A B-A-D ending!

On April 10th, the 100th day of the year, I figured I had 23 “easy” birds left in the Bird-a-Day challenge. And with birding prospects bleak (house guests coming, a move to complete and new home to work on), I wondered if I would even make it that far.

Since the number of expected possible birds was relatively small, I used that handy prognosis list as the days wore on.

Birds #101-110, April 11-20

Nine of these were on my prognosis list. The one unforeseen species was a Least Tern. At least one LETE was seen at Ponce Inlet during a trip there with Arthur and my friend Kim who was visiting from Illinois. That left just 14 gimmes from the prognosis list. Lasting until May 23rd, to at least match my 2012 performance, seemed unlikely.

Common Gallinule
Common Gallinule | 17-APR-13

Birds #111-120, April 21-30

I lucked out here; half of this bunch weren’t on the ‘easy’ list, even though a couple of them kind of were easy. When we went to Kennedy Space Center with Arthur’s parents on the 28th, I knew before we even left the house that my bird would be Laughing Gull. I always can count on finding a Mallard at Disney, so it isn’t so remarkable that it was my bird when we visited Animal Kingdom. A pair of unexpected Spotted Sandpipers at Audubon Park was a great bonus. And I was extremely excited to finally, finally get my FOY Limpkin on April 24th (!!). Finally, during a visit to Merritt Island with Kim, a marathon birding-by-car excursion yielded a very welcome Peregrine Falcon. With just five ‘easy’ birds used, I still had nine left. Could I make it another 23 days?

Laughing Gull
Laughing Gull | 28-APR-13

Birds #121-130, May 1-10

Another ten days, and another five “unexpected” birds. On a couple of day trips with my in-laws I managed to pick up Sandwich Tern and Royal Tern. An evening at Downtown Disney brought a flyover peenting Common Nighthawk, and a very quick visit to Mead Garden after a volunteer shift got me Northern Waterthrush. I also used Muscovy Duck in this group but I should have included it in the ‘easy’ list. That’s a given at Gemini Springs lately, unfortunately.

Barred Owls
Barred Owls | 03-MAY-13

It was during this period that I booked a flight for a quick trip up to visit my parents in northern Illinois for May 16-21. I had four easy birds left before my flight… four days later. Yikes.

Florida Scrub-Jay
Florida Scrub-Jay | 05-MAY-13

Birds #131-140, May 11-20

Right off the bat I used a super-easy gimme: Red-shouldered Hawk. On May 12th Arthur and I took a walk at Lake Woodruff NWR and I heard a Clapper Rail which was the best bird of the day — even though I got my first Florida Bobolinks on the same walk. This was followed by the super-easy Boat-tailed Grackle and then a totally unexpected Caspian Tern flyby at Lake Monroe Boat Ramp. I had driven to the ramp to look for Barn Swallows but after the tern I didn’t mind missing them.

I had thought to go to Lyonia Preserve on the 15th to look for, or rather listen for, Northern Bobwhites. I had second thoughts and ended up going to my trusty patch, Gemini Springs, hoping that something good might turn up there. As I was wrapping up a pleasant but unremarkable walk, I heard a Northern Bobwhite calling from a part of the park I would not expect to find them. The bird called twice more so I could confidently call the ID. All hail the patch, long live patch birding!! 🙂

On May 16th I flew to Chicago and for the next six days I had easy pickings for the challenge. Birds I wouldn’t expect to see in Volusia County made the list: White-crowned Sparrow; Mourning Warbler (lifer!!); Olive-sided Flycatcher; and Black-capped Chickadee were joined by Yellow Warbler. That last bird isn’t unexpected in Volusia but I missed them during spring migration. Plus I got a nice picture, so…

Yellow Warbler
Yellow Warbler | 19-MAY-13

After this group of ten birds I had one more day in Illinois and three days total to reach my target of May 23.

