Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Georgia’

Most birders don’t head to Florida in the summer.  And, I wouldn’t either if my step-daughters and my best friend didn’t live there.  I lived in Florida, too, for over 30 years, so it still feels like home and I visit every chance I get, even in summer.  Mid-day can be brutally hot and muggy, but nights are usually balmy and lovely.  The fresh gulf air brings memories of childhood summer days spent at St. Pete and Clearwater beaches.  How I wish my mother were here to see how much like her I’ve become.  As a teenager, I wanted to go to the beaches with nothing but pure white sand.  My parents preferred beaches with signs of life – sandpipers, pelicans, fiddler crabs, shells (some still alive).

Snowy Plover

Snowy Plover

I’ve had many rewards for summer birding in Florida.  The first was seeing brand-new just-fledged Snowy Plovers on July 7, 2008, on Caladesi Island.  David and I devoted an entire day to searching for these birds which had risen to the top of my most wanted list.  Their light colors blend into the sand in the hot summer sun, but David quickly found a group of five.

Loggerhead Shrikes are also memorable summer birds.  On June 27, 2009, I was thrilled to watch a Loggerhead Shrike family at St. Pete’s North Shore Park.

A juvenile Loggerhead Shrike enjoys lunch provided by a parent.

A juvenile Loggerhead Shrike enjoys lunch provided by a parent.

On June 22, 2013, we enjoyed a group of 14 Black-necked Stilts, including several juveniles, in a ditch between the road and the county landfill.

Juvenile Black-necked Stilt

Adult Black-necked Stilt

 

This year I headed south on June 20, the first day of summer and my step-daughter Debbie’s birthday.  My first stop was Savannah National Wildlife Refuge.  It’s birdier in winter, but I enjoyed watching mama Red-winged Blackbird feed two begging fledglings.  Common Gallinules were accompanied by little fuzz balls.   I tallied 20 species and drove to my motel.

Common Gallinule

Juvenile Common Gallinule. Note the feet on that baby!

I went back to Savannah NWR the next morning and then drove on to Harris Neck NWR, another of my favorite places to stop on the way to Florida.  Harris Neck’s Woody Pond is one of the south’s biggest rookeries and it overflows with Wood Storks, White Ibises, Great Egrets, and other wading birds in the spring and summer.  Harris Neck also hosts breeding Painted Buntings.  They are a little shy, but I was able to photograph this gorgeous male after he flew from the feeder to a close-by tree.

Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting

Quinn and me

Quinn and me

I made it to Gainesville that evening in time for dinner with my step-daughter Liz and her family.  For the next three days I went to Sweetwater Wetlands Park for a couple hours in the morning and then spent the rest of the day with the girls.  It was fun to catch up with Debbie and her horse and spend time with Liz and her young daughters, Quinn and Casey.  We took Casey to see “Finding Dory,” the first movie that I’ve seen in years.  Quinn seemed immune to the heat and enjoyed our time at the “weekend park.”

Sweetwater Wetlands Park was created to improve water quality in Paynes Prairie.  It filters pollutants from urban runoff and wastewater which were harming the Alachua Sink with an excess of nitrogen.  The wetlands were also designed to also be an environmentally friendly park.  The result is outstandingly successful.  It is beautiful and functional and 217 species of birds have been reported there since work on the wetlands began in 2008.

 

One species that I especially appreciated was Least Bittern.  I had seen this secretive bird only a few times previously, but at Sweetwater there were lots of them and I even got a photo.

Least Bittern

Least Bittern

Birds at Sweetwater are accustomed to people; Limpkins and Purple Gallinules perch right on the boardwalk rail.

Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

On Friday I moved farther south to visit David and Val in Dunedin.  We had a rather quiet weekend, but I always enjoy spending time in the county where I grew up.  On my first evening there, Ruddy Turnstones entertained me on the Dunedin Causeway.  My appreciation for this common bird has increased since David and I found a banded one (with color flags) on August 11, 2012.  I reported that bird to Bandedbirds.org and learned that it had been banded along the Delaware Bayshore in the month of May, most likely in Delaware in 2009.  Ruddy Turnstones have a very wide range, but North American birds breed in the far north arctic and winter along the U.S. coast and southwards to the southern tip of South America.  The turnstone that David and I found had already flown thousands of miles in its young life.

