What a fantastic morning for birding. There just weren't many species. It seemed very quiet. The day couldn't have been better weather-wise. The day before was rainy as well as the day after.
The American Crows ran this Cooper's Hawk out of one spot, and he then flew into view and sat for the longest time with one talon clutched upward. It was the best of photo opportunities. One couldn't have asked for better. The most activity was in the parking lot at Little Lake Weir. Blue-grey Gnatcatchers were too many to count They were as active as a swarm of bees. I have never seen as many as there were. There were two Canada Geese across the lake on a beach, along with Ruddy Ducks diving for food. Two Sandhill Cranes did a fly-by.
We then drove to the boat ramp, where we had no luck finding anything..
We then did the 1-mile loop with very little to report. The most exciting thing was the "The Grey Ghost." We all got good looks at the male Northern Harrier. This is only the 2nd time that I have seen one. The female is more often spotted than the male. This certainly was a treat.
We were fortunate to have several knowledgeable plant identifiers. There was a discussion of the first shrub here as to whether it might be hemlock, but after checking facts, leaf type, berry, etc., it was determined to be elderberry. In addition to the elderberry, we were given lessons on many other plants. Birds were very scant. For the trip, we had 32 species. The e-bird link is here. https://ebird.org/checklist/S155362197
The Pepper Creek bird walk on October 14 yielded 23 species . It was nice to see some returning winter residents like House Wren and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. A few warblers were also sighted including Black&White, Prairie and Pine. Unfortunately there were no Wood Ducks in sight when we reached Pepper Creek but overall it was a very pleasant morning and an enjoyable walk. The next Pepper Creek walk will be on Saturday November 11.
There were just 4 of us for our outing. The first thing that struck me as we entered the boardwalk was the overgrown areas that normally have been open water. It was choked with Duck potato and cattails. It was an early disappointment. The absence of even the Common Gallinule was poignantly evident. It used to be so lively with Little Blue, Ibis, Great Blue, Great Egret Tri-color, etc.
The most evident creature was this snake that was just lying about on the edge of the boardwalk. We could not discern the species. We thought it looked very black, but could not imagine a Racer just lying about. There was a ranger who was leading a group of schoolchildren, and we mentioned that there was a snake ahead of them. The ranger said that that was a Green Water Snake that was there quite often. It certainly didn't look green to us.
This is a photo that I took with my cell phone which was at quite a distance. But I pulled it up and got what was a Great Blue Heron posing as a tree ornament. I love this camera. It beats lugging my bulky one around.
We finished the walk over by the inlet. We found two Killdeer and two Spotted Sandpipers. We thought a Merlin flew over, but it could have been a Snail Kite since the closeness of Paines Prairie. I uploaded it to Ebird and got an error report that there were too many reported and unusual for the area. Please. Such aggravation!. When you are watching them bob up and down, and can see that there is no difference. That is why I just detest sending a report. Ebird is very upsetting at times. The cute thing was this Anhinga who was hanging out on the fence and was not about to move when I walked by. We came up with a list of 37 species, which was not extraordinary, but not a skunker. One of our birders went to Lachua Trail and was able to see Snail Kites galore, a Bald Eagle, Black-crowned Night Heron with two juveniles, Limpkin and a flock of Wild Turkeys.The eBird list for Sweetwater is here. https://ebird.org/checklist/S154322830
Last year I sent photos of Eastern Bluebirds nesting in a white birch tree. It was in the front yard of our northern New York State home. Well, it happened again this year. I missed the fledge this time, but here is a photo of one of the nestlings peeking out at its future world.
A few days after they fledged I noticed a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers working on the rotted trunk that contained the nest. I decided that I should measure the nest hole. It was more rectangular than round and measured about 1 and 3/4 at its highest and 2 and 1/2 inches across. Here is a photo of it. So, this hole was considerably larger than the ideal size 1 and 1/2 inch round hole that is standard for bluebird boxes. A week later, the trunk collapsed to the ground.