Birds #141-143, May 21-23

A Swainson’s Thrush in my parents’ back yard on my last day in Illinois was a good find. On May 22nd I again drove to Lake Monroe Boat Ramp to look for Barn Swallows. Again I struck out on my target, but a totally unexpected pair of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks saved the day — they flew by just as I was about to leave. My FOY BBWD too! On May 23rd I tried one last time to find Barn Swallows at the boat ramp, and struck out for the third and final time. I was happy to have made it as far as I did — after all, I had gimme Osprey left, and it was May 23rd. I used the same last bird from 2012 for this year’s challenge, on the same date. I never thought I would make it so far, so I was actually well pleased. That is, until I realized that last year was a leap year. So I was out of the game on the same date, but one day short of last year’s final. Yeah, that stings.

2014?

I am not yet sure if I will try again next year. In April I will (if all goes to plan) be spending 8 days at sea on a transatlantic voyage from Miami to Barcelona. I doubt I will be able to find birds each day during the crossing, so that may be a good excuse to forgo the challenge next year. We shall see! Meanwhile, tomorrow is June 1st and that means a new challenge awaits!

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Are Grackles Birds of Prey?

Grackle silhouette

Earlier this month, a question about Common Grackles was posed on the Illinois listserv: Are Grackles birds of prey? The reason for the question: the person who asked had witnessed a grackle preying upon nestling sparrows.

What is a bird of prey?
There are various definitions that apply to the term bird of prey. Birds of prey are hunters that capture food items (prey) using their specially adapted strong feet and sharp talons. Birds of prey mainly hunt vertebrates, including mammals and other birds. A bird of prey belongs to the taxonomical order Falconiformes*. Birds of prey are carnivores at the top of the food chain.

Grackles are not birds of prey
Common Grackles are omnivorous; they eat berries, seeds, and other plant material as well as eggs (raided from nests), frogs, insects, and fish (which they hunt). They are opportunists; they may hunt and kill prey including small birds and rodents in some circumstances. They forage and hunt mainly by using their beaks. Common Grackles belong to the large songbird order Passeriformes. According to The Birds of North America Online, year-round, Common Grackles eat a diet of 70 to 75% vegetable (seeds, fruits, etc).

Common Grackle

So though a grackle may capture and kill a prey item, it is not a bird of prey. While visiting the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex with my family last month, I noticed a Common Grackle carrying a small anole (lizard) in its beak. It was hopping around the LC-39A walkway structure and vocalizing. I wondered if it was trying to get to hungry nestlings somewhere on the structure, but I had to leave before I could find out the bird’s eventual destination.

Common Grackle

*There are conflicting schools of thought on how some birds of prey should be classified. Depending on what taxonomy is followed, birds of prey may fall into one or two or more different orders.

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Birding Gemini Springs, April 2013

On April 2nd Arthur and I got the key to our new home, and we spent the following weeks working on various repairs, cleaning, and updating jobs around the house. Mid-month we gladly hosted a good friend of mine for a weekend, and just a day later we welcomed my in-laws for a two-week visit. I managed to lure said guests to my local patch a couple of times during their visits, so despite the excitement from the move and our welcome visitors, I managed to complete 8 birding checklists at Gemini Springs during the month.

I saw just 55 different species, a significant decrease from last April’s total of 67 birds. None of the 55 were new to my all-time patch list, either. At least I finally got my FOY Limpkin! The full species list is at the end of this post.

spring
One of the two springs | 01-APR-13

Common Gallinule
Common Gallinule mid-preen (it was full-on bath time) | 01-APR-13

Indigo Bunting
FOY (First-Of-Year) Indigo Bunting | 01-APR-13

rat snake
A beautiful and docile rat snake that I assisted off of the bike path | 01-APR-13

sunrise
sunrise | 07-APR-13

Anhinga
Anhinga on the fishing pier | 07-APR-13

Marsh Rabbit
Marsh Rabbit | 16-APR-13

Green Heron
Green Heron | 16-APR-13

Boat-tailed Grackle
Boat-tailed Grackle | 16-APR-13

On April 16th I finally managed to locate the Red-shouldered Hawk nest between the fishing pier and the parking lot. The nest had two babies (confirmed the next day) and I noted their growth during my subsequent visits. They seem to have fledged before the end of the month. Also on the 16th, I saw a pair of Common Gallinules that were caring for three small babies. I hope to have a separate post about them published here in a couple of days, so stay tuned.

