Green Birding in Southwest Volusia County, First Half 2016

I began the year on a New Year’s cruise with Arthur and did my first birding of 2016 on Great Stirrup Cay, Norwegian Cruise Line’s private island in the Bahamas. I decided against participating in the Bird-a-Day challenge this year and just haven’t been birding (locally or otherwise) much. Still, I’m keeping a Green Birding List for the year. Here’s a short update on the list for the first part of 2016.

In January I visited Gemini Springs 3 times, Konomac Lake 1 time, and checked off several birds at home. I started off with 65 Green Birding List species in January.

Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Phoebe, Gemini Springs | 05-JAN-16

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron, Gemini Springs | 11-JAN-16

Painted Bunting female
Painted Bunting blending in, Gemini Springs | 11-JAN-16

Chipping Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow, Gemini Springs | 11-JAN-16

February brought the total number of species to 83, with 3 visits to Audubon Park and several stops at other regular sites.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Audubon Park | 01-FEB-16

Belted Kingfisher
Belted Kingfisher, Lake Monroe Boat Ramp | 15-FEB-16

Osprey & Boat-tailed Grackles
Osprey & Boat-tailed Grackles, Gemini Springs | 16-FEB-16

White-tailed Deer
White-tailed Deer, Audubon Park | 21-FEB-16

In March and April I was pretty deep into training for my first half marathon and didn’t go birding too often; at the end of April I had a total of 92 Green Birding List species. I added a handful more during the following two months and ended the first half of the year with 95 species.

Scarlet Kingsnake
Scarlet Kingsnake (seen during run), Gemini Springs | 06-APR-16

American Alligator
American Alligator, Gemini Springs | 12-APR-16

Florida Red-bellied Cooter
Florida Red-bellied Cooter, Gemini Springs | 12-APR-16

Wild Turkey family
Earth Day Wild Turkey family visit at home! Look at the babies! | 22-APR-16

I’ve had a look at where I’m at now compared to previous years and I should be able to get 10 more species with very little effort if I just head to a couple of spots I haven’t been to this year so far. With more regular birding I would still have a good shot at around 140 species… let’s see what happens in the second half of the year! I’ve already added 8 species in July, including one brand new to my all-time Green Birding List!

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Cruise Birding: A Day in Madeira

Back in May 2014, Arthur and I took a transatlantic cruise from Miami to Barcelona on the Norwegian Epic. Along the way we had one stop — one day in Madeira. We hired a private bird guide, Catarina from Madeira Wind Birds for the day; we had a great time.

We didn’t have high expectations for the outing, especially since the ship arrived in Funchal port late in the morning, past prime birding time. Our first checklist started at 11AM! In the end we ended up seeing 26 species over 8 checklists, with 8 lifers. Our bird list is at the end of this post.

Madeira first look
Approaching Madeira

We watched as our ship approached the island. It was covered in clouds and hard to see — our first impression was that we would have a dreary day, but this misty, cloudy start is typical of Madeira. By the time we could disembark the skies had cleared. We walked off the pier and met our guide.

Madeira Zebra
Wide pedestrian path adjacent to Funchal cruise port

Our first stop, Ponta de São Lourenço, was at the far eastern side of the island. Here we successfully searched for Berthelot’s Pipit. In the windswept fields we also found a lark which we had trouble identifying in the field. Using photos and our guidebooks we were able to ID this bird as a Greater Short-toed Lark with the help of our guide Catarina. This bird is considered a rare vagrant on the island.

Madeira scenery
Madeira’s eastern coast

Madeira birding
Looking for pipits

Madeira Berthelot's Pipit
Berthelot’s Pipit

Madeira Greater Short-toed Lark
Greater Short-toed Lark

On the way to our next stop we picked up Spanish Sparrows nesting in urban palm trees. Along the water at Porto de Recreio de Machico we added 8 species.

Madeira Spanish Sparrow
Spanish Sparrow

Porto de Recreio de Machico

Maderia Gray Wagtail
Gray Wagtail

Madeira Eurasian Blackcap
Eurasian Blackcap

Madeira Island Canary
Island Canary

Madeira European Goldfinch
European Goldfinch

At our final stop, Santo António da Serra, we successfully searched for Madeira Firefinch. This is a local subspecies that we didn’t think we would find, considering the time of day. It was a lucky tick, though I was not so fortunate with my camera.

