Friday, February 28, 2014


Mullet Lake Park
Le Conte's Sparrow
Mullet Lake Park
I would call myself an intermediate birder; I came into this hobby through photography and from there developed a love of nature, wildlife and birds.  I used to joke that my birding philosophy was to make up for quality with quantity.  That is, if I get out there enough, I'm bound to find some rare bird eventually. On rare occasions, that's exactly what happens.  On New Years Day this year I drove to a spot I love to go to for sparrows, and a Western Tanager popped up in the tree in front of me--not what I was looking for, and certainly not a common find in Central Florida.

Lake Apopka, Lust Rd.
Western Tanager
Near Lake Apopka, FL
But a couple years ago I began to appreciate the fact that finding rarities is not really just about looking into the trees long enough for a rare bird to pop into view.  I began to realize that I needed to study. I picked up a book called Priceless Florida: Natural Ecosystems and Native Species by Ellie Whitney Bruce Means and Anne Rudloe. I wanted to learn how to recognize Florida's habitats, so that I would know better where to go to find birds that live in those habitats.  And then my father gave me a wonderful book called Essential Field Guide Companion: A Comprehensive Resource for Identifying North American Birds by Pete Dunne.  There were certain birds I wanted to find, and this book, in addition to helpful tips to identifying birds, gave me clues for where to look to find them--look here during breeding season, and look here in the winter.  Dunne's book also identifies other birds that are commonly found alongside the species you're looking for.

Spring Hammock Preserve
Prothonotary Warbler
Found using clues from Pete Dunne's Book
I honestly can't say that this study paid off right away, but whenever I chased birds other people found, I also tried to make mental notes of the kinds of habitats they had looked in in order to find these birds.  And when I saw similar places nearer my home, I began to make a point to check there for rarities. Last year, I visited a place called La Chua Trail in Paynes Prairie near Gainsville, FL. It's an area in Florida known for fun sparrows. Even on a windy morning, that trip was a great learning experience, with the highlights being my first Field Sparrow in Florida and my first photos of White-crowned Sparrows.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
White-crowned Sparrow
La Chua Trail
Late last year, someone reported a Lincoln's Sparrow in neighboring Volusia County, and three of us went to chase it.  The person reporting the Lincoln's Sparrow also noted that the area also looked good for Henslow's Sparrows.  The three of us arrived and saw the Lincoln's Sparrow right where it had been reported, but after it dipped out of view we began looking for where it might have gone.  But then my friend noticed a green-looking sparrow hidden in the grasses.  Eventually we all had the chance to see it--my lifer Henslow's Sparrow.  I was impressed not only with my friend's ability to find the bird, but also with the birder who had reported the Lincoln's Sparrow and knew this would be a good spot to look for Henslow's to begin with.

Tiger Bay Forest WMA
Henslow's Sparrow
Tiger Bay WMA
So this year one of my goals is to look for the "nooks and crannies" in my home county that receive little attention from birders but which might hold species that I haven't yet seen in my home county. I stumbled upon a little park near the northern boundary of Seminole Co. called Mullet Lake Park. I had looked at satellite views of the park and thought it might be a good place to look for shorebirds since it was right on the shore of the St. John's River. But when I arrived, I found an area there that reminded me a bit of the La Chua trail.  Sora, King and Virginia Rails were calling and wading birds were plentiful, but I only found two species of Sparrows: Savannah and Swamp (two of the most common wintering sparrows in FL). But I also found about 16 Sedge Wrens, and Pete Dunne's book told me that Le Conte's Sparrows can be found along side Sedge Wrens. So I visited this place no less than 5 times, each time searching through Le Conte's Sparrow habitat where I'd seen Sedge Wrens.  On February 14, jackpot! One popped up and showed itself to me--what a thrill!

