Egrets at Chincoteague

This is the last of the posts about our trip to Blackwater and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. It was a very windy morning that my husband and I photographed two kinds of Egrets along the main drive of the refuge. We used the car as a blind – rolling down the windows on the driver’s side (I was in the back seat) and stopping whenever we spotted something we wanted to photograph. The sequence below is of a Snowy Egret…fishing with the wind ruffling its feathers.

A little further along another Snowy Egret sat still for a portrait (face and yellow feet)!

A Great Egret caught a fish!

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After than action – it continued to search for food. I missed the beginning of the action and the bird must have been frustrated because it didn’t come up with a fish!

This was a very different experience from the Egret Rookery in Dallas (see post here) where the birds were nesting rather than searching for food.

Rookery at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School

The rookery in the middle of Dallas – on the campus of UT Southwestern Medical School – is busy this time of year. I was there a little over a week ago and the egrets (mostly Great Egrets but some Snowy Egrets as well) were numerous and somewhat acclimated to people watching them. When we first arrived, there was a Great Egret on the ground retrieving a stick to enlarge the nest. And then we looked up in the trees and saw a lot of birds. I noticed the trees from the window of one of the nearby medical buildings where I’d taken my mother for a doctor’s appoint on a rainy day earlier in the week…and the birds were big enough to be noticeable from across the street. I’d worked in the area early in my career (about 45 years ago now!) and there had been lots of talk of cutting down the trees to expand the medical school; the protests back then saved the birds’ nesting area. The rookery has probably been there since the levies were built along the Trinity River and the trees cut down between the levies. The location of the rookery is not far outside the levies and has been active since the 1940s at least.

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There is a lot of bird interaction. I took this series that shows how spiky the feathers on the head can look. Were these Great Egrets having an argument over nest configuration?

Preening is also important for all the gorgeous breeding plumage.

There are Snowy Egrets around too – yellow around the eyes and yellow ‘socks’ on their feet. They are smaller than the Great Egrets but the distinctive features are easy to spot as well. They seemed relatively calmer than the bigger birds on the day I was there.

The Great Egrets provided the best portrait opportunities – with the tree and then zoomed in to almost fill the frame.

Sometimes they sit at the very top of the tree. Are they in sentinel mode when they do? Or maybe they are getting ready to fly out above the traffic and medical buildings and levy…to the river in search of fish for lunch. Soon the eggs will hatch, and the adults will be busy finding enough to feed the chicks.

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There is a small parking area on Campus (off UT Southwestern Drive) and a paved walkway back to a memorial area with a bench – perfect for people that want to enjoy the birds but not walk very far. There is also a loop mulch path that I’ll try next time I am in Dallas in the springtime. There are a lot of birds there from March through May…and some year-round residents. But the egrets – Great and Snow are the most numerous of the birds this time of year.

Rainy Morning at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

The last morning of the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival was rainy. We’d signed up for a field trip about birding by ear and habitat at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. It was one of the few field trips that was not cancelled entirely but it was changed considerably by the weather. We talked through the topic of using other than markings for bird identification – songs, habitat, silhouettes, behavior…and then did the best we could to observe some birds. We didn’t do any hiking…just observed what we could from the visitor center and from within the car along the wildlife loop. Still – it wasn’t a bad morning for seeing birds. The visitor center has feeders that attract Painted Buntings this time of year. What a treat to see these brightly colored small birds!

Then it was out to the wildlife loop to look at water birds. The first one we saw was a smallish white bird at the edge of the water. In was in the right habitat for a heron or egret…about the size of a cattle egret but in the wrong habitat since they are usually in fields. It was a juvenile Little Blue Heron with green legs and a washed out looking face….definitely not a Snowy Egret.

There was a group of Northern Shovelers feeding – living up to the ‘shoveler’ name.

Glossy Ibis were feeding in the shallows and mud.

There were some Roseate Spoonbills feeding almost out of range of my camera. Watch the one in the center in this sequence.

There were was a mixed group of birds: Roseate SpoonBills, American Avocets, and a Great Egret. That area near that shore must have been rich pickings.

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A little further along the shower there was a group of American White Pelicans in the water. The group might have been working together to herd fish into the shallows – easy feeding.

