Sometimes a rehabilitated bird needs some encouragement at the time of release. He or she might seem to not realize s/he is free. Such was the case with three juvenile Brown Pelicans that were released back in November in Ponce Inlet. The birds were rehabbed by the Mary Keller Seabird Rehabilitation Sanctuary at the Marine Science Center. The public was invited to the release. And the public showed up!
Arthur and I were there to witness the somewhat confused birds eventually make their way to freedom.
The procedure here it to gently toss the eagle after it has had a moment to adjust to the situation. It wears a hood during transport to the release site, which helps the bird relax (I think this bird fell asleep in my lap on the drive over).
Sleeping Bald Eagle selfie
Matt demonstrates tossing motion
The hood is removed and after a beat the bird is released with a gentle upward-motion toss. This doesn’t really leave any room for hesitation!
No more hood!
Good luck, eagle!!
And then there are the rehabilitated sea turtles that may also be a bit confused at first when they are released. Here’s Benjamin, a sub-adult Loggerhead, who needed a little course correction after he was set free at water’s edge.
You just never know with wild animals, rehabilitation, and release — and that’s how it should be. Releases are pretty much always magical, even when the releasee causes gasps with unexpected flight patterns, unforeseen hesitation and surprising directional choices! Apparently November 2013 was a big month for releases — all three in this blog post occurred in that month!
Last month, Arthur found a very small nest in a tangle of fallen Spanish moss on the ground in our back yard.
I took a couple of photos, hoping I would be able to identify the nest-builder. That’s my (fat but not freakishly large) index finger for scale. We don’t have a large number of small-sized breeding birds here in our yard, so my list of potential species was quite small.
Tufted Titmice are abundant in our yard all year, but they are cavity nesters. We have Blue-gray Gnatcatchers in our yard all year too, but they make a deep cup-like nest attached to a branch. We have Ruby-throated Hummingbirds here year-round, too, but this nest is way too big for those tiny dynamos (besides the shape and material mismatch).
My last guess turned out to be a good one, I think. We have Northern Parulas singing in our yard all spring long. All About Birds tells me that Northern Parula “nests are usually in a hanging clump of epiphytes like Spanish moss, beard moss, or lace lichen. That seems like a good match to me.
Arthur spotted the nest on June 23rd, and it probably fell that day or a day or two earlier. This is on the tail end of the nestling (April 7 to June 29) and fledgling (April 18 to July 4) stage for this species in Florida. There were a couple of broken eggshells in the nest when it fell. Hopefully the babies safely fledged before the nest was lost.
Yes, I skipped birding at Gemini Springs completely in May. For nearly the entire month I was out of the country. I did some birding elsewhere — hopefully some of that will make it onto the blog eventually.
During June I birded at Gemini Springs just 4 times (!!!), for a total of 37 species. Yikes. Huh, it’s not too shabby for me, apparently — I saw 39 in June 2013 and 27 in June 2012. I didn’t get any new or spectacular birds (duh) but I actually found two new (to me, not rare at all) butterflies.
Here are some photo highlights from birding at Gemini Springs during June 2014.
Red-shouldered Hawk | 02 June 2014
Limpkin | 09 June 2014
new sign, yay! | 09 June 2014
Darling little loud begging confused clumsy goofball baby Blue Jay | 09 June 2014
Calm cool collected adult Blue Jay | 16 June 2014
Variegated Fritillary (new to my life list) | 16 June 2014
Freshwater turtle digging in the middle of a path — good luck, mama!| 16 June 2014
Freshwater turtle swimming under the fishing pier | 16 June 2014
Raccoon peek-a-boo | 30 June 2014
Gray Hairstreak (new to my life list) | 30 June 2014
There were a lot of disruptions in April. Inconvenient home repairs took up a lot of time, as did preparations for a long trip my husband and I took in May. At the end of the month, however, my mom visited, and that was just the best!
During April, I birded Gemini Springs 10 times. I saw 68 different species, which is more than April 2013 (55 species) and April 2012 (which was a verygood month even with just 67 species). One of the 68 was an all-time new bird for me at Gemini Springs (see below).
Here are some photo highlights from April’s birding outings at Gemini Springs.
Northern Cardinal | 04 April 2014
Sandhill Crane | 07 April 2014
lantana | 09 April 2014
Little Blue Heron | 11 April 2014
Grey Catbird | 12 April 2014
Osprey | 12 April 2014
On April 14, I looked across a field towards an area where I sometimes find Loggerhead Shrikes. In the far distance I saw a greyish bird of the right size, and almost dismissed it as my sought-after shrike. But something just wasn’t right. I looked again and found a Northern Mockingbird in the same tree, and a Great Crested Flycatcher. I thought my shrike was gone but the birds all appeared to be playing musical branches in the same tree and I was able to relocate the shrike that just didn’t look quite right. After another look I realized it was a Gray Kingbird! This is a very good bird, especially for inland Volusia (at least I think it is!), so I tried really hard to take a photo. The mockingbird and flycatcher were still bouncing around the tree so when I was able to check my photos at home I realized I got about as many photos of the other birds as I did of the kingbird. The lousy photo below is extremely cropped from a digitally-zoomed photo. Not the best, but identifiable!
