September 16, 2014

I spent some time at the beach with my wife and our friends on Sunday afternoon. I saw these birds on the beach, but then we had to go due to an approaching storm.

That’s a “western” Willet and a Ruddy Turnstone (top to bottom). We never really got rained on, but it looked menacing enough to call it an afternoon.

September 15, 2014
Falling into Migration

When word came over the FLORIDABIRDS-L mailing list that a Canada Warbler was seen in Turkey Creek Sanctuary, it was clear that the first migrants have arrived in the area. When a rare bird alert goes out like that, it’s exciting enough, but to be at the local park I am most familiar with was even better.

I headed to the Sanctuary on Sunday with modest goals. I wasn’t expecting to see a Canada Warbler, but I figured some increased activity might bode well for the historically heavier migration month of October. As followers of this blog might remember, the past couple of years have been really bad as far as birding during migration.

Early on in the walk I saw what I thought were owl pellets (I even photographed them) but upon closer inspection I think they were some sort of scat (if you don’t know what that means, go ask your parents).

I ended up having a modest morning of it, all told. The most exciting bird encounters were a Wood Thrush (FOY) which I initially mistook for a Brown Thrasher and several warbler species. While none of the warblers were as rare as a Canada Warbler, they were a good indication that the migration is under way.

The most numerous warblers were by far the American Redstarts. There was a mix of what seemed to be immature and mature males. It’s possible some were females, but all had some amount of black or duskiness about them.

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Ready for launch! American Redstarts are hyperactive, even for warblers.

While there have been Blue-grey Gnatcatchers in the Sanctuary all year, there was a definite increase in numbers and activity.

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Blue-grey Gnatcatcher contemplating its next move.

At the end of the Floodplain Trail I got a very brief glimpse of a Worm-eating Warbler, then watched as three species of woodpecker bickered and chased each other around some trees. There was a Pileated Woodpecker really knocking things around and it eventually ousted a pair of Downy Woodpeckers and at least one Red-bellied Woodpecker. I assumed it was a youngster, it was so clumsy and spastic.

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I think this Pileated Woodpecker sort of looks like Kramer from Seinfeld.

I ran into two area birders, both active on FLORIDABIRDS-L, and they were both hoping to catch a Canada Warbler. Mark Eden was on his way out and had seen a lot of activity by the Canoe Deck (activity which had sadly abated by the time I got there) and Jim Armstrong, whom I walked with for a time before we went our separate ways. Normally I tend to shy away from sharing my experiences while birding, even when perhaps I shouldn’t (hence my blog title). But this weekend it seemed natural to want to collaborate, and I hope Mark and Jim got something out of our mutual encounters as well.

The species list for the morning:

  • Yellow-throated Warbler
  • Wood Thrush (FOY)
  • Common Ground Dove
  • Prairie Warbler
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Carolina Wren
  • Northern Parula
  • American Redstart
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Blue Jay
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Worm-eating Warbler (FOY)
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Palm Warbler
  • Fish Crow

Since yesterday I’ve seen more cautiously encouraging reports out of Turkey Creek Sanctuary, so here’s to hoping for a good Fall Migration.

September 11, 2014
Some of the smaller herons and bitterns, like this Green Heron, might appear compact and short-necked, but as this animation shows, they can extend their necks out quite far, particularly when alarmed.
[I took these shots at Pine Island Conservation Area in Florida]

Some of the smaller herons and bitterns, like this Green Heron, might appear compact and short-necked, but as this animation shows, they can extend their necks out quite far, particularly when alarmed.

[I took these shots at Pine Island Conservation Area in Florida]

September 7, 2014
Touch of Grey

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Lots of silver linings this morning.

It was a soggy start to the day today at Pine Island Conservation Area. To echo the somber mood, the birds that were visible looked suitably forlorn in the damp.

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Wet Turkey Vulture.

Believe it or not, I stayed in the car for quite a while until the conditions improved. The rain did very slowly taper off.

There were Barn Swallows zipping around, and I could hear Killdeers somewhere across the pond (though I didn’t see any until much later).

I managed to flush a pair of Bald Eagles, in adult plumage, from a nearby tree. In the mist I thought they were Black Vultures and didn’t have my camera ready. They flew across to the opposite side of the pond, where a nest was also visble.

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Eagle’s nest through the drizzle.

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Bald Eagle pair in the distance through the rain (really working at my camera’s limit here).

