Category Archives: Life List

2012 Birding Highlights

I added 19 birds to my life list in 2012. All but two came here in Florida; I saw a cagey Hooded Warbler in Tennessee in October, and then there was a flycatcher on the wrong side of town in Illinois (see below). Besides adding to my life list, I had some great birding experiences over the last twelve months, most of them in my new home state. Here are some of my favorite birding moments of 2012.

The first lifer of the year came on the first day of the year. Arthur and I took a New Year’s dip in the ocean at Port Orange, then settled down for some birding. Northern Gannets were not unexpected; this was a bird we whiffed on multiple times in the Netherlands but hadn’t really sought out in Florida until that day. We were rewarded with mediocre looks which have since been much improved upon.

On March 23rd we twitched a pair of Whooping Cranes in neighboring Lake County. Though these reintroduced birds are not technically “countable,” we enjoyed seeing our first truly wild Whooping Cranes just a short drive from our home.

Whooping Crane
Whooping Crane in Lake County, 23 March 2012

I had a fabulous time following a Barred Owl family at Gemini Springs throughout much of April and May.

Barred Owls
Barred Owl pair at Gemini Springs, 27 May 2012

In May Arthur and I had the opportunity to help out a family of Cooper’s Hawks. We rescued the fallen chicks after their nest fell apart, and later assisted tree climber extraordinaire Jim as he constructed a new nest platform and reunited the babies to their attentive parents.

four Cooper's Hawk babies
Cooper’s Hawk babies a few days after nest replacement, 26 May 2012

In September Arthur and I enjoyed an educational field trip to learn about Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. We got our lifer birds and also learned a great deal about the work being done to save them from extinction.

Artificial RCWO cavity
Red-cockaded Woodpecker cavity maintenance, 28 September 2012

I saw my lifer Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in Illinois in October, then added it to my Florida list a couple of weeks later. Both gave pretty good looks but I couldn’t add either to my county lists of choice.

The last lifer of the year came a ten days ago when a Razorbill swam into the inlet at Lighthouse Point. They seem to have been hit-or-miss at the park in the last few days; I hope this will be one of my first birds of 2013. ๐Ÿ™‚ In just a couple of days they will ALL BE NEW BIRDS MWAHAHAHA!

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Results: Birding Goals for 2012

At the end of last year I came up with some bird-type goals for 2012. How did I do?

1. I wanted to keep a BIGBY list for the year, with a target of 100 species. This was a huge success as I was able to find 115 species for my BIGBY list in 2012. W00t! I want to try this again next year, but I’m not sure I can do much better than this year’s total. There are 5 birds on my 2011 list that I didn’t find in 2012, but they were all hit-or-miss migrants.

2. I looked to add a few Florida specialties to my life list. Of the four species I mentioned, I added two of them: Red-cockaded Woodpecker and American Oystercatcher. I also added Bachmann’s Sparrow and White-crowned Pigeon… so I am calling this one a success too. Snail Kite and Burrowing Owl can wait.

3. I had hoped to review 20 books. Unfortunately this was year two of epic failure, with only FOUR (!) books reviewed (on I think I will set a goal again for next year, but if I fail again, that’s it. :\

4. My fourth goal was a free choice of three different activities. I wanted to volunteer with a rehab center and handle birds of prey again, or volunteer at a bird banding station, or get involved with a local bird club. Well, I’m well on my way with the first option. I started volunteering at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland back in February. So far I have been able to handle a pair of new little friends.

Newton & Amy
Newton the American Kestrel; photo by Susie Warren

Buzz & Amy
Buzz the Eastern Screech Owl; photo by Robert Stalnaker

I’ve also been able to help out with birds in rehab a lot more than I expected. I’ve been able to catch up a few birds, weigh them and hand feed, and do a couple of releases. I hadn’t included this in my goal but these are activities I very much enjoy at my volunteer position.

Local banding stations are welcoming of volunteers, but none are as close to our home as I’d like. I’ve also been on a couple of bird walks and attended some club programs, but I haven’t joined a birding club yet. I really miss my old club (Lake-Cook Audubon) — but they may have spoiled me for any other bird clubs. Anyway, the objective here was to do one of these things, so I’m calling this goal a success.

5. Finally, I set an extremely modest goal of 23 birds for the Bird-a-Day Challenge. This was another huge success as I made it all the way to May 24th, reaching 144 birds.

Coming up: my bird-type goals for 2013. Did you have any goals for 2012? How did you do?

