Birder's Eye View

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

End of one journey, beginning of another

The past few days kept me busy out in the field as I finished up my final research project for Field Ornithology. Given the short amount of time we were allowed to do our research, I chose to compare species diversity and abundance at one of our ponds in the morning vs. the afternoon.

It wasn't all that hard to do, and mainly entailed hiking around the pond twice a day to count birds and inevitably led to some good photo ops, including the above 3 pictures (Great Blue Heron, Anhinga, and Pine Warbler, respectively).

On Tuesday we took a field trip to another local nature preserve where I added a good number of birds to my year list.

Photo quiz! Can you tell what this little headless guy is?

Some of our findings included a Caspian Tern (somewhat rare for this area), Black-and-White, Palm, and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Green Heron, Red-winged Blackbird, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Belted Kingfisher among others.

For all the birds we saw, there seemed to be just as many aligators. The above one is just a baby -- take a look below!

Now THAT's an aligator.

Northern Mockingbird giving us a close look

And thus, my fabulous 3 weeks of Field Ornithology have come to a close. The final exam was today, along with our research project presentations which all went surprisingly well.

The lovely thing about the end of one adventure is that there is always another waiting just around the corner. My next one starts in 3 days when I head off to the UK. I'm not sure what is going to happen then, if I'll be able to keep up my blog, or if I'll even get to go birding. I'm bringing the binocs just in case, but I've heard so many different stories about peoples' experiences through the program I'm going on, I have no idea what to expect anymore.

We'll see what happens though! I'll definitely try to keep posting and give you the scoop on the birds of London whenever I can.

So until the next adventure,

Happy birding!

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Birding from beach to pond

On Thursday, my Field Ornithology class took a trip to Ft. Desoto to look at shorebirds. As luck would have it (and as luck apparently did have it for the last 4 years in a row!) it was THE windiest day we've had this month.

Once we made our way across the windblasted beach, we quickly became aware that there were a lot more birds out than one would have expected.  The first picture is of a Black-bellied Plover (defying its name in its winter plumage) and above are a bunch of Wilson's Plovers on some low dunes. Also present were Semipalmited Plovers, Willets, and Western Sandpipers.

I had two highlights for the day. The first was the above Reddish Egret in the whitish morph! We even got to watch it do its fishing dance. I got a video, but it was so windy and far away, the camera was too shaky. It was a lot of fun to watch though -- I wish we could have stayed longer.

My second favorite was my lifer Dunlin. I'm actually surprised I've lived here so long and never seen one, but there it is.

Today we took another field trip to the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary. Although it's sandwiched in between towering condos and shopping centers, the facility takes in literally thousands of birds every year. It was great to see the work they're doing and get close-up looks at some of the birds we've been studying this past month.

I never thought about what a baby pelican would look like, but now I know! The little Brown Pelican chicks sitting under their mother reminded me oddly of little dinosaurs...

In addition to the plethora of rescued birds, there were also dozens of wild birds that had taken up residence in the trees and rooftops of the sanctuary, including this Black-crowned Night Heron.

After the field trip, I went birding at my usual spot on campus, and found a wide variety of species despite the somewhat unfavorable weather. Above is a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk that I chased around for a bit trying to ID.

In addition to the usual wading birds and ducks, there were also some friendly passerines flitting around who  were (for a change!) not so camera shy! The above Pine Warbler came down to check me out while I was looking for the hawk, and below, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher went on about his business foraging in a small tree.

It's been a great past few days. More birding to do this weekend and studying for the final.

Until next time,

Peace out!

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Field Ornithology | Catching up

I have a bit of catching up to do on my posts... falling down on the job here! But for good reason -- Birding, class and work have all kept me busy these past few days.

After the cold snap, the birds were very happy. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for the thousands of dead fish that washed up on our shores, shocked to death by the sudden cooling of the gulf waters, but it certainly made for some very happy scavangers and shorebirds.

The top picture is of a Spotted Sandpiper I found on the seawall, a bird I have never seen here on campus before. The bay was also full of avifauna -- Roseate Spoonbills, Ibis, Cormorants, gulls, terns, and even a large flock of White Pelicans! The below picture is only a fraction of the flocks that were both circling overhead and floating placidly in the waves.

