Category Archives: Florida

Wing-tagged Black Vulture in the Everglades

While visiting the Everglades with Arthur’s family on October 18th, I saw a wing-tagged Black Vulture at Coot Bay.

Researchers have been monitoring wing-tagged vultures in the Everglades since 2012. The project aims to study vulture activity and behavior as they move across south Florida. Vultures have also been noted to cause damage to parked cars at various spots in the Everglades, though I’m not sure if the wing-tagging study is related.

I sent the tag information on CEH to the Bird Banding Laboratory. The bird was an adult, at least a year old, at the time it was tagged in late 2012. I hadn’t reported a banded bird for a very long time so it was nice to get the certificate emailed to me a few days later.

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FWRA 2015 Symposium

At the end of September I attended the Florida Wildlife Rehabilitators Association annual symposium in Haines City. I was fortunate enough to be granted a partial scholarship and I was happy to be able to attend the full three days of the event.

The days were packed with lectures and lessons about rehabilitating all kinds of creatures, with a focus on Florida natives. A group of veterinarians from Canada came to speak as well, so attendees got to hear about some of their special patients as well.

One of the programs I attended was about invasive species, where a few animals were brought for show and tell. The proper capture and handling of Burmese Pythons was presented, with some fun photo opportunities afterwards.

Tegu
Young Tegu lizard. These invasives are a big problem in Miami-Dade, Collier, and Hillsborough counties.

Burmese Python
Burmese Python bite

Burmese Python
Holding a Burmese Python

Before the conference, I was a bit concerned that much of the symposium would be over my head, but that wasn’t really the case. The organizers did a great job of presenting different topics that would interest all kinds of skill and experience levels in wildlife rehab.

Besides the formal presentations, I really enjoyed getting to know other attendees who work in rehabilitation across the state and beyond. Meal times, plus evening activities like workshops and crafts, left attendees plenty of time to mingle while having creative fun. I made a hawk t-shirt with bleach. The perch-making workshop was very popular. Being such a newbie when it comes to rehab means that I was able to learn a lot from my fellow symposium participants as well.

perch-making workshop
Perch workshop: make and take

During the symposium I also managed to finally see my most-wanted Florida species in the wild — a Coral Snake! During the before-dinner break on Thursday night I was walking back to my room to freshen up. There were always people walking around the grounds, except for when I stumbled up on this beautiful snake. There was NO ONE to share it with! I was smiling like a total goofball, taking photo after photo of the snake (and maybe talking to it too, maybe). Coral Snakes are one of our venomous species, known to be docile and own-business-minders. So awesome!

Coral Snake
Lifer Coral Snake!!

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Posted in Festivals & Events, Florida, Rehabilitation | Leave a comment

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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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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Post-Christmas walk at Lake Apopka

Santa brought me a new camera for Christmas. Arthur and I headed to Lake Apopka on the 26th to give it a spin. The weather was fairly drearly and we missed seeing the Groove-billed Anis that have been hanging out there for a few weeks, but we had a nice walk and enjoyed our first visit to this local birding mecca.

We saw a couple of American Kestrels. One was quite distant and gave me a chance to check out the zoom on the camera. The bird is perched on the middle tree in the first photo below.

kestrel on center tree

American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)

This Bobcat was also really far away. It disappeared into the reeds as we approached.

Bobcat [Lynx rufus]

We also spotted no less than four North American River Otters crossing the path or bounding alongside it.

North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis)

Along the trail we saw this pile of feathers. I think it might be an ex-American Bittern.

pile of feathers

detail of feather pile

We weren’t the only birders out looking for the anis.

birders

Even though we missed the anis, we did manage to get some good birds, including a flyover Fulvous Whistling Duck, which was a lifer. That one goes on my Better View Desired list, for sure. I’m happy with the camera so far — looking forward to giving it a good workout in 2015 and beyond. ๐Ÿ™‚

balloon

Here are my eBird checklists from the walk: out and back.

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Bird on your line? Don’t cut it!

The other morning while birding at Gemini Springs, I shared the dock with a woman who was fishing at the end. I was about finished scanning for birds when I heard her struggling. She had caught a Double-crested Cormorant on her line and she was trying to reel it in.

So often I find discarded fishing line and trash dumped on the pier, and junk left behind by fishermen stands in the spring run and bayou at the park. Unfortunately this reflects badly on all fisherfolk and I have a very bad impression of fishing enthusiasts that I find it hard to get over. The fact that this woman did not simply cut her line, which I believe most fishermen in her position would do, made my day. I rushed over to help her reel in the bird.

I grabbed her net when the bird was close and managed to get the net under the struggling cormorant. Naturally the bird had no idea we were trying to help it so it put up a fight. The fisherwoman and I lifted the bird up and then we worked together to control the bird’s beak. Besides being deadly-stabby, Double-crested Cormorant bills have the added bonus of a hooked tip. If it gets your finger, its more difficult to extricate said finger from the grabby/crushy grasp.

We both took care to keep our faces away from the stabbing bird. My partner had a pair of needle-nosed pliers handy, and she used those to gently grasp the bill — but not before my right index finger got scraped good.

scratched finger

The pliers proved very handy and eventually I was finally able to control the cormorant’s bill and body while the fisherwoman removed two hooks from the bird. One was stuck in a wing and the other in the flesh of a foot. I don’t know if the hooks were barbed like the ones in this tutorial, but I do know they were removed very quickly in the hands of the fisherwoman. This tutorial was created with coastal fisherfolk and Brown Pelicans in mind, but the idea for any bird/situation is about the same.

What to do if you hook a pelican

After the hooks were removed, we released the bird. During the entire ordeal, the fisherwoman was obviously distraught. As we struggled, she repeated over and over that she did not see the bird in the water. She didn’t realize the bird was diving under the water where she was fishing. All I could do was thank her profusely for doing the right thing and not cutting her line. Doing so would have left the bird with hooks in its body and the added danger of entanglement from any attached line. It was an unfortunate incident made right and it gave me a brighter impression of fishers.

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Posted in Florida, Gemini Springs | 2 Comments

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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Posted in ACBOP, Florida, Not Birds, Rehabilitation | Leave a comment

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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Posted in Florida, Yard Birds | 1 Comment

Red Knot FLV5M

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.

Red Knots

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.

Banded Red Knot

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.

Red Knots

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!

www.bandedbirds.org

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.

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Posted in Banding, CBC, Florida, Migration | 1 Comment

Leucistic Turkey Vulture

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.

Leucistic Turkey Vulture

Leucistic Turkey Vulture

We turned around for a better look. It was a nearly all-white Turkey Vulture!

Leucistic Turkey Vulture

Oh my goodness, how unusual and beautiful! I was oohing and aahing. ๐Ÿ™‚

Leucistic Turkey Vulture

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.

Leucistic Turkey Vulture

This beauty was not my first leucistic bird, but it was my first leucistic vulture, and my first leucistic bird in Florida. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Posted in Florida, Offbeat | 5 Comments
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