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*Spoiler: I did see a Razorbill.

In case you haven’t heard, Florida is having an unprecidented Razorbill invasion. They have been seen all up and down both coasts, as far west as Pensacola on the Gulf coast. They usually don’t venture further south than coastal North Carolina or so. Florida had a handful of records prior to this invasion.

On December 12th I went to Lighthouse Point Park in Ponce Inlet, where Razorbills had been reported in earlier days. When I arrived at about 12PM it was drizzling steadily. I decided to walk out on the jetty without my scope. The rain came on and off, and though I didn’t see any Razorbills, there were birds around. I even saw a sea turtle.

Great Black-backed Gull

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret

sea turtle
I think this is a Green Sea Turtle

I headed back into the inlet for a while, where I saw a huge flock of Black Skimmers fly down to land on a sandbar. I added a few other birds to my day list and watched some dolphins playing by a marina. The skies cleared a bit and I walked back out onto the jetty, this time with my scope. When I arrived at the end, birder Michael Brothers was there and informed me that a Razorbill had been seen about a half hour prior. Well, I stepped away just in time then, didn’t I? D’oh. I looked for another 45 minutes before I had to leave. It started raining again on my way back in and I got soaked. Sad, sad Razorfail. A half hour later I went back out on the jetty again with Arthur for a short look, but we didn’t see a Razorbill. We did see a flyover Roseate Spoonbill, though. Big pink birds are always good, even far away and in the rain.

Roseate Spoonbill filter
Roseate Spoonbill, artsy ediiton

Last Wednesday I went out to Ponce Inlet again. Now the weather was spectacular — cool but sunny, with a bright blue sky and relatively calm waters. I collected my scope, binoculars, and camera, and headed out onto the jetty. A large group of Black Skimmers was loafing on the beach. They seemed quite photogenic so I stopped to take some photos, but my camera didn’t react. The card door was open and the card slot was EMPTY. After ransacking the car it became clear I had another case of Razorfail — there would be no photos this day. I consoled myself by thinking that such an error probably guaranteed I would see a Razorbill. I was right.

I set up my scope and looked. And looked. And looked. A pair of Red-breasted Mergansers, a Common Loon, and a large flock of scoters all went by. Good birds, but no Razorbill. After about two and a half hours, Mr. Michael Brothers came out onto the pier. And about 20 minutes after that, he pointed out my lifer Razorbill to me. It appeared in the mouth of the inlet, actively feeding. It would bob up momentarily before disappearing underwater for extended periods. Michael left after a short while, but I stayed on the Razorbill for another half hour or so. After the feeding frenzy, it had an extensive period of preening, giving me very nice looks and letting me snap some terrible iPhonescoped shots. I didn’t take any nice photos but I’m happy I got to spend some quality time watching this special visitor. Good luck, Razorbill.

just an eBird record shot
My lifer Razorbill

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Just over the border (county birder blues)

On October 19th, while Arthur and I were visiting my parents in northern Illinois, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was reported at the Willow Hill Golf Course in Northbrook. As this was just about 30 minutes from my parents house, we hopped in the car and headed out for the bird, which would be a lifer for us both. The bird proved easy to find, and though the sun was close to setting, I managed to take a record shot.

just an eBird record shot

I had set a little goal to try to find 100 species of bird in Lake County for the year. I had gotten to 83 in May and by October 19 I still needed two more birds. As we set off for the Northbrook flycatcher, I had it in my mind that I’d be adding not only a lifer, but a county bird, too. Northbrook borders Lake County but as we drove across Lake-Cook Road on our way to the golf course I realized the flycatcher was firmly in Cook County. Three miles firmly. A crazy county-birder thought, yes, but I was a little bummed as we crossed into Cook.

We returned home at the end of October, and on November 2nd I was happy to learn that a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was seen in a Volusia County portion of Merritt Island NWR. Arthur and I headed out late in the afternoon the next day. We didn’t know exactly where to go but thanks to some help from a pair of extremely nice birders who were on the same twitch, we were able to see the flycatcher. Again it was late in the day and the light was poor, but I managed a record shot.

just an eBird record shot

I had been using BirdLog to enter my bird sightings as we walked from the parking area to the spot where the flycatcher was seen. In the end my list had 21 species on it. I asked Arthur to mark the spot where we saw the flycatcher using his iPhone map. ARGH!! I had to split my eBird list. Twenty for Volusia. The flycatcher was .4 miles over the border, in Brevard. Bummer x2.

