Land of Car Alarms and Longhorns

Posted by ardeidae on October 21, 2007

The last couple months for me have been quite a whirlwind. Last year, the company I’ve now worked for for the last seven years made its first major steps to move its headquarters from sunny Santa Monica, California. After the decision of where the company would call its new home, everyone in my department was gathered for a meeting and we were all offered the option of moving…to Austin, Texas.

Some people wanted to stay, some wanted to go. I found the opportunity intriguing and exciting, but I didn’t really know much about Austin. There was no rush or pressure for any of us to move, and the new office was just getting established, so I gave it a little thought, teetering back and forth. Part of me wanted something new, and another part wanted to stay and be a part of the birding community I’d found myself deeply involved in.

In June, the company sent a group of us to Austin for a weekend to see if it would be a place where we’d want to relocate. I’d heard a little about Austin from others who’d made the trip before me, and those that knew me said they thought I’d like it. As our plane made its final approach into the Austin, I discovered how green the area was. I was amazed at how many trees there were. It was definitely a good first impression. Our hotel was downtown, right along beautiful Town Lake, and right next to the Congress Avenue bridge where the famous Mexican Free-tailed Bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) roost. The colony is estimated at 1.5 million bats, and they clear out about 10,000 to 30,000 pounds of insects each night!

On Saturday, our group had a short guided tour of some of the residential areas of town and on Sunday we were each assigned a realtor to take us around and show us some homes that were available. I hadn’t made up my mind fully about moving, but looking at homes was enticing. With the prices of homes in Austin, I could finally own a house! Night life was great too. Downtown Austin is easy to access, and there are plenty of places to go. Live music abounds! Austin is also home to the University of Texas, and Longhorn fans and memorabilia are quite abundant. It reminds me of the Husker spirit I experience every time I go home to Nebraska.

The only thing that might outnumber the Longhorn fans in Austin (besides the bats, who are probably UT fans as well) is a certain species of bird. These guys (and gals) are everywhere. They have several distinct calls, and one of them is reminiscent of a common sound in Los Angeles…car alarms. Great-tailed Grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus) are everywhere you go. They’re greeting you as you park at the grocery store…they’re picking up twigs in the parking lot at Target…they’re hiding in the plants at the Lowes Garden Center…they’re pooping on your car while you’re in the restaurant. You name the time and place, and they’ll meet you there. There are also a number of other birds (and other wildlife) in Austin as well, but if you ever need to take a photo of a Great-tailed Grackle, you’re sure to get it in Austin.

Great-tailed Grackle at the Grocery StoreGreat-tailed Grackle at Target

Though it was only a weekend, I got a good feel for what Austin is about. There are many things to do, and lots of nature-oriented activities. After more consideration, I felt that Austin could fulfill some life quality items that Los Angeles couldn’t. I’d spent over 18 years in Los Angeles, and I knew it would be difficult for me to leave my friends, as well as my Los Angeles Audubon family, but I felt that I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. That week at work, I started the ball rolling on my relocation.

At the end of August, I returned to Austin to do some house hunting. I found exactly what I was looking for on the first day and made an offer. It was accepted. With everything I had to do for closing and preparing to move, the next several weeks are now a blur.

I’ve been here in Austin for nearly a month now, and I’m still unpacking. I’ve been mostly occupied with getting settled in (going from an apartment to a house is such a big change!), so I haven’t really ventured out much yet. But I will soon, and there will be plenty of experiences to share!


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Birds & Blooms

Posted by ardeidae on September 11, 2007

My trip to Florida back in March to photograph herons resulted in some really nice shots. It also ended up leading to an appearance in the October/November 2007 issue of Birds & Blooms magazine. It should be in newsstands soon, so be sure to look for it! The article is also online...check out Hunt for Herons.


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Feathers of Florida: Part Seven

Posted by ardeidae on July 15, 2007

In the fall of 2006, I assigned myself the task of photographing all the birds in the heron family, over 60 species of birds. I look forward to the travels in the coming years to achieve my goal. I chose southern Florida as my first stop since it is home to about a dozen species of herons, and they're pretty accessible. Plus, southern Florida boasts two morphs of the Great Blue Heron known as the Great White Heron and Wurdemann's Heron.

(...continued from Part Six.)

Now that Carol and I were in the Florida Keys, we could relax just a little and enjoy our surroundings. And we didn't really have a choice anyway; the vibe of the Keys doesn't really allow for anything else. The trip so far had produced all the herons I'd hoped for except the Least Bittern, but the chance for that bird had passed. The only birds left were two morphs of the Great Blue Heron known as the Great White Heron and Wurdemann's Heron, found only in southern Florida. (The Great White also appears in the Yucatan Peninsula, and in the Caribbean.)