But all was not lost. Some 80 feet away there is a bluebird box at the edge of our hedgerow. Last year was its inaugural year. It hosted Tree Swallows followed by House Wrens. This year it was claimed early by House Sparrows. After their young ones fledged, a pair of bluebirds moved in before I had a chance to clean out the box. They built right on top of the sparrow nest. Here is the male with nesting material.
I monitored the box closely until we went away for a week at the end of July. By the time we left, the adults had been feeding chicks for several days. I was kind of surprised to find them still there when we returned. I missed the fledge (again) a couple of days later. I waited for my friend, the box maker, to arrive from Florida for a visit. We went out and opened the box. Here is what we found. Note the bluebirds' pale greenish materials on top of much older materials that the sparrows employed. It could be that the sparrows use grasses and plant stalks from the prior year that have yet to decompose.
There are dozens of cuckoo species across the World. We have three in North America. The most numerous and widespread are the Yellow-billed and the Black-billed. The Mangrove Cuckoo inhabits mature mangroves and low hammock woodlands from the central west coast of Florida down to and throughout the Everglades. The Mangrove and the Yellow-billed have significant similarities. So, it can be confusing for bird folks in Mangrove Cuckoo territory when the long-distance migrant Yellow-billed Cuckoos pass through there in April each year. I took a photo of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo on an April morning near Fort Island Beach in Crystal River, Florida. I was there that morning because of a weather change overnight over the Gulf of Mexico. As it turned out, a local birder and friend, Paul Smyth, was also aware of the weather change. We bumped into each other and teamed up. Here's what happened to the weather. Southerly winds the previous evening at the north shore of the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico had caused thousands, maybe millions, of migratory birds to commence their non-stop flight to the shores of Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida panhandle. But in the middle of their epoch flights, a weather change caused winds to shift and come from the northwest instead. As there are no islands out in the middle of the Gulf, most were forced to divert to the east to shore points along the west coast of Florida in order to avoid exhaustion and subsequent drowning. This much-anticipated event is known to bird folks as a fallout. Among a number of migrant species we saw that morning was the Yellow-billed Cuckoo that you have just seen. It rested as shown from the time we arrived until after we left. The next mailing will feature other displaced migrant species that I was able to photograph that morning. Yellow-billed Cuckoos are rated as common but are in significant decline. Black-billed Cuckoos are uncommon and are also in decline. I never had a good look at a Black-billed until this summer. One briefly visited our hedgerow one day in northern New York State. The photo was taken at some distance through a bay window. Our cuckoos are assumed by some to be parasitic because of their more famous cousin in Europe. Over there, the Common Cuckoo lays its eggs in other birds' nests, much as cowbirds do here. The facts are that the Yellow-billed does not do that. The Black-billed does it only occasionally. Incidentally, the Common Cuckoo of Europe utters the call that inspired clock makers over there to create the cuckoo clock.
What a glorious morning just to be out! 15 early birds decided not only to enjoy the day but also to get in some birding. Driving onto the island and checking the staging area was a great surprise. Birds all over. It was very difficult to leave the area. We got close to 21 species there alone. The sun warmed the trees and the birds. Insects were abundant and the birds were in a feeding frenzy. As expected, Grey Catbirds were all about. Kinglets, White-eyed Vireos, Blue-grey Gnatcatchers, Palm Warblers, House Wren, Indigo Buntings, King Fishers, Brown Pelicans, and others were spotted and heard.
A majestic Bald Eagle sat there, surveying his domain from a great distance, but I was able to get this photo with my phone. Yes, I was surprised that it came out as well as it did. Moving on down the trail, Tim spotted a Northern Flicker, which several of us got to see. Sandhill Cranes could be heard in the distance. I cannot remember a time that we did not hear them while on the island. Carolina and House Wrens, Female American Redstarts, Black & White Warbler, Pileated, Downy, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, The nice surprise was a Merlin that flew over.
Moving out to the locks and checking out the interior, did not scare up a Shrike. But, the American Kestrel was in residence. We spotted another Bald Eagle flying over the canal. The stretch that is here is beautifuo. The far end is barely visible in this picture, but the bridge on 19 is the endpoint.
