Category Archives: Bird-a-Day Challenge

Bird-a-Day 101-110

The Bird-a-Day Challenge rolls on!

In the last 10 days I picked up half of my birds at my trusty local patch, Gemini Springs. White-eyed Vireo, Snowy Egret, Common Yellowthroat and Little Blue Heron were all sort of gimmes – birds I would reasonably expect to find on a normal birding day at the park. I was glad to see a Swallow-tailed Kite on the 14th along the (Gemini Springs-adjacent) Spring-to-spring Trail. They are back in town after spending the winter in South America.

On April 11th, Arthur joined me on a morning bird walk. We spent the last part of the outing on the fishing pier watching birds flying out over the bayou. A wading bird flew over and I (insert sheepish grin) called it a Tricolored Heron and (insert sheepish grin) moved on. Arthur kept on it and shouted out “NIGHT HERON!” Yikes! I got back on the bird and boy, am I glad I did. At great distance we were able to put doubts on calling the bird the more common Black-crowned. Luckily the bird proceeded to FLY DIRECTLY ABOVE US right over the fishing pier! I had a horrible klutz attack while fumbling with my camera and I ended up taking zero photos of the bird. I am very glad I got good looks, though, at my BIGBY / Volusia County / 2012 / second ever in my life Yellow-crowned Night-Heron!

Two planned non-birding day trips yielded a pair of nice birds I wouldn’t expect to find locally.

On April 15th Arthur and I went to Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando. Prior to the trip, I looked at eBird to determine what birds I might expect to find there. Rock Dove is my go-to theme park bird, which I luckily have not had to use thus far. eBird divulged the strong possibility of finding a White-winged Dove at Islands of Adventure, so that was my “target bird” for the day. We saw them a couple of times during our stay; Arthur took this photo with his point-and-shoot.

White-winged Dove
White-winged Dove at Islands of Adventure theme park | 15 April 2012

I always wonder about the poor saps (including me) who submit eBird checklists from the theme parks. Were they dragged there by family? Did they bring their binoculars and wait / bird while the rest of their party experienced rides or shows? I love going to Disney and our day at Islands of Adventure was a blast (Wizarding World of Harry Potter FTW!) – don’t get me wrong. But… “always be birding”, you know? So I have to pause when our path takes us close to water (any ducks? any waders?!) or if I see something flitting about in nearby trees (was that a dove? what kind?!). Anyway, I’m very grateful to my fellow eBirders for helping me to find my Bird-a-Day on April 15th.

The other day trip occurred last Tuesday when Arthur and I headed to the Space Coast to bid farewell to the Space Shuttle Discovery as she was transported by Boeing hearse to Washington, D.C. After the 7AM departure we spent some time at the Visitor Center before devoting the afternoon to some birding. Usually on days like this (we’ve been to a few launches in the past year) we head to Merritt Island NWR. I’ve got county birding fever though, so I devised a plan to hit a couple of Volusia County spots instead. One of those spots was Smyrna Dunes in New Smyrna Beach. Along a stretch of beach accessible to cars, a flock of Royal Terns harbored a pair of Sandwich Terns – my Bird-a-Day for April 17.

Sandwich Tern
Sandwich Tern at Smyrna Dunes | 17 April 2012

On Thursday mornings I volunteer at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland. Birding hotspot Mead Gardens in Winter Park is nearby, so I decided to head there last week after my volunteer shift. Reported warbler sightings enticed me, but I came up empty, warblerly speaking. I briefly spoke with a pair of birders along a part of the boardwalk, who helpfully told me about the Ovenbird, Worm-eating Warbler and American Redstart seen earlier in the day, and the Black-throated Blue they had just a moment ago. Sure. A Great Egret hanging out with a Wood Stork and a Great Blue Heron became my Bird-a-Day last week.

Great Egret at Mead Gardens | 12 April 2012

For today I used the Great Crested Flycatcher that landed on the creance line at the Center at the start of my volunteer shift. It pained me to use a “yard bird” but it was the “best” bird I saw all day.

I’ve revised my list of “easy” local birds down to just 11 species, three of which I can find in our yard on a normal day. With 18 days to go before I head to Chicago, I wonder if I have a chance? Stay tuned…!

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Bird-a-Day 100!

Today is the 100th day of the year, and I’m still alive in the Bird-a-Day Challenge! My original goal was simply to beat last year’s lame total. In my previous update I figured I had a least 6 more weeks to play, which brought me up to the end of March. Now, at 100 birds, I have a new goal. I hope to make it another four weeks until I visit my family in northern Illinois next month. It’s going to be tough. First, a quick look back at birds 50-100. You can see the list (for this update, from February 19 to today) here.

I picked up two great birds over my birthday weekend, with a Green-tailed Towhee on February 26 and a Long-tailed Duck on the 27th. Neither is common in Florida. Speaking of uncommon, the rarest bird for this batch was undoubtedly the pair of Whooping Cranes Arthur and I went to see in Lake County.

