Saturday, December 28, 2013

Joe Overstreet Rd and Landing

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Whooping Crane
One of my favorite places for birding in Osceola County (about an hour from my home) is Joe Overstreet Rd.  It's a road that leads to Lake Kissimmee, and it's one of my favorite places to see several birds that can be difficult to find elsewhere in Central Florida.  Topping the list of these birds is the Whooping Crane. Many nonmigratory Whooping Cranes were released into several counties of Central Florida in an effort to restore the crane to their normal range.  And while difficulties with survival and reproduction of these nonmigratory birds has led to the demise of the program, they can still be found here occasionally, right near the entrance to Joe Overstreet Rd. I visited here this morning and found this beauty of a bird hanging out with some cows.

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Eastern Meadowlark
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Turkey Vulture
Along the road to Lake Kissimmee there are many sights to see. I love Eastern Meadowlarks, and they can be heard and seen all along the road; their songs add a beautiful sound track to the drive. It's also a good place to find Loggerhead Shrikes, American Kestrel, Northern Harrier, Common Ground-Doves, Eurasian Collared Doves, Wild Turkeys, Indian Peafowl, and an assortment of other fun birds. Earlier this year, I came across several Turkey Vultures working on a Raccoon carcass that gave me my favorite vulture photos.

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Snail Kite
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Crested Caracara
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Long-billed Curlew
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Forster's Terns
And at the end of the road is the landing, where there is much more fun to be had.  During the cooler months, you may just find a Long-billed Curlew here, while Crested Caracara and Snail Kites are regulars. Gulls and terns can be found in abundance during the right time of year--Forster's Terns, Herring Gulls and Black Skimmers may be seen here.

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Bald Eagle
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Bald Eagle
And I had an interesting sight this morning.  A Bald Eagle landed pretty close to me--so close I wasn't prepared for it.  By the time I could take photos, it had grabbed a fish with its mouth right at the shoreline and flew off with it still in his mouth. It then landed in the grass to consume its prey.  I've never seen an eagle grab and fly off with a fish in its mouth; it was like it was doing its best gull imitation.  My guess is the fish had been dropped by a gull, and the eagle was just opportunistic to find it and fly off with it. Joe Overstreet Rd is a great place to visit in Central Florida--one of our treasures that I never tire of visiting.

Scott Simmons
Outdoor Photography

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Birding Curacao

Birding in Curacao..Birding is Fun

December 24, 2013...Merry Christmas everyone!!!!

Even though our trip to Curacao was almost a couple of years ago, I thought I would share a trip report on the birds we saw while visiting the island. Curacao is an island in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Venezuela. It was a great vacation planned for both hubby to enjoy his snorkeling and for me to see some cool tropical birds.

We stayed at the Marriott beach Resort, which was great for birding just by itself.  We saw many of the Orioles at our table for breakfast, I was amazed at how well birds can open sugar packets. There were many Doves, Bananaquits, Tropical Mockingbirds and Saffron Finches were seen all around the resort.

 On the top row is the Troupial is one of 25 or so of the New World Orioles. The Troupial or "Turpial" the Spanish name is the National Bird of Curacao and can also be found on Bonaire, Aruba and in South America. The eyes on the Troupial are cool, I love the blue color on the skin that surrounds the eye. The bottom row Trupial Kacho a Yellow Oriole.

One day, hubby and I rented a car and drove around the island. At first it was more like we got lost, we did not know there was a detour and missed a turn. But, this turned out to be a good thing because we found the one of the Curacao birds that was on my wish list of birds to see. The Pink Flamingos at the Salt Flats.

While visiting the aquarium we were able to watch the Magnificent Frigatebirds put on a aerial show. I believe they were looking for a free meal. Also, seen at the aquarium the Brown Pelican and some unidentified Terns and gulls. 

Another stop during our drive around the island was the Shete Boka Nat'l Park. I was really enjoying the birds at the sugar feeder. Here are a few of the Bananaquits.

Another bird from the park is the Black-faced Grassquit. It seems like a weird name for this cute bird. It is considered a Tanager and is known to breed along the coast of Venezuela. The male is olive green above and has a black head and breast. The female and the immature are dull olive-gray and paler gray underparts.

While driving the roads im Curacao, I came across the Crest Carcara on the ground..I did read they search for carrion or hunt for live prey.  Also, seen on the road to the park was an American Kestrel.