The next two days, our homework was to complete point counts in the on-campus palm hammock, which I found to be a whole lot of fun. It was kind of like a birding scavenger hunt. Our professor had set up 10 points in the preserve area that we were to stop at for 5 minutes each and record all the birds we could see and hear.

Technically the count should only have taken an hour, but of course I brought along my camera and spent about 15 minutes trying to get the perfect picture of these Palm Warblers that were flitting around one of the points. In the end, I managed to get some pretty cool shots, much to my own amazement.

Today was another big birding day. Class was spent at a local beach documenting the shorebirds for a SEANET (Seabird Ecological Assessment Network) survey. Despite the gorgeous weather, there wasn't much out. We concluded this was partially because the wrack line had been raked away to make for a more picturesque beach, for the tourists who stay in the quaint beach town on the other side of the dunes.

We did manage to see several different species however, including various gulls and the Black Skimmers above.

After class, I went birding for another hour at one of the ponds on campus and came back with a grand total of 25 species. My favorites for the day? The Prairie Warbler, pictured above, and a juvenile Bald Eagle! Based on Sibley's guide, I'm guessing it's a 2-year-old (although I'm no expert and could be completely wrong).

So that's the briefing on my week so far. I have to bird for 3 more hours this weekend so keep your fingers crossed that some cool birds show up!

Until next time,

Happy birding!


Sunday, January 10, 2010

S'no place like Florida

Driving to our field trip destination, the air temperature was a comfortable 60 degrees, but the sky was quickly darkening as a cold front moved in from the north. We were headed to the Tierra Verde ponds, a location well-known for its impressive migratory duck populations.

I wasn't sure what to expect -- I knew I'd passed these ponds many a time and had never noticed anything spectacular about them. But I had never passed them during wintertime before.

Upon arrival, everyone gasped with surprise. Easily half the surface was covered by a mass of ducks! I couldn't even capture the scale of it, and by the time I took the above picture they had all flocked together, covering a much smaller area.

Most of the ducks were Redheads (we estimated 600 total) but there were also Ruddy Ducks, Lesser Scaups, Pied-billed Grebes, American Coots, and apparently a couple American Wigeons mixed in. I was a little dissapointed I couldn't find the Wigeon, but by the time it was spotted, it was starting to rain and the group was hightailing it back to the cars.

The site was still impressive though. Several other birders were visiting as well, all with their binocs and scopes trained on the flocks to pick out every species they could find.

On our way back to the car, I noticed in a pine tree a large bird that hadn't been there before. Stepping out of the walkway so as not to get trampled by the people behind me, I raised my binoculars, hardly daring to wonder if it could be an eagle. The professor noticed I had stopped, and she looked too, soon followed by the rest of the class. It was, indeed a Bald Eagle, apparently scouting out the nest sitting below it on the tree.

After class, I spent another hour birding, but by then the weather had really taken a turn for the worst.

Saturday morning, temperatures dropped to the mid-30s and didn't rise the whole day. Around mid-afternoon, we began to hear reports from friends and friends-of-friends that it was snowing in some parts of Florida! Even as nearby as an hour away, many of the inland towns were experiencing snow flurries.

Sadly though, I never got to see any (why am I always in the wrong place at the wrong time?). Pictures on Facebook and in the local paper showed people holding tiny snowmen in the palms of their hands and a dust of snowflakes falling from the early morning sky. I couldn't help but be a little bit jealous. Almost 20 years old and I've still never seen snow, even when it practically falls in my own backyard!

Oh well, I can still say I was here during record low temperatures. This morning there was ice outside, and the puddles on the roof of my dorm are frozen solid. It's 36-degrees-feels-like-27 according to

Until next time,

Peace out!

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Field Ornithology | Day 3

Okay, so I skipped a day of posting, but the birding today was way better than yesterday. Temperatures actually warmed up to close to 60 degrees today, and the birds seemed almost as happy about it as we were.

Homework today was to visit 5 ponds on campus for 10 minutes each and record the data on eBird. My hopes weren't too high as yesterday had been a pretty slow birding day, but when I arrived at the first pond I was wowed by a beautiful pair of Roseate Spoonbills.

Besides these and a small aligator sitting on the opposite bank, I also saw large numbers of Double-crested Cormorants, Mottled Ducks, a flyover Bald Eagle and 4 Blue-winged Teals, a species I haven't seen since last spring.