I could hear Common Gallinules in the marsh areas, but they stayed mostly out of sight. I did see one Loggerhead Shrike and various herons. Most of them seemed skittish, though one Great Blue Heron stuck around long enough for a photo-op.

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Great Wet Heron.

I did feel bad for the vultures. With the rain and lack of sunshine, there were no thermals for them to take advantage of, so they just sat in the trees, hunched like they were stuck in the rain waiting for the bus or a cab.

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Poor things looked so miserable.

As I said, eventually the rain began to let up, and with it my birding (and other) fortunes. Along the path running to the west of the pond I heard a “twit twit twit” call and came across my first Northern Waterthrush!

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The irony of finding a waterthrush on such a soggy day was not lost on me.

While I was watching that little one, I was paid an unexpected visit from a creature that was either really overly friendly or horribly near-sighted.

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Friendly neighborhood Nine-banded Armadillo.

I’ve had close encounters with armadillos while hiking and birding before, but I’ve never had one come up like this. It even sniffed by boot before scurrying off. I don’t think it was ill, just hungry and preoccupied (and nearly blind).

Quite a few butterflys were also around, despite the rain and drizzle. This Mangrove Buckeye was one of several.

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The spots on the wings are designed to ward of predators. If you were looking to make a meal, it looks like the butterfly has huge eyes on its wings, watching your every move. Better to go find a less alert dinner!

I usually see White Peacock Butterflys too. Today they were either trying to mate or really chasing each other around for territory (or both). Note the lower left wing is missing a piece on this individual.

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This species also has eye spots, though they are less obvious than on the buckeye species.

As a child who spent just about any available non-school hours outside catching frogs, snakes and anything else, I am quite familiar with garter snakes, but until today, I’ve never seen a BLUE one.

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Bluestripe Garter snakes are normall found in northwestern Florida. I must admit it was a bit of shock seeing an otherwise familiar animal with such bright blue.

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Close-up of the head. What a cutie!

[EDIT: Dr. Kenneth Krysko of the Florida Museum of Natural History and the University of Florida told me via e-mail that blue striped garter snakes are sighted all over the state. He also said, “Because of this, many of us suspect that this is another example of a named subspecies based on arbitrary color pattern.”]

As I began heading back toward the parking area, the sun started to break through the gloom. The first birds to perk up were the vultures. They used their broad wings as solar heaters to warm up and prepare to take advantage of the day’s first thermals.

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♫ Here comes the sun! ♪

I missed what could have been a pretty epic photograph because I was cleaning water off my camera lens. On one tree limb was a Downy Woodpecker, a Red-bellied Woodpecker and a Northern Flicker. They dispersed before I could get the camera set.

As I got closer to the car, I noticed a sparrow running through the grasses and undergrowth along the wide path and then in the parking area itself. Strangely, a mockingbird seemed to be shadowing its steps from atop the wooden railing around the parking area. It took some careful stalking, but I managed to flush it into a sapling long enough for some photos. I had to consult my Peterson field guide, and what do you know? It was a Lark Sparrow! Not impossible or unprecidented, but not common in eastern Florida, even in migration.

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Hello, what have were here? Welcome to Florida!

It’s continued to rain today, but I ended up not minding the touch of grey. I saw a life-lister, a blue snake and had a personal greeting from an armadillo.

The species list for the day, including Pine Island Road (in and out bound):

  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Common Gallinule
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Mourning Dove
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Killdeer
  • Bald Eagle
  • Black Vulture
  • Barn Swallow
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Osprey
  • Green Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Tri-colored Heron
  • Common Ground Dove
  • Northern Waterthrush
  • Anhinga
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Carolina Wren (♫)
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Lark Sparrow (*)
  • Rock Pigeon
  • European Starling

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I wonder, who’ll stop the rain?

September 1, 2014
Stick Marsh/Goodwin Lake - August 31, 2014

Four weeks have passed since my prior visit to the Stick Marsh/Fellsmere Grade Recreation Area/T. M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area/etc. I returned there yesterday with two hopes. First, I wanted to get there early enough to have a better chance at identifying some rails (either visually or by voice). Second, I wanted to ascend the observation tower at “Goodwin Lake.”

You’ve heard what’s been said about the best laid plans.

