Saturday, November 29, 2014

New Life Bird and a New Park

I had another brief window to run back to the coast to check for the Great Cormorant before we headed back home to Orlando. I got up a bit earlier so I could be at the spot at sunrise. I started my search across from the boat ramp and watched a as Willet, a couple Black-bellied Plovers and a few Least Sandpipers (below) began breakfast just after dawn.

Least Sandpiper

I scanned the boat ramp from the other side of Bunches Pass and checked all of the pilings I could see but nothing was sitting in the open at the moment. Just as I was about to get back in the car a bird rose from the water and began flying toward the bridge. It was the Great Cormorant, no question. It slowed its course and swooped up to rest on a channel marker. Farther away than I would have liked but I at least got some kind of photo.

I thought I could head over to the boat ramp for a closer look but by the time I got up on the bridge it had flown off.

Great Cormorant

Nothing else held my interest so I headed to a new park I was finding out about nearby. Boyd Hill Preserve. Interesting place but I didn't have much time. I started on the Swamp Trail and soon found a Pied-billed Grebe just off shore.

Pied-billed Grebe

The next trail led to a small island with a great view of downtown St. Petersburg. In one spot, a metal statue of a heron gleams in the water.


Across the lake I could make out a large raft of American Coots. Soon I noticed something else. A boater decided it would be a great idea to speed straight through the flock to get to his fishing spot. Jerk.


There are many trails in the park and the path overlap one another going from several different habitats. Some day I will have to spend hours going through them all. This morning I had the place virtually to myself


I decided it was time to head back and found a small field that was swarming with Palm Warblers. Both sub-species were here feeding on the small insects flying about the grasses. Usually Florida gets mostly Western Palms so it was nice to also see the Eastern variety in full sunlight.

Palm Warbler

I was wondering why I didn't see any sparrows here. A perfect spot for them. On queue, a Chipping Sparrow flew up from the ground and landed right in front of me.

Chipping Sparrow

I found another metal sculpture near the small pond in the center of the park. A giant Armadillo!


Another feeding flock was trying to get me to stay but I had to go. One more shot, though. A Northern Mockingbird kept a close watch on me as I advanced toward the exit and the car.

Northern Mockingbird

One Life Bird added to the list as well as a new park. Not a bad couple of hours of wandering.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Searching for a New Life Bird

We were over on the Gulf Coast for the Thanksgiving holidays and there were reports of another potential Life Bird hanging out near Fort De Soto. A Great Cormorant was flying back and forth around Bunches Pass just before you reach De Soto. Knowing most everyone would be sleeping in on Thanksgiving I got up before dawn and headed out on my own. Being the holiday, there were not many others out on the road at sunrise. I looked for the Cormorant but failed to nail it down. Maybe that speck out on the piling? Too far to confirm. Dolphin were passing by, though.


Not wanting to pay $5 just to park and walk around at the boat ramp, I drove slowly through and took note of birds as they presented themselves. It was nice to see a Sandwich Tern after so long away from the coast.

Sandwich Tern

On one of the dock pilings, a Royal Tern refused to wake for the morning light.

Royal Tern

Four docks down held a Brown Pelican just arriving from an early breakfast.

Brown Pelican

Just before exiting the parking lot I spotted a Belted Kingfisher. Of course, they spot you, too, so you usually only get shots of them bolting for the next distant perch.

Belted Kingfisher

Since I was there, I decided to actually spent the $5 to go into Fort De Soto itself to see if there were any interesting birds. The Sun was shining brightly on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge but there were not too many birds at the East Loop.


Over at the Gulf pier, I found a few Double-crested Cormorants either snoozing on pilings or posing on street lamps.

Double-crested Cormorant

A young Brown Pelican cruised past just overhead.

Brown Pelican

The Double-crested Cormorant was not amused. I find the yawn of these birds to be one of the more unusual sights around.

Double-crested Cormorant

Off to the side of the pier was a Willet chasing the surf.


A noisy Osprey caught my attention s I headed toward the car. The male was calling while perched on the electric wires near the boardwalk.


