Friday, November 28, 2014

Rhythm

Central Winds Park
Painted Bunting
One of my favorite migrants, though we get to see these all winter long as well.
Lately I've been considering why it is I find birding so continuously fascinating, and even addicting. Of course there's the beauty of the birds, the thrill of finding them (especially rarities), and the challenge of learning to identify them.  I also have great interest in learning about their behavior--why they act the way they do.  It's a fascinating endeavor.  But recently I've become more aware of another reason why I'm fascinated by birding--the rhythms of nature.

Lake Monroe Marina
Bald Eagle
Bald Eagles are residents here in Florida, and they breed here, but thin out in the summer time.
This one stole a Rock Pigeon from a Cooper's Hawk and flew off with it.
I'm growing in my appreciation and understanding of this aspect of birding--I certainly have not arrived.  But year after year, I'm starting to at least appreciate the rhythms of nature in Florida and how it affects my birding.

Central Winds Park.
Northern Parula
These warblers breed here, but they are also one of our earliest migrants, and a few actually winter here
Peninsular Florida has a rainy and a dry season.  We talk about the four seasons, and I suppose you could say we experience them to some degree, but  October to May is our dry season and June to September is rainy.  So our summers as hot and wet and our winters are relatively cool and dry. As you might imagine, our dry season is my favorite time for birding.

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Louisiana Waterthrush
One of our early migrants in both Spring and Fall
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Bay-breasted Warbler
It seems like the third week of October is the prime time to find this  bird.
Interestingly, I'm learning that at least some birds are migrating to or through Florida throughout most of the year.  Warblers begin to arrive here in February and continue through May, with a few staying to breed.  Then as early as July, Fall migration begins. Shorebirds start coming through in July, and warblers begin to trickle through.  By September, migration is in full swing. Here on the eastern side of the state, there's almost a predictable order for when you can expect to see certain species.  Some come over a wide range of dates, like American Redstarts, and others seem to come through very quickly, like Bay-breasted Warblers; if you blink, you might miss them. Flycatchers, tanagers, thrushes and other songbirds also come through during this time.

Merritt Island NWR, Shiloh Marsh
Saltmarsh Sparrow
In the right habitat, it seems like the first half hour after sunrise is the best time to find these guys

Canal St.
Grasshopper Sparrow
On cool, crisp, sunny and windless mornings, you might just find one of these perched out in the open
As October draws to a close, we see far fewer warblers, but then we have the fun of seeing more and more sparrows coming through. And then in November and December we can look forward to ducks and finally gulls coming through to spend the winter here. This is also the time that we can look forward to vagrants coming here to spend the winter with us.

Merritt Island NWR
Northern Pintail
Many winter here
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Black-legged Kittiwake
From mid-May through July, I can devote a great deal of my birding time to searching for breeding birds.  June is probably the quietest month of the year, and one of the hottest, but it's still fun to see what may have decided to breed in the area.

Econ River WA
Brown-headed Nuthatch
These wonderful birds breed in pine forests near my home
Lower Wekiva River Preserve
Carolina Chickadee

The winter months though are also a great deal of fun.  It's dry, and you can walk around without sweating.  And it seems like there are always vagrants to be found. Sometimes the same bird comes back to the same general area every year.

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Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
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Vermilion Flycatcher
This one has come back to the same park (and almost the same tree) and spent the winter here four years running.
The rhythms of nature now fill and inform my birding calendar.  They tell me the places to visit and the species I should look for.  These rhythms also give me a greater a greater appreciation for the place I live. It's a beautiful world we live in, and birding helps me see that more and more.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Dark-eyed Junco

St. Louis, MO
Dark-eyed Junco
This past week I was in St.Louis, and I had no time for any birding, but I did walk around the campus where I was working looking to see what may be lurking around.  I didn't see anything unusual, but it was nice to see many White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos, which we don't get to see much in Central Florida. So these are my first photos of the "slate-colored" subspecies of Dark-eyed Juncos.

St. Louis, MO
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)
St. Louis, MO
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)

Last November I visited my sister in Seattle, and there I photographed my first "Oregon" subspecies as well.