Common Gallinule family
Common Gallinule adult with two babies | 16-APR-13

Red-shouldered Hawk in nest
Red-shouldered Hawk nestling | 16-APR-13

Red-shouldered Hawk pre-fledge
Red-shouldered Hawk nestlings | 17-APR-13

On April 20th I visited the park with my friend Kim. We saw some good birds and had a fine time. I lucked out when I brought Kim to a spot where I had seen Barred Owls before; we saw an adult fly from its perch to a nest cavity (I’ll have a bit more about this bird later, too).

Gemini Springs
Gemini Springs | 20-APR-13

Tricolored Heron filter
Tricolored Heron (Photoshop filter fun) | 20-APR-13

Barred Owl
Barred Owl | 20-APR-13

On April 24th Arthur and I visited Gemini Springs with his parents. We showed them the hawk nest but the Barred Owl was a no-show that morning. And I FINALLY got to see my FOY Limpkin.

Gemini Springs
Gemini Springs | 24-APR-13

Gemini Springs
Gemini Springs | 24-APR-13

Blue Jay
Curious Blue Jay | 24-APR-13

pink
pink | 29-APR-13

On April 29th I saw another Limpkin. This one put on a bit of show, and I’ve saved a few photos for a separate post. That morning I also saw the Red-shouldered Hawk kids for the last time; I hope they successfully fledged!

Limpkin
Limpkin | 29-APR-13

Red-shouldered Hawk pre-fledge
Red-shouldered Hawk shortly before fledging | 29-APR-13

Eastern Grey Squirrel
Eastern Grey Squirrel | 29-APR-13

Muscovy Duck
Muscovy Duck feet | 29-APR-13

April 2013 bird list, Gemini Springs

Muscovy Duck (Domestic type) – Cairina moschata (Domestic type)
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
Black-crowned Night-Heron – Nycticorax nycticorax
White Ibis – Eudocimus albus
Glossy Ibis – Plegadis falcinellus
Turkey Vulture – Cathartes aura
Osprey – Pandion haliaetus
Bald Eagle – Haliaeetus leucocephalus
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
Barred Owl – Strix varia
Chimney Swift – Chaetura pelagica
Belted Kingfisher – Megaceryle alcyon
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
Fish Crow – Corvus ossifragus
Tufted Titmouse – Baeolophus bicolor
House Wren – Troglodytes aedon
Marsh Wren – Cistothorus palustris
Carolina Wren – Thryothorus ludovicianus
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – Polioptila caerulea
Ruby-crowned Kinglet – Regulus calendula
Gray Catbird – Dumetella carolinensis
Northern Mockingbird – Mimus polyglottos
Brown Thrasher – Toxostoma rufum
Cedar Waxwing – Bombycilla cedrorum
Black-and-white Warbler – Mniotilta varia
Common Yellowthroat – Geothlypis trichas
American Redstart – Setophaga ruticilla
Northern Parula – Setophaga americana
Palm Warbler – Setophaga palmarum
Yellow-rumped Warbler – Setophaga coronata
Chipping Sparrow – Spizella passerina
Northern Cardinal – Cardinalis cardinalis
Indigo Bunting – Passerina cyanea
Red-winged Blackbird – Agelaius phoeniceus
Common Grackle – Quiscalus quiscula
Boat-tailed Grackle – Quiscalus major
American Goldfinch – Spinus tristis

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My visitors came from *where* in April 2013?!?!

April was a blur, and May is starting out just as hectic! Here’s a quick post to share a few gems from April’s stat-logs.

I had a lot of traffic coming from searches related to audubon park deltona. There was an official opening dedication for Audubon Park in April and it seems the park is neither unloved nor unknown. Later in the month I discovered that park access from the East Regional Rail Trail is now open, too! Woo hoo! Other related searches included city of deltona fl public works; deltona audobon park; ledford stormwater lush volusia Audubon; ledford water treatment volusia; and deltona “audubon park” west volusia audubon.

