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.
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!
And later it was time for even more preening. 🙂
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 week’s submissions!
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.
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. 🙂 The video below gives an idea of how the trip was – during a relatively calm part of the journey.
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.
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 of pelagic birds
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 resting on the water
Cory’s Shearwater shearing
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.
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!
One Green to go!
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.
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.
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. 🙂
We live very close to Gemini Springs, a Volusia County park. The 210-acre park is located along the DeBary Bayou, a swampy finger of water that feeds into Lake Monroe and the St. Johns River. We can reach the park from our DeBary home via a leisurely bike ride of just over two miles.
I’ve been saving photos from my visits to Gemini Springs with the vague idea of making an epic blog post about this local patch. But as the folder of photos grows and grows, I am starting to think I should just let the photos speak for themselves. So this is the first post in a series, playing catch up with my July pictures from Gemini Springs. I hope you’ll enjoy this look at my new local birding spot.
Nature trail; July 9, 2011
DeBary Bayou; July 9, 2011
Snowy Egret; July 9, 2011
Fishing pier; July 9, 2011
Kayaking DeBary Bayou; July 19, 2011
Tricolored Heron seen from the kayak; July 19, 2011
The Port Orange Wildlife Sanctuary (which has an interesting lost-in-history story) is a chain of islands on the main channel of the Intercoastal Waterway. Arthur and I paid a short visit on our way home from the Marine Science Center. We spied this Green Heron flying over the parking lot and landing among some reeds in a tiny pond between the asphalt and the channel.
We spent just a few moments watching it watch the water, and I snapped a few pictures. I thought putting a few together would make a funny animated GIF. 🙂
Last month Arthur and I visited the Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet. The small center has marine life exhibits and displays. They also have facilities for both turtle and bird rehabilitation.
Welcome to the Marine Science Center!
The main building houses several (mainly aquatic) exhibits with turtles, lobsters, sharks, fish and rays. As you’d expect at such a facility, the aquariums and animal enclosures are accompanied by informative (and impressively comprehensive) signage.
Several displays are devoted to Volusia County’s Artificial Reef Program. Over 40 artificial reefs play host to aquatic life in Volusia County offshore waters. The reefs consist of the remains of ships, airplanes, and barges, large concrete rubble and other discarded construction materials, and specially constructed reef balls.
Map showing some of Volusia’s artificial reefs
If you don’t know about artificial reefs, it may sound like the county is just dumping junk in the ocean. First, the reef material is treated to remove any harmful elements. Within days of the artificial reef material settling on the ocean floor, living organisms begin to inhabit the reef. As the community expands around the growing source of food and shelter, larger, predatory fish begin to visit the reef. In time there is a thriving reef where there was once not much more than water and sand.
Reef balls were used in some of the aquariums
My favorite indoor exhibit was the stingray touch pool, occupied by cownose stingrays, Atlantic stingrays, and a few other species of fish plus some crabs and other organisms.
Stingray Touch Pool
The rays circle the pool and visitors can touch them. One particular cownose stingray was extremely endearing. It would slow down as it approached an outstretched hand, and rise up to the hand to be petted. It was a lot like a head-bump from a cat. You can see this in the final seconds of the video below.
Super-cute scritch-lovin’ cownose stingray in last seconds of clip!
As we were enjoying the marine displays, it was announced there would be a short bird of prey program in the classroom, which was a nice surprise. A volunteer gave a short informal program along with Priscilla, a four-year-old American Kestrel. Priscilla is an imprint, along with four other female nest-mates. They were raised illegally by a member of the public before being brought in to rehabilitation. She and her sisters are all non-releasable ed birds at different licensed facilities.
Priscilla the American Kestrel
Priscilla is not the only education bird at the center. Outside there are several enclosures holding permanent resident marine birds like Brown Pelicans, gulls, and a Black Stork. There are also mews with birds of prey. The resident raptors include a pair of Bald Eagles, Red-shouldered Hawks, a Barred Owl, a Great Horned Owl, a Swallow-tailed Kite, and others.
