Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bird Banding

What a fantastic experience!  I spent the morning at a home in Alachua, Florida, watching bird banders at work.  Patrick Brady (left) and Jennifer Grindle are working with the Smithsonian Institute on a project that will track how long specific feeder birds continue to return to the same yard.  The target birds are Northern Cardinals, Carolina Wrens, and Carolina Chickadees.  Patrick and Jennifer set up the nets at 6:00 this morning, and we had two Cardinals almost immediately.  Eventually they caught, banded and released five Cardinals and two Wrens.   Chickadees seemed to surround us at times, but they avoided the nets rather easily.  Each target bird was weighed, checked for body fat, banded, and released (after several of us had the chance to hold them!).  Also captured were two Tufted Titmice and a very loud Red-bellied Woodpecker.  It’s hard to see, but the Wren I’m holding (top right) was very docile and seemed genuinely curious about what we wanted and why we were disturbing his morning.  

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Plan for Peeps

I spent time today with several references on shorebirds.  Next time I go out, I have a plan for those little peeps.  I'm going to look for one that sweeps back and forth with its bill fairy straight down, think "Least" and then study the field marks.  I'll look for one that's in a little deeper water or probing a little deeper with the bill extended forward a bit, think "Western" and then look at field marks.  Finally, I'll look for one that's more aggressive, bill forward and feeding with nervous more shallow pecks, think "Semi-palm" and then look at field marks.  I'm trying to learn to observe behavioral patterns in shorebirds, and this looks like as good a place to start.  I have no clue if this will help, but what the heck, it's worth a shot.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Merritt Island 7/25/2012

Today was a terrific day of birding and learning.  With my birding buddy, I left Gainesville at 4:00 AM, heading toward Merritt Island NWR.  On impulse we decided to travel via Sanford and do a bit of nosing around a county that neither of us knows very well.  We ended up spending a little time driving along W. Osceola Road until we reached an area known as the Osceola Fish Camp.  It looks like a gorgeous spot, but the grass was too high, the trails hadn't been mowed, and the water was WAY off in the distance.  Since the target was MINWR and shorebirds, we gave the place only a cursory look and decided it would be better in winter.  Still, I scored two county ticks for Seminole, an American Coot in Lake Monroe and a Prairie Warbler in the parking lot of the "Fish Camp".  I'll find out the correct name of the place and report it in a future blog.

Then we went on to Merritt Island and had a wonderful day studying shorebirds.  I readily admit that shorebirds are daunting at times.  I mean, usually when we see them in Florida, they all look alike.  OK, not really, but how many shades of beige are there?  So today was a treat.  Many of the birds were in breeding plumage or close enough to it to make them look different ...  and beautiful.  Hey, there was a Spotted Sandpiper that had spots!  Who knew?  So, knowing me, you wouldn't expect me to say this:  I really enjoyed looking at a flock of peeps and deciding which were Leasts, Semipalmateds, and Westerns.  I actually started to see differences in bill thickness, length and shape.  That was cool.  I was thrilled to become suspicious of a slightly larger bird whose primaries projected beyond the tail and then find a nice white rump peeking out from under the folded wings.  I was pleased to see the butt-bobbing walk of a Solitary and then be able to confirm that with  few details.  Add killer looks at nearly a dozen Stilt Sandpipers and four baby Black-necked Stilts, and you have a great day.  And I added five county ticks to my Brevard list ... hoo-rah!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Listing - For Fun and Memories

OK, I admit it ... I'm a lister.  I have a separate list for each of Florida's 67 counties and for several states, mostly along the eastern coast from Florida to Pennsylvania.  I've heard a lot of criticism of listers claiming that we are only interested in the tick on a checklist and not in the birds themselves.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  First, I became a lister because I never want to take a bird for granted.  I have celebrated finding a Northern Cardinal in 66 Florida counties and about a half-dozen states.  Since I don't count heard birds, each of those ticks represent a moment spent watching and appreciating that gorgeous bird.  Second, listing has led me to some of the most beautiful vistas in Florida: Merritt Island, Ding Darling, Torreya, Florida Caverns, Key West, St. Marks, and many, many more.  And I have a reason to go back to Hardee County where I inexplicably dipped on a Cardinal twice!  Finally, each list represents a memory, perhaps a roadside sighting, a small discovery, a laugh-out-loud moment, or some terrific people.  So, I say list away ...  always complying with the ABA's Birder's Code of Ethics, of course.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Pelagic Birding 7/15/2012

I just returned home from a great pelagic trip with Micael Brothers's group from the Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet.  I'm not a really an experienced pelagic birder and have so much to learn, so this trip was exactly what I needed.  Imagine 40+ shearwaters floating on the ocean just 50 feet off the starboard side.  Imagine having time to study Cory's and Great Shearwaters side by side at leisure and suppose a Black-capped Petrel was swimming along with the rest.  That happened twice yesterday!  Imagine having the chance to casually examine the variations in the rump bands on Wilson's, Band-rumped and Leach's Storm-Petrels.  That happened numerous times.  Best of all, I was able to identify a bird while it floated or danced on the water, and then study that same bird's flight style once it took to the air.  For a guy who has been birding for only 11 years, that was a priceless experience.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Did Yogi Know Birding?

 Yogi Berra has been quoted as saying, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.”  He was talking about baseball, but the same can be said about the June Challenge.  Over the years, I’ve come to realize that the JC doesn’t end until there is no light left on the night of June 30 … and maybe even just a few minutes after that.

One year I had tried repeatedly to see the Barn Owl that reportedly was hanging out around the observation platform at Paynes Prairie just off US 441.  During the month I collected many mosquito bites there, but no owl.  On June 30, Rex Rowan and I lingered on the platform until there was no light left.  An owl would have to land on us for us to see it.  Resigned to our fate, we headed back to my van.  I opened the tailgate and the inside light came on.  And in that little bit of light we saw a Barn Owl flutter directly over our heads, just a few feet away.  We celebrated with whoops and high fives, and we thanked heavens that we had stayed around to that last minute; the precise minute the Barn Owl chose to swoop over our heads.

This year my nemesis bird was the Black-crowned Night Heron.  I whiffed repeatedly trying to catch a glimpse of one.  Then Rex sent out an email suggesting that one might find something interesting by being on the pier at Powers Park just after sunset.  So on the last night of the month, that’s where I was.  Sunset was at 8:34. On a gorgeous evening, herons, egrets, and blackbirds swarmed by the dock, but there was no sign of anything new.  At 8:50 it was almost too dark to see.  At 8:53, I reached for my flashlight to light the way back to the van.  As I did, I heard the distinctive “quok” of a Black-crowned Night Heron.  I spun around, searching for the bird.  It called again from just above me.  There it was … literally in the last seconds of light … the final tick of a wonderful month of birding.

Yogi was a smart guy, but I’ll bet he never knew he was really talking about the June Challenge.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Birding and Blogging in Retirement

Finally, I've retired.  I've got nothing to do but go birding.  I started with a great June Challenge (116 birds in Alachua County, Florida), but now it's on to new stuff.  This weekend I'll be 100+ miles off the east coast of Florida hoping for a Leach's Storm-Petrel, a Red-billed Tropicbird, or a Sooty Shearwater.  I'll be in Texas and Tennessee in September, Texas again in November, and possibly Pennsylvania somewhere in the middle.

Look out, world ... Bob's Gone Birding!