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Posts Tagged ‘Great Egret’

Plan A was hatched last fall when the world was still normal.  I would drive to Michigan in late May to see Kirtland’s Warblers on their breeding grounds, continue north into Canada and drive the northern shore of Lake Superior, and then spend some time in Sax Zim Bog in Minnesota before returning home.  I had scheduled Erik Bruhnke to guide me one day at Sax Zim and I hoped that Diane could join us.  Derek might also be able to share part of the adventure with me.  When the coronavirus didn’t “just disappear,” that plan became not just inadvisable, but impossible as Canada closed its border.

Plan B was that Derek and I would do an abbreviated version of the trip, perhaps getting as far as South Dakota, where we could both meet some geographical birding targets and perhaps even get a few life birds.  But, as the coronavirus got worse instead of better, we didn’t want to stay in hotels.

A large pond of American Lotus at Swan Harbor Farm Park in Havre de Grace, MD

A large pond of American Lotus at Swan Harbor Farm Park in Havre de Grace, MD

In a last ditch effort to find something both safe and interesting, Derek invited me to Maryland.  We could base our travels around his home outside Baltimore, which would put us within two to three hours of several mid-Atlantic states and some excellent birding spots.  I left home in North Carolina on July 8, a day earlier than planned, when a Ruff showed up in Virginia.  We planned to meet there, but that plan, too, changed when Derek called me mid-morning and said that the Ruff was gone.  I reset my GPS for Derek’s home and continued my drive.

We set out for Bombay Hook NWR on our first day of birding, one of the places that I most wanted to go.  I hoped to see Saltmarsh and Seaside Sparrows, both species that I have seen only a few times.  Saltmarsh Sparrows declined to make an appearance for us, however, we enjoyed cute Marsh Wrens singing in the reeds and this Seaside Sparrow made me very happy.

Seaside Sparrow along the Saltmarsh Boardwalk at Bombay Hook NWR

Seaside Sparrow along the Saltmarsh Boardwalk at Bombay Hook NWR

Gulls, terns, shorebirds, herons, and others made for wonderful birding.  The only thing keeping the day from perfection was the constant biting flies.  They bit so hard that I had blood running down my legs in a few spots and we wondered if they wanted a chunk of flesh to go with our blood.  Later, Derek found the explanation on the Assateague Island National Seashore Facebook page, “Why are greenheads just so nasty?”  The short answer to why the bites hurt so badly is that the female greenhead “will probe the surface area to find a place packed with multiple capillaries to feed from a large pool. Then she will use her scissor-like mouth parts to bite and begin sucking blood. As she continues to draw your blood, other mouth parts begin to work her deeper and deeper into your skin.”  It was well worth it, though, to see these beautiful birds!

Least Sandpiper on Delaware's Slaughter Beach

Least Sandpiper on Delaware’s Slaughter Beach

After we completed the wildlife drive at Bombay Hook, we drove to nearby Slaughter Beach.  We were surprised to see Northern Mockingbirds on the actual beach.  After watching a few minutes, we saw the mockingbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds feeding on horseshoe crabs that had washed up and were scattered all along the water’s edge.  Across the road at the saltmarsh, Derek’s sharp eyes caught a brief look at a Saltmarsh Sparrow that I missed and we both saw more Seaside Sparrows.

We worked our way back into Maryland and finished the day with a stop at Daniel Crouse Memorial Park, a nice end to a big day of birding.

At Daniel Crouse Memorial Park, a female Blue Grosbeak with a grasshopper for her babies

At Daniel Crouse Memorial Park, a female Blue Grosbeak with a grasshopper for her babies

Friday started with a hike at Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area, 1,900 acres of the largest serpentine barrens in Maryland and one of the few surviving examples on the east coast of this rare environment.  Our targets were Prairie Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Summer Tanager, all of which breed in the scrub habitat.  We found Prairie Warblers on the trail through the barrens and Yellow-breasted Chats at a nearly overlook, but we didn’t find any Summer Tanagers.  During my entire visit, we had very little luck with passerines in the hot July days.

