out to do any 'real' birding, I decided the reports from Mead warranted a day to get some fresh air and snag some shots today. Especially since I had to miss the Philadelphia Vireo last week and there are new Woodpeckers reported and photographed out at one of my favorite local hotspots. I had gathered all of my State requested job searches for the week and decided to take a walk.

I arrived at Mead Botanical Gardens as Marcus, a fellow birder, was getting out to refill the hummingbird feeder and he pointed out a female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in the tree above his van that he says has been there for a while. She was busy making holes in the tree for later meal chances. Despite their name, Sapsuckers don't suck sap. They make holes in bark to allow the sap to ooze out and attract insects that they then eat.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Once we got the feeder filled I wanted to head straight over to the spot where a Red-headed Woodpecker has been taking up residence and storing acorns after drilling out a hole in a nearby dead stump. We looked around a while before the bird began chirping and lead us to discover it up in the pines.

Red-headed Woodpecker

As we were watching this bird a Cooper's Hawk swooped in and landed a few feet away. This caused the Red-headed Woodpecker to hide until the hawk headed off into the neighborhood trees. It still took 20 minutes before the woodpecker felt secure enough to head out to forage. It landed on another snag far overhead.

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpeckers breed up at Wekiwa Springs and were only recorded as fly-overs here at Mead. This is the first time they have been recorded staying for any length of time. I was hoping for a closer shot but with any luck they will hang around and I can get a closer shot. The fact that they are storing acorns is a good sign that they may be expanding their range, at least for now. It would be a welcome addition to the gardens.

Red-headed Woodpecker

I was wanting to add my first season sighting of Yellow-rumped Warblers to my list and we found them down by the creek. The lighting was horrible, however, so I got no pictures of them today. They quickly dispersed and were soon replaced by Carolina Wrens emerging from the wetlands.

Carolina Wren

Another bird we found along the creek was an Eastern Phoebe. As we followed its calls a Red-shouldered Hawk glided out of the shadows and landed on a fence on a property across from the gardens.

Red-shouldered Hawk

I mentioned a Cooper's Hawk before and they are still prowling the area in silence. As I was about to leave for the morning, I spotted another near the butterfly garden but it would only pause for a few seconds before being spooked by us as we walked by.

Cooper's Hawk

Being Halloween, spooking would seem to be the task at hand. At least I got some treats on my one day out for now.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Cloudy with a Chance of Bird Sightings

Figures. My one day to head out to Mead Botanical Gardens this week and it turns out to be the one cloudy day. Bird numbers were down and lighting was horrible. Oh, well. I couldn't even find the Barred Owl at its usual perch so I could only settle for a photo of a Blue Dasher Dragonfly out at that spot. Thanks to friend Paul Hueber for the confirming ID.

Blue Dasher

Down by the cement bridge I could only stand and chat with a Tricolored Heron for a couple of minutes.

Tricolored Heron

At times, the area behind the clubhouse along the creek is productive for many warblers. It was quiet there, too, until a Western Palm Warbler dropped out of the trees. Means Winter is closing in. Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers are typically the last species of warblers to reach Florida and stay until Spring.

Western Palm Warbler

Nearby, the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are busy at the butterfly garden near the pond and back in the main butterfly garden.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

I was on the way out and went past the new amphitheater when I saw a couple of warblers racing from tree to tree. Again, bad light was the norm today and I had to really process this shot to confirm it was a Pine Warbler that I was trying to keep up with all along.

Pine Warbler

I probably won't have a ton of birding time for a bit as I need to buckle down on job transitions but I will still get to be out on Sunday for banding at Lake Lotus.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Mixed Bag in Orlando

Had to take a trek down to the south of Orlando for a bit and stopped by a familiar pond along the way. did not see the American Coot that used to hang out there but I did see another bird I had forgotten about since they have not been in downtown Orlando for a while. A Pied-billed Grebe drifted out to the center of the pond as I slowed for a shot.

Pied-billed Grebe

I spotted a couple birds I wanted to get shots of but as I made the turn to get a better look I noticed a shadow and looked up to see a Red-tailed Hawk circling nearby.

Red-tailed Hawk

I positioned my van along the creek and soon came into view of a Tricolored Heron and White Ibis sifting through the edges of the weeds.

