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Posts Tagged ‘Red-shouldered Hawk’

After five days of birding in southeast Florida, it was time to pick up Kitty in Naples on Friday, April 17. Several weeks before the trip, I learned about the American Flamingos that had been discovered several years ago in Stormwater Treatment Area 2 (STA 2) in Palm Beach County. This year, for the first time, birders were being allowed access to the area through the Audubon Society of the Everglades. Wild flamingos are difficult birds to see. Even if one is willing to brave the heat and mosquitoes, Snake Bight in no longer a reliable option. When the birds sporadically show up in the Everglades, a boat is usually required to get to them. So, the STA 2 birds represented a unique opportunity. The only problem was that space on the scheduled trips was limited and many more people wanted to see the birds than there were spaces available. We were on the waiting list for Saturday, April 18. We had been told that if we made the cut, we would be notified two days prior to the trip, but in my mind I had set the cut-off time as noon on Friday. Everything went smoothly on Friday morning. I picked Kitty up at noon and after a quick stop at Eagles Lakes Park, we headed north.

Eagles Lake Park, Naples, on my first visit in 2007.

Eagles Lake Park, Naples, on my first visit in 2007.

We planned to drive through central Florida and spend the night in Winter Haven. Kitty had a fabulous Everglades trip and I enjoyed hearing about it as we slowly made our way north. We stopped for a late lunch/early dinner at Beef O’Brady’s in Arcadia at about 4:00 PM. While waiting for our food to arrive, I checked my email and there it was – a message that we were in for the Flamingo trip! I was caught by surprise and disoriented about where we were and where the flamingos were. The exact location had been kept secret from us, but I knew that it was about 40 minutes from Clewiston. Kitty calmly looked as a map and simply said, “We can do it.” So, we quickly replied “Yes” we will be there, cancelled our motel reservations, made new reservations for the night, and headed east.

Our route on Friday

Our route on Friday

State Road 70 seemed familiar to me. I was pretty sure that this was where David and I had found our lifer Crested Caracaras back in 2008, so I suggested to Kitty that she look up Crested Caracara in the Peterson field guide. A short time later, Kitty found her own Caracara and then two more.

Crested Caracara from my January trip to Florida

Crested Caracara from my January trip to Florida

The next morning I went to breakfast at the Best Western in Clewiston and saw two people who looked like birders. So, I took a chance, walked over and said “Good morning. Are you birders?” Yes, they were. Bill and Lena from Corvallis, Oregon and I chatted a few minutes and then I hurried to get ready for the drive to STA 2. We arrived half an hour early, but were still car #7. Car-pooling is strictly enforced for these trips and we were happy to have two rather new birders ride with us. The leaders didn’t waste any time after approximately 60 people were checked in. We drove the 7 miles to the area where the flamingos were usually seen as fast at the dirt roads allowed. Before we even stopped, the leader announced on his walkie-talkie that he saw the birds. Next I heard “They’re flying.” But before my heart sank, “They are coming closer!” Five American Flamingos were then feeding so close that we could see them without binoculars. With a scope, the view was wonderful. Yet they were far enough that we didn’t disturb their feeding.  We enjoyed watching as they stood on one leg and stomped with the other foot to stir up food from the bottom of the shallow water. They completely submerged their heads under the water to feed. Fascinating details about Flamingo diet and feeding behavior can be found here, here, and here.  The group consisted of serious birders, casual nature lovers, and everyone in between. There was mutual acknowledgement that this was special and we all shared the joy of the experience.

American Flamingos at STA 2, Palm Beach County

American Flamingos at STA 2, Palm Beach County

The STA 2 trip lasted from 9:00 AM until 1:00 PM. We drove 20 miles on the dirt berms and enjoyed many other birds in addition to the flamingos – Black Skimmers, White Pelicans, Black-necked Stilts, and more. Seeing the flamingos would have been a wonderful end to the trip, but we were not quite ready to head for home. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge was our next destination and the Quality Inn in Titusville was the logical place to spend the night.  Early the next morning, I went to breakfast and who did I see? Yes, Bill and Lena from Oregon again! The four of us enjoyed breakfast together and then Kitty and I headed to Merritt Island. It was MUCH quieter than when I’d been there in January, but Kitty and I are both easily amused and never fail to find something interesting. That morning it was the Red-breasted Mergansers cruising with backs raised and heads under water so that they looked more like mammals than birds. Kitty speculated that the water was too shallow for diving and back home that theory was confirmed.

