Monday, December 23, 2013

Week 51

20 Dec 2013

Now this was funny.

Our team on the Zellwood-Mount Dora Christmas Bird Count noticed some commotion in the canal to our left inside the Lake Apopka area.  It turns out there were two River Otters that proceeded to swim away behind us.

Then, about 50 meters later, the two--one larger, one smaller--got out of the water, ran up the bank then ran across the road we were on, ran down the bank to the canal on the opposite side which was on our original right.

The larger one, however was not done.  He must have said something like, "Look, son, stay here and just watch me.  I'll show you how we entertain these humans."

Then, the larger otter ran up the bank onto an impoundment road and .....

..... and proceeded to act like it was in an Olympic trial for the 100 meter dash.  Without stopping, this otter .....

..... ran what had to be 100 meters from 50 meters away to 50 meters in front of us, then without pause, ran down from the dike road into the canal on our right.

For those of you familiar with Lake Apopka, at its closest point, the otter was only the distance away of the width of the canal then up the bank so it was quite close.

Why it did this, who knows, but all of us who saw it would like to think it simply wanted to show off and provide some entertainment for the humans.

A female Vermilion Flycatcher was seen also, but try as we did, we couldn't find the Ash-throated Flycatcher, although five of them were seen in an area nearby but not in our zone.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Week 48

28 Nov 2013, Lust Road near Lake Apopka

This good looking bird isn't so solitary and isn't so secretive, two words often used to describe this species by the authors of bird guides.  Looking on eBird to see what other birders are reporting, a number of them have seen 10 or more this season at a given spot--that is not too solitary or secretive, is it.   Maybe they just like to party while in Florida and do the ghost act up north in breeding areas.

My telephoto lens could not get all the Grasshopper Sparrows in one image but in addition to these three, there were six others (two directly above these three) nearby along with five Vesper Sparrows.

Close-up of Grasshopper Sparrow

Eastern X Krider's Red-tailed Hawk

Talk about a look-a-like, if you have the book Hawks in Flight, 2nd edition, (Dunne, Sibley and Clayton) and look at the photo at the bottom of page 36, that adult Fuertes's Red-tailed Hawk looks exactly like the image below taken today on Lust Road near Lake Apopka:

There is no belly band and no dark markings that normally appear on the underwings; the patagium marks and the comma are weaker than typical for an Eastern.  Two more photos are below.

But ......... as it turns out, it is not a Fuertes's Red-tailed Hawk, despite the look-a-like, but according to two prominent experts, it is an Eastern X Krider's Red-tailed Hawk.  The Red-tailed Hawk has 12 subspecies; some experts accept 16 subspecies.  When you combine the not so uncommon leucism that appears in Red-tails along with subspecies that also vary, you get a grab bag of possibilities with some Red-tails. 

Just recently, a Red-tailed Hawk with Krider's features has appeared both at Lake Apopka (Bob Sander's group; not sure if it is this same hawk) and in Brevard County, reported by Mitchell Harris. 

Here is another look, and below, a topside view.

Shadows hide some of the tail detail and the head, but there is some white areas in the head (better seen in the top two images), and the tail here is white at the base and pinkish at the distal end.  Red-tailed Hawks vary so much and have so many subspecies that could migrate into our area that it always pays to look closely when you see this species--you just might find an atypical Red-tail.

Compare the above images to the typical Eastern Red-tailed Hawk below:

This is the typical looking Eastern Red-tailed Hawk, a juvenile.  Compare the markings here to the hawk images above.

My first Eastern Palm Warbler of the season also appeared on Lust Road.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Week 43

23 Oct 2013

Good birding tomorrow?


At 1100pm, this Jacksonville radar is an example of what the Melbourne radar also is showing--the yellows and orange/reddish are birds in the air.  The wind speed is 5mph in Jax from the WNW so the colors are showing objects moving with a southerly component at 15-30 mph.  That ain't dust and smoke, folks (that moves at the same speed as the wind)--that means powered flight.


