Swallow-tailed Kite Madness in Sumter County

I usually see my first Swallow-tailed Kite of the year around my birthday at the end of February. And this time of year, the end of August, is when I usually see my last one for the year.

Swallow-tailed Kites are social birds. When they are getting ready for their fall migration to South America, the birds gather in large roosting and feeding flocks in the weeks prior to the epic flight. Large late-season flocks are known to occur at Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge and Fisheating Creek Wildlife Management Area, among other spots.

One communal feeding site that has gotten the excited attention of birdwatchers during the last few years is located in rural Sumter County, Florida. All through July our local birding listservs are full of breathless reports from birders who have made the trek out to the melon fields of Wildwood. The birds tended to start arrive around 10AM and peak shortly thereafter; the big show would last an hour or more.

waiting for STKI
Birders waiting for the kites to arrive [photo by Arthur]

Arthur and I made the trip out to the melon fields on July 26th, along with my parents. We weren’t the only ones. And we were not disappointed. While cloud cover kept the birds from arriving at the usual time, once the skies cleared, the birds started to arrive.

Swallow-tailed Kite feeding flock
The skies cleared up. Look for the tiny dots in the distance — those are Swallow-tailed Kites!

I estimated that we saw about 350 birds during our visit. Watching them was a treat. They were there to feed, and it was relatively easy to see them catching flying insects and devouring them while on the wing.

Swallow-tailed Kites

Arthur took this video during the feeding frenzy:

We were also lucky to see (but not photograph) a Mississippi Kite flying among the Swallow-taileds — a Florida lifer for us all.

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Green Birding in Southwest Volusia County, July 2015

I put 347 miles on my bike in July. I didn’t bird too much. I submitted 11 “green” checklists to eBird for a total of 56 species. Last year during July I only saw 31 species at Gemini Springs.

At the end of June a new segment of the East Regional Rail Trail opened, extending the path another 2.5 miles to Guise Road in Osteen. Hickory Bluff Preserve is about a mile further south on Guise Rd, so I visited there by bike in July. The park is rather small but nicely wooded. I didn’t see too much but it might be nice for migrants in a month or so. The southern part of the park is bordered by a pretty and quiet stretch of the St. Johns River.

The best bird of the month was the Louisiana Waterthrush our group found during Harry Robinson’s monthly walk at Audubon Park on July 19th. I’m a little embarrassed to say this was not only a new bird for my green list, but also for my LIFE LIST. I was very glad to have diagnostic looks at the little skulker; for some in our party I think it was heard-only.

Here are a few photographic highlights from birding around southwest Volusia County in July.

Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)
Red-shouldered Hawk eating frog at Gemini Springs | 05-JUL-15

Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina)
Halloween Pennant at Audubon Park | 07-JUL-15

Quail Lakes Powerline Trails
Quail Lakes Powerline Trails in DeBary | 08-JUL-15

White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)
White-tailed Deer at Quail Lakes Powerline Trails | 08-JUL-15

Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus)
Northern Bobwhite at Quail Lakes Powerline Trails | 08-JUL-15

St. Johns River at Hickory Bluff
St. Johns River at Hickory Bluff | 13-JUL-15

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
Osprey at Hickory Bluff | 13-JUL-15

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Nyctanassa violacea)
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at Audubon Park | 19-JUL-15

Great Egret (Ardea alba)
Great Egret at Audubon Park | 19-JUL-15

Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)
Young Red-shouldered Hawk at Lake Monroe Park | 29-JUL-15

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Loss of a Nest

Barred Owls nest in a few spots at Gemini Springs. I never found the nest site of the first family I found at the park. Once the babies were branching, though, they were super-easy to find because they were very vocal. I followed that family for quite a while in the spring of 2012.

The following year I started seeing a pair of Barred Owls hanging out in a different part of the park. I saw them on most of my visits for several weeks in a row. These birds were reliably found perched around a clearing close to the camping area. I saw the pair as often as I saw one bird alone.

Gemini Springs Barred Owl

Gemini Springs Barred Owl

And then one day, I found the nest tree. A baby was begging and I followed the noise to see the precious baby just outside of the nest hole in a dead oak tree stump.

Gemini Springs Barred Owl

The tree was backlit during the morning so it was difficult to take a clear image. The nest hole is about a fourth of the way down on the following photo.

Gemini Springs Barred Owl

Because of the proximity of the nest to the trail, I didn’t visit this secluded part of Gemini Springs very often after I found the baby because I thought it might be too disturbing to the little family.

Gemini Springs Barred Owl

I revisited the nest tree the following spring and found a very sad sight.

Gemini Springs Barred Owl

The tree had snapped in half, and the nest part of the tree had fallen to the ground. This was at the end of March, right when Barred Owls are nesting. The bottom of the tree was overgrown with vines. I gingerly made my way to the base of the tree to see if there was any evidence of nesting for the year.

