Category Archives: North America

Our first yard birds

Since we moved to DeBary in June, I have recorded 27 species of birds seen in and from our yard. On moving day, a Northern Mockingbird was probably the first bird to make itself known to me, though I didn’t recognize the crazy jumble of songs at first. The first bird I saw was a Swallow-tailed Kite, soaring high overhead – and I count that as the official first yard bird.

Before we put feeders up in the yard, we saw Mourning Doves, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Northern Cardinals and Blue Jays in the vicinity of our yard. A pair of Carolina Wrens hung out by a brush pile in the back yard and would flit around our window screens, maybe looking for bugs to eat. A Brown Thrasher visited a few times, turning over leaves in another part of the back.

Carolina Wren
Carolina Wren looking through our window – September 5, 2011

Another early yard bird was a heard-only Sandhill Crane later in the day on moving day. We’ve seen these birds in groups of two, three or four birds in our neighborhood several times, and when we venture outside the neighborhood we see them more often than not on our way to the highway.

Sandhill Cranes
Sandhill Cranes in our neighborhood – August 12, 2011

White Ibis roam our neighborhood, usually in small gangs. We were delighted when a lone bird came into our front yard on August 9th. Although it didn’t seem to find anything to eat in our grass, we watched as it picked off several frogs in the neighbor’s front lawn across the street.

White Ibis
White Ibis with frog – August 9, 2011

After we put up the first feeders, regular visitors like Tufted Titmice and Carolina Chickadees began coming to our yard to feed, along with the doves and cardinals. Of course we were extremely excited to have Tufted Titmice in our own yard – they were so rare up in Lake County, Illinois! Now they are very regular and I only squeal with delight every 5th time I see them or so.

Tufted Titmouse
Tufted Titmouse at the feeder – September 16, 2011

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal at the feeder – September 17, 2011

Although we offer nuts, the neighborhood Blue Jays seem to be quite skittish. We hear them a lot, but we rarely see them come in to eat. American and Fish Crows also stop by sometimes, but they hang out in the brushy part of the back yard and ignore the seed on offer. We haven’t had Downy Woodpeckers or Red-bellied Woodpeckers go for our nuts yet either, though they are also visiting our yard regularly.

Blue Jay
A Blue Jay caught at the feeder by the BirdCam – September 21, 2011

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Juvenile Red-bellied Woodpecker – September 19, 2011

A couple of times we’ve seen a Red-shouldered Hawk perched on a horizontal snag by our office windows in the back yard. We rarely saw these birds up in northern Illinois so it’s quite a treat to have the chance to see one up close in our own yard. I just know there are Barred Owls all around us here in DeBary (eBird even places them in our neighborhood!), but we’ve only heard a pair of them in another part of town so far. I will probably pass out if/when we ever see one in our yard.

Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk – August 4, 2011

We rarely see any birds using the bath, which I find very strange. I expected the bird bath to be a huge draw in this hot climate, but I’ve only seen the squirrels drink from it and the occasional Mourning Dove.

Mourning Dove
Mourning Dove – September 11, 2011

We had a Water Wiggler in the bath at first, but later I purchased a mister, thinking surely that would be irresistible to our feathered friends. So far, not so much, though I have spotted Northern Cardinals, Northern Mockingbirds, and Carolina Chickadees drinking from the drips left on the tomato stand I’m using to hold up the mister. Maybe once our regular birds are joined by more overwintering friends, the bath will see more action?

Northern Mockingbird
Northern Mockingbird sipping drips – October 3, 2011

One day about six weeks after we moved in, Arthur spotted a hummingbird hovering by a flower outside his window.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Our first Ruby-throated Hummingbird – July 31, 2011

The next day we hung up a couple of feeders but didn’t see any more hummingbirds. We took the feeders in, intending to clean them and put them out again, but somehow a week or so passed and we hadn’t replaced the feeders. Then Arthur spotted a Ruby-throated Hummingbird perched in a tree in our yard. Immediately the feeders went out again and we started seeing a single bird visiting each evening between about 5 and 5:30pm. After about a week we noticed a pair of hummers sparring over one of the feeders in the back. We added a second sugar water feeder to the back yard and now we are seeing a hummingbird almost every time we look outside for more than 20 minutes at a time.