Ruddy Turnstone, June 2016, on the Dunedin Causeway

Ruddy Turnstone, June 2016, on the Dunedin Causeway

On Saturday morning, David and I found another banded bird, a Least Tern, and this one had color bands enabling it to be traced to a specific bird.  It had a very interesting history related to us by Dr. Marianne Korosy.  “This bird was banded at the Ulmerton Warehouse complex, a rooftop nesting colony of least terns located just west of intersection of Starkey and Ulmerton Rd. in central Pinellas County in 2011.  It was banded as a chick when it fell off the roof there and survived unharmed. It was banded and then returned to the roof.  The last time this bird was seen was July 20, 2011 on the south end of Clearwater Beach.”  Our report was the first in five years!

Banded Least Tern

Banded Least Tern

Least Terns are also migration champions.  They leave North America entirely in winter, moving to tropical waters as far south as Brazil.

One of the young Least Terns in the flock at Courtney Campbell Beach.

One of the young Least Terns in the flock at Courtney Campbell Beach.

I left for home on Monday morning and decided to try some different birding stops on this trip.  First was Okefenokee NWR in Georgia.  I enjoyed getting to know the place a little.  Several Bobwhites called during my few hours there.  Bachman’s Sparrows were singing all along the wildlife drive.  I made a mental note to go back some time in spring.

Royal Tern

Royal Tern

Next was a detour to Tybee Island.  A Lesser Black-backed Gull and Common Terns had been reported recently and I thought it would be fun to see them.  After I finally found the north beach and a parking spot, I walked to the water.  I had no idea which way to walk, so I turned right.  No birds were in sight except for a cormorant and a couple of Brown Pelicans that few over the water.  I resigned myself to having wasted several hours for nothing.  And, then I saw the flock!  Literally hundreds of birds were at the water’s edge where the shoreline curved.  I love this kind of birding; the birds calmly stayed put or flew just a short distance before settling down.  There were no trees for them to hide in.  Yes, beach birding is definitely the way to go for those with poor vision.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

I had no trouble finding the Lesser Black-backed Gull amongst the Laughing Gulls and Royal Terns which made up 98% of the flock.  I also found two Common Terns, a few Ring-billed and Herring Gulls, and two Black Skimmers in the flock.  I love gulls and terns, so this turned out to be a good stop after all.  After taking photos, I hurried back to my car and set the GPS to “go home.”

More photos from this trip are on Flickr in my NC to FL – June 2016 album.

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Osprey at Honeymoon Island

Osprey at Honeymoon Island

Thanksgiving week started early with Nate Dias’ Curlew / Marsh Sparrow boat trip in the Cape Romain NWR on November 18.  My goal was to get a good look at a Saltmarsh Sparrow, which would be a life bird for me.  I stopped at Huntington Beach State Park on my way down where I missed all three marsh sparrows which were seen before I arrived.  I was disappointed, but I had good looks at four individual Clapper Rails – swimming, walking, and bathing.

As we left the dock in McClellanville the next morning, duck hunters were returning saying that the weather was too bad for them!  It was very cold and windy and it rained most of the day.  Nate reported the most marsh sparrows in a couple of miles that he had ever seen, including “12-13 firmly identified Saltmarsh Sparrows.”  However, I did not get a good enough view of any to count as a lifer.  It was fun to put faces with familiar names from the Carolinabirds listserv, though, and it was a good trip in spite of the weather.

On Monday, I birded Altamaha WMA with Sandy Beasley, whom I had met in January at the Georgia Ornithological Society meeting.  I had birded Altamaha before, but did not know the area at all well.  Sandy showed me new areas on the west side of the road and we had a very nice day.  Now I know where to find birds as well as where to go for a great lunch!

Quinn

Quinn enjoying a beautiful Thanksgiving day in Jim & Debbie’s yard

Acacia and Casey

Granddaughter Acacia (Debbie’s oldest) holding Casey (Liz’ youngest)

Thanksgiving with my stepdaughters Debbie and Liz was wonderful.  Debbie’s significant other, Jim, and I birded together again this year.  He took me to Watermelon Pond, a place where he has fished for 20 years.  Jim had not been there lately, though, and was surprised to discover that the lake was dry and the area is now an official Wildlife and Environmental Area.  I was thrilled to discover this wonderful place that focuses on preserving several Florida Threatened species including Southeastern American Kestrel and Gopher Tortoise.  We saw Kestrels and I also had my best look ever at a gorgeous adult male Northern Harrier at Watermelon Pond.

The highlight of Thanksgiving was not birds, though, but seeing the wonderful progress that Liz’ autistic two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Quinn, is making.  I visited in August, just before she started ABA therapy (Applied Behavioral Analysis).  The difference in her behavior and interactions with people in just three months is remarkable.  Her progress includes a little eye contact now, a huge step for an autistic child.

