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.

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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.

July 29, 2014

A group of five Swallow-tailed Kites flying over the Cameron Preserve, in Brevard County, FL.

The shorter tailed individuals are likely juveniles. The adults have longer tails. No bands or tracking devices were visible.

These birds were seen this past Sunday (July 27, 2014) during my weekly birding hike. I’ll have some more to post about that later in the week.

July 18, 2014
Not So Lazy Days of Summer

Hi everyone. Just a quick note that the lull in blog postings will end soon. I’ve been busy with some other projects and obligations, but I have some material I’ll be putting together soon. So hang in there and enjoy your summer (unless you’re living south of the Equator. Enjoy your winter, in that case).

Cheers.

June 22, 2014
Are 1,000 Words Worth A Picture? Turkey Creek - June 22, 2014

It’s the first full day of astronomical Summer in the Northern Hemisphere! Happy Summer!

In my excitement to get out and about early this morning, I left my camera behind, which was a big bummer. We have had a couple of days in a row with some heavy thunderstorms and downpours in the area, and I was anxious to see how Turkey Creek and the adjacent canal were affected. Haste makes waste, as they say, right?

It turns out the creek was about a foot higher than I last saw it, but it had dropped lower than that before the rains came this week. So I don’t know the total difference right before and after. In any case, there was a bit of debris washed over the trails, and evidence the creek had run up on the banks here and there, but otherwise nothing too epic.

On the way to the canal by the Scrub Trail there was a total of 4 immature Coopers Hawks in a dead tree. This is the same general area I saw a pair of the same species last year. They must be recently fledged, and they were making short, noisy flights around the western side of the sanctuary all morning.

The other “main event” of the morning was an apparently newborn manatee in the creek with its mother. I first saw a couple of manatees grazing along the creek banks along McKinnon’s Way, but when I got to one overlook, there was a smallish adult manatee just laying in the water, with its (her) back sticking up. It took a breath every minute or so. Then, I saw a tiny nose poke up next to her, then a small, smooth gray back. It was soo cool (and NO CAMERA!). A man and a woman came along the path from the Canoe Deck, and told me they had seen her in the same spot yesterday before the big downpour, and she seemed “in distress” which they thought might be labor. WIth a newborn manatee in evidence, I’d say they were right. 

I watched the manatees for a bit, then made my way around the park, doing the boardwalks first, then the Sand Pine Trail before exiting.

I know I don’t generally like wall-of-text posts, so I’ll wrap this up with my species list for today, generally in order of first identification (♫ = voice only):

  • Fish Crow
  • Osprey
  • Rock Pigeon
  • Carolina Wren (♫)
  • White Ibis
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Coopers Hawk
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Blue Jay
  • Mourning Dove
  • Great Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • Green Heron
  • Common Gallinule
  • Chimney Swift
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Tri-colored Heron
  • Northern Parula
  • Downy Woodpecker (♫)
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker (♫)
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture

June 18, 2014
I had to reblog my tumblrfriend Amanda’s photo. It’s so punk rock!
:-D

I had to reblog my tumblrfriend Amanda’s photo. It’s so punk rock!

:-D

(Source: aburnsides)

June 17, 2014
Walk It Off

This past Sunday I decided to do my birding at the Moccasin Island Tract at the River Lakes Conservation area. In all my past visits here, I’ve headed south from the parking area and walked about a mile or so before turning back. I’ve generally avoided the northern trail because it leads to a hunting area in the Upper St. Johns Marsh WMA. But since (according to the post at the trailhead) no hunting is in season this time of year, I decided to head north.

Much of the Moccasin Tract is owned by the St. Johns River Water Management District and leased by the Duda cattle ranch, and they manage the conservation land jointly. (By the way, the Duda company also develops and manages Viera, FL.)

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A Duda cow watches, not impressed.

The first birds I heard were the ever present Eastern Meadowlarks and some American Crows (not Fish Crows!) in the distance. The crows only briefly appeared close enough for me to see once, otherwise they were content to stay well to my west. The meadowlarks were singing on prominent perches like fence posts and wires.

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As Ann Wilson says, “Sing, child, sing!”

Further along the trail, I saw a fawn poke out of some brush onto the path briefly before ducking back in. A couple of minutes later, it came out again, but this time turned toward me and started walking in my direction! There were no adult deer anywhere to be seen, and I stood still as it came closer. It eventually got to within 7 or 8 meters of me before stopping.

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A curious fawn.

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I didn’t want to fawn all over it, scaring it away.