Broad-winged Hawk
Broad-winged
Hawk


Palm Warbler
Palm Warbler

Iron Chicken
Iron Chicken
A month before our trip, someone mentioned to me that a Loggerhead Kingbird, a rare vagrant to Florida, had popped up in Key West. I'd been following Tropical Audubon's Birdboard throughout our trip, and since the bird had been seen the day before, we decided to head down to Key West. It was only about a 45-minute drive from our place in Little Torch Key. When we arrived at Fort Zachary Taylor around 10am. At the entrance gate, we were directed to the trash bins. When we arrived, there were several people wandering around with binoculars in hand. The bird hadn't been seen that morning, and a Merlin that flew past provided a possible explanation as to why. (A perched Broad-winged Hawk we saw as we came in could be another reason.) I noticed a big white bird with a yellowish beak near the fort, so I headed toward it. Could it be the Great White Heron I was looking for? Nope. As I got closer, I was able to make out the black legs, which instead indicated a Great Egret. I wasn't disappointed though, we still had a few days left in the Keys. Along the fort's moat, we spotted Tricolored Heron and Belted Kingfisher. Nearer to the ocean was an Osprey sitting on a high platform, and a Palm Warbler perched itself on some bare branches and preened itself. Taking advantage of my stealth stalking abilities, I was also able to get close enough to another rarity...the Iron Chicken, a an art exhibit vagrant.

Laughing Gull
Laughing Gull

Ruddy Turnstones
Ruddy Turnstones
With no signs of the Loggerhead Kingbird around 1pm, we decided to head back up the coast, making a short stop at Bahia Honda State Park. There were quite a few people taking advantage of the great stretch of beach. The only birds we saw were a few Laughing Gulls looking for a handout and a flock of Ruddy Turnstones. There was more of Bahia Honda to check out, but we decided to see what was going on at the Marathon Wild Bird Center, a place for rescued and rehabilitated birds. When we got there, it was threatening to rain, and since we hadn't called ahead of time, we didn't know they were getting ready to close for the day. Carol and I decided to head back to Little Torch Key and get some dinner. On the way back, I called the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center and got some great news.

On March 29th, Carol and I woke up at 5am. We stopped at IHOP for some breakfast and arrived at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center in Tavernier around 8am. The sky was grey and there was a slight rain that soon subsided. The FKWBC is a rescue and rehabilitation center that began in 1984 and has grown considerably.

Great White Heron
Great White Heron

Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican

Reddish Egret (Juvenile)
Reddish Egret
(Juvenile)


White Ibis
White Ibis

Great Egret (Breeding Plumage)
Great Egret
(Breeding Plumage)
There are a lot of temporary and permanent residents penned in the center, but there are also plenty of wild birds that stop by for a handout. The first volunteer visitor we spotted as we entered the boardwalk was the bird we'd come to see...the Great White Heron! It was quite a sight, and I was excited to finally see this bird I'd looked so forward to. It slowly wandered around in some brush and didn't make itself too available for photos, but I snapped off what I could get. After about 20 minutes, we continued to the water, where a canopy of trees protected a cage full of rehabbing gulls. A small group of Black-necked Stilts flew in and waded around in a small pond next to the water. As the cloud cover started to burn off, we walked back toward the clearing where we'd seen the Great White Heron. One of the caretakers had finished feeding the caged birds and had a few leftovers. Great Egret, Snowy Egret, and White Ibis covered the trees waiting for handouts, and when a fish was extended out, one of those birds was successful in snatching it as it flew past. Brown Pelicans were aplenty, perched on the cages and waddling on the boardwalk. One pelican waddled by and looked up at me as it started passing. Apparently I was in its way. I gave it a little more room, and it was good thing I did too, because it was slightly less patient with the next person and gave them a little nip as it passed by. The sun was much more cooperative and so was the Great White Heron, and I was able to get some better shots of this awesome huge white bird. I asked one of the caretakers about the Wurdemann's Heron, but he replied that they hadn't been around lately. I guess I'll just have to come back another time!

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret

Chuck-will's-widow
Chuck-will's-widow

Belted Kingfisher
Belted Kingfisher
The Florida Keys Wild Bird Center is doing an amazing job rescuing and rehabilitating (and hopefully releasing) distressed birds. Many of them involving fishing mishaps like getting caught in fishing line, being stuck with a hook, or being fed fish bones. If you're ever in the area, it's definitely worth a stop. And be sure to throw them a little donation...it's public charity and a worthy cause. Check out their Guidestar info.

With the addition of the Great White Heron, my heron list was as complete as it was going to be for this trip. Though I missed the Least Bittern and Wurdemann's Heron, I considered the trip a huge success. And we still had one more full day in the Keys. Carol and I were both really hungry, so we headed to No Name Pub and celebrated with their gourmet pizza and No Name beer.

On Friday, our last full day in the Keys, Carol and I decided to make one last trek to see if we could find the Loggerhead Kingbird. We'd missed it on Friday, but it had been seen again on Thursday. We arrived at Fort Taylor at 10am. Some of the birders we'd talked to on Wednesday were there, but the Loggerhead Kingbird was once again missing in action. We searched the area and all we came up with was Osprey, Palm Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, and Great Egret. It was also a treat to see another Great White Heron. Carol noticed something strange in some bushes...a snoozing Chuck-will's-widow. The brush wasn't very thick, but the bird was right in the middle. It was difficult to find the right angle, but I was able to snap off a few decent shots. We went into the fort and looked out the ebrasures. In the moat, we spotted Great Blue Heron, American Coot, Blue-winged Teal, and Belted Kingfisher. Around 1pm we were getting a bit hungry, so we threw in the LOKI towel and checked out the rest of Key West. It turns out that the Loggerhead Kingbird hadn't been seen since.