Today we added Palm Warbler to our yard list. I suspect this bird was hunting and chowing down on caterpillars in our yard for over two hours! According to eBird, Palm Warblers arrive in our area in mid-September and stay through late April. I wonder if this is a recent arrival who may stick around our apparently caterpillar-infested yard? ๐Ÿ™‚

Palm Warbler
Palm Warbler with one of a hundred caterpillars – October 5, 2011

By the way, I know my pictures are normally nothing to write home about, but a lot of the pictures in this post are real stinkers, aren’t they? The house we’re renting has old windows which are just fine to look through with the naked eye, but through optics there is some major distortion going on. My poor WingScapes BirdCam has been acting up, too – it seems to be as uncomfortable in the heat as I am. Hopefully the pictures I included give you an idea of what we’re seeing in our yard, anyway. ๐Ÿ™‚

Black-throated Blue Warbler
My favorite yard bird so far, a male Black-throated Blue Warbler – September 24, 2011

Here’s our list so far:

1 Swallow-tailed Kite – Elanoides forficatus
2 Sandhill Crane – Grus canadensis
3 Northern Mockingbird – Mimus polyglottos
4 Northern Cardinal – Cardinalis cardinalis
5 Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura
6 Downy Woodpecker – Picoides pubescens
7 White Ibis – Eudocimus albus
8 Great Crested Flycatcher – Myiarchus crinitus
9 Carolina Wren – Thryothorus ludovicianus
10 Carolina Chickadee – Poecile carolinensis
11 Brown Thrasher – Toxostoma rufum
12 Red-bellied Woodpecker – Melanerpes carolinus
13 Tufted Titmouse – Baeolophus bicolor
14 Black Vulture – Coragyps atratus
15 Yellow-throated Warbler – Setophaga dominica
16 Blue Jay – Cyanocitta cristata
17 Turkey Vulture – Cathartes aura
18 American Crow – Corvus brachyrhynchos
19 Ruby-throated Hummingbird – Archilochus colubris
20 American Redstart – Setophaga ruticilla
21 Red-shouldered Hawk – Buteo lineatus
22 Red-eyed Vireo – Vireo olivaceus
23 White-eyed Vireo – Vireo griseus
24 Black-throated Blue Warbler – Setophaga caerulescens
25 Bald Eagle – Haliaeetus leucocephalus
26 Palm Warbler – Setophaga palmarum
27 Indigo Bunting – Passerina cyanea

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Gemini Springs, September 2011

In September I added eleven species to my modest Gemini Springs list, including Little Blue Heron and Pine Warbler. I also picked up three BIGBY species. These were observed during four visits and many other passes through the park during my frequent bike rides.

Kettling vultures
Black and Turkey Vultures kettling on a perfect day; September 12, 2011

Gulf Fritillary
Gulf Fritillary; September 12, 2011

American Alligator with turtle
American Alligator with (Eastern Chicken?) Turtle; September 12, 2011

Danger; September 25, 2011

Tricolored Heron
Tricolored Heron detail; September 25, 2011

The Tricolored Heron in the above photo posed on the railing for a good 15 minutes, during which I took dozens of photos. They didn’t really turn out very well but I did like this feather detail. While I stood still taking photos, I felt something crawl up my leg and was startled. My sudden movement flushed off the heron, unfortunately. I couldn’t be mad at my little distractor, though – the lizard shown below.

leg lizard
Friendly lizard; September 25, 2011

Flowering vine
Flowering vine; September 25, 2011

White Ibis
The obligatory White Ibis photo; September 25, 2011

Spanish Moss
Spanish Moss; September 30, 2011

A squirrel chowing down on a mushroom; September 30, 2011

I stood for a while on one of the nature paths, looking around and listening for birds. I looked at the lovely snag in the below photo, and thought what a nice perch it would be for a raptor. I took a photo of the snag and then noticed part of it moved. There was a raptor using it – a Red-shouldered Hawk. Can you see it?

