Random April Viera Wetlands

This might become a longer series, now that Viera Wetlands is a day trip rather than a week-long road trip. My first such post was back in November, 2009. All of these photos were taken in late April, 2011.

Viera Babies
Baby Anhingas and baby Great Blue Herons share a nest tree

Juvenile White Ibis
Foraging juvenile White Ibis

Viera Rookery
Heron/Egret rookery

Crested Caracara pair
Pair of Crested Caracara

SACR Family
Sandhill Crane family

Loggerhead Shrike
Loggerhead Shrike

Limpkins
Pair of Limpkins

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BPW: Baby Limpkin

While house-hunting in central Florida a few months ago, Arthur and I saved some time for birding at Viera Wetlands. The highlight of our visit on April 27 was seeing this baby Limpkin.

Baby Limpkin

Although Limpkins seem very rail-like, they are more closely related to cranes. If you can’t tell from its looks, you might notice the resemblance in its song, which sounds a lot like a Sandhill Crane.

Baby Limpkin

Limpkins are residents through much of Florida. Elsewhere in the United States, their range pokes a bit into southern Georgia. They are also found in Cuba and other Caribbean islands, and through parts of Central America. Their wide distribution through Florida makes them one of the state’s specialties for visiting birders.

Baby Limpkin

Unlike other (wading) birds with whom they may share feeding grounds, Limpkins survive almost exclusively on a diet of apple snails. We didn’t get to see this baby eat, but it was a lot of fun to watch him preening.

Baby Limpkin

This baby Limpkin was being closely attended by two adults, but I was so smitten by its cuteness that I failed to take any photos of the parents or of the whole family together. Whoops!

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!

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Looking Forward

Oh, there are many things I will (and already do!) miss from our former northern Illinois home. But there are also things to look forward to here in central Florida. Especially bird-wise.

Lifers

I started keeping track* of my life’s birds in April, 2005. In late April, Arthur and I visited Florida together for the first time. That’s how 27 of my first 31 life birds were recorded in the great state of Florida, starting with a Black Vulture at Oscar Sherer State Park and ending with a meager six species found along the Black Point Wildlife Drive at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Black Point Wildlife Drive Sign
The entrance to the wildlife drive on a late April afternoon

After a few more visits to the state, none primarily for birding, my state list stands at 116 (as of early July 2011). 66 of my life birds were recorded in Florida. Before we moved last month, I made a very rough list of life birds I hoped to find during our time in Florida. The first one, Gray Kingbird, became lifer 561 on June 23rd at Merritt Island. The other birds on that rough list were: Burrowing Owl; Red-cockaded Woodpecker; American Oystercatcher; Snail Kite; Rails Clapper, King, and Black; and Doves White-winged and Common Ground. Some of these will be hard, I’m sure, but some will be easy. And they’ll all be fun.

Getting to know

There are plenty of birds here about which, while already on my life list, I know far too little. So I have a few bird species in mind that I’m hoping to get to know a little better here in Florida. Families of birds that seem to be more confiding here, like herons and egrets, top that list. I hope I never become bored with Tufted Titmice in my back yard (!!), Turkey and Black Vultures soaring over my neighborhood, and Ospreys everywhere.

Titusville Osprey
An Osprey takes off as we wait for the shuttle to lift off, April 29, 2011

There is also an abundance of Barred Owls, my favorite bird. We heard our first ones the other night at the Highbanks boat ramp, about 4 miles from our house; eBird tells me they are found in our neighborhood. And I’m very excited to live in a state where seeing this blog’s namesake bird is much more likely than back in Illinois.

Yard birds

The first bird I saw from our yard was a flyover Swallow-tailed Kite. Regular back yard visitors right now include birds I struggled to see back in Lake County, Illinois: Northern Mockingbirds, Carolina Wrens, Tufted Titmice. The different birds are fun to watch and get to know.