On Saturday, we said goodbye to the Keys and made our way back to Miami to catch our plane. Our trip to Florida had been a wonderful experience and a great success. Carol and I had seen and photographed a lot of great birds, including ten species of herons and also one of the two white morphs of the Great Blue. Like many places throughout the world, Florida's habitat for herons (and other birds) is slowly shrinking due to development. If you want to see herons, Florida's definitely a must. And if you want to continue to see them in the future, please make sure to do all you can to help ensure their survival.


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Fatal Attraction: Birds and Wind Turbines

Posted by ardeidae on June 29, 2007

(from KQED’s QUEST Science Blog)

California’s largest wind farm cluster at Altamont Pass unintentionally kills golden eagles, burrowing owls and other threatened birds. Now, wind companies, scientists and environmentalists are working to bird-proof these massive wind farms.


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Feathers of Florida: Part Six

Posted by ardeidae on May 28, 2007

In the fall of 2006, I assigned myself the task of photographing all the birds in the heron family, over 60 species of birds. I look forward to the travels in the coming years to achieve my goal. I chose southern Florida as my first stop since it is home to about a dozen species of herons, and they're pretty accessible. Plus, southern Florida boasts two morphs of the Great Blue Heron known as the Great White Heron and Wurdemann's Heron.

(...continued from Part Five.)

After spending the night in Homestead, it was time for another great day. On March 27 (my birthday!), Carol and I headed out around 6:45am. When I first told people we were going to Florida and planning on stopping in the Everglades, many of them said that we had to make sure and visit Flamingo. And so we did. We arrived as the sun came up; it was 65 degrees, mostly cloudy, breezy, and humid.

Nesting Osprey
Nesting Osprey
(QuickTime Video)
The first bird of note was Osprey...actually a pair of them. There was a nest in a large bare tree on the side of the road. One of the birds (presumably the female) tended to the nest, turning circles as it moved sticks around. It often called and the other bird playing lookout in a neighboring tree returned the squeals. After a few minutes, both birds were in the nest. As both of them called, we heard their neighbors reciporcate.

Flamingo took quite a hit from Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma in 2005, and the damage was quite apparent. The Flamingo Lodge used to provide rooms to those without tents or RVs. It was now in shambles. Many of the trees looked like the aftermath of a dominoes tournament. And I could see where once Eco Pond must have been a great freshwater haven with cattails, an island with trees, and observation decks to get viewpoints of all the wildlife, but after the hurricanes and especially dry season, only dissheveled trees and small pools of mucky water remained. The National Park Service has expedited a Commercial Services Plan/Environmental Assessment to determine how best to restore the area. See how you can get involved.

Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican
(juvenile)
The only birds we saw at Eco Pond were a few Greater Yellowlegs and a Great Egret. It was threatening to rain, so we headed back to the car to get the rain gear for my camera. As we approached, we noticed some grackles and European Starlings pecked around in the grass. After putting on the rain sleeve for the camera, we headed toward the water near the visitor's center. It was low tide, and about a hundred yards out were thousands of birds, such as Snowy Egret, Black Skimmer, American White Pelican, White Ibis, Brown Pelican, Great Blue Heron, and Whimbrel. Along the trees on the shore were a Northern Cardinal and a Northen Mockingbird. A Laughing Gull flew over and landed on a pier where it rested for a short while. A Red-shouldered Hawk called as it flew over. It circled a few times before it disappeared, but the calls continued from afar. It was 9:45am, so we figured we'd start inland and see what else we could see.

Osprey
Osprey
As we drove down the road, a Turkey Vulture flew low and just a foot or two right over our car. A Swallow-tailed Kite flew over the road and diappeared behind the trees. We pulled over at Mrazek Pond. Most of the birds here were perched in the trees that lined the small pond. Here there were Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Black-crowned Night-Heron, a juvenile Brown Pelican, American Coot (finallly!), Common Moorhen, Wood Stork, and Anhinga. We stopped briefly at West Lake and scanned the water line, but there wasn't much happening except for a few people out in canoes. As we started to leave, an Osprey approached and circled a few times. The sky started dripping again, but not for long. At Nine Mile Pond, we counted Anhinga, Double-crested Cormorant, Black Vulture, Great Egret, and more Osprey.

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill
Roseate Spoonbill
(QuickTIme Video)
Next, we pulled into the turnout for Paurotis Pond. We were the only ones in the lot, except for a wandering Wood Stork. I got out of the car as quietly as I could in hopes of getting a couple of shots, but it decided we were too close and took off. In the trees across the pond, there were a group of twenty or so Wood Storks, apparently nesting. As I set up the scope a car pulled in and a couple got out. They live in the Keys and were up visiting the Everglades for the day. As we chatted, a Roseate Spoonbill flew past and landed in the trees near the Wood Storks. Carol and I had hoped to see more Roseate Spoonbills during the trip, but we found ourselves in the midst of nesting season, and most of them were tucked away in the trees. During the hour we were there, we were able to see a few more spoonbills, as well as Belted Kingfisher, Anhinga, Turkey Vulture, Tricolored Heron, Brown Pelican, Swallow-tailed Kite, Common Moorhen, American Coot and Black Vulture.

About 12:30pm, we stopped at Pa-hay-okee Overlook, a quarter-mile boarwalk that overlooks a "river of grass".It was starting to get windy and really humid, still threatening to rain some more. Not sure if it was because of the time of day or the weather, but there was next to nothing going on. The only birds we saw were Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, and Swallow-tailed Kite in the air, and a crow hanging around in the parking lot.