Jaanchies is a local island restaurant located in Westpunt, Curacao. I had read reviews on Trip Advisor before leaving home on this restaurant, so I knew exactly what to expect. I was going there to see Jaanchies birds. Boy, was I pleased, it is a quaint place with bird feeders hanging all around the open air restaurant. It was extremely hard to eat when my eyes were following all the birds around the restaurant.
Here is a list of some of the birds we saw at Jaanchies: lots of Troupials, lots of Trupical Kacho, Bare-eyed pigeons and amazing numbers of Bananaquits. Outside of the restaurant were chickens and we saw some more green parakeets.   I LOVE JAANCHIES...I would highly recommend this restaurant.

The Rufous-collared Sparrow was a bird seen all around the island.. On this day I saw them at the beach..They were under the beach chairs and all around the snack shop.

The Yellow Warbler below is a bird I saw while in Curacao. There is definitely a difference between the Yellow Warbler in Curacao compared to the Yellow Warbler I see here in Maryland during the summer. 

Also, seen around the beach I enjoyed a small flock of Brown-throated Conure (parakeet) or also known as the Curacao Conure. I read that there are 11 sub-species of this parakeet in this part of the Caribbean and South America.  

The Saffron Finch is a Tanager from South America. Of course they are seen in the Netherlands Antilles. The male is bright yellow with an orange crown and the females are a slightly duller version of the male. They prefer live food like insects but I have seen them at feeders. The Saffron Finch was one of my favorites birds I from Curacao.

 The Tropical Mockingbird was found all around our resort and the island. 

Above is the Bare-eye Pigeon. This bird has a striking ring of flesh around the eye, giving it a comical appearance. In flight you can see their white-wing patches.

I could go on and on about this trip to Curacao, if you are looking for an island vacation with some birding this was one of my favorite places. I hope you enjoyed the post and birds, thanks for the comment and for stopping by. This is also the day I link up my Viewing nature with Eileen post to Wild Bird Wednesday and Nature Notes Thanks to Stewart for hosting Wild Bird Wednesday and to Michelle for hosting Nature Notes.  Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and all the best in the New year 2014..HAPPY BIRDING.


Friday, December 13, 2013

It was the best of times, it was...Birding in 2013!

It’s that time of year again. The winter solstice is rapidly approaching, which means the days will soon be growing longer. And THAT means spring migration is right around the corner, and…

Before I get ahead of myself, it would be fun to look back on 2013. I came into the year determined to throw down 500 eBird checklists. That didn’t happen. Life got in the way of birding through the mid-summer and I’m rolling into the New Year with 270 lists. Still, there were good birds all year and some new birding destinations were explored.
Northern Harrier, Muskegon County, Michigan in November

My first bird of the year was a Rock Pigeon (two of them, actually) that flew over my house on January 1. My last year bird was a Purple Sandpiper on November 30th. That was a glorious victory, having not gotten one since 2011, and my lovely wife had been looking for her lifer ever since I snagged one on a solo trip. The total stands at 330 birds for 2013, and isn’t likely to change unless something extraordinary happens in Michigan in the next 18 days. (Gyrfalcon, please!)
This fledgling House Wren was impersonating a Kiwi in Arizona's Santa Catalina Mountains.
I birded in some weather extremes this year. February found me in Chippewa County, Michigan looking at a Great Gray Owl with the thermometer at -7°F (-22°C).  Six months later I caught sight of a Greater Roadrunner crossing a dirt road in Saguaro National Park with the mercury reading 108°F (42°C).
I got to bird eight states this year (Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and New Mexico). Didn’t make it out of the country.
Great Gray Owls make sub-zero temperatures feel like a warm blanket...almost.
What was the best day of birding in 2013? I have five candidates for that title:

February 16. Driving around Chippewa County, Michigan ticking boreal birds right and left. A Great Gray Owl, A Northern Hawk-owl, and more Snowy Owls than you could shake your binoculars at. And Pine Grosbeaks – my favorite finch!
Northern Hawk-owls also warm up a birding outing...who am I kidding, it was COLD!
April 29. Exploring Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. A day that begins in a forest literally littered with Red-headed Woodpeckers is bound to be a great one. It ended with a late-afternoon walk through the sycamores of a river valley with Yellow-throated Warblers so unconcerned with our presence they took to copulating within arm’s reach at one point. (Sorry, no pictures of that. It happens really fast.)
When Red-headed Woodpeckers are the trash bird, it's a good place. (Indiana Dunes)
 June 2. I wrote about this here last month. An absolutely perfect day in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge.