This is a reflectivity image showing birds in the air--the light, medium and dark blue.  The green is moisture and the browns are likely smog and dust.

NATIONAL REFLECTIVITY at 1100pm 23 Oct 2013

Taken together, and the fact there are cold fronts moving through north of us, means we could have some good birding Thursday and Friday, and there is a chance of some western vagrants arriving.

Mariel and Angel Abreu and their Badbirdz Reloaded website (link below) are much more experienced reading the radar, as are some of the listserv birders, but by the looks of things, we could have some interesting birding in the next few days.

Badbirdz Reloaded

UPDATE ... On Thursday, October 24, 2013 1:21 PM, Bob Richter wrote:
(excerpt) "Over the past hour approximately 10,000 Turkey Vultures have passed over my location several miles southwest of downtown Jacksonville."  This was posted on the Florida-L listserv.

I responded to this post:

"At 300pm on Lust Road near LANSRA, I saw a kettle of 140 Turkey Vultures with a few Anhingas mixed in.
As soon as the birds at the top of the kettle started peeling off for the next thermal, I glanced back and there was an equally large kettle to the north.  I then started scanning the skies and saw at least two other kettles further north, each spaced about 1/4 mile apart.
I had to leave but wish I could have stayed to see how extensive these kettles stretched out.  It wasn't anywhere near the number Bob saw but still impressive.  Based on Bob's number, I'll be looking tomorrow in hopes of seeing this huge movement."

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Week 41 Florida Keys Hawkwatch

7 Oct 2013 to 12 Oct 2013

The first part of my annual trek to the Florida Keys Hawkwatch was very exciting, as is usual for this fabulous venue.  I'll be going back in a short time for round two.

On 8 October, we had a fallout occur after some weather moved through.  Between 200 to 300pm, the weather system also brought a very large number of songbirds.  114 Peregrine Falcons were counted after 200pm and in the sky with them were thousands of songbirds.

I witnessed numerous songbirds being attacked in the air, including a Peregrine Falcon that stooped on a songbird, did a complete loop head on in relation to me, then stooped a gain after completing the loop.

When the day's counting was over, Rafael, Colleen and I did a short walk around the site, and in a small plot of land no bigger than the average suburban homesite, we had 16 warbler species, a flycatcher, a Baltimore Oriole, two grosbeak species, vireos, et al.

One of the many birds we saw after the fallout, a Baltimore Oriole.

Hey, where's my chestnut?  This Chestnut-sided Warbler is a hatch year female, lacking the chestnut stripe on its side that males and adults have.  This is one of the 16 warbler species we saw in a small area, most of them in one tree.

Green Iguana in the green.

No easy feeding for this guy.  He just loved hovering while eating.

Spectacular air show put on by a Short-tailed Hawk

For three days during this week at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch, a Short-tailed Hawk put on an incredible display of kiting, parachuting and stooping.  We were fortunate to have one remain close and it rewarded us with an air show for the ages.
In this image, it is soaring.  When kiting, this raptor is near motionless in the sky.  We watched it kite then we thrilled to see it "parachute" -- descending in a slow fall.
Here, the hawk is parachuting,  legs hanging down with talons ready to go to work, and falling slowly toward its prey.  In an instant, it will then fold its wings back like a Peregrine Falcon and stoop on its prey. 

Week 40

5 October, 2013  Lake Apopka

Off in the distance, I give myself the "what the heck" ... what is it?  Then, for a second, I thought I was looking at a cobra. 

It turned out to be a Florida Cottonmouth.  From a distance, its wide head, and because it had its head raised into the air, gave the impression of a cobra.  I have gotten close to rattlesnakes to take images.  This is a species you don't mess with.

2 October, 2013  Wekiwa Springs State Park

A Gray Catbird deserves a special treat now and then, just like people do ...

I sometimes put some berries on top my vanilla ice cream.  This Catbird decided to put a dab of vanilla ice cream on top its berry.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Week 39

25 Sep 2013, Wekiwa Springs State Park

Birds are supposed to fly!!!