Sign
Watch the birds.
Watch out for ants!
Carol and I made our way back to Anhinga Trail, arriving just after 1pm. The sky was cloudy, and the wind was really picking up. Many of the fine birds we'd seen the previous evening were all tucked away out of sight. We did, however manage to see Great Blue Heron, Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Great Egret, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, and Palm Warbler. We heard a Barred Owl, but after several scans of the trees, weren't able to make it out. On the main path, we were able to watch a Green Heron perch feeding and a Little Blue Heron walking and stalking along the channel.

Palm Warbler
Palm Warbler

Green Heron
Green Heron
Around 2:30pm, we decided it was time to head down toward the Keys. But first, I needed a few photos of some Everglades signs. I hopped out at one of the intersections and started to cross the road. A weed was poking my foot, so I reached down to pull it out. It wasn't a weed, though, it was a little red ant. Yeeooow! Suddenly, my foot was on fire. Somehow I got the shot I wanted and raced back to the car to take my Keen shoes off and brush off all these ants. We pulled in to the visitor's center, and after talking to one of the rangers there, I found myself lucky. I had stepped on a fire ant nest, and thanks to the rubber bands around my pant legs, I only suffered about a dozen bites. That was plenty for me!

Purple Martin House
Purple Martin House
at Robert is Here
Carol and I said goodbye to the Everglades. We made a quick stop at Robert is Here to grab a Key Lime milk shake and see the "Southern Most Purple Martin House in the Continental USA", but the only residents there were sparrows. If you're ever in the area, definitely make the stop...the smoothies are worth it!

We arrived at our lodging in Little Torch Key around 5:30pm. The drive had been incredible. The aqua-green color of the ocean was amazing...not like what we see in California. We checked in and dropped our stuff off. Carol treated me to Parrotdise restaurant just down the road. It was a nice walk, windy, but a refreshing windy. We enjoyed conch fritters for an appetizer, a delicious main course of coconut lime Pink Tiger Shrimp with mango peanut sauce, and a perfect Key Lime pie for dessert. A great way to end an awesome birthday!

(Continue to Part Seven)


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Feathers of Florida: Part Five

Posted by ardeidae on May 15, 2007

In the fall of 2006, I assigned myself the task of photographing all the birds in the heron family, over 60 species of birds. I look forward to the travels in the coming years to achieve my goal. I chose southern Florida as my first stop since it is home to about a dozen species of herons, and they're pretty accessible. Plus, southern Florida boasts two morphs of the Great Blue Heron known as the Great White Heron and Wurdemann's Heron.

(...continued from Part Four.)

On Monday, March 26, it was time for Carol and I to start working our way toward the Keys. We'd had a great time on the Gulf Coast side near Fort Myers, visiting Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. We checked out of our motel around a little after 9am and headed south down the Tamiami Trail.

There really wasn't a whole lot to see on our way down toward Naples. But as we waited at a stop light in the middle of town, a Cattle Egrets was wandering around some bushes near a mini mall. I wasn't really expecting to see one at a location such as this, and it turned out to be the only one during the entire trip!

Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park
Wonderful Wildlife of
Fakahatchee Strand!
Heading east on Tamiami Trail, we took the advice of people we'd met at Corkscrew and made a stop at Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve. (Virtual tour.) We arrived at 11:45am, a little later than we'd expected due to traffic. It was around 80 degrees, humid, and windy. The sky was clear. Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk leads about a mile or so into the the swamp and cypress trees that make up the preserve. Since it was the dry season, there wasn't much of a swamp. The trail begins as a graveled walkway with a small ditch parallelling the path. Here, we noticed two small otters and one of their parents playing the water, but as we approached, they got more serious and disappeared into a hole in the side of the bank.
Great Egret
Great Egret
The path soon turns into a boardwalk lined on both sides with bushes and trees. We caught sight of a Red-breasted Woodpecker as it finished knocking and took off. We heard another set of drumming and as we were able to see where it was coming from, a Pileated Woodpecker made flight. A Bald Eagle made a landing approach overhead, and as we found the nest where it sat perched, it tended to two young chicks.

The path ends at a small deck overlooking a small bit of open swamp. Here there was a Great Egret sharing the water with a resting alligator. On our way back we added Gray Catbird, Turkey Vulture, and Common Grackle. There really wasn't a whole lot going on. It could have been that we were there during the time of day when things are usually slow.

Anhinga Trail
Welcome to
the Everglades!


Double-crested Cormorant
Double-crested
Cormorant


Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron

Common Moorhen
Common Moorhen
Janes Scenic Drive was just a minute or two away. We didn't know much about it, but it sounded good so we headed that way. The drive stars out in the small community of Copeland and on through a couple of small ponds, where a flight of Double-crested Cormorants were gathered. A Red-shouldered Hawk sat perched on a water tower. As we continued, the drive turned quickly into a path lined with dense trees and into the heart of Fakahatchee Preserve. It was hard to get a good view through the trees to see what lied beyond, and the other view, straight up, wasn't providing any hints either.
Anhinga Trail

Anhinga Trail

Alligator Yawn
Open wide!

Green Heron
Green Heron

Purple Gallinule
Purple Gallinule
We continued up the road a couple more miles without seeing any signs of birds or other animals, and it was almost 2:30pm, so we found a place to turn around. We made a brief stop at the ponds to watch the circling Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures and then continued on down Tamiami Trail toward the east side of the Everglades National Park.