Driving back to Monte, we spotted a Eurasian Kestrel hovering over the airport.

Arthur and I had lunch in Monte and looked around a bit before taking the scenic Teleférico do Funchal aerial tram back down to the port. The other fun way to descend from the town of Monte back down to the port is via toboggan. We watched the drivers for a bit before we got on the tram.

Madeira tile
Tile work in an abandoned building

Madeira sleds

Madeira sled
Toboggan driver

Madeira air tram
Arthur with NCL Epic in the background

Madeira bridge
View from the tram

View from the tram

The Madeira Flower Festival was winding down during our visit, so we saw lots of flower displays throughout Funchal as we walked back to the Epic for the continuation of our journey from Miami to Barcelona.

Madeira flower festival
Flowers in Funchal

Madeira flower festival
Flowers in Funchal frame the Epic

Madeira port murals
Funchal port murals

Madeira Bird List May 5, 2014; lifers bold

Muscovy Duck – Cairina moschata
Cory’s Shearwater – Calonectris diomedea
Manx Shearwater – Puffinus puffinus
Little Egret – Egretta garzetta
Eurasian Sparrowhawk – Accipiter nisus
Common Buzzard – Buteo buteo
Eurasian Moorhen – Gallinula chloropus
Ruddy Turnstone – Arenaria interpres
Yellow-legged Gull – Larus michahellis
Lesser Black-backed Gull – Larus fuscus
Roseate Tern – Sterna dougallii
Common Tern – Sterna hirundo
Rock Pigeon – Columba livia
Eurasian Kestrel – Falco tinnunculus
Greater Short-toed Lark – Calandrella brachydactyla
Firecrest – Regulus ignicapilla
Eurasian Blackcap – Sylvia atricapilla
European Robin – Erithacus rubecula
Eurasian Blackbird – Turdus merula
Gray Wagtail – Motacilla cinerea
Berthelot’s Pipit – Anthus berthelotii
Common Chaffinch – Fringilla coelebs
European Greenfinch – Chloris chloris
European Goldfinch – Carduelis carduelis
Island Canary – Serinus canaria
Spanish Sparrow – Passer hispaniolensis

eBird checklists:
Ponta de São Lourenço
Caniçal Spanish Sparrow location
Porto de recreio de Machico
Santo António da Serra
Madeira Airport drive-by
Marina do Funchal
Funchal at sea

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A Walk at Bahia Honda

I’m finally going through some old photos. Here are some snapshots from a walk I had at Bahia Honda State Park back on December 8, 2013.

At first I was looking down.

washed up
Sea vegetation washed up on the beach

Northern Gannet
Detail of dead Northern Gannet on the beach

Horseshoe Crab exoskeleton
Atlantic Horseshoe Crab exoskeleton

cowfish sp
Dead cowfish sp. on the beach

Bahia Honda shoreline


Then I started to look up.

American Kestrel
American Kestrel


Magnificent Frigatebirds
Magnificent Frigatebirds!

Magnificent Frigatebirds
My favorites!

Magnificent Frigatebirds

Ooh, aah!

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FWRA 2015 Symposium

At the end of September I attended the Florida Wildlife Rehabilitators Association annual symposium in Haines City. I was fortunate enough to be granted a partial scholarship and I was happy to be able to attend the full three days of the event.

The days were packed with lectures and lessons about rehabilitating all kinds of creatures, with a focus on Florida natives. A group of veterinarians from Canada came to speak as well, so attendees got to hear about some of their special patients as well.

One of the programs I attended was about invasive species, where a few animals were brought for show and tell. The proper capture and handling of Burmese Pythons was presented, with some fun photo opportunities afterwards.

Young Tegu lizard. These invasives are a big problem in Miami-Dade, Collier, and Hillsborough counties.

Burmese Python
Burmese Python bite

Burmese Python
Holding a Burmese Python

Before the conference, I was a bit concerned that much of the symposium would be over my head, but that wasn’t really the case. The organizers did a great job of presenting different topics that would interest all kinds of skill and experience levels in wildlife rehab.

