Birding Gemini Springs, September 2014

In September I birded at Gemini Springs 21 times. I recorded 64 (+2 sp.) species of bird, a good increase over last year’s 56 species. The complete list is at the end of this post.

Clapper Rail was new to my park list; I heard at least one individual calling during much of the second half of the month. Also new to my all-time park list: Rock Pigeon (flyover flock); Peregrine Falcon (a thrilling fly-over); Common Nighthawk; Yellow-throated Vireo; and Purple Martin (a small flock; rather late). Those last two are kind of overdue as they’re not all that rare and have been recorded by others in the park. Gray Catbirds arrived right on time at the very end of the month.

There was a lot of rain during the month. The bayou / spring runs were higher than I’ve ever seen them and there were a lot of paths that were completely flooded. The sinkhole area flooded over until a small ditch was dug to a retention area — but then the entire area flooded over again a couple of days later. All the extra standing water gave mosquitoes extra breeding grounds; late in the month mosquitoes were the most annoying I’ve ever noticed at the park.

Here are some photo highlights from a month of birding at Gemini Springs.

Great Blue Heron | Ardea herodias
Great Blue Heron | 01 September 2014

Golden Silk Orb-weaver | Nephila sp.
Golden Silk Orb-weaver sp. | 01 September 2014

Limpkin | Aramus guarauna
Limpkin | 01 September 2014

During my walk on September 5th, I saw a few of these guys:

Air Potato Leaf Beetle | Lilioceris cheni?
Air Potato Leaf Beetle | 05 September 2014

Apparently Air Potato Leaf Beetles were brought in to combat the Air Potato problem at the park. Without really knowing too much about this problem, the idea of bringing in non-native beetles to consume non-native plants makes me uneasy. I need to learn more about this procedure. Anyway, the beetles got busy on the air potatoes.

Leaf Beetles have been nomming here
Air Potato leaves | 05 September 2014

Leaf Beetles have been nomming here
Air Potato leaves | 05 September 2014

Barred Owl | Strix varia
Barred Owl | 05 September 2014

This time of year, the seeds of the Magnolia trees at the park are ripening. And all around the park I could hear squirrels eating the seeds. Squirrels chewing with their mouths open sound like rocks being rubbed on metal files.

Magnolia seeds
Magnolia tree seeds | 05 September 2014

This squirrel looked a bit rough, perhaps with a bot fly infestation. Bot flies are annoying to squirrels but most are not permanently debilitated by the flies.

Eastern Gray Squirrel | Sciurus carolinensis
Eastern Gray Squirrel, possibly with bot flies | 05 September 2014

I also found a very large snake skin on September 5th.

snake skin
snake skin | 05 September 2014

I wanted to pull it out to take a picture of its full size, but it was so damp out I was afraid the skin would disintegrate when I touched it. It was surprisingly thick and durable; it felt like a bike inner tube! And it was kind of scary big.

snake skin
snake skin detail | 05 September 2014

snake skin
snake skin all stretched out | 05 September 2014

flooding at Gemini Springs
flooding around the sinkhole | 08 September 2014

Gemini Springs spring run water level 9/8/14
high water in the spring run | 08 September 2014

Blue-striped Garter Snake | Thamnophis sirtalis similis
Blue-striped Garter Snake | 10 September 2014

tadpole in sinkhole flood
tadpole in sinkhole flood area | 13 September 2014

Eastern Gray Squirrel | Sciurus carolinensis
Eastern Gray Squirrel | 13 September 2014

Ovenbird | Seiurus aurocapilla
Ovenbird | 15 September 2014

Bald Eagle | Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Bald Eagle watching over the spring run | 16 September 2014

Green Heron | Butorides virescens
Green Heron on the fishing pier | 16 September 2014

Little Blue Heron | Egretta caerulea
Young Little Blue Heron hunting in the sinkhole floodage | 20 September 2014

Red-shouldered Hawks | Buteo lineatus
Red-shouldered Hawks — can you tell the male from the female? | 21 September 2014

