Author Archives: Amy

My first pelagic birding trip!

Last Sunday, September 18th, I joined a pelagic birding trip on the Pastime Princess out of Ponce de Leon Inlet, Florida. The trip was sponsored by the Marine Science Center; there were 43 birders aboard.

This-a-way
There’s no turning back now!

We departed at about 5am and before we got out of the harbor a downpour drove everyone on the upper deck downstairs. I got soaked but dried off fairly quickly after the rain (the first shower of several throughout the day) stopped. As soon as we were out of the harbor the water got quite rough – well, more rough than I had expected anyway. The ship was rocking and rolling and I held onto my seat, scared to get up. The seas were pretty rough throughout the whole day, but I got used to it eventually and could walk around the ship once it was daylight. I saw at least seven different people get sick but luckily my one Dramamine and my laser-focus on the horizon throughout most of the journey kept my stomach settled. I also ate like a bird, and I’m sure that helped too. 🙂 The video below gives an idea of how the trip was – during a relatively calm part of the journey.

Distant rains
Rain in the distance. It reached us, eventually.


Calm?

After the first rough patch of seas, the sun began to rise. My photos don’t begin to capture the beauty of the sunrise, but I remember thinking at the time that even if we didn’t see any birds, the trip was already worth it.

Sunrise
Beautiful!

Sunrise
Ooh, aah!

One of the guides brought along a bunch of study skins of birds we hoped to see during the pelagic trip. These were really interesting to see and we got a nice explanation and close-up look at the skins during the last part of the trip.

Study skins
Study skins of pelagic birds

Study skins
More skins

I got six lifers on the trip. Remarkably, I didn’t have too much trouble picking up the birds in my binoculars. Taking photos of the birds, however, was a comedy of errors. Everything is on the move so just finding something in my viewfinder was a challenge. I only got shots of a few birds, all lousy. A couple of photographer birders on the trip got excellent shots of some birds, and I’ve linked to them in this list (my lifers): Black-capped Petrel; Cory’s Shearwater; Great Shearwater; Audubon’s Shearwater; Sabine’s Gull; Sooty Tern. I also saw potential lifers Wilson’s Storm-petrel and Red-necked Phalarope, but they were so tiny I can’t count them on my list. Incidentally, we ended up seeing a large number of Black-capped Petrels throughout the day for a conservative total of 45 birds – a one-day Florida record.

Cory's Shearwaters
Cory’s Shearwaters resting on the water

Cory's Shearwater
Cory’s Shearwater shearing

Sabine's Gull
Sabine’s Gull between the waves

Something really sad to see was a Black-throated Blue Warbler about 50 miles out from shore. This tiny bird circled the boat for a while and everyone was quietly rooting for it to land somewhere on the ship to take rest. At one point the bird even flew inside the main cabin, but it eventually left the ship. I read on the trip leader’s report later that at least two other warblers were seen during the day.

Besides the birders and guides, an employee from the turtle hospital at the Marine Science Center was aboard. She brought along some baby sea turtles to be released during our voyage. Baby turtles!! In the photos below, the ones with the light outline are Green Sea Turtles and the brownish ones are Loggerhead Sea Turtles. The babies were in the care of the Center for a variety of reasons, and were aged between three and four weeks.

Sea Turtle Release
Awwww…

Sea Turtle Release
So small!

Sea Turtle Release
Two Loggerheads and five Greens

We tried to find a large bed of sargassum for the release, but all we could find were long strings of the sea grass. Finally we found a suitable spot and the turtles were released. A baby turtle or two was placed into a net and they were lowered to the water. They all swam off immediately. This was very, very cool to see!

Sea Turtle Release
One Green to go!

Sea Turtle Release
Two Loggerheads overboard!

Birds were the focus of the trip, but we were also treated to several sightings of Atlantic Spotted Dolphin pods. I captured just a few pictures, but we saw dolphins on several different occasions and we were treated to many, many full breaches.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin
Wheee!

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin
Always a treat to see dolphins!

Another non-bird sighting was a huge adult Loggerhead Sea Turtle, again very cool to see! The boat also scared up a lot of flying fish. I hadn’t seen these before and their quick flights made me giggle.