Last but not least - a Tricolored Heron made an appearance. It too was looking for breakfast in the shallows.

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Overall – it was not a bad ending for the festival. It would have been better had it not be raining…and even better if the sun had come out. We picked up some snacks intended for some trips that were cancelled and headed back to the hotel to pack for the trek home the next day. Both my husband and I enjoyed the festival and I’m sure we’ll do it again – leaving more time between field trips (and before/after the festival) to do some photography at our own pace. It’s a rich area for birding and more comfortable in the winter than it is in the summer.

Water Birds of Central Florida

Continuing the third day of the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival…today’s post is still based in the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area…observing birds around the lakes rather than woodpeckers.

On bird that was new-to-me was the Limpkin. It’s a crane relative and lives in the Americas. Their diet is mollusks – dominated by apple snails.

Here’s a sequence of one walking.

Another bird that I had not seen before and that also eats apple snails is the Snail Kite. I was hunting on the same lake as the limpkin and it found a snail – took the snail to a post in the water to eat.

There were empty snail shells in the water so both birds were probably getting enough to eat. Most of the shells were the larger apple snail which is invasive to Florida but both birds can apparently eat them as easily as they do the native species.

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There were three kinds of white birds around: the juvenile Little Blue Herons,

(which grow up to have gray-blue adult plumage with some red on their neck and heads),

The Snowy Egret with its black legs and yellow feet,

And a Great Egret which was the largest of the three.

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There was a Great Egret in a tree near where we had a picnic lunch. Evidently he gets fed nearby and is named Pete.

There were two other herons beside the Little Blue: Tricolored Heron and

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A Great Blue Heron in the tall grass.

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Nearby there was a Sandhill Crane barely visible in the grass and its mate standing nearby. I took a picture of the one that was standing. Evidently sandhill cranes seen as pairs in Florida are resident;  they don’t migrate. There are cranes that come for the winter but don’t breed in Florida and they generally stay in larger groups.

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There were Anhinga around sunning themselves or preening. They are easier to photograph out of the water.

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The Common Gallinule has very large feet. To make it easier for them to walk on vegetation in the water.

There were a lot of insects that the bird was finding on the grasses near the water.

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A near relative – the Purple Gallinule – was doing the same thing.

There was a juvenile nearby. I liked the way the light changes the colors of the bird. It was like the color of peacocks and morpho butterflies…changing color with every slight variation in light. They too have big feet.

I saw a Pied-billed Grebe just as it turned away…got one picture.

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A Glossy Ibis was also enjoying the lakeshore…finding food.

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It was a good day for water birds. There were even more (white pelicans, some ducks) but they were too far out on the lakes to get reasonable pictures. I was pleased to see three new-to-me birds: snail kite, limpkin, and purple gallinule.

Zooming – January 2019

I have a bigger than usual group of images for the zooming post this month – primarily from a trip from Florida last week. They’ll be more details in posts coming out over the next few weeks. So sit back and enjoy the slide show. It only includes one snow picture!

Josey Ranch Birds – Part II

There was finally another sunny day in Carrollton TX and I headed over to Josey Ranch Park again. I was lucky enough to arrive about the same time two women arrived with food for the birds. Two swans were at the boardwalk before the women could make their way from the parking lot to the boardwalk; the swans must recognize the signs of a forthcoming meal. The pigeons and seagulls flew in quickly.

After the crowd of birds gathered to enjoy the feast – the coots seemed to be arguing – chasing each other and churning the water. The northern shovelers in the background did not hurry over like the other birds.

How many birds can you identify in this picture? (see the bottom of this blog post for the most prominent ones). This is a good picture to see the relative size of the birds as well.

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There are not very many mallards at the lake this time of year. The light changes the green coloring of their head; sometimes the feathers look black!

Lesser Scaups are more prevalent.

The Great Egret is there every time ago – must be a resident.

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Pigeons are on the roof of the nearby senior center and library except with there is food! Iridescent neck feather and red eye – oh my!

The Northern Shovelers are not quite as numerous as the Lesser Scaups and they seem relatively used to people being about.

