Category Archives: Volusia Birding

Snowy on the beach

I see Snowy Egrets at my local patch all the time, but until earlier this month, I’d never seen one at the beach. Arthur and I were relaxing on New Smyrna Beach on a cool afternoon when we noticed a large white bird heading our way along the waterline. It was hunting, successfully, small fish as it proceeded down the beach. I took a few photos from where we sat; later Arthur got a bit closer for some action shots and a short video. Its hunting style looked a bit frantic, but it was very successful!

Snowy Egret | posing

Snowy Egret | caught!

Snowy Egret | wavy
photo by Arthur de Wolf

Snowy Egret | action

Snowy Egret | intent
photo by Arthur de Wolf

Snowy Egret | spread
photo by Arthur de Wolf


video by Arthur de Wolf

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 week’s submissions!

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Posted in Behavior, Bird Photography Weekly, Florida, Volusia Birding | 1 Comment

Splish-splash

Arthur and I went kayaking at Gemini Springs this morning. It was probably the birdiest kayak route we’ve ever had, with herons, egrets, ibises, coots, gallinules and others lurking at every bend. We even saw several relatively scarce species: Green Heron; Limpkin; and American Bittern – three of them! Tree Swallows, Belted Kingfishers and Osprey hunted from above. In the four-mile round trip paddle I was surprised to see more Tricolored Herons (over a dozen) and Glossy Ibis (a flock of about 50) than I’ve ever seen before. Numbers of Wood Storks, White Ibis and Snowy Egret were also surprisingly high.

Despite all this abundance I think the most interesting thing I saw all morning was this Great Blue Heron, a very common bird.

Bathing Great Blue Heron

It was standing up to its lower body in the water. Hmm, I never saw a GBHE hunting from this depth before. Interesting.

Bathing Great Blue Heron

After a moment it was clear the bird was not hunting at all. It was bathing! What an operation! Unfortunately I am useless when it comes to taking photos from the kayak. As soon as I reach for my camera, the kayak starts spinning, or moving directly towards the creature I want to photograph. So I only managed this splash action picture before stabilizing my kayak and watching this big beauty proceed with a very active bath.

Bathing Great Blue Heron

Afterwards it stepped up on some nearby reeds to complete its preening duties. I couldn’t find any information about Great Blue Heron bathing habits on BNA Online, bummer. I did find a nice photo series of a Great Blue bathing on Flickr, though. Check it out: Great Blue Heron Bathing.

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Great Blue Heron shapes

Great Blue Herons are year-round residents here in central Florida, and they are extremely common at my local patch, Gemini Springs Park. When I see them they are typically alone, and rather still. Usually they seem to be stoic hunters, watching and waiting. This bird I saw last week, however, was rather active. It was hunting in the streaming water running through the dam.

GBHE4

GBHE3

GBHE2

GBHE1

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 week’s submissions!

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Posted in Behavior, Bird Photography Weekly, Florida, Gemini Springs, Volusia Birding | 1 Comment

Snowy amputee

Snowy3

Snowy Egrets are usually easily identified in flight. They fly with their long black legs and yellow feet fully extended behind their bodies.

Snowy2

Last week I saw this Snowy Egret flying across the spring run at De Leon Springs State Park. It was immediately clear that this bird had just one foot, his right; the left leg appeared to be just as long as the other, but it was footless. In the photo below you can see the bird’s joints are not level; the amputated leg is resting lower on the ground.

Snowy1

I wasn’t quick enough to take a photo of the egret in flight. After it landed on a small floating island, I took some photos of this handicapped bird. It moved around little, and in the few minutes I watched, it didn’t catch any prey. It had strong flight though, and seemed to move around on the island with ease.

Good luck, Snowy Egret.

Snowy4

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Red-shouldered Hawk nest-building

I stopped to watch a Red-shouldered Hawk working on her* nest late last month. The nest was just above the Spring-to-spring Trail at Lake Monroe Park.

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Found a good stick

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Another good stick for her nest

Red-shouldered Hawks are very protective parents. While I watched this bird prepare for her family, I thought about a couple of Florida Red-shouldered Hawks that made the news last spring for dive-bombing people who ventured into their territory during nesting season in Melbourne and Sarasota.