I still follow the Illinois birding scene online (as much as I can as a cyber-bystander living out of state) so I was surprised to see reported magnificent frigatebird in illinois 2013 and anyone seen a magnificent frigate bird in illinois 2013 in my stats, seemingly coming out of nowhere. Do any Illinois friends have some insight on this?

Someone searching for ospreys invading red-tailed hawks nests? was kind of wondering the same thing I was, apparently. I don’t think I previously revealed that our new house is within sight of the bizarre raptor drama nest (it’s just off the back yard), but I have not had the opportunity to keep tabs on this nest to see exactly what is going on. I know I see Osprey flying around back there, making a racket sometimes. I saw a Red-tailed Hawk perched above the nest again a couple of days ago, though.

As always, there were a few typos in the stats that made me chuckle: is this pegieon sun bathing or injured? (probaby sunbathing – they can contort their wings all kinds of crazy sometimes); vagrabt birds in florida; do loom migrate in illinois; all pigions breeds (really? is p-i-g-e-o-n so hard?); and himemade bird feeder poles.

To the person who searched for florida caterpillar identifier: I hope you eventually found this.

To the person searching for hoary redpoll meme: I hope you found this.

Finally, to the person searching for limpkin bird how to get rid of it: seriously!? I have been trying to figure out what kind of situation one could have where a Limpkin might be causing a problem. I have a vivid imagination so I can come up with some scenarios, but they’re all pretty outlandish. This search stings on a personal level because I only managed to get my FOY (First Of Year) Limpkin on April 24th. So if you need to “get rid” of a Limpkin, please send it to me. I’m really running low this year.

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Barred Owl Bathing Beauty

On March 18th I teased about a fun raptor encounter I had that topped a Bald Eagle flyby and an Osprey-Red-tailed Hawk nest fight.

What could top seeing those birds of prey in action? Only a Barred Owl.

Earlier that morning, I was standing at an overlook of one of the springs, watching a Great Blue Heron. I don’t often walk right up to the spring openings themselves, so I was surprised to see such a large bird standing right there just a few feet away from me.

In that quiet moment a Barred Owl swooped down between the heron and me, and flew down the spring run. I scrambled down the path towards where the owl was heading, trying to get a fix on its location. I found it sitting on a branch near the water.

Barred Owl

I held my breath as the bird dipped into the water to bathe. It splashed around a bit and then returned to the branch. It jumped back into the water several times. I took a little video.

After its morning dip, the owl flew up to a higher perch, but it would get no rest. Two Blue Jays began harassing the owl. I captured a moment on video: a jay dive-bombing the owl. See the slo-mo action:

I was especially thrilled to see a Barred Owl in this part of Gemini Springs. Last year a pair of owls raised a pair of chicks to branching age and beyond, and I had so much fun watching them each time I visited the park. This year I have been looking and listening for signs of nesting, but until the day I spotted this bathing beauty I had not seen any sign of owls in the same area. I’m hopeful that I will be able to see more Barred Owl action at the park in the coming weeks.

Barred Owl

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Meme Monday: Keep Calm and Carry On

If you’re not active on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or Google+, you may be missing out on the joy of Internet memes. A meme (rhymes with cream) is “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.” An Internet meme can be as short as a catch-phrase or as complex as a video clip. A lot of memes are simple graphics which are altered to suit different topics. When a meme is hot, you can be sure there will be variants related to birds or birding.

The catchphrase Keep Calm and Carry On was used on British public safety propaganda posters in Britain during World War II. A copy of the poster was rediscovered in 2000 and its modern popularity began to grow. In November 2008 Threadless released the first known parody of the poster with their Now Panic and Freak Out shirt. Many different parodies have been published since then, including some related to birds or birding.

Keep Calm and Carry Bins

Keep Calm and Go Birding

Keep Calm and Carrion

The above images have affiliate links. If you’ve got your own ideas, it’s pretty easy to make your own using the funny Keep Calm-o-Matic website.