Mullet Lake Park
Le Conte's Sparrow
Mullet Lake Park
So I'm changing my motto a little bit. Rather than making up for quality with quantity, I'm making up for quality with study and persistence.  My hope is that the more I can study resources and discover the habitats that exist in my home county, and visit them often enough, a couple more little treasures might reveal themselves.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Great Backyard Bird Count

February 24,2014 Birding is Fun

Great Backyard Bird Count

The Great Backyard Bird Count took place from Feb 14-17. I have been participating in this count for years now.  It is easy to take a few minutes and count the birds you see in your yard, favorite park or preserve. It is a joint project sponsored by the Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The GBBC has also gone global for info on how to get started click here:

Above are some of the birds I counted for my Great Backyard Bird Count. Top row is a Hairy Woodpecker with a Cardinal, two Goldfinches with a Mourning Dove and a female Cardinal. Middle row is a male Cardinal, male Redbellied Woodpecker and a White-Throated Sparrow. Bottom row is a White-breasted Nuthatch, American Robin and a male Downy Woodpecker.

When hubby and I moved from a crowded suburb to our more rural home, I started noticing the beautiful birds around our yard.  Some of the first birds to attract my attention were the beautiful bright Yellow Goldfinches and the Eastern Bluebirds. These pretty birds were not noticeable while living in the city or the suburbs.

It was in my rural backyard I really started paying attention to the birds coming and going. I starting feeding the birds, I bought the heated birdbath and we started planting to attract the birds and wildlife.

Now, I can sit back and just look out my windows to count my yardbirds for the GBBC.

 It may be too late to participate in this year’s GBBC but next year you can keep this in mind and become involved in this Citizen Project and join in on the count.

I hope you enjoyed my backyard birds..Have a great day and happy birding.

my blog: Viewing nature with Eileen

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Long-tailed Ducks and More

With a few days to kill, I was hoping for something interesting to come along and give me an excuse to break this cabin fever. It's been a brutal winter here in Michigan. Snow accumulation is making it difficult to get our car to good spots and the cold has been more bone-chilling than I enjoy on a birding trip. Still, I knew I'd be glad to be out if I could just find the motivation to make that first step.

"...observed a Barrow's Goldeneye in the Muskegon Channel...2:45pm..."

Wish granted. That came over the listserv Sunday afternoon from Michael Boston, and he had pics too. Good enough for me. Sarah and I bundled up and headed out the next morning. Muskegon is typically a great birding spot in the winter. The breakwall at Pere Marquette Park offers good views of loons, grebes, all the scoters, other diving ducks, and often a Purple Sandpiper or three. On lucky days a few Long-tailed Ducks might be in the sheltered harbor offering close views from the breakwall.

Greater Scaup are a winter staple of Lake Michigan (photo by Sarah Adams)

But this winter, that entire area is ice for miles out into Lake Michigan. There is very little open water at any of the of harbors on the lake's east shore, so I was surprised to see a picture of a Barrow's Goldeneye along with some Long-tailed Ducks and a scoter or two. Since the Barrow's would be a lifer for both of us, so off we went, looking forward to seeing our first-of-year Long-taileds even if we missed the goldeneye.

Female Long-tailed Duck (photo by Sarah Adams)
We parked and noticed the only open water was the narrow channel from Muskegon Lake (a harbor, essentially) out to Lake Michigan. We also noticed thousands of ducks. My conservative estimates put the list at 2000 Greater/Lesser Scaup (vast majority were Greater), 800 Long-Tailed Ducks, 500 Common Goldeneyes, 50 Red-breasted Mergansers a couple dozen White-winged Scoters, a few Redheads, and two Mallards. (I actually counted the Mallards, that number is not an estimate.) All of these birds were in a channel maybe 60m across and less than a kilometer long.
Common Goldeneyes
The most important Common Goldeneyes have Long-tailed Ducks as wingmen (photo by Sarah Adams)