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Fresh stick

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The nest in the middle of the picture

Like the bird I was watching, these other birds made their nests in relatively high-traffic areas. I wonder if this bird and her mate will attack bikers, walkers and joggers on the Spring-to-spring Trail in the coming months? I hope not. I’ll be on their side, though, if it happens.

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Off to get more sticks!

*Both male and female Red-shouldered Hawks participate in nest-building and -refurbishing. I am not nearly familiar enough with these birds to know if I was watching the male or the female of the pair; I could not judge its size. I just used “she” for convenience.

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Gemini Springs, December 2011

In December I added another 12 species to my Gemini Springs list, including Glossy Ibis, Wood Stork, American Bittern, Tree Swallow, and my favorite, Barred Owl. I hope to get photos of Barred Owls in the coming months, but I’ve had such bad luck with this species I won’t hold my breath. My total species count for the year (July to December) was 76 species. Here are some of my favorite photos from December.

I like to bird my patch on the first day of the month if possible, and on December 1st I birded a new part of the park I hadn’t visited before (“warbler alley”). This corridor along the DeBary Bayou was so busy with warblers and other passerines that I went back on December 2nd with Arthur. I added most of the 12 new birds in those two days.

foggy
steamy morning; December 1 2011

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher in “warbler alley”; December 1 2011

Tricolored Heron
Tricolored Heron; December 1 2011

Wood Stork
Wood Stork; December 1 2011

Glossy Ibis
Glossy Ibis; December 2 2011

Viceroy
Viceroy; December 2 2011

Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk; December 8 2011

Later in the month I noticed resident birds showing more flocking behavior. I saw large groups of White Ibis instead of the usual pair or single bird. Boat-tailed Grackles were acting even more gregarious than usual. And an enormous flock of Tree Swallows arrived to strip the bayou of all insects – they have their work cut out for them. On December 19th I was getting into position to photograph a Tricolored Heron and accidentally flushed the second-best bird of the month, an American Bittern. It landed across a small stretch of the bayou and Arthur and I got very good looks at this great patch bird.

Gemini Springs
calm morning; December 19 2011

Tree Swallows
Tree Swallows; December 19 2011

American Bittern
American Bittern; December 19 2011

Boat-tailed Grackles
Boat-tailed Grackle – 5 girls for every boy; December 19 2011

Northern Mockingbird
Northern Mockingbird; December 19 2011

Towards the end of the month a marshy area at the end of “warbler alley” dried out and I could explore the path further, where I was delighted to find a beautiful old Live Oak with lots of character. The path leads out to a spot on the Spring-to-spring Trail where one of the adult Bald Eagles is nearly always hanging out.

American Coot
American Coot; December 23 2011

Downy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker; December 23 2011

Marsh Rabbit
Marsh Rabbit; December 23 2011

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle; December 28 2011

colors
colors; December 28 2011

Live Oak
Live Oak; December 30 2011

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Too big to inhale*

A fat frog or toad must surely be a prized meal for a wader like a White Ibis. Unless, of course, it’s too big to eat.

The other day at Gemini Springs I noticed an ibis being pursued by others in a flock of about 20 birds. The ibis had something large in its bill.

The bird managed to get away from its hungry friends and began manipulating the prey, but it was a struggle. At first I thought the ibis had a large crab, but it looks like the prey was some type of frog or toad, puffed up as a defense mechanism. The puffing process may have saved it. I watched the hapless ibis work on the amphibian for a few minutes, but the ibis eventually gave up and dropped its prey.

Ibis v frog

Ibis v frog

Ibis v frog

Later the flock of ibis moved to a shallow part of the spring run to feed and preen. Hopefully the hungry ibis was able to find more suitable prey here.

White Ibises

*Naturally the ibis did not intent to literally inhale its prey. But inhale rhymes with fail… get it?

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My local patch(es)

I found a lot of the birds on my 2011 BIGBY list at my new local patch, Gemini Springs Park, and along the Spring-to-Spring Trail.

Gemini Springs covers 210 acres and is bordered on the south end by DeBary Bayou, which meets up with the St. Johns River. My regular walks there bring me along the spring run and bayou, through a mature wooded scrub area, and across a recreational / mowed field bordered by various types of wooded habitat.