On a visit to the theme parks, I picked up my first Purple Martins of the year at a colony at Epcot.

Purple Martins at Epcot | 21 March 2012

I picked up 8 birds in our yard. Burning through these is usually bad in terms of the game, though it does mean I didn’t spend any fossil fuels to find a bird that day. 24 more birds were found locally, either at Gemini Springs, the Spring-to-spring Trail, or via short non-birding errand trips outside the neighborhood.

Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk in our yard | 31 March 2012

Pine Warbler
Pine Warbler on the Rail-to-trail bike path in Deltona | 18 March 2012

I found six birds while volunteering at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland. My best bird there was a House Finch at the feeders – my first House Finch in Florida! One day, I learned of a couple of rescued baby owls that were recently returned to nests in DeBary. Arthur and I went to check on a Barred Owlet placed in a nest box after its nest tree was cut down, and a baby Great Horned Owl who fell out of a flimsy nest and was returned to its parents in a brand new man-made nest platform. Technically, I counted the adult owls (perched in an adjacent tree) that day, but this image of the baby looking down at me is much cuter for sharing purposes. 🙂

Great Horned Owlet in fancy nest platform
Great Horned Owlet in DeBary | 22 March 2012

Today I checked off another yard bird. Arthur found our FOY Brown Thrashers in our front yard two weeks ago. That was after a long day of birding on 28 March, when I used Purple Sandpiper for my Bird-a-Day. Today the pair returned. Arthur got me out of bed to see them – I’m glad he did. 🙂 The thrashers stuck around; we saw them later in the day and I managed to take this picture through our wavy windows.

Brown Thrasher
Brown Thrasher in our yard | 9 April 2012

The prognosis for my future in this game is a bit shaky. I really want to last until May 8th – 29 more days. That’s when I’ll visit my parents in northern Illinois, where adding a week’s worth of birds should be a breeze. My list of probable / “easy” local birds is down to just 20-something, with a measly five being common in our yard (when you see me use Northern Cardinal, Carolina Wren, Carolina Chickadee, Northern Mockingbird or Great Crested Flycatcher, you’ll know I’m in trouble). And of course nothing is certain. I don’t want to start driving around the county to remain in the game… but if it’s May 5th and I’m outta birds — a few little road trips will certainly be very tempting! A day trip to Titusville is already scheduled for next week, and one or two long birding days aren’t out of the question. More than than, though, I can’t say. Stay tuned – I’m going to try for weekly updates from now on.

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Bird-a-Day weeks 6-7

With today’s entry of Tree Swallow in the Bird-a-Day Challenge, I’m up to 49 birds for 2012. Of the 14 birds added since my last update, five were yard birds. One of them was a doozy, though.

18-FEB-12 Tree Swallow Gemini Springs
17-FEB-12 Loggerhead Shrike OCCC
16-FEB-12 Black Skimmer Merritt Island NWR
15-FEB-12 Western Tanager yard
14-FEB-12 Mallard Epcot
13-FEB-12 American Goldfinch yard
12-FEB-12 Wild Turkey Lake Winona Road
11-FEB-12 Chipping Sparrow yard
10-FEB-12 Yellow-rumped Warbler yard
09-FEB-12 Wood Duck Audubon Center for BOP
08-FEB-12 Eurasian Collared-Dove Disney’s Animal Kingdom
07-FEB-12 Green-winged Teal Gemini Springs
06-FEB-12 Red-winged Blackbird yard
05-FEB-12 Red Phalarope Mayport pelagic

Yard Birds

Red-winged Blackbirds are present here in central Florida all year, but we’ve only seen them in our yard since last month. I suspect when they start breeding activities we won’t see them in the neighborhood too much. Yellow-rumped Warblers, Chipping Sparrows, and American Goldfinches are winter visitors here, and will all be gone by May or June, returning again in September or October. Goldfinches are pretty rare in our yard so I was happy to see one having a drink in our bird bath last Monday. But it was the Western Tanager that visited our yard for a brief moment last Wednesday that was a real shocker. We spotted a Western Tanager in our yard last October. Could this be the same bird?

Further Afield

Several visits outside of the usual haunts over the last weeks provided some great birds. It was hard to pick the bird of the day after the Mayport pelagic trip on the 5th – I’m as likely to see a Manx Shearwater in the coming months as a Red Phalarope, I think. The Wood Ducks I saw while volunteering at the ACBOP on the 9th were my first for Florida, believe it or not. A last-minute trip to Merritt Island to see an Atlas 5 launch (which ended up scrubbed) plus two days at Disney yielded birds I don’t expect to see at home or at my local patch. A Loggerhead Shrike working the parking lot at the Orange County Convention Center was a nice surprise yesterday.

Local Finds

On the 12th I drove to a dairy farm near DeLeon Springs to look for some reported Brewer’s Blackbirds. I struck out on the blackbirds but was pleased to find a nice group of Wild Turkeys, my first for Volusia for 2012. Another first for Volusia and a new BIGBY species was Green-winged Teal, a flock of which Arthur found during a morning walk at Gemini Springs on the 7th.

