Sunday, July 20, 2014

Fort De Soto, 7/19/2014

Fort De Soto
Reddish Egret
Last week my wife decided it might be fun to go to the beach on the Gulf coast (calmer waves), and she asked me if there was a good place there go visit.  Fort De Soto, of course!  So yesterday we spent the day there. My father and I got there early to do some birding and photography, and we were not disappointed. We found many terns and wading birds, including 2 Common Terns and a Black Tern, but shorebirds the most fun finds.  It's great to see them returning. Between the east beach turnaround and north beach we found 12 species of shorebirds, and most of them were pretty cooperative.

Fort De Soto
Semipalmated Plover
Fort De Soto
Western Sandpiper
Fort De Soto
Least Sandpiper
Fort De Soto

Fort De Soto
Short-billed Dowitcher
East Beach was filled with Least Sandpipers, Short-billed Dowitchers, and Semipalmated Plovers. There was also one Western Sandpiper there. Willets were everywhere.

Fort De Soto
Spotted Sandpiper
Fort De Soto
Marbled Godwit
Fort De Soto
Piping Plover
Fort De Soto
Wilson's Plover
North Beach is great for finding Wilson's Plovers and Piping Plovers, but we also had a chance to see a couple American Oystercatchers, a Spotted Sandpiper, and several Marbled Godwits.  By around 10:30 the rest of my family arrived, and we spent the day enjoying the warm sun and calm waters.  Not a bad way to spend the day.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Initial Review: E-Butterfly

Central Winds Park
Spicebush Swallowtail
Central Winds Park
I just discovered a new website that I think is pretty wonderful.  It's the butterfly equivalent of eBird, called (don't forget the dash). This site lets you enter your butterfly sightings, keep track of your life list, and see what else has been seen near you.  The site seems self-consciously patterned after eBird, so if you use eBird, learning this site should be pretty easy.  This site is brand new, so there's still a few kinks to be worked out, and there appear to be very few users of the site, especially in Florida.  I'm a novice at butterflies, and for the most part I only record butterflies I photograph while birding.  I'm still currently ranked third in the State of Florida for sightings in 2014 out of nine others.  You get the picture. However, my guess is that this site will take off just like eBird has, and when it does, it will be an even more valuable resource for birders and butterfliers.

Central Winds Park
Hackberry Emperor
Central Winds Park
Compared to eBird, there are a few differences in the way they organized the site, and most of them I like. You can upload photos from your hard drive (though you can't link to them on your photo-hosting site, a real downer), and your photos nicely show up with your sighting.  You can see a list of sightings independent of your checklists (nice!), and you can also tell e-butterfly your confidence level in your ID.  This is great for me, since I'm a novice at butterflies.  Duskywing Skippers, for instance, give me real trouble. Editing your checklists seems cumbersome at first.  I'm used to clicking on a checklist to edit it, and then be able to add and delete sightings.  With e-butterfly, you can view your checklist and delete sightings, and you can edit your checklist to add photos, change confidence level, etc. But to add a species to your checklist, you have have to click a different link.  This seems odd, but once you get used to it, it's no big deal.

Central Winds Park
Horace's Duskiwing Skipper
Central Winds Park
I like a lot of the features in e-butterfly, but I still think overall it takes longer for me complete a checklist than it does in ebird.  That might be because I've probably entered 1000 checklists into eBird, so the differences in e-butterfly seem awkward to me.  However, there is one real problem in e-butterfly.  When you type in a species name, the site will show you a list of species that match what you type, but you can't just click on a matching species. You have to hit the search button (sometimes twice) before it will take you to the species you typed in.  This seems unnecessary and odd, and I bet in the future this will change.

Marl Bed Flats
Ceraunus Blue
Marl Bed Flats
All in all, I'm really happy with it.  I even went out to Central Winds Park yesterday and walked directly to the butterfly garden and spent most of my time there; I only spent 15 minutes birding!  I just wanted to work on a checklist for e-butterfly and see if I could find a few new ones.

Marl Bed Flats
Carolina Satyr
Marl Bed Flats
I still dream of a day when there will be a site that will let you log all your sightings of all species on one site (birds, reptiles, mammals, insects, etc).  Maybe that day will come.  We can hope.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Marl Bed Flats, 6/30/2014

Marl Bed Flats
Tricolored Heron
On Monday I went to Marl Bed Flats in an effort to score some last minute birds for my June Challenge. A friend of mine had seen a Bobolink there, so I wanted to find that, but I also was hoping a couple new shorebirds might have flown into the area.  My favorite photo from this last ditch effort is the one above, a pretty, young Tricolored Heron out at the shore of Lake Jesup.  But I also wanted to try an app from Google called My Tracks.  It's a simple GPS tracking software. You press "Record" at the beginning of your trip and "Stop" at the end.  Then it gives you a map of where you went and some some nice stats about your journey. On this particular trip I walked 2.69 miles over 2 hours and 25 minutes and burned 485 calories. While you're walking you can put down markers for things that interest you, like a Boboloink or Tricolored Heron (though I didn't notice this feature until today).  After you're done, you can sync your tracks to Google Drive (to view on Google Earth) or to Google Maps Engine.  In Google Maps Engine you can add markers with photos and edit the look of the path you walked, etc. Once you get the map the way you like it, you can copy code to embed it to your blog (or wherever else you want to show it (unfortunately, the map doesn't show up if you paste it into your eBird checklist).  It's a much faster process than what I tried earlier at the Lower Wekiva River Preserve. So it's something I may do more often.