Keep Calm and Watch Birds

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Sweet Tooth

Sometimes birds other than hummingbirds are attracted to nectar feeders. A male Baltimore Oriole knocked my socks off the other day when I spied him on our hummingbird feeder in our back yard. As soon as he flew off I put an oriole feeder out for him but he didn’t return.

The other day I was hoping to see the Rufous Hummingbird that had been visiting Mead Gardens in Winter Park, but found this fellow instead. American Goldfinches winter in this area; soon this little migrant must be on his way. Filling up on some sweets before departure…

Sweet Tooth

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B-A-D 100 and prognosis

Today is the 100th day of the year, and I am still alive in the Bird-a-Day Challenge! But I am fading fast…

Last week Arthur and I bought a house. We got the keys late Tuesday and have been busy with it every day since. Moving stuff, cleaning everything, little repair jobs, meeting contractors, and trying to keep up at least a little bit with work has made keeping up with the challenge extremely difficult. There’s not much time to gaze at the back yard feeders at length, let alone go out birding.

Brown Thrasher
15-MAR: Brown Thrasher | DeBary, Volusia Co. FL

Since my last update on March 13th I have added 28 birds. Of these, an alarming number came from the back yard (some at the new house, some at the old house): Downy Woodpecker; Mourning Dove; Fish Crow; Blue Jay; Great Crested Flycatcher; Tufted Titmouse; and Red-bellied Woodpecker. A further five were added from various spots in DeBary as we have been running around shopping and doing house-related errands: Brown Thrasher; Pileated Woodpecker; European Starling; White Ibis; and today’s House Sparrow in the parking lot at the grocery store.

Swallow-tailed Kite
25-MAR: Swallow-tailed Kite | Gemini Springs, Volusia Co. FL

I did sneak out to Gemini Springs a bit, especially before last week, where I got 8 species. Most were expected birds: Snowy Egret; American Crow; American Coot; and Black-necked Stilt. The American Redstart I found on April 1st was my first of the year (FOY). I also had my FOY Indigo Bunting that morning and had a hard time picking which of those to use.

Black-crowned Night-Heron
26-MAR: Black-crowned Night-Heron | Gemini Springs, Volusia Co. FL

Swallow-tailed Kite is pretty common down the Spring-to-spring Trail towards Lake Monroe, so seeing one at Gemini Springs was not totally unexpected but a very pleasant surprise. (I added Sharp-shinned Hawk on a bike ride along the Spring-to-spring Trail on March 24th.) On March 26th I laughed out loud when I saw a Black-crowned Night-Heron standing across from the fishing pier — “yippee!” — BCNH is a very good bird for Gemini Springs. The very next day I was extremely surprised to see my first ever Lesser Scaup in the park, swimming in the spring run behind the dam.

Lesser Scaup
27-MAR: Lesser Scaup | Gemini Springs, Volusia Co. FL

On March 14th I stopped at Lake Monroe on the way home from Audubon Center for Birds of Prey. There I found my best bird of the day, a Common Yellowthroat. On March 21st I had the great opportunity to release a pair of Short-tailed Hawks near to where I live. The birds were picked up following a territory fight and brought to the Audubon Center for rehabilitation. Fully healed, both birds were released close to where they were first found. And the local Chimney Swifts returned to the Audubon Center last week, so they were my species of the day for April 4th.

Short-tailed Hawk
21-MAR: Short-tailed Hawk | Seminole Co. FL

Twice in the last 28 days Arthur and I went to Blue Spring State Park to see some special visitors. A cold snap on March 29th meant that the manatees might be back — and they were, probably for the last time this spring. I heard a Red-eyed Vireo for my B-A-D. Then yesterday we went back to Blue Spring to see the fireflies, which are only active for 2-3 weeks each spring. I used another heard-only bird yesterday: my FOY Chuck-will’s-widow.

An outing last month to Disney World got me Purple Martin for March 22 and a stop at Kennedy Space Center on March 19th yielded Roseate Spoonbill.

