Posts Tagged ‘Red-shouldered Hawk’

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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After five days of birding in southeast Florida, it was time to pick up Kitty in Naples on Friday, April 17. Several weeks before the trip, I learned about the American Flamingos that had been discovered several years ago in Stormwater Treatment Area 2 (STA 2) in Palm Beach County. This year, for the first time, birders were being allowed access to the area through the Audubon Society of the Everglades. Wild flamingos are difficult birds to see. Even if one is willing to brave the heat and mosquitoes, Snake Bight in no longer a reliable option. When the birds sporadically show up in the Everglades, a boat is usually required to get to them. So, the STA 2 birds represented a unique opportunity. The only problem was that space on the scheduled trips was limited and many more people wanted to see the birds than there were spaces available. We were on the waiting list for Saturday, April 18. We had been told that if we made the cut, we would be notified two days prior to the trip, but in my mind I had set the cut-off time as noon on Friday. Everything went smoothly on Friday morning. I picked Kitty up at noon and after a quick stop at Eagles Lakes Park, we headed north.

Eagles Lake Park, Naples, on my first visit in 2007.

Eagles Lake Park, Naples, on my first visit in 2007.

We planned to drive through central Florida and spend the night in Winter Haven. Kitty had a fabulous Everglades trip and I enjoyed hearing about it as we slowly made our way north. We stopped for a late lunch/early dinner at Beef O’Brady’s in Arcadia at about 4:00 PM. While waiting for our food to arrive, I checked my email and there it was – a message that we were in for the Flamingo trip! I was caught by surprise and disoriented about where we were and where the flamingos were. The exact location had been kept secret from us, but I knew that it was about 40 minutes from Clewiston. Kitty calmly looked as a map and simply said, “We can do it.” So, we quickly replied “Yes” we will be there, cancelled our motel reservations, made new reservations for the night, and headed east.

Our route on Friday

Our route on Friday

State Road 70 seemed familiar to me. I was pretty sure that this was where David and I had found our lifer Crested Caracaras back in 2008, so I suggested to Kitty that she look up Crested Caracara in the Peterson field guide. A short time later, Kitty found her own Caracara and then two more.

Crested Caracara from my January trip to Florida

Crested Caracara from my January trip to Florida

The next morning I went to breakfast at the Best Western in Clewiston and saw two people who looked like birders. So, I took a chance, walked over and said “Good morning. Are you birders?” Yes, they were. Bill and Lena from Corvallis, Oregon and I chatted a few minutes and then I hurried to get ready for the drive to STA 2. We arrived half an hour early, but were still car #7. Car-pooling is strictly enforced for these trips and we were happy to have two rather new birders ride with us. The leaders didn’t waste any time after approximately 60 people were checked in. We drove the 7 miles to the area where the flamingos were usually seen as fast at the dirt roads allowed. Before we even stopped, the leader announced on his walkie-talkie that he saw the birds. Next I heard “They’re flying.” But before my heart sank, “They are coming closer!” Five American Flamingos were then feeding so close that we could see them without binoculars. With a scope, the view was wonderful. Yet they were far enough that we didn’t disturb their feeding.  We enjoyed watching as they stood on one leg and stomped with the other foot to stir up food from the bottom of the shallow water. They completely submerged their heads under the water to feed. Fascinating details about Flamingo diet and feeding behavior can be found here, here, and here.  The group consisted of serious birders, casual nature lovers, and everyone in between. There was mutual acknowledgement that this was special and we all shared the joy of the experience.

American Flamingos at STA 2, Palm Beach County

American Flamingos at STA 2, Palm Beach County

The STA 2 trip lasted from 9:00 AM until 1:00 PM. We drove 20 miles on the dirt berms and enjoyed many other birds in addition to the flamingos – Black Skimmers, White Pelicans, Black-necked Stilts, and more. Seeing the flamingos would have been a wonderful end to the trip, but we were not quite ready to head for home. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge was our next destination and the Quality Inn in Titusville was the logical place to spend the night.  Early the next morning, I went to breakfast and who did I see? Yes, Bill and Lena from Oregon again! The four of us enjoyed breakfast together and then Kitty and I headed to Merritt Island. It was MUCH quieter than when I’d been there in January, but Kitty and I are both easily amused and never fail to find something interesting. That morning it was the Red-breasted Mergansers cruising with backs raised and heads under water so that they looked more like mammals than birds. Kitty speculated that the water was too shallow for diving and back home that theory was confirmed.