Gemini Springs Barred Owl

Gemini Springs Barred Owl

Gemini Springs Barred Owl

I found one broken egg but no feathers, and thankfully no injured birds. Its too bad the nest site was lost and the effort failed but I continue to see and hear Barred Owls all over Gemini Springs. Life goes on.

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Green Birding in Southwest Volusia County, June Challenge 2015

Last month I did my own version of the June Challenge. The idea of the Challenge is to see as many bird species as possible in a single county during the month. The Challenge was first issued 12 years ago as a way to encourage Florida birders to get out and bird during a hot month relatively lacking in exciting bird activity. In my version, I only counted “green” birds, and I counted heard-only birds. The complete list is at the end of this post. Here are some photo highlights from the month, plus some birding stats from my green effort for June 2015.

Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis)
Cattle Egrets at Festival Park, 01-JUN-15

turtle sp
Turtle at Green Spring Park, 03-JUN-15

I completed 26 checklists during the month, and ended up with 77 species. I went to 13 different local birding spots, plus counted birds at home and as I was biking in several locations. I ended up biking over 170 miles and walking at least 30 miles. My two biggest rides were to two new “green” locations for me: Festival Park in Deltona (about 21 miles round trip) and the Brickyard Slough tract of the Lake Monroe Conservation Area (about 20 miles round trip).

Green Heron (Butorides virescens)
Juvenile Green Heron at Lake Monroe Boat Ramp, 03-JUN-15

Common Musk Turtle (?) (Sternotherus odoratus)
Baby Common Musk Turtle at Gemini Springs, 05-JUN-15

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)
Eastern Bluebird at Quail Lakes Powerline Trails, 08-JUN-15

moon
The moon from Gemini Springs, 09-JUN-15

Best birds of the month were Eastern Bluebird (juveniles and adults at both Festival Park and Quail Lakes Powerline Trails); Least Terns at Konomac Lake and Gemini Springs; Black-necked Stilts at Konomac Lake (scarce at Gemini Springs this year); a surprise Laughing Gull at Lake Monroe Boat Ramp; Bachman’s Sparrow and Blue Grosbeak at Brickyard Slough (both new to my all-time green list); Northern Flicker along the East Regional Rail Trail; Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at Audubon Park; and Least Bittern at Lake Monroe Boat Ramp. The Least Bittern was seen on my sixth try when I didn’t even travel to the location for birding. Arthur and I biked out to watch the SpaceX launch. Before the launch I saw a bittern fly from the reeds to the shore and disappear — it was a really lucky sighting. Bummer launch though. :(

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
Red-tailed Hawk at Gemini Springs, 09-JUN-15

Great Egret (Ardea alba)
Great Egret at Lake Monroe Boat Ramp, 10-JUN-15

Laughing Gull (Leucophaeus atricilla)
Laughing Gull at Lake Monroe Boat Ramp, 10-JUN-15

MOM!!!!!!!
Boat-tailed Grackles at Lake Monroe Boat Ramp, 10-JUN-15

Blue Grosbeak
Record shot of Blue Grosbeak at Brickyard Slough, 15-JUN-15

I did try to see as many of the species as possible. Birds like Red-eyed Vireo and Pine Warbler started out as heard-only, but I managed to see them and a few other skulkers. Five remained heard-only, though: White-eyed Vireo; Northern Bobwhite; Common Yellowthroat; Yellow-throated Warbler; and White-winged Dove. I really tried to catch a look at a bobwhite who sounded like he was calling from underneath my feet, but he never came into view. The other species also remained frustratingly hidden in thick foliage.

Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus)
Eastern Towhee at Brickyard Slough, 15-JUN-15

Marsh Rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris)
Marsh Rabbit at Lake Monroe Boat Ramp, 17-JUN-15

Limpkin (Aramus guarauna)
Limpkin at Lake Monroe Boat Ramp, 17-JUN-15

Southern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor priapus)
Southern Black Racer at Dewey Boster Park, 22-JUN-15

Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus)
Juvenile Loggerhead Shrike at Dewey Boster Park, 22-JUN-15

Barred Owl (Strix varia)
Juvenile Barred Owl at Gemini Springs, 23-JUN-15

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis)
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck at Audubon Park, 26-JUN-15

My biggest miss was Brown-headed Nuthatch, which I had hoped to see at Brickyard Slough. I had hopes of seeing Roseate Spoonbill at Trout Lake, but it was completely dead there with poor conditions for waders. In all I’m pretty pleased with how I fared during a month with near-record temperatures noted each week.

Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)
Anhinga at Lake Monroe Boat Ramp, 26-JUN-15

Raccoon (Procyon lotor)
Raccoon at Audubon Park, 29-JUN-15

Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus)
Ring-necked Snake at Audubon Park, 29-JUN-15

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Nyctanassa violacea)
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at Audubon Park, 29-JUN-15

GREEN BIRDING LIST JUNE 2015

DATE BIRD OBSERVED
1 1-Jun-15 Chimney Swift home
2 1-Jun-15 Great Blue Heron Lake Monroe Boat Ramp
3 1-Jun-15 Boat-tailed GrackleLake Monroe Boat Ramp
4 1-Jun-15 Fish Crow Lake Monroe Boat Ramp
5 1-Jun-15 Osprey Lake Monroe Boat Ramp
6 1-Jun-15 Red-winged BlackbirdLake Monroe Boat Ramp
7 1-Jun-15 Anhinga Lake Monroe Boat Ramp
8 1-Jun-15 Bald Eagle Lake Monroe Boat Ramp
9 1-Jun-15 Tricolored HeronLake Monroe Boat Ramp
10 1-Jun-15 Mourning Dove Lake Monroe Boat Ramp
11 1-Jun-15 Limpkin Lake Monroe Boat Ramp
12 1-Jun-15 Little Blue HeronLake Monroe Boat Ramp
13 1-Jun-15 White Ibis Lake Monroe Boat Ramp
14 1-Jun-15 Red-shouldered HawkEast Regional Rail Trail
15 1-Jun-15 Eastern Bluebird Festival Park
16 1-Jun-15 American Crow Festival Park
17 1-Jun-15 White-eyed VireoHEARD ONLY: Festival Park
18 1-Jun-15 Turkey Vulture Festival Park
19 1-Jun-15 Black Vulture Festival Park
20 1-Jun-15 Sandhill Crane Festival Park
21 1-Jun-15 Cattle Egret Festival Park
22 1-Jun-15 Killdeer Festival Park
23 1-Jun-15 Northern MockingbirdFestival Park
24 1-Jun-15 Mallard Festival Park
25 1-Jun-15 Northern BobwhiteHEARD ONLY: Festival Park
26 1-Jun-15 Wild TurkeyEast Regional Rail Trail
27 1-Jun-15 Northern Cardinal home
28 1-Jun-15 Carolina Chickadee home
29 1-Jun-15 Tufted Titmouse home
30 1-Jun-15 Ruby-throated Hummingbird home
31 1-Jun-15 Blue Jay home
32 1-Jun-15 Red-bellied Woodpecker home
33 2-Jun-15 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher home
34 3-Jun-15 Snowy Egret Lake Monroe Boat Ramp
35 3-Jun-15 Great Egret Lake Monroe Boat Ramp
36 3-Jun-15 Green Heron Lake Monroe Boat Ramp
37 3-Jun-15 Carolina Wren Green Springs Park
38 3-Jun-15 House Sparrow Deltona Landings
39 3-Jun-15 Rock Pigeon Deltona Landings
40 5-Jun-15 Northern Parula Gemini Springs
41 5-Jun-15 Purple Martin Gemini Springs
42 5-Jun-15 Pileated WoodpeckerDeBary Memorial Park
43 5-Jun-15 Muscovy Duck DeBary
44 7-Jun-15 Common Grackle DeBary
45 7-Jun-15 Eurasian Starling DeBary
46 7-Jun-15 Barred Owl Swamphouse Bench
47 7-Jun-15 Barn Swallow Fort Florida Rd
48 7-Jun-15 Least Tern Konomac Lake
49 7-Jun-15 Black-necked Stilt Konomac Lake
50 7-Jun-15 Great Crested Flycatcher DeBary
51 8-Jun-15 Eastern Towhee Quail Lakes
52 8-Jun-15 Brown Thrasher Quail Lakes
53 8-Jun-15 Red-tailed Hawk Quail Lakes
54 8-Jun-15 Cooper’s Hawk Quail Lakes
55 8-Jun-15 Red-headed Woodpecker Quail Lakes
56 8-Jun-15 Common Ground-Dove Quail Lakes
57 9-Jun-15 Common Gallinule Gemini Springs
58 9-Jun-15 Glossy Ibis Gemini Springs
59 9-Jun-15 American Coot Gemini Springs
60 10-Jun-15 Laughing Gull Lake Monroe Boat Ramp
61 10-Jun-15 Red-eyed Vireo Green Springs Park
62 10-Jun-15 Downy Woodpecker home
63 15-Jun-15Bachman’s SparrowLake Monroe C.A. Brickyard Slough
64 15-Jun-15Florida Scrub-JayLake Monroe C.A. Brickyard Slough
65 15-Jun-15Swallow-tailed KiteLake Monroe C.A. Brickyard Slough
66 15-Jun-15 Wood DuckLake Monroe C.A. Brickyard Slough
67 15-Jun-15Common YellowthroatHEARD ONLY: Brickyard Slough
68 15-Jun-15 Blue GrosbeakLake Monroe C.A. Brickyard Slough
69 15-Jun-15 Wood StorkLake Monroe C.A. Brickyard Slough
70 15-Jun-15 Loggerhead Shrike Deltona path spur
71 16-Jun-15 Pine Warbler Spring-to-spring Trail
72 21-Jun-15 Black-bellied Whistling DuckAudubon Park
73 21-Jun-15 Northern FlickerEast Regional Rail Trail
74 21-Jun-15Yellow-throated WarblerHEARD ONLY: Lake Monroe Boat Ramp
75 22-Jun-15 White-winged DoveHEARD ONLY: Dewey Boster Park
76 28-Jun-15 Least Bittern Lake Monroe Boat Ramp
77 29-Jun-15 Yellow-crowned Night-HeronAudubon Park
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Knowing, handling, caring: A Turtle Encounter

Last month, a couple of things that had been passing through my bird-type social media circles came together in real life for me at Gemini Springs.

