Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Birding with the Locals

Well, kind of.  The locals were not local to Florida, they were locals from back home.  Yesterday at Dunedin Hammock Park I ran into a nice woman, birding on a ten dollar garage sale bike, from Markham, Ontario.  Today, in my quest to find a pair of Vesper Sparrows, at the southern edge of their winter habitat in Brooker Creek Preserve, I ran into a birder from Hamilton.  He was on his way to the airport and decided to stop for a lifer on the way.  

I had been searching for the Vespers on and off all afternoon and was taking one last look before I left for the day, and finally found them minutes before Carl arrived.  I could hear them "hsip-ing" very clearly and chased them from tree to tree for about 15 minutes, finally getting some photos of the pair.  To be honest, Vesper Sparrows are nothing to write home about, and without knowing they were there and identifying them by both sound and sight, I'd have completely overlooked them.  If that makes me a birder of opportunity, so be it.

Earlier I had chased down a Carolina Wren, but was unable to find either the Yellow-throated Vireo that was calling or Warbler I briefly heard and saw for an instant as it flew into a tree and then vanished.  Later, I went to Kapok Park and enjoyed some birding before it began raining, finding an Anhinga, and Limpkin.  Before I even got to the park, I found my first Brown Thrasher of the year and on the way out, 4 more Nanday Parakeets.  I have now seen them 3 times this year in a variety of locations.  And that is what is so cool about birding.  It's great when you find the bird you're looking for, frustrating but still fun when you don't, and every time out is like a little treasure hunt.  Geocaching with birds instead of hidden tupperware.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Returning to Fort DeSotto

It's been 11 months since the great Fall Out of 2012 and every time I've been to the old fort since then it just isn't the same.  From about April 23-25 the park was alive with birds.  They were hanging from the trees like christmas ornaments, every size and color imaginable.  It was just a matter of taking inventory.    Since then, it's been a nice, quite place to bird.  In fact I was the only birder out there on Wednesday afternoon.  Still, I did find my share of nice birds, plus so many shorebirds, I couldn't keep up.   At least in Florida, there is rarely a shortage of shorebirds.  There were lots of Black and White Warblers out, but I couldn't locate the reported Saltmarsh Sparrow.  All in all, though, it was a great afternoon of birding.

Here are some photos from there and a few other locations around Tampa Bay:

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Just here for the White-cheeked Pintail plus...

I spent Monday morning at Pelican Island NWR watching the White-cheeked Pintail,(ABA Code 4),and hanging out with the other birders who came for the bird, or just came to bird and had the bonus of finding a very rare bird, indeed.  It actually wasn't the only rare bird, as Buffleheads are not very common in Florida either and there was a nice male hanging out in the pond as well.  I met a gentleman for whom it was a life bird, after 30 years birding in Florida.  Of course, I added it to my Florida State List, which now has reached 206, seen over the course of just 77 days of birding since February 4, 2012.

It was a great morning and fun to hang out with other birders who were just as excited to look for it. We started at the butterfly garden and looked about the entire pond without success, but there were lots of little inlets so we split up and walked to different vantage points  Eventually one of my fellow chasers spotted the bird and we all raced over to get our first looks at the pintail.  Too bad I don't use "Pintrest," as it would be a perfect bird to pin.  We watched it float about from one side of the pond to the other and took lots of photos and videos.  It was lots of fun, without the pressure of having to rush away to the next bird.

But by noon I was ready to head up to Merritt Island NWR.  I have been there in a couple of times in the past, but never made it out to the Black Point Wildlife drive in 2012, and with no other rarities to chase, and a free afternoon, I headed up for a look.  I stopped a couple of times along the way for Gulls and Terns, and a Brown Booby at Jetty Park, just south of Cape Kennedy.  At first I thought I was watching the a juvenile booby in flight, but upon closer examination it was a juvenile Northern Gannett.  I continued on and made it to Merritt Island by late afternoon.  The first part of the wildlife drive was devoid of not just birds, but any wildlife I could see.  I was wondering if there were any birds here when I hit the jackpot with  a pond full of terns, ducks, shorebirds, egrets and herons.  This was prime real estate for the birds and the bird photographers.

I snapped lots of photos, and continued on my way.  The rest of the loop was fairly quite and afterwards I headed up to the scrub trail for a walk in search of Florida Scrub Jays, but instead got to see and hear Eastern Towhee's calling back and forth to each other, and a few flocks of Roseate Spoonbills.

Which brings me to this evening's post work excursion to Dunedin Hammock Park, where I was once again looking for the resident Barred Owl and Bald Eagle I had seen last year in March.  No owl, but I did get to watch the eagle eating a fish in a tree right across the path from where I found it last year.  Then, along another path, I discovered a spoonbill out for a stroll.  It eventually cut across and into the creek for an early dinner.  Up in this area I have only ever seen spoonbills in flight at dusk, so this was a cool find.  I still haven't been to Fort DeSotto, so perhaps tomorrow will finally be the day.