After a lengthy trudge across campus, I visited the remaining ponds where I found a Tricolored Heron that looked almost exactly like a Little Blue Heron (below) and other common wetland birds.

At my final pond, I ran into several other classmates who were also birding around campus. One of them pointed out something on a small island in the middle of the pond. I couldn't tell what he was indicating at first, but bringing my binoculars up, I realized there was a pair of otters romping around in the foliage!

Otters are not exactly mammals you see every day around here, so it's always exciting to see them once in a while. Unfortunately, I couldn't get any pictures, but I did manage to photograph a couple of Wood Storks who were also sharing the water.

It was a fun day. Warm, for once, and once I tallied up my list, I had seen a total of 22 birds at the ponds (not counting the various species I saw along the way).

Tomorrow we're headed out on a field trip to find ducks. I'll let you know what we see!

Until next time,

Happy birding!

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Field Ornithology | Day 1

Today was the first day of my winter term Field Ornithology course. It's definitely geared more towards beginning birders, but I think it'll get more challenging as we progress.

Day 1 mostly consisted of an introduction to the course and how to identify common backyard birds. For homework, we were assigned to go birding on campus for an hour. Fantastic, right? Sorta, except for the fact that the temperature never got much warmer than about 45 today (so much for living in the "sunshine state!").

Regardless, right after class I started off by checking the ponds. To my surprise, despite the frigid temps there were significant numbers of Cormorants, Anhingas, Woodstorks, and Pelicans.

Further down the road, I found a pair of Mottled Ducks, a flyover Roseate Spoonbill, and a single Palm Warbler boncing through the grass.

As I neared the sea wall at the back of campus, I noticed there were huge flocks of gulls and terns swarming over the bay. I made my way out to the edge of the wall, where the wind was buffetting hard against the shore, trying its best to chill me to the bone (it didn't succeed -- I was already warmed up from the long walk!). I counted several more Laughing Gulls, a few Pelicans, some Royal Terns, and a couple more Anhingas.

Continuing on towards the boathouse, I found a massive flock of mixed shorebirds huttled against the harsh wind. I couldn't count these in the data I was collecting for class, as they were a little far out, but I made sure to count them for my own lists.

From what I could tell, there were more Laughing Gulls, lots of Willets, a few Black Skimmers, and possibly a couple Godwits, although it was really hard to tell under the conditions.

To my surprise, while scanning the mudflats I also came across a raccoon fishing with the birds! The picture didn't come out too clearly (a testiment to the distance from which I was trying to photograph) but you can tell it is, indeed a content-looking raccoon. :-)

Over all it was a good day. Tomorrow we have our first ID quiz and then I believe we'll be taking part in Project Feederwatch. Should be interesting!

Until next time,

Happy birding!

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Friday, January 1, 2010

A Look Back on 2009

Before I started this post, I took a look back at all my posts from the year 2009. It wasn't the best year I've ever had, but I was actually quite surprised to see how much I really did in the last 365 days.

By the end of January last year, I had already added close to 70 birds to my year list, thanks to a CBC and some incredible birding luck that month. In February, I participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count and March marked a month of some fun local explorations.

May was pretty exciting too. In somewhat of a spur-of-the-moment decision, I took off across the state to go chase mega-rarity Greater Sand Plover that had showed up in Jacksonville. Turned out to be great fun and I added a few lifers and year bird to my list.

In July and August, my family and I flew out to the Great Plains for a few weeks, where I came back with nearly 30 lifers and some once-in-a-lifetime experiences. I saw more wildlife in CO and SD than I think I have ever seen on any other vacation.

For the rest of the year, school took up most of my time. It was a tough semester, with a more than full courseload of 5 classes. Thankfully though, I finished them all with high grades, much to my own surprise.

In December, my life list reached 202 species, with the last one being a Winter Wren seen on the local CBC last weekend.

2009 was a good year, but I'm not too sad to leave it behind. I have a feeling that 2010 is going to be better. After a month of Field Ornithology (starting this Tuesday!) I'm shipping off across the pond to England for 4 months.

So here's to hoping that 2010 will be a good year for all of us. May your birding be successful, your days be happy, and your life be all you've ever imagined this year!

Happy New Year, and happy birding!

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