That was the only open water for miles around, so no one was going anywhere. It was also full of fish and, to the delight of the scoters, zebra mussels. Watching the scoters crunching down on a cluster of mussels with their intimidating bills was incredible.
White-winged Scoters (and Long-tailed Duck) (photo by Sarah Adams)

It was also incredible (and I mean that in a bad way this time) trying to spot a Barrow's Goldeneye among the assembled horde of Common Goldeneyes. Some other birds joined us and we all eventually got on the Barrow's, though when he dove and resurfaced in a random floatilla of commons, it took a long time to get back on him again. It was a birding version of that old game whack-a-mole trying to anticipate where he was going to reappear.
Sasquatch! But this isn't is a guy in a bigfoot suit, it's really a Barrow's Goldenye...just far away in horrible light.
Long-tailed Duck (photo by Sarah Adams)
Red-breasted Merganser (photo by Sarah Adams)
Red-breasted Merganser female (photo by Sarah Adams)
This is not a typical sight 10 yards from shore.
Long-tailed Duck - an exquisite beast from any angle (photo by Sarah Adams)
It ended up being a great day of duck-watching. The only thing that could have slightly spoiled it would be getting home and hearing the next day that a King Eider had been found in the channel. I'm glad that didn't happen! Oh, did.

Phone-scoped King Eider ...yes, we went back to get it!

This White-winged Scoter laughed at us. (Photo by Sarah Adams)
Red-throated Loon was a bonus when we returned for the eider.

For more  Muskegon and Valentine's Day fun, check out my blog post from a couple years ago.

You may notice most of these photos are from my wife who is a better birder, better photographer, and MUCH better looking than I am. Check out her Flickr page.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Birds of South Florida, Part 1 (Myakka River State Park)

When the weather hit hard in Missouri this winter, I decided it was time to get back to Florida, for some bird photography (as well as some manatees and gators!). I have just returned from 4 weeks at some of Florida's great birding locations, and will be sharing some of the birds I photographed. With so many places visited and so many birds, it will take multiple posts to show them all (plus, I'm still downloading and editing, by the seat of my pants!).

In this post, I'll share some of the birds of Myakka River State Park (near Sarasota), which was the first stop in my travels around Florida.  I first found Myakka River a few years ago and have since visited 4 times.  I just love staying in one of the vintage cabins and getting up early for some wonderful nature photography!

One of the birds I always seem to find, and quite easily, in Myakka River State Park is the Red-shouldered Hawk. In this case, there were a pair of them, just outside our cabin in the park:

Another Myakka bird that I always enjoy is the prehistoric-looking Wood Stork:

Myakka River State Park also is the home to many (and I mean many!) vultures, both Black and Turkey.  Most of the vultures seem to be the Black Vulture, but a few Turkey Vultures can also be found:

While photographing gators one day, I was surprised to find a single, Black-necked Stilt working the shoreline nearby:

And even had some Least Sandpipers come in close:

White Ibis were common (as they seem to be anywhere you travel in Florida!):

Limpkins were seen every day, also:

Great Egrets, also quite common, were seen every day in the park. They were especially nice to find when the wind was calm and nice reflections in the Myakka River were seen:

 ... and some nice opportunities were given to me by them in the sunset-colored waters of the river:

And not to be outdone, a Black-crowned Night Heron made an appearance during one of the brilliant sunset-colored evenings:

And here is a closeup of one of the several Night Herons I photographed:

Earlier I mentioned alligators. It really amazed me at the bravery (or was it stupidity?) of some of the birds as they tended to get very close to these large reptiles, as did this Great Egret and some of the vultures:

I also got to see another favorite bird in Myakka River State Park, the Roseatte Spoonbill. It is always such a delight to see this brilliantly colored bird, with it's rosy-red coloration and it's spoonbill. I will defer the spoonie images until my next post ... I got to see them much better at another location I visitied.  :o)

These birds were the highlight for me during my 4 days at Myakka River State Park.

This blog post was written by, and all photography created by Jim Braswell of Show-Me Nature Photography.