Crab hunting at Spruce Creek

Late last month, Arthur and I visited Spruce Creek Park in Port Orange. It was hot and birds were keeping a low profile. Once we climbed up the 15-foot observation tower we had a very nice view over the property. I spotted a heron sitting on a picnic table below us, and did a double-take when I realized it was a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron.

feeling peckish

The bird hopped off the table and proceeded to successfully hunt a large amount of crabs in the mud.

let's do this!


om nom nom

Timestamps on my photos tell me we watched the heron hunting for about a half hour, and I would guess it caught and ate a crab or other tasty morsel at least every two minutes.



We climbed down the tower and proceeded with our hot mid-morning walk. Later we came across another YCNH, this one awkwardly perched on top of some kind of weather apparatus (I think). It didn’t stay perched long.

awkward in black and white


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Up to no good


Sandhill Cranes are omnivorous. They feed on grains, berries, small reptiles, invertebrates, aquatic plants, and more. They will feed on nestling birds, if the opportunity arises.


At Rollins Savanna last month I observed a small group of Sandhill Cranes foraging in a marshy area. A male Red-winged Blackbird was giving them a hard time, dive-bombing and attacking the backs of the large birds.




The blackbird may have thought the cranes were up to no good, but during my stay I didn’t see the cranes discover any tasty nestlings. The blackbird eventually left the cranes alone.


This wasn’t the first time I’d seen a blackbird attacking cranes at Rollins Savanna. Back in June 2009 I saw a small mob working together to drive away a pair of cranes.


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Posted in Behavior, Illinois, LCFPD | 1 Comment

Give beach-nesting birds a chance

The Dutch branch of BirdLife International, Vogelbescherming, came up with this great animated clip that shows the stresses and dangers beach-nesting species face. The original Dutch animation was recently translated into English:

Not everyone understands the gravity of the many stresses facing birds who nest on the beach. Share this video – spreading knowledge will help our feathered friends.

If you leave near beach habitat, you may be able to help even more. There are bird stewards monitoring nests at Ft. De Soto Park in Florida, volunteers are monitoring Piping Plover nests in Michigan and Connecticut, and monitors check habitat for both sea turtle and shorebird nesting on Anna Maria Island, Florida. Search online for “nest monitoring” or “bird stewards” in your area and you may find there are volunteer projects you can join to can help birds that nest locally.

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Posted in Aside, Citizen Science, Conservation, Video | Leave a comment

Scrub-Jays at Lyonia Preserve

Florida Scrub Jay

The Florida Scrub-Jay is the official city bird of Deltona, Florida. Not many cities have official birds, but in this case it seems appropriate considering Deltona is home to Lyonia Preserve, which is in turn home to several families of the endangered Florida endemic. I think it’s safe to say that a hike through the scrub habitat at the preserve will reward birders with a Scrub-Jay encounter more often than not.

Florida Scrub Jay

Florida Scrub Jay

On a walk at the park last month, Arthur and I counted at least 9 individuals, some of whom were kind enough to pose for photos.

Florida Scrub Jay

Florida Scrub Jay

Like most corvids, Florida Scrub-Jays are highly intelligent, and extremely curious. They are also known to be tame, but this trait can be a serious problem for this endangered species. Although they may approach humans for food, people should never feed wild Florida Scrub-Jays. Habituation to humans is unsafe for a variety of reasons, one of which is that being provided food not normally available in their natural habitat can be disruptive to healthy development of growing chicks.

Florida Scrub Jay
Many of the jays at Lyonia sport color bands

Earlier this year, Arthur noted an online announcement for a field trip hosted by a local Meetup group: Lyonia Preserve: Hike. The main purpose of this trip was to “do a short hike and feed the Scrub Jays” (emphasis mine). Participants were advised to bring along pine nuts. What the HELL? Unfortunately, the fact that feeding Florida Scrub-Jays is bad for the birds, not to mention illegal, does not discourage some people from this practice. When we visit Lyonia, we are thrilled with every bird sighting and every natural, un-baited Scrub-Jay encounter.