Birding

There’s a lot to look forward to in terms of birding spots. Arthur and I have been exploring new preserves and I’m trying to figure out what our new “local patch” will be. Being within striking distance of popular hotspots like Lake Woodruff NWR, Merritt Island NWR and Viera Wetlands is pretty exciting.

Viera Wetlands Road
Viera Wetlands on a beautiful late April day

Within and immediately surrounding our county there are numerous state parks, a national forest, county parks, plus access to natural springs, freshwater lakes and Florida’s longest river, the St. Johns. True pelagic trip opportunities are also here.

While the birding right now, at the height of summer, is a bit slow, early migrants are starting to make their way to central Florida. Finally, I’m looking forward to having more birds during the winter.

*A few Colorado birds from a September, 2004 trip are the first birds on my list (added from photos, though these were birds I knew from many previous trips to the area).

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What I Will Miss

When Arthur and I moved from the Netherlands back to the USA in 2008, I posted a couple of entries on our personal blog about what I would miss and not miss from my European home of nearly ten years. As we prepared for our recent move from northern Illinois to central Florida, I started thinking about the Midwestern things I would miss and what I was looking forward to in Florida. Since this is a birding blog, I’m sharing the bird-type things I will (and indeed already do) miss from northern Illinois.

The Birds*

To birders, Florida is known for several specialty birds, one endemic species, and fabulous birding opportunities with relaxed and easy-to-view birds. But there are plenty of species that I got to know up north that never or rarely venture so far south. I always enjoyed seeing winter visitors like Red-breasted Nuthatches and Dark-eyed Juncos at our back yard feeders. These two rarely travel as far south as central Florida.

Red-breasted Nuthatch
A Red-breasted Nuthatch visiting our feeding station in Round Lake Beach

The chances of seeing owl species like Saw-whet, Long-eared, Short-eared, and Snowy are virtually nil.

Long-eared Owl
Long-eared Owl (non-releasable education bird) at the 2009 Midwest Birding Symposium

It was also fun to watch certain breeding birds in the summer, like American Robins, Tree Swallows, and American Goldfinches, that will only live in Florida out of breeding season. I suppose that also means I’ll only be seeing drab goldfinches from now on, too. Bummer.

The Birding Community

I enjoyed following the Illinois listserv, IBET, and getting to know local and statewide birders via the list. During our years in Illinois, we joined several different local clubs on various walks and at their monthly program meetings. There are a lot of birding clubs in Chicagoland, with many different affiliations, and we really enjoyed our time with most of them. I especially loved the one local bird club we joined as members, Lake-Cook Audubon. During the last year or so I volunteered as the editor of the newsletter, and I enjoyed that a lot. What I miss about the birding community is really the familiarity, which is something I hope will grow over time as we join local groups here for events, walks and talks, and keep up with the local listservs. But I am sure the especially welcoming atmosphere of Lake-Cook Audubon will be hard to beat.

Bird Banding

I learned so much last year while volunteering at the MAPS banding station at Rollins Savanna. Cindy, the master bander, is a great teacher and station manager, and all of the volunteers get along and have a lot of fun each day in the field. I miss them this summer.

Cedar Waxwing
Cedar Waxwing at Rollins Savanna MAPS banding station, June 2010

I think there might be some bird banding volunteer opportunities here as well, but from what I’ve gathered so far, nothing will be as close as Rollins was to our old house (about 8 minutes driving). There are banding stations at Wekiwa Springs State Park (about 30 minutes away) and at Tomoka State Park (50m), both of which welcome visitors. I’m not sure if they also welcome volunteers. I hope to find out this fall.

My Raptor Friends

Last, but absolutely not least, I already miss all of my feathered and unfeathered friends at Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation terribly.


