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Posts Tagged ‘Purple Gallinule’

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

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In July I made a quick trip to Florida to see my step-daughters in Gainesville with the usual stops at Savannah NWR and Harris Neck NWR.  I enjoyed seeing dragonflies, bugs, toads, and wildflowers in addition to birds and butterflies.  I especially liked the beautiful Gulf Fritillaries.

Gulf Fritillary at Harris Neck NWR

Gulf Fritillary at Harris Neck NWR

In Gainesville, the animal highlight was Debbie’s new horse, Charlie, who is just as sweet as she said.

Liz watches Casey and Debbie take Charlie for a walk

Liz watches Casey and Debbie take Charlie for a walk

After a few days with the girls and their families, it was time to head back home.  At Savannah NWR, I was able to snap a shot of this Purple Gallinule as it was running away from me.  This is one of the birds that I remember from the early 1980’s in South Florida and it’s still one of my favorites.

Purple Gallinule at Savannah NWR

Purple Gallinule at Savannah NWR

Back home, it was time to leave the deck light on at night again.  I was quickly rewarded with The Hebrew (moth).  I love the simple, elegant black and white pattern.

The Hebrew

The Hebrew

A week later, I saw my first Monarch of the year – in my own yard.  I don’t have milkweed as a host plant (too much shade), so I felt bad that I didn’t have a place for her to lay eggs.  I don’t have many flowers for nectaring either, so I was surprised and very happy to see this butterfly, especially during a year in which they have been rather scarce.

Monarch (female) on Summersweet, Clethra alnifolia

Monarch (female) on Summersweet, Clethra alnifolia

All things lepidoptera heated up in August.  I photographed this Common Buckeye (which really is common) in a friend’s yard.

Common Buckeye in the Schepker/Schneider yard

Common Buckeye in the Schepker/Schneider yard

My favorite photo of the summer is probably this Little Glassywing.  Gene tries to get me to photograph skippers from the side to get all the field marks, but I love the face shots.

Little Glassywing

Little Glassywing

August 15 was a very exciting day for moths.  First, I discovered this gorgeous Imperial Moth outside my front door.  You can see how big he was – almost as “tall” as a brick and he appeared to be in perfect condition.

Imperial Moth (male)

Imperial Moth (male)

Later that same day, my friend Cynthia called to say that she was watching a Luna in the weeds at one of our local birding spots.  Of course, I ran right over to get my “lifer” Luna Moth.  He was missing an entire hindwing, but he was still beautiful to me.

Luna Moth

Luna Moth

The next day, August 16, I participated in the Iredell County NABA count in Statesville, NC, led by Gene Schepker.  We were at Allison Woods when Gene spotted a Harvester.  Before anyone else could see the butterfly, a truck came driving up the gravel road.  Gene’s immediate response was, “I’m going to stop those guys.”  I have no idea what Gene said, but the truck stopped and three men got out, two of them in National Guard uniforms.  In the meantime, the rest of us had lost track of the butterfly.  One of the men pointed to a branch on a nearby tree and there it was!  They patiently waited 10-15 minutes while we admired and photographed the butterfly.

Harvester at Allison Woods

Harvester at Allison Woods

The Harvester flew to the road and began puddling.  Gene explained that he was collecting nutrients to include with his sperm in a special package (a spermatophore) that he would deliver to the female when they mated.  The nutrients in this special “gift” enable the female to produce and lay eggs.  Gene also shared the fascinating fact that Harvesters are America’s only carnivorous butterfly (in the caterpillar stage).  The only food source for Harvester caterpillars is wooly aphids.  Thus, they grow quickly and have only four instar stages instead of the typical five stages for most butterflies.  The men from the truck listened attentively as did the rest of us.  This was more education that one usually gets on a butterfly count and it added to the fun of the day.

Harvester

Harvester

Later in August, Gene joined Cynthia and me to look for butterflies at the little wetland where Cynthia had found the Luna Moth.  Gene found Least Skippers, a new species for me, in grasses by the water’s edge.  They were tiny and liked to hide, so I didn’t get a very good look at them.  The next day I went back to try for a photograph, but I couldn’t even find the skippers.  Fortunately for me, Cynthia stopped to help when she drove by and saw me.  She found the skippers and I was able to get this photo, one of the most challenging of the summer.

Least Skipper

Least Skipper

Summer isn’t officially over yet and neither is moth or butterfly season, but it’s fall migration, so birds have priority now.  In addition to watching birds near home, a trip to India is coming up soon and a trip to Alaska is in the works for summer 2015.

More of my moth photos can be seen on Flickr in the Moths of Forsyth County, NC album.  My butterfly photos are in the Butterflies album.

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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

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