In short, I really like this app.  I have to be careful that my phone is charged when begin a hike, since GPS can really drain your battery, but other than that, I can't think of any good criticisms yet for this app, especially since it's free.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

June Challenge Results

Mullet Lake Park
Snowy Egret 
Every June in Florida we have the opportunity to participate in a friendly competition called June Challenge. The competition is designed to encourage people to get out there and do some birding during a hot summer month when many birders take a break. Migration is over, and there's often not much new to find, so the competition keeps us out and birding.  Pick a county, any county, and find as many birds as you can in that county during the month of June. The only caveat is they have to be seen; heard only doesn't count. This is my third year participating, and I was very pleased with my June Challenge results.  Every year I've done a little better. In 2012 I found 80 species; in 2013 I found 95; this year I found 104, not including two species I heard but never saw (White-winged Dove and Red-headed Woodpecker). I found 12 species I hadn't seen last year, and I missed out on three I had seen last year (White-winged Dove, Canada Goose, Black Skimmer).

Lower Wekiva River Preserve
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Here's my 2014 list (I put an asterisk by the ones I didn't see in previous year):

1   Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
2   Muscovy Duck
3   Wood Duck
4   Mallard (Domestic)
5   Mottled Duck
6   Blue-winged Teal *
7   Northern Bobwhite
8   Wild Turkey
9   Pied-billed Grebe
10 Wood Stork
11 Double-crested Cormorant
12 Anhinga
13 American White Pelican
14 Least Bittern
15 Great Blue Heron
16 Great Egret
17 Snowy Egret
18 Little Blue Heron
19 Tricolored Heron
20 Cattle Egret
21 Green Heron
22 Black-crowned Night-Heron
23 Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
24 White Ibis
25 Glossy Ibis
26 Roseate Spoonbill
27 Black Vulture
28 Turkey Vulture
29 Osprey
30 Swallow-tailed Kite
31 Cooper's Hawk
32 Bald Eagle
33 Red-shouldered Hawk
34 Short-tailed Hawk
35 Red-tailed Hawk
36 Purple Gallinule
37 Common Gallinule
38 American Coot
39 Limpkin
40 Sandhill Crane
41 Black-necked Stilt*
42 Killdeer
43 Laughing Gull*
44 Ring-billed Gull*
45 Least Tern
46 Caspian Tern*
47 Rock Pigeon
48 Eurasian Collared-Dove
49 White-winged Dove (didn't see)
50 Mourning Dove
51 Common Ground-Dove
52 Yellow-billed Cuckoo
53 Eastern Screech-Owl*
54 Great Horned Owl
55 Barred Owl
56 Common Nighthawk
57 Chuck-will's-widow
58 Chimney Swift
59 Ruby-throated Hummingbird
60 Red-headed Woodpecker (didn't see)*
61 Red-bellied Woodpecker
62 Downy Woodpecker
63 Northern Flicker
64 Pileated Woodpecker
65 Crested Caracara
66 American Kestrel*
67 Monk Parakeet*
68 Acadian Flycatcher
69 Great Crested Flycatcher
70 Loggerhead Shrike
71 White-eyed Vireo
72 Yellow-throated Vireo
73 Red-eyed Vireo
74 Blue Jay
75 American Crow
76 Fish Crow
77 Purple Martin
78 Tree Swallow*
79 Barn Swallow
80 Carolina Chickadee
81 Tufted Titmouse
82 Brown-headed Nuthatch
83 Carolina Wren
84 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
85 Eastern Bluebird
86 Brown Thrasher
87 Northern Mockingbird
88 European Starling
89 Common Yellowthroat
90 Northern Parula
91 Pine Warbler
92 Eastern Towhee
93 Bachman's Sparrow
94 Savannah Sparrow*
95 Summer Tanager
96 Northern Cardinal
97 Blue Grosbeak*
98 Indigo Bunting
99 Bobolink*
100 Red-winged Blackbird
101 Eastern Meadowlark
102 Common Grackle
103 Boat-tailed Grackle
104 Brown-headed Cowbird
105 House Finch
106 House Sparrow
Total: 104 Seen

1   Helmeted Guineafowl

Here are some of my favorite photos from the month of June.  I spent so much time birding I didn't do much blogging, and there's a lot of photos I've done nothing with.  Here's a sampling.

Lake Monroe Marina
Least Tern
Marl Bed Flats
Black-necked Stilt
Live Oaks Blvd
Sandhill Crane
Lower Wekiva River Preserve
Common Nighthawk
Central Winds Park
Barred Owl
Lower Wekiva River Preserve
Short-tailed Hawk
There were a few surprises, and mostly these were birds that stayed late--they really shouldn't be inland in Central Florida this time of year.  These include Savannah Sparrow, Bobolink, Tree Swallow, Ring-billed gull, and Caspian Tern. Here are some terrible I.D. shots of some of the more unusual birds.

