Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Birding

The chance of rain didn't scare me away from trying to find a few migrants on this Easter Day. I would have rather spent it with family, but they are all in Michigan and I'm here in Florida.

My first stop was St. George Island. St. George is one of the panhandles best migrant traps (or so I hear), so I thought a few of the earlier warblers might be kicking around. I was secretly hoping for a Swainson's Warbler, but that didn't pan out. In fact, there were relatively few migrants on the island. If I had to pick a best bird... the Prairie Warblers or the Yellow-throated Warbler I guess. Still, it was nice to get acquainted with the place where I fully expect to see some serious migration in the coming weeks.

On my way off the island, I was ready to head east, but I quickly remembered about the Sprague's Pipits at Apalachicola Airport. Last report I know of was of 8 birds on Feb 16 via eBird. I've seen Sprague's Pipit a few times over the past couple years, always in winter in SE Arizona, so I know how tricky they can be to find. Going on a solo mission, I didn't have high hopes of seeing one and knew it would take a bit of luck to get a photograph. Nevertheless, I signed in at the office and started walking the recently mowed and very, very short runway edges. Not 5 minutes later, a Sprague's flushed only a short distance. It was easy to follow it through the sparse, short cover.

The most cooperative Sprague's Pipit I've ever seen
I moved east to Alligator Point where I was hoping for some seabirds close to shore given the strong south winds. It wasn't to be, but Black and Surf Scoters were mixed in with the scaup. As I was leaving, a pair of Swallow-tailed Kites were flying along the road. I sure do love these birds!

Swallow-tailed Kite
Bald Point was my next stop where I hoped to pick up some more migrants and shorebirds. Migrants were actually pretty active at the northern end of Bald Point Road. Northern Parulas were abundant. This is where I picked up my FOY Red-eyed Vireo.

Red-eyed Vireo
On the beach at Bald Point were a couple hundred shorebirds. Sanderling, Willet and Ruddy Turnstone were everywhere. Marbled Godwits also seemed to be congregated in this small area of beach and seemed accustomed to people. I watched as the Godwits probed the sand, flicking up bits of debris every time they withdrew their bill. The Turnstones caught on and took advantage of the free meal.

Marbled Godwit
While birding St. George in the morning, I ran into Barbara Mann from Ontario. We chatted while birding and she told stories of Prothonotary Warblers. The place is Otter Lake. This was my next stop. I went behind the bathrooms, just like she said, and wouldn't you know it, a singing Prothonotary Warbler (Thanks, Barb!). The bright yellow and blues of this warbler are spectacular! This would have been a nice picture, too, if that tree hadn't got in the way (just kidding, trees are good).

Prothonotary Warbler
The winds were getting out of control, my radio listening was interrupted with news of severe weather, and I was getting hungry so I drove back to Tall Timbers. Quite a nice day to be out, saw some great birds, and had a great time.

If you are considering pledging, you may care to know that your pledge will be TAX-DEDUCTIBLE! See the donate page for more info.

Happy Easter!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Past the Half-Way Mark!

After going at this project for nearly three months, I have photographed 251 species of birds this year, which is barely more than half-way to my goal of 500. Yesterday (2/28), I was able to photograph one of the remaining Lincoln's Sparrows present at Tall Timbers which is just north of Tallahassee, FL. There are still a few kicking around, but it is pretty obvious the sparrow flocks are thinning out.

Lincoln's Sparrow
Today, in one of the recently burned areas (the entire property is burned each year to maximize Bachman's Sparrow habitat) a Northern Bobwhite was foraging out in the open, a rare sight here. The are a huge number of Northern Bobwhite on the property, and I see or hear them every day. They are usually flushing away from me. It was nice to see one out in the open, and made for a nice target. He scampered away shortly after.

Northern Bobwhite
Another bird that has shown up in increasing numbers is the Eastern Kingbird. They like hawking over the ponds. Today, a pair was close enough to the edge to get an acceptable picture. I always enjoy the return of this kingbird in the spring!