Enclosures for permanent resident birds
The Mary Keller Seabird Rehabilitation Sanctuary on site has treated over 4500 birds since it opened in 2004. Not only seabirds are taken in; over 140 bird species have been patients. While some education material and rehab information is visible to public visitors, rehab patients and other facilities are not open to the public.
The center also takes care of injured sea, freshwater and terrestrial turtles and part of their turtle hospital facilities, as well as information about the dangers sea turtles face, can be viewed by visitors.
X-rays showing fishing hook ingestion and seashell impaction
Finally, there is a short nature trail and boardwalk that leads to an observation tower. We didn’t see too much on our hot mid-afternoon walk except for a lot of big, beautiful spiders. The historic Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse is visible from the path.
On the boardwalk!
Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse
Volusia County’s Marine Science Center is a great destination for nature lovers who want to learn more about area wildlife, especially marine ecology. I am sure we will be back!
While having a look at another part of the park, we noticed a hawk swoop into a tree. Like all of my readers, I’m sure, our natural instinct is to avoid disturbing birds as much as possible while observing them. So at first I didn’t move and watched the bird for a moment through the branches. This was our view.
Now, that wasn’t a bad spot from which to admire a beautiful bird of prey, but then we realized that the hawk had perched itself directly above a large crowd of excited children. The kids were excited to meet a Disney character; we were excited to watch this gorgeous hawk in action! We walked around to have a better view and took a few more photos, and a short video.
The prey looks to be some kind of small lizard, and the favored part seems to have been the head. Here’s a close-up of the meal before the bird really dug in. Yum!
Arthur and I visited Animal Kingdom on Thursday, September 1st, the date highlighted on the Disney Parks Blog as the day the park would be participating in IVAD. We later learned that the celebration would continue through the entire month of September.
We first visited the Rafiki’s Planet Watch part of the park, where we had a look at the educational vulture posters and materials on display. Books about vultures were available for perusing and materials like vulture skulls and feathers were also on display. Cast members played vulture fact games with kids and had a great little presentation to show the strength of vulture stomachs which involved small plastic bones and smoking vulture “acid” stomach juices.
Vulture skulls. The one with the huge nostrils in the foreground is a Turkey Vulture.
Vulture info display at Rafiki’s Planet Watch
Vulture info display at Rafiki’s Planet Watch
Next we got a big thrill when we checked the activity tables for small kids. Among the coloring pages and vulture masks we found a couple of Birdorable Vulture puzzles!!
Birdorable goodies at Rafiki’s Planet Watch before being snatched up by thousands of fans
At the Tree of Life area of the park, another information station was set up by the Lappet-faced Vulture exhibit. This included a model vulture nest and a pair of model life-size vulture wings was available for kids (of all ages) to try on.
Permanent display sign for the Lappet-faced Vulture exhibit area
Vulture info display at the Tree of Life
I’m a vulture!
At the Animal Kingdom Lodge, another information booth with more educational materials and a video display was set up and manned by a naturalist.
Vulture info display at the Animal Kingdom Lodge
Rüppell’s Vultures reside in one of the lodge’s savannas, and there were two sessions of public viewing of vulture feeding and enrichment.
The birds are trained to come feed by a visual cue – the waving of a flag. Now as it was a bit overcast and the wind was picking up, the zoologist interpreter at the viewing mentioned that the birds sometimes won’t feed in high wind or in the rain. I wonder if that’s because they would not normally prefer to fly in such conditions and therefore would not be able to find food to eat. In any case, somehow I ended up with the task of waving the flag. I managed to wave in the birds after some hard work. 😉
Calling in the vultures
We were treated to a family group of three vultures who came out to munch on some raw bones, a special meal for the birds (who usually eat rats or mice).
Om nom nom…
… nom nom nom…
… nom nom nom…
Having commemorated IVAD on our own in the past, this year it was special to have a destination where vultures were being celebrated so enthusiastically. I was impressed with the materials and information being shared with visitors of all ages at several different spots in the park and lodge. I think celebrating vultures at Animal Kingdom might become an annual tradition for Arthur and me. 🙂