Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Marl Bed Flats, 4/16/2014

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Northern Harrier
This morning I got up early and went to Marl Bed Flats, hoping to see some new shorebirds. I had a great time.  I was hoping for a Pectoral Sandpiper, but instead I found my first of the year Solitary Sandpiper.  But my best photos were of a Northern Harrier that flew by pretty close to me and a Lesser Yellowlegs.

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Lesser Yellowlegs
The biggest surprise was finding over 40 Black-necked Stilts, including some that were paired off. I'm very hopeful that some will stick around to breed here.

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Black-necked Stilts
There were also many Barn Swallows and Tree Swallows here, and one Northern Rough-winged Swallow. As I'm sure you know (or can imagine), it's very hard to get nice sharp photos of swallows in flight.  The bottom photo, though, shows the swallow about to capture a bug of some sort. I would have liked to have it a little sharper with a clear view of its eye, and I'd love to have whatever but that is in focus, but I'm still happy with the photo.

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Tree Swallow
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Tree Swallow

Monday, April 14, 2014

Least Tern

Fort Mellon Park
Least Tern
Least Terns have returned to Central  Florida.  They're easily my favorite tern, and thankfully they breed here. The best place to find them in Seminole County is at the marina. There were at least ten or or so at the marina at Lake Monroe. There were also about 50 Forster's Terns and 50 Caspian Terns along the side of the marina, which I believe pretty big numbers for this time of year.

Fort Mellon Park
Least Tern

Rusty Blackbird

Lake Henrietta, FL
Rusty Blackbird
About three weeks ago I was driving home from Alabama and I dropped by a pond in Tallahassee.  I needed a break and decided it would be fun to walk around a small lake, catch some fresh air and see what sights may be seen.  At the far end of the lake, I found my first ever Rusty Blackbird, which was a very nice bonus. This is the first "rare" blackbird I've found.  I've spent my life seeing Red-winged Blackbirds, grackles and Brown-headed Cowbirds, but I've never seen any unusual blackbirds.  So I felt a sense of accomplishment with this one.

Lake Henrietta, FL
Rusty Blackbird
 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Massachusetts Birding

South Hamilton, MA
White-throated Sparrow
I spent a good portion of last week outside Boston, Massachusetts this past week.  Normally on these trips I have an afternoon or early morning to go some place to do some birding.  On this trip, I was busy enough that I pretty much had to stay right on campus.  There were probably many species that would have been relatively easy to find here that are difficult if not impossible to find in Florida, but I just didn't have the time to chase them.  I did however, walk around the campus in the mornings to see what I could find, and I was more successful than I thought I would be. I ended up with my best photos of several species that are hard to find in Central Florida, including Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, White-breasted Nuthatch, and eastern Black-capped Chickadee.

South Hamilton, MA
White-throated Sparrow
White-throated Sparrows are very common in MD, but when I lived up there I didn't do much bird photography. Before this past week, I had one photo of this species shot through a window pane with a crappy lens.

South Hamilton, MA
Song Sparrow
South Hamilton, MA
Song Sparrow
I find a couple Song Sparrows every year in FL, but I only have a few photos of them, and none of them are all that great. And I've never seen them sing in Florida. Until this past week, my best photos were taken in Washington State, though Song Sparrows look very different there than here in the east.  This past week though, they could be heard all over the campus, and one perched up on a branch with a nice, clear background and sang for me.

South Hamilton, MA
White-breasted Nuthatch
I used to see White-breasted Nuthatches frequently in MD too, but at the time I didn't do much bird photography.  These wonderful birds were extirpated from peninsular Florida about 50 years ago. You can still find them in the panhandle of FL, but I don't do much birding up there. So it's nice to get some presentable photos of the species.

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Black-capped Chickadee
And I have no photos of Black-capped Chickadees in the east, only in Washington State. They look a little different out there, so it was great to get a few photos on this coast.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Glaucous Gull

Daytona Beach Shores
Glaucous Gull
A few days ago I drove up to Daytona Beach in the afternoon to look for gulls.  An Iceland Gull and a Glaucous Gull had been seen the day before, and we were hoping to find them.  The Iceland Gull eluded us, but the Glaucous Gull was very easy to find near a headless Herring Gull.  This bird has come much farther south than it should have, but I'm not complaining.

Daytona Beach Shores
Glaucous Gull
Well, there were other birds there too, though not as many as there were a few weeks ago, when it was estimated that 60,000 gulls were lining the shoreline every evening.  I suspect that when we were there, there were well less than 5,000 gulls along the 1.5 mile stretch of beach that we walked.

Daytona Beach Shores
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Daytona Beach Shores
Ring-billed Gull
And there were even a few shorebirds around, mostly Willets, Black-bellied Plovers, Ruddy Turnstones, and Sanderlings.

Daytona Beach Shores
Willet
 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

White-faced Ibis

Audubon Park
White-face Ibis
Who would have thought that a White-faced Ibis would show up in little ole' Seminole County? A few get seen in Florida every winter, and sometimes within an hour's drive of my house, but I've never actually chased any of the sightings. This is partly because of the timing (sometimes I'm just unable to get away), and partly because my color blindness.  The differences between a White-faced Ibis and a Glossy Ibis can be so subtle that I've doubted that I would ever be able to be certain I found the right bird.  Generally speaking, unless it is in breeding plumage, to ID a White-faced Ibis, you need to see its red eye and grey bill, since a Glossy Ibis has a dark eye with a brown bill. I figured I'd never be able to see the differences with red-green colorblindness.  But a friend of mine found a young White-faced Ibis about 15 minutes from my home. It's a first year bird, but it has a bright red eye, grey bill, thick white streaking on the head (a good indicator in young birds that I can see!)  And to my surprise, when the light hits this bird's eye right, I can actually see it as red (but the brown v. grey bill difference is lost on me).  So maybe there's hope for me after all.

Audubon Park
White-faced Ibis
A close up crop that shows a red eye that I can see.  People tell me the bill is grey and the fleshy area
in front of the eye is pinkish, but I'm just taking their word for it. However, I can see the heavy white
streaking on its head, so hopefully that will tip me off to look closely at the eye in future sightings.
Audubon Park
White-faced Ibis
 Just in case you're not familiar with both species, here's a photograph of a Glossy Ibis so that you can compare the two.  I suspect to you, the red v. dark brown eye distinction will be very clear. For me, it takes some work, but at least I can see it.

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Glossy Ibis
Notice thinner streaking on the head, dark eye, and blue edges to the facial area

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Fish Crows: Egg Thieves

Fort Mellon Park
Fish Crow with Egg
Crows are smart, and because of this I'm somewhat fascinated with them.  They're not particularly attractive birds, but they have a lot of ingenuity. I've read stories of crows working together to steal food from gulls. One crow comes up behind the gull and pulls a tail feather, distracting the gull.  When the gull looks away, the other crow steals the food.  That's some smarts.  But this aspect of crow behavior I'm not so fond of--they are exceptional at stealing eggs.  I'm told they're particularly good at stealing eggs from wading birds, since most are colonial nesters.  Crows have learned how to return to the scene of the crime and steal even more eggs. The other day I photographed these fish crows with some egg they had stolen. I have no idea what kind of egg this is. And to me, this egg looks a bit too large for the crow to carry in its bill. But somehow it must have managed.  They know how to crack it open and take the yoke out of the egg. In one photo, you can even see some of the yoke in the crow's bill.   These crows were pretty far away, so the pictures aren't great, but I thought the behavioral dimension of the photo made them worth showing.

Fort Mellon Park
Fish Crow with Egg
Fort Mellon Park
Fish Crow with Egg
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