Eastern Screech Owl Kotori, Red-tailed Hawk Old Red, American Kestrel Darwin, Barn Owl Pip

There are raptor rehab centers here as well, but my experiences with FCWR will never be matched by another facility. The two closest centers I have found seem to care for raptors alone. It was fun, in my limited experience, to work with different types of birds and other non-avian species, and to be able to participate in so many different activities. With FCWR I helped with migration rescue and recovery in Chicago, recovered an injured Great Blue Heron and other birds in need of rescue, released Great Horned Owls, ducks, and others, cared for rehabbing Eastern Grey Squirrels, Opossums, Red-tailed Hawks, and handled amazing birds of prey during education programs and public events. I hope to investigate local volunteer opportunities in the fall.

Finally, here’s a brief look back to that original What I Will Miss post. Over three years ago, I wrote:

I know there will be a lot of different and wonderful birds wherever we end up, but I will miss seeing some of my favorite European birds: the European Goldfinches and the acrobatic little Blue Tits that visit our garden; the big White Storks that like to hang out on highway light poles; the pairs of Tufted Ducks floating in roadside ponds; the beautiful, brightly-colored male Pheasants that patrol fields and forest edges along with their elusive dully-colored mates.

Well. I had so much fun getting to know the birds of Illinois that I didn’t really have the chance to miss Dutch birds at all. I wonder if the same will hold true here?

*Disclaimer: At this point I’m really not totally up to speed on local birding. So there’s a chance I’ve mentioned that I will miss a species that might actually occur here. I’m basing most of this on books.

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

Despite low content output, mostly because of our June move from Illinois to Florida, visitors continued to hit this blog during the month. Unfortunately, I was unable to capture visitor stats every day.

Anyway, here are some of the more interesting search terms that brought visitors to this site during June 2011. This is part of an ongoing monthly series on blog search terms.

Apparel design inspiration? Visitors searched for: you might be a birder if tee shirt; best t shirt store ever with owl t shirt; and the overly-complicated “my hobby” -buy -store -shop -site:gov -site:edu -blog -article -wiki -directory -site:ehow.com -pre.

People were looking for birds in the right places, and in all the wrong places: magnificent frigatebird gambia; florida vultures; red shouldered hawk florida; only scottish endemic bird; are there tufted titmice in lake county, il?; are there orioles in illinois; tufted titmouses country; picture of north american ostrich; and pelikan escapes in amsterdam.

I’ve only got a few bird banding posts, and very little experience, so I was amused to find these banding-related searches: Brood patch codes and chord length of Frigate bird.

Most disturbing search of the month goes to putting anklets on my new hawk. Who searches for that? People, please don’t hold any wildlife captive without proper permits and training. Yikes!

Finally, though I only wrote two posts about them (here and here), I was pleased to find lots of traffic related to the Mooseheart Bald Eaglets, including those searching for information on fundraising. In case you missed it, online donations to help care for the eaglets and build their flight cage can be made directly to FCWR here: donate online.

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2011 Goals: Mid-year Update

At the end of last year, I came up with a short list of birding goals for 2011. Now that the year is about half over, and we have just relocated from northern Illinois to central Florida, I thought it was a good time to review how I’m doing so far.

I had seven things I was going to work on for the year. So how’s it going?

1. I wanted to get my life list in order. What I thought would take several days spread over a few weeks took just a couple of days. By January 10th I had entered my old checklists into eBird and even came up with some of my milestone birds. I’ve since added a couple more: ABA #250 was Greater White-fronted Goose and World #550 was Eurasian Tree Sparrow*. I’m now at 263 ABA birds and 559 world birds.

2. I wanted to review and cycle out (get rid of) at least 20 books. With eight reviews published for the year so far and three ready to go, I’m just barely on track with the reviewing part. I’m not exactly sure where I stand on the getting-rid-of part, but I suspect not good based on the number of moving boxes labeled Amy’s bird books.