Prognosis

Now, since it seems like I have been bleeding easy birds of late, I made a list of the birds I can still expect to find as the challenge goes on. There are just nine birds I can expect to find in my yard or on a local errand run. There are another 10 I would expect to see on a typical day at Gemini Springs. Just getting out there is a problem these days, though. Another 4 species would be easy peasy if I could just get to where they are. See my lists below and fear for my future in the challenge when you see them get checked off! And wish me luck as we prepare the house not only for ourselves, but for house guests – nonstop from April 18 to May 6! I seriously doubt I’ll stay in the challenge through April. Surpassing or even reaching my total from last year is extremely unlikely. But I’ll certainly try!!

Remaining birds expected to see or hear (estimated % of the time) at home or locally:
(100%) Carolina Wren
(100%) Northern Cardinal
(100%) Northern Mockingbird
(100%) Osprey
(100%) Turkey Vulture
(95%) Black Vulture
(95%) Carolina Chickadee
(90%) Northern Parula
(80%) Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Remaining birds expected to see or hear on a normal day at Gemini Springs:
(100%) Boat-tailed Grackle
(100%) Common Gallinule
(100%) Red-shouldered Hawk
(90%) Great Blue Heron
(90%) Red-winged Blackbird
(90%) Tricolored Heron
(85%) Great Egret
(75%) Anhinga
(75%) Barred Owl
(75%) Barn Swallow

Remaining special birds:
(100%) Eastern Towhee (at Lyonia Preserve)
(100%) Rock Pigeon (I-4 in Longwood)
(95%) Florida Scrub-Jay (at Lyonia Preserve)
(85%) Loggerhead Shrike (local neighborhood)

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F05: a famous gull

In my last Bird-a-Day Challenge update post, I briefly mentioned the bird I used for February 27th – a Lesser Black-backed Gull. Here is a little more about this special bird, F05. He is famous.

Lesser Black-backed Gull
Famous Larus

Since 2007 this bird has been observed as part of a mated pair breeding on Appledore Island in Maine. This is remarkable because it is only the second record of a Lesser Black-backed Gull (LBBG) breeding in North America, and the first record for the east coast. The female mate is a Herring Gull. Gulls generally tend to be monogamous, though F05 is known to have had at least three mates (along with a bit of drama) since 2007.

F05 and his mate(s) raised chicks that survived to fledge in 2007, 2008, and 2009. After an off year in 2010, F05 and a new mate raised a chick successfully in 2011.

In late January 2009 F05 was first seen wintering on the beach in Daytona Beach Shores, Florida, during the Space Coast Birding Festival.

F05 was seen wintering in Daytona Beach Shores again in 2010, in 2011, and in 2011-12.

After being seen over the winter of 2011-2012 in Florida, F05 was not seen at all during the 2012 summer / breeding season on Appledore Island. He was presumed dead until this January, when Michael Brothers (the original finder in 2009) spotted F05 once more in Daytona Beach Shores. And he was still there on February 27th, when Arthur and I spotted him among the thousands of gulls on the beach that late afternoon.

Gulls at Frank Rendon Park
Find the famous one!

The gulls return to Appledore to begin breeding in May. Time will tell if F05 will join them.

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Carolina Wrens will nest anywhere

It may be the early days of spring, but breeding for Carolina Wrens here in Florida has been underway for a while already. Last year I took some photos of an active Carolina Wren nest at Gemini Springs. Ma Wren thought a utility box would be a great spot to raise chicks.

Carolina Wren nest
Carolina Wren nest in utility box; 08-APR-12

Carolina Wren nest
Carolina Wren nest in utility box; 08-APR-12

Carolina Wren chicks in nest
Carolina Wren chicks in nest; 08-APR-12

baby Carolina Wren in nest
Carolina Wren chicks in nest; 11-APR-12

The babies were gone when I checked the nest again two days later; some days later again I looked again for any signs of re-nesting but only found a lonely anole in the box. Shortly thereafter, I noted that the box was closed (as it should have been in the first place), but I bet Ma Wren had already found another spot to raise her subsequent brood.

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Posted in Behavior, Florida, Gemini Springs | 2 Comments