My life Red-breasted Merganser from Honeymoon Island in 2007.

My life Red-breasted Merganser from Honeymoon Island in 2007.

Our last stop of the trip was the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland. It’s a very nice facility with all the native raptors of Florida. We especially enjoyed close-up looks at the Kestrel and Merlin. It was hot and our energy was running a little low on this day 11 of our travels. So, happy and tired, we headed for home.

Red-shouldered Hawk, a common Florida raptor observed earlier in the trip in Everglades National Park.

Red-shouldered Hawk, a common Florida raptor observed earlier in the trip in Everglades National Park.

While nothing was as exotic as Asia or South America, this was one of my favorite trips ever. Sharing much of it with friends made it even better. Part of me will always be a Florida girl and I am excited to think about the adventures that still await me there.

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Red for the Red-shouldered Hawk.  Red for the color of the snake’s belly.  Red for the blood on the hawk’s foot.  Here’s the story.

I was in Florida visiting my step-daughters and their families for the holiday.  My step-daughter Debbie’s significant other, Jim, volunteered to go birding with me the day after Thanksgiving.  We started out early, but due to bad directions and spontaneous birding in unplanned locations, we arrived at Paynes Prairie’s La Chua trail at 11:00 AM.  It wasn’t particularly birdy at that time of day, but it was nice to be out on a beautiful unseasonably warm late fall day.

Between the sinkhole and the tower, someone told us that there was a hawk in the ditch by the path.  Jim quickly saw the bird and it allowed us to approach within about 25 feet.  We enjoyed close looks at this beautiful bird for 10 minutes before it dropped to the ground and thrashed wildly.  It quickly became apparent what had happened when we saw the snake.  The hawk soon stopped thrashing and sat on the ground, its legs and feet thrust forward with the snake firmly grasped in its talons.  The snake, which appeared to be about 3 feet long, writhed and flipped itself around hitting the hawk with its tail, but it was subdued within 5 minutes or so and we saw no more movement from it after about 10 minutes.  The hawk did not appear to kill the snake using any particular method; he just started eating it beginning with the head.  Jim and I were the only ones present for the initial attack, but a crowd of more than 30 people quickly gathered.  Jim had my scope on the hawk and snake and we shared the close-up view with others in the crowd.  Someone identified the snake as a Florida water snake, a Nerodia, but in my excitement over the hawk, I forgot to pay close attention to the snake so that I could identify it to species.  Since then I’ve learned that there are 3 Nerodia species on the Paynes Prairie snake list.  Amazingly, the hawk tolerated all the attention for 20-30 minutes before it finally drug its lunch to the other side of the ditch and into the weeds.

A little research into the diet of Red-shouldered Hawks reveals that snakes are common prey.  According to Kenn Kaufman in “Lives of North American Birds”:

“Diet: Includes small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds.  Diet varies with region and season.  Main items often mammals such as voles and chipmunks, at other times frogs and toads; may eat many crayfish in some areas.  Also eats snakes, small birds, mice, large insects, occasionally fish, rarely carrion.”

This eHow article elaborates on the seasonal diet differences:

“The menu of the red-shouldered hawk changes from winter to summer. In the colder months the hawk hunts and eats warm-blooded prey such as small mammals and other birds. However, the bird prefers to eat cold-blooded creatures like crayfish, bugs, frogs, and snakes when the opportunity presents itself in the hot days of summer.”

And, finally, Wingmasters suggests that snakes are an apparent favorite food of Red-shouldered Hawks.

“In fact, red-shoulders may have a more varied diet than any other North American raptor. Just about everything alive is on the menu, from insects, spiders, crustaceans and fish up to mammals the size of young rabbits and squirrels. Reptiles and amphibians are frequently eaten, with snakes an apparent favorite.”

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