A May 2014 article from The Slate was being passed around on Facebook. Let Kids Run Wild in the Woods is subtitled “Let Kids Run Wild, Build Forts, and Pick Flowers. Nature Can Take It.” The major theme is about how knowing about a thing (broadly speaking, the environment) leads to caring about that thing.

Around the time this was being passed around my birding circles, the Wandering Herpetologist posted an article about the differences between birders and herpers. Herpers are people who are interested in amphibians and reptiles. The post points out that herpers are likely to handle herps in the wild, while birders tend to have a different attitude (for the most part, birders can’t really handle wild birds).

Also around this time, Arthur and I encountered a misguided good Samaritan who wanted to help a Gopher Tortoise. The man rescued the tortoise from the middle of the road, but his plan for release left much to be desired.

With these things planted in the back of my mind, I went birding at Gemini Springs on June 9th. As usual, I started my outing at the fishing pier. While looking for waders and other birds starting their day, a young man, maybe 12 years old, approached me. He got my attention because he wanted to show me something — a young Florida Softshell Turtle.

I had only recently seen my first ever softshell at Gemini Springs. That animal was about the size of the one in the young man’s hand, perhaps the same turtle, or one from the same nest.

Florida Softshell Turtle (Apalone ferox)

At first I was mildly alarmed that he intended to drop the animal into the water right from the pier, a good ten-foot drop. I was quickly reassured. The young fisherman had inadvertently caught the turtle on his line. The hook safely removed, he was about to release the turtle. For some reason he decided to take a detour to show the animal to the stranger with binoculars, me, standing at the other end of the fishing pier. I was grateful. He told me about how fast these slippery animals can run, and he invited me to feel the turtle’s backside, to see why these turtles have the name they do. He obliged when I asked for a photo. I thanked the young man for the turtle lesson, truly appreciated, and watched him carefully walk around to a safe spot and gently release the turtle at the water’s edge.

Whatever this young man will grow up to be, he’s already a fine naturalist and budding environmental educator. It’s pretty obvious he was allowed to actively engage his environment as he’s played in the woods. And he’s clearly on the “handle the herps” side of that fence. I am certain that as an adult he will continue to care for the natural world, and isn’t that wonderful?

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Green Birding in Southwest Volusia County, May 2015

In May I birded at 10 different spots to add to my 2015 green year list. I found 69 different species for the month, with 54 on my Gemini Springs list. Last year I missed local birding in May completely; I had found 45 species in both May 2013 and May 2012. My complete green list for May 2015 is at the end of this post.

I added just one species to my year list. Arthur and I went kayaking on May 3rd and we found Bobolinks in several spots. Males were singing and small flocks were flying around. This was a new all-time green species for me so I was very excited!

Here are my photo highlights from green birding in May!

Leavenworth's Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii)
Leavenworth’s Tickseed in our backyard native butterfly garden | 01 May 2015

Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)
Some late Cedar Waxwings at Gemini Springs | 02 May 2015

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)
Buttonbush blossom at Gemini Springs | 02 May 2015

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)
Common Buckeye at Gemini Springs | 02 May 2015

Paddling at Gemini Springs
Listening for Bobolinks at Gemini Springs | 03 May 2015

River City Nature Park
Trail signs at River City Nature Park | 04 May 2015

passionflower sp
Passionflower at Gemini Springs | 05 May 2015

Green Heron (Butorides virescens)
Green Heron at Gemini Springs | 08 May 2015

Agnes looking at Bald Eagle pair
Cousin Agnes looking at Bald Eagles at Gemini Springs | 08 May 2015

Pileated Woodpecker (Hylatomus pileatus)
Pileated Woodpecker at Gemini Springs | 08 May 2015

Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)
Red-shouldered Hawk with apparent eye injury at Gemini Springs | 08 May 2015

Limpkin (Aramus guarauna)
Limpkin at Lake Monroe Boat Ramp | 11 May 2015

Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus)
Black Vultures at Gemini Springs | 13 May 2015

Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum)
Brown Thrasher at DeBary Memorial Park | 19 May 2015

Marsh Rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris)
Marsh Rabbit at Gemini Springs | 19 May 2015

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
Begging baby Northern Cardinal at Gemini Springs | 27 May 2015