White Ibis | Eudocimus albus
White Ibis | 21 September 2014

On the 21st I had a very nice outing. I saw 36 species, including my first Common Ground-Dove in several months, a juvenile Loggerhead Shrike, my first Purple Martins at the park, a raucous family of Northern Mockingbirds that was fun to watch, a good number of warblers, etc etc. It was a good morning. When I got back to my bike I saw a lanky tortie cat hanging out by the bike rack. I made kissy noises, not really expecting the cat to approach me, but she did. Two of her kittens followed her, and eventually I got the two youngsters in my hands. But now what? The mother cat came and went, soliciting pets and purring loudly. I figured I would be able to catch her up eventually, but first I needed some help. I asked passersby for a box, but had no luck. Eventually a chap from the park came over and brought me a box. The kittens promptly escaped. As they made their escape, a third kitten appeared. Oh boy. The park chap brought over some cat food and eventually I caught the two kittens again, along with their sibling. I got ma cat too, but she went ballistic when I tried to put her in the box. I finally got in touch with my family and they arrived with a cat carrier for ma cat. They’ve all checked out healthy at the vet and have had their first round of shots. The two orange ones are boys; the black kitten is a girl. They don’t have names yet.

Cat/kittens found at Gemini Springs
Cats! | 21 September 2014

flooding at Gemini Springs
Flood relief — ditch dug between sinkhole and retention area | 24 September 2014

On the 27th my mom and I attended a bird walk at the park sponsored by Lyonia Preserve and West Volusia Audubon. I rarely see other birders at the park so it was nice to see a bunch of them at the same time. We had a late start time (10AM!) and didn’t see a huge amount of birds, but it was a nice morning nonetheless.

birders at Gemini Springs
Birders! | 27 September 2014

Gemini Springs spring run water level 9/27/14
even higher water in the spring run | 27 September 2014

flooding at Gemini Springs
Little Blue Heron checking out the sinkhole and adjacent retention area — both completely flooded | 29 September 2014

See? I told you I’d have more photos for September than I had for August. ;)

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September 2014 bird list, Gemini Springs

Wood Duck – Aix sponsa
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
white egret sp. – Egretta/Bubulcus sp.
Green Heron – Butorides virescens
White Ibis – Eudocimus albus
Black Vulture – Coragyps atratus
Osprey – Pandion haliaetus
Bald Eagle – Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Red-shouldered Hawk – Buteo lineatus
Clapper Rail – Rallus crepitans
Common Gallinule – Gallinula galeata
American Coot – Fulica americana
Limpkin – Aramus guarauna
Sandhill Crane – Grus canadensis
Spotted Sandpiper – Actitis macularius
Rock Pigeon – Columba livia
Common Ground-Dove – Columbina passerina
Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura
Barred Owl – Strix varia
Common Nighthawk – Chordeiles minor
Chimney Swift – Chaetura pelagica
Belted Kingfisher – Megaceryle alcyon
Red-bellied Woodpecker – Melanerpes carolinus
Downy Woodpecker – Picoides pubescens
Northern Flicker – Colaptes auratus
Pileated Woodpecker – Dryocopus pileatus
Peregrine Falcon – Falco peregrinus
Empidonax sp. – Empidonax sp.
Great Crested Flycatcher – Myiarchus crinitus
Eastern Kingbird – Tyrannus tyrannus
Loggerhead Shrike – Lanius ludovicianus
White-eyed Vireo – Vireo griseus
Yellow-throated Vireo – Vireo flavifrons
Red-eyed Vireo – Vireo olivaceus
Blue Jay – Cyanocitta cristata
American Crow – Corvus brachyrhynchos
Fish Crow – Corvus ossifragus
Purple Martin – Progne subis
Barn Swallow – Hirundo rustica
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
Ovenbird – Seiurus aurocapilla
Black-and-white Warbler – Mniotilta varia
Common Yellowthroat – Geothlypis trichas
American Redstart – Setophaga ruticilla
Northern Parula – Setophaga americana
Yellow Warbler – Setophaga petechia
Black-throated Blue Warbler – Setophaga caerulescens
Yellow-throated Warbler – Setophaga dominica
Prairie Warbler – Setophaga discolor
Northern Cardinal – Cardinalis cardinalis
Red-winged Blackbird – Agelaius phoeniceus
Common Grackle – Quiscalus quiscula
Boat-tailed Grackle – Quiscalus major