Eastern Kingbird

The last couple of weeks were pretty slow, so it was nice to get a few new species. Tomorrow I will be helping on a local butterfly count. Sunday will be my day of birding, and I'm going to make the most of it. I plan to go to St. George Island (on the gulf coast) to search for some of the earlier arrivals. I'll likely work my way east along the coast, making stops at the major hotspots. Last time that route turned up a Great Shearwater and 3 Razorbills. What will it be this time?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


One of my goals for the flickr page (that contains every species photographed during this big year) is to update the poor-quality photos with better-quality photos if I happen to take any. Today I was able to take some much improved photos of Purple Martin and Pine Warbler, better than the ones I took earlier in the year. See for yourself. You can click on the picture to enlarge, and click on it again for an even bigger, higher resolution photo.

Pine Warbler
Purple Martin
As you might imagine, I'm getting pretty anxious for the major passerine migration. Reports of Hooded, Worm-eating, and Prothonotary Warblers are being passed along. The weather looks great for this coming weekend. I'm likely to do a local butterfly survey one of the days and spend the other around St. George Island and surrounding areas looking for migrants.

I should be able to photograph a couple new species around the property in the coming days as well. There is a Swallow-tailed Kite hanging around my plot. Barn Swallows are coming through, and Eastern Kingbirds are around as well.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Rainy Days

It was not a good weekend to be birding around Tallahassee. Copious amounts of rain and severe thunderstorms prevented me from doing any serious birding and resulted in no new birds photographed. Luckily, the weather has turned and looks good for the coming week. We should be seeing some new migrants soon, so sit tight.

Although I didn't score any new photos this weekend, here is a video of a male Brown-headed Nuthatch excavating a cavity to be used as a nest right outside the bunkhouse I'm staying at. This was taken with a Canon S90 attached to my Kowa 883 scope. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Just a Fish Crow?

In this photographic big year game, every bird counts the same. Fish Crow counts just as much as a Sprague's Pipit. Each new species is one closer to the goal of 500. Even the lowly Fish Crow.

Back in January, while birding Florida with my dad, I took the time to photograph a Fish Crow. This is an example of a bird that can not be identified by range since it overlaps with American Crow. Pictures can't be conclusive since they look extremely similar to American Crows. Therefore, on top of the photograph, I also took a video of the same Fish Crow calling. There are a few birds calling in the video, and all the calling crows are Fish.

Fish Crow

I don't have any new pictures as my camera is out of order. Don't worry, this won't affect the big year in the slightest. The problem is being taken care of.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Miami... Round 2

If you are keeping up with this blog, you know I missed the Thick-billed Vireo in Miami two weekends ago. However, birders were reporting the bird regularly all week and it was just too tempting. I made a solo return trip to Miami this past weekend, leaving at 11pm on Friday night and arriving at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park just before it opened at 8am. When the gates opened, I sped to the vireo location. Soon after, it sang. I didn't get on it the first time. However, I had a vantage point no one else had and I finally got a 2-3 second look at the bird; enough to say it was a Thick-billed Vireo but the view left much to be desired. I hung around for another few hours. While others grew tired and started dispersing to look in different areas (and apparently finding a male Western Spindalis!), I stuck around the gate. Just after some people reported the vireo from the nature trail, I returned to the gate where only me and one other guy got spectacular looks at the Thick-billed Vireo as it scolded right out in the open! Finally!

Now the bad news... My DSLR camera lens has broken. Truth is, my Nikon D300 is quite old too and is on its last legs. Fear not, I'm working on a solution and should be up and running again soon.<br><br>

I still had my disiscoping camera to use this past weekend, so I got a few new shots. After enjoying the vireo, I bolted north to Pelican Island NWR to see the long-staying White-cheeked Pintail.

White-cheeked Pintail
This is a bird that is commonly kept in captivity, but also exists in the wild just over 100 miles from Pelican Island NWR. Given the spree of Caribbean vagrants Florida has had this winter, the fact that this bird is on an Atlantic coastal NWR associating with Blue-winged Teal (a species that also occurs in the Bahamas), is unbanded with no clipped halux and isn't pinioned, it seems this is about as good of a vagrant as it could get! It will be interesting to see what the Florida records committee does with this bird, but if this one doesn't get accepted, it seems the other accepted records from Texas, Florida, Alabama (and Virginia?), should also be called into question. But enough of that.