Looking Ahead

Now for a little prognostication. Between our yard and Gemini Springs, as of today there are about 40 species not already used in the game that I am 95% sure to see on any given day. Most of these are year-round residents, but some will start to leave around the end of March. Meanwhile a few new birds should start to show up, like Great Crested Flycatchers and Swallow-tailed Kites, both of which might arrive as early as late February. I hope I’m not jinxing myself in forecasting at least another six weeks of play in this game. And hopefully for the next update I can round up a photo or two. 🙂

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Bird-a-Day week 5

Now that I’ve made it into February in the Bird-a-Day Challenge, I thought I’d start posting semi-regular updates as the weeks roll on. Since my last update on January 25th, I’ve added 11 birds, three of which were dreaded yard birds.

04-FEB-12 Killdeer Gemini Springs
03-FEB-12 Ruby-throated Hummingbird yard
02-FEB-12 Northern Harrier Gemini Springs
01-FEB-12 Bufflehead Kennedy Space Center
31-JAN-12 Palm Warbler yard
30-JAN-12 Eastern Phoebe Spring-to-spring Trail
29-JAN-12 Painted Bunting Merritt Island NWR
28-JAN-12 Eurasian Wigeon Merritt Island NWR
27-JAN-12 Common Grackle yard
26-JAN-12 California Gull Frank Rendon Park
25-JAN-12 Black Rail St. Johns NWR

I attended the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival in and around Titusville from January 25th to 29th, which meant I was seeing birds I don’t expect to see here at home and at my local patches – great birds for the challenge!

Painted Bunting
Painted Bunting: January 29

The Black Rail on January 25th was one of at least three heard-only (yes, that’s legal!) birds during a festival field trip designed especially for finding these elusive little rails. Notice the yard bird there in the middle of the festival on January 27th – I was sick and spent most of the day in bed, and when I finally got to peek out the window I didn’t see anything more rare than a flock of Common Grackles. I also got to pick up a good bird on February 1st when Arthur and I took a hastily-planned trip to Kennedy Space Center (to see this) and I found a single female Bufflehead in a small pond during our tour. The rest of the birds were found locally and most are pretty common right now. The Northern Harrier was a nice surprise as I’ve only found them at Gemini Springs on two other occasions since moving here. On to week 6!

California Gull
California Gull: January 26

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Bird-a-Day breakthrough

Sedge Wren
January 19th: Sedge Wren at Lake Woodruff NWR

Last year on January 24th I failed to find a new bird in the Bird-a-Day Challenge, and the game was over for the year. Yesterday I didn’t go out birding, so I had to pick something from the day’s yard list. My bird of the day was the American Robin; and so the game continues today with my first day birding at the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival.

Strategy dictates that the “best” bird of the day is chosen for the challenge, and that typically means the rarest bird that hasn’t been used for the challenge so far. Very often, it’s difficult to pick which bird to add to the list – and remove from the taking as the game progresses. I picked American Robin yesterday because I had already used up some of the “better” birds previously in the game: Gray Catbird and Cedar Waxwing are much more hit-or-miss than the robin of late. But American Robins don’t spend the summer here (as if I’ll get that far in the game!) and they typically leave earlier in the spring than other winter birds seen yesterday (Yellow-rumped Warbler, Tree Swallow, etc) – so they were the best choice to check off in the challenge.

Black-and-white Warbler
January 4th: Black-and-white Warbler in our yard

So far this game has been messing with my birder mind.

When I found a Limpkin at Lake Monroe Park on January 8th, I knew it was the bird of the day, even though it was early in the morning. I don’t find Limpkins on local outings very often, and I was sure I wouldn’t find anything better later while peeking at yard birds throughout the day. But I had to bike home from Lake Monroe Park first. I found myself half-hoping the Wild Turkeys and Northern Bobwhites would keep out of my view. Those birds were one- or two-hit wonders last year, and though I am ALWAYS on the lookout for them to cross my path, I kinda sorta did NOT want to see them after I got Limpkin in my mind for the day. A birder who doesn’t want to see seldom-found patch birds? Crazy.

January 8th: Limpkin at Lake Monroe Park

Regrets? I’ve had a few. Well, maybe just one.

When I saw a Gray Catbird on the Spring-to-spring Trail back on January 5th, it was my first catbird of the year, and only my third one since moving to Florida. Since recording the Gray Catbird as my bird for that day, I have seen Gray Catbirds six more times; it seems I’m seeing them every third day or so. We even had one in the yard – two different days! A better choice for that day might have been Eastern Bluebird (recorded just 3 times; used later), or maybe Killdeer (also 3). But it’s too late for that!

Eastern Bluebird
January 12th: Eastern Bluebird at Gemini Springs

I’m relieved to get further in the game this year than 2011, even though I didn’t really think it would be too hard. Onward to February!

Baltimore Oriole
January 20th: Baltimore Oriole in our back yard

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