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Birding Gemini Springs, August 2014

August was a funny month. I spent the first week or so in Illinois, helping my parents to move out of my childhood home. The next week or so was spent helping them get settled into living with us here in Florida, and getting their stuff settled into storage and in various spots in our house. I got to bird at Gemini Springs 3 times, where I recorded 31 species of bird (in August 2013 I managed 40 species in 7 visits). For some reason I took no photos. It was hot and I didn’t see anything particularly exciting. The September eBirder of the Month Challenge is to record at least 20 checklists from a patch, so I reckon I’ll have some more to say about birding at Gemini Springs in about a month (hopefully I won’t get sick of it like I did the last time they ran this particular challenge).

Gemini Springs, August 2014 month bird list
Wild Turkey – Meleagris gallopavo
Anhinga – Anhinga anhinga
Great Blue Heron – Ardea herodias
Great Egret – Ardea alba
Little Blue Heron – Egretta caerulea
Tricolored Heron – Egretta tricolor
White Ibis – Eudocimus albus
Osprey – Pandion haliaetus
Red-shouldered Hawk – Buteo lineatus
Common Gallinule – Gallinula galeata
American Coot – Fulica americana
Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura
Chimney Swift – Chaetura pelagica
Belted Kingfisher – Megaceryle alcyon
Red-bellied Woodpecker – Melanerpes carolinus
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
Tufted Titmouse – Baeolophus bicolor
Carolina Wren – Thryothorus ludovicianus
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – Polioptila caerulea
American Redstart – Setophaga ruticilla
Northern Parula – Setophaga americana
Yellow-throated Warbler – Setophaga dominica
Prairie Warbler – Setophaga discolor
Northern Cardinal – Cardinalis cardinalis
Boat-tailed Grackle – Quiscalus major

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Birding Gemini Springs, July 2014

Note: this post is back-dated

In July I birded at Gemini Springs 5 times and recorded 31 different species. It’s a bit pathetic, but it’s a great improvement over the measly 25 I saw during July 2013. The complete list from this month is at the end of this post.

In addition to the meager species count, I have a meager number of photos to share from July. Here we go…

Hibiscus sp.?
Hibiscus sp. | 14 July 2014

unknown fungus
unknown black fungus | 14 July 2014

Green Heron
Green Heron photoshop fun | 14 July 2014

Meadow Beauty sp.?
Meadow Beauty sp. | 14 July 2014

Southern Toad
Southern Toad | 16 July 2014

Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk | 16 July 2014

Gemini Springs, July 2014 month bird list
Anhinga – Anhinga anhinga
Great Blue Heron – Ardea herodias
Great Egret – Ardea alba
Little Blue Heron – Egretta caerulea
Tricolored Heron – Egretta tricolor
Cattle Egret – Bubulcus ibis
white egret sp. – Egretta/Bubulcus sp.
Green Heron – Butorides virescens
White Ibis – Eudocimus albus
Black Vulture – Coragyps atratus
Osprey – Pandion haliaetus
Red-shouldered Hawk – Buteo lineatus
American Coot – Fulica americana
Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura
Red-bellied Woodpecker – Melanerpes carolinus
Downy Woodpecker – Picoides pubescens
Pileated Woodpecker – Dryocopus pileatus
Great Crested Flycatcher – Myiarchus crinitus
White-eyed Vireo – Vireo griseus
Blue Jay – Cyanocitta cristata
American Crow – Corvus brachyrhynchos
Fish Crow – Corvus ossifragus
Carolina Chickadee – Poecile carolinensis
Tufted Titmouse – Baeolophus bicolor
Carolina Wren – Thryothorus ludovicianus
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – Polioptila caerulea
Northern Parula – Setophaga americana
Northern Cardinal – Cardinalis cardinalis
Red-winged Blackbird – Agelaius phoeniceus
Common Grackle – Quiscalus quiscula
Boat-tailed Grackle – Quiscalus major

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Release contrasts

Marine Science Center release sign

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!

crowd gathered for bird release

Arthur and I were there to witness the somewhat confused birds eventually make their way to freedom.

