Turtle sucker

See something odd happening on the back end of this turtle? What’s that coming out of the rear left leg?

Red-eared Slider w/ leech

This morning at Lake Lotus Park in Altamonte Springs, Arthur and I stopped along the boardwalk to watch a small Red-eared Slider struggling to climb onto a floating log. Once it clawed its way onto the the log, it started walking as if it had something on its plastron which prevented its back legs from reaching the surface at the correct angle or position. The turtle slid back into the water but when it climbed back onto the log moments later, it still had the same problem. As we continued to watch we finally noticed that it had a rather large leech stuck to its body.

It appeared to be scooting around the log to try and remove the leech. This video shows the turtle’s first ascent onto the log and a couple of moments of subsequent leech-scooting.

It is very common for turtles to carry leeches. I had no idea of this before today. In Googling for information about turtles and leeches, I came across an older post from one of my favorite Florida bloggers, who wrote: “It’s extremely common to find leeches on turtles in Florida. In fact, it’s so common, that if I had to go collect a bunch of leeches, I would start flipping turtles.” Well, how about that?

Red-eared Slider w/ leech

Leeches survive by attaching themselves to a host animal and sucking blood. When turtles bask in the sun, sometimes their leeches dry up and fall off. Good luck little slider, and thanks for today’s new thing learned.

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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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The Owl Clan

A large statue of an owl was recovered from the St. Johns River near DeLand, Florida in 1955. An artifact of the Timucua Native American tribes that historically lived in the area, the original pine wood statue dates from 1400-1500 A.D. The original piece is on display at the Florida State Museum in Gainesville. A replica of the statue stands on Hontoon Island, a state park cut out of the St. Johns River near DeLand.

The Owl Clan

The owl totem identified the local “clan” of Timucua; similar statues representing a pelican and an otter were found elsewhere along the St. Johns in 1978. These three totems are the only such Native American statues found in North America outside of the Pacific Northwest. The owl totem is remarkable for its large size.

The Owl Clan

The stylized totem statue probably represents a Great Horned Owl and stands over six feet tall from horns to talons. Interestingly, the totem owl has five talons, instead of the four naturally found on Great Horned Owls. Was there perhaps a bit of anthropomorphizing among the Owl Clan? I’m not judging. In fact, as a lover of owls, I say — sign me up for the modern version of the Owl Clan.

The Owl Clan

Sources: The Florida anthropologist via the University of Florida and replica signage

The Owl Clan

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Meme Monday: Hey girl, bird with me?

If you’re not active on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or Google+, you may be missing out on the joy of Internet memes. A meme (rhymes with cream) is “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.” An Internet meme can be as short as a catch-phrase or as complex as a video clip. A lot of memes are simple graphics which are altered to suit different topics. When a meme is hot, you can be sure there will be variants related to birds or birding.

Canadian actor Ryan Gosling is the subject of several single-topic Tumblr blogs / meme themes. Images of Gosling are accompanied by captions that often begin with, “Hey girl,” followed by a sentence that would only be uttered by the world’s best boyfriend. After Gosling himself read some of the captions on MTV in December 2010, the meme took off with derivatives like Feminist Ryan Gosling, Hey girl. I heart NPR., Law School Ryan Gosling, and of course, Hey girl, bird with me?

While the popularity of this particular “Hey girl” variation probably reached its peak back January or February, you can still follow this brilliant birder meme via the Hey girl, bird with me? Facebook page or the original Hey girl, bird with me? Tumblr blog.

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It takes a lot of work to look this good

Wood Duck

How does a Wood Duck know when it’s time to take a bath?

Wood Duck

I happened to be watching this one when it was time. He looked quite clean to me, but what do I know?

Wood Duck

After a whole lotta splashin’ was going on, he joined his companion on a nearby snag for some serious preening.

Wood Duck

Wood Duck

Wood Duck

All done.

Wood Duck

Lookin’ good, hot stuff.

Wood Duck

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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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Purple Sandpiper at Lighthouse Point Park

At the end of March, Arthur and I took a day off to do some birding at a few spots in Volusia County. Lately I’ve been really interested in increasing my home county list, so I trolled eBird for birds missing from my year list. I determined our route based on a rather long wishlist of needed birds.

Our first stop was a hotspot I’d never been to before: Longleaf Pine Preserve outside of DeLand. Here I had a target list of way too many birds. We had a very nice 6 mile hike where we recorded a total of 15 (!) species, only one of which was on my target list. We first heard and then had very nice looks at a male Bachman’s Sparrow singing in typical habitat for this species. This one target was also the only potential lifer we expected here, so, you know, mission accomplished!