After hitting a bit of traffic in Homestead, Carol and I finally made it to Anhinga Trail in the Everglades around 4:45pm. It was around 80 degrees with a strong breeze. The sun drifted in and out of the clouds, but the chance of rain looked unlikely. Common Grackles were...well...common in the parking lot. A small pond lined with sawgrass welcomes visitors as they pass by the visitor's center. It looked inviting, but there weren't any birds present. Along the walk is a low wooden rail only a foot or two high, apparently to keep the youngsters from wandering into the small canal runs beside the walk. Double-crested Cormorants were catching some Zs in the little shade that the barrier provided, seemingly undisturbed by the people that were walking only a foot or two away from them. I'd never been this close to them.

To the left, a boarwalk crossed the canal and led into the sawgrass. At the bridge, a Great Blue Heron sat in ambush mode waiting for a passing fish. As we walked out of the sawgrass and onto the open water overlook, a Double-crested Cormorant flew in and landed on the hand rail. We approached closer...and closer...and closer until you could almost smell that fish breath. It wasn't going to budge from it's perch. This was an even better view than the ones we got when we first walked in. As it looked directly at us, we were able to get a good look at those amazing emerald eyes!

Continuing along the boardwalk that led over the water, we were able to get close-up views of some napping alligators. As one of them yawned. I raised my camera, but was a little too slow on the draw. But just then, another one yawned and since my lens was already up, I was able to capture those gaping jaws.

Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures intermittently circled and Anhingas hung out in the trees. At a small platform where the boardwalk meets the end of the main trail, a few White Ibises and a Snowy Egret poked around, keeping their distance from the resting gators. A Common Moorhen flew in and stood on a small rock that protruded out of the water. Heading back toward the visitor's center, Carol spotted a Green Heron in hunting mode. We watched as it remained completely still, and poised like a spring ready for any unsuspecting fish to wander by. After a few minutes, a Purple Gallinule flew in to some nearby bushes. It was about a half hour before sunset, a perfect magic hour for pictures, and few photographers took advantage of cooperation of both the Purple Gallinule and Green Heron. The gallinule was a little difficult to get good shots of as it stayed in the leafy branches of the bush. It wasn't long until the sun peeked behind the trees and disappeared for the evening.

(Continue to Part Six)


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Feathers of Florida: Part Four

Posted by ardeidae on May 01, 2007

In the fall of 2006, I assigned myself the task of photographing all the birds in the heron family, over 60 species of birds. I look forward to the travels in the coming years to achieve my goal. I chose southern Florida as my first stop since it is home to about a dozen species of herons, and they're pretty accessible. Plus, southern Florida boasts two morphs of the Great Blue Heron known as the Great White Heron and Wurdemann's Heron.

(...continued from Part Three.)

Sunday was the last full day in the Fort Myers area for Carol and I. We'd spent time at both Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Both places provided a wonderul selection of birds, and after some thought we decided to return to Corkscrew because of the excellent photo opportunities it had provided on the previous visit.

We arrived at Corkscrew around 8am. It was around 70 degrees, the sky was clear, and there was a slight breeze. Out the window of the Blair Audubon Center, which serves as the entrance to the sanctuary, I noticed movement at one of the bird feeders. It didn't take much effort to identify the bird...it was a male Painted Bunting. The colors in this bird are so vibrant and beautiful, and it looks...well...like it was painted. Go figure. Even though I wasn't able to get any shots, I felt especially fortunate to see it up close and be able add it to my life list. Other birds seen near the sanctuary entrance were Red-shouldered Hawk, Northern Cardinal, Common Grackle, Mourning Dove, and Red-bellied Woodpecker.

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue
Heron


Wood Stork
Wood Stork
On our way to the lettuce lakes, we made a stop at the feeder where we waited for the Painted Bunting the first day. We were able to see a few warblers: Northern Parula, Black-and-white Warbler, and the "Butter Butt" Yellow-rumped Warbler. Carol again took the longer path around the sanctuary, while I headed straight for the lettuce lakes. As I arrived at the lakes, I immediately noticed that there weren't the amount many birds as I'd seen on Friday, though there were still a good variety, including Anhinga, Wood Stork, White Ibis, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, and Tricolored Heron. There were also less people. It was a few hours earlier in the day than when we were there the first time, and with the tall trees around, the sunlight also hadn't yet hit the water. Nevertheless, there was still plenty to watch.

White Ibis
White Ibis

Black-crowned Night-Heron
Black-crowned
Night-Heron
(juvenile)


Great Egret
Great Egret
Two American Alligators trolled the bottom of the larger pond for some grub, and after a while, one of them decided to mosey on over to the smaller pond. There were more birds feeding and as the alligator made its introduction, I figured there'd be some rustling. Instead, as the gator approached, they simply parted and watched as it passed. As soon as they were about even with its belly, they went back to feeding.

I spent a few hours here watching the birds and talking to the volunteers. Most of them are "snowbirds", just visiting Florida for the winter, and volunteering at Corkscrew a few times a week. What a wonderful way to spend the winter!

