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.
Young Tegu lizard. These invasives are a big problem in Miami-Dade, Collier, and Hillsborough counties.
Burmese Python bite
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 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!
December was a blur of holiday fun times with family intermingled with a nasty head cold and followed by an awesome Caribbean cruise between Christmas and the New Year. I guess that’s why I only went “green” birding ONCE in the entire month! I visited Gemini Springs on December 7th, where I recorded 36 species. Here are a couple of shots from that outing:
In November I recorded 69 species over 6 checklists for my green birding list. Last year just birding Gemini Springs I had 67 species in 7 trips. There were no new year birds for the green list during the month. Here are some photographic highlights from my green birding trips in November 2015:
Eastern Phoebe at Gemini Springs | 09 NOV 2015
Walking back into the park from the bike path on November 9th, I caught site of a huge snakeskin hanging from a large oak tree. I took a few photos but nothing shows the scale of this thing — I guess it was two inches wide and maybe five feet long. And it was at least 30 feet up in the tree! What kind of big monster snake left this thing?!
Unidentified snakeskin at Gemini Springs | 09 NOV 2015
Palm Warbler at Gemini Springs | 23 NOV 2015
On November 23rd I was really surprised to see a pair of Bald Eagles perched on power structure near a well-used Osprey nest. I’m not sure if this is the Gemini Springs pair or other birds.
Bald Eagles outside of Gemini Springs | 23 NOV 2015
In October I recorded 70 species over 8 checklists for my green birding list. I added three birds for the year: Blackburnian and Magnolia Warblers at Audubon Park and Northern Waterthrush at Gemini Springs. Last year I recorded 71 species in 10 trips to Gemini Springs.
During the month, Arthur and I celebrated our 15 year anniversary during a long weekend in Savannah, Georgia. We also got Disney passes about a month earlier and started to use them in earnest in October. And I ran my first 5K race on the 25th. It was already starting to happen (hello abandoned blog), but birding started to take a backseat in my life, unfortunately. Anyway, here are some photographic highlights from the month.
Wet Barred Owl at Audubon Park | 04 OCT 2015
Blackburnian Warbler record shot at Audubon Park | 04 OCT 2015
White Peacock at Audubon Park | 04 OCT 2015
Great Blue Heron at Gemini Springs | 06 OCT 2015
White Ibises at Gemini Springs | 06 OCT 2015
tiny frog, species unknown, at Audubon Park | 16 OCT 2015
In September I recorded 59 species over 15 checklists for my green birding list, adding three to the year list: Common Nighthawk, Yellow Warbler, and Eastern Wood-Pewee, all at Gemini Springs. In September 2014 I had 64 species at Gemini Springs; in September 2013 I had 56. Here are some photographic highlights from the month.
White-tailed Deer at Brickyard Slough | 07 SEP 2015
White-eyed Vireo (tortured by Photoshop) at Brickyard Slough | 07 SEP 2015
Limpkin at Lake Monroe Boat Ramp | 07 SEP 2015
Young Red-shouldered Hawk at Gemini Springs | 09 SEP 2015
Eastern Kingbirds at Gemini Springs | 14 SEP 2015
Red-bellied Woodpecker at Gemini Springs | 14 SEP 2015
On September 19th, Seminole Audubon had a walk at Gemini Springs. The focus was more on the springs and the flora of the park, but we managed to see some birds, too. My parents and Arthur joined the walk as well.
In August I recorded 63 species over 18 checklists for my green birding list, adding five to the year list: Yellow Warbler at home; Eastern Kingbird, King Rail, and Northern Rough-winged Swallow at Gemini Springs; and Hooded Warbler at Audubon Park. In August 2014 I had 31 species at Gemini Springs; in August 2013 I had 40. Here are some photographic highlights from the month.
Florida Scrub-Jay at Quail Lakes Powerline Trails | 03-AUG-15
On August 10th I biked to a new green spot: the Beck Ranch portion of Lake Monroe Conservation Area. I only saw 10 species during my visit but the park is a gateway to the much larger conservation area and a spot to check out again for sure. I did spend some time looking at the interpretive signs explaining the conversion of the property from a working cattle ranch to its current incarnation.