3. I wanted to improve my raptor handling skills by performing a few new tasks, including handling birds in and out of travel crates, handling a bird during flight training, and having a bird eat a meal while on my glove. (That last one is more about getting into a comfortable relationship with a bird rather than a handling skill.) I was only able to do the first skill here, multiple times and with a lot of success. Yay! Although the opportunity to try the other two tasks didn’t come up, I was able to improve my handling skills a lot by helping out with the FCWR 2011 Raptor Internship as an informal assistant instructor.

4. I wanted to improve my bird banding skills by performing a few specific tasks while volunteering with the MAPS banding station at Rollins Savanna this summer. Unfortunately I will not be able to attend more than the training session we had at the end of May and the first session in early June, so this goal will go unfulfilled… for now.

5. I vowed to keep a BIGBY list for 2011. That’s been a bust so far, although with little effort I reached 60 species out of my goal of 75. I just didn’t make time for local birding. I’ve updated the list with a few new Florida yard and neighborhood birds. We have a couple of nice parks within biking distance from our new place that I hope to visit often… as soon as I acquire a bike here.

6. I attempted the Bird-a-Day Challenge 2011, pitifully going bust on January 23rd.

7. Finally, I hoped to keep up with my bird blog reading. I’m doing okay with that. *cough*

*I’m sure I saw these in Europe but I never actually recorded it on a checklist until the Illinois birds.

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Mooseheart eaglet rescue part 2

Soaring Eagle
An adult Bald Eagle soars over Mooseheart, Illinois

On Tuesday, May 31st, Arthur and I had the most amazing adventure, thanks to Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation and a family of Bald Eagles in need. Read the first part of this story here: Mooseheart eaglet rescue part 1

While Kim, Arthur and I were eaglet-sitting, Dawn and others from FCWR were busy gathering tools and material for a man-made Bald Eagle nest, and arranging for a basket crane in order to reach the height of an eagle’s nest.

Representatives from The Care Of Trees came out to assess the site and determined that they would be able to access the stand of trees where the eagles had nested. Dawn arrived with the second eaglet and nest-making materials early in the afternoon. The Care Of Trees was also on site and ready to begin. First, Dawn retrieved the eaglet we had been watching all morning.

Baby Field
Dawn retrieves the eaglet before nest-replacement began

While Brian and Kathy from The Care Of Trees worked to position the crane and ready the tree for the new nest, volunteers worked on creating a large basket-style nest out of hardware cloth and stainless steel conduit.

Pointing At Trees
Dawn, Brian and Kathy assess potential nest locations

Making Nest
Volunteers assembling the new eagle nest

The completed nest was placed about 60 feet above the ground, which represented the practical limit of the crane. The original nest was thought to sit over 80 feet off the ground.

Area With Flying Adult
An overview of the nest site with an adult eagle soaring overhead

Bringing Nest Up
Brian from The Care of Trees brings the nest frame up

Brian In Nest
Brian from The Care of Trees secures the nest to the tree

With the basis for the nest in place, volunteers gathered material from the original nest and hoisted it up to the top of the crane. There, Brian arranged the material around the nest basket. It was hot, dirty and time-consuming work.

Hoisting & Gathering
Gathering material from the original nest

Gathering Nest Material
Hoisting material up to the new nest

The nest, made of pine branches and other material, smelled wonderful! While gathering up the sticks and soft lining material, we came across the remains of some prey items. There were feathers in the nest, some of which may have been from prey species. One neat thing we found was a turtle shell. We also found a heron leg and some large fish bones.

Heron Leg
Heron leg found among the old nest material

All the while, photographers and reporters from several press outfits were on site to document the work. There are some links to their stories and photos at the end of this post. Representatives from Mooseheart and a small group of concerned Bald Eagle fans were also in attendance for much of the day. At one point, a news helicopter was even circling overhead!

Photographers
Eagle paparazzi

Photographers
More eagle paparazzi

At about 6pm the nest was filled with as much material as we could gather and hoist up. Dawn went up in the crane to check the nest before returning to place the two eaglets into the nest.