Besides the formal presentations, I really enjoyed getting to know other attendees who work in rehabilitation across the state and beyond. Meal times, plus evening activities like workshops and crafts, left attendees plenty of time to mingle while having creative fun. I made a hawk t-shirt with bleach. The perch-making workshop was very popular. Being such a newbie when it comes to rehab means that I was able to learn a lot from my fellow symposium participants as well.

perch-making workshop
Perch workshop: make and take

During the symposium I also managed to finally see my most-wanted Florida species in the wild — a Coral Snake! During the before-dinner break on Thursday night I was walking back to my room to freshen up. There were always people walking around the grounds, except for when I stumbled up on this beautiful snake. There was NO ONE to share it with! I was smiling like a total goofball, taking photo after photo of the snake (and maybe talking to it too, maybe). Coral Snakes are one of our venomous species, known to be docile and own-business-minders. So awesome!

Coral Snake
Lifer Coral Snake!!

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Green Birding in Southwest Volusia County, December 2015

December was a blur of holiday fun times with family intermingled with a nasty head cold and followed by an awesome Caribbean cruise between Christmas and the New Year. I guess that’s why I only went “green” birding ONCE in the entire month! I visited Gemini Springs on December 7th, where I recorded 36 species. Here are a couple of shots from that outing:

new sign at Gemini Springs
A new interpretive sign!

White-eyed Vireo
White-eyed Vireo!

Loggerhead Shrike
Distant Loggerhead Shrike!

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Green Birding in Southwest Volusia County, November 2015

Note: this post is back-dated.

In November I recorded 69 species over 6 checklists for my green birding list. Last year just birding Gemini Springs I had 67 species in 7 trips. There were no new year birds for the green list during the month. Here are some photographic highlights from my green birding trips in November 2015:

Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Phoebe at Gemini Springs | 09 NOV 2015

Walking back into the park from the bike path on November 9th, I caught site of a huge snakeskin hanging from a large oak tree. I took a few photos but nothing shows the scale of this thing — I guess it was two inches wide and maybe five feet long. And it was at least 30 feet up in the tree! What kind of big monster snake left this thing?!

Unidentified snakeskin at Gemini Springs | 09 NOV 2015

Palm Warbler
Palm Warbler at Gemini Springs | 23 NOV 2015

On November 23rd I was really surprised to see a pair of Bald Eagles perched on power structure near a well-used Osprey nest. I’m not sure if this is the Gemini Springs pair or other birds.

Bald Eagles
Bald Eagles outside of Gemini Springs | 23 NOV 2015

White Ibises
White Ibises at Gemini Springs | 30 NOV 2015

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal at Gemini Springs | 30 NOV 2015

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Green Birding in Southwest Volusia County, October 2015

Note: this post is back-dated.

In October I recorded 70 species over 8 checklists for my green birding list. I added three birds for the year: Blackburnian and Magnolia Warblers at Audubon Park and Northern Waterthrush at Gemini Springs. Last year I recorded 71 species in 10 trips to Gemini Springs.

During the month, Arthur and I celebrated our 15 year anniversary during a long weekend in Savannah, Georgia. We also got Disney passes about a month earlier and started to use them in earnest in October. And I ran my first 5K race on the 25th. It was already starting to happen (hello abandoned blog), but birding started to take a backseat in my life, unfortunately. Anyway, here are some photographic highlights from the month.

Barred Owl
Wet Barred Owl at Audubon Park | 04 OCT 2015

Blackburnian Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler record shot at Audubon Park | 04 OCT 2015

White Peacock
White Peacock at Audubon Park | 04 OCT 2015

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron at Gemini Springs | 06 OCT 2015

White Ibises
White Ibises at Gemini Springs | 06 OCT 2015

tiny frog sp?
tiny frog, species unknown, at Audubon Park | 16 OCT 2015

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Green Birding in Southwest Volusia County, September 2015

Note: this post is back-dated.

In September I recorded 59 species over 15 checklists for my green birding list, adding three to the year list: Common Nighthawk, Yellow Warbler, and Eastern Wood-Pewee, all at Gemini Springs. In September 2014 I had 64 species at Gemini Springs; in September 2013 I had 56. Here are some photographic highlights from the month.