This map shows the park and some of my favorite hot spots. I usually walk just over a mile and a half.


click to embiggen

1. Bike rack 7. Dam
2. Playground 8. Fishing pier
3. Bridges over spring runs 9. Mature woods
4. Mature woods 10. Woods / lawn transition habitat
5. “Warbler Alley” 11. Stand of snags
6. DeBary Bayou

The park isn’t too big, but I still haven’t explored all of the paths just yet. I only discovered the path along the bayou last month. It’s so busy with birds each morning that I refer to it as “warbler alley” – I have high hopes for this habitat come spring migration. 🙂

The Spring-to-Spring trail is a Volusia County project. The path will run from Lake Monroe Park, at the south end of the county, up through DeLeon Springs State Park and beyond. Today the path exists in completed but unconnected segments; the south Segment 1 runs from DeBary Hall to Lake Monroe Park.

This map shows the bike path. We live in the neighborhood of DeBary Hall, so the path is very convenient for everyday biking and birding. 😉


click to embiggen

It’s about five miles from our home to the end of the path at Lake Monroe Park. I ride this trail 2-3 mornings per week. A pair of Bald Eagles has a nest somewhere in the middle of the path, but I’ve been unable to locate it so far. Starting in October I saw one or two adult Bald Eagles each time I biked the path. In the last month I’ve only seen one bird; the other is at the undisclosed nest site.

I realize this type of local patch post has limited interest; thank you for reading this far! If you’re going to be visiting the area and / or if you have any questions, please feel free to send me an email. If you’ve blogged about your own local patch, please leave a comment below!

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Highlights from our first CBC

On Saturday Arthur and I participated in our first Christmas Bird Count. We counted in the southwest sector of the West Volusia County circle with six other birders. The weather was perfect for being outdoors, but a string of pleasant weather days kept many birds generally quiet.

We started out at the home of our sector’s leader, where the count cars were outfitted with official signage. Here’s our minivan ready for the day. We counted some feeder birds before heading out.

Birdmobile

We listened for birds from the car, driving slowly on some low-traffic roads. At an early stop we spotted an adult Osprey bringing major branches and other material to a dilapidated-looking nest.

Osprey nest

Along Cummer Road, a popular birding-by-car spot here in Volusia County, we found 130 Sandhill Cranes.

Sandhill Cranes

We also counted 15 Wild Turkeys here, plus a Red-shouldered Hawk, several hunting American Kestrels, our first Eastern Bluebird of the day, and our only Eastern Meadowlarks. Our leader knew about a Bald Eagle nest in the area, and we were able to see one adult already on the nest. While scoping other birds, we heard a Bald Eagle vocalizing. Shortly the the other adult appeared, soaring over the nest.

Bald Eagle nest

While we really enjoyed the entire day, one of the best parts was finding out about local birding hotspots that were previously unknown to us. We stopped at many private marinas where special access for the count was granted, but other public spots were visited as well.

Marina

One cute discovery was the Hummingbird Garden at the Hontoon Landing Resort & Marina. While we didn’t have any hummingbirds on count day, we learned that hummingbirds frequent the feeders especially during spring migration, so this is a spot we’ll have to hit again in the new year.

Hummingbird Garden

At the north end of Lake Beresford, we found a large flock of White Ibis feeding. At this little hotspot we also found our only Blue-gray Gnatcatchers of the day, another Eastern Bluebird, and the only Orange-crowned Warbler of the CBC circle.

Flock of Ibis

Another roadside stop, at a hunter’s access point to Lake Woodruff NWR, we searched for Brown-headed Nuthatches but came up empty. We did pick up our only Eastern Towhees of the day, our only Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, plus a few additional birds.

Lake Woodruff NWR hunter's access

It was a great day out with some new friends. In all we counted 1243 individual birds of 56 species. The initial tally at the CBC dinner came up with 108 species for the circle. Not a record, but not a bad number, either. And a very good count day for these two newbies.

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Posted in Citizen Science, Florida, Volusia Birding | 1 Comment

Domain surveying (with preen break)

There are Red-shouldered Hawks everywhere you turn here in our central Florida neighborhood. They’re perching in our front tree, they’re frightening feeder birds in our back yard, and they’re calling from treetops on every sleepy street each time we go out. I snapped some photos of this youngster who happened to be perched on the wire across from our house the other day. So far, I can’t get enough of them. I hope you like them, too! 🙂

RSHA00

RSHA01

RSHA02

RSHA05

RSHA06

RSHA08

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