Tricolored Heron and White Ibis

Soon, the object of my attention was visible and I stepped out to get a bunch of photos. I like this one the best. Roseate Spoonbills are not common in the Orlando area but for some reason a few of them love this spot near a very urban spot near a sprawling tourist complex. I will take those opportunities to be with them every chance I can.

Roseate Spoonbill

On the way out I made sure to slow past a crowd I saw on the way in. Black Vultures were busy with the corpse of a hit Raccoon. Not pretty but yet another sighting.

Black Vulture

A good tally of bird species in a short stop and a welcome change from the warbler searches I do near home every day.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Returning Ruby-crowned Kinglet

For those who are not aware, I run the Wekiva Basin Banding Station along the Little Wekiva River out at Lake Lotus in Altamonte Springs, Florida. The NEXRAD radars have been showing huge amounts of birds migrating lately so I thought I would do a little ground-truthing to see if anything had decided to land. Seems like the weather has been very good for traveling of late so there have not been many birds actually stopping on their trek. Good for them, slow for birders.

I did not see a lot of birds out there but I could only arrive after 9 AM and most of the good activity wraps up around then. Plus, ground crews were making a lot of noise along the Little Wekiva on the park side so there was not much chance of seeing many species. I did hear some buntings so I hope to capture some next Sunday.

I headed out but was compelled to stop and go out close to the river at one point. Just had a feeling, ya know? As I scanned to branches hanging over the river I spotted some movement and raised my binoculars. Could it be? Yes! My first Ruby-crowned Kinglet of the season.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

I thought I noticed something else about this Ruby-crowned Kinglet. It was flitting about so quickly so it was making photographs difficult but I kept trying. I had to confirm my suspicions. Ah, yes. There it is. See it?

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Magnified to 200% might help. This is a Ruby-crowned Kinglet we have banded in the past! It has returned on its long journey, perhaps many times. Only recapturing it will let us know for sure and next Sunday is our first chance to find out.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Banding is a science that allows us to track birds as they move through our world (or as we move through theirs) and catching them in the first place is a bit of luck. More difficult is recapturing them in the future to derive any real data. We do recapture a number of birds as they return. Site fidelity is one of the things we look for and birds are amazing in the way they will return to the exact same spot year after year, often to the day, during migration.

Time will tell and I will post an update if we recapture this bird.

Oh, one more thing I almost forgot! I often watch for reflections on spider webs after first seeing one years ago. As I walked past Net 6 I noticed a Spiny Orb Weaver making a web. The Sun was shining brightly through the trees and with just a little tug...rainbows.

Spiny Orb Weaver

Just have to stop and look and the wonders will appear.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Called To Mead Garden

I was just minding my business doing chores and some grocery shopping when Marcus called me to say there were more birds showing up at Mead Botanical Garden than there had been in a quite a while. I had a feeling but decided I would stay close to home. Oh, all right.

By the time I arrived most of the activity had abated. There were only a couple of warblers by the creek. As I stepped out into the open to scan the oaks a noisy Red-shouldered Hawk zoomed in and circled us before moving off into the distance.

Red-shouldered Hawk

I decided to check out some other areas and as I rounded a corner I spied a shadowy bird feeding in the grasses. A female Painted Bunting was eyeing me nervously so I had to stop and could only get a dark image but it was good enough for an ID.

Painted Bunting

Down by the big Cypress, the activity was picking up. Problem is that most birds here stay in the understory which keeps them in near darkness. My camera has a barely functional flash so I usually have to wait on the outer edges and hope for something to fly out there. Luckily, a male American Redstart did me a favor. Only very briefly.

American Redstart

Our main attention was on a female Yellow Warbler. She was almost always buried in leaves or on the far side of the trees so we had to wait it out for quite some time before even getting the slightest full glimpse of her.

Yellow Warbler

As we waited, that male American Redstart continued to bounce from branch to branch and I managed one more shot.

It reminded me of the first time I ever saw a Redstart. I was standing on the front walk trying to get shots of birds at the feeder many years ago. As I watched the Titmice and Cardinals a male Redstart dropped from the trees and landed on a branch mere feet in front of my face. I was so awestruck that all I could do was stare and say aloud, "American Redstart...". The camera was in my hands at the ready but I only watched in wonder. Seconds later it was gone. It would be a couple more years before I ever got a shot of one.

