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Posts Tagged ‘Northern Cardinal’

The middle stretch of the fall Yard Squad Challenge was similar to the middle weeks of the spring challenge.  Other birders always seemed to find the migrants before I did.  With a larger patch to bird, though, it was easier to catch up.  I missed a few birds that I would like to have seen, but I found 16 new species in this three-week period.  That put my total number of birds for the challenge at 86, exactly what Matt’s magic formula predicted that I should be able to find.  Every new species now added to my list will be “above par”, so I’m happy.

So, what were those 16 new birds?  This isn’t one of the them because I first saw it on September 8 (this middle stretch started on September 14), but this sweet little bird stayed for over a week.  I was able to see it again on the 15th and even get a photo.  Kentucky Warbler is not a common species for my county, so it was a real thrill to see this lovely bird twice.

Kentucky Warbler at Bethania's Walnut Bottoms

Kentucky Warbler at Bethania’s Walnut Bottoms

New birds that I did see included Red-tailed Hawk and Song Sparrow.  What?  Those are common birds.  I’m learning that even species that are present year-round can be much easier to find some weeks than others.  Song Sparrows breed in my county, but they are quiet during the summer.  Species like the sparrow and Brown Thrashers are much easier to find once they start foraging in fall when abundant natural food is everywhere.

A Wood Thrush on the path at Walnut Bottoms was a welcome sight and a new species for the Yardbirds.  I had feared that I wouldn’t be able to find one without hearing their beautiful song.

I was also happy to see Osprey and Great Egret and add them to the growing list for my circle.  Neither were new for the Yardbirds, but they add to our total ticks.  The egret was a real surprise as this is another species that isn’t common in my county.  We usually have a few somewhere, but this was only the third time that I’ve seen one at this pond.

Great Egret at Lake Hills Pond & Marsh

Great Egret at Lake Hills Pond & Marsh

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks have been more common this fall than they were in the spring.  The males aren’t sporting their snazzy black, white, and rose attire now, but I think they are beautiful birds irregardless.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (male) at Lake Hills Pond & Marsh

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (male) at Lake Hills Pond & Marsh

I continued to enjoy the non-avian iNaturalist part of the challenge and added an Eastern Chipmunk.  I remember feeling excited about living in a part of the county that has chipmunks when I moved to North Carolina.  I didn’t realize how quickly I would get tired of the evil little things who eat all the bird food and just laugh at me.  See if you learn anything new about chipmunks in this story, NOT Alvin and the Chipmunks: 10 Facts You May Not Know about the Real Rodents.  Did you note the part about eating bird eggs and nestlings?  Yep, I hate these little monsters.  It’s hard to deny that they are cute, though.

Eastern Chipmunk on my deck

Eastern Chipmunk on my deck

Here are a few more of my iNat observations during this period.  If you want to see my other sightings, you can find me on iNat with username shelleydee.

This was a new moth for my yard and one of my favorites, Orange-shouldered Sherbet Moth.  Its wings were translucent and a photo can't really capture its delicate beauty.

This was a new moth for my yard and one of my favorites, Orange-shouldered Sherbet Moth.  Its wings were translucent and a photo can’t really capture its delicate beauty.

 

I didn't get any more life butterflies, but this Variegated Fritillary was a new iNat observation for me.

I didn’t get any more life butterflies, but this Variegated Fritillary was a new iNat observation for me.

 

An American Toad surprised us when I was birding with friends at Walnut Bottoms. They are difficult to distinguish from the similar Fowler's Toad which also occurs here. Experts in a Facebook group helped with the ID.

An American Toad surprised us when I was birding with friends at Walnut Bottoms. They are difficult to distinguish from the similar Fowler’s Toad which also occurs here. Experts in a Facebook group helped with the ID.

Participating in iNat led to more than wildlife sightings; it also gave me a new friend.  Linda saw some of my observations and contacted me.  We discovered that we had much in common and went for a walk together at Long Creek Park.  We had a great time and spent over four hours surveying the park for interesting flora and fauna.  Linda is a better nature watcher than I am and her sharp eye caught this skink.