Tell that to this Short-tailed Hawk that hung motionless in the air.  This hawk went into a "kiting" position with wings in a soaring profile, tail slightly down and head down looking for its prey.  It stayed in this position for 60-75 seconds, then stooped ... diving on its prey at a very fast speed straight down.

This image and the image below were taken after its kiting and stoop.  It is too bad the sky was so gray and bright because these two images could have looked really good with a normal sky.

This is a rare species in the USA, somewhere around 200 breeding pairs.  Except for an outlier in AZ, this species only breeds in the USA in Florida.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Week 38

19 Sep 2013, Wekiwa Springs State Park

This tortoise looks big, but looks fool you with photos ...

This is a hatchling Gopher Tortoise.  It is about the size of a 50 cent piece and was right on the road leading to Sand Lake.  I moved it off the road and I hope it survives to adulthood.

Migration continues on ...

This Brown Thrasher is a year round resident in Central Florida but I saw many more than normal this week as migrants from up north move south into this area for the winter.

16 Sep 2023, Little Big Econ State Forest

Finally, no clutter ... no, not talking about the teenager's bedroom. 

After years of trying to get an American Redstart in a relatively clear frame without leaf and twig clutter, I finally got my chance.  Mary and Eli Schaperow and I were at the Little Big Econ State Forest when this male appeared. 

Ovenbirds were right on the trail and as we entered a clearing, we saw a flycatcher doing its flycatching thing of grabbing an insect in mid-air and returning to its same spot.

It was an Eastern Wood-Pewee.  We also had the rare dark morph Short-tailed Hawk do a fly-over.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Week 37

12 Sep 2013, Wekiwa Springs State Park

Here I am, sitting on a lawn chair at Wekiwa Springs SP, gazing up into the heavens looking for high altitude migrating raptors flying thousands of feet high.  A shadow zips by me followed by a woooosh and I am then staring at the rear end of what I thought was a Merlin flying no more than 15 feet above the ground--it went right over me.

As it neared a dead snag by the equestrian area, it spread its wings as it rose up to land and the wings were so long I said to myself, "Cool, another Peregrine".  I walked over to the equestrian area and got this photo:

I was surprised--it actually was a Merlin.   See that dragonfly buzzing overhead?  That's what this Merlin did to me.

A short time later, while looking at some Black Vultures, a dark morph Short-tailed Hawk entered the scene.

Look at the leading edge of the wings of this Short-tailed Hawk above.  See how smooth they are?  In the next picture below, the Short-tailed Hawk starts kiting and the alula extends out from the wing ...

You could not even see where the alula was in the first photo.  Like slats on an aircraft, the alula assists in providing lift when the raptor slows down to kite and when it lands.

This has been a great time for raptor watching here recently--a Peregrine Falcon migrating at high altitude, Bald Eagles, Red-shouldered Hawks plentiful, Red-tailed Hawks, a Cooper's Hawk the previous week, a migrating Merlin trying to take my head off, and a Short-tailed Hawk kiting right overhead.

There is nothing special about this location that draws raptors here.  It simply has some big open sky where you can see good distances.  No matter where you live, find some "big sky", some shade to keep you cooler, pack some cold drinks and snacks and go hawk watching during the next few weeks. 

Better yet, go to a real hawk watch site where raptors funnel through in concentrated numbers.  The closest site for many of you would be in the Keys--the season is Sept 15 to Nov 15.  I'll likely go to Hawk Mountain, PA for a while (the grandaddy of American hawk watch sites) then head down to the Keys at our Florida Keys Hawkwatch at Curry Hammock State Park.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

In-flight Field Marks of the Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk

10 Sep 2013, Lake Norris Conservation Area

In-flight Field Marks of the Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk
The two images below are of the same juvenile Red-tailed Hawk that I observed 10 Sep 2013 at the Lake Norris Conservation Area, Lake County, FL.  The terminology you hear and see is usually not mentioned in the typical field guides because field guides are designed to be brief.  This overview will mention some of the most common terms used when describing a Red-tailed Hawk; some terms apply to all birds.
Underside view:
CLICK TO ENLARGE; "X" in upper right to go back
A key field mark of the juvenile Red-tailed Hawk is how much darker the secondary flight feathers are compared to the primary flight feathers.  In clockwise rotation, p10 is the most forward primary feather, then you see where I noted where p6 is;  p1 is next to s1. 

