Social and curious sun-lovers

Black Vulture

Well, hello there! Long time no blog. We lost our beloved cat Arby on Monday after about eight weeks of slowly deteriorating health. It’s been a tough summer. I’m so ready for fall! Bring on September — which happens to start off with International Vulture Awareness Day on the 1st.

I find vultures endearing for several reasons. These pictures of Black Vultures, taken at Hontoon Island State Park back in June, show three of those reasons.

They are social.

Black Vultures

They are curious.

Black Vultures

They love the sun.

Black Vultures

How are you celebrating IVAD this year? Arthur and I will visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom (the park celebrates on the 5th), as we did last year. If you can’t get enough of vultures, you’ll probably like what we’ve done over at Birdorable – check out the new Birdorable vulture landing page.

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Saturday: Back to School @ Audubon

A fun program is coming up this weekend at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland. The Back to School Bash is happening this Saturday, August 18th.

Besides activities like Bird Olympics and Conservation Station, there will be a Meet & Greet area where, if all goes to plan, I will be introducing this gorgeous fellow to kids of all ages.


Newton, ACBOP’s education male American Kestrel

This event is free, so come on out to Maitland this Saturday from 10am to 12pm and learn about Florida’s magnificent birds!

The Audubon Center for Birds of Prey, located in Maitland, Florida, treats up to 700 birds of prey each year. You can follow them on Facebook here. This post reflects my own experiences as a volunteer; any errors regarding the Center and their patients or permanent residents are purely my own. Further, any opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ACBOP.

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How to Be a Better Birder

Lovitch writes in a familiar tone which makes even the most technical topics easy to follow and understand. Each chapter discusses skills that build upon previous concepts, tying everything neatly together in the end. […] I enjoyed reading this book and highly recommend it to other birders who want to go further in this hobby.

Read my 4.5/5 review of Derek Lovitch’s new book here: How to Be a Better Birder.

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Like a Wet Rat

When one doesn’t have the chance to go birding as much as one would like, it is nice when the birds come to one.

During a heavy thunderstorm last week, Arthur called me to the window to watch a Red-shouldered Hawk feeding on something in our back yard. The bird was eating while standing completely exposed in the middle of the grass. It was soaked. After a few bites, the hawk grabbed hold of its meal, a rat, and flew to a post to finish the job.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk
OM NOM NOM

With not much remaining to the prey but fur and tail, the meal was finished and the Red-shouldered Hawk retreated to a nearby citrus tree.

Red-shouldered Hawk

I thought it might wait out the storm under the relative shelter of the tree, so I was surprised when the hawk took off and flew to an exposed perch, a metal bird feeder pole. There it remained for just a moment before taking off once again and leaving our yard.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Here’s a short video to give you an idea of the rate of rainfall during this encounter.

That’s a pretty hearty hawk, huh? Or perhaps just a hungry one.

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Awaiting BGE

Back in January 2011 I wondered if The Year of the Bird Movie was upon us. Besides the highly-anticipated release of The Big Year, a handful of other bird-related titles were in the works.

One such film was A Birder’s Guide to Everything, which at the time was listed as having a 2011 release date on IMDb. The independent film had a different time table in real life, and recently began shooting on location in Westchester County, New York.

Prior to filming, the director, Rob Meyer, posted this promotional video.

A Birder’s Guide to Everything Sizzle from Rob Meyer on Vimeo.

This video “sizzle,” along with the added positive early word from Kenn Kaufman, makes me very excited for this movie! Today IMDb indicates a January 2013 release date, but we should probably take that with a grain of salt. Meanwhile filmmakers are updating the BGE official blog and BGE Facebook page on a regular basis.

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Delicious dandelions

I’ve been spending a lot of time fretting over the health and happiness of this old man lately, which has put me on an unexpected birding hiatus.

Arby sees starlings
Arby watching starlings, December 2008

So here’s a dip back in time and another installment of blog catch-up. Back in May, when I visited family and friends in Illinois, I took a few walks at my old favorite, Rollins Savanna.

Rollins Savanna
Rollins Savanna on May 10, 2012

Bobolink
Male Bobolink

In mid-May Rollins was hopping with Bobolinks. Their robotic calls could be heard from nearly every step along the 3.5 mile main loop trail.

Bobolink eating dandelion seeds
Bobolink eating dandelion seeds

Bobolink eating dandelion seeds
You’ve got a little something stuck to the side of your beak there, Bob.

Bobolinks normally first arrive in Lake County around the beginning of May, so the birds I observed chowing down on dandelion seeds along the path may have been new arrivals, refueling after a long leg of their migration (they come from as far south as Argentina). Bobolinks breed in northern Illinois, but their breeding range goes as far north as the Canadian border and beyond.

female Bobolink
Female Bobolink

Bobolinks pass through Florida on their journey in both directions, but I have not been able to add one to my state list so far. Maybe, if I’m very lucky this September…

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Posted in Behavior, Illinois, LCFPD, Migration | Leave a comment

(I gotta get) Back to my patch

Summer is rushing by and sometimes it feels like I have a bit too much going on. Too much fun, maybe, but certainly too much non-birding stuff!