Green Birding List May 2015
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck – Dendrocygna autumnalis
Wood Duck – Aix sponsa
Mallard (Domestic type) – Anas platyrhynchos (Domestic type)
Lesser Scaup – Aythya affinis
Wild Turkey – Meleagris gallopavo
Double-crested Cormorant – Phalacrocorax auritus
Anhinga – Anhinga anhinga
Great Blue Heron – Ardea herodias
Great Egret – Ardea alba
Snowy Egret – Egretta thula
Little Blue Heron – Egretta caerulea
Tricolored Heron – Egretta tricolor
Cattle Egret – Bubulcus ibis
Green Heron – Butorides virescens
White Ibis – Eudocimus albus
Glossy Ibis – Plegadis falcinellus
Black Vulture – Coragyps atratus
Turkey Vulture – Cathartes aura
Osprey – Pandion haliaetus
Swallow-tailed Kite – Elanoides forficatus
Bald Eagle – Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Red-shouldered Hawk – Buteo lineatus
Red-tailed Hawk – Buteo jamaicensis
Common Gallinule – Gallinula galeata
American Coot – Fulica americana
Limpkin – Aramus guarauna
Sandhill Crane – Grus canadensis
Black-necked Stilt – Himantopus mexicanus
Spotted Sandpiper – Actitis macularius
Least Tern – Sternula antillarum
Rock Pigeon – Columba livia
Common Ground-Dove – Columbina passerina
Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura
Barred Owl – Strix varia
Chimney Swift – Chaetura pelagica
Ruby-throated Hummingbird – Archilochus colubris
Red-bellied Woodpecker – Melanerpes carolinus
Downy Woodpecker – Picoides pubescens
Pileated Woodpecker – Dryocopus pileatus
Great Crested Flycatcher – Myiarchus crinitus
White-eyed Vireo – Vireo griseus
Red-eyed Vireo – Vireo olivaceus
Blue Jay – Cyanocitta cristata
American Crow – Corvus brachyrhynchos
Fish Crow – Corvus ossifragus
Purple Martin – Progne subis
Tree Swallow – Tachycineta bicolor
Carolina Chickadee – Poecile carolinensis
Tufted Titmouse – Baeolophus bicolor
Carolina Wren – Thryothorus ludovicianus
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – Polioptila caerulea
Gray Catbird – Dumetella carolinensis
Brown Thrasher – Toxostoma rufum
Northern Mockingbird – Mimus polyglottos
Cedar Waxwing – Bombycilla cedrorum
Common Yellowthroat – Geothlypis trichas
American Redstart – Setophaga ruticilla
Northern Parula – Setophaga americana
Black-throated Blue Warbler – Setophaga caerulescens
Pine Warbler – Setophaga pinus
Prairie Warbler – Setophaga discolor
Eastern Towhee – Pipilo erythrophthalmus
Northern Cardinal – Cardinalis cardinalis
Indigo Bunting – Passerina cyanea
Bobolink – Dolichonyx oryzivorus
Red-winged Blackbird – Agelaius phoeniceus
Common Grackle – Quiscalus quiscula
Boat-tailed Grackle – Quiscalus major
House Sparrow – Passer domesticus

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Green Birding in Southwest Volusia County, April 2015

In April I birded at 10 different spots to add to my 2015 green year list. I ended up with 93 different species total for April, with 73 found at Gemini Springs (previous April Gemini Springs totals: 68 in 2014; 55 in 2013; and 67 in 2012).

I added 12 new species to my year list: Prothonotary Warbler was a shocker at home; Black-necked Stilt, Solitary Sandpiper, Least Tern, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and longtime nemesis Worm-eating Warbler at Gemini Springs; Chimney Swift along the Spring-to-spring Trail; Northern Bobwhite, Florida Scrub-Jay, and Red-headed Woodpecker at a new-to-me spot, the Quail Lakes Powerline Trails; and Yellow-billed Cuckoo and American Redstart at Audubon Park.

Here are some photographic highlights from my green birding outings in April!

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Bald Eagle at Gemini Springs | 01 April 2015

Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana)
Virginia Opossum at Gemini Springs | 01 April 2015

Barred Owl (Strix varia)
Barred Owl at Gemini Springs | 04 April 2015

Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum)
Cedar Waxwings at Gemini Springs | 04 April 2015

Indigo Buntings (Passerina cyanea)
Indigo Buntings at home | 06 April 2015 (photo by Arthur)

Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea)
Prothonotary Warbler at home | 06 April 2015

07APR_bnst
Black-necked Stilt at Gemini Springs | 07 April 2015

wedding
Wedding at Gemini Springs | 11 April 2015

On April 13th I biked to northern DeBary to check out a spot I had seen a fellow eBirder visiting on occasion (from eBird alerts for birds I was missing for Volusia County). Via email the birder kindly gave me some intel on access to the trails at Quail Lakes, and I was pleased to be able to add my two target species: Florida Scrub-Jay and Red-headed Woodpecker. Northern Bobwhite and my lifer green Florida Softshell Turtle were bonus sightings at this spot which was about a 15 mile round trip ride.

