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2013: A Year in Review

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It's been a pretty fun birding year.  I began this year with two birding goals: get my Florida life list up to 300 species and my life lists for Seminole, Orange and Brevard Counties up to 200 species each.  But as the year progressed, my desires for the year changed.  I decided to concentrate more on my home county, Seminole and see if I could get 200 species in Seminole Co. in one year.

As I concentrated more on Seminole Co, I went out to Orange and Brevard Co less frequently (I'm planning another post on Seminole County). I made almost all my goals:


2013LifeFlorida280304Seminole Co.209215Orange Co.177207Brevard Co.138197
I also added a total of 71 species to my life list this year, not including 3 exotics that are not ABA countable. Here is my list of the 74 new species I saw this year:

American WoodcockLake Jesup CA--Marl Bed FlatsUS-FL1/23/2013Le Conte's SparrowLake Jesup CA--Marl Bed FlatsUS-FL1/23/2013Least FlycatcherLake Apopka Loop Trail--northeast sectionUS-FL1/26…

Marl Bed Flats, 12/31/2013

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I decided to spend my last morning of 2013 at Marl Bed Flats, which is my favorite place for birding in Seminole Co. during the winter months.  I was hoping for Long-billed Dowitchers, which have avoided me successfully all year.  Shortly after arriving, I found an American Avocet, which is very unusual here.  I've hoped for an avocet here, but never really expected to find one.  Then two Long-billed Dowitchers landed right near the Avocet.  It was so great to get all three birds in the same frame!  I spent most of my time here looking for shorebirds, and other fun finds here were Killdeer, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, a Dunlin, Least Sandpipers, and many Wilson's Snipe. The usual suspects were also here: lots of wading birds, House, Carolina and Sedge Wrens, Bonaparte's Gull, Forster's and Caspian Terns, and a Sora.

Unless something wonderful happens this evening, my Seminole Co. list for 2013 will end at 209.  I never thought I'd get 200 in this county in one …

My Favorite FL Bird Photos of 2013

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This was a very fun year. I found many new places to visit for photography, many of which were right near my home. I'm finding that I'm becoming increasingly a local photographer, spending most of my time within an hour's drive of my home and often within my own county. There are some notable exceptions, though. I took a few longer drives in FL to see rarities, like a Tropical Kingbird on the Gulf Coast and a Snowy Owl in Jacksonville. These are my favorite Florida bird photos of the year. I could only narrow it down to 50, which may take a while to view, so if you'd prefer to see the whole gallery at once, just click on the Open Gallery View link to see them on my SmugMug site. There's another advantage of viewing them there--you can see the species name in the titles.  Unfortunately, SmugMug hasn't yet figured out how to show you the photo title on an embeded slideshow; they only let you show the caption, which I use for the photo's …

Snowy Owl in Florida

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My father and I drove up to see the Snowy Owl at Little Talbot Island State Park that was seen yesterday. It's a beautiful bird! Apparently I saw one in Eureka, CA when I was a kid, but I don't remember seeing it, so it's not on my list. This is a lifer for me. It was hanging out on the beach by a fallen palm tree, and then later it flew toward the water. It was windy and pouring down rain most of the time we were there, and even the shelters provided little relief from the rain with all the wind; my clothes were soaked, but it was worth it. We kept our distance from the owl, so these photos are pretty heavily cropped.

If you go to visit the owl, it's pretty easy to find. Drive to the south parking lot and look for the birders. There's a road that continues south past the parking lot. You can follow that road to where it turns toward the beach; when the road hits the sand, you should be able to have good views of the owl if it hasn't moved. There's really …

Monk Parakeet

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About a week ago I found some Monk Parakeets at an electrical substation near my home.  This is one of those birds I thought I'd never see in Seminole Co, but I saw about 15 here a couple weeks ago, and then 25 of them this morning in the same location. I spoke to someone who works at the substation for a few minutes, and he said their nests get so large they can cause power outages, so they periodically need to get permits to remove one or some of the nests. He said there may be 30 of them in there when they remove the nests. I can't get very close to the power lines for photographs, so these are pretty heavily cropped. Maybe one day I'll ask for permission to go on the property and take photos, but I doubt I'll get it. There are over 100,000 Monk Parakeets in Florida alone, all of which are descendants of escaped pets. Unlike most parrots and parakeets, they are from a temperate climate of Argentina, which makes them more able to sustain populations in the United St…

Osprey on Lake Monroe

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On Saturday I attended the Wekiva River Christmas Bird Count. I'm just now getting around to working on the photographs, though.  My wife was in a car accident that evening, and she's been in the hospital ever since.  It's not as bad as that sounds, though.  Her main injury was a broken foot, and it needs surgery, but she has so much swelling that they're waiting for it to go down before operating.  So life's a little crazy at home.  This evening, though, I have a little time to work on some photos from the CBC.  While at Lake Monroe looking for gulls and terns, we saw this Osprey perched not far away, and it seemed rather curious about me.  As I walked to where I'd get a decent background, it just followed me with its eyes, and then it did this little head-tilt thing.  I've seen them do this many times before and it always cracks me up.  It seems to me to be a look of curiosity, but I don't know for sure. At any rate, it wasn't phased by my presen…

Marl Bed Flats, 12/10/2013

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I had a great time at Marl Bed Flats yesterday.  The birds there did not cooperate for photographs, but I did get to see my first Dunlin in Seminole Co.  That was pretty fun. The spiders and butterflies were much more cooperative though. On the way out, I found a couple Red-femured Spotted Orbeavers with their nets across the path. One was in the sunlight, and I had fun trying to capture the rim light on the spider and webbing. On the way back, a White Peackock butterfly sat in the sun for me.  All in all, it was a good morning.

