Posts Tagged ‘Osprey’

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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On Sunday morning, August 18, Derek started home, David set off on the first ride of Cycle Adirondacks‘ Ultimate Cycling Vacation, and I headed out to see if I could find any birds.  I went to Crown Point State Historic Site, about 12 miles north of Ticonderoga.  I enjoyed walking around this lovely spot on a peninsula that juts out into Lake Champlain.  The birds like this spot, too, especially the gulls.

Ring-billed Gulls

Ring-billed Gulls

I drove over the Lake Champlain bridge and walked around Chimney Point on the Vermont side.  I enjoyed watching an Osprey’s hovering flight over the lake before it plunged down to catch a fish.  Osprey are the largest birds that are able to hover.

A poor photo of an amazing Osprey hovering over Lake Champlain

A poor photo of an amazing Osprey hovering over Lake Champlain

I found a few other birds along the shore and this chipmunk that did his best chirping impression of a bird.

A chipmunk who's chirping almost fooled me

A chipmunk who’s chirping almost fooled me

David rode 66.7 miles with 4130’ of climbing on the local Ticonderoga ride.  The trip was going so fast that I can’t remember what we did that afternoon.  Could we both have been a bit tired by then?

On Monday David rode to Wilmington and I drove to Bloomingdale Bog before turning towards Wilmington.  I was becoming obsessed with the bog and I hoped to find Black-backed Woodpeckers on my own.  I found only Canada Jay, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Black-capped Chickadee, and other species that we had seen there previously, but I enjoyed my morning.

David’s ride to Wilmington was 61.4 miles, but we had both recovered a bit so in the afternoon we drove up Veterans’ Memorial Highway to the top of Whiteface Mountain, New York’s fifth-highest peak at 4,867 feet.  The mountain’s east slope hosted the alpine skiing competitions of the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid.  Whiteface Mountain is also the easiest place to see the rare Bicknell’s Thrush anywhere in it’s small range in the northeast, but by August the birds are nearly impossible to find.  I hope to return in June one year for a better chance to see this lovely thrush.

By Richard Crossley - Richard Crossley, CC BY-SA 3.0

By Richard Crossley – Richard Crossley, CC BY-SA 3.0

The drive up the mountain was beautiful and provided fantastic views of the surrounding area in the afternoon light.  At the top, we had sandwiches and beer and David hiked to the top of the mountain.  It was cold and windy; I was a wimp and waited in the gift shop.

David enjoys the view from a a stop on Whiteface Mountain

David enjoys the view from a a stop on Whiteface Mountain

Another scenic view from the road up Whiteface Mountain

Another scenic view from the road up Whiteface Mountain

On Tuesday morning I returned to Bloomingdale Bog for one last time and David rode the long loop out of Wilmington.  That afternoon we visited High Falls Gorge.  After viewing the gorge and waterfalls, I somewhat foolishly suggested that we walk the “nature trail” which turned out to be a one-mile “moderate” hike over large rocks and tree roots that was somewhat steep.  We were tired that night!

The beautiful waterfall at High Falls Gorge

The beautiful waterfall at High Falls Gorge

The walkways at High Falls Gorge were beautifully done to be safe and provide wonderful views

The walkways at High Falls Gorge were beautifully done to be safe and provide wonderful views

Day four of the Ultimate Cycling Vacation, August 21, brought the ride from Wilmington to Westport, on the shore of Lake Champlain.  We loved Wilmington and hated to leave, but we also looked forward to the next phase of our adventure.  My birding focus shifted to looking for Little Gull at Noblewood Park again, half an hour north of Westport.  Derek and I had tried a week earlier without success, but there were three eBird reports from August 20 and I was hopeful that I would find the gull.

Cycle ADK's base camp for Westport was the Essex County fairgrounds, where some of the "art" for the fair was still on display

Cycle ADK’s base camp for Westport was the Essex County fairgrounds, where some of the “art” for the fair was still on display

I arrived at the park just after 9:00 AM and don’t recall seeing another birder although there is an eBird report from 7:30 AM that morning (without the target gull).  It was cold and windy and miserable and I did not find a Little Gull.  Reports use the phrases “searched the flock of Bonaparte’s Gulls for two hours” and “obvious” in the same report, which I found quite funny.  So, theoretically I could have seen a Little Gull and just not recognized it, but I don’t think that happened.  After talking with local experts and pouring over photos during the next few days, the gull started to feel familiar, but still elusive.