Florida Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens)
Florida Scrub-Jay at Quail Lakes | 13 April 2015

Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis)
Sandhill Crane at Quail Lakes | 13 April 2015

Florida Softshell Turtle (Apalone ferox)
Florida Softshell Turtle at Quail Lakes | 13 April 2015

Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea)
Little Blue Herons at Gemini Springs | 14 April 2015

sunrise
Sunrise at Gemini Springs | 15 April 2015

Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris)
Painted Bunting at home | 15 April 2015

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis)
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck at Audubon Park | 17 April 2015

North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis)
American River Otter at Audubon Park | 17 April 2015

Southern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor priapus)
Southern Black Racer at Gemini Springs | 20 April 2015

Marsh Rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris)
Marsh Rabbit at Gemini Springs | 20 April 2015

Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor)
Tricolored Heron at Gemini Springs | 20 April 2015

Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius)
Spotted Sandpiper at Gemini Springs | 21 April 2015

At the end of the month, Arthur’s cousin visited us with her husband and two kids. We walked at Gemini Springs on their first afternoon with us and the local patch delivered! I haven’t seen a group of more than two Barred Owls all spring, but we managed to find two babies being attended by two adults during our short walk. Lifer owls all around! Then a group of three Swallow-tailed Kites soared above. What? I rarely see kites at Gemini Springs — here’s a group of three?! The first alligator and Osprey of the trip were also spotted here before we left.

Barred Owl (Strix varia)
Barred Owl family at Gemini Springs | 24 April 2015

Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus)
Swallow-tailed Kite at Gemini Springs | 24 April 2015

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Posted in Gemini Springs, Green Birding, Volusia Birding | 3 Comments

Green Birding in Southwest Volusia County, March 2015

In March I visited 11 different birding spots to add to my 2015 green year list. Birds at home and some seen along the way while I was biking also contributed to my monthly total of 97 green species for March.

I added 13 new birds to the year list: Rock Pigeon at Lake Monroe Park; Marsh Wren, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Purple Martin, Red-eyed Vireo, and Black-bellied Whistling-Duck at Gemini Springs; Swallow-tailed Kite in DeBary; European Starling and White-winged Dove at Dewey Boster Park; Common Ground-Dove at River City Nature Park; Indigo Bunting, Great Crested Flycatcher, and Brown-headed Cowbird at home. I had biked to Dewey Boster Park in hopes of finding Red-headed Woodpecker in addition to the doves, but I was skunked. That trip was about 13 miles round trip (about the same to Audubon Park).

At Gemini Springs I had 81 species in 14 visits. Previous March totals: 69 in 2014; 79 in 2013; and 66 in 2012.

Here are some photographic highlights from my green birding outings in March!

Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)
Northern Mockingbird at River City Nature Park | 09-MAR-15

Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)
Red-shouldered Hawk at River City Nature Park | 09-MAR-15

Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum)
Cedar Waxwings at Green Spring Park | 16-MAR-15

Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)
Ebony Jewelwing at Green Spring Park | 16-MAR-15

Green Spring Park
Green Spring Park | 16-MAR-15

Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)
Common Snapping Turtle at Gemini Springs | 18-MAR-15

White Ibis (Eudocimus albus)
White Ibis flock flying over Gemini Springs | 18-MAR-15

Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis)
Green Anole at Audubon Park | 20-MAR-15

Luna Moth (Actias luna)
Luna Moth (deceased) at Audubon Park | 20-MAR-15

Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus)
Swallow-tailed Kite at Audubon Park | 20-MAR-15

On March 27th I had a short walk in the late afternoon at Gemini Springs. As I walked out onto the fishing pier, a gentleman in a Volusia County polo pointed out a snake in the water. Later we saw a different snake on the other side of the pier. I have only seen water snakes at Gemini Springs a handful of times so I thought seeing two was quite remarkable. But then there was another snake sunning itself on the dam. I think they might all be Florida Water Snakes. All three snakes had a different look, but this species does have a lot of variability in pattern and color. Here are two of them:

Florida Water Snake (Nerodia fasciata pictiventris)
Florida Water Snake at Gemini Springs | 27-MAR-15

Florida Water Snake (Nerodia fasciata pictiventris)
Florida Water Snake at Gemini Springs | 27-MAR-15

Chipping Sparrows (Spizella passerina)
Chipping Sparrows at Gemini Springs | 29-MAR-15

Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis)
Sandhill Cranes flying over Gemini Springs | 27-MAR-15

On March 30th I found a fledgeling Barred Owl, along with one of its parents. The baby flew across the forest, but made a poor landing and ended up hanging upside-down from a branch. The parent looked on, and so did I. Eventually the baby managed to upright itself.

