Greetings! and Welcome to my Blog. A place for me to share my latest pictures and ramblings. :-D As always, I give all glory to God, because it is his creation that he is revealing to me.
Feel free to share with your friends.
Solo Deo Gloria
I feel sort of guilty spending more blog time on West Cost birding. I spent the same amount of time on both coasts, and I saw a lot of birds on both coasts...but something was different between the two. It is clear to see which coast is visited more by tourists. Except for a few pockets of public beaches and national parks, the whole east coast is either developed beyond belief, or beach access is fee based, with very little public parking. Its so bad that if the first 100 yards of shore falls into the ocean, Florida would be plunged into a depression that would take years to recover from.
I purposely try to find places that are great birding spots, and free...or near free. West coast, except for the $6 toll to get on Sanibel Island, and another fee for the driving tour on that Island (full disclosure Vincent's Senior status paid for the tour...) I think I paid $2 for parking at Bunche Beach. East Cost birding around Merritt Island and Cocoa Beach was costly, or would have been if I had paid all the fees.
On my first east coast day, with very little public beach access, the areas where there are shorebirds to be seen are few and far between. The best location I went to was Merritt Island National Wildlife Reserve and the Canaveral National Seashore. It reaches north to Apollo Beach which is near Smyrna Beach and goes all the way down to Port Canaveral. I did not go to NASA while I was there...been there, done that. However, NASA does rule the roost, so if there is a launch pending, part if not all of the reserve is shut down. When I went the cost was $6 for entry. That included both beaches and the wildlife drive. Though if you have the America the Beautiful Pass, you get in free. Seniors pay $10 (Plus $10 for documentation fees) and they get the pass for life...us mere youngsters have to pay $80 a year...but it is still cheaper if you go to a lot of US pay parks or if you take a car load of kids...wish I would have known this LAST year. :-D...Anyhew, more info on the passes here:
I had very few shorebirds while I was there, but the east coast was also in the midst of cleanup from Hurricane Mathew, and the National Seashore still needed a lot of cleanup when I went, so they may have been pushed somewhere else while I was there. I had a lot of Brown Pelicans, Terns, Gulls, Sanderlings, and Red Knots, and that's about it. I had better birding opportunities at the wildlife drive. Nothing new, but still a bunch of good birds:
Before I continue, I have to ask...How far would you hike in +80 degree heat to see one bird? If it is an everyday/everywhere bird, I wouldn't go out of my way, however if it were a hard to find life bird...I'd hike a few miles. Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are listed as endangered and pretty much every nest is protected in one way or another. It is a bird that used to be common, but became endangered due to habitat loss.
From The US Fish and Wildlife Service:
“RCWs were once considered common throughout the longleaf pine ecosystem, which covered approximately 90 million acres before European settlement. Historical population estimates are 1-1.6 million "groups", the family unit of RCWs. The birds inhabited the open pine forests of the southeast from New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia to Florida, west to Texas and north to portions of Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky.
The longleaf pine ecosystem initially disappeared from much of its original range because of early (1700’s) European settlement, widespread commercial timber harvesting and the naval stores/turpentine industry (1800’s). Early to mid-1900 commercial tree farming, urbanization and agriculture contributed to further declines. Much of the current habitat is also very different in quality from historical pine forests in which RCWs evolved. Today, many southern pine forests are young and an absence of fire has created a dense pine/hardwood forest.”
There is a wealth of info on the Red-cockaded Woodpecker on the USFWS website:
I was given a contact of someone involved in the program who was able to give me a lead to a park that has nesting woodpeckers...the only caveat...a six mile hike, possible knee deep water, and 90 degree highs. So off I go to Hal Scott Regional Preserve and Park in Orange County. Basically its a big park with unimproved trails. The preserve is managed by The Saint Johns River Wildlife Management District. Their description of the park is here:
The nesting sites are well marked, and there are active sites near the back of the park. Bur they have been seen all around the park. You just have to keep your eyes open. Click on any of the pictures below to be taken to the gallery.