Poor guy, got his foot all turned around

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Photo Phun Phrom Phlorida

I have only been birding for about 14 months and I haven't seen everything, but I have seen some very interesting birds in that time.  I certainly don't expect to see Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, but two of the birds I saw and photographed could be some of the rarest I have ever seen: The somewhat rare Backwards-headed Woodpecker and the almost never seen, Headless Osprey.  Sure, not on the ABA List and not countable on any county list, but I can't un-see them and they are committed to virtual film.  So, in the sprit of sharing on the internet everything we see and photograph, I present the following un-retouched photos...

Here are some of the regular birds I saw this week:

Some other indigenous wildlife, including a vacationing Easter Bunny and the cutest little bathing raccoon.  The deer was nice too...

Thursday, 7 March 2013

ABA 600: Yellow-throated Vireo

I guess this is Vireo week for me.  I found the Code 4 and very seldom seen Thick-billed Vireo in Bill Baggs on Monday and after 4 or 5 attempts, the Yellow-throated Vireo, this morning in Brooker Creek Preserve up in Tarpon Springs, Florida.  It may not be a Code 4,(it's a 2), but it's not that easy to find one, and I did not see one last year, so it has become my third Lifer of 2013, all in Florida.  It is also the 600th Bird on my ABA List.  The Dusky Grouse is the only bird on the list I haven't seen since the beginning of 2012.

I had a break from work this morning and an hour to search the boardwalk, playing the Yellow-throated Vireo call on my iPhone until it finally called back.  It would have been hard to locate that specific bird high in the trees if it had not called.  It was like a serenade or a little duet as it sung in nearly perfect time with it's virtual mate on my iBird App.  It was then just a matter of luck if I'd get a good photo of the bird, and though it's not as good as the photo of the Thick-billed Vireo, I am happy to have just got the bird and an adequate photo.

On the way back to work I spotted a hawk on a wire, and stopped to photograph it.  It flew across the road and directly above me and I was able to capture a spectacular photo of a Red-shouldered Hawk.  I also enjoyed looks, outside the park of Wood Storks and White Ibis's and some Barn Swallows on hte wires next to the Hawk.   Later in the day, at Possum Branch, got to see a Common Gallinule frighten a Killdeer.  Admittedly, Killdeer's scare easily and are a little overly dramatic with their peeping when scared, so perhaps the Gallinule wasn't that menacing after all.  Still, no possums.

Monday, 4 March 2013

The Tale of the Thick-billed Vireo

It started on December 30, 2012 at Fort Zachary and ended today at Bill Baggs Cape State Park.

On December 30, I was in Fort Zachary for the morning, hoping to find a White-crowned Pigeon,  or any new last ditch effort birds for my Big Year, and was chasing a small "vireo-type" bird into a bush, got a fleeting look at it and then when I snapped the photo, the bird had flown and after as much time as I could devote to the search, headed back up to the Botanical Gardens hoping for a photo of the Western Spindalis I had seen earlier in the day.  I stayed the night in Miami, where I had unsuccessfully tried one last time for a White-winged Parakeet before heading up to Cape May to finish off my Big Year.

As I was heading to the airport in Miami, an e-mail came through informing me of the sighting of the Thick-billed Vireo in pretty much the same spot I had been chasing the bird the previous day.  I didn't get enough of the field marks to positively identify it, so I did not count it.

And now to the present.  I had planned the day today well in advance.  Reports of a White-cheeked Pintail and Brown Booby on the east coast, along with a white morph Great-blue Heron had been the plan until 6:40 this morning, when a NARBA report of a Thick-billed Vireo was seen yesterday at Bill Baggs Cape State Park.  Plans were changed in an instant and I headed straight there, no stops, other than gassing up and coffee.  I filled a bag from the breakfast buffet at the hotel, so I'd have what to eat on the way down.

The directions to the location were easy to follow and as I was walking up to the location, after parking, I saw a fellow in the standard birding hat and could see a hint of the black strap around the back of his neck.  I approached expectantly, and before I could say anything he asked, cryptically, "Has anyone seen it yet today?"  Of course, I easily decoded his birder-speak, and said I had just arrived.  We went and looked for it together, never uttering the name of the bird, yet both knowing what we were looking for.

I checked the photo on iBird and gave a quick quite listen to it's call, so I'd recognize it. and then bagan pish-ing.  It didn't take more than 5 minutes for the flitting bird to appear, although the first visitor was a Northern Parula, my first for 2013.  My new birding buddy, Richard, spotted the Thick-billed first and then we were both able to get good looks at it before it disappeared again.  I started pish-ing again and then the vireo started calling.  It was pretty distinctive and we both identified it by ear and it made it easy to follow back and forth from one side of the fenced off path to the other.

I had a lof of photos of the bushes and tree limbs until it finally landed on a bare branch,(they almost never do that), and I snapped off a few photos before it vanished again.  Not long after we were joined by the park ranger and Robin Diaz, whom I met a year ago, in almost the same spot, just after the La Sagra's Flycatcher had flown the coop.  Another few minutes of pish-ing got the bird to come out for all to see and sing for all to hear.  It was a Lifer for me and Richard and just the second time for Robin.

It was a great day, and now I am pretty sure I did see this bird back in December in Fort Zachary.
Though I drove 4-1/2 hours each way for one bird, I had a fantastic time, met some lovely people and wouldn't have spent my day off any other way.

Some of the other birds for the day