While most birders were either glued to a seat or hanging on to the railings during our time at sea, most everyone stood up during the leisurely sail back into port. We picked up quite a few day birds on the way in, including 60+ Brown Pelicans, Ruddy Turnstones and Caspian Terns.

Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse
The Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse

Birders
Birders!

I had a lot of fun on my first pelagic trip, although I was sad to go alone; Arthur wasn’t feeling well and decided to stay home. With the rough seas I am sure he made the right decision. I’m already looking forward to my next pelagic birding experience. 🙂

Pastime Princess
The Pastime Princess at the end of the day

Posted in Florida, Pelagic, Volusia Birding | Leave a comment

Gemini Springs, July 2011

We live very close to Gemini Springs, a Volusia County park. The 210-acre park is located along the DeBary Bayou, a swampy finger of water that feeds into Lake Monroe and the St. Johns River. We can reach the park from our DeBary home via a leisurely bike ride of just over two miles.

I’ve been saving photos from my visits to Gemini Springs with the vague idea of making an epic blog post about this local patch. But as the folder of photos grows and grows, I am starting to think I should just let the photos speak for themselves. So this is the first post in a series, playing catch up with my July pictures from Gemini Springs. I hope you’ll enjoy this look at my new local birding spot.

Gemini Springs
Nature trail; July 9, 2011

Gemini Springs
DeBary Bayou; July 9, 2011

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret; July 9, 2011

Gemini Springs
Fishing pier; July 9, 2011

Kayaking DeBary Bayou
Kayaking DeBary Bayou; July 19, 2011

Tricolored Heron
Tricolored Heron seen from the kayak; July 19, 2011

Green Heron
Green Heron seen from the kayak; July 19, 2011

American Crow
American Crow; July 31, 2011

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron; July 31, 2011

Posted in Florida, Gemini Springs, Volusia Birding | Leave a comment

BPW: Dramatic Heron

The Port Orange Wildlife Sanctuary (which has an interesting lost-in-history story) is a chain of islands on the main channel of the Intercoastal Waterway. Arthur and I paid a short visit on our way home from the Marine Science Center. We spied this Green Heron flying over the parking lot and landing among some reeds in a tiny pond between the asphalt and the channel.

Green Heron

Green Heron

We spent just a few moments watching it watch the water, and I snapped a few pictures. I thought putting a few together would make a funny animated GIF. 🙂

Incidentally, I’ve posted about Green Herons twice before: Green Herons out and about and BPW: Green Heron, both from 2009.

Bird Photography Weekly is a regular collection of user-submitted bird photos from all over the world. The new edition comes out every Sunday. Go have a look at this week’s submissions!

Posted in Bird Photography Weekly, Florida, Volusia Birding | 3 Comments

Meeting a kestrel, petting stingrays, and other fun at the Marine Science Center

Last month Arthur and I visited the Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet. The small center has marine life exhibits and displays. They also have facilities for both turtle and bird rehabilitation.

Marine Science Center
Welcome to the Marine Science Center!

The main building houses several (mainly aquatic) exhibits with turtles, lobsters, sharks, fish and rays. As you’d expect at such a facility, the aquariums and animal enclosures are accompanied by informative (and impressively comprehensive) signage.

Several displays are devoted to Volusia County’s Artificial Reef Program. Over 40 artificial reefs play host to aquatic life in Volusia County offshore waters. The reefs consist of the remains of ships, airplanes, and barges, large concrete rubble and other discarded construction materials, and specially constructed reef balls.

Artificial Reefs
Map showing some of Volusia’s artificial reefs

If you don’t know about artificial reefs, it may sound like the county is just dumping junk in the ocean. First, the reef material is treated to remove any harmful elements. Within days of the artificial reef material settling on the ocean floor, living organisms begin to inhabit the reef. As the community expands around the growing source of food and shelter, larger, predatory fish begin to visit the reef. In time there is a thriving reef where there was once not much more than water and sand.

Reef Balls
Reef balls were used in some of the aquariums

My favorite indoor exhibit was the stingray touch pool, occupied by cownose stingrays, Atlantic stingrays, and a few other species of fish plus some crabs and other organisms.

