Friday, March 28, 2014

Payne's Prairie La Chua Trail

Paynes Prairie La Chua Trail
Sedge Wren
Every year in March I make a trip from my home in Central Florida to a conference in Dothan, Alabama. It's a perfect opportunity for me to get up early and drop by one of Central Florida's treasures, Payne's Prairie. I've only been here twice, and both times I've visited La Chua Trail.  This is a wonderful trail with great habitat for sparrows, wading birds and other fun things.  I usually give myself a couple of hours here to recoup from driving and enjoy a little nature.  My favorite kinds of birds to find here are sparrows.

Paynes Prairie La Chua Trail
White-crowned  Sparrow
Paynes Prairie La Chua Trail
Savannah Sparrow
Paynes Prairie La Chua Trail
Savannah Sparrow
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Song Sparrow
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Chipping Sparrow
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Swamp Sparrow
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Vesper Sparrow
(heavily cropped)
But the wading birds here are also a lot of fun.  It's a good place for the normal egrets and herons, and it's not uncommon to see an American Bittern here as well.

Paynes Prairie La Chua Trail
Snowy Egret
Paynes Prairie La Chua Trail
American Bittern
Paynes Prairie La Chua Trail
Black-crowned Night Heron
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Black-crowned Night Heron (imm.)
Other than what I've mentioned, you may also find a Whooping Crane or two, and in the winter time, even a female Vermilion Flycatcher (though so far I've not seen it here). If you're ever in the Gainesville area and would like to do some birding, this is a great place to visit.  It's not far from I-75 with easy access, and you're bound to have a good time.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Birding is Fun in Delaware

March 24, 2014

Birding is Fun in Delaware,  Bombay Hook NWR, Delaware

Sorry, this is just a short post thrown together on a busy weekend.. We just came home from this weekend's overnight getaway to the shores of Delaware and Bombay Hook NWR.

We were hoping to see some shorebirds, winter ducks and just any kind of bird would do..LOL, My name is Eileen and I am ADDICTED to birds and birding.

 Bombay Hook NWR is one of my favorite places to bird in Delaware.. On this day we saw many Northern Shovelers.

This seems to be a big year for seeing the Tundra Swans..Maybe they are replacing the non-native Mute Swan.

 A view of one of the ponds, some Tundra Swans in the distance and a pair of Northern Pintail ducks closeby.

The Song Sparrows were seen all over the wildlife refuge.

One of my favorite shots of a Northern Shoveler. I love their pretty colors and their bill.

Some more Bombay Hook birds were the Hooded Mergansers, Pied-billed Grebe, Song Sparrows, American Coot, Yellowlegs, GB Heron.

The Snow Geese have been seen on many fields on the Delaware shore, these were on the road out of Bombay Hook NWR.

 We also made a quick drive thru Port Mahan, we had some nice views of my FOY Osprey, a Northern Harrier, American Kestrel, Black Ducks and many gulls..

There is much more from our loop trip to the Delaware shores and we continued on thru Ocean City, Md and Assatague Island. I will be sharing more of our trip on my blog.  For now I hope you enjoyed our visit to Bombay Hook NWR.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Black-necked Stilt: My Favorite Bird, Probably

I really hate the favorite bird question. No one wants to hear the old standby answer, "the one I just saw," no matter how accurate that is. I truly do not have a clear favorite, but there a few birds that always get mentioned when I'm forced to name something. Black-necked Stilts always make the short list. I'm not even certain why I like them so much. It's clear that I have a thing for black and white birds. The Black-and-white Warbler has long been my favorite wood warbler, the Swallowtail Kite my favorite Raptor, and the Crab Plover my ultimate grail bird.
Black-necked Stilt at Eco Pond, Everglades National Park, Florida
Black-necked Stilts are not only black and white, they're a black and white bird stuck on top of absurdly long bright pink legs. They are really ridiculous looking. Normally I prefer birds with unique feeding adaptions or specialties, but these birds are generalists. Anything small and aquatic is fair game. It must just be how weird they look that I fancy.
Black-necked Stilts and friends at Mitchel Lake Audubon Center, near San Antonio, Texas
They also get high marks for being very good to me. I've managed to see Black-necked Stilts in five different states now, two of which aren't in their normal range. My lifer was west of Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge in North Dakota in June of 2012. They don't show up often in North Dakota, but we happened to be at the right place at the right time.
The at first sight. Black-necked Stilt at Long Lake Creek, North Dakota.
We found them at a few locations late that fall in south Texas, including some up-close and personal looks on South Padre Island. The following summer, we got our home-state Michigan Black-necked Stilts at Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge where a pair gave every appearance of nesting. They're even rarer here in Michigan than in North Dakota, with these two birds being the eighth state record.
Black-necked Stilt admonishing his cohorts, South Padre Island, Texas.