Barred Owl (Strix varia)
Barred Owl fledgeling at Gemini Springs | 30-MAR-15

Prairie Warbler (Setophaga discolor)
Prairie Warbler at Gemini Springs | 30-MAR-15

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
Osprey at Gemini Springs | 31-MAR-15

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
Red Admiral at Gemini Springs | 31-MAR-15

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Green Birding in Southwest Volusia County, February 2015

Just like January, I birded at Gemini Springs 15 times last month. I wanted to complete the February eBirder of the Month Challenge by submitting 20 checklists from a single patch, but I didn’t make it. About halfway through the month I realized the challenge was making me antsy so I just let it go.

I recorded 77 species at the park for the month. Previous February totals: 73 in 2014; 74 in 2013; and 60 in 2012. The complete list for February 2015 is at the end of this post.

For my green list, I had 87 species for the month. I added 9 species to my year’s green list, including Spotted Sandpiper and Greater Yellowlegs at Konomac Lake, Merlin and Field Sparrow at Gemini Springs, and Eastern Towhee at Audubon Park.

Here are some photographic highlights of my February 2015 green birding in southwest Volusia County.

Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)
Snowy Egret at Gemini Springs | 03 February 2015

Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)
Confiding Gray Catbird at Gemini Springs | 06 February 2015

Wood Stork (Mycteria americana)
Wood Stork flying over Gemini Springs | 06 February 2015

Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus)
Loggerhead Shrike at Konomac Lake | 07 February 2015

I hear Sandhill Cranes from time to time from Gemini Springs, and I’ve seen them fly over a handful of times, but I think the sighting on February 9th this year was the first time I have seen these birds actively feeding at the park. It was nice to see this group of four that ended up being a one-day wonder.

Sandhill Cranes
Sandhill Cranes at Gemini Springs | 09 February 2015

Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina)
Chipping Sparrow at Gemini Springs | 15 February 2015

Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)
Eastern Phoebe at Gemini Springs | 16 February 2015

On the 16th I noticed a Virginia Opossum walking along a path next to the dog park at Gemini Springs. I waited for it to have a good lead and then I followed its trail — walking a little part of the park I never had before. Thanks for the discovery, opo! :)

Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana)
Virginia Opossum at Gemini Springs | 16 February 2015

Merlin (Falco columbarius)
Merlin perched over the sinkhole at Gemini Springs | 16 February 2015

White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)
White-tailed Deer at Audubon Park | 20 February 2015

Mallards hanging out in the flooded sinkhole were a surprise during the month. I first saw them on the 11th. I recorded them a few more times before the month was over. I already got a kick out of seeing waders feeding in the flooded area, but watching ducks swim around above a sidewalk I’ve walked hundreds of times was somewhat unreal.

Mallards w/ Snowy Egret
Mallards with Snowy Egret in the sinkhole at Gemini Springs | 22 February 2015

It was a good month, but I’m excited for the migrants that will be passing through in the coming weeks. The hot summer that follows, not so much. 😉 Warblers, bring ’em on!!

Gemini Springs bird list, February 2015
Mallard (Domestic type) – Anas platyrhynchos
Lesser Scaup – Aythya affinis
Pied-billed Grebe – Podilymbus podiceps
Wood Stork – Mycteria americana
Double-crested Cormorant – Phalacrocorax auritus
Anhinga – Anhinga anhinga
Great Blue Heron – Ardea herodias
Great Egret – Ardea alba
Snowy Egret – Egretta thula
Little Blue Heron – Egretta caerulea
Tricolored Heron – Egretta tricolor
Cattle Egret – Bubulcus ibis
Green Heron – Butorides virescens
White Ibis – Eudocimus albus
Glossy Ibis – Plegadis falcinellus
Black Vulture – Coragyps atratus
Turkey Vulture – Cathartes aura
Osprey – Pandion haliaetus
Northern Harrier – Circus cyaneus
Sharp-shinned Hawk – Accipiter striatus
Bald Eagle – Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Red-shouldered Hawk – Buteo lineatus
Red-tailed Hawk – Buteo jamaicensis
Sora – Porzana carolina
Common Gallinule – Gallinula galeata
American Coot – Fulica americana
Limpkin – Aramus guarauna
Sandhill Crane – Grus canadensis
Ring-billed Gull – Larus delawarensis
Caspian Tern – Hydroprogne caspia
Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura
Belted Kingfisher – Megaceryle alcyon
Red-bellied Woodpecker – Melanerpes carolinus
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – Sphyrapicus varius
Downy Woodpecker – Picoides pubescens
Northern Flicker – Colaptes auratus
Pileated Woodpecker – Dryocopus pileatus
American Kestrel – Falco sparverius
Merlin – Falco columbarius
Eastern Phoebe – Sayornis phoebe
Loggerhead Shrike – Lanius ludovicianus
White-eyed Vireo – Vireo griseus
Blue-headed Vireo – Vireo solitarius
Blue Jay – Cyanocitta cristata
American Crow – Corvus brachyrhynchos
Fish Crow – Corvus ossifragus
Tree Swallow – Tachycineta bicolor
Tufted Titmouse – Baeolophus bicolor
House Wren – Troglodytes aedon
Carolina Wren – Thryothorus ludovicianus
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – Polioptila caerulea
Ruby-crowned Kinglet – Regulus calendula
Hermit Thrush – Catharus guttatus
American Robin – Turdus migratorius
Gray Catbird – Dumetella carolinensis
Brown Thrasher – Toxostoma rufum
Northern Mockingbird – Mimus polyglottos
Cedar Waxwing – Bombycilla cedrorum
Ovenbird – Seiurus aurocapilla
Orange-crowned Warbler – Oreothlypis celata
Common Yellowthroat – Geothlypis trichas
Northern Parula – Setophaga americana
Palm Warbler – Setophaga palmarum
Pine Warbler – Setophaga pinus
Yellow-rumped Warbler – Setophaga coronata
Yellow-throated Warbler – Setophaga dominica
Prairie Warbler – Setophaga discolor
Chipping Sparrow – Spizella passerina
Field Sparrow – Spizella pusilla
Savannah Sparrow – Passerculus sandwichensis
Swamp Sparrow – Melospiza georgiana
Northern Cardinal – Cardinalis cardinalis
Painted Bunting – Passerina ciris
Red-winged Blackbird – Agelaius phoeniceus
Common Grackle – Quiscalus quiscula
Boat-tailed Grackle – Quiscalus major
American Goldfinch – Spinus tristis