Gray Kingbird | 14 April 2014
Eastern Glass Lizard | 14 April 2014
Marsh Rabbit | 14 April 2014
Red-shouldered Hawk | 16 April 2014
oh no, an unknown! possible brown form Red-fringed Emerald (Nemoria bistriaria)? | 18 April 2014
American Alligator | 19 April 2014
Blogger with mom | 19 April 2014
Brown Anole with breakfast (cockroach sp?) | 23 April 2014
Flights of Wonder is a live free-flight bird show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park. I enjoy seeing this show each time I visit Animal Kingdom (AK), especially since many of the elements of the show are different each performance. The birds rotate so you never know which species or individuals will be in a particular show.
There are usually three or four parts in each show where members from the audience can participate, but recently I saw an additional opportunity which came up before the regular show even began.
Spoiler alert! This post contains spoilers for parts of the Flights of Wonder live show. I will be discussing audience volunteer participation opportunities — read no further if you don’t want to know this ahead of time!
Warm Up Recycling with Ike
I think this woman has the best job in the world
Flights of Wonder is preceded by a warm-up act which entertains the crowd waiting to enter the theater before showtime. The announcer is usually joined by a bird or two. On a recent visit I saw that there was a chance for children to participate in part of the warm-up act. A beautiful Kea named Ike (Ike Kea, groan) flew a few free-flight passes between the announcer and an assistant across the walkway. Then three children from the crowd were asked to hand Ike a plastic bottle for recycling. Ike took the bottles and flew with them to recycling bins, where he deposited the bottles into the bins.
Ike takes the bottle…
… and puts it where it belongs
Miles and the Flying Grapes
Once the show begins inside the theater, there are usually three or four chances for audience members to join in the fun. The first chance comes up early in the show, when a Trumpeter Hornbill named Miles demonstrates his amazing flying agility as he catches grapes tossed into the air by the show emcee.
Miles about to go after a grape | Photo by Flickr user Donna62 CC BY-NC-ND
Then a child volunteer from the audience is asked to come up and toss a grape for Miles. Although many parts of the show are different from performance to performance, I think each time I have seen the show, Miles does his thing. He must never tire of flying after grapes!
Math Problems with a Parrot
Another part of the show involves a parrot demonstrating amazing skills of mimicry. Often the parrot will sing, as in the case of Groucho the Yellow-naped Amazon, who knows the words to seven different songs. Sometimes the parrot will answer a series of math problems, in competition with a child participant from the audience. No matter how quickly the child answers, the parrot always replies with the correct answer first. They may also do a funny routine with a trained Lesser Sulphur Crested Cockatoo named Pogo. Pogo is 45 years old!
Silly Pogo gets some laughs
In this audience participation opportunity, the emcee asks for an adult volunteer who has a dollar bill handy to help out. TIP: Have a dollar ready and don’t sit too far to the sides of the auditorium for your best chance to be picked for this! I have seen this part of the show performed by a parrot (see video below) and by a Pied Crow named Harley (see photo below); they have also used a Galah. The audience member holds a folded dollar bill with their arm outstretched. The bird flies to the volunteer and snatches the cash. The bird then returns a moment later to refund the money. I have done this and it was a lot of fun!
Arthur’s mom also did this — we slipped her the $1 and told her to stand up — and she got picked!
Duck Before Impact!
The last chance for audience members to participate usually involves two separate adult volunteers. The show emcee asks for volunteers with video or still cameras to come on stage and take photos of a bird as it flies across the auditorium towards them. TIP: Have your camera ready and hold it up when they are looking for volunteers. You’re more likely to be picked if they can see that you are ready to go! In this part of the show, the bird should land on a perch directly behind the volunteers, who are advised to duck down “right before impact” — because the bird “almost never misses”.
I have seen Tuesday the Great Horned Owl (as in the above photo) and Styro the Abyssinian Ground Hornbill perform this feat. I volunteered and was picked for this as well, with a Barn Owl named Alfalfa. My co-volunteer didn’t speak English very well so after we got our instructions, we sat down on the stage and he whispered to me, “We take photo of bird, right?” Yep, that’s what we do! I was giggling the whole time because I knew all of the jokes the host was going to tell before he said them. I was really excited to be there! Here we are on stage:
Giggling like a little kid!