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I managed to get a seagull taking off from the lake – watch the one to the center right.

Birds in the ID quiz picture: swan (partial) on the far left, Canada geese in the upper third, ducks with large bills and rust colored sides are male Northern Shovelers, ducks with light sides and brown heads (yellow eyes) are male Lesser Scaups, coot in lower right (black with pointy beak), pigeon (partial) on bottom margin, gull?  Inflight in the upper left.

Josey Ranch Birds – Part I

After the sadness of seeing the dead crow, I headed over to the Josey Ranch Lake to see the birds that were still very much alive. The day was still cloudy…but the birds didn’t seem to care.

There were Lesser Scaup – which I had seen during precious visits to Carrolton during the winter and early spring (February 2015, January 2017, and March 2017).

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The Northern Shovelers are there for the winter as well.

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The Great Egret is there all through the year.

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As are the Mute Swans.

Canadian geese are not as common. I had not seen them before this year at this small lake in Texas.

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American Coots and pigeons were plentiful and sometimes were in mixed groups on the shore.

The sea gulls – far from any sea – seem happier on the water.

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in August 2018 – Part III

Continuing the posts about last week’s visit to  Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, this post features the birds we saw. The first was a Great Blue Heron in one of the lotus ponds. It was moving around. Maybe it was looking for breakfast, but it didn’t find it while we watched.

We saw a Great Egret just off the boardwalk out over the marsh toward the Anacostia River. It was looking for breakfast…and found a fish!

A fish crow surveyed the marsh overhead….making noise to let the rest of the marsh know we were there.

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Further out toward the river were some more Great Egrets on a snag among the drying lily pads. One flew off its perch after a fish and then continued hunting among the lily pads.

As we walked back through the gardens toward the parking lot, my husband spotted a Great Blue Heron on a bridge over a pond. Do you see it?

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We slowly walked toward it. It noticed us and turned around….then flew off.

We noticed as we crossed the bridge that it must use the bridge railing as a perch frequently – based on the white bird droppings there.

Josey Ranch Lake – Other Birds

I’ve posted about the herons and mallards at Josey Ranch Lake earlier this week. There were some other birds at the lake.

The grackles are probably the most numerous birds at the lake. I like to photograph the birds showing their attitude.

The next most numerous birds are pigeons. Most of them were on the roofs of the senior center or library – surveying the lake or grooming.

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A Great Egret was feeding in the shallows near the Great Blue Heron….the lake seems to have enough food to support quite a few birds.

I saw one swan. I wondered if something had happened to the others. In April I saw two and several times in previous years that have been 3 or more.

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Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge in Spring

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I visited Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge earlier this week. The day was too cold and too windy….but was the only one that fit it the schedule. I remembered to take pictures of the metal work near the visitor center.

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In the garden near the front of the visitor center, I didn’t see any butterflies…but there were dried blooms from last season left on the trumpet vine growing on the arbor and a clump of bluebonnets (we’d seen larger patches as we drove to the refuge along the highway).

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We decided to use our car and a moving blind and protection from the wind….making our way slowly around the wildlife drive of the refuge. There were not many birds but enough to make some photography attempts. The most unusual was a Eared Grebe in breeding plumage. Someone in the visitor center had commented about seeing a pair but we only saw one.

There were some American avocets a little too far away for a good picture on a cloudy day. They can be identified with the picture I took….and there is a Great Egret in the foreground.

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There were also Snowy Egrets (black bill and legs, yellow feet).

Very far out in the water on snags were American White Pelicans and Double Crested Cormorants.

The Greater Yellowlegs was closer and intent on finding some lunch.

The Great Blue Herons were numerous and seemed to all have the blue topknot of mature birds.

We saw one turtle positioned for maximum sun (warmth) but there were probably more.

There were still some Northern Shovelers on the water; most of them have left for their breeding grounds in the north. A pair of Blue Winged Teals were hiding in the plants beside the road as we were leaving; they are close to their breeding grounds based on the allaboutbirds map…so might have just been making a last stop over.

I took a few shots of wild flowers as we drove out of refuge….just rolled down the window and used the zoom!

Not bad for a cold, cloudy day!