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South Florida Nature Center Crawl

Before and after our Bahamas mini-trip back in 2013, Arthur and I visited four different nature centers: Gumbo Limbo Nature Center; Hobe Sound Nature Center; Loggerhead Marinelife Center; and Busch Wildlife Sanctuary.

We stopped at Gumbo Limbo on our way down to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. Gumbo Limbo is a turtle rehabilitation and research center as well as a nature center. They have an impressive setup of tanks holding all kinds of marine life. There are viewing platforms above the tanks and windows below for visitors to peer inside. They also have a permanently injured, non-releasable resident sea turtle in one of the tanks.

Gumbo Limbo tanks

Gumbo Limbo resident turtle

Gopher Tortoise at Gumbo Limbo

We visited the sea turtle rehab area, where we could get up close looks at some of the patients in their tanks.

Gumbo Limbo turtle rehab

Gumbo Limbo turtle rehab

During our self-guided tour, we visited part of the research facility on the property. Sea turtle research is conducted by Florida Atlantic University and other organizations in the laboratory. The setup here was interesting. From a gallery level, we could look down at hundreds of baby sea turtles in little baskets in the facility. There’s plenty of signage explaining much of the work that was taking place.

Gumbo Limbo turtle research

Gumbo Limbo turtle research

Leashed Leatherback at Gumbo Limbo
Leatherbacks are particularly prone to hurt themselves by swimming into the edges of their tanks — hence the leash

During our visit, we walked the boardwalk nature trail, complete with observation tower. There we found a locally semi-rare bird, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.

Mangroves at Gumbo Limbo

Gumbo Limbo tower

just an eBird record shot

After our cruise, on our way home, we stopped first at Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge. We visited their new nature center. The previous nature center there was wiped out by Wilma and other hurricanes; the volunteers there were very happy to have a facility again. They had a Red-tailed Hawk and a Barred Owl in a nice unique display area. They had other permanent resident education animals, including an Eastern Spotted Skunk. We had never seen one before and we were amazed at how small it was! They are just a little bigger than a squirrel and so adorable.

Hobe Sound Nature Center

Hobe Sound Nature Center

Hobe Sound Nature Center

It was a lovely day so we also took a short walk at the refuge. We we had a nice view of the sound.

Hobe Sound Nature Center

Our next stop was Loggerhead Marinelife Center, a facility that rehabilitates sea turtles. Here we saw the work they do to save injured and sick turtles. They also have a great little museum.

Loggerhead Marinelife Center

Loggerhead Marinelife Center

Loggerhead Marinelife Center

Loggerhead Marinelife Center

Loggerhead Marinelife Center

Loggerhead Marinelife Center

Our final stop on the way home was the wonderful Busch Wildlife Sanctuary. This is a large facility that cares for hundreds of animals of all types each year. On their property they keep many permanently injured animals in various enclosures along a self-guided boardwalk trail. We attended an educational program with some resident animals there.

Busch Wildlife Sanctuary

Busch Wildlife Sanctuary

Busch Wildlife Sanctuary
A wild Pilated Woodpecker worked one of the trees in the turtle ponds

Busch Wildlife Sanctuary

Busch Wildlife Sanctuary
This wild Green Heron hunted nearby

Busch Wildlife Sanctuary
Sanctuary for permanently injured birds

Busch Wildlife Sanctuary
Education Virginia Opossum and handler

While we had been looking forward to stopping at Gumbo Limbo on the way down, we didn’t plan to visit any of the last three spots before our trip. They were all surprises — we just noticed the brown tourist signs on the highway as we headed home and decided to take a few detours. I’m glad we did. :)

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