Birding Near Titusville

After the long field trip to Central Florida, the next day we had a shorter one to hot spots around Titusville. It felt a lot easier getting to a 6:30 AM bus than the 5 AM bus the previous day. The first stop was Hatbill Park…just as the sun was coming up.

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The Grackles were the first birds we noticed…because they were noisily welcoming the day.

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As the light got better there were other birds to notice: a Little Blue Heron fishing in the shallows.

A Red-shouldered Hawk almost too far away to photograph but showing its very distinctive tail as it flew away.

There was an Eastern Phoebe and

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Savannah Sparrow to represent smaller birds.

Some Brown Pelicans flew over the lake.

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We headed off to or next stop – a walk back into the woods. There were very large Live Oaks with Spanish moss, resurrection fern, and ghost orchids and

Quite a few American Robins. Some robins stick around in Maryland but some push southward and accumulate in Florida.

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There was a Red-Bellied Woodpecker that showed himself at just about every angle. They do have a little red on their bellies!

Florida has red maples just as we do in Maryland although the ones in Florida had formed their samaras months in advance of our trees.

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Ball Moss – a relative of Spanish moss (both Bromeliads rather than mosses) – was growing in some of the trees. It looks tidy rather than raggedy like the Spanish Moss.

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The Sabal Palmettos had ferns growing in their boots (the stubs of branches along the trunk). One of the other field trip participants identified it as a gold foot fern.

An Eastern Phoebe sat around long enough to be photographed here too.

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One stop was a neighborhood pond that has a population of resident Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks. They were noisy. Hopefully they quiet down at dusk.

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There were White Ibis in the pond as well. They seemed even more acclimated to people.

The next stop was a neighborhood park where there was a resident pair of Sandhill Cranes.

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Then we headed off to Dixie Crossroads (restaurant) for lunch. I took a picture of the mural as I came out of the restaurant – it featured a lot of the birds we had been seeing.

The post tomorrow will be about what we saw after lunch.

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.

Festival of the Cranes – part 11

After the fly out, we spent the rest of the morning driving slowly around the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge wildlife loop. We used our car as a blind since it was still cold, and we were seeing quite a lot right along the road. A meadowlark with plumped feathers posed for a portrait.

A coyote crossed the road and continued to follow its nose. We never did see what the animal smelled.

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A lesser goldfinch was eating seeds. The refuge leaves a lot of standing seed plants for birds like these.

A pair of white crowned sparrows watched us from a snag.

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The sandhill cranes were in the fields – enjoying the bounty of the refuge provides. Historically more of the cranes continued to Mexico but the Bosque’s management program provides reliable food for them through the winter…and the cranes stay.

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We found our way back around to the flight deck ponds and got out to watch the birds on the water. We watched the mergansers, other ducks and snow geese. Something startled the snow geese and they all flew away except for one that was struggling in the water. At first, I thought it was somehow stuck in the mud because the bird seemed to be trying to take off. Then it had a muscle spasm and moved its head to point to the sky in an awkward way. Within a minute the bird was still. Later in the afternoon I found out that the bird had probably died of avian cholera. The snow geese on the refuge are plagued by this disease and the refuge managers collect carcasses as quickly as possible to control the infection, but it’s a challenge with the birds being in such proximity to each other on the ponds. There are instances where birds have died in flight.

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It was a rather sad end to the drive around the wildlife loop but thought provoking. Refuges are not safe havens from disease and they are limited enough in size that congregations of birds are larger than they might have been before the diversion of the Rio Grande for other uses.

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Festival of the Cranes – part 10

We got up early for the last day of the Festival of the Cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge to see the flyout. There were more clouds on the east horizon than in previous days. They made for deeper color of the sunrise.

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The water around the sandhill cranes that were just beginning to move around was tinged pink.

A few begin flying away but most of them stayed put.

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It was a cold morning and a thin layer of ice had formed on the water. I took a series of pictures of a crane carefully walking and breaking through the ice.

The morning light began to fade as the clouds blocked the sun. A juvenile sandhill crane seemed to pose for my camera. The redhead feathers of adulthood are still to come for this bird.