Common Five-lined Skink or Southeastern Five-lined Skink? I don't think it's possible to determine from this photo.

Common Five-lined Skink or Southeastern Five-lined Skink? I don’t think it’s possible to determine from this photo.

Another of my favorite sightings with Linda was a small clump of ferns.  I was surprised that in September they still looked fresh and perfect.

Broad beech fern at Long Creek Park

Broad beech fern at Long Creek Park

I still love birds best and even the young Northern Cardinals on my deck made me happy.  I’ve watched these two girls and a young male nearly every day.

Immature female Northern Cardinals

Immature female Northern Cardinals

This Yellow-billed Cuckoo also made me very happy.  It’s always fun to watch them successfully forage for caterpillars.  I watched this one while birding with friends at Walnut Bottoms.  Like its name implies, this is a spot with many black walnut trees which seem to host a lot of caterpillars.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo with an unidentified caterpillar

Yellow-billed Cuckoo with an unidentified caterpillar

During the last three days of this stretch I was able to find a new bird for my team every day.  On October 2, a sweet little group of at least three Tennessee Warblers foraged in the weeds at the edge of a large field at Long Creek Park.

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

A Hooded Warbler at Walnut Bottoms was new on October 3.  And, finally, on the last day of this stretch of the Yard Squad Challenge, October 4, I found nothing new in my 3-1/2 hours of birding in the morning.  As I sat on my deck that afternoon, a Cape May Warbler came by and spent a few minutes checking out the seeds on the deck rail and the suet in a little cup.  I had foolishly not taken my camera on the deck, so here is a photo of another Cape May Warbler that stopped by for a bath a few years ago.

Cape May Warbler

Cape May Warbler

There are not many new birds that I can find in the last stretch of the challenge, but I do expect to see a Black-throated Blue Warbler.  Follow along with me and see if I’m successful.

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David has dreamed of riding his bicycle to Key West for several years.  He explored several organized rides, but none of them felt right to him, so he asked me if I would SAG for him if he did a solo trip.  David is one of my best friends, so, of course, I said yes.  Plus, I might even get a life bird if I was lucky.  I hadn’t had a life bird in Florida since 2015, but typically a few rarities show up every winter in the southern part of the state, so I was hopeful.  In cycling terms, SAG means support and gear; I would drive David’s car along his bike route carrying food, water, tools and parts for minor bike repairs, extra clothing, etc.  We decided to start the cycling adventure in Naples Beach, travel east across US 41, and then drive/cycle down US 1 through the Keys.  To save money and give us a little flexibility, we would spend five nights in Florida City.

When I left home on February 10, there were three possible life birds that I could get, plus anything new that might show up.  I got a late start and spent the first night in southern Georgia.  The next morning, I headed towards Merritt Island NWR where a Great White Pelican had been regularly seen for a couple of weeks, including the previous day.  After I got on the road, I learned that Black Point Wildlife Drive, the spot where the pelican was most often seen, was closed for a controlled burn.  I arrived around noon and checked a few other locations where it was speculated that the bird could have gone.  I found a group of American White Pelicans at Haulover Creek, but not my target bird.

At the Merritt Island NWR Visitor Center that afternoon, I was consoled by several beautiful Painted Buntings. It’s hard to be sad while watching these gorgeous birds. Below, the colorful male is on the left and the pretty yellow-green female on the right.

After the Visitor Center closed, I was looking at birds in the trees in the parking lot when I heard what I thought was a woodpecker, but I couldn’t find it. Finally, I discovered the source of the pecking sound – a male Northern Cardinal challenging his own reflection in the rear view window of my car! This behavior isn’t unusual, but I rarely see it.

The next morning, I went back to the Visitor Center to find out when the wildlife drive would open. “Noon,” they said, too late for me as I wanted to head to Dunedin to stay with David and Val that evening. Again, I birded in the parts of the refuge that were open and actually enjoyed it more than the previous day. I had given up on the pelican and just enjoyed what I did see.