While looking for birds during the June Challenge, I almost completely neglected my local patch – I only birded there twice! This means there will be no “Birding Gemini Springs” post for June 2012. I hope my readers can forgive this devastating news!

For this little post, I’m playing blog catch-up and returning to my favorite species, the Barred Owl, and the Gemini Springs family made famous in earlier Powered By Birds posts like “I discovered a Barred Owl family at Gemini Springs” and “Barred Owls growing up”.

During visits to the park in May, my luck at finding the Barred Owls continued, mostly to the extremely vocal nature of the hungry juveniles.

Barred Owl
Adult Barred Owl | 16 May 2012

Barred Owls
Juvenile Barred Owls | 16 May 2012

Barred Owls
Adult Barred Owls | 27 May 2012

The babies continued to make handy-for-birders begging hiss noises, even when they were clearly well-fed. Look at this baby hanging on to an Eastern Mole.

Mole for lunch
Juvenile Barred Owls | 4 June 2012

Barred Owls
Juvenile Barred Owls | 4 June 2012

This picture from July 2nd was taken on my most recent visit to Gemini Springs.

Barred Owl
Juvenile Barred Owl | 2 July 2012

Yep, it’s been 18 days since I’ve been to my local patch. And that’s just not right! I’m going to have to do something about that…

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Release rewards

I’ve been volunteering at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey since early February. Being able to help birds in need is wonderful. Being given the responsibility to release rehabilitated birds back into the wild is even more special, and exhilarating. In the last couple of weeks I’ve had the opportunity to release a few successfully rehabilitated birds back into the wild.

On June 28th, a lot of birds were ready for release. During my volunteer shift I assisted while other volunteers and staff caught up birds, including several Eastern Screech Owls. Two EASOs were due to be released in Deltona, and since that’s not too far from my home, I took them. When the time came for release, one bird took off like a shot. I was holding the box, but I blinked and missed it leaving! I felt a woosh but it wasn’t until I looked down in the box and saw just one owl that I knew one had gone. Silent flight, indeed! The second bird needed just a bit of encouragement to regain its freedom. It was a successful first release experience with ACBOP.

On July 12th I came in for my volunteer shift and found out that a couple of birds were ready to be released in my area. Between cleaning and other regular volunteer duties, I helped a bit with shuffling birds from rehab mews to flight chambers and preparing healed birds for release or transfer. This included a young Osprey to be released in DeBary, and a Barred Owl to be released in Deland.

Both releases were fantastic. In each case I contacted the party that originally found the injured raptor and was responsible for getting it to the Center for treatment.

The whole family came out for the after-dusk release of the Barred Owl, who was found in the middle of the road and was presumably struck by a car. The owl’s recovery took several weeks. The release went flawlessly! She flew out of the box and straight up into a tree, resting and taking in her surroundings. Since this release was done after dusk, light was too poor to capture any images.

The Osprey was released earlier in the afternoon at Lake Monroe Park in DeBary, and Arthur took some great photos of the action.

Osprey release
A quick look around just as the box was opened

There are at least two active Osprey nests at Lake Monroe Park. This is the park at the end of the Spring-to-spring Trail, so its a spot I know well. The young Osprey had been found on the ground just under a week prior to her release – she was caught up in Spanish Moss(!). The young bird was strong and healthy – just a little bit klutzy to get so caught up in the moss as to require rescue.

Osprey release
Stretch and go!

After being monitored in a flight chamber, it was time to release her back where she came from. We released her close to her nest, but on the far side of a gravel driveway in order to give her a nice long “runway” for takeoff.

Osprey release

Osprey release

The release was attended by the rescuer, who stood close to me as I opened the box, as well as two interested park employees and one park visitor, seen in the above photo.

Osprey release

Osprey release

As you can tell, she was eager and ready to go! She leaped out of her box and flew right to her nest. In the below photo it looks like she’s making a beeline – the nest is top center. She veered right and flew a wide circle around the nest, eventually approaching from behind. A parent and sibling were in the area and began to vocalize as soon as our girl was airborne.

Osprey release

Osprey release
Home at last!

The Audubon Center for Birds of Prey, located in Maitland, Florida, treats up to 700 birds of prey each year. You can follow them on Facebook here. This post reflects my own experiences as a volunteer; any errors regarding the Center and their patients or permanent residents are purely my own. Further, any opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ACBOP.

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My 2012 June Challenge results

I first learned about the June Challenge last year, but our move to Florida was too late in the month for me to participate. This year I set a goal of 75 species, which I reached — just! The complete list is at the end of this post.

Northern Bobwhite
June Challenge birds must be seen; I was lucky to see this Northern Bobwhite as they are more often heard-only on my checklists

Part of the point of the challenge is to get birders out in the field in a hot, traditionally boring time of year for birding. The heat got to me, I admit, and I didn’t get out as much as I would have liked. In the end I added 30 checklists to eBird in June, and a few of those were incidentals to add species expressly for the challenge (like the single-bird lists featuring Common Nighthawk, House Sparrow, and European Starling — all seen in parking lots).

baby Florida Scrub-Jay
I went to Lyonia Preserve to look for Florida Scrub-Jays and was delighted to find several babies

Another point of the challenge is to get birders to try new birding locations. I birded three new-to-me spots in Volusia: Heart Island Conservation Area; Palm Bluff; and Lake Ashby Park. Each brought me at least one species seen nowhere else during June, and as a bonus I got some new scenery in an otherwise “boring” month.