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Birding Gemini Springs, May 2012

I birded Gemini Springs five times during May, tallying just 45 species for the month.

A lot of my birding time at the park was spent watching a family of Barred Owls and a pair of Red-shouldered Hawk fledglings. I will have some separate follow up posts with these birds of prey in the coming days. The photos below represent the non-baby-raptor highlights from May.

New for the year list: Swallow-tailed Kite; Northern Bobwhite (heard only; may have heard them earlier but not noted); Roseate Spoonbill (flyovers – first ever for my Gemini Springs list); Ruby-throated Hummingbird (another Gemini Springs all-time first for me). The complete list is at the end of this post.

Anhinga | 2 May 2012

Black-and-white Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler | 2 May 2012

Anhinga | 4 May 2012

Gulf Fritillary
Gulf Fritillary | 4 May 2012

Great Blue Heron | 4 May 2012

Red-bellied Woodpecker | 4 May 2012

Raptors were not the only juvenile birds I saw at Gemini Springs in May. On the 4th, a family of Pileated Woodpeckers worked a few trees together, traveling from trunk to trunk.

Pileated Woodpeckers | 4 May 2012

Young Pileated Woodpecker | 4 May 2012

Gemini Springs
Foggy morning | 7 May 2012

Gemini Springs
Foggy morning | 7 May 2012

Common Snapping Turtle
Common Snapping Turtle | 7 May 2012

Great Crested Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher with prey | 27 May 2012

May 2012 bird list, Gemini Springs

Northern Bobwhite – Colinus virginianus
Double-crested Cormorant – Phalacrocorax auritus
Anhinga – Anhinga anhinga
Great Blue Heron – Ardea herodias
Great Egret – Ardea alba
Snowy Egret – Egretta thula
Little Blue Heron – Egretta caerulea
Tricolored Heron – Egretta tricolor
Green Heron – Butorides virescens
White Ibis – Eudocimus albus
Glossy Ibis – Plegadis falcinellus
Roseate Spoonbill – Platalea ajaja
Black Vulture – Coragyps atratus
Osprey – Pandion haliaetus
Swallow-tailed Kite – Elanoides forficatus
Bald Eagle – Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Red-shouldered Hawk – Buteo lineatus
Common Gallinule – Gallinula galeata
American Coot – Fulica americana
Sandhill Crane – Grus canadensis
Black-necked Stilt – Himantopus mexicanus
Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura
Barred Owl – Strix varia
Ruby-throated Hummingbird – Archilochus colubris
Red-bellied Woodpecker – Melanerpes carolinus
Downy Woodpecker – Picoides pubescens
Pileated Woodpecker – Dryocopus pileatus
Great Crested Flycatcher – Myiarchus crinitus
Red-eyed Vireo – Vireo olivaceus
Blue Jay – Cyanocitta cristata
Fish Crow – Corvus ossifragus
Carolina Chickadee – Poecile carolinensis
Tufted Titmouse – Baeolophus bicolor
Carolina Wren – Thryothorus ludovicianus
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – Polioptila caerulea
Northern Mockingbird – Mimus polyglottos
Brown Thrasher – Toxostoma rufum
Black-and-white Warbler – Mniotilta varia
Common Yellowthroat – Geothlypis trichas
Northern Parula – Setophaga americana
Swamp Sparrow – Melospiza georgiana
Northern Cardinal – Cardinalis cardinalis
Red-winged Blackbird – Agelaius phoeniceus
Common Grackle – Quiscalus quiscula
Boat-tailed Grackle – Quiscalus major

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Challenge changeover

On May 23rd I counted one of the most abundant birds in my neighborhood for the Bird-a-Day Challenge. With Osprey as my 144th bird, I’m finished in the game for 2012.

It was already getting tough at the beginning of May, but I was relieved to reach May 8th, so I could count some non-Florida birds on my list. Though I did a fair amount of birding, I didn’t manage to take one photo of any of my game birds during my visit to family and friends in Illinois May 8-15. They were all new birds for the year (May 10th’s Black-throated Green Warbler was my 200th bird of 2012).