I arrived later than I intended, and then helped some gentlemen that were stuck on the access road with a flat boat trailer tire. I rolled into the parking lot well after sun-up. I noticed right away that everything seemed much quieter than the last time. Most notably absent were the Common Gallinules. There were none to be seen nor heard anywhere near the boat ramp or nearby areas. The heron/ibis rookery was still a bit noisy, but there were not as many wading birds around either. Both species of vultures were present, but not in as great numbers as last time.

Also, instead of many pairs of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, there were mainly solitary ducks, each staking out a tree-top or stump. I recall seeing only two or three pairs the entire morning.

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Black-bellied Whistling Duck in territorial display. They stretch their necks out and down like this to warn off other ducks.

For this visit I walked along the artificial lake southward. To my left were the extensive marshy areas, and in there were Roseate Spoonbills, some ibises and various herons and egrets. Along the lake side of the path, in rows of trees growing out of the water, there were Anhingas, which were there last time, and cormorants.

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Double Crested Cormorant. Cormorant is derived from old French (via Latin) meaning “sea raven”. Sounds portentous!

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Anhinga.

As the breeding and fledging season ends, birds are molting prior to autumn, which left a good deal of birds with unusual and missing plumage. Some birds had a patchwork of juvenile and adult plumage.

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This was the most this shy grackle would allow me to see of him. Note the black vest or jacket of adult feathers.

Many of the other blackbirds had missing tail feathers, which made for adventurous flights over the marsh as the birds tried to fly without the stability the tail helps provide.

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One of many tailless blackbirds.

I turned around about half-way along the lake’s length and walked back to the parking lot. Along the way there were Barn Swallows and at least one Caspian Tern. While unusual, this last species is not unprecedented in the area in late summer but is a first of the year bird for me.

A Yellow-crowned Night Heron also flew overhead, which was also a  first of the year for me.

My bicycle was in the back seat of the car, so I took that opportunity to ride it with my gear over to the observation tower overlooking Goodwin Lake. It’s almost 4.5 km (2.75 miles) from the parking lot to the observation tower, and it was already getting quite hot. The roadside was populated by vultures and Cattle Egrets, with an occasional shrike and mockingbird. I could hear Common Gallinules and other marsh birds in the thick vegetation, but nothing that let itself be seen.

As I approached the observation tower, I could see the nearby picnic area was too overgrown to make any use of. As I got off my bicycle I was disheartened to say the least.


Overgrowth, a bee hive and a large spider web (complete with resident spider) kept me from ascending the observation tower by Goodwin Lake.

The tower was overgrown, and bees had taken up residence under the first step. If that wasn’t reason enough to forgo any ascent up the tower, a Corn Spider (or Black-and-yellow Argiope) had woven a 5 foot by 2 foot oval web across the first stairwell. There was little choice but to cycle my way back. The heat was really building, and the morning about over. It took a lot out of me to get back to the car, but luckily I had packed some reserve water to drink in case my CamelBak ran dry (it did).

My species list includes:

  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Cattle Egret
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Limpkin (♫)
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Black-bellied Whistling Duck
  • Anhinga
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Least Sandpiper
  • Osprey
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Roseate Spoonbill
  • Great Egret
  • White Ibis
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Tri-colored Heron
  • Green Heron
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Barn Swallow
  • Yellow-crowned Night Heron (FOY)
  • Caspian Tern (FOY)
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Common Gallinule (♫)

I am more curious now than ever about what the field trip to this area are like during the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival.

August 25, 2014

Some close-ups of a Mole Skink from last weekend’s birding/nature walk.

[click to browse and enlarge photos]

August 21, 2014
Keeping Tabs

I live fairly close to several parks, and my regular readers know I frequent Turkey Creek Sanctuary, and the descriptions and photographs of my trips there make up the better part of my blog. I do try to find a balance of exploring other areas nearby and keeping track of what’s going on at Turkey Creek Sanctuary throughout the year. If I were a mere “lister” birder, I would more likely travel farther across the region to snag birds for my lists. As it is, I find repeat observations and comparisons are vital to understanding birds and their place in the environment.

This past weekend I returned to the sanctuary to do such a check. Summers are usually quiet times for finding birds in many of the area parks. The rush of springtime homemaking and breeding has settled down and the birds are trying to keep cool even by 8 or 9 in the morning. With not much going on with bird life in the park, I thought it might be good to mix in a few photographs of some of the things I blog about at Turkey Creek.