After I got back from that, I met up with my dad and we went to the city/town of Viera and went through their drive park. There were a few normal birds there, and was a good drive. It is similar to Merritt Island Refuge, but it was one of those places that can be hot or cold....mostly what we saw close up were Alligators and a Loggerhead Shrike.
Final day birding was a little park that I saw on the way home from the funeral that I went to. I remember in the back of my mind that someone suggested that I visit this place...and that I needed to wear a hat...I couldn't remember why though. Having only a few more hours before time to pack up and get ready to leave, a visit to Helen & Allan Cruickshank Sanctuary in Rockledge was my last birding stop. The Sanctuary is managed by the Environmentally Endangered Lands Program of Brevard County. The website for the park is here:
When I got there, and saw the signs...I knew what it was I was supposed to see...and why I needed the hat. :-D the Florida Scrub Jay is a endemic species, meaning it lives in Florida only...and it is very...very sociable.
A short video on why you have to wear a hat...maybe I can get a product placement check from Waffle House. :-D
Florida Scrub Jays in action.
The last bird in Florida, was a bird that I got in Arizona, way of in a field. Loggerhead Shrikes are all over Florida. Usually you can see one on a telephone wire every mile or so. My problem all week had been getting one close on some sort of tree or snag. Finally one landed on a snag and posed for me as I was heading out of the sanctuary.:
Well, that's about it. For the week I had 110 species and 18 life birds. Two or three life birds I only had views of, so I will have to try again for pictures. If I were to go again JUST to go birding...I would take a month, and travel all along the west coast...and down to the Keys...but that is for when I am retired. :-D.
Sola Deo Gloria
After spending two days on the west coast of Florida, it was time for me to head east. While on the west coast, I had a lot of support from two birders, and I would be amiss if I didn't give a shout out to the two birders that really helped me out on the West coast.
Vincent McGrath, my guide for Monday, is a birder that is not looking for check marks on a list, he is more into the experience, and being outside. He showed me around Sanibel Island, as well as took me around to some of the inland sites to find things like Burrowing Owls and my first Florida Scrub Jay. Some of the places we went to were slow at the time we were there, but that's birding. :-D
The second birder that was able to help me a lot was David McQuade. While I never met him personally, he was able to tell me of a lot of places that I could go on both coasts to find birds that were on my life list as well as put me in contact with an east coast birder who knew where to get a hard to find Woodpecker. (More on that next week.) David REALLY helped me out on my third day as I headed east. Every place I went on that day was on his recommendation.
So with all of David's places to go, and when to go to them in hand, I was off...and I went a whole 20-30 miles to my first stop, Harns Marsh. I had visited Harns Marsh with Vincent earlier in the week...at the wrong time of the day. Thanks to David, I was able to get there at the right time of the day and go to the right area of the 4 mile marsh to pretty much pick up everything I was missing from my needs list. Harns Marsh is a stormwater control site and is maintained by Lehigh Acres Municipal Services Improvement District:
They published a brochure that you can print of if you are going for a visit...:
I had 41 of the 197 birds listed there. Most of the list depends on the time of the year, and the level of the marsh. Here are a few of the life birds that I saw while there. Click on any of the pictures below to be taken to that species' gallery.LimpkinLimpkin
The above is a Grey-headed Swamphen, is from the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent to southern China and northern Thailand. Asia, It was introduced to North America in the late 1990s due to avicultural escapes in the Pembroke Pines, Florida area. State wildlife biologists attempted to eradicate the birds, but they have multiplied and can now be found in many areas of southern Florida. As of 2013, it is ABA (American Birding Association) countable. While it is doubtful that they will become the scourge that House Sparrows have become, it does give warning to those that wish to bring non-native species into this country...DON'T.
While I could have stayed at Harns Marsh all day...I still had a lot of miles to cover, so it was off toward the next stop on my list, a cattle farm out in the middle of nowhere...no, really a cow pasture in the middle of nowhere. It also happened to be on my way. A couple Crested Caracaras were known to local birders to roost in a particular tree in a particular field. This is one of those times where having a local birder letting you know where to look is really important. While the bird is recorded on eBird, the field is wide and there are multiple places where they could be roosting. But David was able to show me where the particular tree was that the Caracara roosted. So I able to see the bird and continue on.