When I returned home to Florida, I knew my days in the game were seriously numbered. My first day back, I had to use a neighborhood regular, the Northern Mockingbird. A lucky, rare flyover of Roseate Spoonbill at Gemini Springs gave me an extra day, as did the Common Nighthawk Arthur and I spotted at Epcot at the end of our visit on May 18th (I literally jumped up and down for that one – it saved me Rock Pigeon for another day). An eBird alert sent me to a previously-unknown-by-me wetlands in a neighboring town to find Semipalmated Plovers on May 19th. Everything else was entirely expected and a misery to check off each day. Now at least I have a nice goal for 2013.

And I am ready for the next game for this year: the June Challenge! I first learned about this by following the Florida birding listservs last year, and from this great post by favorite Florida blogger Limeybirder: June Challenge. We moved here late in the month so I didn’t participate.

Here is a brief description of the challenge that I swiped / paraphrased from a post on BirdForum:

In 2004 Becky Enneis proposed a contest. She was scandalized that most birders spent the summer indoors, and she thought that competition might motivate some of them to get out in the field during the warm months. And so The June Challenge was born.

There are some rules for this friendly competition:

– Birds must be seen. No heard-only birds.
– Keep county lists.
– Keep track of ABA and non-ABA species are on your list. Report them in this format:
Total (ABA countable / non-countable), e.g., 115 (112 / 3)

Last year, there were two participants for Volusia, coming up with totals of 120 (119 / 1) and 73 (73 / 0). I’m going to try to get at least 75, but that sounds very ambitious for an inland Volusia girl. We’ll see! I’m looking forward to trying out this new challenge. Good luck to all that continue with Bird-a-Day!

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Posted in Bird-a-Day Challenge, Florida, Green Birding, June Challenge | Leave a comment

Cooper’s Hawk nest replacement

Last week Arthur and I had the opportunity to help out some baby Cooper’s Hawks that got into trouble when they fell out of their nest. On Saturday, May 19, we went out to a residential neighborhood in Deltona where we found three baby hawks on the ground. One was dead, but still warm. We gathered up the survivors and searched the ground for any other babies. We noted the location of the small nest that remained in the tree. An adult bird was also seen flying around, kakking at us. I should note here that we mistakenly thought the babies were Red-shouldered Hawks (RSHA). Our initial report was that they were probably RSHA; despite several clues (kakking adult, tiny nest, we were not attacked) to the contrary, we didn’t consider anything else. Of course, Audubon Center for Birds of Prey staff member Sam knew right away they were NOT RSHAs.

One of two baby Cooper’s Hawks settling in for a quiet night

The next morning we brought the hawks to ACBOP for examination and care. As the birds were given a clean bill of health, it was determined they could be returned to their nest tree, with a little human help.

Monday afternoon we returned to the Deltona tree site to meet Jim, ACBOP volunteer tree climber. When we arrived we were somewhat surprised to find another baby Cooper’s Hawk on the ground. It was alert and seemed well-fed so it was determined that it could be returned to the tree with its nestmates – of which there were three. ACBOP had received an additional Cooper’s Hawk orphan, about the same age as the Deltona birds. It was added to the group. So four babies fell, and four babies were returned.

The fourth Deltona baby

Jim found a good spot in the original nest tree to place a new mesh platform to act as a replacement nest. Once Jim was in the tree, we sent up the new nest and other supplies he needed to attach the structure to the tree and make a cozy nest surface.

Cooper's Hawk nest replacement
Jim starts by finding a good spot to secure his gear

Cooper's Hawk nest replacement
Going up!

Cooper's Hawk nest replacement
Moving on up!

two nests
The white bag indicates Jim at work; my finger points at old nest

Cooper's Hawk nest replacement
Can you find Jim in this overview photo? Click here for a hint!