Next we stopped at Port Orange Causeway Park, located under Dunlawton Avenue where it crosses the Intracoastal Waterway. Part of the park looks over the Port Orange Sanctuary, though birds can be viewed from all over this eBird hotspot. My two targets here were American Oystercatcher and Reddish Egret; we found both. After this short visit we headed to our final destination for the day, to search for the subject of this blog post.

Lighthouse Point Park is located in Ponce Inlet, close to the lighthouse, natch. The lighthouse isn’t in the park, though, as signs at the park entrance take great pains to inform all visitors. Anyway, the beautiful beach and clear water attracts families and sunbathers, and, during our visit, lots of surfers. I had just one target species here: Purple Sandpiper.

Purple Sandpiper

We found an active bird as we walked along the jetty. This was not a life bird, but it was new to my U.S. list.

Purple Sandpiper

Previously we had seen Purple Sandpipers along a different jetty on the other side of the Atlantic, at IJmuiden.

Purple Sandpiper

I’ve submitted this post to the current 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 week’s submissions!

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Birthday Birds

For my birthday back in February, Arthur and I had a nice little two-day trip to the west coast of Florida. I based our loose itinerary on recent rare birds reported to Florida birding listservs. We started out on Sunday the 26th with a Green-tailed Towhee in the morning, pelicans, shorebirds, and ailing seabirds in the afternoon, and a Lark Sparrow late in the day. On Monday, my birthday, we first headed to the Courtney Campbell Causeway on Old Tampa Bay to look for another target bird.

We drove up and down the access roads on either side of the causeway, looking for our target in the water, and checking out the birds that were loafing along the roadway and in the bay.

Scanning Old Tampa Bay

Horned Grebes
Horned Grebes

Black Skimmers
Black Skimmers

Black Skimmer head on
Thin skimmer bill!

American Oystercatcher
We had better views of American Oystercatchers after the previous day’s flyover lifers

After several hours of searching, we had a nice list of birds for both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, but we still didn’t have our target. One last round, we said. One last look around, we decided. And on the last round, close to the county border, we found our bird, swimming alone out on the bay.

Long-tailed Duck
Long-tailed Duck!

Long-tailed Duck butt
He was extremely active; most of my photos look like this

Long-tailed Ducks don’t typically range this far south, though stray birds show up across the south and elsewhere out of range fairly regularly.

We, and the bird, were in Hillsborough County. The duck was swimming towards Pinellas County… so we waited for that extra county tick. 🙂 It wasn’t a lifer but it was certainly nice to get a new state bird, in two counties even!

Our next stop, somewhere between Tampa Bay and home, was another Florida birding hotspot: Circle B Bar Reserve near Lakeland in Polk County. I didn’t have any specific target birds here. We were lucky to see a pair of Purple Gallinules who were not kind enough to pose for photos. First though, there was an American Bittern who was so accommodating that we actually left the bird while it was still in plain view – this after many minutes of intimate observation.

American Bittern
Preening American Bittern

American Bittern
Rousing American Bittern

American Bittern
Serious American Bittern

Later we were delighted to find a male Painted Bunting land in the path directly in front of us. And there were waders and gators everywhere.

Painted Bunting
Painted Bunting

Green Heron
Green Heron

American Alligator
American Alligator keeping cool

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret

Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk

American Alligator
American Alligator warming up

Circle B lived up to its reputation and we are looking forward to future visits! And in the meantime I have some very nice memories of a birthday birding blitz.

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Birding Gemini Springs, March 2012

I completed 11 eBird checklists for Gemini Springs in March, recording a total of 66 species. Nine of these were new for the year (bold indicates new to my all-time Gemini Springs list): Wood Duck; Wild Turkey; Sora; Black-necked Stilt; Barred Owl; Marsh Wren; Prairie Warbler; Swamp Sparrow; and American Goldfinch. The complete list of 66 birds is at the end of this post.

Chipping Sparrow; March 6 2012

Anhinga; March 9 2012

An American Coot swims dangerously close to a croc; March 9 2012

Extremely fragrant flowers (sorry I don’t know the species); March 9 2012

Singing Carolina Wren; March 12 2012

Yakking at Gemini Springs
Kayaking in DeBary Bayou; March 16 2012

Kids at Gemini Springs
A large group of children visiting Gemini Springs; March 16 2012

Red-shouldered Hawk; March 19 2012

Habitat for Humanity wristband I found on the ground & placed around a post; March 20 2012