Look closely at the entire s1 feather (and the rest of the secondary feathers) and you see the dark coloration compared to the primary feathers; compare closely p1 to s1 to see how the primaries and secondaries differ.  This is why there is a "window" or "panel" shown in the image below.  The ten primary feathers lack this dark coloration thus creating the wing panel or translucent window.  p10 though p6 may show dark tips but the base is still light.
The counting order is simply different with the secondaries.  Think of it as a rocket lifting off.  p10, p9, p8, ...p1, then s1, s2, s3 etc. as you get closer to the body of the bird  There is no zero.
In the image below, from the topside, you will see how this "translucent window" or "wing panel" appears.
The "terminal band" on the tail is 2 to 3 times wider than the rest of the thin dark bands on the juvenile.  Some authors may describe this as the "subterminal band", meaning the second to the last band (counting toward the tip of the tail).  The tip of the tail is white.  In some raptors or other birds, if this white edging is wide enough, it will be referred to as the terminal band and then this wider band in this image, in that case, may be referred to as the subterminal band.  No need to get confused here because in nearly all cases, they are simply referring to a wider band at the tip (or near the tip) of the tail.  The adult usually lacks the tail bands but often retains a line or thin dark subterminal band.  Tail banding is usually not seen in the field, even if clear in close-up photos.
The "patagial mark" is the dark bar on the patagium, as illustrated above.  Sibley's Field Guide refers to "the dark mark on leading edge of underwing".  This is the #1 field mark in nearly all subspecies of the Red-tailed Hawk.  If you see a patagial mark in Florida, you can rule out any other raptor with a high degree of confidence.  This mark is unique to the Red-tailed Hawk.  If it is not, then it is an anomaly. 

The streaking in the belly, the "belly band", is another key mark for the Eastern subspecies (certain subspecies it will be missing) but some other raptors can show some streaking here.  Usually, it is so prominent and contrasts with the clean white chest so much that it is the #2 key field mark for Eastern Red-tails.  The belly band is easier to see than the dark area on the patagium at a distance.

The white chest contrasts with the belly band in Eastern Red-tails.  Other Florida buteos usually show some streaking or spots on the chest.
Unlike the patagial mark, the "comma" is not unique to the Red-tailed Hawk.
Top-side view:

This is the same hawk as above but further away.  The "bulge" is often prominent in the Red-tailed Hawk, illustrated here by the third red line from the top.  This is a key mark.  Other Florida buteos don't show a prominent bulge.  If you note the first image from the underside, you really don't see this bulge well.  The hawk in this topside view is more into a soar with the "hand" or outer primaries pushed forward and that exaggerated the "bulge", something you will often see or hear when birders describe a Red-tailed Hawk.
Look how obvious the wing panel is, illustrated by the area between the top two red lines.  The Red-shouldered Hawk has a crescent shaped wing panel that is much smaller.  The juvenile Red-tailed Hawk has a large square shaped wing panel that, as you saw from the above image, is created by all ten primary feathers being lighter colored than the secondaries.

If you go to my Aug 21, 2013 blog post, I show a side-by-side view of an adult and juvenile Red-tailed Hawk and you can see where the adult lacks the wing panel.
Other topside marks:  The tail is not red because it is a juvenile.  The white area in the rump has thrown birders off, thinking they saw anything from a Golden Eagle to a Snail Kite to a Cooper's Hawk, to a Northern Harrier, et al.  This image shows the tips of the first four primaries turned up but that is not a diagnostic mark.  The Short-tailed Hawk more commonly shows upturned wing tips.