Stingray Touch Pool
Stingray Touch Pool

The rays circle the pool and visitors can touch them. One particular cownose stingray was extremely endearing. It would slow down as it approached an outstretched hand, and rise up to the hand to be petted. It was a lot like a head-bump from a cat. You can see this in the final seconds of the video below.


Super-cute scritch-lovin’ cownose stingray in last seconds of clip!

As we were enjoying the marine displays, it was announced there would be a short bird of prey program in the classroom, which was a nice surprise. A volunteer gave a short informal program along with Priscilla, a four-year-old American Kestrel. Priscilla is an imprint, along with four other female nest-mates. They were raised illegally by a member of the public before being brought in to rehabilitation. She and her sisters are all non-releasable ed birds at different licensed facilities.

Priscilla
Priscilla the American Kestrel

Priscilla is not the only education bird at the center. Outside there are several enclosures holding permanent resident marine birds like Brown Pelicans, gulls, and a Black Stork. There are also mews with birds of prey. The resident raptors include a pair of Bald Eagles, Red-shouldered Hawks, a Barred Owl, a Great Horned Owl, a Swallow-tailed Kite, and others.

Raptors
Raptor mews

Education Birds
Enclosures for permanent resident birds

The Mary Keller Seabird Rehabilitation Sanctuary on site has treated over 4500 birds since it opened in 2004. Not only seabirds are taken in; over 140 bird species have been patients. While some education material and rehab information is visible to public visitors, rehab patients and other facilities are not open to the public.

The center also takes care of injured sea, freshwater and terrestrial turtles and part of their turtle hospital facilities, as well as information about the dangers sea turtles face, can be viewed by visitors.

Turtle Rehabilitation
Turtle rehabilitation

Turtle x-rays
X-rays showing fishing hook ingestion and seashell impaction

Finally, there is a short nature trail and boardwalk that leads to an observation tower. We didn’t see too much on our hot mid-afternoon walk except for a lot of big, beautiful spiders. The historic Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse is visible from the path.

On the boardwalk
On the boardwalk!

Ponce Lighthouse
Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse

Volusia County’s Marine Science Center is a great destination for nature lovers who want to learn more about area wildlife, especially marine ecology. I am sure we will be back!

Posted in Florida, Museum, Rehabilitation, Volusia Birding | Leave a comment

BPW: Red-shouldered Hawk with prey

Last Thursday Arthur and I visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom to check out their International Vulture Awareness Day activities. We were not disappointed!

While having a look at another part of the park, we noticed a hawk swoop into a tree. Like all of my readers, I’m sure, our natural instinct is to avoid disturbing birds as much as possible while observing them. So at first I didn’t move and watched the bird for a moment through the branches. This was our view.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Now, that wasn’t a bad spot from which to admire a beautiful bird of prey, but then we realized that the hawk had perched itself directly above a large crowd of excited children. The kids were excited to meet a Disney character; we were excited to watch this gorgeous hawk in action! We walked around to have a better view and took a few more photos, and a short video.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

The prey looks to be some kind of small lizard, and the favored part seems to have been the head. Here’s a close-up of the meal before the bird really dug in. Yum!

Red-shouldered Hawk prey

Bird Photography Weekly is a regular collection of user-submitted bird photos from all over the world. The new edition comes out every Sunday. Go have a look at this week’s submissions!

Posted in Bird Photography Weekly, Disney, Florida | 2 Comments

Celebrating Vultures at Animal Kingdom

Today is International Vulture Awareness Day (IVAD). Did you celebrate nature’s clean -up crew today? Disney’s Animal Kingdom is celebrating vultures all month!

Arthur and I visited Animal Kingdom on Thursday, September 1st, the date highlighted on the Disney Parks Blog as the day the park would be participating in IVAD. We later learned that the celebration would continue through the entire month of September.

We first visited the Rafiki’s Planet Watch part of the park, where we had a look at the educational vulture posters and materials on display. Books about vultures were available for perusing and materials like vulture skulls and feathers were also on display. Cast members played vulture fact games with kids and had a great little presentation to show the strength of vulture stomachs which involved small plastic bones and smoking vulture “acid” stomach juices.