Just a couple of weeks later, I had the extreme honor to release a juvenile Bald Eagle that had been rehabilitated by the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey. It was not the first Bald Eagle release I had seen, but the first one I was able to release personally. It was awesome!

Bald Eagle release
Almost ready to go!

Bald Eagle talons
Killer talons, under control AT ALL TIMES!

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).

sleepy Bald Eagle
Sleeping Bald Eagle selfie

Bald Eagle release
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!

Bald Eagle release
No more hood!

Bald Eagle release

released Bald Eagle
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!

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Tiny nest

Last month, Arthur found a very small nest in a tangle of fallen Spanish moss on the ground in our back yard.

nest in Spanish moss

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.

nest in Spanish moss

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.

nest in Spanish moss

References:
Cornell’s All About Birds
Cornell’s Birds of North America Online (paid subscription)

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Birding Gemini Springs, June 2014

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 (Buteo lineatus)
Red-shouldered Hawk | 02 June 2014

Limpkin (Aramus guarauna)
Limpkin | 09 June 2014

warning sign
new sign, yay! | 09 June 2014

Immature Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)
Darling little loud begging confused clumsy goofball baby Blue Jay | 09 June 2014

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)
Calm cool collected adult Blue Jay | 16 June 2014

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)
Variegated Fritillary (new to my life list) | 16 June 2014

nesting turtle
Freshwater turtle digging in the middle of a path — good luck, mama!| 16 June 2014

swimming turtle
Freshwater turtle swimming under the fishing pier | 16 June 2014

Raccoon [Procyon lotor]
Raccoon peek-a-boo | 30 June 2014

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)
Gray Hairstreak (new to my life list) | 30 June 2014

Marsh Rabbit  (Sylvilagus palustris)
Marsh Rabbit | 30 June 2014

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Gemini Springs, June 2014 month bird list

Wild Turkey – Meleagris gallopavo
Anhinga – Anhinga anhinga
Great Blue Heron – Ardea herodias
Great Egret – Ardea alba
Snowy Egret – Egretta thula
Cattle Egret – Bubulcus ibis
Green Heron – Butorides virescens
White Ibis – Eudocimus albus
Black Vulture – Coragyps atratus
Turkey Vulture – Cathartes aura
Osprey – Pandion haliaetus
Red-shouldered Hawk – Buteo lineatus
Common Gallinule – Gallinula galeata
American Coot – Fulica americana
Limpkin – Aramus guarauna
Black-necked Stilt – Himantopus mexicanus
Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura
Chimney Swift – Chaetura pelagica
Ruby-throated Hummingbird – Archilochus colubris
Red-bellied Woodpecker – Melanerpes carolinus
Downy Woodpecker – Picoides pubescens
Northern Flicker – Colaptes auratus
Pileated Woodpecker – Dryocopus pileatus
Great Crested Flycatcher – Myiarchus crinitus
Red-eyed Vireo – Vireo olivaceus
Blue Jay – Cyanocitta cristata
American Crow – Corvus brachyrhynchos
Fish Crow – Corvus ossifragus
Tufted Titmouse – Baeolophus bicolor
Carolina Wren – Thryothorus ludovicianus
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – Polioptila caerulea
Northern Mockingbird – Mimus polyglottos
Northern Parula – Setophaga americana
Eastern Towhee – Pipilo erythrophthalmus
Northern Cardinal – Cardinalis cardinalis
Red-winged Blackbird – Agelaius phoeniceus
Boat-tailed Grackle – Quiscalus major

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Birding Gemini Springs, April 2014

Note: this post is back-dated.