Snag with Red-shouldered Hawk
Nice snag; September 30, 2011

Little Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron; September 30, 2011

No Swimming
No swimming; September 30, 2011

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal; September 30, 2011

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Curious Turkey Vulture

Arthur and I paid a short visit to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in mid-September. Driving along Biolab Road, we came across several Turkey and Black Vultures loafing on and around the gravel roadway. We slowed down to have a look at this Turkey Vulture perched in a low tree.

Turkey Vulture

I love Turkey Vultures. Vultures get a bad rap for their looks and their habits, which is really unfortunate. They are beautiful, big and charismatic birds. I love how they are so social – always soaring together, or sharing a meal in relative peace.

Turkey Vulture

Flint Creek has one magnificent Turkey Vulture among their education birds, a male named Turkey, Jr (or just Junior). I only tried to handle this bird one time, and he apparently didn’t approve of my looks or habits, because he bit me not once but twice (and left a lovely scar on my left hand). I didn’t attempt to handle him again. To my great chagrin, all of the new handlers at Flint Creek – who graduated earlier this year from the Raptor Handler Internship where I assisted – are in love with Junior, and he seems to be in love with them, too. Yes, they handle him with ease and mutual respect. Of course I’m happy for Junior and the volunteers and especially for FCWR. But dang, Junior, what did you have against me?!

Turkey Vulture

Luckily I can still enjoy Turkey Vultures like this one – from afar. They’ll be with us here in central Florida all year, unlike the northern Illinois birds we only saw during the warmer months. And if they don’t like me, I’ll just get the cold shoulder. No more scars!

Turkey Vulture

I’ve submitted this post to this week’s Bird Photography Weekly. BPW 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 weekโ€™s submissions!

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Posted in Bird Photography Weekly, FCWR, Florida, MINWR | 2 Comments

ARC’s free-flying Harris’s Hawks

Earlier this month, Arthur and I visited The Avian Reconditioning Center in Apopka. My first post about that visit is here.

After meeting some of ARC’s education birds and learning about them from volunteers, we got a special treat. ARC co-founder Scott McCorkle is a falconer and he brought out two of his birds, a pair of Harris’s Hawks. When we read about seeing free-flighted birds, we didn’t imagine this type of free flight! The birds flew from the pavilion roof to Scott’s glove to a distant tree to a fence post to Scott’s glove again and several perches in between. It was really a treat to see, especially since the birds seemed to be quite playful; one bird in particular was fond of flying through cracks in the roof of the gazebo as a trick.

Harris's Hawks

Harris's Hawk

Harris's Hawk

Harris's Hawk

Harris's Hawk

Harris's Hawk

Harris's Hawk

Harris's Hawk

These photos may not be in exact chronological order, but I’m sure the last picture above was taken towards the end of the demonstration — look at that crop! ๐Ÿ™‚

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Visiting the birds of ARC

Earlier this month, Arthur and I visited The Avian Reconditioning Center, a raptor rehabilitation and education organization located in Apopka.

The facility is open to the public Saturdays. Like other similar organizations, ARC relies on the hard work of dedicated volunteers. We got to learn about a few of ARC’s education birds from some of those volunteers.

One of the first birds we got to see was a Short-tailed Hawk. This bird isn’t even on my life list so it was great to see this beautiful raptor up close. ARC has two of these birds; I’m not sure which one this is, but I do remember that the bird’s permanent injury is from a gunshot wound.

Short-tailed Hawk

Next we got to see a Swallow-tailed Kite named Scooter. This is a species I got to see in the wild quite a bit this summer, and it was even our first yard bird (seen from the yard) after moving in to our house in DeBary! I had never seen one on the glove before, though, so this was a very special treat. Scooter in an imprint so she is unable to be released. We learned that Scooter enjoys playing with blades of grass which has earned her the affectionate nickname gardener. I got to see some of this playfulness myself! Note her beautiful dark reddish brown eyes in the video.

Scooter the Swallow-tailed Kite

Scooter the Swallow-tailed Kite

We also got to see Mrs. P. up close. Mrs. P. is a five-year-old Barred Owl. She is imprinted on humans and cannot be released into the wild. I took some glamour shots of this beautiful bird.