August 18. A hike up Madera Canyon in Arizona’s Santa Rita Mountains. We were searching for Elegant Trogon, but failed to find any. Still, this day makes the Top 5 list. Plumbeous Vireos serenaded us as Magnificent Hummingbirds buzzed by our heads like miniature yet insanely maneuverable helicopters. Arizona Woodpecker and Sulfur-bellied Flycatcher lifers rounded out the day.

Not a Great Gray Owl, nor a Hawk-owl, but a Gray Hawk!
November 30. The aforementioned Purple Sandpiper lifer for Sarah started off our day in Muskegon County, Michigan. We had a birding newcomer in the car with us who racked up six lifers. In fact, of four people in the car, I was the only one without a lifer on the day, and I was just fine with that. The only thing that rivals the thrill of getting a lifer is getting one for someone else and watching them go bonkers.
This Northern Flicker really wants me to eBird hard in 2014
Goals for next year?

  • Get the ABA list over 500 (49 to go!).
  • Enter 500 checklists at eBird.
  • Have fun birding, wherever and with whomever. See you out there in 2014!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Just When I Thought I was Snuggling In

Mallard in Reid Park, Tucson, AZ 2013

When I moved to Tucson last year I thought we were here for good. But just as I was snuggling in...

Common Loons in Acadia National Park June 2011

I learned we are about to move! We must be a couple of Loons!

Sandpipers in Falmouth, Maine August 2012

We are about to take flight...

and come in for a landing... 

Semi-palmated Plover with sandpipers in Falmouth, ME August 2012

on Maine's Rocky shores!

Double-crested Cormorant in Bar Harbor, Maine June 2011

  It came as quite a surprise!
Though it won't happen until January.

 I should have known when we left our footprints in the sand in Acadia National Park

 That one day we would return again to the mountains and coast of Maine!

 I thought I was a Rock Wren when I lived in Arizona.

 Or maybe a Brown Creeper when I lived in the woods of New England.

but maybe I am a sandpiper after all.

My husband's new job is in Bath, Maine, which is Downeast on the coast.
There should be lots of birds to see there!

And in Maine, they ALWAYS leave a light on for you!

Bass Harbor Head Light June 2011

I'll be writing soon from the East Coast of Maine!

Sandpipers in Falmouth, ME August 2012

Merry Christmas from Kathie's Birds!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Birding the Sax-Zim Bog

Chances are if you have birded long enough or have attempted to do a nationwide big year, then you've heard of Minnesota's famed Sax-Zim Bog.  The Bog, which is actually a collection of public and private lands, consists of boreal forests, large open meadows, and wet, boggy areas filled with scrubby stands of spruces, tamaracks, and willow thickets.  Northern Minnesota is known for its thousands of pristine lakes with rocky shores and towering pines.  The call of the Common Loon singing at night from these beautiful waters is ingrained in every Minnesotan's mind. No, you won't find that kind of beauty in the Sax-Zim Bog. Instead, this "wasteland" is dotted with abandoned farm sites and run-down homes.  It's the kind of place one goes to get off the grid. Yet despite all that, it's a birder's paradise.

Why?  The unique mix of habitat types makes this area a phenomenal spot to see birds that you will not see in other parts of the country.  Or if you can see them in other parts of the country, the roads through the Sax-Zim Bog will put you closer than you've ever been to many of these species.  The biggest draw to the Bog is the unique collection of owls that can be seen here in the winter: the Snowy Owl, the Boreal Owl, the Northern Hawk Owl, and the ever popular Great Gray Owl. Other great birds include Boreal Chickadees, Gray Jays, Northern Shrikes, Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Grosbeaks, Black-backed Woodpeckers, American Three-toed Woodpeckers, Common and Hoary Redpolls, Bohemian Waxwings, and both the White-winged and Red Crossbills. The Sax-Zim Bog also has three species of grouse: Ruffed, Sharp-tailed, and the elusive Spruce.  The raptors aren't to be outdone as it is a great place to see Rough-legged Hawks and Northern Goshawks. 