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker
Pileated
Woodpecker
After a while, I headed for the northen lake where I'd seen the Belted Kingfisher the time before. (See Part Two.) There wasn't a whole lot of action, but then I heard some drumming. It was much deeper of a sound than I'd heard before. I rounded the corner and saw some movement up in the trees. A Pileated Woodpecker was working his way around a tree. It decided to stop on the side of the tree I was on and start up its power chisel. It was fascinating to watch as this woodpecker tapped a few times to start a hole. Once there was a dent, it worked the right side, then the left. It didn't take long until there was hole an inch or two deep. It was hard to tell if the bird got a meal for its efforts, but it decided there wasn't any more the hole could offer and took off out of sight. What an awesome bird!

I headed back to the other lakes and continued to watch the feeding birds. A flock of Cedar Waxwings flew over. It was a little after noon, and Carol and I were getting hungry, so we headed to the Blair Audubon Center to get some food.

After filling the tanks with some more fuel, we headed back out on the boardwalk. This time I finally decided to walk the full trail and hit the observation deck. What an amazing view!

Observation Deck View
Great View!
There was about a 240-degree panorama overlooking the trees that populated the undisturbed back side of the sanctuary, where there are no trails and the wildlife are left pretty much left to themselves. We didn't really see much though, just a perched Black Vulture and quick fly-by of a Turkey Vulture. We hung around for about 45 minutes, talking to the dozen or so people that stopped by. Most of them were fairly local residents, and recommended that we stop at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park on our way to the Everglades.

Barred Owl
Barred Owl
(QuickTime Movie)
We continued on, back toward the lettuce lakes. On the way, however, one of the volunteers pointed out a Barred Owl that was snoozing on a branch high in the trees. It was facing away, but I pointed the scope at it anyway and a few other passers-by got to get a good look. I hooked up my camera to it and managed to get some QuickTime video of it preening itself. To watch it, you must have QuickTime installed.

We stopped at the lettuce lakes for a little while before starting back toward the visitor's center. Another volunteer had spotted another Barred Owl. It was facing us this time, but it was still obscured a little by some leaves. Still, it was good to see it. On the way back to the visitor's center, we managed to add Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Gray Catbird, Blue-headed Vireo, and White-eyed Vireo.

A little part of me was sad to leave Corkscrew, but I knew I would definitely be back some day. If you're ever in the Naples area, I highly recommend stopping by Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary to visit the birds.

(Continue to Part Five)


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Feathers of Florida: Part Three

Posted by ardeidae on April 22, 2007

In the fall of 2006, I assigned myself the task of photographing all the birds in the heron family, over 60 species of birds. I look forward to the travels in the coming years to achieve my goal. I chose southern Florida as my first stop since it is home to about a dozen species of herons, and they're pretty accessible. Plus, southern Florida boasts two morphs of the Great Blue Heron known as the Great White Heron and Wurdemann's Heron.

(...continued from Part Two.)

On Saturday, Carol and I were headed for Sanibel Island, home of J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The park opens at 7:30, so we started on our way around 6:45, making a quick stop at Dunkin' Donuts. Carol brags about their coffee, and since we don't have any Dunkin' Donuts in California, we had to make the stop. It's times like these that I wish I could appreciate a good cup of coffee. I used to drink a lot of it in years past, but decided one day to give it up cold turkey. If I had a cup these days, my photos would look like they've been double exposed.

J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Come see the birds!
Sanibel Island is a subtropical barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico. J.N. "Ding" Darling NWR is named after Jay Norwood Darling (1876–1962), a Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist and conservationist who played a key part in President Eisenhower's Executive Order to create the refuge in 1945. J.N. "Ding" Darling NWR is part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States, and its 6300+ acres provides important feeding, nesting, and roosting grounds for over 220 species of birds.

First Stop
First Stop

Reddish Egret
Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret
Reddish Egret

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret
We arrived at the refuge shortly after it opened at 7:30. It was about 70 degrees, the sky was clear, and there was a slight breeze. Moments after passing through the entrance to Wildlife Drive, we made our first stop. The tide was coming in and filling an area to the left of the road. A few Lesser Yellowlegs, Western Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers, and Willet hung out on a little island. Further out, near the mangrove trees, we counted White Ibis, Snowy Egret, Great Egret, and Great Blue Heron. We heard some loud grunting squawks, and as we looked to our right, a Little Blue Heron flew from the trees and right over us. To the left were Short-billed Dowitcher prodding. As we talked to a few birders from South Carolina, one of them pointed out a Spotted Sandpiper and got it in the scope for a good view. A Reddish Egret (thr first one of the trip!) flew in to feed. It was really entertaining to watch, as it would stop for a brief moment, spot a fish, and then take off running after it. After 10 or 15 yards it would stop again and look around. The heron kept repeating this, sometimes with a flap or two of the wings, acting like it was going to take off, but then it stop again. Occasionally it was successful, but it seemed like the effort-to-eat ratio was high compared to its relatives. The neck feathers of most egrets and herons (at least in the US) are fairly short, but those on the Reddish Egret appear longer, and sometimes look like a mane.

Little Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret
We continued around the bend and hit the next clearing. It was a much larger area, with a different selection of birds. We added Red-breasted Merganser, Dunlin, Killdeer, Marbled Godwit, Anhinga, Brown Pelican, and American White Pelican. As I scanned the treeline with the scope, I caught sight of a few Roseate Spoonbills. This was another bird we looking forward to seeing. They were a little too far to get the fine details, let alone photos of, but it was good to at least see them.