Bike rack at Beck Ranch Park | 10-AUG-15
Downy Woodpecker at Gemini Springs | 15-AUG-15
Young Wood Stork at Audubon Park | 16-AUG-15
Sandhill Crane at Festival Park | 17-AUG-15
Carolina Wren at Gemini Springs | 19-AUG-15
The first Painted Bunting of the fall showed up in our yard on August 21st. He was a one-day wonder. Since then we have been seeing female-type birds a few times per week.
Painted Bunting in our yard | 21-AUG-15
Limpkin at Hickory Bluff Preserve | 24-AUG-15
On August 31st I was very surprised to find an extremely early American Robin at Gemini Springs. It was terribly overcast and the bird was distant but I managed to take an ID photo for eBird. While robins can be a sign of spring for northerners, they are a sign of fall and of the beginning of the end of migration excitement for us here in Florida. We typically start seeing flocks of American Robins arriving in central Florida in early to mid November.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I put 347 miles on my bike in July. I didn’t bird too much. I submitted 11 “green” checklists to eBird for a total of 56 species. Last year during July I only saw 31 species at Gemini Springs.
At the end of June a new segment of the East Regional Rail Trail opened, extending the path another 2.5 miles to Guise Road in Osteen. Hickory Bluff Preserve is about a mile further south on Guise Rd, so I visited there by bike in July. The park is rather small but nicely wooded. I didn’t see too much but it might be nice for migrants in a month or so. The southern part of the park is bordered by a pretty and quiet stretch of the St. Johns River.
The best bird of the month was the Louisiana Waterthrush our group found during Harry Robinson’s monthly walk at Audubon Park on July 19th. I’m a little embarrassed to say this was not only a new bird for my green list, but also for my LIFE LIST. I was very glad to have diagnostic looks at the little skulker; for some in our party I think it was heard-only.
Here are a few photographic highlights from birding around southwest Volusia County in July.
Red-shouldered Hawk eating frog at Gemini Springs | 05-JUL-15
Halloween Pennant at Audubon Park | 07-JUL-15
Quail Lakes Powerline Trails in DeBary | 08-JUL-15
White-tailed Deer at Quail Lakes Powerline Trails | 08-JUL-15
Northern Bobwhite at Quail Lakes Powerline Trails | 08-JUL-15
St. Johns River at Hickory Bluff | 13-JUL-15
Osprey at Hickory Bluff | 13-JUL-15
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at Audubon Park | 19-JUL-15
Great Egret at Audubon Park | 19-JUL-15
Young Red-shouldered Hawk at Lake Monroe Park | 29-JUL-15
Barred Owls nest in a few spots at Gemini Springs. I never found the nest site of the first family I found at the park. Once the babies were branching, though, they were super-easy to find because they were very vocal. I followed that family for quite a while in the spring of 2012.
The following year I started seeing a pair of Barred Owls hanging out in a different part of the park. I saw them on most of my visits for several weeks in a row. These birds were reliably found perched around a clearing close to the camping area. I saw the pair as often as I saw one bird alone.
And then one day, I found the nest tree. A baby was begging and I followed the noise to see the precious baby just outside of the nest hole in a dead oak tree stump.
The tree was backlit during the morning so it was difficult to take a clear image. The nest hole is about a fourth of the way down on the following photo.
Because of the proximity of the nest to the trail, I didn’t visit this secluded part of Gemini Springs very often after I found the baby because I thought it might be too disturbing to the little family.
I revisited the nest tree the following spring and found a very sad sight.
The tree had snapped in half, and the nest part of the tree had fallen to the ground. This was at the end of March, right when Barred Owls are nesting. The bottom of the tree was overgrown with vines. I gingerly made my way to the base of the tree to see if there was any evidence of nesting for the year.
I found one broken egg but no feathers, and thankfully no injured birds. Its too bad the nest site was lost and the effort failed but I continue to see and hear Barred Owls all over Gemini Springs. Life goes on.