Hoary Redpoll (Photo taken in Feb. 2013 in west-central MN and not in the Sax-Zim Bog)
Ruffed Grouse 
Northern Shrike

 I grew up only 45 minutes from the Bog but didn't hear about it until I got into birding just over a year ago.  Now when I go home to visit my parents I pass through the Sax-Zim Bog every time to hopefully catch a glimpse of something really special.  This Thanksgiving was no exception, and I even got to spend a few hours in the Bog with my dad looking for those beautiful, elusive owls.

It is somewhat early for the winter owls.  Snowy Owls are just starting to move south.  A couple of the resident Great Gray Owls had been seen recently, but there has not been an influx of them from the north yet. Likewise, reports of Northern Hawk Owls have been few and far between so far, and the irruption of Boreal Owls last year is not likely to reoccur this year.  Nevertheless, my dad and I went to Sax-Zim to see what we could see.

One of the first birds we encountered was the Gray Jay.  There were several feeding off of one of the many deer carcasses that are set out for the birds.  After all, deer season did just wrap up a week ago.

Gray Jay
Gray Jay feeding on a deer carcass

The clouds and the early morning light were not conducive to pictures, so it was somewhat frustrating to find these cool birds and not get some great photos of them. Another good bird that we ran into was the Black-billed Magpie.  While this bird may be a common bird out west, Minnesota is at the very eastern fringes of its range and the Sax-Zim Bog is one of the few places in the state to see them. I got my magpie lifer in the Bog this past October.

One of 7 Black-billed Magpies

Bald Eagles are a staple in the Sax-Zim Bog and are always a pleasure to see.

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle
As we cruised down the gravel roads scanning the treetops for Northern Hawk Owls and the forest edges for Great Gray Owls, we saw numerous Rough-legged Hawks.  These beautiful raptors are always a pleasure to see.  We ended up seeing 6 in the Sax-Zim Bog and 5 elsewhere throughout northern Minnesota. They are extremely skiddish and will take flight when you are over a quarter mile away.  The distance and the low-light conditions for the day made it extremely difficult to get a decent picture of one.  However, as we drove out of the Bog, we found a somewhat cooperative Rough-legged Hawk just as the clouds parted.

Rough-legged Hawk
So, I didn't get my lifer Northern Hawk Owl, Snowy Owl, or Boreal Owl on this trip.  Lucky for me I'll be heading home over Christmas and get another chance to find one of these scarce birds.  And I wouldn't mind bumping into another Great Gray Owl like I found last March. Despite the great owling to be had in the Sax-Zim Bog, I have not yet found any of the owl species there.  It's a good thing that I have family nearby as they are a great excuse to make the 230 mile trip to the Bog.  You can bet that my January post for Birding is Fun! will once again be all about the Sax-Zim Bog.  Let's face it, it's winter in Minnesota and this is where the birding action is, and it's some of the best birding action in the country at that.

Great Gray Owl seen last March in Tower, Minnesota


The day after I wrote this post I got a text message from a coworker that said he had just spotted a Snowy Owl 8 miles from the school where we both teach in west-central Minnesota. I couldn't believe it! It is not rare for Snowies to reach as far south as our location, but it certainly is uncommon.

We were in a dense fog advisory, and the school I teach at was delayed a couple hours.  I had a nice cushion of time to go out to this location to look for this owl.  I stopped by work on the way to pick up my coworker.  Actually I got out of the driver's seat and made him drive so I could be at the ready with my camera.  The fog was thick with a freezing mist, so we had trouble driving and seeing.  How were we going to find a white owl?  If it were in the fields, it would stick out easily since we don't have snow yet.  

We got to the spot my friend had seen it, and there was nothing. I was disheartened.  We turned around to head back to work.  On the way my friend pointed out a power pole with a large cowboy silhouette leaning against it and said his earlier sighting had been in the vicinity of that pole. I looked at the pole and gazed up. And there was the Snowy Owl!  This nearly all-white bird was incredibly camouflaged against the white sky in the thick fog.  We almost missed it, but thankfully we didn't.  Can you see how we almost missed this bird? We stopped for a few pictures and then got back to work with 10 minutes to spare.

My Snowy Owl lifer in my own "backyard"
I didn't get the Snowy in Sax-Zim, but finding an unexpected Snowy Owl lifer in your own area is even more special.

Josh Wallestad writes about his birding adventures with his dad and 6-year-old son at A Boy Who Cried Heron. Click this link to read about his Great Gray Owl chase last March

Josh has also created a website to help birders find cool birds, like the Great Gray Owl, wherever they travel in the United States. It's called Birding Across America