Vulture skulls
Vulture skulls. The one with the huge nostrils in the foreground is a Turkey Vulture.

Vulture information display
Vulture info display at Rafiki’s Planet Watch

Vulture information display
Vulture info display at Rafiki’s Planet Watch

Next we got a big thrill when we checked the activity tables for small kids. Among the coloring pages and vulture masks we found a couple of Birdorable Vulture puzzles!!

Birdorable vulture downloads!
Birdorable goodies at Rafiki’s Planet Watch before being snatched up by thousands of fans

At the Tree of Life area of the park, another information station was set up by the Lappet-faced Vulture exhibit. This included a model vulture nest and a pair of model life-size vulture wings was available for kids (of all ages) to try on.

Lappet-faced Vulture sign
Permanent display sign for the Lappet-faced Vulture exhibit area

Vulture information display
Vulture info display at the Tree of Life

I'm a vulture!
I’m a vulture!

At the Animal Kingdom Lodge, another information booth with more educational materials and a video display was set up and manned by a naturalist.

Vulture information display
Vulture info display at the Animal Kingdom Lodge

Rüppell’s Vultures reside in one of the lodge’s savannas, and there were two sessions of public viewing of vulture feeding and enrichment.

The birds are trained to come feed by a visual cue – the waving of a flag. Now as it was a bit overcast and the wind was picking up, the zoologist interpreter at the viewing mentioned that the birds sometimes won’t feed in high wind or in the rain. I wonder if that’s because they would not normally prefer to fly in such conditions and therefore would not be able to find food to eat. In any case, somehow I ended up with the task of waving the flag. I managed to wave in the birds after some hard work. 😉

Calling in the vultures
Calling in the vultures

We were treated to a family group of three vultures who came out to munch on some raw bones, a special meal for the birds (who usually eat rats or mice).

Rüppell's Vulture
Om nom nom…

Rüppell's Vulture
… nom nom nom…

Rüppell's Vulture
… nom nom nom…

Rüppell's Vulture
Rüppell’s Vulture

Having commemorated IVAD on our own in the past, this year it was special to have a destination where vultures were being celebrated so enthusiastically. I was impressed with the materials and information being shared with visitors of all ages at several different spots in the park and lodge. I think celebrating vultures at Animal Kingdom might become an annual tradition for Arthur and me. 🙂

Turkey Vulture
A Turkey Vulture soars over Disney World

Posted in Disney, Festivals & Events, Zoo | Leave a comment

My visitors came from *where* in August 2011?!?!?

Here are my favorite search terms that brought visitors to this site during August 2011. This is part of an ongoing monthly series on blog search terms.

binoculars to eat… I guess we all get hungry out in the field, but is this really practical?

does the magnificent frigate bird live in florida?… Yes! Both bird and blogger. 🙂

raptors cloacaPerv!

small crested birds florida tit… Good thing they added “crested” and “birds.” Hope they found what they were looking for!

cute birdemic drawing… Did someone mix-up Birdorable with the shock and terror?

cloaca bird blue jay… Seriously? Two visitors arrived here searching for cloaca last month?

shrike with impaled… I just love that someone was searching the interwebs for this! Whenever we have seen shrikes, we’ve searched for impaled prey. So far, no luck. I will squeal like a schoolgirl if I ever see it in life. Check out this great encounter with a juvenile shrike practicing the, uh, practice.

what’s that bird movie in 2011… Can’t wait, that’s what!

what is the bird with red eyes and looks like a toucan… I am very curious what this searcher was seeking. What looks like a toucan but is not a toucan?

happy crowds of biologists pictures… This makes me happy.

where do homing pigeons hide when lost?… Aww. 🙁

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BPW: Clumsy Anhinga

While visiting Gemini Springs earlier this week, I stopped to watch an Anhinga preening and drying itself in a tree.

Gemini Springs
The Anhinga is in the upper right quadrant of this picture, in the highlighted circle

Anhinga

Anhinga

As I watched, I hoped it might decide to hunt so I could observe it in the water. I just love watching snake birds do their thing. But this beauty just keep on preening.