As I walked toward the park the entrance in the library parking lot,  I heard some soft, high-pitched call notes in the trees, and caught some glimpses of Northern Parulas foraging quietly together. One of the birds caught my eye. It’s yellow “spectacles” gave it away as a Yellow-throated Vireo. This vireo species’ plumage is very similar to the Northern Parula in many other respects (particularly with worn feathers and in the fall), but the spectacles are diagnostic.

Now that we are well into summer, quite a lot of American Beautyberry plants are ripening. This plant is ubiquitous, and birds love to eat them.

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Berry beautiful…

The Sanctuary has been quiet, even for summer, this year and this day was no exception. There were a few Northern Cardinals calling from the brush and one or two singing in the distance, but the usual cacophony of alarm notes and whistling I am used to hearing was again absent. I approached the Harris radio tower which sometimes has Brown Thrashers or Eastern Phoebe’s hanging out nearby. No such luck this time, but let’s have a look at the tower.

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The tower is held up by 3 pairs sets of guy-wires, spaced 120 degrees apart.

This 129 meter (400 foot) tower is owned by Harris Corporation, and I think it’s used for communications testing, rather than broadcasting. You can see from this photograph that the structure has supports fairly close together. I’ve been told by several people that years ago vultures and various raptors would roost on the tower, sometimes causing quite a smelly mess. To deter the birds from roosting, additional supports were added to the tower, making it near impossible for larger birds to make use of it.

I am amazed that such a tall structure (and others like it) are supported by wires, anchored into the ground. This simple method works even in hurricane-force winds.

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The guy-wires holding up the tower are anchored in place with the help of these 1+ inch diameter bolts. The smaller wire you see is a grounding line for lightning strikes.

We have had a lot of rain the past week or so, and that was reflected in the elevated canal and creek water levels. I walked to the weir, where the Melbourne-Tilman Canal empties into Turkey Creek. There were only a few bird species present by the weir. Mourning Doves were the most abundant, and I flushed quite a few as I walked along the canal. In suburban settings, where these birds are commonly perched on utility wires, they are fairly conspicuous. Among the grass by the side of the canal they were almost invisibly until my footfalls scared them out.

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Mourning Doves.

There were a few Green Herons, a single Tri-colored Heron and one American Coot by the flotation barrier leading to the weir. I saw a few Common Ground Doves and Eurasian Collared Doves as well.

The weir itself is part of a drainage and flood-control system, using Turkey Creek as an outlet to keep the canal water levels down, especially after heavy rainfall events.

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Flood control for the canal system.
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Into the creek.

Two of the area streams, south of the Eau Gallie River, are named for birds. Crane Creek empties into the Indian River Lagoon near Melbourne’s downtown, while Turkey Creek flows into the lagoon in Palm Bay (and is the main feature of the Turkey Creek Sanctuary, of course). I don’t know the historical reasons for the names, but for the first time I documented Wild Turkeys at Turkey Creek. Technically, they were running alongside the Melbourne-Tillman Canal, but based on the direction they were traveling, they had to have been along the creek’s side to get where I photographed them. I found it slightly ironic that I spied them running alongside the residential neighborhood that abuts the sanctuary.

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Residential Turkeys.

The turkeys made their way out of sight, and I made my way back into the sanctuary. Upon entering the woods, there is what I’ve been calling an “emergency” boat ramp. Normally there is a heavy chain across the entrance to the path that leads to the ramp, but I noticed that it was missing (though the sign clearly indicated this is not for pubic access).

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This also happens to be the area I saw the Bicknell’s Thrush this year.

I don’t know if it’s really for emergencies or not, and I freely admit I pass the signs and chain regularly to have a look at the creek from the ramp and it’s adjacent platform. In fact, I took a photograph of Flat Stanley there earlier in the summer.

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You can see the platform and posts in the background and to the left of Flat Stanley, when the water level was lower.

After all the rain we’ve had, the creek level was several feet higher than my last visit, almost completely submerging the wooden posts for the platform next to the ramp.

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Swamped.

I worked my way to the boardwalk and, apart from a couple of distantly circling vultures and some Carolina Wren calls, I didn’t have much luck with finding birds. There were plenty of dragonflies. This one, like many others this late in the summer, have very worn-out wings and rest as often as they are flying.

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Howdy, Ms. Dragonfly!

This Mole Skink was sunning itself on the boardwalk. If you look closely you can see water beaded up on its skin. Despite the shiny appearance, skinks are not slimy or wet. Their scales are exceptionally smooth and close-fitting. The camera had a bit of trouble picking up the brilliant blues and overall iridescence of this animal.

