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.