Looking for a Little Gull in flocks of Bonaparte's Gulls with a few Ring-billed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Caspian Terns, and Common Terns

Looking for a Little Gull in flocks of Bonaparte’s Gulls with a few Ring-billed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Caspian Terns, and Common Terns

David’s day brought “interesting” events, too.  He blew his rear tire fifteen miles into the ride.  Fortunately, he was going slow at the time and was not injured.  Cycle Adirondacks gave him a ride to the next rest stop nine miles away and a new tire.  He lost an hour and a half, but was then back on the road for the ride to Westport in pouring rain for the next forty miles.

David's rides took him past numerous waterfalls

David’s rides took him past numerous waterfalls

The next morning I arrived at Noblewood Park at 8:00 AM and found three birders already there.  Stacy had arrived at 7:00 AM and had seen a Little Gull before I got there.  She was not only an expert birder, but very friendly and she tried really hard to help me find the gull.  Unfortunately, the gull did not cooperate.  Stacy had also seen two Baird’s Sandpipers the previous day and she gave me explicit directions for where to find them.  Although not a life bird, this species was another of my targets for the trip because I had only seen them a few times and never well.

I drove about an hour south to Port Henry and immediately found the sandpipers exactly where Stacy said they would be.  The next half hour was a welcome relief – gorgeous weather, no pressure, and cooperative birds.  Here is the little video that I shot from about 12-15 feet from one of the Baird’s Sanpipers.

David’s loop ride took him to Essex, just three miles south of Noblewood Park where I had gone birding, and a ferry ride across Lake Champlain.  After riding 35 miles through Vermont countryside, he rode back into New York over the lovely Lake Champlain bridge where I had birded a few days earlier.  It was the longest ride of the event at 75 miles, 6:58 hours (including the half hour ferry ride) and 4,708 feet of climbing.

David's ride through Vermont took him past miles of beautiful countryside

David’s ride through Vermont took him past miles of beautiful countryside

Friday was David’s last day of the Ultimate Cycling Vacation as the group rode from Westport back to the starting point in Ticonderoga.  I had one last chance to try for Little Gull at Noblewood Park and I was the first to arrive at 8:00 AM.  Other birders started arriving half an hour later and Matt from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology got there at 9:24 AM.  None of us were able to find a Little Gull despite five sets of eyes rigorously searching.  I left at 10:26 AM, assuming that if we had not found the bird by then, it would not be seen that day, especially since earlier reports were mostly from early morning.  And, I wanted to be back in Ticonderoga when David finished his ride.

Cedar Waxwings were common at Noblewood Park and nearly everywhere else during the trip

Cedar Waxwings were common at Noblewood Park and nearly everywhere else during the trip

I met David and sat down to eat a hamburger.  Five minutes later, a message popped up on my phone.  It was Stacy, “Matt says you left the park and he has an adult Little Gull now.”  I involuntary uttered “Oh, s***!” causing people nearby to turn and stare at me.  But, David immediately knew that meant the bird had been found.  He just said “Let’s go.”  Fortunately, we were able to think clearly and make plans.  There would be no time to check into the hotel.  So, we managed to get the bike and the bike bag into my overstuffed car in record time and I started driving north.  We made just one quick stop at Gunnison’s Bakery.  While David was changing out of his sweaty, wet cycling clothes, I bought a small strawberry-rhubarb pie, optimistically intending it to be the “lifer pie” we would use to celebrate the Little Gull that I was sure to see.  Back in the car, I learned that I could drive the speed limit after all.  Earlier I had said there was no way to safely drive 55 MPH on the twisting, hilly county road.

Matt had not been able to stay, but he had texted a very detailed description of the bird and where he had seen it.  We started scoping, but could not find it.  After four hours of searching with just one short break, we never did find Matt’s Little Gull.  As we ate “loser pie” that evening, I realized that I still have a great story; only the ending is different from the one I would have liked.  And, now I feel like a real birder; I finally have a nemesis bird.

Pickerel or Leopard Frog? David saw where it hopped as we walked through the weeds on the way back to the car at Noblewood Park.

Pickerel or Leopard Frog? David saw where it hopped as we walked through the weeds on the way back to the car at Noblewood Park.

To read more about David’s cycling adventure, see his blog post Cycle Adirondacks “Ultimate Cycling Vacation” 2019.

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It was crazy to do this trip. I am going to Alaska in June and I had promised Myrna that I would visit her in California. I really didn’t need to cram in another spring trip. It all started when Kitty Jensen was telling me about her Everglades trip with the National Park Conservation Association. “I’ll just fly Allegiant to Punta Gorda,” she began. I interrupted with “No, you won’t. Allegiant no longer flies there from Greensboro. It would be easier for me to just drive you down.” As usual, I blurted this out without first engaging my brain. But, it would give me a chance to look for Mangrove Cuckoo and other South Florida specialties while Kitty was doing her Everglades trip. The cuckoo was a bird that I really wanted. I had been waiting for a chance to go to Florida in April since Jeff and I missed the cuckoo in 2011. So, when Myrna asked me to visit the first week in April, everything fell into place.

