Author Archives: Amy

BPW: Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

This Loggerhead Shrike posed for us during our visit to the Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve near Kissimmee, Florida, earlier this month.

Loggerhead Shrike

Shrikes are sometimes called “butcher birds” because of the way they handle their prey. Yes, these small birds are actually predators but they lack strong talons to rip apart prey. Instead they use their hooked beaks to rip flesh off of prey which they first impale onto thorns or barbed wire.

Loggerhead Shrike

We saw shrikes twice during our Florida road trip and both times we scanned nearby fences and trees for possible impaled prey, but we didn’t see any. That’s probably for the best – my old Golden Field Guide has an illustration of a Northern Shrike perched next to an impaled mouse and that’s almost too much for me to take.

Loggerhead Shrike

For more photos of birds from all around the world, check out the other submissions for this week’s Bird Photography Weekly.

Posted in Bird Photography Weekly, Disney, Florida | 9 Comments

Cornell’s CamClickr (beware!)

Yesterday Cornell’s nestcams Twitter account posted a link to the CamClickr, a project where citizen scientists can help to tag millions of archived nestcam images. I spent way too much time clicking nestcam images yesterday afternoon!

Three Hungry Chicks - May 23rd, 2011
Three Hungry Chicks – May 23rd, 2011 by Ecstatic Mark, Creative Commons on Flickr

The site has a tutorial video that clearly explains everything — the basic concept is that users identify and tag images taken from nestcams. Each session is divided into two parts and the whole experience is set up somewhat like a game. In Level 1 you identify 99 images based on the number of eggs, nestlings or adult birds you see. In Level 2 you tag each image based on the behavior seen. Along the way there are opportunities for you to learn more about the species you are working with. When I was tagging Carolina Chickadee nest images, I found one photo that had two adults in it (jackpot!). I wasn’t familiar with two of the behavior types listed, so I clicked on the glossary to learn more:

Allofeeding: A behavioral event where one adult bird feeds another adult of the same species.

Allopreening: A behavioral event where one bird grooms another ibrd of the same species . Also known as allogrooming.

Helping scientists study birds and learning new stuff?! Cool!

Some of the photos are really hard to figure out, but I kinda think that’s part of the fun. The photos from the nestcams seem to be in sequence so if you can figure out what’s going on in one, it helps when looking at adjacent images. Right now the cam images are of nests at the nestling stage, which means lots of photos of little chick blobs and a parent feeding them. Go check it out – when you have some time to kill! CamClickr

Posted in Citizen Science | 1 Comment

Skywatch Friday: Roseate Spoonbill

One of my all-time favorite bird species is the Eurasian Spoonbill, which is a summer breeder in the Netherlands. In the spring we used to go look for them in their breeding plumage which includes long head plumes and a yellowish breast band.

Spoonbill on Texel

I was hoping to get good looks at their cousins, the Roseate Spoonbill, when we were in Florida. We only saw them once, flying high up in the sky over Viera Wetlands.

Roseate Spoonbill

They were flying so high that we couldn’t tell what they were until we got our binoculars on them. Then there was no mistaking their pink bodies and spoon-shaped bills!

Roseate Spoonbill

For more stories of the sky from around the world, check out the other submissions for this week’s Skywatch Friday.

Posted in Florida, Skywatch Friday, Viera Wetlands | 14 Comments

Our six Viera lifers

Viera Wetlands
Typical scene at Viera Wetlands

At Viera Wetlands last week, out of the 30 species we saw, six were lifers.

The Crested Caracara seems to be a symbol of the wetlands as its image was on several of the navigational signs on the roads. Both times we visited, the Caracara was perched in the same tall tree. Both times, we had good looks in bad, bad light. This photo isn’t too hot, but I think that profile is unmistakable. What a beautiful bird!

Crested Caracara

This Least Bittern was lurking in the reeds but did pop out for some great looks and mediocre photos.

Least Bittern

We saw some groups of Mottled Ducks in a few of the ponds.

Mottled Ducks

The Summer Tanager we saw was beautiful, but the photo I got of it was not.

We saw lots of Black-belled Whistling Ducks flying overhead, but rarely saw them in the water – except for the one pictured below. It was totally posing for us! I think this was my favorite bird we saw in Florida. I love the colors on this bird – black, white, brown, taupe, and that bright orangey-red bill.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Finally, we added Loggerhead Shrike to our life list. We’ve actually seen this bird before, very badly, at the Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve in Kissimmee a couple of years ago, but it wasn’t until recently that we noticed it was not recorded on our list. We had really excellent views of a pair of shrikes flying between two trees just a few yards from the car.

Loggerhead Shrike

Posted in Florida, Life List, Viera Wetlands | Leave a comment

Southern birds at Viera

Even though we didn’t have a lot of time to go birding while in Florida last week (and even though I’m stretching out those few hours of birding into many posts, ha ha!), it was so much fun to see birds we don’t normally get to see up here where we live. Here are some of the more southern species we saw at Viera Wetlands.