Intermittently along the road there would be little stretches of water with small groups of birds feeding. At one place, we were able to watch four Pied-Billed Grebes as they cruised around, occasionally diving for some grub. At another area, a White Ibis and Little Blue Heron were looking for food, when a Snowy Egret came flying in and bullied his way around. A Black-crowned Night-Heron sat tucked into the mangroves and watched the melee. The trees on the side of the road were often dense. We heard a Red-shouldered Hawk call, and as it got louder, we were able to spot it though a brief opening.

Mangroves
Mangroves

Great Egret
Great Egret
We stopped at a marked scenic spot and walked the boardwalk into some trees and onto a platform overlooking a beautiful view of mangrove trees. The water below looked only a couple of feet deep. With the exception of a Black Vulture, we didn't see any birds. As we walked back toward the car, a Great Egret flew toward us and landed in a tree about 10 feet away. Trying my best not to scare it away, I was able to set the tripod down and snap off a few shots. It hung around for about 5 minutes until it got bored and took off. It was awesome to see this big bird so close!

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned
Night-Heron


Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned
Night-Heron
As we continued on Wildlife Drive, listening and looking, but the dense trees along the side of the road left most of the birds with their privacy. We did, however, manage to spot a nesting Osprey. Toward the end of the loop, a few people were stopped, intently looking into the trees. We pulled over to see what they were looking at. Through a small opening, we could see a few perched Yellow-crowned Night-Herons. A few of us had cameras, so we adjusted ourselves for just the right angle, and when we were satisfied with a shot, let someone else hop in our place. That turned out to be pretty much the end of the loop. It was around noon, and Carol and I were getting hungry, so we headed back to the visitor's center to eat our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

The "Ding" Darling visitor's center is really nice. There's a help desk just as you walk in with park staff to answer questions and hand out maps and lists. Several displays explain the history and ecosystem of the refuge. The office and desk of Darling himself, along with a video of the man, really help in appreciating what he was able to accomplish. In addition to being a key figure in the purchase of the land on Sanibel Island, Darling was chief of the US Biological Survey, the forerunner of the US Fish and Wilidlife Service. He pushed the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act through Congress and sketched the first stamp. Since the stamp was introduced in 1934, more than 119 million stamps have been sold nationwide, resulting in over $671 million raised for habitat conservation. According to the J.N. "Ding" Darling Foundation website, "Adjusted for inflation, the amount raised exceeds two billion dollars." For every dollar in stamps sold, ninety-eight cents goes toward the purchase of habitat in the National Wildlife Refuge system. Details by US state.

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned
Night-Heron
(juvenile)
After our short break, Carol and I hit Wildlife Drive again. This time, it was getting close to high-tide, and many of the birds we'd seen in the morning were gone. We managed to see our first Double-crested Cormorant of the day, bathing itself and then swimming over to a log sticking out of the water so it could climb on it and spread its wings to dry out. We also added Royal Tern. With the absence of birds, our trip through the refuge went much quicker. We stopped at the place where we'd spotted the Yellow-crowned Night-Herons. They were still there, and we watched them for about a half-hour. The birds were mostly in shade, but the slight breezes helped move the branches to get the small trickles of sunlight in just the right places.

J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge is a wonderful place. I highly recommend it and look forward to visiting again in the future.

(Continue to Part Four)


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I and the Bird #47

Posted by ardeidae on April 18, 2007

It's been a while since Beakspeak has had anything to submit to the wonderful carnival that is I and the Bird. The recent trip to Florida has resulted in a few trip reports (so far), thus providing material to contribute. "I and the Bird #47 - It's all about the Bird" is hosted by Bell Tower Birding. Don't miss the post, as Jochen discusses the many facets of the "Blog Bird".


If you'd like to participate in or host an upcoming episode of "I and the Bird" yourself, make sure to check out the "I and the Bird" info page. The deadline for submissions for the next carnival is May 1.

I and the Bird


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Feathers of Florida: Part Two

Posted by ardeidae on April 15, 2007

In the fall of 2006, I assigned myself the task of photographing all the birds in the heron family, over 60 species of birds. I look forward to the travels in the coming years to achieve my goal. I chose southern Florida as my first stop since it is home to about a dozen species of herons, and they're pretty accessible. Plus, southern Florida boasts two morphs of the Great Blue Heron known as the Great White Heron and Wurdemann's Heron.

(...continued from Part One.)

After a night's rest, Carol and I were once again ready for some birds. We'd allowed ourselves to sleep in a little, so we hit the road around 9am, heading down the 75 toward Naples and Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Mini forests lined the sides of the highway. It was great to see all the trees, but the "For Sale" signs in front of them indicated that they may be replaced by a shopping center or housing development next time I come through. Traffic wasn't too bad between Fort Myers and Naples, and Great Egrets often enjoyed the same corridor, parallelling the highway to get to their destinations.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
Birds
this way!
We exited Immokalee Road and headed east toward Corkscrew. After a few miles, Immokalee curved north. Along the side of the road were egrets just wandering around. In the sky were a few vultures. And then we caught sight something extra special: a Swallow-tailed Kite. I'd read a bit about these birds in "Tracking Desire: A Journey After Swallow-Tailed Kites" by Susan Cerulean. In this book, Cerulean explains her infatuation with the bird, documents the years of research she performed on the raptor, and laments the destruction of its habitat due to development. I enjoyed the book, as did Carol, so it had extra meaning to finally see a Swallow-tailed Kite. It circled a few times and continued on.