Mrs. P the Barred Owl

Mrs. P the Barred Owl

Mrs. P the Barred Owl

Another owl, this time the Great Horned Owl Gulliver, got some more glamour shot treatment. Gulliver cannot be released into the wild due to a permanent wing injury she sustained as an owlet.

Gulliver the Great Horned Owl

Gulliver the Great Horned Owl

Some other birds were out in the yard, but we didn’t get to see them on the glove or hear their stories. These include a Bald Eagle, a Barn Owl, and Red-shouldered Hawk named Pierce.

Pierce the Red-shouldered Hawk

A falconry bird, given up by its falconer, was also in the yard. I think this beauty is a Peregrine-Gyrfalcon hybrid, but I’m not sure.


Finally, we got to see ARC founder Carol McCorkle work on flight training with a young, permanently injured Red-tailed Hawk. This bird has a damaged foot which makes her unreleasable. The bird is fully flighted and was training with Carol on a creance.

Red-tailed Hawk flight training

Red-tailed Hawk permanent foot injury

The birds were set up under a large open wooden pavilion, with picnic tables across the front to separate the birds and volunteers from visitors. The exterior of the pavilion is roped off around the back, to protect the birds but allow visitors to see them on their perches. It’s a very nice place for visitors and I’m sorry I didn’t manage to take any pictures of the general area as a whole. Next time. ๐Ÿ™‚

Besides getting an up-close look at some beautiful birds of prey perched or on the glove, visitors can also see the birds of ARC performing flight demonstrations. We got to see a pair of falconry Harris Hawks free-flying, and I will share some photos of them in a future post.

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Preening Roseate Spoonbill

Earlier this month Arthur and I visited Viera Wetlands and the nearby Click Ponds. I had read a lot about the Click Ponds this summer, especially since they hosted some great birds in July and August, but we couldn’t get out there until September 8th. One of our best birds was a very cooperative Roseate Spoonbill, an individual that gave us our best looks ever of this magnificent species. We used our car as a blind and watched the bird preen, feed, and loaf around.

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

After a marathon preening session the bird fed in the shallow water. It’s always fun to watch spoonbills feed in their unique way. They move their heads back and forth with their long bills in the water; when something to eat comes in contact with the bill – snap!

Roseate Spoonbill

And later it was time for even more preening. ๐Ÿ™‚

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

I’ve submitted this post to this week’s Bird Photography Weekly. BPW 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 weekโ€™s submissions!

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Posted in Behavior, Bird Photography Weekly, Florida, Viera Wetlands | 3 Comments

Gemini Springs, August 2011

In August I added five species to my modest Gemini Springs list, including Limpkin and my first fall migrant warbler, a Northern Waterthrush. I also saw my first BIGBY American Alligator at the Springs. I finally picked up a bike at the end of July, and on my semi-regular bike rides to Lake Monroe Park and back, I was passing through the Gemini Springs a lot in August. I only stopped and birded a handful of times.

Gemini Springs
Nature path; August 4, 2011

Gemini Springs
Gemini Springs; August 4, 2011

Marsh Rabbit
Marsh Rabbit; August 17, 2011

Gemini Springs
Gemini Springs; August 17, 2011

Green Anole
Green Anole; August 17, 2011

Gemini Springs
Gemini Springs; August 17, 2011

Gemini Springs friend
One of/in a million; August 17, 2011

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron, August 17, 2011

Gemini Springs
Gemini Springs; August 17, 2011

White Ibis
White Ibis; August 28, 2011

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My first pelagic birding trip!

Last Sunday, September 18th, I joined a pelagic birding trip on the Pastime Princess out of Ponce de Leon Inlet, Florida. The trip was sponsored by the Marine Science Center; there were 43 birders aboard.

There’s no turning back now!