Finally when it was just a few meters away, an adult (Mom, I suspect) came out of the brush and was not pleased her baby was so close. She made a snorting sound before bounding across the trail and over the barbed-wire fence, stopping to look back.

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Mom nervously looks on.

Finally after another squeaky snort, the fawn found a low spot along the barbed-wire and leaped across, and mother and baby bounded off into the brush and trees to the east.

The northern trail is about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) long, and I thought I stopped about half-way. Later when I consulted an online map, I realized I walked almost to the end of the trail near Lake Winder. That made my total walking distance over 8 kilometers (5 miles)! If I had known I was that close to the end of the trail and the lake, I would have gone the extra distance, but in the end, I wound up pretty sore.

I stopped at a couple of points on the trail where there were copses of trees. A pair of Downy Woodpeckers were tapping around some palm trees in one area, and another larger grove of Live Oaks was sheltering some Northern Mockingbirds, Northern Cardinals and at least one Carolina Wren.  

There were many Cattle Egrets, as you might expect on a cattle ranch. In addition, I saw or heard a couple of dozen other species typical of eastern central Florida.

  1. Wood Stork
  2. Mourning Dove
  3. Cattle Egret
  4. Great Blue Heron
  5. Black-bellied Whistling Duck
  6. Common Ground Dove
  7. Great Egret
  8. Eastern Meadowlark
  9. Boat-tailed Grackle
  10. Common Grackle
  11. Red-winged Blackbird
  12. Pileated Woodpecker (♫)
  13. Northern Cardinal
  14. Carolina Wren
  15. Northern Parula (♫)
  16. Downy Woodpecker
  17. Red-shouldered Hawk
  18. Northern Mockingbird
  19. Northern Bobwhite (♫)
  20. Black Vulture
  21. Turkey Vulture
  22. Tri-colored Heron
  23. Snowy Egret
  24. Glossy Ibis
  25. Black-necked Stilt
  26. Mottled Duck
  27. Little Blue Heron
  28. White Ibis

It ended up being a long walk, but it wasn’t as hot as last week. Despite the sore legs and feet, it was a fine morning.

June 9, 2014
Summer at the Viera Wetlands

This past Sunday morning I decided to have a walk around the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands at Viera, since I haven’t been there for a couple of months. I wasn’t disappointed as there was a lot of action and a good amount of birds. I walked the outer perimeter roads first, which allowed me to have pretty good views of wetland birds and habitat on the inside of the loop with transitional and upland habitat on the outside.

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A sea of reeds.

The high concentrations of American Coots and Common Gallinules from the winter have gone, but there were pairs and family groups of both still scattered around the ponds. I even got a few photos of some gallinule chicks, which are quite cute.

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"Mom! Tell this man to stop taking my picture!"

I was slightly surprised to see a few Black-necked Stilts in most of the ponds. They are very striking birds, with almost comically long legs, an adaptation that allows them to forage in places other similarly sized birds cannot take advantage of.

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Sure they may look awkward, but stilts get the job done.

The air was full of White Ibises and Cattle Egrets, as there seems to be a rookery of some sort across one of the ponds. It’s a little hard to see from the photograph, but there were dozens of birds in the trees.

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Aliteration exercise: a cadre of cacophonous Cattle Egrets.

Some were adults, but many were fledglings with varying flight experience. The young Cattle Egrets were making test flights out over the trees while the adults shuttled themselves (and food!) back and forth over the ponds. It was surprisingly hard to capture their flights, but I managed to get a few photos. I also saw individual Roseate Spoonbills in flight, but none actually wading in the wetlands.

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Egret Food Delivery Services, Inc.

Walking along the outer loop, I could hear some more upland or transitional species, like Carolina Wrens and Eastern Meadowlarks. Meanwhile, other blackbird species, like the Red-winged Blackbirds and Boat-tailed Grackles were flying about with food to feed their fledgling and near-fledgling chicks. This nearly independent Boat-tailed Grackle female was quite interested in me, and followed me around on prominent perches, as if wanting camera time. Of course I obliged.

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Female Boat-tailed Grackle, sitting pretty.

Its interesting how the demands of raising chicks change the behavior of adult birds. Normally, species like the Least Bittern are very secretive and hard to flush out into the open. But with hungry mouths, it’s important that the parents forage out to get food, and that means venturing more out into the open. I saw a good number of adult Least Bitterns dashing out of the reeds, flying low across open water, frantic to get back under cover. While most of my bittern photographs didn’t turn out, I did take this one of an overly curious chick. Right after I took this picture, an adult darted into the reeds and bodily shoved the chick into the reeds and back under cover!