Birds winter in this area in large numbers and I saw 50 species with my modest efforts on two short days – herons, egrets, ibises, shorebirds, ducks, and more. My favorite animal wasn’t a bird, though, but this adorable Hispid Cotton Rat under the Merritt Island NWR Visitor Center feeders.  I was disappointed that I hadn’t found the pelican, but genuinely happy to see the rat, a life mammal.

I grew up in Pinellas County and I’ve visited so often the last few years that it feels like home. My favorite birding locations are Dunedin Causeway and Honeymoon Island State Park, so that’s where I headed on Thursday after arriving the previous afternoon. I had a great time at Honeymoon Island, but I couldn’t concentrate on birding because people were so friendly! Everyone wanted to talk, but I enjoyed the conversations, especially with a young couple who thanked me for being their “tour guide” after we watched a Gopher Tortoise together. It was a special treat to see this creature, a threatened species in Florida. Gopher Tortoises are important because they dig burrows deep in the sand that are used by over 350 other species including Burrowing Owl. Many of those species could not survive without the Gopher Tortoise. This particular tortoise is one of the largest that I’ve seen; note it’s smooth shell from years of burrowing in the sand.

In late winter, it’s always thrilling to observe the many Osprey at the height of courtship. Everywhere you look, Osprey are fishing, eating, calling, sitting near their mates (or intended), and soaring overhead. This male Osprey is enjoying lunch. Who can identify the fish by its distinctively shaped red tail? Please leave a comment if you know what it is.

I had one more day to go birding before David and I headed south, so I went to Dunedin Hammock City Park to look for the Short-tailed Hawks that had been reported there. I ran into a local birder who told me that the hawks had nested in the park since 2017. We went our separate ways and then ran into each other twice more. Just before we both needed to leave, he caught a glimpse through the trees of a hawk flying. We waited and it soared overhead for a minute, confirming its identify and allowing me to get a bad photo, but good enough for the local eBird reviewer to confirm my report.

This Snowy Egret at Dunedin Hammock was lovely in breeding plumage and much more cooperative than the Short-tailed Hawk.

I had enough time left that afternoon to find a Purple Gallinule (rare for Pinellas County) and then it was time to meet David after work and get ready for his big cycling adventure.

All we had to do on Saturday was drive to Naples to be in place for David’s start on Sunday morning, so we were able to do a little birding on our way down the Gulf Coast. Our first stop was at a place near Sarasota called “Celery Fields” by Florida birders. We had no idea what to expect and were surprised by the wonderful feeder area where we spent most of our time. We had great close looks at Common Ground Doves, a species that we have seen often, but never so well. A Brown-headed Cowbird is in the shadows behind the dove in the photo below.

Most fun, though, were the Nanday Parakeets, who swooped down into the feeder area and took all our attention. This is another species that we had seen before, but not this close. We found it interesting that the middle bird below was hanging by one foot with its head in the feeder port.

Below, a single Nanday Parakeet poses for a portrait photo.

We made another stop at Corkscrew Swamp, a favorite place of mine since I lived in Miami in the early 1980’s. Wood Storks were much less common then (they were assigned endangered status from 1984 to 2014). To see these birds, we had to drive across the state to Corkscrew which was the breeding ground for about half of the Southern Florida population then. Fortunately, they have had a good recovery and are now easy to see in many areas of Florida.

I had planned to look for the White-cheeked Pintail in Naples, which had been seen for weeks before I left North Carolina. But, by the time we got there, the duck had been missing for eight days, so we didn’t spend time looking. Yep, another lost opportunity for a life bird.

David started his ride from Naples Beach on Sunday morning. Our first two days across US 41 were rather tedious and I didn’t see many birds. But, I did enjoy birding the Shark Valley entrance road for an hour on Monday morning where I saw this Anhinga in the ditch drying its wings.

The trip would soon got more interesting for both of us. Watch for part 2. Read David’s story about this part of the trip in his blog post, Bicycling Naples to Key West – Part 1.

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