We had time for several more birding forays that afternoon, including a stop to see a Peregrine Falcon on a water tower.  My favorite spot was North Point State Park where we found seven Little Blue Herons around the marshy edges of the lake – three dark blue adults, two white juveniles, and two immature birds sporting calico or pied plumage.  Little Blue Herons are white when they leave the nest, helping them blend into flocks of aggressive Snowy Egrets more easily.  It takes two years to achieve the full adult plumage.  For a short time during the transition from white to blue, one-year-old Little Blue Herons look like the beautiful bird below.

Little Blue Heron at North Point SP

Little Blue Heron at North Point SP

We headed to West Virginia on Saturday with the goal of upping my state list from 34 to 50.  It was more challenging without beaches, but I ended the day with exactly 50 species on my WV bird list.  My favorite spot was Stauffer’s Marsh Nature Preserve.  In addition to a few nice birds, we saw this beautiful Hummingbird Clearwing Moth, Hemaris thysbe.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth at Stauffer's Marsh Nature Preserve

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth at Stauffer’s Marsh Nature Preserve

Our West Virginia day ended with some fun and relaxing time at Baker Park in Frederick, Maryland, where we enjoyed observing a breeding colony of Black-crowned Night-Herons.  This was only the second time that I have ever seen tame night-herons.  The following photos were taken just a few feet away from the birds.

Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron at Baker Park

Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron at Baker Park

Adult Black-crowned Night-Heron at Baker Park

Adult Black-crowned Night-Heron at Baker Park

Susquehanna State Park is the premier birding destination in northeastern Maryland and that’s where we headed on Sunday.  Again, passerines (perching birds) were more scarce than we expected.  Where were the warblers foraging with their youngsters?  But, we found a Kentucky Warbler right away and I had a very satisfying experience with this species that I don’t see often.  This gorgeous bird was still singing when we left and we probably could have watched him for as long as we liked.

Kentucky Warbler at Susquehanna State Park

Kentucky Warbler at Susquehanna State Park

It wasn’t a warbler, but at least the Gray Catbirds were out with just fledged juveniles in the picnic area.

Juvenile Gray Catbird at Susquehanna State Park

Juvenile Gray Catbird at Susquehanna State Park

After leaving Susquehanna SP, we went to Swan Harbor Farm Park and added a few more birds to my growing Maryland list.  Here’s a close-up of American Lotus, Nelumbo lutea, that covered a pond there and was shown in the first photo in this post.

American Lotus at Swan Harbor Farm Park

American Lotus at Swan Harbor Farm Park

We spent most of Monday in Pennsylvania, first at William H. Kain County Park and then at Richard M. Nixon County Park.  I had been to these spots in previous trips and it was nice to visit again.

A Great Egret in the beautiful, but horrible non-native invasive Purple Loosestrife at Kain County Park

A Great Egret in the beautiful, but horrible non-native invasive Purple Loosestrife at Kain County Park

One warbler that we did see and hear nearly everywhere was Common Yellowthroat.

Male Common Yellowthroat at Richard M. Nixon County Park

Male Common Yellowthroat at Richard M. Nixon County Park

We saw many beautiful birds in just five days and my visit was only half over!  Watch for Part 2.

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If you missed Part 1, read it here.

The third life bird that I hoped to find in Florida was a La Sagra’s Flycatcher that was being seen in the Everglades. David’s ride on Monday was one of his shorter ones, so we had time to look for the flycatcher late that afternoon. We did not find the bird, but we still had a “bonus day” that we could use to look for it again. I wanted more than one more chance, though. You can never know how long a bird will stick around. And, this looked like my last chance to get a life bird in Florida.

David agreed to look for the La Sagra’s again on Tuesday morning before starting his long ride from Florida City to Marathon. But, we still couldn’t find our target. However, David did find the nest of the Red-shouldered Hawks that were being seen close by. And, both adults were snuggled together in the nest! Neither of us had ever seen this before.

Around 9:00 AM, Angel Abreu showed up with a friend who also wanted the La Sagra’s Flycatcher. Angel is not only one of the best birders in South Florida, he’s one of my favorite people in the world and I was very happy to see him. But, he didn’t find the bird right away either. After looking for another hour, we were in the car driving away when Angel excitedly flagged us down because he had the flycatcher! During the next hour, we had several excellent looks at our bird and heard it’s distinctive call. I was thrilled, but our wonderful morning meant that David didn’t start riding until noon that day.