Posts from my visit in November 2017: part 1, part 2.

The Inn at Chachalaca Bend

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Our main activity for the last day of the Rio Grande Valley Birding festival was breakfast (sumptuous) as the The Inn at Chachalaca Bend followed my a walk around the grounds looking at birds. We started near the Inn’s deck on the bank of La Resaca de las Antonias. We saw a Belted Kingfisher on the electrical wires crossing the Resaca almost immediately!

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A Great Blue Heron and Great Egret had a little conference in the distance.

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There was a broken tree trunk (or old telephone pole) near the water….a perch for an Altamira Oriole.

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Directly across from the Inn an Anhinga dropped down into the water to capture a fish then walked back up a palm that was slanting over the water.

Nearby on a snag, a Golden Fronted Woodpecker searched for breakfast.

There was a ruckus and then a larger bird flew toward us over the water and sat on the electrical wire nearest us: a Ringed Kingfisher.

There was Great Kiskadee on the wire further away

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And a Black-crowned Night-Heron in the vegetation across from where were standing.

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The kiskadee flew away and we notice a kite (probably white tailed…but hard to tell for sure).

We left the Resaca to hike around some open field areas. We saw an American Kestrel looking at the meadow.

As we headed back almost to the edge of the path through a forested area, we looked up and saw masses of migrating American White Pelicans! There were several groups…maybe as many as 1,000 birds.

The path branched off to the edge of the Resaca again and we saw a Snowy Egret (note the yellow feet which is a distinctive feature for this bird even if the focus is not very good for the picture).

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As we got ready to leave, we gathered back at the Inn and saw a hummingbird at the feeder (probably Ruby-throated).

There were a few plants I took pictures of…but they were secondary to the birds!

South Padre Island and Bay Cruise – Part 3

The last part of the field trip was a cruise on the bay. The first ‘sight’ was a lighthouse with scaffolding around it as we neared the dock on our bus.

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Then we were off and looking for Peregrine Falcons under the bridge. We spotted several but there was only one that was positioned for pictures.

There were mud flats with Laughing Gulls,

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An Osprey surveying the scene, and

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A Great Blue Heron walking awkwardly in the mud.

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There was an island that provide roosting sites for Great Blue Herons (7 of them in the foreground) and Roseate Spoonbills (8-10 of them in the background).

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This is the best picture I got of the Roseate Spoonbills as we cam around their side of the island.

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Brown Pelicans, Double-crested Cormorants, and laughing gulls were groups on the sandy beach.

What birds to you see in these two pictures? So you see the Green-winged teals (2 males and a female), Black-Necked Stilt (2), Great Egret, Laughing gulls.

As we headed back to the dock, there were Double-Crested cormorants on pilings we were passing

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And a Laughing Gull settled on the highest point of our boat.

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There were so many Brown Pelicans. It’s thrilling that their numbers have recovered from the brink of extinction caused by pesticide pollution!

South Padre Island and Bay Cruise – Part 2

Our second stop was the South Padre Island Convention Center. There are boardwalks on one side of the building for birds (and other wildlife) viewing. My best pictures there were: black-necked stilt,

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An alligator that was still at first but then headed toward the shore…stalking

A Common Gallinule that was making its way close to the shore (fortunately it wandered further upslope…no drama),

We walked to an area where there was a small area of planted vegetation. The small birds there were too hard to photography in the vegetation, but there were quite a few monarchs roosting…a little rest before continuing their migration.

We continued around the convention center buildings. There was a Little Blue Heron on an abutment,

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A pelican almost too far out in the water (I didn’t notice the grebe until I looked at the image on the larger screen of my computer),

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A Great Egret (not the black legs and feet),

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At the front of the convention center, I took some pictures of the facades. These must hold up to coastal storms.

There were mud flats on the other side of the convention center….mostly drying since the tide was out. There were White Pelicans,

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Black Skimmers (in the foreground), and

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A strutting Tricolor Heron.

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As we walked back to the bus, there were some White Ibis walking across the parking lot with us. The underside of the bill was different than I expected!

Closer to the bus were some laughing gulls in the parking lot. One seemed to yawn….a good ‘last’ picture for this segment of the field trip.