Wood Storks, Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge

Wood Storks, Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge

Kitty and I decided to slowly drive down and back, with lots of stops along the way. We left late on the morning of April 9 and got to South Carolina in time for a quick spin through Savannah National Wildlife Refuge’s Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive before dark. The next morning we enjoyed the wildlife drive at Harris Neck NWR and then drove through the Osceola National Forest on our way to Gainesville, Florida, where we spent the night.

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

On Saturday morning, we went to one of my favorite birding spots in Florida, Lake Panasoffkee Wildlife Management Area. On our way there, I listed all the birds that we could see – Loggerhead Shrike, American Kestrel, Eastern Meadowlark, Red-headed Woodpecker. For the first time that I visited the site, other birders were there. As we left, the group was assembled under the Kestrel nest box where a Florida Fish & Wildlife officer was speaking. We were sure that he was talking about the Southeastern subspecies of American Kestrel, which is threatened in Florida. Just before we exited onto the main road, we saw a Kestrel perched in a tree on the other side of an open field. We had seen every single species that I’d mentioned, plus a Northern Bobwhite for a bonus!

We finished the day by driving to Naples, where I dropped Kitty off for her Everglades trip.

Eurasian Collared-Dove

I continued on to Florida City, where I met a friend who lives in Florida. We had a great day on Sunday driving through the Florida Keys. We didn’t have time for normal birding, so we enjoyed this very tame Eurasian Collared-Dove who pecked at bread crumbs right at our feet while we had lunch in Key West.

We made time to look for Key Deer on our way back.  Feeding the deer is legally prohibited, but people must do it anyway as the deer are very tame.

Key Deer on No Name Key

Key Deer on No Name Key

We spent the next day in the Everglades, slowly driving from Florida City to Flamingo. We started just outside the park entrance and found five Scissor-tailed Flycatchers. I think of the flycatcher as a Texas bird, but they frequently winter in Florida.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

We always enjoy watching common birds and that day the Black Vultures held our attention. At Paurotis Pond, we watched this “couple” preen each other, or do what would have been preening if there had been any feather on their heads. They allowed us very close, but we backed off to give them some privacy. Before anything really exciting could happen with the vultures, a couple from Sweden pulled in. It was their first trip to Florida and they were looking for Roseate Spoonbills. We pointed out where the birds were and enjoyed chatting with them for a while. I’m sure that they would have found the birds without us, but they were very grateful for our help. Before they left, the man said, “I’ve got to give you something” and ran over to his car. He came back with a pen from the company that he works for and gave it to me.

Black Vultures, Everglades National Park

Black Vultures, Everglades National Park

We continued our drive towards Flamingo enjoying the typical Everglades sights – Red-shouldered Hawks, Swallow-tailed Kites, Woodstorks. At Eco Pond, we found a flock of 26 Black-necked Stilts. Near the amphitheater at the Flamingo Visitor Center, we found an Osprey nest with three large juveniles who looked like they were ready to fledge at any moment.

Osprey, Everglades National Park

Osprey, Everglades National Park

We returned to Florida City just before dark and easily found a Common Myna in its natural Florida City habitat – the drive-thru at Long John Silver’s!

Common Myna

Common Myna

Stay tuned for Part 2!

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Osprey at Honeymoon Island

Osprey at Honeymoon Island

Thanksgiving week started early with Nate Dias’ Curlew / Marsh Sparrow boat trip in the Cape Romain NWR on November 18.  My goal was to get a good look at a Saltmarsh Sparrow, which would be a life bird for me.  I stopped at Huntington Beach State Park on my way down where I missed all three marsh sparrows which were seen before I arrived.  I was disappointed, but I had good looks at four individual Clapper Rails – swimming, walking, and bathing.

As we left the dock in McClellanville the next morning, duck hunters were returning saying that the weather was too bad for them!  It was very cold and windy and it rained most of the day.  Nate reported the most marsh sparrows in a couple of miles that he had ever seen, including “12-13 firmly identified Saltmarsh Sparrows.”  However, I did not get a good enough view of any to count as a lifer.  It was fun to put faces with familiar names from the Carolinabirds listserv, though, and it was a good trip in spite of the weather.

On Monday, I birded Altamaha WMA with Sandy Beasley, whom I had met in January at the Georgia Ornithological Society meeting.  I had birded Altamaha before, but did not know the area at all well.  Sandy showed me new areas on the west side of the road and we had a very nice day.  Now I know where to find birds as well as where to go for a great lunch!


