Category Archives: Florida

ARC’s free-flying Harris’s Hawks

Earlier this month, Arthur and I visited The Avian Reconditioning Center in Apopka. My first post about that visit is here.

After meeting some of ARC’s education birds and learning about them from volunteers, we got a special treat. ARC co-founder Scott McCorkle is a falconer and he brought out two of his birds, a pair of Harris’s Hawks. When we read about seeing free-flighted birds, we didn’t imagine this type of free flight! The birds flew from the pavilion roof to Scott’s glove to a distant tree to a fence post to Scott’s glove again and several perches in between. It was really a treat to see, especially since the birds seemed to be quite playful; one bird in particular was fond of flying through cracks in the roof of the gazebo as a trick.

Harris's Hawks

Harris's Hawk

Harris's Hawk

Harris's Hawk

Harris's Hawk

Harris's Hawk

Harris's Hawk

Harris's Hawk

These photos may not be in exact chronological order, but I’m sure the last picture above was taken towards the end of the demonstration — look at that crop! ๐Ÿ™‚

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Visiting the birds of ARC

Earlier this month, Arthur and I visited The Avian Reconditioning Center, a raptor rehabilitation and education organization located in Apopka.

The facility is open to the public Saturdays. Like other similar organizations, ARC relies on the hard work of dedicated volunteers. We got to learn about a few of ARC’s education birds from some of those volunteers.

One of the first birds we got to see was a Short-tailed Hawk. This bird isn’t even on my life list so it was great to see this beautiful raptor up close. ARC has two of these birds; I’m not sure which one this is, but I do remember that the bird’s permanent injury is from a gunshot wound.

Short-tailed Hawk

Next we got to see a Swallow-tailed Kite named Scooter. This is a species I got to see in the wild quite a bit this summer, and it was even our first yard bird (seen from the yard) after moving in to our house in DeBary! I had never seen one on the glove before, though, so this was a very special treat. Scooter in an imprint so she is unable to be released. We learned that Scooter enjoys playing with blades of grass which has earned her the affectionate nickname gardener. I got to see some of this playfulness myself! Note her beautiful dark reddish brown eyes in the video.

Scooter the Swallow-tailed Kite

Scooter the Swallow-tailed Kite

We also got to see Mrs. P. up close. Mrs. P. is a five-year-old Barred Owl. She is imprinted on humans and cannot be released into the wild. I took some glamour shots of this beautiful bird.

Mrs. P the Barred Owl

Mrs. P the Barred Owl

Mrs. P the Barred Owl

Another owl, this time the Great Horned Owl Gulliver, got some more glamour shot treatment. Gulliver cannot be released into the wild due to a permanent wing injury she sustained as an owlet.

Gulliver the Great Horned Owl

Gulliver the Great Horned Owl

Some other birds were out in the yard, but we didn’t get to see them on the glove or hear their stories. These include a Bald Eagle, a Barn Owl, and Red-shouldered Hawk named Pierce.

Pierce the Red-shouldered Hawk

A falconry bird, given up by its falconer, was also in the yard. I think this beauty is a Peregrine-Gyrfalcon hybrid, but I’m not sure.

Falcon

Finally, we got to see ARC founder Carol McCorkle work on flight training with a young, permanently injured Red-tailed Hawk. This bird has a damaged foot which makes her unreleasable. The bird is fully flighted and was training with Carol on a creance.

Red-tailed Hawk flight training

Red-tailed Hawk permanent foot injury

The birds were set up under a large open wooden pavilion, with picnic tables across the front to separate the birds and volunteers from visitors. The exterior of the pavilion is roped off around the back, to protect the birds but allow visitors to see them on their perches. It’s a very nice place for visitors and I’m sorry I didn’t manage to take any pictures of the general area as a whole. Next time. ๐Ÿ™‚

Besides getting an up-close look at some beautiful birds of prey perched or on the glove, visitors can also see the birds of ARC performing flight demonstrations. We got to see a pair of falconry Harris Hawks free-flying, and I will share some photos of them in a future post.

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Preening Roseate Spoonbill

Earlier this month Arthur and I visited Viera Wetlands and the nearby Click Ponds. I had read a lot about the Click Ponds this summer, especially since they hosted some great birds in July and August, but we couldn’t get out there until September 8th. One of our best birds was a very cooperative Roseate Spoonbill, an individual that gave us our best looks ever of this magnificent species. We used our car as a blind and watched the bird preen, feed, and loaf around.

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

After a marathon preening session the bird fed in the shallow water. It’s always fun to watch spoonbills feed in their unique way. They move their heads back and forth with their long bills in the water; when something to eat comes in contact with the bill – snap!

Roseate Spoonbill

And later it was time for even more preening. ๐Ÿ™‚

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

I’ve submitted this post to this week’s Bird Photography Weekly. BPW 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 weekโ€™s submissions!

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Gemini Springs, August 2011

In August I added five species to my modest Gemini Springs list, including Limpkin and my first fall migrant warbler, a Northern Waterthrush. I also saw my first BIGBY American Alligator at the Springs. I finally picked up a bike at the end of July, and on my semi-regular bike rides to Lake Monroe Park and back, I was passing through the Gemini Springs a lot in August. I only stopped and birded a handful of times.

Gemini Springs
Nature path; August 4, 2011

Gemini Springs
Gemini Springs; August 4, 2011

Marsh Rabbit
Marsh Rabbit; August 17, 2011

Gemini Springs
Gemini Springs; August 17, 2011

Green Anole
Green Anole; August 17, 2011

Gemini Springs
Gemini Springs; August 17, 2011

Gemini Springs friend
One of/in a million; August 17, 2011

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron, August 17, 2011

Gemini Springs
Gemini Springs; August 17, 2011

White Ibis
White Ibis; August 28, 2011

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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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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. ๐Ÿ™‚

Pastime Princess
The Pastime Princess at the end of the day

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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

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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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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 weekโ€™s submissions!

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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!

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