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It’s a great big world outside your reed bed, little one.

Whereas there were nesting Sandhill Cranes in the wetlands earlier in the Spring, the crane families are now walking and foraging outside the wetlands in the adjacent grass areas and neighboring ranch land. I believe for some of these cranes, it is their second brood.

After I finished the outer loop, I drove the car to the center area of the park, and walked the inner road. Here there were more of the larger herons, mixed in with the smaller species.

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A truly great and blue heron.

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Green Heron.

There was one Great Blue Heron that was very patiently staring down at the water waiting for prey. It stood motionless for quite a while. In fact, I passed it twice while trying to photograph some other birds, and it never moved.

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This heron remained motionless for at least a half an hour. Patience personified… or at least avianified.

Of the smaller, non-white herons, the Tri-Colored Herons were the most active and agitated. I’ve noticed that this species seems to be the most “high-strung” of the smaller herons, though I don’t know why

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Tri-colored Herons are dainty and what people with way too much vocabulary call “gracile.”

There were a few Little Blue Herons in the midst of changing from white (immature) to dark blue (adult). I love this phase, as I think they look like living marble.

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Little Blue Marble Heron coming in for a landing.

There were a few medium sized alligators as well. When they’d pass near the gallinules, the birds would call out nervously and jump up on the nearest clump of vegetation or mud and bicker at it as it passed. I estimate the largest alligator that I saw to be about 7 feet long.

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Let’s head away from this alligator head that’s heading away from us. (Uh, wait a sec…)

As the morning warmed up, vultures, anhingas and some other birds took to the thermals. Anhingas will often soar high on thermals, a curious adaptation for a diving bird.

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"Can’t keep my eye from the circling sky."

On the drive out, I passed a couple of large Florida Soft-shelled Turtles. Normally they bask with their long necks held in graceful s-curves, but as my car drew near, they partially retracted their necks. They can grow quite large, and in fact both specimens I saw had shells at least 18” in diameter.

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These turtles are fantastic!

Here is the total list for the morning, including First of Year (FOY) and voice only (♫) species:

  1. Northern Mockingbird
  2. Common Grackle
  3. White Ibis
  4. Common Gallinule
  5. Little Blue Heron
  6. Black-bellied Whistling Duck
  7. Cattle Egret
  8. Black-necked Stilt (FOY)
  9. Sandhill Crane
  10. Least Tern
  11. Glossy Ibis
  12. Roseate Spoonbill
  13. Anhinga
  14. Fish Crow
  15. Carolina Wren (♫)
  16. Northern Cardinal
  17. European Starling
  18. Boat-tailed Grackle
  19. Red-winged Blackbird
  20. Least Bittern (FOY)
  21. Green Heron
  22. Great Egret
  23. Great Blue Heron
  24. Snowy Egret
  25. American Coot
  26. Mottled Duck
  27. Osprey
  28. Eastern Meadowlark (♫)
  29. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  30. Purple Martin
  31. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  32. Crested Caracara
  33. Eurasian Collared Dove
  34. Double-crested Cormorant
  35. Pied-billed Grebe
  36. Common Ground Dove (♫)
  37. Mourning Dove
  38. Black Vulture
  39. Turkey Vulture
  40. Wood Stork

It was a hot day, but even in summer, these wetlands are beautiful and active, with many species successfully breeding and raising young. With the continued assault on and development of wetlands in the area, this park will remain a vital part of wildlife conservation for the species that call it home. Projects like this, born of mitigation of water treatment from the development that makes them so vital, are all the more ironic for it.

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Lovely.

June 7, 2014

This White-winged Dove sang a song sounded like she was singin’

"What? Who cooks for you? Said, yooouuuurrrr…"

Close enough, Stevie Nicks… <3

June 3, 2014
Return to Pine Island, June 1, 2014

At sunrise on Sunday, I drove out to the Pine Island Conservation Area to see how the area is like in summer. Although astronomical summer doesn’t “officially” start until June 21st, it’s important to note that just about everywhere in North America is in meteorological summer by early June.

In any event, as you’ll see by my species list, things have mainly stabilized here in central Florida as far as bird movements and the species that are present. You’ll see the same mix, more or less, through the summer until the early migrants appear in September. That’s not to say things can’t be exciting. There are chicks fledging and late in the summer some birds will start to gather in larger groups and move into different habitats.

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Plenty of cardinals about. I think this was a juvenile male.