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Savannah Sparrow
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Caspian Tern
Marl Bed Flats
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Tree Swallow
Lake Monroe Marina
Ring-billed Gull
Lake Monroe Marina
Laughing Gull

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Lower Wekiva River Preserve, 6/28/2014

Yesterday I spent the morning walking the trails of the Lower Wekiva River Preserve. I spent more time there than I have before, so I walked a lot farther.  Normally I walk to Marker F (the yellow star in the middle of the above frame) and then return.  But since I had more time I decided to walk farther.  I continued walking northeast until I ended up at a hardwood canopy. The trail got very wet, so I turned around.  Back home I found some new features on Google Maps that allow you to make maps and embed them in blogs, so I thought I'd give it a try. I drew the trails I normally walk and then put markers down for some of the sightings.  You can also embed photos in the markers.  So I thought I'd give it a try to see if it may be beneficial. I like this, but it may be more work to do than I want to do.  But we'll see. Maybe I'll do it for some of my favorite trails.

Lower Wekiva River Preserve
Swallow-tailed Kite
I was hoping to find a Red-headed Woodpecker; I heard one, but never did see it.  I did, however, find a pair of Yellow-billed Cuckoos, which is the first time I've found "probable" evidence for breeding in Seminole County. It was also fun to see several Swallow-tailed Kites and Bachman's Sparrows.

Lower Wekiva River Preserve
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Lower Wekiva River Preserve
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Lower Wekiva River Preserve
Bachman's Sparrow

Monday, June 23, 2014

Florida's Little Plovers

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Wilson's Plover
Since I moved to Florida and became interested in birding, I've wanted to get good photos of all the little plovers that show up in Florida on a regular basis.  I found most of these plovers without much trouble, but Snowy Plovers have eluded me.  They've been somewhat of a nemesis bird for me, until the end of May.  I visited Siesta Beach in Sarasota, and one was very happy to be out on the beach with all the other sunbathers. So now I can write a post I've been wanting to write for years--a survey of Florida's little plovers. We have four of them, and they aren't too terribly difficult to tell apart, but I'll also share a few ID tips for those that may be new to finding Plovers. I couldn't decide whether I should organize them by the the order I found them or the overall lightness of their plumage, but then I realized that it's the same. I found them in the order of darkest to lightest.

Semipalmated Plover
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Semipalmated Plover
Semipalmated Plovers are our most common little plover, and they're also very easilyidentified.  They have yellow legs, yellow at the base of the bill, and darker backs than the other little plovers we have here.  They have a dark ring around their necks, though the color and shape of the ring is variable.

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Semipalmated Plover
Wilson's Plover
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Wilson's Plover
Wilson's Plovers are a little bit lighter than Semipalmated Plovers. They lack yellowish legs and they have a thinner ring around the neck, but the most obvious field mark for me is the "giant" bill of these little plovers. Their bills are substantially larger than any other plover listed here, so that's what I look for first when I see one that I think might be a bit lighter than a Semipalmated Plover.

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Wilson's Plover

Piping Plover
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Piping Plover
Piping Plovers are downright cute.  They can be easily distinguished from Semipalmated Plovers because their backs are lighter and lack a dark face patch.  They can be distinguished from Wilson's Plovers because their bills are smaller and their legs are yellow. Also notice the incomplete ring around the neck. Piping Plovers are a threatened species

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Piping Plover
Snowy Plover
Siesta Key
Snowy Plover\
Snowy Plovers for some reason are my favorite. Maybe its because they were the hardest for me to find. Notice they have longer, thinner bills and gray legs, unlike Semipalmated and Piping Plovers.

Siesta Key
Snowy Plover

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Shake Reduction

Picnic Point Park, Seattle
Golden-crowned Kinglet (after)
Today I finally got a copy of Photoshop CC.  There's a new feature in this software that I'd been excited about trying out--shake reduction.  I wish I could use a tripod for all my shots, but the reality is that I'd miss a lot of shots if I used a tripod.  And since my lens does not have image stabilization, I run the risk of motion blur due to camera shake.  This tool is designed to help that.  The above image is after applying the filter, and the below image is before. The tool generates noise, so I chose the minimum amount of sharpening, and then I added smoothing to control the noise. Fully zoomed in, this photo is a bit noisier than the original, but otherwise, I think the effect works pretty well.

Picnic Point Park, Seattle
Golden-crowned Kinglet (before)
We don't get Golden-crowned Kinglets in Florida very often; in fact, this photo was taken in Washington State.  I liked the photo, but I was always a little troubled by the softness of it.  With common species this is not too bad, since I can always console myself by going and taking another photo.  But I probably won't be returning to Washington State for a while, so it was pretty frustrating not to have this photo tack sharp--it's the best pose this one gave me.  Now I can go over several older photo that are like this and see what magic might Photoshop might be able to do.
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