Later, at Crocodile Lake NWR, I played hide-and-seek with a White-eyed Vireo for 20 minutes before giving up. These birds winter in Florida in high numbers, but they prefer not to be seen. I photographed a few butterflies instead. This female Julia Heliconian is a bit faded and tattered, but still beautiful.

David had a long day, but just before 6:00 PM, he achieved his goal of making it to Marathon – 78 miles on the bike!

We left Florida City early the next day and drove back to Marathon where David got on the bike for the final leg of his ride. I had nearly an hour before meeting David at his first rest stop, so I walked part of the Curry Hammock State Park Nature Trail that we had found the previous evening. I didn’t see anything unusual, but it was a pleasant way to start the day. I liked seeing this Spotted Sandpiper, pretty even in winter without its spots.

After meeting David with water and a snack, I walked along a paved path by the water on Big Pine Key and found a Broad-winged Hawk. These birds breed in my area and farther north, but this might have been the first Broad-wing that I’ve seen in winter in the US.

David made it to Key West by mid-afternoon. We were both elated that he had fulfilled his dream of doing this ride. I had a difficult time finding safe and legal parking near his end-point, Mile Marker 0, so I stayed with the car in the courthouse parking lot in a nice shady spot. David met me there and while he was changing into clean dry clothes, we saw a hawk flying overhead. We thought it was a Short-tailed Hawk and photos confirmed our identification. It was the third one of the trip, but the first one that I had ever found and identified without help from a more experienced birder, so a little goal of mine was accomplished, too.

We bought some souvenirs and headed over to Mallory Square. David enjoyed a celebratory beer and then we headed back to Florida City. We made a couple of quick stops on our way and found a Great White Heron in Sugarloaf Key just before dark. This is the white form of Great Blue Heron and it is considered to be the same species. It is rarely found outside Southern Florida and I had seen one only once or twice before.

We had not needed to use our “bonus day” for a weather emergency or injury, so we had a free day for birding. We spent the day in the Everglades National Park as we had hoped to do. We stopped at nearly every possible area as we worked our way towards Flamingo. David and I both love just watching birds “live their lives” as he puts it and seeing new behaviors. Our favorite experience that day was at Pahayokee Overlook observing a Great Egret bathe. In all our years in Florida, neither of us had ever seen a heron or egret take a bath before. I tried to get a video, but as soon as I hit “record,” the bird stopped splashing.

David got in a few miles on the bike in the park and we saw many more birds, especially at Mrazek Pond, where we both enjoyed helping visitors get on some of the harder to find birds. You had to know just where to look to see the Roseate Spoonbill that David found way in the back of the pond or the Green Heron hiding on one side.

The time to head back to Dunedin came all too soon. I would have loved a few more days in South Florida. We prolonged our nature watching for as long as possible by driving the Loop Road Scenic Drive off US 41 on the way home. It had been many years since I was there, but Sweetwater Strand was just as magical as I remembered. My favorite photo from that spot is this Great Blue Heron.

After the birding and biking adventure with David, I set off for Gainesville and some family time with my granddaughters and son-in-law. And, then it was on to Atlanta to see my step-daughter before finally driving home.

I find that long road trips are a lot easier if I take breaks, so I stop often to walk a little and look for birds. You might be surprised at what you can find at highway rest stops. At the “Welcome to Georgia” rest area, I was pleased to see this lovely little Yellow-throated Warbler. It looks like he (or she) is singing for tips, but actually it is just picking at the nut.

Later that day, I met another birder at a rest stop for the first time. We enjoyed talking about birds and watching a flock of about 30 Cedar Waxwings.

After I got home, I had one more bird to see – a Western Tanager that had shown up the day after I left for Florida. This is a western bird as its name implies, but there have been several vagrants in North Carolina this winter. This particular bird, though, was the first one seen in Forsyth County since 1987. Luck was with me this time and I saw the tanager after waiting less than an hour. With birds, you never know what you are going to miss and what you will see. That uncertainly is what makes birding both addicting and fun.

Read part two of David’s story on his blog in Bicycling Naples to Key West – Part 2.

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