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Ubiquitous Tyrant

All of the photos in this post are from a 4 May 2012 Gemini Springs outing.

Great Crested Flycatcher

I saw my first Great Crested Flycatcher of the year on March 27th, in our neighbor’s yard. About a month later, Arthur and I had some excitement when we spotted a pair of them checking a large nestbox we had put up in our back yard. When we purchased the Screech Owl box, I learned which other birds might use it – the list included a few woodpecker species and the Great Crested. So when I saw a pair flitting about in our yard, I stopped to watch them, and silently willed them to head towards the right tree. I was so excited to watch them explore the box!

Great Crested Flycatcher

The birds were eventually chased out by squirrels (who’s the tyrant?!), but we still see and hear these large flycatchers in our yard and neighborhood frequently.

Great Crested Flycatcher

Great Cresteds were among the 83 species I saw during my recent trip to northern Illinois. A pair of birds was exploring a few natural, woodpecker-carved cavities in trees along the Des Plaines River at Ryerson Conservation Area. Some in our group were skeptical that they nested in cavities… but I knew. ๐Ÿ™‚ Ryerson is where I first recorded this species on my life list, back in 2009.

Great Crested Flycatcher

My most recent sighting occurred this afternoon during my volunteer shift at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey. I followed a pair as they flew among the trees behind a row of hawk mews. Wouldn’t it be great if they were nesting there?

Great Crested getaway

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A lifer I need to get THIS YEAR

Today the American Birding Association (ABA) announced their Bird of the Year for 2012: the Evening Grosbeak. If you need a laugh please check out the wonderfully goofy video in the ABA blog post announcing the reign of the Evening Grosbeak.

I have somewhat mixed feelings about this choice, as I do not have this species on my life list and I don’t have much of a chance of getting it here in my home state! This might call for a road trip… Meanwhile my bins will be sporting the spiffy new ABA BoY sticker. I’m gonna spread the word while enjoying the birds! ๐Ÿ˜€

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A slow chase

I wanted to do something special for my birthday last month, so I started planning a little getaway to the west side of the state. I was looking to chase a few birds, see a different part of Florida, and just bum around a bit. My original itinerary had Arthur and me hitting 3 or 4 hotspots a day over a long weekend, racking up life birds like Burrowing Owl, Snail Kite, and Red-cockaded Woodpecker. In the end I decided to scale down our adventure to just two days centered around the Tampa Bay area, and our first stop after an early morning wake up call on Sunday, February 26th was Possum Branch Preserve in Safety Harbor, Pinellas County. We were there to look for a western sparrow that had been seen regularly since December 10, 2011.

The bird, first thought to be only the 5th or 6th* Green-tailed Towhee ever recorded in Florida, must have been seen by hundreds of state birders. Thanks to regular mailing list posts by those who went out to see the bird before us, we had extremely detailed directions to follow when we went twitching over two months after the initial sighting (is it still considered twitching after so much time has passed?).

Green-tailed Towhee

We arrived in cool, rainy conditions, but were lucky to find the bird immediately upon arriving at its favorite haunt. It scratched, foraged and fed nearly continuously for the half hour we were there.

As a bonus, we found another lifer at Possum Branch Preserve: American Oystercatcher. This species was a target we had for our Tampa trip, but we didn’t expect to see it at Possum Branch. After two fly-by oystercatchers took us by surprise we had to do a second life bird boogie. ๐Ÿ™‚

*This has been an exceptional season for Green-tailed Towhees in Florida. There may have been up to 8 different birds in the state in the past 12 months.

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Two missed targets, two lifers

Brown Pelican
Brown Pelicans in the harbor at Mayport

On Sunday, February 5th, Arthur and I joined 25 other birders on a last-minute pelagic trip put together by Michael Brothers of the Marine Science Center. The trip was arranged after a Georgia whale survey reported seeing large numbers of Razorbills and other seabirds, along with impressive numbers of Right Whales, the week prior.

The trip left out of Mayport, near Jacksonville, at about 8AM, which meant that we had to leave our home in DeBary at o’dark thirty for the 2+ hour drive north.

Mayport Princess
Our boat was the Mayport Princess, a fishing charter

The seas were relatively calm, the skies overcast. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to see any Razorbills or Right Whales at all. We did find some good birds, though. We had good looks at Red Phalaropes, and saw tons of Bonaparte’s Gulls, up to 17 Manx Shearwaters (an impressive number for a Florida pelagic), and many Common Loons, some in loose flocks on the water. Manx Shearwater and Red Phalarope were both lifers for me.