My life Red-breasted Merganser from Honeymoon Island in 2007.

My life Red-breasted Merganser from Honeymoon Island in 2007.

Our last stop of the trip was the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland. It’s a very nice facility with all the native raptors of Florida. We especially enjoyed close-up looks at the Kestrel and Merlin. It was hot and our energy was running a little low on this day 11 of our travels. So, happy and tired, we headed for home.

Red-shouldered Hawk, a common Florida raptor observed earlier in the trip in Everglades National Park.

Red-shouldered Hawk, a common Florida raptor observed earlier in the trip in Everglades National Park.

While nothing was as exotic as Asia or South America, this was one of my favorite trips ever. Sharing much of it with friends made it even better. Part of me will always be a Florida girl and I am excited to think about the adventures that still await me there.

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Red for the Red-shouldered Hawk.  Red for the color of the snake’s belly.  Red for the blood on the hawk’s foot.  Here’s the story.

I was in Florida visiting my step-daughters and their families for the holiday.  My step-daughter Debbie’s significant other, Jim, volunteered to go birding with me the day after Thanksgiving.  We started out early, but due to bad directions and spontaneous birding in unplanned locations, we arrived at Paynes Prairie’s La Chua trail at 11:00 AM.  It wasn’t particularly birdy at that time of day, but it was nice to be out on a beautiful unseasonably warm late fall day.

Between the sinkhole and the tower, someone told us that there was a hawk in the ditch by the path.  Jim quickly saw the bird and it allowed us to approach within about 25 feet.  We enjoyed close looks at this beautiful bird for 10 minutes before it dropped to the ground and thrashed wildly.  It quickly became apparent what had happened when we saw the snake.  The hawk soon stopped thrashing and sat on the ground, its legs and feet thrust forward with the snake firmly grasped in its talons.  The snake, which appeared to be about 3 feet long, writhed and flipped itself around hitting the hawk with its tail, but it was subdued within 5 minutes or so and we saw no more movement from it after about 10 minutes.  The hawk did not appear to kill the snake using any particular method; he just started eating it beginning with the head.  Jim and I were the only ones present for the initial attack, but a crowd of more than 30 people quickly gathered.  Jim had my scope on the hawk and snake and we shared the close-up view with others in the crowd.  Someone identified the snake as a Florida water snake, a Nerodia, but in my excitement over the hawk, I forgot to pay close attention to the snake so that I could identify it to species.  Since then I’ve learned that there are 3 Nerodia species on the Paynes Prairie snake list.  Amazingly, the hawk tolerated all the attention for 20-30 minutes before it finally drug its lunch to the other side of the ditch and into the weeds.

A little research into the diet of Red-shouldered Hawks reveals that snakes are common prey.  According to Kenn Kaufman in “Lives of North American Birds”:

“Diet: Includes small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds.  Diet varies with region and season.  Main items often mammals such as voles and chipmunks, at other times frogs and toads; may eat many crayfish in some areas.  Also eats snakes, small birds, mice, large insects, occasionally fish, rarely carrion.”

This eHow article elaborates on the seasonal diet differences:

“The menu of the red-shouldered hawk changes from winter to summer. In the colder months the hawk hunts and eats warm-blooded prey such as small mammals and other birds. However, the bird prefers to eat cold-blooded creatures like crayfish, bugs, frogs, and snakes when the opportunity presents itself in the hot days of summer.”

And, finally, Wingmasters suggests that snakes are an apparent favorite food of Red-shouldered Hawks.

“In fact, red-shoulders may have a more varied diet than any other North American raptor. Just about everything alive is on the menu, from insects, spiders, crustaceans and fish up to mammals the size of young rabbits and squirrels. Reptiles and amphibians are frequently eaten, with snakes an apparent favorite.”

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