Limpkin
The only Limpkin I saw all month was at Lake Ashby Park

I studied eBird checklists to determine some target species. Two species were surprises because they weren’t recorded by other Volusia eBirders in recent Junes: Barn Swallow and Least Bittern. My best birds were Common Nighthawk, new to my Volusia list, and year birds Black-crowned Night-Heron and Great Shearwater (seen offshore during strong east winds). I added a few birds in the last week by specifically seeking them in suitable habitat. In this way I picked up Common Ground-Dove, Loggerhead Shrike, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird. If I had taken the time I very likely could have gotten Eurasian Collared-Dove, Bachman’s Sparrow, and House Finch. My biggest misses were Glossy Ibis and Wild Turkey. I just didn’t get out enough. Without the push of the Challenge, though, I surely wouldn’t have seen this many birds during June. Maybe next year I will try for 80…?

June Challenge List 2012

1 Double-crested Cormorant – Phalacrocorax auritus
2 Brown Pelican – Pelecanus occidentalis
3 Osprey – Pandion haliaetus
4 Laughing Gull – Leucophaeus atricilla
5 Least Tern – Sternula antillarum
6 Royal Tern – Thalasseus maximus
7 Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura
8 Fish Crow – Corvus ossifragus
9 Northern Cardinal – Cardinalis cardinalis
10 Red-winged Blackbird – Agelaius phoeniceus
11 Boat-tailed Grackle – Quiscalus major
12 Great Egret – Ardea alba
13 Snowy Egret – Egretta thula
14 Tricolored Heron – Egretta tricolor
15 Reddish Egret – Egretta rufescens
16 Cattle Egret – Bubulcus ibis
17 American Oystercatcher – Haematopus palliatus
18 Rock Pigeon – Columba livia
19 White Ibis – Eudocimus albus
20 Red-shouldered Hawk – Buteo lineatus
21 Common Gallinule – Gallinula galeata
22 Barred Owl – Strix varia
23 Red-bellied Woodpecker – Melanerpes carolinus
24 Downy Woodpecker – Picoides pubescens
25 Pileated Woodpecker – Dryocopus pileatus
26 Blue Jay – Cyanocitta cristata
27 American Crow – Corvus brachyrhynchos
28 Tufted Titmouse – Baeolophus bicolor
29 Northern Parula – Setophaga americana
30 Anhinga – Anhinga anhinga
31 Great Blue Heron – Ardea herodias
32 Black Vulture – Coragyps atratus
33 Carolina Chickadee – Poecile carolinensis
34 Carolina Wren – Thryothorus ludovicianus
35 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – Polioptila caerulea
36 Turkey Vulture – Cathartes aura
37 Great Crested Flycatcher – Myiarchus crinitus
38 White-eyed Vireo – Vireo griseus
39 Red-eyed Vireo – Vireo olivaceus
40 Northern Mockingbird – Mimus polyglottos
41 Brown Thrasher – Toxostoma rufum
42 Brown-headed Nuthatch – Sitta pusilla
43 Eastern Towhee – Pipilo erythrophthalmus
44 Red-tailed Hawk – Buteo jamaicensis
45 Sandhill Crane – Grus canadensis
46 Eastern Bluebird – Sialia sialis
47 Yellow-throated Warbler – Setophaga dominica
48 Wood Duck – Aix sponsa
49 Wood Stork – Mycteria americana
50 Little Blue Heron – Egretta caerulea
51 Limpkin – Aramus guarauna
52 Cooper’s Hawk – Accipiter cooperii
53 Northern Bobwhite – Colinus virginianus
54 Green Heron – Butorides virescens
55 American Coot – Fulica americana
56 Killdeer – Charadrius vociferus
57 Sandwich Tern – Thalasseus sandvicensis
58 Chimney Swift – Chaetura pelagica
59 Common Yellowthroat – Geothlypis trichas
60 Common Grackle – Quiscalus quiscula
61 Common Nighthawk – Chordeiles minor
62 House Sparrow – Passer domesticus
63 Red-headed Woodpecker – Melanerpes erythrocephalus
64 Florida Scrub-Jay – Aphelocoma coerulescens
65 European Starling – Sturnus vulgaris
66 Great Shearwater – Puffinus gravis
67 Ruddy Turnstone – Arenaria interpres
68 Black-crowned Night-Heron – Nycticorax nycticorax
69 Barn Swallow – Hirundo rustica
70 Swallow-tailed Kite – Elanoides forficatus
71 Roseate Spoonbill – Platalea ajaja
72 Common Ground-Dove – Columbina passerina
73 Loggerhead Shrike – Lanius ludovicianus
74 Least Bittern – Ixobrychus exilis
75 Ruby-throated Hummingbird – Archilochus colubris

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Posted in Florida, June Challenge, Volusia Birding | Leave a comment