Crested CaracaraCrested Caracara
The next stop was on the east coast at Fort Lauderdale...in a grave yard...yup, the places keep getting weirder and weirder. However the bird I was looking for was worth it. There are only a handful of warblers that I don't have, mainly because they are mostly west of the Mississippi. So when I heard that a Black-throated Grey Warbler was in the area, I knew I had to add it to my list of target species. These Warblers are a Western Species, and must have gotten blown over to Ft. Lauderdale. It had already been there for over a week, so I was worried that it might continue flying south before I could get to see it. Fortunately it liked where it was. David who was on the West coast was able to tell me the exact tree to look in to find this tiny warbler. I did have help from another couple of local birders spotting it.
Black-throated Grey WarblerBlack-throated Grey Warbler
Ft. Lauderdale While there I also got to see a Spot-breasted Oriole.
Spot-breasted OrioleSpot-breasted Oriole
Florida I did try a few other places, but by the time I got there the birds were pretty much done for the day, so I headed on to my hotel. I needed to rest up for the next day...which I will talk about next week. For the three days, I had 99 species, 16 of which were life birds.
Here is a slide show of most of the birds I was able to take pictures of:
Next stop Brevard County. :-D
Sola Deo Gloria
Bands On The Run
When I go birding, I always look for birds with bands on them. This was one of the first things I was interested in when I seriously started bird photography. A Hudsonian Godwit was at Big Island Wildlife Area in Marion Ohio, with a white flag that turned out to be a tracking device. Through reporting that band, I learned about efforts to discover the migration patterns of Godwits.
Most banded birds just have a silver government bands that you have to recapture the bird to read them.
(I didn't see this band till I got home, or I would have tried to take some sharper pictures of it to try and pull the numbers off of it.)
Other birds have bands that are more colorful, and can be identified from a distance...or from photographs later. Piping Plovers for instance have a series of colored bands that identify them as to where and when they were born, and even to which set of plovers were their parents...all from a series of bands. Here is a picture of a piping plover that I saw here In Ohio. From the band information given to me by the Great Lakes Piping Plover Project, it hatched in the summer of 2016 at Whitefish Point, MI. It was banded by the University of Minnesota crew, stationed for the summer at the University of Michigan Biological Station.
I usually only see one bird with a band...if I even see them at all. So when I was at Bunge Beach Florida, I was enjoying the spectacle of shorebirds feeding on the beach, I saw a familiar plover with the familiar leg bands. Click on any of the pictures below to be taken to the individual species gallery. :
Then a few yards away I spotted another with different band colors:
Piping PloverPiping Plover
Florida Being a banded Piping Plover, I happened to already know the probable bander was the Great Lakes Piping Plover Recovery Effort so I emailed them directly instead of using the traditional USGS bird band reporting site.
They fed back to me that the Orange flagged bird was one that they had banded :
“The plover with an orange flag has an interesting story. He's one of the chicks that was captive-reared in 2014 after one of the parents disappeared (probably caught by a Merlin) and the nest at Point aux Chene, MI was abandoned. When that happens the eggs are collected and given a second chance in our captive rearing facility at the University of Michigan Biological Station near Pellston, MI. After the eggs hatch, avian-specialist zoo-keepers raise the resulting chicks in captivity until they are flying well. They are then released near wild-reared chicks of similar age. He was released at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on North Manitou Island. I'll attach a photo I took of him shortly after he was released. He returned to breed at Port Inland, MI. Good to see that he's still doing well.”
So this bird, if it were not for people concerned about the recovery of the species...would have never lived. Its nice when you can get in touch with the banding, sometimes the bird has a story all its own.
The second plover I received a report on a little later. It's blue flag marked it as a bird that was from another banding project in Nebraska.