The female Osprey was just above on the nest platform gazing out into the distance.


European Starlings were gathering on the wires as I was about to leave. I almost didn't notice the Brown-headed Cowbird trying to blend in among them.

Brown-headed Cowbird

European Starlings left me with a nice bit of symmetry against a bright blue sky.

European Starling

I stopped at the end of a bridge on the way out and found a Great Black-backed Gull sifting through the seaweed rack.

Great Black-backed Gull

A few more feet out in the shallows, a White Ibis probed the mud on the lowering tide while reflecting nicely.

White Ibis

Later, before the turkey and fixin's were consumed I refilled Dad's bird feeders and eventually a few birds stopped by, including a juvenile male Red-winged Blackbird.

Red-winged Blackbird

I was disappointed that I couldn't definitely verify the Great Cormorant but still had a good time. I might still have a chance to try again as we are here for a few more days. Fingers are crossed. I missed two possible Life Birds last year during the holidays.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Cemetery Palm Warblers

Still pretty quiet around Central Florida but we are getting so me Western Palm Warblers from time to time. I was checking if the Bald Eagles were back yet but I have yet to see them. On the edge of that territory I did find a small flock of birds, including a few Western Palm Warblers. This one was busy gobbling up a caterpillar.

Western Palm Warbler

Not much else but I will take what I can this year. Sigh.

Not that I don't love Palm Warblers...

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Jay Watch Luncheon

It was time for the annual Jay Watch Appreciation Luncheon which gives all of the Jay Watch volunteers a chance to get together and hear the results of their hard work from the Summer counting in the heat. It is held in a different place every year and this year it was at Archbold Biological Station. Archbold does a ton of research on land, plat, and animal conservation and other scientific studies.

It also in the home for a large group of Scrub Jays. Sadly, we didn't get to see any of them today but I always wanted to get a chance to see this spot. Carolyn joined me and we took a stroll along one of the trails before the speakers began for the day. I might revisit this blog post to add the flowers we discovered but for now just the couple of birds we saw. There really was not much activity at all today. Near the beginning of the trail we did have an Eastern Phoebe perch atop a branch.

Eastern Phoebe

I was hearing some odd call in the scrub as were neared a turn in the path but I could never locate the bird making the sound. I would have searched harder if not for the sudden appearance of a Red-headed Woodpecker flying to the snags next to us. It took a few minutes but I waited long enough for this striking bird to get into the right light as it spend most of the time hiding behind the trunk.

Red-headed Woodpecker

Out on the other trail we had another Red-headed Woodpecker fly in from gathering acorns. This one was an immature bird.

Red-headed Woodpecker

So, no Scrub Jays but nice to spend the day with my wife, meet up with some old birding friends, and enjoy a wonderfully frosted cake after lunch.

Jay Watch Cake

I will try to get back out some day to just go birding. I hear there are other good spots just miles away from here to also find the Jays.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Ring-necked Ducks Finally Return

About time.

Right around the beginning of the school year I start keeping my eye on the local lakes expecting to see the ducks returning for the Winter. Deep down I know they won't be here for a another couple months but I keep hoping something will show up early. This slow year found the Ring-necked Ducks show up a couple of weeks late. Typically, they arrive during the last week of October.

Ring-necked Duck

This first small flock just before sunset still made me smile a bit as I was on the way home. Time for their buddies to join them soon.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Another Trip to Mead While I Can

I had another chance to run out to Mead Botanical Gardens today for a brief stroll. I was wondering if there would be more opportunities to get some shots of the Myrtle Warblers again but also to find out what else was around. On the way in I found a Great Blue Heron as I did last week and a couple of House Finches flying through as the Sun rose. Still nothing super exciting.

On the remaining part of the boardwalk that the public can access I found a small change of color in the park. Some of the marsh is populated with Maple trees. This small specimen was showing its red leaves in the old lake bed.