We departed at about 5am and before we got out of the harbor a downpour drove everyone on the upper deck downstairs. I got soaked but dried off fairly quickly after the rain (the first shower of several throughout the day) stopped. As soon as we were out of the harbor the water got quite rough – well, more rough than I had expected anyway. The ship was rocking and rolling and I held onto my seat, scared to get up. The seas were pretty rough throughout the whole day, but I got used to it eventually and could walk around the ship once it was daylight. I saw at least seven different people get sick but luckily my one Dramamine and my laser-focus on the horizon throughout most of the journey kept my stomach settled. I also ate like a bird, and I’m sure that helped too. ๐Ÿ™‚ The video below gives an idea of how the trip was – during a relatively calm part of the journey.

Distant rains
Rain in the distance. It reached us, eventually.


After the first rough patch of seas, the sun began to rise. My photos don’t begin to capture the beauty of the sunrise, but I remember thinking at the time that even if we didn’t see any birds, the trip was already worth it.


Ooh, aah!

One of the guides brought along a bunch of study skins of birds we hoped to see during the pelagic trip. These were really interesting to see and we got a nice explanation and close-up look at the skins during the last part of the trip.

Study skins
Study skins of pelagic birds

Study skins
More skins

I got six lifers on the trip. Remarkably, I didn’t have too much trouble picking up the birds in my binoculars. Taking photos of the birds, however, was a comedy of errors. Everything is on the move so just finding something in my viewfinder was a challenge. I only got shots of a few birds, all lousy. A couple of photographer birders on the trip got excellent shots of some birds, and I’ve linked to them in this list (my lifers): Black-capped Petrel; Cory’s Shearwater; Great Shearwater; Audubon’s Shearwater; Sabine’s Gull; Sooty Tern. I also saw potential lifers Wilson’s Storm-petrel and Red-necked Phalarope, but they were so tiny I can’t count them on my list. Incidentally, we ended up seeing a large number of Black-capped Petrels throughout the day for a conservative total of 45 birds – a one-day Florida record.

Cory's Shearwaters
Cory’s Shearwaters resting on the water

Cory's Shearwater
Cory’s Shearwater shearing

Sabine's Gull
Sabine’s Gull between the waves

Something really sad to see was a Black-throated Blue Warbler about 50 miles out from shore. This tiny bird circled the boat for a while and everyone was quietly rooting for it to land somewhere on the ship to take rest. At one point the bird even flew inside the main cabin, but it eventually left the ship. I read on the trip leader’s report later that at least two other warblers were seen during the day.

Besides the birders and guides, an employee from the turtle hospital at the Marine Science Center was aboard. She brought along some baby sea turtles to be released during our voyage. Baby turtles!! In the photos below, the ones with the light outline are Green Sea Turtles and the brownish ones are Loggerhead Sea Turtles. The babies were in the care of the Center for a variety of reasons, and were aged between three and four weeks.

Sea Turtle Release

Sea Turtle Release
So small!

Sea Turtle Release
Two Loggerheads and five Greens

We tried to find a large bed of sargassum for the release, but all we could find were long strings of the sea grass. Finally we found a suitable spot and the turtles were released. A baby turtle or two was placed into a net and they were lowered to the water. They all swam off immediately. This was very, very cool to see!

Sea Turtle Release
One Green to go!

Sea Turtle Release
Two Loggerheads overboard!

Birds were the focus of the trip, but we were also treated to several sightings of Atlantic Spotted Dolphin pods. I captured just a few pictures, but we saw dolphins on several different occasions and we were treated to many, many full breaches.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin
Always a treat to see dolphins!

Another non-bird sighting was a huge adult Loggerhead Sea Turtle, again very cool to see! The boat also scared up a lot of flying fish. I hadn’t seen these before and their quick flights made me giggle.

While most birders were either glued to a seat or hanging on to the railings during our time at sea, most everyone stood up during the leisurely sail back into port. We picked up quite a few day birds on the way in, including 60+ Brown Pelicans, Ruddy Turnstones and Caspian Terns.

Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse
The Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse


I had a lot of fun on my first pelagic trip, although I was sad to go alone; Arthur wasn’t feeling well and decided to stay home. With the rough seas I am sure he made the right decision. I’m already looking forward to my next pelagic birding experience. ๐Ÿ™‚

Pastime Princess
The Pastime Princess at the end of the day

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