As a final note, new birders need to remember what a field guide is.  The key word is “field”—these guides are brief and small, designed to carry into the field so you do not get detailed descriptions and explanations of terms used.  That is what a desk reference is for or an online reference such as Birds of North America Online.  Hopefully, new birders picked up some tips here to not only help ID a Red-tailed Hawk but to know what some of this terminology means.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Week 36

8 Sep 2013, Rock Springs Run State Reserve, Lake County


My, what a big tail you have!
Juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk.

Coyote Ugly?  Only in movie titles.  Coyote nice-looking here.
Everybody says the coyotes are everywhere and numerous but I don't see them that often.  This one was close by today at mid-day in Rock Springs Run State Reserve.

2 Sep 2013, Black Bear Wilderness Area, Seminole County
"Look Mom, I have two bonus stripes."
Of the three five-lined skinks, the juvenile of the Broad-headed Skink can have seven lines like this one.  With a rainbow of colors, the juvenile is pretty attractive also.  The adult loses the rainbow.
2 Sep 2013, Wilson's Landing, Seminole County

The prettiest eyes in the animal kingdom.

If this Royal River Cruiser does not have the prettiest eyes, what does?  

Monday, August 26, 2013

Week 35

31 Aug 2013, Orlando Wetlands Park

It was a very good day for our monthly butterfly and dragonfly survey and for the next year we will be doing the survey at Orlando Wetlands, and that is a treat in itself.

This Dorantes Skipper, Urbanus dorantus, is listed as a vagrant in this area, more common in southern Florida.

This is an attractive species, the Long-tailed Skipper, with its gorgeous green and blue on the topside of the body.  The blue area is mostly in the shadows in this image but you can see the blue better in the next image ...

Also, notice how the lighting affects the color and pattern of the wings in these two photos, one shows it, one mostly hides it.

The butterflies are beautiful, however, they are also the prey of ...

... prey of spiders (the butterfly might be a Zarucco Duskywing).

... prey of Mantids.  Look closely.  The Mantid is eating right in the middle of the abdomen of the butterfly.  They camouflage themselves well.  What we think are small twigs can be Mantids.

... prey of dragonflies like this male Eastern Pondhawk.
If these butterflies are not being eaten now ...

... they soon will be; if this Cloudless Sulfur doesn't vacate the premises quickly, that big spider will soon make this butterfly victim #4.

30 Aug 2013, Merritt Island NWR

At Merritt Island NWR, on East Gator and Peacocks Pocket, the narrow trail road and its vegetation is all there is with water all around, so birds like this Loggerhead Shrike will perch in the trail shrubs there and sometimes your car is practically right next to them.  I took this photo out my car window.

This Wilson's Phalarope (center) is probably thinking, "Why am I the center of attention?"  It has four Yellowlegs sp. checking out the "different one" while the Dowitcher sp. (far right) could care less.

Look at that beautiful pruinose blue thorax on this male Seaside Dragonlet -- click the image to enlarge it.  Not all these males get this pruinosity.  Normally, they are all glossy black, but some of them get this pruinose overlay.

This is a very common species near the coast, the Marl Pennant.  I was so pleased that I had a clear background and got my best image yet of this species.

29 Aug 2013, Black Bear Wilderness Area

OK any of you bug experts out there.  What the heck is this thing?

Update ..... it is a Red-footed Cannibalfly

Usually, we try to ID a species.  In this case, I don't know what genus, what family, I don't even know what order this thing belongs to.  Grasshoppers have hind legs with a base near posterior of the thorax; this thing has its legs coming out way up front at the anterior end.  The wings are not as long as the abdomen.  Grasshoppers with wings usually have wings longer than their abdomen.  It seems to lack antennae but that may be a single antenna protruding from its face.  It flew from this twig to a nearby plant.

Update ... some experts informed me this is a "Robbery Fly".  The order is Diptera. The superfamily is Asiloidae.  The family is Asilidae.  Common name is "Red-footed Cannibalfly".  Thank you !!!

Camera shy birds ... have you ever tried to take the picture of somebody and they go running for cover.  Birds do it too.