Cooper's Hawk nest replacement
Readying the platform

When all was secure, the babies were sent up. On the way, they began to peep. Shortly after, an adult Cooper’s Hawk made an appearance. It approached the tree a few times, but didn’t get close enough to Jim to pose a threat.

four baby Cooper's Hawks
Four babies ready to go back up

Cooper's Hawk nest replacement
Precious cargo!

Cooper's Hawk nest replacement
Back you go!

Another baby gets returned!

Cooper's Hawk nest replacement
Another successful transfer!

Once the babies were secure in the new nest and Jim was on the ground, the adult hawk flew into the tree. We didn’t see it approach the babies directly, but we took our leave without lingering to give the reunited family some peace.

Everybirdy’s home

adult Cooper's Hawk
Very interested in the latest development

The next morning, May 22, Arthur and I drove by the nest to see if everything looked good. We could see two babies in the nest, which still looked safe and secure.

baby Cooper's Hawk
One baby a day after replacement

On Saturday, we drove over to check the nest again. Now we could see all four babies, three of which were perched on a branch close to the nest. The fourth baby rested in the nest itself. Again we saw one adult flying nearby the nest tree. As we drove away, we finally saw that there was a second Cooper’s Hawk associated with the nest. With the great difference in sexual dimorphism in this species, we could easily see that it was a male and female.

four Cooper's Hawk babies
All four babies – look closely in lower right corner of platform to see fourth baby

adult Cooper's Hawk
Attentive adult Cooper’s Hawk

Good luck, Cooper’s Hawk family!

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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Posted in ACBOP | 3 Comments

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. 🙂 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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Posted in Florida, Gemini Springs, Illinois, Life List, Volusia Birding | 1 Comment

IMBD @ Disney

The 20th International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) was celebrated last week, on May 12th. Arthur visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park, where the day was observed through various activities highlighting many different species of birds.

Celebrating International Migratory Bird Day at Animal Kingdom

Guests entering the park could be “banded” and then visit various “stations” in the park to have data taken, like leg length, “bird height,” and migration distance.

bird banding
One of the “bird banding” stations

Throughout the park, stands and kiosks were set up to share information about birds and how people can help them. Providing Purple Martin housing, the importance of shade-grown coffee, and saving shorebird habitat were among the topics shared.

Egg display

Piping Plover Poster
Saving Piping Plovers of the Great Lakes

Rafiki’s Planet Watch hosted several activities. A new, permanent exhibit on the Whooping Crane program Operation Migration was unveiled. The exhibit includes a retired ultra-light airplane used to teach Whooping Cranes to migrate. Guests were invited to dress up as a Whooping Crane adult and feed food (rubber caterpillars) to a (model of a) baby Whooping Crane.

Rafiki's Planet Watch
Operation Migration and other activities at Rafiki’s Planet Watch

retired Operation Migration plane
Retired Operation Migration ultra-light plane

feeding "baby"
Feeding a baby Whooping Crane

"baby whooping crane"
Baby Whooping Crane statue

An informal program with an eduction Red-tailed Hawk also took place at Rafiki’s Planet Watch.

Red-tailed Hawk program
Red-tailed Hawk and handler

I like how Disney’s Animal Kingdom celebrates wildlife-themed commemorative holidays, like IMBD and IVAD. Other upcoming events are listed at the bottom of this post.

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Posted in Disney, Festivals & Events, Holiday | 1 Comment

Lazy birding at mom & dad’s

During my visit with my parents last week, I spent some time checking out the birds that visit their suburban Chicago back yard feeders.

Baltimore Oriole
Baltimore Oriole nomming grape jelly

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird nomming on nectar

Indigo Bunting
Indigo Bunting considering next nom

Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Rose-breasted Grosbeak perching above noms

Orchard Oriole
Orchard Oriole nomming on grape jelly

Mallards about to nom on cracked corn

These stunners were joined by many others; it was nice to add some ticks to my year list while lounging on the patio doing some lazy birding. New for 2012 were Hairy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, White-crowned Sparrow, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Orchard Oriole – before I even unpacked my bags. 🙂

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Posted in Illinois, Yard Birds | 1 Comment