Also present at Pelican Island was a Long-billed Dowitcher that flew in while calling. These have always proved a headache for me to identify unless they are calling. It seems the rule of thumb in Florida is that if the dowitcher is inland in fresh water, it is probably a Long-billed. If it is coastal in saltwater, you are probably looking at a Short-billed Dowitcher. I snapped a horrible digiscoped photo of the Pelican Island dowitcher but also obtained a sound clip of the bird calling as it flew off. Turn up the volume if you want to hear the dowitcher, it is a bit quiet.

Long-billed Dowitcher

On Sunday, I had time to visit Orlando Wetlands before heading back to Tallahassee. I got there just as the sun was coming up, making for good photography. Oh how I wished my lens hadn't broke! This Wilson's Snipe was confiding as I digiscoped away.

Wilson's Snipe

Black-crowned Night-Herons were also present. For a Night-Heron, this one sure was enjoying the sun!

Black-crowned Night-Heron

There are a few more mediocre photos of common birds like Gadwall and American Avocet on the Flickr page.

A big thanks to the new sponsors for this big year. Your pledges, big and small, are very much appreciated! I hope the pledges continue to roll in as the season progresses. I know the American Bird Conservancy and the birds of Hawaii can use any help they can get! For more information, see here: Donate

Monday, March 11, 2013

Miami Birding Weekend

The greater Miami area holds a good number of Florida specialty birds, some of which I missed during my time down there a few weeks back. Plus, a Thick-billed Vireo is being reported from Bill Baggs State Park. This was all the persuasion I needed to devise a crazy whirlwind Miami weekend. A little over 7 hours and 500 miles from Tall Timbers, we would have to cram if we wanted to see everything in only a typical weekend and be back in time for work on Monday.

So, after work on Friday I went straight to bed, slept for 5-6 hours and left Tallahassee with Matt Gould at 11:45pm Friday night. Two and half hours later we picked Craig Bateman up in Gainesville and continued south. We met with Alex Harper in Miami shortly after sunrise. Since Bill Baggs didn't open until 8am, we decided to try for Spot-breasted Oriole in Miami Shores. Eventually, we found them and I got my best looks ever at this beautiful exotic.

Spot-breasted Oriole
We jolted to Bill Baggs, hoping to catch a glimpse of the reported Thick-billed Vireo, a would-be new ABA bird for me. Upon arrival, a group of birders were staring intently past the white gate. The vireo was audible, but not visible. The bird became silent. This would be the case for the remainder of the time we spent at this location. There were a few other migrants around including multiple Northern Parula and Ovenbirds.

We then drove down to Homestead to a private residence hosting a huge cowbird flock including multiple Shiny Cowbirds. We got fleeting glimpses of them as they passed into the bushes surrounding the feeders and had to wait them out until they began feeding on the ground. Once they did, the Cowbirds really glowed in the high sun.

Shiny Cowbird
We were doing well on time, so we went to Kendall to look for those elusive Red-whiskered Bulbul. Alex noted that they are tough to find after 10am when they become mostly silent. Some luck was going to be involved in the finding of these birds. After checking across from the Baptist Hospital and Kendallwood and coming up empty, we tried the tennis courts. While we didn't find any Bulbul, this Broad-winged Hawk was a fun bird to see.

Broad-winged Hawk
We went back to the Kendallwood neighborhood. Alex heard a Bulbul give a quick call, so we parked and I quickly got on a Bulbul sitting on a wire in a backyard. We followed what turned out to be a pair as they moved down the wires. They weren't close, but this picture will do.

Red-whiskered Bulbul
We also saw Nanday, White-winged and Monk Parakeets in Miami. I want to thank Alex Harper for this help with finding all of these Miami specialties. His intimate knowledge of seemingly every individual bird in Miami made seeing all these birds in a relatively short time possible. He guides people around Miami and if you are serious about seeing all the specialties, I would seriously consider hiring him. You wont regret it: (

Sunday morning we woke before sunrise and gave a few screech owl calls. We were greeted with an Eastern Screech-Owl that landed on the power wires and called a few times. No other screech owl range comes even remotely close to Florida.