I snapped a few photos of Alfalfa in flight but none of them came out very well. This is my best: Alfalfa incoming! I also took a photo of the audience from the stage. And here we are on stage after Alfalfa nailed his landing:
Phew, he didn’t miss his perch!
Flights of Wonder is a really nice show that we try to catch each time we visit Animal Kingdom. The human performers discuss the natural behaviors of the birds as well as wider conservation issues. I’ve seen it a bunch of times and I haven’t gotten tired of it yet.
Waiting for the show to begin | photo by Ineke de Wolf
On May 6th, Walt Disney World will celebrate International Migratory Bird Day at Animal Kingdom. When Arthur and I have attended in the past, we enjoyed seeing the special birdcentric displays and activities to mark the day.
If the schedule followed for the last few years remains the same, you can go to see an Operation Migration ultra-light airplane at Conservation Station, learn about bird banding by “playing bird”, find out what you can do to help Purple Martins and other native birds, and much more.
Last year there were a couple of displays at Conservation Station that I thought were pretty clever; I hope they bring them back again this year.
A model of a mountain ridge was set up to show how raptors migrate over higher elevations using thermals. There was even a little fan blowing on the display to show how the mountains impact wind direction and speed.
There was a table set up where children could dissect owl pellets. But for anyone who didn’t want to get so up close and personal with owl barf, they had a plush owl pellet, complete with models of bones inside! This seems like a fun way to explain what owl pellets are without necessarily dissecting one.
A bad photo of a B-A-D lifer: Vermilion Flycatcher on February 15
Today is the 100th day of the year. This is the third year in a row I have made it at least this far in the Bird-a-Day Challenge. My goal in the past was simply to improve upon the previous year’s total. This year my goal is a bit less ambitious, because soon I will be traveling somewhere where there are no birds! I will be out of the game before the end of April, probably by the 27th (17 days!).
Knowing I don’t have a chance to beat last year’s record has made my strategy this year much simpler. I’ve certainly fretted less about using up easy birds early in the challenge. It helped that I got some pretty good birds in our yard: Painted Bunting on January 14; Ovenbird on January 29; House Finch on March 20.
A B-A-D staple: Florida Scrub-Jay on March 23
Even so, picking out a bird each day still makes me think about things like the timing of migration and species abundance on a regular basis. Doing this for the last few years has been a great exercise in learning local birds in my new home state.
Best B-A-D of the year so far: Hooded Warbler on March 31
And again it’s been a lot of fun! I am already looking forward to playing in 2015, with a target date to beat.
I’m so glad March is over. An unexpected emergency home repair project turned into a multi-week home improvement saga that is still ongoing — though by now the end is in sight. March was an extremely stressful month to say the least.
I did manage to bird at Gemini Springs 9 times during March (with no visits between the 16th and the 21st — that was a rough week). I saw 69 species (compared to 79 in March 2013), including one awesome new addition to my patch list – Prothonotary Warbler (that was a really good day). The complete list of birds is at the end of this post.
Despite visiting 9 times, I have few photos from the month that was. A lot of my visits were fairly quick and I just didn’t take the time I usually do. Here are a handful of photographic highlights from birding at Gemini Springs in March, 2014.
sunrise | 10 March 2014
American Bittern photoshop fun | 12 March 2014
Common Gallinule | 15 March 2014
moonrise | 15 March 2014
moon | 15 March 2014
Common Buckeye | 26 March 2014
Red-shouldered Hawk | 26 March 2014
Prothonotary Warbler | 26 March 2014
I was finishing up my walk on the afternoon of the 26th, hurrying along the bike path in a normally relatively bird-free part of my route. I heard a Tufted Titmouse scolding and the birding gods were with me because I decided to investigate. I doubt the titmouse was in any way perturbed by the Prothonotary Warbler foraging in an adjacent tree, but if it wasn’t for the crazy scolding, I never would have stopped there. I saw a flash of yellow but wasn’t sure what it was until I got my bins on the bird. An unexpected find — I am sure I gasped.
Prothonotary Warbler | 26 March 2014
Prothonotary Warbler keeping an eye on a potential meal | 26 March 2014
The month ended with another gasp — my Bobcat sightings are few and far between.