Camera shy male Hooded Warbler

Camera Shy American Redstart (at least seven today)

Camera Shy Tufted Titmouse

I saw four black pigs being chased by what I thought was a Florida Black Bear.  It was actually momma pig and the size of this brute was amazing.  The baby pigs looked like adult pigs and momma looked like an SUV.  A Florida Black Bear would go running for cover if it saw this tank of a pig.

There was one Empidonax species again today but unlike yesterday when the Eastern Wood-Pewee vocalized, no such luck today.  I also saw what had to be a Cartharus thrush--it looked more brown tinged than rufous.  I did not even report it on my eBird report because I have no photo of it and species from that genus are not seen in central Florida in August.  It would be nice if we all could get photos of everything we see but that just will not happen.

I returned today to this location in hopes of again finding and photographing that male Prothonotary Warbler in stunning breeding blues.  I saw this species here in June of last year so I do think they breed here.  No luck today, but I did see one other Prothonotary Warbler (maybe two but the second one is a UFO).  Seven American Redstarts and three Black-and-white Warblers added to the migrants for today.

28 Aug 2013, Black Bear Wilderness Area

A male Prothonotary Warbler with the bluest of blue wings was my highlight today at Black Bear Wilderness Area in Seminole County.  What a stunning warbler it was.  I may just cancel my plans for tomorrow and return here to see if he is still there and try to get a photo worthy of this male's beauty.

An Eastern Wood-Pewee was the migrant of the day and American Redstarts were seen throughout the trail but not one male--all juveniles and females.  A Yellow-throated Vireo vocalized.  Dragonflies were patrolling the streams on both sides of the trail before it meets the Saint Johns River and Tawny Emperor, blues, swallowtails and a good group of butterflies were present.

The various habitats here are perfect for both the Barred Owl and this Red-shouldered Hawk.  Besides the Cypress Swamp, this location has Hydric Hammock, Floodplain Marsh, Floodplain Swamp and Mixed Hardwood Swamp.  I have seen bobcats and Florida Black Bear here; it is always a fun place to go to and seems active with wildlife most of the time.  In very close proximity to this location are Rock Springs Run State Park, Wilson's Landing, Seminole State Forest, Lower Wekiva Preserve State Park and the Markham Tract section of Wekiwa Springs State Park (an isolated section northeast of the main park).

I usually see Barred Owls on most trips to this location and today was no exception.  I imagine there are a lot of territorial fights among these two species, unless they made an agreement with each other to keep an eye out for the Great Horned Owls.

This raccoon and I ran into each other four times along the trail where it runs parallel with the Saint Johns River.  It would scamper off then reappear again further down the trail.

26 Aug 2013, Wekiwa Springs State Park

As I neared Wekiwa Springs State Park, I saw a buteo "soaring" in a way that practically had the hawk sky-writing its name with its characteristic flight style.  It is a stretch to call it soaring when it was stalling, kiting, stooping and once I pulled off the road and got my binoculars up, I confirmed it was a dark morph Short-tailed Hawk above the Seminole County section of the park.

In the main section of the park (Orange County), I saw either the same Short-tailed Hawk or another one along with three Red-shouldered Hawks and a Red-tailed Hawk.  Three Osprey were soaring at great heights--no fish up there, for sure, but the Osprey must like to just soar and enjoy their flights.   An Eastern Kingbird landed in a tree adjacent to the Sand Lake Parking Lot.

Predator and Prey ...

Here is the prey:

There seemed to be a lot of these Azalea Caterpillars (Datana major) crawling around, so ...

here comes the predator, the Fiery Caterpillar Hunter!!!

Calosoma scrutator

Gardeners should like this beetle because they like to dine on the Azalea Caterpillars.

I also saw a Pygmy Rattlesnake but I don't want to post an image because I am unsure if it was injured or not.  It looked fine but a long time passed by without it moving.

Update ... The Pygmy Rattlesnake died, a victim of a car or bicycle likely, according to a park staffer who found it after I did.