Eastern Screech-Owl
Back to Bill Baggs, we gave the Thick-billed Vireo another shot. We heard it scold close to the gate, and we all saw a flash of movement coming from the same area. Unfortunately, the bird moved further back. We were on a tight schedule as it was, so we moved to Green Cay. Later we would discover the Vireo was seen both Saturday and Sunday later in the afternoon. Fail.

The La Sagra's Flycatcher at Green Cay wasn't any more visible than the vireo. We heard it call a few times, but the bird never revealed itself. The boardwalk was more productive. Least Bitterns are nesting along the far edge of the wetlands.

Least Bittern
Back near the parking lot, the Yellow-breasted Chat was being enjoyed by a few observant birders.

Yellow-breasted Chat
At Wakodahatchee, the Neotropic Cormorant was difficult to pick out as it is quite ragged and worn. However, the small bill, small size, v-shaped chin-patch border, and faint white border to the chin-patch gave it away.

Neotropic Cormorant

It was a long drive home. Was quite tired for work today, but not too tired to pass off this singing Yellow-throated Vireo. Quite a few returning breeders around and singing, especially Northern Parulas.

Yellow-throated Vireo
Hopefully some more migrants show up this week. As for this coming weekend, I think I need to chase that White-cheeked Pintail. Then the Vireo is only a couple more hours south...

Also, a huge thank you to all of those who have made pledges for this big year. It really keeps me motivated and is going for a great cause! If you haven't already, check out this page for more info : Donate

Friday, March 8, 2013

Field Sparrow

It has been a bit busier at work the last few days, so not as much time for pictures. I'm also running out of the more common birds to photograph on the property (until migration!). However, yesterday I was able to catch a Field Sparrow close enough to photograph. I've had a tough time with getting a photograph of this bird as they seem to be quite flighty. I was glad to finally have a more cooperative bird.

Field Sparrow
I'm very excited for this weekend. I'm leaving Tall Timbers with Matt at midnight tonight and driving down to Miami, swinging by Gainesville to pick up Craig. If all goes well, the weekend will be filled with S. Florida specialties! Will update the blog when I'm back.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Tall Timbers Le Conte's Sparrow

Just when I thought the day was a bit of a downer, Matt Gould texted me about a Le Conte's Sparrow that he had just located. Luckily, I was still in the field and not far from his location. I zoomed over on my ATV. Not long after, the Le Conte's Sparrow showed itself. What an amazing bird! The birds in the genus ammodramus are known to be quite skulky and we had a blast watching this sparrow mouse its way from grass mound to grass mound. Occasionally it would hop into the vegetation on either end of the dike where it was present and gave simply amazing views. Quite possibly the most cooperative Le Conte's Sparrow I've ever seen. But enough babble, I'll let this picture do the rest of the talking.

Le Conte's Sparrow
It is a shame that the lighting was so bad with the light rain and all. Maybe I'll see if it is still around tomorrow to take advantage of the forecasted sunny skies. That makes 225 birds photographed this year, and it is only the beginning of March. Who knows what will show up next at Tall Timbers!


On Sunday (3/3) I visited a local Tallahassee house that was, in a word, outstanding. This has to be the birdiest yard I’ve ever seen. I was mostly interested in the hummingbirds. An adult male Rufous made an appearance and was dominant over one of the feeders. It was quite a stunning bird!

Rufous Hummingbird
There were another 4-5 hummingbirds zipping in and out including one or two more Rufous. Drab young/female hummingbirds are not my forte, so trying to identify these things was a challenge. However, I could tell that this adult female hummingbird is a Ruby-throated.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Two Black-chinned Hummingbirds have been recently banded in the yard as well. This was tough to pick out, but this bird, with a few purple gorget feathers, appears to be one of the Black-chinned Hummingbirds.

Black-chinned Hummingbird
Another treat was the Orioles that were enjoying the hummingbird feeders. Four Baltimore Orioles were present simultaneously as they fought their way to the feeders. The adult males were very bright!

Baltimore Oriole
Little did I know that while I was enjoying these feeder birds, a Thick-billed Vireo was being seen at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. This would be a new ABA bird for me (although I saw quite a few in the Bahamas). I already had plans to go visit Miami this coming weekend. Here is to hoping the Vireo sticks around until Saturday!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Much Love for the Gulf

Some of my favorite birding is birding along the ocean. The epic massiveness of the oceans prove intriguing to me. This is why I love pelagic birding trips; you never know what you are going to see! Today Matt Gould, Marge who is doing Bobwhite work at Tall Timbers, and I took a day trip to explore some of the northern gulf coast of Florida, an area I had yet to explore. We found some of the birds we were looking for, but even better yet, we found some we weren't looking for! Those are always the best.