Bald Eagle in Flight (and Changing Focusing Modes)

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Yesterday at Lake Jesup, a Bald Eagle flew very close to me.  I was looking for ducks, loons and grebes sitting in the water at at the time, so I had my camera set for birds sitting still on the water.  When shooting still birds, I normally select only the center focusing point and put the focusing mode on "One Shot."  When shooting birds in flight, I want all the focusing points active with the focusing mode on "AI Servo" to better track birds in flight. It's a little bit of a pain to switch between these two shooting modes.  If you try to shoot the bird in flight with "One Shot" and one focusing point, you're likely to get a lot of blurry photos. But if you try to change the focusing points and focusing mode, you're likely to miss the shot all together. There's a solution to this problem, though. You can use the Custom Modes.  Using custom modes, you just switch the dial on the camera to make all the changes.  I use C1 for still birds a…

Strange Osprey Behavior

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Yesterday I went over to Lake Jesup, and I saw an Osprey flying low over the water. It made three or four passes just above the surface, and it seemed to be dragging its feet in the water.  I first guessed that it was cleaning fish guts off of them. But when I looked more closely, I noticed that it was putting its bill into the water. The bird was pretty far away on a foggy morning, so my pictures aren't fantastic, but you can clearly see the behavior. I've never seen an Osprey do this before.  I did a little research online to see if others had observed this same behavior. I did find a few people who were equally puzzled by it.  Some believe it's a fishing technique, but from what I saw yesterday, it didn't appear to be so.  It was dragging its feet behind it, and I don't see how it could catch a fish that way.  Others thought it was collecting water for hatchlings, but I doubt that's the case in December here.  So my best guess is that it's drinking wate…

Identifying Florida's Wrens

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Wrens do not top the list of birds that are difficult to identify, but for newer birders they can present a challenge. With practice they can be identified by their calls and songs alone--they're vocal enough that they can frequently be detected and identified without being seen.  But at first glance, they tend to look similar--little brownish birds that like to stick up their tails in the air.  We have four wrens species that are commonly found in Central Florida, and with a little bit of practice, they can easily be distinguished from each other by looking at their eye stripe and a couple other field marks. We'll look at each of our wren species in order of the prominence of their eye stripe.

Marsh Wren
Marsh Wrens are winter visitors to Central Florida, and they very common in our cattail marshes from October through April.  They have an extremely prominent eye-stripe with a dark crown and black and white stripes on their backs. They have buffy flanks, but usually a whitish…

Marl Bed Flats, 11/30/2013

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This morning I went to Marl Bed Flats with my father and a friend of mine.  We had a pretty great time.  We saw all the usual suspects: Sedge Wrens, Eastern Meadowlarks, Northern Harrier, Yellowlegs, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, and Sora. The biggest highlight for me was seeing a Merlin in the distance--the first I've seen this this fall.

Henslow's Sparrow at Tiger Bay Forest

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Yesterday a couple friends and I drove out to the Tiger Bay Forest WMA in Volusia County. I hadn't even  heard of this place before someone else posted a sighting of a Lincoln's Sparrow here.  We went in search of the sparrow, which showed itself pretty quickly.  But then we caught a glimpse of a very secretive sparrow.  We eventually we were all able to see it--my first Henslow's Sparrow!  The bird never came out in the open, but at one point I got a few shots that were diagnostic.  This one was the "best." This may be the worst photo I've posted on my blog, but I don't care; it's a Henslow's Sparrow.

Marsh Wren at the North Tract of Lake Jesup CA

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Right near the entrance of the North Tract of the Lake Jesup Conservation Area, there's a little pond with a couple very vocal Marsh Wrens. One of them was very photogenic and allowed me to get a few photos. I found this bird a couple weeks ago, and I'm just getting around to posting them. These are some of my favorite photos of the species.

Marl Bed Flats, 11/17/2013

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Yesterday morning a friend and I went to Marl Bed Flats. It was a little slower than I thought it would be, I'm guessing because it was a windy, cloudy morning.  Sedge Wrens were plentiful there, and the House Wrens were especially vocal.  Even with the wind there were lots of Savannah Sparrows around. We also had one Orange-crowned Warbler and many Palm Warblers, including one "yellow/eastern" race, but we saw only one Yellow-rumped Warbler and heard only one Common Yellowthroat.

There were also many blackbirds around, and we were lucky enough to have an Eastern Meadowlark fly right by us. I think this is my only presentable photo of an Eastern Meadowlark in flight.
And Phoebes were calling everywhere.  A couple were quite photogenic; one perched right next to the past and allowed us to get some photos with nice, clean backgrounds.
One of the biggest highlights for me was seeing this spider. According to Bugguide.net, it's in the genus Acanthepeira, but it could b…