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 very good 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
Northern Cardinal | 04 April 2014

Sandhill Crane
Sandhill Crane | 07 April 2014

lantana
lantana | 09 April 2014

Little Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron | 11 April 2014

Grey Catbird
Grey Catbird | 12 April 2014

Osprey
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
Gray Kingbird | 14 April 2014

Eastern Glass Lizard
Eastern Glass Lizard | 14 April 2014

Marsh Rabbit
Marsh Rabbit | 14 April 2014

Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk | 16 April 2014

ID HELP requested
oh no, an unknown! possible brown form Red-fringed Emerald (Nemoria bistriaria)? | 18 April 2014

American Alligator
American Alligator | 19 April 2014

mom & me
Blogger with mom | 19 April 2014

Brown Anole with breakfast
Brown Anole with breakfast (cockroach sp?) | 23 April 2014

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Gemini Springs, April 2014 month bird list

Wood Duck – Aix sponsa
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
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
Sandhill Crane – Grus canadensis
Black-necked Stilt – Himantopus mexicanus
Ring-billed Gull – Larus delawarensis
Forster’s Tern – Sterna forsteri
Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura
Common Ground-Dove – Columbina passerina
Ruby-throated Hummingbird – Archilochus colubris
Red-bellied Woodpecker – Melanerpes carolinus
Downy Woodpecker – Picoides pubescens
Pileated Woodpecker – Dryocopus pileatus
Great Crested Flycatcher – Myiarchus crinitus
Eastern Kingbird – Tyrannus tyrannus
Gray Kingbird – Tyrannus dominicensis
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
Tufted Titmouse – Baeolophus bicolor
House Wren – Troglodytes aedon
Carolina Wren – Thryothorus ludovicianus
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – Polioptila caerulea
Ruby-crowned Kinglet – Regulus calendula
Gray Catbird – Dumetella carolinensis
Brown Thrasher – Toxostoma rufum
Northern Mockingbird – Mimus polyglottos
Cedar Waxwing – Bombycilla cedrorum
Black-and-white Warbler – Mniotilta varia
Common Yellowthroat – Geothlypis trichas
American Redstart – Setophaga ruticilla
Northern Parula – Setophaga americana
Blackpoll Warbler – Setophaga striata
Black-throated Blue Warbler – Setophaga caerulescens
Palm Warbler – Setophaga palmarum
Yellow-rumped Warbler – Setophaga coronata
Yellow-throated Warbler – Setophaga dominica
Prairie Warbler – Setophaga discolor
Eastern Towhee – Pipilo erythrophthalmus
Swamp Sparrow – Melospiza georgiana
Northern Cardinal – Cardinalis cardinalis
Red-winged Blackbird – Agelaius phoeniceus
Common Grackle – Quiscalus quiscula
Boat-tailed Grackle – Quiscalus major
Brown-headed Cowbird – Molothrus ater
American Goldfinch – Spinus tristis

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Disney AK Flights of Wonder audience participation

Animal Kingdom
Disney’s Animal Kingdom | photo by Arthur de Wolf

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

Ike the Kea
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.

recycling
Ike takes the bottle…

recycling
… 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.

I think this is a Hornbill-- most likely a Trumpeter Hornbill
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!

Flights of Wonder: Pogo
Silly Pogo gets some laughs

Money Grabbing

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!


Blogger participation!

Arthur’s mom also did this — we slipped her the $1 and told her to stand up — and she got picked!

Flights of Wonder

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”.

Tuesday the GHOW incoming!
Tuesday incoming!

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:

Flights of Wonder
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:

Flights of Wonder
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.

Flights of Wonder
Waiting for the show to begin | photo by Ineke de Wolf

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IMBD at Animal Kingdom

IMBD at Animal Kingdom

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.

Raptor Migration

Raptor Migration display

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.

owl pellets

owl pellet

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B-A-D -17

Vermilion Flycatcher record shot
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!).

Lesser Black-backed Gull
This exact bird’s second B-A-D appearance: Lesser Black-backed Gull on January 25

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.

Florida Scrub-Jay
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.

Hooded Warbler
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. :)

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