Viera Wetlands

Northern Mockingbirds range into northern Illinois and further during the summer, but we just don’t get to see them much here in Lake County. Once we got into Tennessee though, they were all over the place. They were hanging out at Viera Wetlands, too.

Northern Mockingbird

We only saw one Glossy Ibis at Viera, even though these are pretty common birds in Florida.

Glossy Ibis

We also just saw this one lovely Limpkin.


And some more of the usual Florida suspects…

Anhingas everywhere!

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret

Tri-colored Heron
Tricolored Heron

… and lots of these guys

Coming up next… our six lifers at Viera. Stay tuned!

Posted in Florida, Viera Wetlands | Leave a comment

Birding at Viera Wetlands

While in Florida last week we did some birding at Viera Wetlands (while waiting out the time between shuttle launch scrubs). We wanted to go to Viera and Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge and weren’t sure which one to visit first. I mentioned our dilemma on Twitter and got this reply from Birdchick: “Do Viera, do Viera, do Viera!” This was very good advice indeed: Merritt Island was actually closed the entire time we were on the Space Coast due to the scheduled shuttle launch. (Birdchick also has some great blog posts about Viera which I would highly recommend to anyone planning a visit there: Birdchick’s Viera Wetlands posts.)

Viera Wetlands Welcome

The Viera Wetlands, actually named the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands at Viera, are owned by the Brevard County Utility Services and are part of a non-traditional water treatment method used by the county. We knew this going in; what we didn’t realize is that the wetlands are perfectly set up for wildlife viewing, with an observation tower and several one-way roads providing routes through the ponds that are absolutely ideal for birding from the car.

Viera Wetlands

We visited two different mornings and almost melted in the heat, which we totally weren’t used to. When we visited on Friday, June 12 it was about 85°F when we arrived with 85% humidity and no wind. We decided to drive the slow dirt roads around the wetlands with our windows open – big mistake. At the end of the day there were about 80,000 mosquitoes in the car. The second time, we left the windows closed and made frequent stops to view the birds.

Art with scope

Amy with scope

Signs at the entrance of the wetlands provided information and explained the rules (stay on the roads, routes are one-way, 10MPH speed limit, etc). There was a sign asking for any Purple Gallinule sightings to be reported (we didn’t see any, unfortunately).

Viera Wetlands

During our visits we spotted just 30 different species, six of which were lifers. We also saw a few birds that are also present up here in Illinois. Some of these old friends are shown below; stay tuned for more in upcoming posts!

Red-winged Blackbird
Red-winged Blackbird

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron

Great Egret
Great Egret


Eastern Meadowlark
Eastern Meadowlark

Pied-billed Grebe
Pied-billed Grebe

Posted in Florida, Viera Wetlands | Leave a comment

BPW: Green Heron

We’ve been back from Florida since Friday and I’m getting ready to publish a few posts about the bit of birding we go in while on the road. This Green Heron was one of my favorite sightings. We get them up here in Northern Illinois, but they are so shy here we almost only catch them when they fly over – like they’re in a hurry to get out of view. This one we saw at Viera Wetlands was strutting around like a rock star (and kind of looking like one, too).

Green Heron

Green Heron

Green Heron

Stay tuned for more Florida posts here in the coming days and be sure to visit the other great submissions for this week’s Bird Photography Weekly.

Posted in Bird Photography Weekly, Florida, Viera Wetlands | 5 Comments

Oriole’s nest and other weavers

We found this Oriole nest while walking at McHenry Dam at the end of May.


After the nest was discovered, I asked one of the outing leaders if Orchard Orioles make the same kind of nest as Baltimore Orioles. Everyone was saying we had found a Baltimore’s nest so I wondered if Orchards make the same kind. The leader wasn’t sure so when we got home I checked Cornell’s All About Birds. Baltimore Orioles indeed make gourd-shaped nests in a ‘weaver’ style. Orchard Orioles, on the other hand, make open cup nests.

When we visited the Gambia, we saw several different species of weaver.

We found a weaver nest on the ground while waiting for the ferry to cross the Gambia River at Georgetown. Arthur picked it up so I could take a photo of it. Unfortunately I don’t know what species of the 12 made this one. It was very tightly woven and the entrance was separated from the nest cavity as if it had a foyer.


I think weaver nests are pretty neat, especially after seeing that one in the Gambia up close. Sociable Weavers are a species of weaver that live in southern Africa. Dozens of families will live in huge complex structures of woven hanging nests, which are among the largest bird-created structures. Check out this photo of a Sociable Weaver nest colony. Other weaver nests can look almost obscene.

Looking at my Gambia bird guide, it looks like there are at least 12 species of weaver there. I’ve been trying to find out if any other bird species that make pendant-style woven nests live here in Northern Illinois. Looking through Wikipedia and All About Birds, I found that five other Oriole species that live in the United States build weaver-style nests: Altamira; Spot-breasted; Hooded; Scott’s; and Bullock’s. However, all of these are either western or southwestern species; none range in Northern Illinois. Does that mean that if we find a weaver nest here, it is definitely from a Baltimore Oriole? That would be pretty handy, identification-wise.

Posted in Illinois | Leave a comment