For this trip to Pine Island, I kept off the path that I encountered a feral pig on a past visit. I stuck to the central and western portions of the park. Despite the closeness of the Indian River Lagoon and the pond and wetlands in the center of the park, many of the birds I encountered were upland species. The ecosystems change over short distances in this part of Merritt Island, which can lead to a wide diversity of wildlife at times.

Near a pump-house at the southern end of the North Pond there was a small gathering of Black Vultures sunning themselves before starting their day. This one was particularly obliging to my photo-taking.

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A very accomodating Black Vulture.

I went out to what a sign near the parking area said was a “wildlife blind.” The path clearly hadn’t been used in a while. Much of it was elevated wood planks. The blind itself seems oddly constructed. If you stand, there a trellis panel in the way of good observing, and if you sit to look through the area below it, there’s not much visibility except for the mangrove canopy. In any case, there wasn’t much to see so I came back out and decided to walk some paths I’ve not tread before at this park.

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The wildlife blind, as advertised. Plank walkway, as not.

Along the long canal path heading toward the lagoon, I could hear herons squawking and barking to my left, and I managed to flush several species out. Most stayed out of sight. I wonder if that is their rookery, but most of the birds seemed to be on the ground rather than in the tree tops.

This nervous Turkey Vulture let me take a few photographs before flapping off to its mate nearby. Vultures have a bad rep, and I sort of understand why. They eat dead things (and have naked heads to keep the blood from caking on), they poop on their own legs to keep cool, and they use projectile vomit as a weapon. Gross, right? Yeah, but I love them anyway. Vultures are an essential part of a healthy environment. They help clear away the dead and decaying animals, stopping the spread of disease and parasites.

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You don’t really appreciate how big these birds are until you’re this close. But there was no menace in its eyes at all. In fact it seemed intensely curious and a bit reserved.

The most obvious bird species of note were the Purple Martins. This year I’ve seen more of these birds than ever. At Pine Island it appeared that many were fledglings, testing out their flight skills and diving around the sky with their siblings and parents. A few were resting on some dead trees between the pond and the lagoon.

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Purple Martin youngsters taking a break.

Along the narrow shore of the canal, I kept seeing movement and hearing little splishes when my shadow fell along the water’s edge. I looked closer, and there were hundreds of tiny crabs foraging along the sand. They’d dart to the comparative safety of the deeper water in the canal if they felt threatened (like, say, the shadow of a large bipedal predator).

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One of hundreds of tiny blue crabs in the canal.

Out over the lagoon, there was a pod of dolphins, with some interesting industrial infrastructure as a back drop. I don’t know what these are, but they’d make a great movie setting or something.

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Power plant related things?

I also flushed a Southern Leopard Frog out from the canal. You can see that with its coloration and the spots/squares over its skin that is can actually blend in pretty well with sandy stream or pond bottoms and even dead palmetto fronds.

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Southern Leopard Frog.

While walking around I had all the usual summertime birds: Carolina Wrens, Northern Cardinals, White-eyed Vireos, Eastern Towhees, various doves and more. Most conspicuously absent here, and from many areas this spring, have been birds of prey. There are plenty of Ospreys, to be sure, but very few hawks or falcons have been evident just about everywhere. This puts a little more credence behind the thought that it’s not just bad luck that make some populations seem so lackluster, but perhaps a real population dip in this area. No prey, no predators. It could be part of a natural cycle, or it could be an environmental indicator. Time, observation and experience will tell.

I did see this large stick nest. It seemed perhaps too small for eagles, but not really located well for an Osprey nest. It was unoccupied, but I may try to keep tabs on it through the fall and into next spring to see who takes up residence there.

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Nobody home at this impressive address.

By this point I had run out of water and headed back to the car to call it a day. The species list wasn’t too bad for early June.

  • Mourning Dove
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Carolina Wren
  • Fish Crow
  • White Ibis
  • Glossy Ibis
  • Great Egret
  • Cattle Egret
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Green Heron
  • Tri-colored Heron
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Anhinga
  • Common Ground Dove
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Osprey
  • Purple Martin
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Great-crested Flycatcher
  • Killdeer
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Common Gallinule
  • American Brown Pelican

It’s getting to be that time of year where I’ll need to be up very early to catch most of the birds in action, as it’s just too hot even by 9am for both the birds and the birder. I went through 2 quarts of water before 11:00am.

May 30, 2014

Here are several flowers I’ve photographed while birding this spring. I’ll be very grateful to anyone that can identify them. I am pretty sure the red spiky one is a Coral Bean flower, but I am not sure about the other ones?

12:26pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZzqM1t1HJyddy
  
Filed under: flowers