Osprey; March 20 2012

Wild Turkey
A lone Wild Turkey; March 25 2012

Southern Black Racer [maybe]
Southern Black Racer (I think); March 25 2012

Pileated Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker working around a palm trunk; March 27 2012

a type of webworm / tent caterpillar, I think
A type of webworm or tent caterpillar (I think); March 27 2012

March 2012 bird list, Gemini Springs

Wood Duck – Aix sponsa
Blue-winged Teal – Anas discors
Wild Turkey – Meleagris gallopavo
Pied-billed Grebe – Podilymbus podiceps
Wood Stork – Mycteria americana
Double-crested Cormorant – Phalacrocorax auritus
Anhinga – Anhinga anhinga
American Bittern – Botaurus lentiginosus
Great Blue Heron – Ardea herodias
Great Egret – Ardea alba
Snowy Egret – Egretta thula
Little Blue Heron – Egretta caerulea
Tricolored Heron – Egretta tricolor
Cattle Egret – Bubulcus ibis
Green Heron – Butorides virescens
White Ibis – Eudocimus albus
Glossy Ibis – Plegadis falcinellus
Black Vulture – Coragyps atratus
Turkey Vulture – Cathartes aura
Osprey – Pandion haliaetus
Bald Eagle – Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Red-shouldered Hawk – Buteo lineatus
Red-tailed Hawk – Buteo jamaicensis
Sora – Porzana carolina
Common Gallinule – Gallinula galeata
American Coot – Fulica americana
Limpkin – Aramus guarauna
Sandhill Crane – Grus canadensis
Killdeer – Charadrius vociferus
Black-necked Stilt – Himantopus mexicanus
Forster’s Tern – Sterna forsteri
Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura
Barred Owl – Strix varia
Belted Kingfisher – Megaceryle alcyon
Red-bellied Woodpecker – Melanerpes carolinus
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – Sphyrapicus varius
Downy Woodpecker – Picoides pubescens
Pileated Woodpecker – Dryocopus pileatus
Eastern Phoebe – Sayornis phoebe
White-eyed Vireo – Vireo griseus
Blue Jay – Cyanocitta cristata
American Crow – Corvus brachyrhynchos
Fish Crow – Corvus ossifragus
Tree Swallow – Tachycineta bicolor
Carolina Chickadee – Poecile carolinensis
Tufted Titmouse – Baeolophus bicolor
Carolina Wren – Thryothorus ludovicianus
Marsh Wren – Cistothorus palustris
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – Polioptila caerulea
Ruby-crowned Kinglet – Regulus calendula
Gray Catbird – Dumetella carolinensis
Northern Mockingbird – Mimus polyglottos
Cedar Waxwing – Bombycilla cedrorum
Black-and-white Warbler – Mniotilta varia
Orange-crowned Warbler – Oreothlypis celata
Common Yellowthroat – Geothlypis trichas
Northern Parula – Setophaga americana
Palm Warbler – Setophaga palmarum
Yellow-rumped Warbler – Setophaga coronata
Prairie Warbler – Setophaga discolor
Chipping Sparrow – Spizella passerina
Swamp Sparrow – Melospiza georgiana
Northern Cardinal – Cardinalis cardinalis
Red-winged Blackbird – Agelaius phoeniceus
Boat-tailed Grackle – Quiscalus major
American Goldfinch – Spinus tristis

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Big White Birds

Efforts to save the highly endangered Whooping Crane included the attempted establishment of a non-migratory population in central Florida. Since this effort was deemed unsustainable due to high mortality and low reproduction, the flock today is down to just 20 birds from 53 individuals in 2006.

The birds are still being monitored, however, and last year camera traps were set up to study nest sites. One nest site is also being monitored by a data logger, which measures temperature change and other data.

Birds from the Florida non-migratory population are spotted by birders fairly regularly, so when a pair was reportedly seen on a farm field in nearby Lake County, Florida, Arthur and I drove out to see if we could find them. They were hanging out close to a flock of Sandhill Cranes and very easy to find. We kept a respectful distance and observed them, using our car as a hide.

Whooping Crane with Sandhill Cranes

Whooping Cranes

Whooping Crane
Distortion from heat shimmer was intense – this photo has not been filtered

Whooping Cranes

Whooping Cranes sightings should be reported. Birds seen in the eastern United States can be reported to USFWS using this form. Based on the band colors these birds are wearing, we knew they were part of the non-migratory population. Migrant Whooping Cranes are also found in Florida during the winter, and those sightings should certainly always be reported to USFWS. Although we are grateful to be able to see these birds after their location was mentioned on a public mailing list, we believe that all sightings of Whooping Cranes in the wild should be shared with extreme discretion.

Whooping Crane

Whooping Cranes

Flying Whooping Crane

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