Seattle, WA
Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Great Cormorant at Port Orange

Port Orange Causeway Park
Great Cormorant
Yesterday I saw my first Great Cormorant, a lifer for me. Aside from the fact it was having a bad feather day, it's a beautiful bird.  This bird was found over  a week ago about a half mile south of where I saw it yesterday.  We spent about an hour looking for it there; then we gave up and decided to cross the Halifax River and head over to the beach. As we got onto the bridge, I saw some cormorants north of it; we pulled over at the Port Orange Causeway Park, and sure enough, one was the Great Cormorant.  We watched it on its perch for a while, but then an Osprey knocked it off its perch, and it began to work its way south. At one point it caught a large fish, though it dropped it.  I'm thankful for that Osprey. Were it not for that bird, the cormorant would not have given us any better photos than the last photo below.

Port Orange Causeway Park
Great Cormorant
Port Orange Causeway Park
Great Cormorant
Port Orange Causeway Park
Great Cormorant
Port Orange Causeway Park
Great Cormorant
 

Friday, November 7, 2014

White-crowned Sparrow on Canal St.

Canal St.
White-crowned Sparrow
Fun Sparrows are continuing to arrive here in Central Florida; the latest I've seen is this young White-crowned Sparrow.  This one appeared in one of my favorite sparrow spots in Seminole County; they seem to come here every year. Last Fall, I saw one here a couple times, but the area was disturbed when the road was paved early this year, and I couldn't find any here since then.  I was hoping I'd get the chance to see one this Fall here, and thankfully one showed up.  I also found my first Vesper Sparrow of the Fall, but it was too far away for photos.

Canal St.
White-crowned Sparrow
Canal St.
White-crowned Sparrow

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Two Subspecies of Yellow-throated Warbler

Central Winds Park
Yellow-throated Warbler
Yellow-throated Warblers are one of my favorite warblers. They are one of our more common warblers here in Florida during Spring and Fall migration, but some can be found all winter long, and a few even breed here in the summer. We have two subspecies of Yellow-throated Warbler that occur here in Florida.

Central Winds Park
Yellow-throated Warbler (yellow-lored)
Dominica Subspecies (Yellow-lored)
Most of our Yellow-throated Warblers have a little bit of yellow on front of their eyebrows or supercilium and long bills. Up north they prefer Loblolly Pines on their northern breeding grounds, though when I see them here, I frequently see them in palm trees.

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Yellow-throated Warbler (yellow-lored)
Albilora Subspecies (White-lored)
But on rare occasions we see some with all white on their supercilium and shorter bills. They prefer breeding grounds among sycamore trees, but I haven't seen enough of them here in Florida to guess what they prefer as they pass through.

Central Winds Park
Yellow-throated Warbler (white-lored)
It can be tempting to dismiss Yellow-throated Warblers in search of rarer birds.  But I still like to take an interest in these wonderful creatures, since it's always nice to see a white eyebrow among the yellow.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Lark Sparrow on Canal St.

Canal St.
Lark Sparrow
This morning before work I decided to drive around some road-side sparrow habitat to see what I could find. I checked the Black Hammock area south of Lake Jesup, and I wasn't finding anything. I was hoping for Grasshopper Sparrows and White-crowned Sparrows, but I was having a hard time finding any sparrow at all--not even a Savannah Sparrow. But the last place I checked turned out to make out for a slow morning. I was checking some bushes next to the road on Canal Street, and there were several birds on the back side of the bush that I couldn't make out. As I was waiting for better looks, a Lark Sparrow popped out into full view and sat on a perch for several minutes. Then it disappeared for a minute or two, but then I saw it fly across Canal Street to perch on a palm tree for me. It was one of the most cooperative sparrows I've ever photographed. This bird made my week.

Canal St.
Lark Sparrow

Florida's Ammodramus Sparrows

Canal St.
Grasshopper Sparrow
There are six Ammodramus sparrows that occur in Florida, and now I have presentable photos of all of them. This may be my favorite group of birds in the world. I know the Henslow's Sparrow photo below is terrible, but I'm not complaining. I suspect I won't get a better photo unless I see one up north in the summer.  Full disclosure, though: my Seaside Sparrow Photo was not taken in Florida; it's from South Carolina.  But I have seen them here in FL too--just too far away for photos.  Would someone please send a Baird's Sparrow here please?

Merritt Island NWR, Shiloh Area
Saltmarsh Sparrow
Merritt Island NWR, Shiloh Marsh
Nelson's Sparrow
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Seaside Sparrow
Mullet Lake Park
Le Conte's Sparrow
Tiger Bay Forest WMA
Henslow's Sparrow
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