Here is the write up from Mary Brown of the School of Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska:
“Hi Steve, thanks for passing along the information and photos. This is one of our birds from the lower Platte River in eastern, Nebraska. The bird was originally banded as a 2-day old chick on 16 June 2011 at a lakeshore housing development in Dodge County, Nebraska. If you see any other plovers wearing light blue flags, please let us know,..”
That is definitely my most western shorebird bird that I have photographed on the Eastern half of the US.
But my list of banded birds do not end there.
While photographing the plovers, a group of Red Knots in winter plumage flew in almost right beside me. Within that flock were two that had leg bands.
Bird 690 was banded in South Carolina in 2015 as an adult and seen again on a beach near where it was banded in 2016. Bird JH9 was captured and banded in 2008 in New Jersey and has been recaptured almost yearly till 2012 It has been sighted as far north as Iles de la Madeleine in Quebec, Canada. My sighting is as far south that it has been sighted, and is the first its been sighted since 2012. It was my oldest banded bird for this trip.
There are lots of websites discussing the banding of shorebirds, here are the ones that were involved with the birds I spotted on this trip:
The South Carolina Shorebird Resighting Project's site:
As well as the Atlantic Coast Joint Venture project's blog post on Red Knot banding.:
The Great Lakes Piping Plover Project has a blog:
Along with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The pictures at the bottom look like the same plover I found again this year...probably on the same beach. :-D :
Next week I finish the West coast and head East.
Sola Deo Gloria
I was given the opportunity in late October to travel down to Florida to attend a Memorial service for my grandmother. She was a beautiful God fearing Christian woman who wanted to be buried with her husband in Florida. My work allowed me 3 days off, but I also was able to take another three days vacation. So I decided to go down and see how many life birds I could get in the week I was down there.
However, since I was going into uncharted waters, I needed to get as much info as I could so that I could make the most of my week. Florida is a big state, with many places to go birding. I had a general idea that I needed to spend some time on both coasts, but where were the best spots for the birds I needed? In an effort to narrow down my area, the first thing I did was send out feeler emails to my Ohio bird watching email listserv and Facebook group to see if anyone could give me some direction as to the better places to go...I got close to 100 replies. I was able to narrow it down to three areas in Central Florida. The east coast was Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge Area. West coast was Sanibel Island/Ft Myers area. In inland central Florida there were a few places mentioned that I would check out only if I couldn't find what I was looking for elsewhere, but I never got the time to go check them out...something for later I guess :-) . Also among the responses were a couple Florida birders that follow our Ohio email listserv. They were able to give me some more local spots around Sanibel and Fort Myers area to check out, and one offered to give me a driving tour of some of the better ones...I love locals :-).
In the week I was there, the weather was simply beautiful. My local birdwatcher/guide told me that the week before, the temperatures were in the 90s, I had one day in the upper 80s.
So with 5 days of birding ahead of me, the chase was on. I had many experiences that I want to write about. I struggle to decide what to write about first. So I guess, I will start out with the birds that I REALLY wanted to see and photograph.
There are a few shorebirds that are found in Florida that do not come up to Ohio, so I really wanted to focus on getting them. Two that I wanted to get were Snowy and Wilson's Plovers. According to eBird, both are found around Ft Myers. However one, the closest Snowy was an hour north of Ft Myers on Siesta Beach, and the Wilson's is found a little south of Ft Myers on Bunche Beach (which I found out from the locals is best only during low tide.) So I needed to plan the day so that I could get both birds with the focus on being at Bunche during low tide.
One of the things that comes up again and again for watching shorebirds in Florida was to watch the tides. Here in Ohio, I never have to worry about the pull of the moon...except maybe Lake Eire and "Full Moon Fever" at work :-D. But in Florida, everything around the water, centers around the tides...from birds to shell collecting, everything is centered around the tides. So if you want to see the shorebirds that rely on sand/mudflats for foraging...you have to be there as the tides are receding.
Tide chart for October 25th 2016Low Tide marked in blue.