Last month I did my own version of the June Challenge. The idea of the Challenge is to see as many bird species as possible in a single county during the month. The Challenge was first issued 12 years ago as a way to encourage Florida birders to get out and bird during a hot month relatively lacking in exciting bird activity. In my version, I only counted “green” birds, and I counted heard-only birds. The complete list is at the end of this post. Here are some photo highlights from the month, plus some birding stats from my green effort for June 2015.
Cattle Egrets at Festival Park, 01-JUN-15
Turtle at Green Spring Park, 03-JUN-15
I completed 26 checklists during the month, and ended up with 77 species. I went to 13 different local birding spots, plus counted birds at home and as I was biking in several locations. I ended up biking over 170 miles and walking at least 30 miles. My two biggest rides were to two new “green” locations for me: Festival Park in Deltona (about 21 miles round trip) and the Brickyard Slough tract of the Lake Monroe Conservation Area (about 20 miles round trip).
Juvenile Green Heron at Lake Monroe Boat Ramp, 03-JUN-15
Baby Common Musk Turtle at Gemini Springs, 05-JUN-15
Eastern Bluebird at Quail Lakes Powerline Trails, 08-JUN-15
The moon from Gemini Springs, 09-JUN-15
Best birds of the month were Eastern Bluebird (juveniles and adults at both Festival Park and Quail Lakes Powerline Trails); Least Terns at Konomac Lake and Gemini Springs; Black-necked Stilts at Konomac Lake (scarce at Gemini Springs this year); a surprise Laughing Gull at Lake Monroe Boat Ramp; Bachman’s Sparrow and Blue Grosbeak at Brickyard Slough (both new to my all-time green list); Northern Flicker along the East Regional Rail Trail; Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at Audubon Park; and Least Bittern at Lake Monroe Boat Ramp. The Least Bittern was seen on my sixth try when I didn’t even travel to the location for birding. Arthur and I biked out to watch the SpaceX launch. Before the launch I saw a bittern fly from the reeds to the shore and disappear — it was a really lucky sighting. Bummer launch though. 🙁
Red-tailed Hawk at Gemini Springs, 09-JUN-15
Great Egret at Lake Monroe Boat Ramp, 10-JUN-15
Laughing Gull at Lake Monroe Boat Ramp, 10-JUN-15
Boat-tailed Grackles at Lake Monroe Boat Ramp, 10-JUN-15
Record shot of Blue Grosbeak at Brickyard Slough, 15-JUN-15
I did try to see as many of the species as possible. Birds like Red-eyed Vireo and Pine Warbler started out as heard-only, but I managed to see them and a few other skulkers. Five remained heard-only, though: White-eyed Vireo; Northern Bobwhite; Common Yellowthroat; Yellow-throated Warbler; and White-winged Dove. I really tried to catch a look at a bobwhite who sounded like he was calling from underneath my feet, but he never came into view. The other species also remained frustratingly hidden in thick foliage.
Eastern Towhee at Brickyard Slough, 15-JUN-15
Marsh Rabbit at Lake Monroe Boat Ramp, 17-JUN-15
Limpkin at Lake Monroe Boat Ramp, 17-JUN-15
Southern Black Racer at Dewey Boster Park, 22-JUN-15
Juvenile Loggerhead Shrike at Dewey Boster Park, 22-JUN-15
Juvenile Barred Owl at Gemini Springs, 23-JUN-15
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck at Audubon Park, 26-JUN-15
My biggest miss was Brown-headed Nuthatch, which I had hoped to see at Brickyard Slough. I had hopes of seeing Roseate Spoonbill at Trout Lake, but it was completely dead there with poor conditions for waders. In all I’m pretty pleased with how I fared during a month with near-record temperatures noted each week.
Anhinga at Lake Monroe Boat Ramp, 26-JUN-15
Raccoon at Audubon Park, 29-JUN-15
Ring-necked Snake at Audubon Park, 29-JUN-15
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at Audubon Park, 29-JUN-15