I finally managed to capture the drama of the flock of snow geese leaving the pond. They swirl up into the air. Sometimes they come back to the same pond; other times they go somewhere else. I guess it depends on what caused them to fly up and out.

As cranes take off from the water – the legs are still down but they ‘point their toes,’ becoming more aerodynamic. I’m always in awe of how close together they can be and not get their wings tangled as they take off.

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Finally – I took some pictures of a single crane surrounded by snow geese – head pointed up and vocalizing, flapping wings. Was the bird celebrating the morning, calling other cranes to join him, or just starting a normal crane day?

It was a good conclusion to the last fly out of this festival.

Festival of the Cranes – part 9

After the Raptor ID tour, we had lunch then rested at our hotel until time for the ‘fly in’ at sunset. It was the only day we managed to be available at that time.  We decided to observe from the ponds along the refuge’s wildlife loop. There were other people that had the same idea but not enough to make it crowded. There was a crowd of snow geese already on the water and feeding on shore as well. I find myself drawn to the blue morphs…just to see something other than white mounds.

By the time the sandhill cranes started coming in it was too dark to get good pictures at the water level. I took a few images with the evening light…birds – cliffs – trees.

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Some Canadian geese were seeking their evening roost as well.

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Right before we left – I too a picture of the moon…pretty good shot for a bridge camera on a monopod!

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Ten Little Celebrations – November 2018

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At the beginning of November, we had a short burst of color before the leaves fell off the trees. I celebrated a glorious fall day…wishing the season had not been so short this year.

HoLLIE (Howard County Legacy Leadership Institute for the Environment) graduation was this month after accumulating enough volunteer hours since finishing the class last spring.

And then came the Festival of the Cranes with so many little celebrations:

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Seeing sandhill cranes in flight – being close enough to their fly out to hear the first few high-power flaps of their wings.

Seeing two barn owls circle above the field where I was standing. It was a first for me….so beautiful and ghost-like.

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Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. It was my first visit to the place and it’s hard to choose the high point maybe it was the screwbean mesquite the herd of pronghorn playing a running game with our caravan or seeing a shrike with a meal.

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Hooded Mergansers. It was not the first time I had seen the birds (there were some on a local (Maryland) pond we visited during our 5th HoLLIE class). But they were not displaying like the birds we saw during the Festival of the Cranes.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. What an amazing place….and great hosts to the Festival of the Cranes. I am already planning to go again! There are so many sights and sounds to celebrate here.

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Home again. I celebrate returning every time I am away for longer than a couple days.

Bald Eagle seen from my office window. The morning we left to drive to Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving, a bald eagle flew over the forest behind our house while I was shutting down my laptop for the road trip. It continued over our house. Since I saw a pair of eagles soaring a nearby shopping center recently, I think perhaps their nest is somewhere in the forest along the Middle Patuxent River near us. What a way to start the Thanksgiving holiday!

Thanksgiving….celebrating the day…realizing how much I am thankful for.

Festival of the Cranes – part 7

The third fly out of our visit to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge was back at the ponds along the road rather than the flight deck.  The thermometer said it was not as cold as our first morning…but it was still very cold. The pink morning light on the ponds gave the crane groups other world looks.

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Ribbons of snow geese flew in.

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A northern shoveller was feeding among the legs of the cranes. I managed to catch a picture when it swam into an open patch of water.

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There was an intermingling of the snow geese and cranes. I noticed when I looked at this picture more closely that there are white snow geese and the darker morph of the snow geese (all with a dark grin patch – always reminds me of a streak of dark ‘lipstick’) plus some Ross’s geese that are smaller and without the dark grin patch.

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But my photographic objective for the morning was to photograph cranes in flight. I picked two series for this blog post. I like to look at the wings….how the cranes change the configurations of their wings. It is obvious that is takes a lot more effort for them to land and take off (previous blog posts) than it does to stay aloft. 

When it’s two or three birds, it’s likely to be a family group. The group of five could a family group too since the birds have clutch sizes of 1-3 eggs. This could be a very successful breeding pair!

Festival of the Cranes – part 5

On the third day in New Mexico, I had signed up for a morning of Point and Shoot Photography at Bosque del Apache. It was a 6 AM start so the sun was just beginning to come up.