We started at St. George Island where Snowy Plovers are known to roam. If you recall, this is a plover my dad and I looked for in many locations in late Jan/early Feb with no luck. We parked at the end of the road and walked up the peninsula finding few birds, although a few distant Northern Gannets entertained us for a minute. We switched courses and quickly saw some distant shorebirds feasting on the wind blown sea-foam riddled with who-knows-what. At first scan they all appeared to be Sanderling with a few Black-bellied Plover tossed in. On second scan though, two Snowy Plovers popped into view from behind the Sanderling. Bingo!

Snowy Plover (banded)
We moved on to a few more spots west along the coast looking unsuccessfully for Godwits or Curlews. We did find a few American Oystercatchers along the way.

American Oystercatcher
It was getting time to start heading east where I wanted to stop at Alligator Point for a last-ditch effort at Godwits or Long-billed Curlew. We didn't have any luck with these. However, we started seeing some big rafts of Scaup along Alligator Drive, immediately after the last house on the left. We parked and started scanning them. Out a little further than the scaup was a massive feeding frenzy of Bonaparte's Gulls, Northern Gannets, Common Loons, Forster's Terns ect. This is when I picked up a big Shearwater, just far enough away that the wind and heat haze made slapping an identification on the beast impossible. Luckily, it came in closer... and closer... and closer and eventually joined the feeding flock! We all got great looks at the now identifiable Great Shearwater as it flew and sat on the water for as long as we could have wanted to watch. Easily noticed was the white neck contrasting with a clean dark cap. The dark patterning was visible on the underwings while in flight, unlike Cory's clean white underwings. Shortly after this excitement, 3 Razorbills flew in and joined the feeding flock. You can't make this stuff up!I ran to get my digiscoping camera. The birds started moving further out and I knew there was no chance of getting an identifiable photo as the bird bobbed up and down in the waves, hidden at times by the Loons and Gulls. I shot a video hoping to get a few frames with the bird in it. Well, its in there but its a bad video, and every time I try to upload it or take a screenshot, it is too small and blurry. Oh well. <br><br>

Now, I'll leave you with the worlds worst picture of a Northern Gannet. I admit, this is a bit of a stretch, but it can be identified from any other sulid. Red-footed Booby would have dark secondaries (this bird clearly does not), as would adult Masked Booby. The black wingtips of this bird, limited only to the primaries, identify this as a Northern Gannet. <br><Br>

Northern Gannet

I don't know if I'll get a better picture before the end of the year or not, so for now, this will have to do. Tomorrow I'm visiting a "very birdy" yard in Tallahassee. I won't give away what I'm after, you'll have to check back later for that!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Tall Timbers Tours

Thank you everyone for the support! It really helps keep me going and I look forward to posting more exciting pictures from my adventures this year. 

Today was a good one at Tall Timbers. We had a visiting group of birders from Victor Emanual Nature Tours led by Michael O’Brien. We were able to get them the pinewood specialties including multiple Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Brown-headed Nuthatches and Bachman’s Sparrows. We did a banding demonstration where I got to fondle my first Bachman’s Sparrow. I hope he enjoyed it as much as I did ;)

After the tour left, it was time for work. I happened to go by the nesting gourds for some Purple Martins and a few were sitting out in the open. It was cold and overcast today, and distance was a problem, so the pictures aren’t great.

Purple Martin
I’ve mentioned Brown-headed Nuthatches a lot. That is the species I am working with. We are mostly nest searching and re-sighting color banded birds. Most of the birds are still excavating cavities to be used as nesting sites while some already have eggs! I have a short video of a bird excavating a cavity right outside our field housing that I will upload in the next few days.

Tomorrow my birding buddies and I are heading to St. George Island (in Florida, not Alaska…), and Alligator Point. There should be some good shorebirds kicking around. I hope to finally see a Snowy Plover for the year. Stay tuned!