Bucket Smile
Getting ready to assess the nest

And then it was time to place the eaglets in their new home!

Carrying 2nd Baby
Transporting an eaglet to the crane

Bringing Up 2nd Baby
Bringing up baby


Eaglet in the new nest; photo by Dawn Keller


Eaglet in the new nest; photo by Dawn Keller


Two eaglets in the new nest; photo by Dawn Keller

As the parent eagles had been seen in the area all afternoon, we all had high hopes for the parents accepting the new nest and resuming their parental duties. Once the eaglets were in place, most of the press people left, along with Mooseheart representatives, local eagle fans, and other observers. Five of us from FCWR remained to watch the activity by the nest from a removed location for a little while.

Parent In Tree After Babies In Nest
An adult Bald Eagle perches close to its newly-relocated babies

The parents were seen circling the nest tree, and the adults and eaglets vocalized back and forth several times. As we left, adult eagles were perched in branches very close to the nest. The next step was to observe the nest in the coming days to confirm the success of the mission.

It was an extremely long, exhausting and rewarding day. The story of the Mooseheart eaglets doesn’t end here, though. Stay tuned for more to this story!

Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation is a non-profit, federally licensed rehab organization with locations in Chicago and Barrington, Illinois. You can follow their blog here, follow them on Facebook here, and make donations online here. This post reflects my own experiences as a volunteer with FCWR. Any errors are purely my own, and opinions here do not necessarily reflect those of FCWR.

Rush Is On To Save Bald Eagle Nest, Eaglets (CBS Chicago)

Storm topples Mooseheart eagles’ nest (The Beacon-News)

Eaglets Get Their New Home (CBS Chicago)

Eagles’ new nest (Kane County Chronicle)

Baby eagles rescued (Chicago Tribune photo gallery)

Volunteers save baby eagles (Chicago Tribune video)

Fallen eaglets saved, get new home (Daily Herald)

on wings of eagles (Chicago Tribune photographer Scott Strazzante’s blog)

Eagles’ nest gets encouraging news (Kane County Chronicle)

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Mooseheart eaglet rescue part 1

Soaring Eagle
An adult Bald Eagle soars over Mooseheart, Illinois

On Tuesday, May 31st, Arthur and I had the most amazing adventure, thanks to Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation and a family of Bald Eagles in need.

At about 6:30 in the morning we received a text message from FCWR director Dawn asking if we could help with a Bald Eaglet nest replacement. Um, YES WE CAN! Soon we were on our way to Barrington, the first stop on the way to help reunite two baby eagles with their parents in Mooseheart, Illinois.

Kane County’s only nesting pair of Bald Eagles returned this year to their Mooseheart nest, first built in 2009, to raise two eaglets. Heavy storms along with excessive rain hit the area earlier in the week; it is believed the nest may have fallen on the night of Sunday, May 29th. FCWR got the call of an eagle’s nest on the ground and went out to retrieve the babies late Monday night. After the babies were examined and found to be healthy, the race was on to reunite them with their parents.

The first part of this plan involved volunteers Kim, Arthur and me transporting one of the eaglets back to the area of the nest, in an effort to keep the parents on site while a new nest could be constructed. We arrived at Mooseheart late Tuesday morning. After being escorted to the nest site, Arthur and Kim walked out into a grassy area close to the downed nest and opened up the carrier holding the eaglet. They wore hard hats, thick gloves and heavy coats to protect themselves in case the adult Bald Eagles did not approve of the baby’s predicament.

Placing Baby
Volunteers Arthur and Kim bringing the eaglet out

The baby eagle unexpectedly leaped out of the carrier but quickly settled down. For the next few hours, we were on eaglet-sitting duty.

Eaglet On Ground
Big baby Bald Eagle

Less than a half hour after we arrived, we were thrilled to see one of the parents fly to a nearby tree and watch the eaglet. Throughout the course of the morning, we saw one or both of the adult Bald Eagles several times, sometimes with fish.