American Redstart

I needed to head home to do more chores so I went out on the boardwalk for one look when a couple of Common Yellowthroats bolted into view. This young male stopped in front of me to preen and allowed several shots before vanishing into the brush.

Common Yellowthroat

Still love these birds and we have been banding a lot of them at Lake Lotus the past few weeks. Just another walk in the park but it is getting busier.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Yellow Warblers and Other Finds

Wasn't the forecast for clear skies the rest of the week? Thought so, but today was a very dreary looking morning. Had to wait until the second school trip to get any light and even that was pretty poor. However, I could still pick out a few warblers up in the trees around the lake under the clouds.

The most surprising was a Yellow Warbler near the edges of the outer oak limbs. These birds are typically the first early migrants and tend to head off by now but I was not complaining. Except for the fact that I had to rush back to the van for the camera.

Yellow Warbler

Like many warblers, this Yellow Warbler was moving fast in search of bugs and reminded me, again, how hard it is to get good shots of small birds on the hunt. Not that you can't see them. It is the small branches that end up between you and them and make the camera want to focus on anything but the bird.

Yellow Warbler

The best part for me was that this is clearly a male Yellow Warbler. I usually have gotten shots of juveniles or females but I was always wanting a shot of the male with those red-orange stripes.

Yellow Warbler

Buoyed by this brief warbler encounter, I decided to take a few minutes to head over to nearby Demetree Park. Might be something along the boardwalk. Indeed, there were a few birds crossing the small creek, including a couple of juvenile White-eyed Vireos. Even in this blurry shot you can see the dark eye.As they get older, the iris turns bright white.

White-eyed Vireo

Behind them and foraging in the cypress and tallow trees were several Swainson's Thrushes. Wish they would get closer. Then again, I get those more personal shots when I band them at Lake Lotus.

Swainson's Thrush

On the way out I saw another bird that I had nearly forgotten about. A Wood Stork flew overhead and landed on the fishing dock. Wood Storks are making a comeback over the years and I am more used to them around. Just realized I hadn't seen any in the past couple of months.

This bird was probably born earlier in the year as adult birds get very dark bills. The bills are nearly ivory when the birds are born.

Wood Stork

A little sunshine in the overcast, including some surprises. Not too bad.

Monday, October 07, 2013

First Palm Warbler of the Season

Just another morning drive after delivering the boys to school. However, I did finally get my first Western Palm Warbler of the season. Lighting was poor but after seeing them reported in different locations in the past two weeks along the coasts I was happy enough to get one close to home again. They will be here through the Spring.

Western Palm Warbler

As I was taking a shot of the Palm Warbler, an Anhinga flew in and made its usual noisy exclamations atop a Cypress tree.


Nothing else of note. It will still be a cheery day after seeing the Palm Warbler. In fact, I stopped by Mead Garden a bit later and found a second. Should be seeing them all over Orlando soon enough.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Yawn. So quiet...

Are those migrants ever going to arrive or did they just stick to the coasts this year? So quiet out at Mead that even one of the resident Barred Owls could barely stay awake this morning.

Barred Owl

A little swarm of activity over by the creek only revealed Tufted Titmice taking a bath in the dew on the Elderberry bushes.

Tufted Titmouse

The only bright spot was finding a Chestnut-sided Warbler way up in the trees.

Chestnut-sided Warbler

If I didn't have things to do I might just take a nap. Going to be bird banding at Lake Lotus all weekend so maybe things will get more lively.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Juvenile Bald Eagle at Lake Lancaster

As usual, I drove around the lakes after delivering my youngest to school. Not much warbler activity of late. I almost ignored a hawk flying from my right toward the opposite shore of the lake but I decided to track it and was glad I did. I thought it was headed for the ducks along the shore. Instead, it led me to a juvenile Bald Eagle sitting near the water. I was quickly cursing myself for leaving the camera in the van.

By the time I got back to the van and drove up to the spot I knew I was losing time. By the time I stepped out of the van and tried to focus, the eagle began to take flight.

Bald Eagle

In the past, juvenile Bald Eagles have returned to their nest site in following years. The adults then chase them off but they keep hanging out sometimes. This bird was flying directly toward the nest that is about a mile away.

Bald Eagle

A fun sighting during an otherwise quiet morning.