Black-necked Stilt, South Padre Island, Texas.
On a balmy August evening in Wilcox, Arizona last summer we got to see some stilts fly in against the backdrop of the sun setting behind the Dragoon Mountains.
Black-necked Stilts with sunset behind the Dragoon Mountains (last stronghold of Cochise), Arizona.
Black-necked Stilts are on my mind right now because I just returned from Everglades National Park where a flock of them was occupying Eco Pond. Like Cochise Lake in Wilcox, Eco Pond is part of a sewage treatment system. The viewing platform at the pond was wiped out by Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma in 2005, but the pond is still one of the most accessible freshwater birding sites in the Everglades. The stilts were joined by a Roseate Spoonbill, fishing Osprey, a few shorebirds, and some assorted ducks. A circumnavigation of Eco Pond turns up all kinds of songbirds as well. It's really one of the best bird walks in a park overflowing with good bird walks. But on that day last week, I was just happy to see the stilts!
Black-necked Stilt, Eco Pond, Everglades National Park, Florida.
Black-necked Stilt, Eco Pond, Everglades National Park, Florida. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Birder's Guide to Everything. See it now!

Coming to movie theaters March 21st. You can watch it now in iTunes
Check out the movie website!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Birds of Florida, Part 2: The Venice Rookery

In my last month's post, I featured bird images from the beautiful Myakka River State Park, along the Gulf coast of Florida. Today's post features some birds I found at my next stop of my winter Florida trip ... the Venice Rookery.

The Venice Rookery is a small, but wonderful place to see roosting and nesting (in season) birds. Many different species of birds use the Venice Rookery. One of the predominant birds of Venice include the Great Blue Heron:


And displaying herons, looking for a mate:

 And a couple of juvenile herons were in a nest, waiting for food to be delivered:

There were also several pairs of Great Egrets that were busy nest building, courting, and even mating:

Coincidentally, the nest with the two Great Blue Heron chicks was almost on top of a Great Egret nest. On a couple of occasions, one of the heron chicks would poke at the Egret sitting on the nest:

Another bird of the Venice Rookery was the Cattle Egret. Upon arrival at the rookery (pre-sunrise), you could see loads of "white spots" on the small island that makes up the rookery. As sunrise approached, these dots would come to life as the cattle egrets left the rookery for foraging (note: image made in darkness, using flash):

There were also a few Common Moorhens foraging underneath the cover of the rookery, occasionally coming out for a photo:

If you're ever near Venice, Florida, I'd highly encourage you to stop by the rookery. It is located right in town, in fact it is directly behind the Florida State Highway Patrol station in Venice!

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

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Shrike Attack!

Sometimes the most memorable birding moments happen when you aren't even birding.  That's what happened to me this past week when I was in my backyard enduring another bitterly cold afternoon while taking my dogs outside.  The yard bird action has been uneventful lately with the usual winter suspects all stopping by for their daily sustenance.  I continue to feed the hordes of House Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos for the chance of seeing my pairs of Northern Cardinals, Eurasian Collared Doves, and lone American Tree Sparrow.  The noise and movement of the abundant sparrows and juncos is constant.  But not today.  Instead the backyard was strangely quiet.  The only birds I could find were a pair of Black-capped Chickadees flitting about in my maple tree.  Then I saw a bigger bird fly up to the very top of the maple.  I figured it was a Blue Jay or one of my doves.  But then I looked closer and could tell from the posture and position on the top of the tree that it was a Northern Shrike! I quickly ran inside to grab my camera.

Northern Shrike in the yard!
Interestingly this shrike was not bothered by my presence as I walked all around underneath it taking pictures.  This was curious because I have always found shrikes to be very skiddish.  Another curious behavior I observed was that it sounded like the shrike was imitating bird noises/songs.  Since shrikes are predators, I wondered if this was a ploy to lure in unsuspecting prey.

After getting a couple usable photos I decided my bare fingers had suffered enough punishment in the sub-zero temps, so I headed inside.  Later on as I looked out my kitchen window, I saw a bird fly into my cedars.  I was looking west toward the setting sun, and the bird was deep in the cedars so I couldn't tell what it was.  But it was thrashing around like crazy.  Could it be? Was this the shrike working on a stashed kill? I've read that they impale their prey on sharp stick only to return later to feed on it.  I used the zoom on my camera to see if I could get a clue as to what was going on.

Is it the Northern Shrike?
Then the bird moved, and I got this image which confirmed my suspicion!

Now I was excited.  I raced out to this spot and slogged my way through over a foot of snow to check out what the shrike was working on.  Meanwhile the shrike did not fly very far away.  After a little bit of searching I found what I was looking for - an impaled House Sparrow!

The Northern Shrike's dinner - an impaled House Sparrow
This was a cool find.  It was no wonder why this shrike didn't want to leave the area when I was in the yard.  I was interrupting its dinner.  Several times I observed the shrike flush from his meal only to go a short distance away and return soon afterward.  Seeing a Northern Shrike is always a good find.  Finding one in your yard is real treat.  Witnessing a Northern Shrike eat its meal in textbook fashion was an unforgettable birding moment.  Now if only it will stick around to help thin out my enormous House Sparrow flock.

Josh Wallestad writes about his birding adventures with his seven-year-old son at A Boy Who Cried Heron and has a website dedicated to helping birders find birds called Birding Across America.