We exited the island and moved on to our next stop. Food. We opted to go to Norton's in Crystal River. Good company and food. The list of 45 species can be seen on this ebird link. https://ebird.org/checklist/S152992600
A very refreshing morning to be out and about. The good thing about the walk was no humidity and the trail all the way around was not flooded. We had to cancel last year due to water standing deep which made the trail impassable. A new member who had not been on the Eco property took some very nice photos. Gray Catbirds dominated as did the White-eyed Vireos There were at least 12 along the trail.
There were at least two Yellow Throated Warblers along with Common Yellowthroats. An American male Redstart darted out at the beginning. Butterflies were busy along the roadway. The white Peacock and Phaon Crescent butterflies were tasting the plants along the way. The nice surprise was the female Summer Tanager who sat still for good photos. An oddity was the Black Bellied Plover that flew over and was picked up on two different phones running Merlin. We tallied 29 species. Here is the ebird link to the species listed. https://ebird.org/checklist/S151427392 Photos courtesy of Lisa Graham
I was still a little boy when I realized that my grandparents were gone from Pennsylvania for the winter. Where did they go? Like many of us still do when retired: to Florida or another warm winter place. And likewise, the reverse is also true of many Florida retirees who wander north during summers. My aunt and uncle from Tampa did so because, among other reasons, they loved Pennsylvania sweet corn in season and abundance here. This reason matches exactly the major theory why birds from the tropics evolved to migrate north to breed in the Temperate Region: an abundance (and therefore less competition) of food (forest insects) for successfully raising young. A year ago I wrote about neotropical migrants that we suddenly hear and see in our yards and forests come Spring in Pennsylvania. These birds spend their winters in tropical America (southern Mexico to South America) then migrate north to nest and raise their young in temperate and arctic North America. However, there is another group of birds that are still migratory, but stay largely north of Mexico and the Caribbean: nearctic migrants. The same theory explains their migration: explosive food supplies for a brief part of the summer as far north as the arctic tundra. These are the birds that also winter in big numbers in places like Florida. For those who travel to or winter in Florida, you will see these birds in your yards and forests there as wintering birds (like many of us “snowbirds”), then the same birds back up here in Pennsylvania as spring/summer breeding birds. Examples among insectivorous warblers include pine, palm, yellow-throated, and yellow-rumped warblers (see photos). These songbirds are an occasional treat to hear and see in my yard in Pennsylvania. But in recent winter trips to Florida I found them to be common “yard birds” there. They just don’t fly so far between summer and winter homes as do the neotropicals! And what about our most ubiquitous Pennsylvania songbird, the American robin (with a namesake scientific name Turdus migratorius)? On rainy days in Florida I found them foraging in many yards by the dozens. Of course there are many variations of this nearctic migration pattern. The palm warbler mentioned above actually overflies us in Pennsylvania, stopping in migration here only to feed/refuel, before reaching subarctic breeding locales in Canadian boreal forests or subtropical wintering locales such as residential yards of Florida. So the next time you “head south for the winter,” remember that birds have been doing this for way longer than humans have, and perhaps for similar reasons. Go into our forests and enjoy them while you can. Seasons are short. And tip your hat to a brook trout, wood frog, or fisher. May the Forest be with you!
Several birders arrived early in anticipation of not only identifying some birds, but the food that was to come. The White Ibis and a Greater Yellowlegs was evident at a distance from the pavilion. A Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs was in the group.
We walked through the woods in the back of the pavilion, but it was very quiet.
Also across from the pavilion was a Roseate Spoonbill dining with an Ibis. Most of the time we were at the pavilion, the Swallow-tailed Kites were active. I got this photo as he swooped in for a drink. It was a treat to see them flying around. Then it was to eat.
If you have never seen Penguins, here is your opportunity. Except they are edible. Thanks to Wendy Zematis.
We had 35 species, 36 including the penguins. Here is the ebird link. https://ebird.org/checklist/S134960945