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See the shiny skink sunning in the sanctuary.

Further up the boardwalk and the Sand Pine Trail, I detoured onto the Flood Plain Trail. I was expecting the Boy Scout’s boardwalk to be at least partially under water, but it was not - a testament to both the flood control efforts at the weir and the capacity for the ground near the creek to hold water. The ground was covered in standing water, but still several inches below the decking.

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Apart from a few Yellow-throated Warblers a the entrance end of the Sand Pine Trail, that’s about it for the day.

The species list, including the parking lot:

  • Northern Cardinal
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Yellow-throated Vireo
  • Northern Parula
  • Mourning Dove
  • Wild Turkey
  • Green Heron
  • Tri-colored Heron
  • American Coot
  • Common Ground Dove
  • Eurasian Collared Dove
  • Blue Jay
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Carolina Wren (♫)
  • Yellow-throated Warbler
  • Rock Pigeon

The nearly last quarter moon shone brightly enough, even in daylight, to provide a nice parting shot.

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Blue Moon, you left me birding alone…

August 11, 2014
While We’re Naming Names

Weather and sleeplessness prevented me from birding this weekend, but I’d like to use this opportunity to discuss a bit of controversy in the birding world.

A Proper Debate

From time to time in the “birdosphere” of field guides, magazine articles, journals and blogs, the debate will rise again on how to name birds in print and digital displays.

As in computer scripting and coding, where there’s a long and ongoing conflict between “camelCase” and using an underscore between words, there’s likely never to be a reconciliation.

On the one hand, you have the Capitalization Camp, which feels it is necessary to differentiate the local, common names of a species from more mundane and generic descriptions. On the other hand, is the Proper Noun Camp, which feels capitalization is reserved for proper nouns such as specific things or individuals, like if you had a parakeet named “Minuet”. We’ll use our trusty and handsome avian friend, Cyanocitta cristata as an example.


Feeling blue?

Is this a blue jay or a Blue Jay? The Capitalization Camp says this is a Blue Jay, specifically referring to this species of jay. A mere “blue jay,” the rationalization goes, could be Cyanocitta cristata, Aphelocoma coerulescens or any other jay that is colored blue.


Also blue and a jay.

On the other hand, the Proper Noun Camp says that the specific, individual bird is not named and there are more than one “blue jays” or “Florida scrub jays” in the world, and to capitalize the name is improper. The Capitalization Camp would also say the above bird is better referred to as a Florida Scrub Jay, to differentiate it from its western cousin, the “Western Scrub Jay” (which the Proper Noun Camp would no doubt want to call the “western scrub jay”).

If you’ve read my blog, you know I subscribe to the “Capitalization Camp,” as I see the non-scientific names of the bird species as a sort of “pseudo-proper” noun. It’s not as personal as calling a bird “Bob” or “Mary” but clearly differentiates it from something generic like a blue jay or a yellow warbler (there are a LOT of yellow warblers!).


Geothlypis trichas is a yellow warbler.

But it turns out that to capitalize or not has another issue that I hadn’t considered until recently.

Is it Elitist?

My friend and überbirder Laura Erickson somewhat recently brought up the capitalization issue as it relates to non-birders. Specifically she was wondering if using capital letters seemed snobby or elitist to non-birders. This is something I had not thought of, but seemed a legitimate, if somewhat self-important question. Does it portray birders as pompous for using capitalization in a manner that non-birders might assume is reserved for proper names? Here, the Proper Names Camp has some traction. If, in the public eye, the use of capitalization is seen as unnecessary (or even incorrect) and puts birders and bird watching in a negative light, isn’t that a reason for the Capitalization Camp to fold up their tents and give up?

Does it Matter?

It’s not clear what the “public” thinks about this (or how much they do or should care), so for now the debate will continue. But in the end, does it matter if we all know what we are talking about? It would seem to me that in the end it’s clear what bird species or type we are writing about in context, and as long as we are communicating our love, respect and excitement about birds and their importance in the world, we’re all doing fine. That’s what matters to me, even though to me it will always be a Blue Jay. What do you think?

August 5, 2014
Where Did I Go?