Adult Early Perch With Fish
Parent Bald Eagle with fish

Because Bald Eagles don’t feed their babies on the ground, we had to be satisfied with the parents watching the baby from afar while the rest of the nest-rebuilding project went forward.

Parents In Tree Baby On Ground
Location of watchful adult eagles in relation to the eaglet

Next: A new nest for the eaglets! The story continues at Mooseheart eaglet rescue part 2.

Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation is a non-profit, federally licensed rehab organization with locations in Chicago and Barrington, Illinois. You can follow their blog here, follow them on Facebook here, and make donations online here. This post reflects my own experiences as a volunteer with FCWR. Any errors are purely my own, and opinions here do not necessarily reflect those of FCWR.

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Fort Sheridan’s ginormous nest

Back on April 12th Arthur and I visited Fort Sheridan with my parents. This was their first visit to the site since it had become a Lake County Forest Preserve.

Mom & Dad birding
Mom & Dad woodpecker watchin’

The walk itself was rather cold and we didn’t have a huge amount of birds, but my mom was especially delighted to see a number of Brown Creepers, a species she hadn’t seen for a long time.

Brown Creeper
Brown Creepers were creeping all over the preserve

We also had good looks at a Red-headed Woodpecker, a target species for this preserve.

Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-headed Woodpecker; notice the fresh cavity below the bird

Fort Sheridan has a fun, larger-than-life display of a Red-tailed Hawk nest. It’s like a mini-amphitheater complete with observation telescopes and interpretive signs about avian architecture, Red-tailed Hawk family life, predator adaptations, and more.

Fort Sheridan sign
Beware: giant Red-tailed Hawk nest ahead

Giant Red-tailed Hawk nest
Ginormous nest!

Hawkeye
Raptor-eye-view (telescope inside head)

Amphitheater
Little amphitheater inside nest

Fort Sheridan is a special preserve with unique habitat along the shores of Lake Michigan. A golf course has been proposed for part of the land for some years, with no firm decision made on the land dispute so far. You can learn more by following this blog or this Facebook page.

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Nest failure and success

For a second year I have been watching an American Robin nest in our front yard. I expected the chicks to hatch this year between May 8th and 14th. Following the discovery of three eggs (down from the original four) in the nest on May 8th, I checked again on May 11th, when I found two freshly-hatched chicks.

Just hatched robins
American Robin chicks shortly after hatching

I was amazed when I looked back over last year’s observations from this same nest and saw that the babies hatched on the same exact date in 2010!

On May 16th I observed both adult robins make frequent visits to the nest. At one point I saw one of the adults feeding a chick and then consume a fecal sac (“aww…. eww!”). Later in the day I made a quick check inside the nest.

5-day-old robin chicks
5-day-old American Robin chicks

I was away all day on the 17th so I didn’t note any observations. On the 18th I noticed a lack of activity at the nest. The nest is partially visible from our living room, and even if I wasn’t actively looking at the nest, I could normally notice adults going to and fro in my peripheral vision. I decided to have a quick peek inside the nest.

Empty robin nest
Empty robin nest

Oh, how sad! I didn’t see any evidence of the chicks or their eggs on the ground around the nest. The nest didn’t look terribly disturbed so I’m not sure what happened to the chicks, but I suspect predation, possibly by neighborhood crows. American Robins in our area typically have two broods, but they don’t usually reuse a nest twice in the same season. I wish the best for the robins that lost their babies in our front yard, but I know that robins in general are doing quite well in our neighborhood. I was heartened to watch two adult robins attending to a chick in our back yard a couple of days after finding the empty nest.

Life is tough for wild birds, but they do bounce back from what we would consider a terrible family tragedy. If you’ve got nesting birds on your property, don’t forget that you can contribute your observations to science using Cornell’s NestWatch.

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