When we arrived at the Blair Audubon Center at Corkscrew around 10am, it was partly cloudy, around 70 degrees, and calm. We paid our admission fee and continued on to the boardwalk and into pine flatwood habitat, where we watched as a Downy Woodpecker flew in. It knocked on a tree for a few minutes and took off. A Red-shouldered Hawk flew in and stopped for a brief moment on a dead tree before taking back to the air.

Wet Prairie
Wet Prairie
We continued on to wet prairie habitat. Well, it wasn't really wet at this time of year, but it must be quite a sight when it is.
Sleepy Squirrel
Sleepy
Squirrel
This is an interesting patch on the boardwalk, with pine flatwood on one side, and pond cypress on the other. We stopped briefly at Sawgrass Pond. A few people were looking intently toward one side of the walk. A docent explained that Painted Buntings often stop by a feeder there. After 30 minutes we'd managed to see some Yellow-rumped Warblers, White-eyed Vireos, and a resting Eastern Gray Squirrel, but no Painted Bunting. We advanced up the path, where we saw a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher flittering around. Shortly thereafter, we came to a sign. One way pointed to a marsh overlook, the other to lettuce lakes. Hmmm...which way? Someone walking by helped make the decision by mentioning the herons and storks at the lettuce lakes. And what a choice it was!

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron

Black-crowned Night-Heron
Black-crowned
Night-Heron


Tricolored Heron
Tricolored Heron

Since it's been so dry, much of the water is concentrated in a few small areas. This makes it a little easier to find the birds since they congregate where their food is...in the water.
Anhinga
Anhinga

White Ibis
White Ibis
(juvenile)


Wood Stork
Wood Stork
(juvenile)


Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned
Night-Heron


Belted Kingfisher
Belted
Kingfisher
Photo | Video
I was awed at the sight of arriving at the lettuce lakes. There were birds everywhere, and all within 20-30 feet of me! There must have been about 30 Wood Storks roosting in the trees and feeding, White Ibises poked around in the water, and Anhingas sunned themselves. I was especially elated to see all the herons. There were Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, and Black-crowned Night-Heron. I noted the absence of the Snowy Egret to a docent, and he mentioned that they don't usually come around. He also mentioned that there are usually Yellow-crowned Night-Herons there, but since it was nesting season for them, they were hiding away on nests. The Great Egret and Great Blue Heron were pretty much solitary feeders, standing still while waiting for something to swim by. Tricolored Herons waded around a little. The Little Blue Herons made boisterous entrances and exits. Black-crowned Night-Herons stayed mostly perched, some on lower branches near the water. The method of feeding for the Wood Stork was interesting; with their beaks half submerged in the water, they take a slow step forward and stir up the water with their stepping foot. Some times they'll quickly stretch out a wing. And an amazing part of this was that there was an American Alligator slowly moseying around, occasionally coming up with a turtle or some similar food. The birds kept a little distance from the alligator, but they weren't too concerned as the alligator was more focused on finding an easier meal on the bottom of the pond.

Carol decided to check out the outlook at the marsh to see if she could spot another Swallow-tailed Kite. I was so intent on all the birds at the lettuce lakes, I completely lost track of time. It wasn't until she caught back up with me at 1:30, that I realized I was getting hungry. We started back toward the nature center, but ran into another slightly larger lake. Here, a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron sat perched and allowed me to get some shots. A young alligator sat on a little log sunning itself. A female Belted Kingfisher alerted us to her presence as she landed in a tree about 20 yards away. We noticed that she was holding a fish in her beak. The fish was a little too big swallow, so she kept beating the fish on the branch. Birds will do this to catfish to break off the bony spikes, but this was no catfish, it was just too big to handle. I got some shots and managed to get some video through my digiscoping setup. The video is a little jiggly because of the people walking by, but still fun to watch. To watch it, you must have QuickTime installed.

After about a half hour, we decided to continue on. My stomach was really starting to growl at me. Forget hunger though, shortly up the path, a docent pointed out a Barred Owl that sat perched about 20 yards through the trees. It was slightly blocked by some branches, but I took some shots anyway.

Barred Owl
Barred Owl
As I left the pond cypress and entered into the wet prairie clearing, looked up and saw Black Vultures, Turkey Vultures, and another Swallow-tailed Kite. The kite made a quick circle and headed back behind the tree line. As we approached the nature center, we caught sight of Northern Cardinal, Common Grackle, and Boat-tailed Grackle.

As Carol and I picked something out at the nature center's food counter, the attendant described a little grey bird with a black cap that keeps visiting the patio. As I opened my field guide to show her a likely picture, a Grey Catbird landed on the outside railing. Sure enough, she had been making friends with a Gray Catbird. The sanctuary closed at 4:30, and by the time we finished eating, it was too late to go back out. It had been an awesome visit and I was thrilled at all the birds I'd seen!

On our way back to Fort Myers, we decided to take the part of the Tamiami Trail that we had passed up the day before in favor of the quicker 75 route. About 15 minutes before our motel, we passed by a Famous Dave's restaurant. I'd eaten at the one in Lincoln, Nebraska a few times and found it to have excellent barbecue. After dropping our stuff off at the motel, we headed back to Dave's. What a satisfying way to end such an exciting day!

(Continue to Part Three)


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