I had a fun and interesting time this Sunday in Fellsmere. I had heard from a co-worker that there was some good wildlife viewing where he had ridden his bicycle, west of the St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park. I’m not particularly familiar with that area, but I know the “Stick Marsh” is often mentioned in that area, and there’s usually a field trip out that way during the Florida Birding and Wildlife Festival. In any case, trying to find “Stick Marsh” on Google Maps just showed an erstwhile bait and tackle shop where there’s a boat ramp. I’ve also seen it referred to as “Blue Cypress Lake.”

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Part of the Stick Marsh at dawn.

In any case, off the “main” road, one traverses a couple of miles on an dirt road with occasional metal catwalk overlooks of some marsh vegetation along some drainage canals. Unfortunately, any “parking” areas near these overlooks have stern signage saying “NO PARKING HERE.”

I got to the parking area, which had a lot of truck and boat trailer parking, but a few “normal” parking areas too. “Heres the Stick Marsh” I said to myself and was promptly greeted by a bunch of vultures, welcoming me to…wait, what?

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A couple of locals formed a welcoming committee.

There were also signs for “Blue Cypress Lake” and “Three Forks Conservation Area”…

I was pleasantly surprised at the large number of Limpkins around the boat ramp and the adjacent waters. They were quite conspicuous, both visually and vocally. Incidentally, this is the first visual ID of Limpkins I’ve had this year. I’ve heard them before now, the first time at the Birding Festival’s Marl Bed Flats field trip.

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One of many Limpkins.

In the smaller overflow ponds there were numerous Common Gallinules, both adults and juveniles. The chicks were about as big as the adults, but still quite gray in color and without the prominent red forehead shields.

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Hey baby, what’s up?

Shrikes were also common. I saw about half a dozen individuals, most catching lizards in the tree tops and whacking them on branches or utility wires before eating them. 

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Superficially similar to mockingbirds, shrikes are far more sleek and lethal.

The trees across from the boat ramp were full of both Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures. While waiting for the morning to warm up and for thermals to develop, many of the the vultures had their wings spread, back to the sun, warming up and getting ready to start their day.

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Sun worshippers.

Within five minutes of that photo being taken, the vulture began to take to the sky en masse. Within a couple of minutes they had already formed 2 large circling groups, or “kettles” as they soared higher on rising thermals.

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Morning commute for vultures.

The only duck species I encountered were numerous mated pairs of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. I’d tell you how I knew they were mated pairs, but this is generally a family friendly blog ;-). Unlike many ducks, Black-bellieds like to perch up on trees and stumps. Many pairs were high on the tops of palm trees near the water’s edge. This pair was a bit closer to the surface of the pond, maybe about 10 to 15 feet up. I wonder when their chicks normally fledge, because I saw no baby or juvenile-appearing ducks, only adult pairs (and some singles).

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Black-bellied whistling duck pair.

There were large alligators as well. I estimated that two of the bigger ones I saw were definitely over 10 feet long. The gallinules and Limpkins squawked out their alarm calls whenever one cruised by.

I skulked around some of the narrow penisulas between Blue Cypress Lake and the adjacent pond, where I saw this Osprey, which had just landed a fish, and several Spotted Sandpipers, as well as Red-bellied Woodpeckers. I flushed even more Limpkins and Common Gallinules as well.

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Breakfast, interrupted…

From there I crossed over some drainage canals into an area marked as the T. M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area. This is a series of levees and flooded areas, laid out in long grids.

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Not a lot of waterfowl to manage today.

My goal was to reach what was marked on the trailhead map as Lake Goodwin, but my water began to run out, it was getting very hot and humid, and I was being assaulted by really big horse flies! On my way out and back through this area, I saw Red-winged Blackbirds, more Common Gallinules, a couple of distant Common Yellowthroats, and even a few Swallow-tailed Kites!

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In keeping with my confusion over the name of where I was, Common Yellowthroats’ songs can be written as, “Which is it, which is it, which is it? Which?”

Despite some early confusion, it ended up being a nice 1/2 day excursion. Here’s the species list in approximate order of first identification:

  • Turkey Vulture
  • Black Vulture
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Cattle Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • White Ibis
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Limpkin
  • Common Gallinule
  • Green Heron
  • Tri-colored Heron
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Spotted Sandpiper
  • Osprey
  • Black-bellied Whistling Duck
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Anhinga
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Great Egret
  • Carolina Wren (♫)
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Swallow-tailed Kite
  • Mourning Dove
  • Northern Mockingbird

There were some tantalizing clues that some rails were lurking in some of the marsh vegetation, but I could never be sure the calls I was hearing were not Common Gallinules. I tried comparing what I was hearing to some recordings I had on my iBird Pro app, but it just confused me more. I hope to get out even earlier next time out to this place in hopes of catching some more definitive proof.