Last week I circled the old boardwalk from the North end. Today I thought I would try from the South. I could see some warblers moving about but the first bird that came close to me was a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

The flowering plants are still putting on a show and the Honey bees are visiting the Duck Potato flowers throughout the area, loaded with pollen on their legs.

Duck Potato

Approaching the snags, a Red-bellied Woodpecker flew in to inspect a crevice for an early breakfast.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

I finally found the Myrtle Warbler flock just beyond most of the Wax Myrtles and they were sticking to the shadows for most of the time. Eventually, one bird perched in the light for 20 seconds and then quickly followed the other members of the flock back into hiding.

Myrtle Warbler

I love Climbing Purple Astor. In some spots it grows to over 6 feet tall but here it stays close to the surface and was blooming with gusto. Many insects were feeding on the nectar like this White Peacock butterfly.

White Peacock

Close by, another Honey bee takes its turn on a flower.

Honey bee

I was almost off of this stretch of the old boards and was wondering why I hadn't spotted a Swamp Sparrow in the past couple of weeks. They are usually reliable on this last bend. Then, one jumped up in front of me and I got a poor shot before it zoomed back into hiding in the vegetation.

Swamp Sparrow

I began to head back toward the car and cut around the Education Center. Just as got to the back of the original amphitheatre a pair of women were passing by and I heard one say, "Oh, look. A snake!". It took me a few seconds before I saw the Black Racer tucked down in the leaves beneath the Azaleas.

Black Racer

Crossing the wooden bridge by the pond can sometimes lead to an interesting discovery. Today, a White Ibis was feeding in the water just below the rails which made for an interesting shot in close-up. Who can resist those cool blue eyes?

White Ibis

I turned to my right on the bridge and spotted a female Anhinga up on the old snag, a leftover from the 2004 hurricanes.


Then a couple of interesting things occurred as I was on the last walk out of Mead. When I got to the cement bridge that divides the ponds from the creek, I spotted some ripples in the water. Large ripples. Undulating ripples. From past experience I knew it had to be Otters.

Otters can be found throughout Orlando if you are paying attention. They use all of the creeks, culverts and drainage systems to travel from lake to lake. They could be along a river or creek shore just as well while moving through to the next large body of water. My first shot of an otter was just ahead along the creek that I got many years ago. I could tell they were heading in that direction so I jogged up ahead of them to be in place for some photos.

A couple of minutes later and I could see the ripples moving toward me and I froze with my camera in position. Soon, they emerged from this deep section of water and scanned for danger.


One of the family of four took the lead and went to the shore opposite side and did its own scan of the surroundings.


Since I wasn't moving, except to click off a couple shots, they relaxed a bit and began to hunt in the bend of the creek and every now and then breach the surface chomping on some tasty treat.


They still wanted to head up the creek but they were sure something was different. Even though I was barely breathing they could sense something was watching.


Another otter dove down and grabbed a larger bite of something and crunched loudly in front of me.


Eventually they braved the shallow spot just in front of me and went southward toward the next lake. It was am awesome 10 minutes in the company of these remarkable mammals.


Since I had come in through the woody edge to the creek I decide to go back out that way. Maybe I could reach the otters again before the went under the fence just below the lake. I took a slight turn to the right and was about to jump over some roots when something caught my eye just ahead of me.

Yellow Jacket

Once my eyes focused on where I was going to jump to it became clear this was not the way to go. A large bank of grey was wedged in the roots in front of me. Spend enough time in the woods and you should know what this is. A massive Yellow Jacket hive! The biggest above ground one I have seen in person. A couple more misplaced steps and I would have been in a world of hurt.

Yellow Jacket

I was once swarmed at our bird banding site and also while doing nest box checks in the woods around Zellwood but both of those Yellow Jacket nest were fairly small and only had one small ground entrance. This thing was loaded with entrances and buzzing hornets.

Since I am the only lunatic to venture into that part of the grounds I figured I didn't have to alert the media. Not long ago a father and son had their dog stir up a nest and the humans ended up in the hospital for a week from all the stings that they received. Fortunately I saw them first. I just want to look for birds in peace.