Bonaparte's Gulls
Tons of Bonaparte’s Gulls

Bonaparte's Gull
A Bonaparte’s Gull in flight

Red Phalarope
Red Phalarope

Common Loon
Common Loon

The trip was a short one; we arrived back in Mayport before 3PM. Some birders surely headed straight home to watch the Superbowl, but Arthur and I stopped at Lake Woodruff NWR for a short walk, where I was happy to hear a new year / Florida / Volusia County bird: Eastern Screech Owl.

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Goals for 2012

I didn’t manage to accomplish all of my goals for 2011. So what? Here’s what I’m going to go for in 2012.

1. I plan on keeping another BIGBY list in 2012. My target for the year is 100 species.

2. I’d like to add some Florida specialties to my life list: Snail Kite, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, and Burrowing Owl. And I’ve just got to finally see an American Oystercatcher in 2012!

3. Even though I failed to meet my goal to read / review / cycle out 20 books in 2011, I’d like to get back on track. I’m setting my goal here at 20 book reviews again, but I’m not going to worry too much about the “cycling out” part this year.

There are three big things I’ve been missing since moving to Florida, and I’d really like to get back into at least one of them:

4a. Handling birds of prey and volunteering with a wildlife rehabber.

4b. Volunteering at a bird banding station.

4c. Getting involved with a local bird club (Audubon).

5. I’ll be trying the Bird-a-Day challenge again, with a very modest goal: beat last year’s pathetic total of 23 birds.

Do you have birding goals for 2012? I know birders are going to be taking the eBird Challenge or the One-a-Day eBird Challenge, and others will work on getting their minimum 20 Bird RDA of each and every day. How about you? Let me know in the comments below.

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Results: Birding Goals for 2011

When I made my list of birding goals for 2011 back in December 2010, I had no idea that I would be moving from Illinois to Florida in the middle of the year. Even with that fairly major disruption, I didn’t really do too badly with my goals.

1. I wanted to get my life list in order. I expected this would take at least several weeks, but I went on an eBird binge and accomplished this goal before January was half over!

2. I wanted to read, review and cycle out at least 20 books. Here I failed rather miserably. I ended up reviewing just 11 books.

3. I wanted to improve my raptor handling skills, with a few specific tasks I wanted to accomplish: handle birds into and out of travel crates; handle a bird during flight training; and have one of my bird pals eat a meal while on my glove. Helping out with a few programs and the Raptor Internship at FCWR, I got to handle plenty of birds in and out of crates. I moved away before getting to work on the other two, but during my visit in November I gave Meepy a rat while she sat on my glove. She wasn’t overly interested so I proceeded to remove her equipment, both Meepy and the rat resting on my glove. After I got Meepy’s second jess removed, I offered the rat to her again. She was free to go but she took the rat and then she did something very cool, she snapped the rat’s spine! Of course the rat was already dead, but that was Meepy’s first action after taking the rat from me. I was wowed. She held onto the rat for a moment and I felt she was not going to eat it while still on my glove. I raised my arm and she flew to her perch with the rat in her beak. That was pretty awesome. I never got to work on flight training with any birds, so that is one I’ll have to save for the future.

L: Getting Spirit out; top R: putting PA away; bottom R: putting 0511 away

4. I also wanted to improve my bird banding skills. I was only able to help out at the Rollins Savanna MAPS station one day (plus a short training period), and I haven’t visited a banding station here in Florida yet. Another goal unfortunately unfulfilled, for now.

American Robin in my hand with 2011 Rollins banding team in background; photo by Janice Sweet

5. I wanted to keep a BIGBY list for the year, with a target of 75 species. I set that number when we were still in Illinois, of course. I met this target, and then some, with a total of 88 BIGBY species for 2011.

6. My 2011 Bird-a-Day list pooped out after 23 days. I hadn’t set a specific goal here, but this was pretty pathetic. In my defense, my life was really, really hectic those first weeks of the year.

7. Finally, and a bit tongue-in-cheek, I wanted to keep up with my blog reading. While I ended up adding a bunch of new Florida bird bloggers to my regular reading, I didn’t fall too far behind at any point in the year, and I’m happy with that.

Coming up: my birding and blog goals for 2012. Did you have any goals for 2011? How did you do?

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