why did the Bobcat cross the road? | 30 March 2014
Gemini Springs, March 2014 month bird list
Wood Duck – Aix sponsa
Blue-winged Teal – Anas discors
Wild Turkey – Meleagris gallopavo
Pied-billed Grebe – Podilymbus podiceps
Double-crested Cormorant – Phalacrocorax auritus
Anhinga – Anhinga anhinga
American Bittern – Botaurus lentiginosus
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
Black-crowned Night-Heron – Nycticorax nycticorax
White Ibis – Eudocimus albus
Glossy Ibis – Plegadis falcinellus
Black Vulture – Coragyps atratus
Turkey Vulture – Cathartes aura
Osprey – Pandion haliaetus
Bald Eagle – Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Red-shouldered Hawk – Buteo lineatus
Red-tailed Hawk – Buteo jamaicensis
King Rail – Rallus elegans
Sora – Porzana carolina
Common Gallinule – Gallinula galeata
American Coot – Fulica americana
Killdeer – Charadrius vociferus
Caspian Tern – Hydroprogne caspia
Forster’s Tern – Sterna forsteri
Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura
Belted Kingfisher – Megaceryle alcyon
Red-bellied Woodpecker – Melanerpes carolinus
Downy Woodpecker – Picoides pubescens
Northern Flicker – Colaptes auratus
Pileated Woodpecker – Dryocopus pileatus
American Kestrel – Falco sparverius
Eastern Phoebe – Sayornis phoebe
White-eyed Vireo – Vireo griseus
Blue-headed Vireo – Vireo solitarius
Red-eyed Vireo – Vireo olivaceus
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
American Robin – Turdus migratorius
Gray Catbird – Dumetella carolinensis
Northern Mockingbird – Mimus polyglottos
Black-and-white Warbler – Mniotilta varia
Prothonotary Warbler – Protonotaria citrea
Common Yellowthroat – Geothlypis trichas
Northern Parula – Setophaga americana
Palm Warbler – Setophaga palmarum
Yellow-rumped Warbler – Setophaga coronata
Yellow-throated Warbler – Setophaga dominica
Prairie Warbler – Setophaga discolor
Chipping Sparrow – Spizella passerina
Savannah Sparrow – Passerculus sandwichensis
Swamp Sparrow – Melospiza georgiana
Northern Cardinal – Cardinalis cardinalis
Indigo Bunting – Passerina cyanea
Red-winged Blackbird – Agelaius phoeniceus
Boat-tailed Grackle – Quiscalus major
American Goldfinch – Spinus tristis
At the end of December, I participated in the Daytona CBC (Christmas Bird Count). A stretch of beach was part of my group’s area, most of which we could cover by car. As we drove along four-plus miles of beach, I counted the gulls and terns, while others in the group counted shorebirds and other species.
Among the shorebirds we found a couple of flocks of Red Knots. One of the birds was banded and flagged. I took some photos of the distant bird in rather poor drizzly conditions — and was pleased to later see that the flag’s numbers were readable.
I reported the sighting on bandedbirds.org and was amazed to find much data about this particular bird’s movements was immediately available to me. No waiting for a response, awesome!
Red Knots have one of the longest migrations of any bird species. Birds in the western hemisphere may travel over 9000 miles, twice a year, between their breeding grounds in the Arctic to their winter homes in southern South America.
The rufa subspecies of the eastern Americas is emperiled, in great part due to its reliance on the availability of horseshoe crab eggs during a critical part of its migration. These birds are the subject of the excellent Nature episode Crash: A Tale of Two Species.
The bird we saw on the CBC was first banded during spring migration, on June 3, 2005, in New Jersey. Since then, this hearty Red Knot has been sighted several times. During the following spring, it was seen again in New Jersey. The next sighting was in the fall of 2009, where FLV5M* apparently spent (at least) nearly two months on the coast of Georgia. Sightings in South Carolina and again New Jersey followed. In March 2011, the Red Knot was captured again (this time in South Carolina) and had its flag replaced (*to the present FLV5M). Sightings continued to come in from New Jersey, Georgia, South Carolina, and once in Delaware. The first Florida sighting was reported at Ormond Beach in January of 2013. Our CBC sighting at Daytona Beach on December 28, 2013, was the first reported December sighting for this bird.
Between its first capture in 2005 and our sighting in December 2013, Red Knot FLV5M had traveled well over 145,000 miles, and possibly many more. All on its own power. Red Knots weigh less than 5 ounces. Isn’t that amazing?!
If you’ve ever seen a flagged shorebird, be sure to report your sighting!
In North America, other species of banded birds can be reported to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Bird Banding Laboratory. If you aren’t able to read the entire band, your sighting may still be useful. Do a web search for your species and banding efforts; that’s what I did when I could only partially read the band of a Reddish Egret Arthur and I found on the Keys a couple of years ago.
Our time in the Florida Keys was over. We were heading home after Arthur’s turtle conference in early December, taking US1 across the Keys back to the mainland. We were speeding along Lower Matecumbe Key when I spotted a white mass perched on a telephone poll.
We turned around for a better look. It was a nearly all-white Turkey Vulture!
Oh my goodness, how unusual and beautiful! I was oohing and aahing.
Quite a few feathers look to have some brown on them, so this bird is not an albino. A Turkey Vulture with normal plumage would have a red head just like this bird does.
This beauty was not my first leucistic bird, but it was my first leucistic vulture, and my first leucistic bird in Florida.