Quinn enjoying a beautiful Thanksgiving day in Jim & Debbie’s yard

Acacia and Casey

Granddaughter Acacia (Debbie’s oldest) holding Casey (Liz’ youngest)

Thanksgiving with my stepdaughters Debbie and Liz was wonderful.  Debbie’s significant other, Jim, and I birded together again this year.  He took me to Watermelon Pond, a place where he has fished for 20 years.  Jim had not been there lately, though, and was surprised to discover that the lake was dry and the area is now an official Wildlife and Environmental Area.  I was thrilled to discover this wonderful place that focuses on preserving several Florida Threatened species including Southeastern American Kestrel and Gopher Tortoise.  We saw Kestrels and I also had my best look ever at a gorgeous adult male Northern Harrier at Watermelon Pond.

The highlight of Thanksgiving was not birds, though, but seeing the wonderful progress that Liz’ autistic two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Quinn, is making.  I visited in August, just before she started ABA therapy (Applied Behavioral Analysis).  The difference in her behavior and interactions with people in just three months is remarkable.  Her progress includes a little eye contact now, a huge step for an autistic child.


Limpkin at Kapok Park

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher on Courtney Campbell Causeway

I headed to Dunedin the day after Thanksgiving to spend the weekend with good friends David and Val.  David and I birded our favorite spots on Friday afternoon and talked about Quinn in between birds.  Her therapists were using an iPad with her so I wanted to get a tablet that Liz could use with her, too.  We considered options and compared Android devices to the Apple iPad for a couple of hours before deciding upon an iPad.  David, ever smart and creative, devised a plan that would allow us to bird all the way to the Apple store.  We saw some of our favorite birds along the way – Limpkins at Kapok Park and American Oystercatchers on the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

John Hood, President of Clearwater Audubon, and I had met in August at the Hog Island Audubon camp in Maine.  On Saturday, David and I birded with John.  We learned where to park for the Tierra Verde “duck ponds” and finally got to see the hundreds of Redheads that winter there.

At Fort De Soto, John easily found the Long-billed Curlew that has been there for two years.  David and I had been unable to find it on my last visit.  We enjoyed John’s company and learned a lot about birding in Pinellas County due to his local expertise.

Least Sandpiper, Sanderling,a nd Dunlin at Fort De Soto

Least Sandpiper, Sanderling, and Dunlins at Fort De Soto

"My frog is still wiggling"

“My frog is still wiggling.”

"Maybe if I squeeze real hard"

“Maybe if I squeeze real hard.”

"Shaking is good, but I'm getting weeds on my frog"

“Shaking is good, but I’m getting weeds on my frog.”

"He's subdued now, but I still can't get it down"

“He’s subdued now, but I still can’t get it down.”

"I'll try scrunching it up into one big bite."

“I’ll try scrunching it up into one big bite.”

On Sunday, David and I headed to Honeymoon Island where we enjoyed the “usual suspects” including many Ospreys. We are fascinated with herons attempting to eat large prey and watched a juvenile Little Blue Heron struggle with a large frog.  Before we could see how this story would end, a biker came along and the heron flew off with his frog.  We hoped that the frog made a good lunch.

It was time to head home on Monday morning, but my adventures were not quite yet over.  My plan was to stay in Hardeeville and bird at Savannah NWR on Tuesday morning.  As I passed the turn-off for Tybee Island, I impulsively decided try for the Saltmarsh Sparrow at Ft. Pulaski.  I called Sandy Beasley that evening and she gave me very detailed directions to where she had seen the sparrows earlier in the month.  There would be a high tide at 6:41 AM, so I decided to go for it.

I arrived at 7:30 AM and was disappointed to find much vegetation visible in the marsh.  The birds could be anywhere and I was afraid that I had missed them.  With a little patience, though, I did find the birds and got a great look at one Saltmarsh Sparrow only a foot from the log that Sandy had described.  I was thrilled to get a life bird, but greedy for more birds, continued on to Savannah NWR.

Savannah NWR is one of my favorite places and I stayed from 9:30 AM until after 3:00 PM.  I “should” have left for home much earlier, but by staying so late my last bird of the trip was a really good one – a White-winged Scoter near the end of the Laurel Hill drive.  A check of eBird records when I got home revealed only one other sighting in Savannah NWR and it was over six years ago.


I arrived safely home, very tired but grateful for the wonderful birds that I had seen and especially thankful for my loving family and friends.

White-winged Scoter

White-winged Scoter – Savannah NWR Laurel Hill drive

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