Anhinga

Anhinga

After about ten minutes, the Anhinga started awkwardly hopping downward towards the center of the tree. It seemed to be uncharacteristically clumsy and I wondered if it could be after some prey in the tree, like a frog.

I lost sight of the bird just as it approached the bottom of the tree, which was over the water. It seemed to vanish behind the leaves. Or did it fall into the water? I approached the tree from the grassy shore, but I couldn’t see the bird.

Just as I was considering stepping into the murky water to check on the fate of the Anhinga, I saw it on a lower branch, shaking water off its body.

It was covered in aquatic vegetation, so I think it did get into the water, maybe not on purpose.

Anhinga

Anhingas always seem so graceful to me, so it was surprising to see this apparently clumsy individual. Of course, I don’t know what happened during the time I lost sight of the bird. Maybe it acquired prey and was satisfied with a successful hunt. From my vantage point, though, it looked like a bit of slapstick.

I left the bird to another preening and drying-off session.

Anhinga

Bird Photography Weekly is a regular collection of user-submitted bird photos from all over the world. The new edition comes out every Sunday. Go have a look at this week’s submissions!

Posted in Bird Photography Weekly, Florida, Gemini Springs, Volusia Birding | 3 Comments

Birders, help yourself help wildlife

This morning, Arthur and I saw what we first thought was an unfortunate roadkill opossum on the road as we drove through our neighborhood. To our shock, we saw the injured animal was still alive, and struggling to cross the road. What to do?

What would you do if you saw a Mute Swan bleeding by the side of busy highway? Who would you call if you saw a Brown Thrasher lying in the middle of a busy city intersection, dazed from a window strike? If a Great Blue Heron was struck by a car in your neighborhood, would you know what to do?

I was involved in these scenarios and more as a volunteer with FCWR. Being familiar with wildlife rehabilitation in the Chicago area, I knew who to call in case of animal emergencies. But I came across plenty of concerned citizens who were frustrated by the time they got in touch with someone who could help them and their distressed animal. Unfortunately, police departments, emergency services and local governments don’t always know the closest rehabilitation centers. If you start calling random government agencies, you might have to play phone tag, while your injured animal is waiting for urgent care.

If you believe that birders are more observant than the average person, you might also believe that birders are more likely to come across situations like the ones listed above. Judging from emails sent to a few state listservs I’ve followed in the past, birders might be in a better position to find and help injured wildlife, but they don’t always know what to do or who to call. So prepare yourself, and write down some numbers or add them to your phone. Think of all your non-birder friends out there too… who are they going to call when they find an injured bird? It might just be you – so you better be ready. The time you save by being prepared may mean life instead of death for an injured animal.

Now that we’ve moved to a new area, one of the first things I did was look up local wildlife rehabbers and note which species or families they help. I’ve added their contact information to my phone and to Arthur’s phone. I’ve made note of the addresses, too, since cellphone reception isn’t the same everywhere. In our case we’ve noted several that are close to the places we’ll frequently visit. We’ve entered them with the “last name” Wildlife, so we don’t have to remember individual center names and they are all easy to find together in our contacts.

Besides noting contact info for local rehabbers, I spent a few moments looking over the websites of my local groups. Rehab centers are almost always underfunded, and understaffed, relying on the hard work of dedicated volunteers. Becoming familiar with how different local groups work may help me and potential wildlife rescues in the future.

And it helped us help the opossum this morning. We turned the car around and Arthur got on the phone with our closest mammal rehabilitation center and prepared the cardboard animal carrier we keep in the car. I put on a pair of gloves and grabbed a blanket to gather up the injured opossum and transfer it to the carrier. (Besides noting the phone numbers, we take the extra step of keeping a few pieces of equipment in the back of our minivan to recover injured birds or animals.)

Here are some wildlife rehabilitation directory sources. They might not have the most updated information on every listing, so it’s a good idea to be sure the organizations you find are still in operation. Often a simple Google search will give you an idea of the rehabber’s status.

The Wildlife Rehabilitation Information Directory
National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association
Wildlife Rehabber search

More sources of interest:
My Dog Found a Nest of Baby Bunnies decision tree
I Found a Baby Squirrel on the Ground decision tree
How to Rescue a Sick, Injured or Baby Raptor

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