White-tailed Deer
White-tailed Deer at Brickyard Slough | 07 SEP 2015

White-eyed Vireo
White-eyed Vireo (tortured by Photoshop) at Brickyard Slough | 07 SEP 2015

Limpkin at Lake Monroe Boat Ramp | 07 SEP 2015

Red-shouldered Hawk
Young Red-shouldered Hawk at Gemini Springs | 09 SEP 2015

Eastern Kingbirds
Eastern Kingbirds at Gemini Springs | 14 SEP 2015

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker at Gemini Springs | 14 SEP 2015

On September 19th, Seminole Audubon had a walk at Gemini Springs. The focus was more on the springs and the flora of the park, but we managed to see some birds, too. My parents and Arthur joined the walk as well.

birders at Gemini Springs
Birders at Gemini Springs | 19 SEP 2015

Golden Orb Weaver
Golden Orb Weaver at Gemini Springs | 19 SEP 2015

Audubon Park
Boardwalk at Audubon Park | 20 SEP 2015

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Green Birding in Southwest Volusia County, August 2015

Note this post is back-dated.

In August I recorded 63 species over 18 checklists for my green birding list, adding five to the year list: Yellow Warbler at home; Eastern Kingbird, King Rail, and Northern Rough-winged Swallow at Gemini Springs; and Hooded Warbler at Audubon Park. In August 2014 I had 31 species at Gemini Springs; in August 2013 I had 40. Here are some photographic highlights from the month.

Florida Scrub-Jay
Florida Scrub-Jay at Quail Lakes Powerline Trails | 03-AUG-15

On August 10th I biked to a new green spot: the Beck Ranch portion of Lake Monroe Conservation Area. I only saw 10 species during my visit but the park is a gateway to the much larger conservation area and a spot to check out again for sure. I did spend some time looking at the interpretive signs explaining the conversion of the property from a working cattle ranch to its current incarnation.

bike rack
Bike rack at Beck Ranch Park | 10-AUG-15

Downy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker at Gemini Springs | 15-AUG-15

Wood Stork
Young Wood Stork at Audubon Park | 16-AUG-15

Sandhill Crane
Sandhill Crane at Festival Park | 17-AUG-15

Carolina Wren
Carolina Wren at Gemini Springs | 19-AUG-15

The first Painted Bunting of the fall showed up in our yard on August 21st. He was a one-day wonder. Since then we have been seeing female-type birds a few times per week.

Painted Bunting
Painted Bunting in our yard | 21-AUG-15

Limpkin at Hickory Bluff Preserve | 24-AUG-15

On August 31st I was very surprised to find an extremely early American Robin at Gemini Springs. It was terribly overcast and the bird was distant but I managed to take an ID photo for eBird. While robins can be a sign of spring for northerners, they are a sign of fall and of the beginning of the end of migration excitement for us here in Florida. We typically start seeing flocks of American Robins arriving in central Florida in early to mid November.

American Robin for eBird
American Robin at Gemini Springs | 31-AUG-15

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Swallow-tailed Kite Madness in Sumter County

I usually see my first Swallow-tailed Kite of the year around my birthday at the end of February. And this time of year, the end of August, is when I usually see my last one for the year.

Swallow-tailed Kites are social birds. When they are getting ready for their fall migration to South America, the birds gather in large roosting and feeding flocks in the weeks prior to the epic flight. Large late-season flocks are known to occur at Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge and Fisheating Creek Wildlife Management Area, among other spots.

One communal feeding site that has gotten the excited attention of birdwatchers during the last few years is located in rural Sumter County, Florida. All through July our local birding listservs are full of breathless reports from birders who have made the trek out to the melon fields of Wildwood. The birds tended to start arrive around 10AM and peak shortly thereafter; the big show would last an hour or more.

waiting for STKI
Birders waiting for the kites to arrive [photo by Arthur]

Arthur and I made the trip out to the melon fields on July 26th, along with my parents. We weren’t the only ones. And we were not disappointed. While cloud cover kept the birds from arriving at the usual time, once the skies cleared, the birds started to arrive.

Swallow-tailed Kite feeding flock
The skies cleared up. Look for the tiny dots in the distance — those are Swallow-tailed Kites!

I estimated that we saw about 350 birds during our visit. Watching them was a treat. They were there to feed, and it was relatively easy to see them catching flying insects and devouring them while on the wing.

Swallow-tailed Kites

Arthur took this video during the feeding frenzy:

We were also lucky to see (but not photograph) a Mississippi Kite flying among the Swallow-taileds — a Florida lifer for us all.

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