August 1, 2014
Cameron Preserve, July 27, 2014

It’s been a wild few weeks here at the Lonely Birder Perch, but after a solid week of heavy rain every afternoon and weekends full of non-birding fun, I got back to birding this past Sunday at the Cameron Preserve in Palm Bay. It’s taken me a while to get this post up, so thanks for hanging in there with me!

As I’ve probably mentioned before, the Cameron Preserve is an area of protected land between the East and West Malabar Scrub Sanctuary parcels. I’ve crossed the northern edge of it while traversing both Malabar and the Turkey Creek Sanctuaries. On Sunday I decided to have a closer look at the Preserve itself.

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Believe it or not, this was one of the drier parts!

At first glance, the areas away from Turkey Creek (the hydrological feature) would seem to be filled what environmental biologists call “obligate” upland species of plants. That’s just a fancy way of saying that due to certain environmental features (like ground water level, elevation, slope, soils, etc.) one would expect species that must live in dryer, higher places. For the most part, the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary is full of obligate upland plants, once you move away from the creek. Much of the Cameron Preserve is contiguous with Malabar, but if you look carefully, some areas have what are called “facultative” wetland species. That’s another fancy term environmental biologists use. It means that usually those plants are found in wetland habitats, but sometimes they are found in upland settings.One reason these plants survive slightly drier times in the uplands is because the ground water level (or water table) remains high enough for long enough in the year to support them. Extended periods of drought can take their toll on these plants, though.

With the copious rainfall over the past week there was a LOT of standing water in the Cameron Preserve, and the “usually” wetlands plants were loving it. I’m not very good with my Florida wetland plant identification, but there were various reed-like plants and broad leafy ground cover that during dryer spells might blend in, but because of the water, they were really standing out.

In any case, I began my hike from the eastern part of the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary and made my way into the Preserve. My intent was to circle around in the Preserve and make my way back to where I started. Somehow, I got myself into the Preserve but when I tried to make my way back, I kept running into huge flooded areas or impenetrable scrub.

As I slogged around, I saw some Scrub Jays and Eastern Towhees, and several species of woodpeckers.

I find it interesting that while during the past couple of years the bird population density has been much lower than “normal” in the area, and that this has coincided with a decline in Northern Cardinals and birds of prey that hunt song-birds (like Sharp-shinned and Coopers Hawks, for example).

There were some loose flocks of Fish Crows, some with missing primaries (wing feathers), most likely as they molt and replace them.

The relative peacefulness of the morning ended abruptly, however, when a low flying helicopter passed over the Preserve and began circling over the Turkey Creek Sanctuary. This had the immediate effect of scattering most of the birds (an probably other animals) away from the sound.

photo heli.jpg
I’m pretty sure a whirlybird isn’t really a bird…

After further investigation i found that this is a Brevard County Sheriff’s Department helicopter. It’s equipped with pontoons for water search and rescue. I don’t know what was happening, but the helicopter circled and hovered for 20 minutes or more before either finding somewhere to land (not sure where that might be in that area) or heading off for a while. After about 15 more minutes, it returned for a few more minutes before heading out of the area.

Soon after the helicopter left, a group of Swallow-tailed Kites (click to see them in my previous photoblog post) came swooping over. I think it’s possible this was a family unit. It seemed like 2 adults and 3 juveniles, based on the tail length and the way they flew (the 2 adults were much more graceful).

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I hope you get a sense of how perfect these birds are in the endless sky.

Because I could not find a way around the flooded areas, I walked down a residential street out to the main road. From there it was a relatively short walk to the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary East, where I got back to my car and headed home.

  • Florida Scrub Jay
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Downy Woodpecker (♫)
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Mourning Dove
  • Common Ground Dove
  • Red-shouldered Hawk (♫)
  • Blue Jay
  • Fish Crow
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Osprey
  • Swallow-tailed Kite
  • Black Vulture
  • Carolina Wren (♫)
  • White Ibis
  • Great Blue Heron

Apart from the lovely sight of a Swallow-tailed Kite family and some unexpected aircraft, I got two ankles full of fire ant bites to commemorate my hike this week.