Limpkin

Limpkin at Kapok Park

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher on Courtney Campbell Causeway

I headed to Dunedin the day after Thanksgiving to spend the weekend with good friends David and Val.  David and I birded our favorite spots on Friday afternoon and talked about Quinn in between birds.  Her therapists were using an iPad with her so I wanted to get a tablet that Liz could use with her, too.  We considered options and compared Android devices to the Apple iPad for a couple of hours before deciding upon an iPad.  David, ever smart and creative, devised a plan that would allow us to bird all the way to the Apple store.  We saw some of our favorite birds along the way – Limpkins at Kapok Park and American Oystercatchers on the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

John Hood, President of Clearwater Audubon, and I had met in August at the Hog Island Audubon camp in Maine.  On Saturday, David and I birded with John.  We learned where to park for the Tierra Verde “duck ponds” and finally got to see the hundreds of Redheads that winter there.

At Fort De Soto, John easily found the Long-billed Curlew that has been there for two years.  David and I had been unable to find it on my last visit.  We enjoyed John’s company and learned a lot about birding in Pinellas County due to his local expertise.

Least Sandpiper, Sanderling,a nd Dunlin at Fort De Soto

Least Sandpiper, Sanderling, and Dunlins at Fort De Soto

"My frog is still wiggling"

“My frog is still wiggling.”

"Maybe if I squeeze real hard"

“Maybe if I squeeze real hard.”

"Shaking is good, but I'm getting weeds on my frog"

“Shaking is good, but I’m getting weeds on my frog.”

"He's subdued now, but I still can't get it down"

“He’s subdued now, but I still can’t get it down.”

"I'll try scrunching it up into one big bite."

“I’ll try scrunching it up into one big bite.”

On Sunday, David and I headed to Honeymoon Island where we enjoyed the “usual suspects” including many Ospreys. We are fascinated with herons attempting to eat large prey and watched a juvenile Little Blue Heron struggle with a large frog.  Before we could see how this story would end, a biker came along and the heron flew off with his frog.  We hoped that the frog made a good lunch.

It was time to head home on Monday morning, but my adventures were not quite yet over.  My plan was to stay in Hardeeville and bird at Savannah NWR on Tuesday morning.  As I passed the turn-off for Tybee Island, I impulsively decided try for the Saltmarsh Sparrow at Ft. Pulaski.  I called Sandy Beasley that evening and she gave me very detailed directions to where she had seen the sparrows earlier in the month.  There would be a high tide at 6:41 AM, so I decided to go for it.

I arrived at 7:30 AM and was disappointed to find much vegetation visible in the marsh.  The birds could be anywhere and I was afraid that I had missed them.  With a little patience, though, I did find the birds and got a great look at one Saltmarsh Sparrow only a foot from the log that Sandy had described.  I was thrilled to get a life bird, but greedy for more birds, continued on to Savannah NWR.

Savannah NWR is one of my favorite places and I stayed from 9:30 AM until after 3:00 PM.  I “should” have left for home much earlier, but by staying so late my last bird of the trip was a really good one – a White-winged Scoter near the end of the Laurel Hill drive.  A check of eBird records when I got home revealed only one other sighting in Savannah NWR and it was over six years ago.

 

I arrived safely home, very tired but grateful for the wonderful birds that I had seen and especially thankful for my loving family and friends.

White-winged Scoter

White-winged Scoter – Savannah NWR Laurel Hill drive

Read Full Post »

My first pelagic trip was off Hatteras, North Carolina, in 2008.  I used a Scopolamine patch and expected that it would completely prevent seasickness.  I threw up off and on for most of the 12-hour trip.  It took a couple of years for that memory to fade enough that I was willing to try again.  My next opportunity was in 2010 as part of the Oregon Shorebird Festival.  I had decided that maybe I was allergic to Scopolamine I had also read that getting seasick is partly psychological.   The Oregon trip would only be 5 hours, so I signed up, confidently optimistic that I would not be sick.  That trip was worse than the first.  I threw up constantly for 4 of the 5 hours; I wanted to die.  After another 2 years to recover, I decided to try again in Florida.  This time the trip would be on a 100-foot boat in July, the calmest month of the year.  I consulted with my doctor and she prescribed the Scop patch, Meclizine, and Zofran.  I bought ginger capsules, ginger cookies and candied ginger.  So, once again I optimistically got on a boat to search for birds.  And this time I was fine for the entire 18-hour trip.  I got 5 life birds, but not getting sick was the real thrill of the trip.

My first stop on the drive to Florida was Savannah NWR.  This cooperative Purple Gallinule walked right up to my car.

Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

My late husband, Burt, called Purple Gallinules “Lipstick birds.”  Seeing these birds, one of his favorites, brought back wonderful memories of birding with Burt in the Florida Everglades in the early 1980’s.  I enjoyed watching the birds, especially the family with several small chicks.

Purple Gallinule chicks

Purple Gallinule chicks

The highlight at Savannah, however, was two Common Nighthawks flying together shortly before dark.  I watched for over 10 minutes as the birds swooped and soared over a large field intermittently peenting.  They did not appear to be foraging; they appeared to be having fun.  They flew side by side, then one bird would get ahead and the other would hurry to catch up.  Occasionally they would fly a little circle around each other.  A choreographed dance could not have been more beautiful.  I have no idea if I was watching two males or a male and female.  I don’t know if this was common behavior or if I witnessed something very special.  I only know that I was mesmerized by the beauty of the nighthawks on a peaceful summer evening.

I saw Painted Buntings, Least Bitterns, and other great birds at Savannah, Harris Neck, and Merritt Island NWRs and Viera Wetlands.  The trip ended on a high note with more swooping and soaring over a pasture in Brantley County, Georgia, where I was privileged to witness foraging kites.  I had previously seen many Swallow-tailed Kites, but seeing a large group feeding at close range was a totally different and amazing experience.  The birders who were there when I arrived estimated that there had been 60 Swallow-tailed Kites earlier, but there still at least 20 kites when I got there.  I watched the kites for nearly an hour and then I drove the rest of the way home, tired but happy and satisfied with all the wonderful birds that I had seen during my 5-day trip.

Swallow-tailed Kites

Swallow-tailed Kites

Read Full Post »

January 2012

Tricolored Heron at Merritt Island NWR

The moon has completed a full revolution around Earth since my last day of work and I haven’t even begun cleaning up my house.  But I have seen 149 species of birds, including 5 life birds.

January 3, the first workday of the year, was bitterly cold, but I felt an irresistible urge to get out of the house.  I drove around a bit and as I returned home, I saw dozens of both Black and Turkey Vultures patrolling my neighborhood and roosting in a backyard pine tree three houses down the street from my house.  I stopped my car in front of a neighbor’s house and stood in the street staring in amazement as the vultures flew low over the street.  My neighbor came out to ask what I was watching.  We talked a bit about the birds as we enjoyed the unusual sight.  Just as she walked back to her door, I screamed “Bald Eagle, Bald Eagle!” and she came running back.  I shared my binoculars and we watched an adult eagle fly over our heads.  This was the first time that I had met this neighbor, yet we jumped up and down and hugged like excited children.  She told me that she had seen the eagle perched in a tree in her backyard earlier that day, but did not know what it was.

My planned Florida trip was postponed at the last minute due to unexpected events, but my birthday was January 12 and I wanted to celebrate with birds.  On an impulse, I signed up for the Georgia Ornithological Society meeting in Tybee Beach, Georgia.  The trip got off to a wonderful start with a stop at Savannah NWR on the way to the meeting.  Three other birders were in the parking area when I arrived and we all birded the wildlife drive together.  Our sightings included a King Rail, who amazed us by walking around right out in the open.  We saw it from as close as 10-15 feet and heard it vocalize.  Life bird #1 for 2012!  The GOS meeting was great.  I continue to be impressed with both the skill and friendliness of Georgia birders.  I think that I enjoyed meeting new people as much as I enjoyed the birds.  And the meeting delivered life bird #2, a lovely, cooperative Snow Bunting on the beach with the Tybee Island shorebirds.

A few days at the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival completed my birding for the month.  I met more friendly birders and got 3 more life birds, Black Rail, Glaucous Gull, and Pomarine Jaeger.  The rail was heard only, but that’s all I expected.  I had great views of the Glaucous Gull as well as the jaeger as it harassed gulls just off shore.  In my spare time, I birded Merritt Island NWR, which has now become one of my favorite “hot spots.”

So, what did I learn with all this birding?

Female ducks CAN be identified.  Except for easy ones like Bufflehead and Ruddy Duck, I previously used the “look for the closest male” method of identifying female ducks.  Now I’m motivated to at least try to identify the females.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Gulls can be identified, too, even the sub-adults.  Now I’m also motivated to work on this group of birds.

Pay attention to Willets.  This is a beautiful underappreciated bird.  And, Eastern and Western Willet will be split, according to shorebird expert Kevin Karlson and other top birders.  Western Willets breed in the Great Plains and winter along all US coastlines and down into Mexico.  Eastern Willets breed all along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and winter in South America.  They can be distinguished by physical characteristics and voice.

Read Full Post »