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The snow geese were spooked before sunrise and took off. I took a video but otherwise just enjoyed the drama of a lot of birds taking flight at the same time.

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It was a time of color and silhouettes.

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The light got warmer as the sunrise progressed. There were cranes overhead and I like the silhouettes against the brightening sky.  I was experimenting with the ‘sports’ setting on my camera – good for bodies in motion…including birds.

A little later but still early enough to have great morning light, we saw a small group of cranes and I took multiple series as parts of the group took flight.  It’s interesting to see how they move their wings to life themselves from the water; the powerful first strokes are different than the way the wings move once they are aloft. I’ve included 5 sequences with this post. This experience was probably the highpoint of the morning for photography.

Continuing around the wild life loop we spotted a killdeer near the edge of a pond…enjoying a bath and the looking around the debris for breakfast.

The highpoint for birding was the snipe that I finally managed to see. They blend in with their surroundings!

Festival of the Cranes – part 2

Our first morning at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge was before the festival officially started. We got up early to travel from our hotel to the ponds along the road just before the visitor center before dawn --- to see the fly out of sandhill cranes that roost there overnight. It was the coldest morning of the week! We bundled up with lots of layers (included snow pants), foot warmers in our boots, and handwarmers inside our gloves. I had a scarf with a hood and then the hood from my fleece too. We managed but I noticed frost forming on the head of my tripod where I breathed while I was taking pictures! I took pictures of a tree on one end of the pond that I remembered from 2016. The tree glowed with morning early light.

Some of the birds were standing on mud….others on ice. I noticed one juvenile (the bird does not have its red patch yet) on ice that quickly stood on one leg. I lost track of the bird in the moving mass of birds, but I wondered if it changed legs after a time…to let the other one get warm.

I took a series of pictures of birds landing and picked the two best sequences. It is interesting how they use their wings to soften their landing. The few birds that landed must have taken off a short time before from another roosting site. This is the first sequence.

And the second.

Some of them seem more alert than others. I like groupings where it is easy to see the iron dust they have on their feathers from their nest sites in the far north. In this picture there are the birds alert, sleeping, and preening….all close together.

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The fly out is all about the cranes taking off. Again – I picked two sequences. They don’t go all at once…but in small groups. The power of the first few wing flaps – to get them off the ground – could be heard across the small distance through the cold air.

And then they are in sky heading to the fields where they feed during the day.

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Cranes are paired for life, so it is not unusual to see pairs.

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Once the sun was up it was easier to see that the shallow pond was more ice covered than water and how some of the cranes looked so much shorter…but with the large body of sandhill cranes. The morning color of the ice…not the golden from sunrise…is a metallic blue.

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I started to look more closely at how the cranes were managing to walk on the ice. They did a little sliding but seemed to prefer taking off from the ice rather than the water.

Just before we left, I took some pictures of the frosted vegetation.

A cold morning…but a good start to our week in New Mexico.

3 Free eBooks – November 2018

It is so easy to find books online these days. More institutions are scanning their older collections and Internet Archive is the access hub for accessing many of those scanned collections. Many books that would have been hard to find because they are out-of-print are now available in digital form.

Matz, Friedrich. Art of the World: Art of Crete and Early Greece, The prelude to Greek Art. New York: Crown Publishers. 1962. Available from Internet Archive here. A little dated (lots has been discovered and/or figured out since the 1960s), but the pictures are great. I loved the small stone jug. The text said it was probably stalactite. It was found in eastern Crete.

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We are traveling back from New Mexico today…having enjoyed our second foray to the Festival of the Cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Keeping with that theme – there are two books on my favorites list for this month that are related:

Johnsgard, Paul A. Sandhill and whooping cranes: ancient voices over America’s wetlands. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. 2011. Available for checkout from Internet Archive here.

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ERIC. Wildlife of New Mexico: A Coloring Book. 1986. Available from Internet Archive here. There are 31 animals pictured along with a map of their range when the book was published in the 1980s. The javelina must have expanded its range since it is now seen in the refuge which in south central New Mexico. But the highlight of the festival – always – is the sandhill cranes.