So with the tide chart in hand, I planned to go north in the morning and end up at Bunche at late afternoon...which was actually perfect since my hotel was on the same road as and only a mile away from Bunche. ( I had not planned this, my only concern was cheap comfortable room near Sanibel Island.)
Snowy Plovers at around six inches long are one of the smallest shorebirds. In the US, they breed mainly on the Gulf coast with pockets of them found out west, inland. They like wide sparsely vegetated beaches, and blend in really well along the undeveloped white sand dunes of Siesta Beach. It took me over an hour to find them, and I had almost given up when I nearly stepped on them. Fortunately for both me and the plovers, a Sanderling flushed and I looked down.
In the picture above, there are six Snowy Plovers, a Ruddy Turnstone, and a Sanderling. All just chillin' on the beach. Here are a few closeups of the Snowy Plover. Click on any picture below to be taken to the gallery of all the pictures I took of the species.
The Wilson's Plover is about six to eight inches long...which is roughly the size of the Semipalmated plover that I am used to in Ohio. It is a coastal breeder The big glaring difference that makes it stand out from it's plover brothers & sisters is is bigger bill.
Both these birds are in somewhat declining populations due to habitat loss. In fact, the only reason why either of these species continues in the Gulf is thanks in large part to the conservation efforts of the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Wildlife Refuges, with a few pockets protected by private landowners and improved zoning regulations along Florida's beaches and dunes.
For more info on what you can do as a tourist/birder/photographer the Florida FWS has posted a few things in their website as well as a PDF brochure.:
Basically keep out of posted nesting areas, don't harass the birds, keep your dog on a leash, and pick up after yourself to reduce scavenger predation...pretty simple stuff, although I would add to keep a good eye on your kids at all times as well, but you should already be doing that ;-) .
While these were my primary plover targets, I was able to see four other plover species:
Killdeer (not photographed)
and Piping Plovers
Bunche Beach/San Carlos Bay Preserve is owned by Lee County, and their information page can be found here:
Parking is $2 an hour, and there is a place for kayaking..I really should have stayed here an extra day. :-D
Siesta Key Beach is in Sarasota and their page is here:
FREE parking! I found the better shorebirds on one of the side parking areas instead of the main groomed beach. Even though there were plenty of Terns and Skimmers taking a break on the main beach, the shorebirds found the beach apes too distracting, so they were hiding/chillaxing in the less developed dunes to the north of the main beach.
Here is a link to The Great Florida Birding Trail, to help you plan your trip to some of Florida's birding hotspots:
...more about the Piping Plovers and other banded birds I saw next week.
Solo Deo Gloria
That is exactly what two words started almost the entire Biggest Week In American Birding to be moved to a little small flooded field southwest of Toledo in Springfield Township.
Let me back up about two hours. As I was leaving my little town of La Rue Ohio for some bird watching up at Magee Marsh on the East side of Toledo, I got notification that one of my Facebook friends liked a picture of a Red-necked Phalarope on the South East side. I had seen one before, but my pictures were terrible, so I decided to see if I could get a good picture of it. A quick search and find of the address, and I was on my way.
As I arrived local birder Matt Anderson had just left. (Although at the time, I didn't know who he was.) I parked where he was and scanned the pond. I thought I saw the Phalarope, but I couldn't be sure due to the lighting, so I moved so that the sun was to my back. Turns out it wasn't. but I went ahead and took pictures of everything so that I could scan later for things I missed. I returned to my truck and gave a quick scan through the pictures. A couple of Short-billed Dowitchers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Dunlin, weird looking Dunlin...wait...what? the picture is blurry, so I get back out of the truck and refind the weird looking Dunlin...definitely not any sort of color morph of Dunlin that I know of, but I am still just a part time birder with only 336 life birds, and 312 Ohio birds...However, that 312 Ohio birds means that I have seen about every "normal" Ohio bird. The only birds I haven't seen are single birds that are only here for one or two days every five to ten years or so...and this was like nothing I had ever seen before, so I knew it was not a normal Ohio bird.
So now it's time for documentation shots:
Picture of mystery bird showing bill, chest, back, and butt.
Comparison shots for size and distinctive features.
Mystery bird with Dunlin and Yellowlegs.
And a Glam shot.:
Then I went back to the truck and compared them to the shorebirds on my phone app (I have both Audubon and Sibley on my phone.) I went through everything and the only thing I could come up with is Curlew Sandpipier...But I have been known to be wrong before, and sometimes pictures are wrong, so I do what I always do, post a cell phone picture of the back of my camera to the Birding Ohio Facebook page for confirmation of ID...see top. Thinking that everyone would be out birding and that it would be a while, I began shutting down everything and got my GPS set for Maumee Bay to see what was there...
What followed..was CRAZY. Checking before I got on the main road let me know that the ID was correct. Matt was already back, shaking my hand and saying "Congratulations!"...but why the big fuss...oh well, I'll just keep heading East and figure it out later. By the time I got to Maumee, Tweets had been posted, my picture of my picture had been shared on the Ohio Rare Bird Alert and posted on the big screen at Maumee (which I didn't know until later. If I had, I would have gone over and given them a better one. :-D) Buses of people were skipping their planned tour and heading for this little flooded field. People were passing up on a KIRTLAND'S WARBLER for the Curlew Sandpiper...I didn't know it was on the wrong continent I didn't even know it was an American Birding Association(ABA) Code 3-Rare bird...I was too busy being up to my elbows in wet sand.
I didn't know that this is what it was starting to look like over at the flooded field:
Birders looking for the Curlew SandpiperPhoto by Leslie Sours (Photo by Leslie Sours)
I didn't have even a glimpse of the magnitude of this find until Kim Kaufman posted this on my original picture...:
...oh dear...having experienced a rare(ish) bird at my own feeder, I knew that the poor farmer was in for an interesting couple of days.
I continued on my planned trek and did the Ottawa Auto Tour before calling it a day and heading to Blackberry Corner for some quick photo editing, a shrimp basket and a piece of lifer pie!...and THAT was when I had an inkling that it was bigger than I thought it was. People were seeing my pictures and coming up to me and asking if I was the one who found it..."Yeeeah"I said tentatively. What followed was a half hour of sharing stories, and Glorifying God...and a sneaky paying of my bill. :-D
The next two days can only be described as the birding equivalent of being a rock star. Everyone was either congratulating me, or telling their friends that I was the one who found the Curlew Sandpiper...Saturday is when I found out through Tom Bartlett that there were only 4 or so of these birds ever reported in Ohio...I also found out that so many people had gone over that a news crew was there.: http://www.wtol.com/story/31971611/birders-in-town-for-spring-migration-flock-to-springfield-twp-after-rare-bird-spotted
I was glad to hear the testimonials from other birders that made their way up right after work or dropping their normal tour route to go see it. The best one had to be what someone sent me in my email:
"One gentleman came up beside me with his scope, found the bird, then announced: "I drove up from Huntington, West Virginia. This has been my nemesis bird for the past 15 years. In the past I have driven up to 9 hours to try to see this bird, and when I get there, it is gone. A lifer!”"-Jenny Bowman
Birders were helping others, older helping younger(and visa versa). For most the Curlew was a lifer, for some, it was one of many lifers. From what gathered later, most people behaved and a good time was had by all. It was also good to hear that people were coming for more than just the Curlew.
While reports are still being entered into the eBird webiste, so far 290 reports have been made by 253 birders...meaning for some, once wasn't enough...probably more like people leading tour groups. :-D At last report, there were 80 members of the ABA reporting it. Since not everyone eBirds or (like me) belongs to the ABA, the best estimate of the amount of people that visited this 1/4 mile strip was anywhere from 800-1500 people. One suggested that it was probably more like 2500, but I think that is a bit high. :-D
I am thankful that God changed my plans that day...even though there wasn't a Red-necked Phalarope...and apparently it was a misidentified Wilson's Phalarope. I am also thankful that He put people in place who knew the enormity of the sighting. Also that this little gift was given for many more than me to enjoy. To Him goes all the glory.
Solo Deo Gloria
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