Monthly Archives: March 2018

The biggest, loudest woodpeckers

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I nominate this Pileated Woodpecker for Best in Crest. Look at that red blaze of glory!

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I spotted a pair of pileateds in a live oak tree this morning about a block from home. Actually, I heard them first. You can just barely see the red cheek stripe on this bird, which means it’s the male.

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Loud banging away at the bark, looking for breakfast.

  • The Pileated Woodpecker digs characteristically rectangular holes in trees to find ants. These excavations can be so broad and deep that they can cause small trees to break in half.

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The light was just right to get some nice zoom shots. The woodpeckers didn’t seem to care I was standing under their tree.

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The Pileated Woodpecker is one of the biggest, most striking forest birds on the continent. It’s nearly the size of a crow, black with bold white stripes down the neck and a flaming-red crest. Look (and listen) for Pileated Woodpeckers whacking at dead trees and fallen logs in search of their main prey, carpenter ants, leaving unique rectangular holes in the wood.

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On my way back from a walk to the end of the peninsula, I found them spiraling up a palm tree.

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Wish that pic was in focus, but it still shows the amazing wings, feathers, bold colors of this bird.

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Here you can see the two stiffened tail feathers that help prop the bird and provide extra support.

I see at least two of these woodpeckers regularly near our Florida home but somehow have never photographed and blogged them. I would see them in New Hampshire, but rarely. Check that off the list!

That is 75 birds I have seen, photographed, IDed, learned about and blogged so far in Florida. My New Hampshire “backyard” list was 64. My 2018 list (which so far includes Florida and Curacao) is up to 44.

Haney Creek list

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Green Heron!

Not an uncommon bird, but hard to spot. This is my first sighting since we moved to Florida.

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I went for a walk at Haney Creek yesterday late morning. I kept track of the birds I saw and heard and posted an eBird checklist for the first time in a while.

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The first to greet me: a couple of Gray Catbirds.

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Meow.

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Next, a non-bird.

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A slow-moving Gopher Tortoise was grazing at the edge of the path.

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On the fence at the dog run, an Eastern Phoebe.

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“Phoebe!” it said, helpfully.

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I expected to see more wading birds in the wetlands but only came up with this immature Little Blue Heron.

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That is a school just beyond the wetlands.

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The Little Blue is starting to get its adult colors.

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Why do they start off white and turn slaty blue-gray? I don’t know.

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On the hunt.

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Mirror, mirror.

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Last time I was at the dog park at Haney Creek (two days before), there were a pair of Sandhill Cranes and a pair of Great Egrets having a turf battle. I did not have my camera. I was hoping to see them this day but no luck.

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Next I walked a trail through sand pine scrub.

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There were little birds calling but I only got a good look at a few, including this Yellow-rumped Warbler.

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There have been a ton of butterbutts around this winter. I’m almost getting sick of them.

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More info on Florida sand pine scrub, an endangered subtropical forest ecoregion.

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Another gopher tortoise out for a stroll.

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Finally an animal that can’t outrun me, or fly away.

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Lots of Northern Cardinals around.

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I think it’s nesting season for them.

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Chestnut cap helps identify this (out of focus) Palm Warbler.

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Who doesn’t love a Green Heron??

One more Troupial

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They feed birds a little differently in Curacao. This Venezualan Troupial is eating sugar crystals and drinking sugar water at the Hemingway Beach Bar.

We visited Curacao a month ago but I had these last few photos on my desktop and meant to post them, so here we go.

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A fantastic bird.

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And nearby, a fantastic beast. This iguana watched us eat lunch.

More on the Venezuelan Troupial at Neotropical Birds Online.

The three troupial species have in the past all been lumped under one species. However, the Venezuelan Troupial is the largest and in some ways the visually most unusual of all orioles. It is in shape a big and very bulky oriole with a large and long bill. It has thick and strong legs as well as a well developed long and broad tail. In some ways it looks like an Oriole trying to be a Cacique! The body is largely bright orange, with a black back, black tail and a black hood. The wings have a very big white wing stripe that is noticeable on the perched bird. The head has an odd adornment for an oriole, a patch of bare blue skin behind the eye, also unusual is that the eye is yellow.

Catbirds are songbirds

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Gray Catbird perches on the birdbath behind Audubon of Martin County yesterday at the Possum Long Nature Preserve in Stuart, FL.

I am still learning year-round vs. winter residents. Looks like catbirds are snowbirds in Florida.

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Resident along the Atlantic Coast; otherwise migratory. Catbirds from across North America spend winters along the Gulf Coast from Florida through Texas and all the way down Central America and the Caribbean.

They would arrive at our old house in coastal New Hampshire in early May, when tree flowers were blooming and insects were out. Contrary to popular opinion they were not shy. But I did serve them a fine feast at the feeders.

Scroll down for catbird photos from days of yore: GRAY CATBIRD – Amy’s Birds.

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Catbirds are mimids, members of the Mimidae family which includes mockingbirds and thrashers, notable for their vocalizations and ability to mimic other birds and outdoor sounds.

Yesterday I attended an Audubon class on Songbirds and Woodpeckers. Catbirds are songbirds or, more scientifically, Passeriformes or perching birds. Of the 10,000 species of birds in the world, about half of them are “songbirds” possessing the vocal cords and brains that allow them to sing, not just vocalize or call.

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From Cornell Lab Bird Academy: How and Why Birds Sing.

I went outside to get the Sunday paper during this morning’s dawn chorus and heard and saw two noisy catbirds in the bushes across the street.

If I could understand the language of the birds, I might hear them saying: “Write about us, write about us! We are leaving soon to fly north for the summer. See you next fall.”

Bird Island from a boat

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Roseate Spoonbill on Bird Island yesterday.

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Must look good for breeding season.

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Great Blue Heron.

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Big feet on that bird.

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We borrowed a boat from our boat club in Manatee Pocket yesterday and took a ride up the Indian River Lagoon to the rookery just off Sewall’s Point known as Bird Island.

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It is Wood Stork nesting season. They appear to still be building nests. I have not seen chicks yet.

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The Snowy Egrets are in breeding plumage and acting flirty.

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Showing off.

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I have never seen them like this.

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Always surprising the variety of breeds sharing space on this island.

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My sister and brother-in-law were in town and we all watched birds from the boat.

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Incoming Wood Stork.

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A rather skull-like head.

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Wood Stork with wings up.

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Roseate Spoonbill again.

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Lots of Brown Pelicans on the island now too.

Cedar waxwings are Florida snowbirds

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Cedar Waxwings visited the live oak tree across the street from our house in Sewall’s Point, Florida yesterday in the early afternoon.

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cedar Waxwing:

A treat to find in your binocular viewfield, the Cedar Waxwing is a silky, shiny collection of brown, gray, and lemon-yellow, accented with a subdued crest, rakish black mask, and brilliant-red wax droplets on the wing feathers.

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We spotted several large flocks flying over, plus this flock that had settled in for some perching and trilly whistling. Maybe 50 or 60 birds in this tree?

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I’ve only seen Cedar Waxwings in winter, when we lived in New Hampshire. They liked the berries from the winterberry holly growing wild around us.

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Cedar Waxwings are social birds that form large flocks and often nest in loose clusters of a dozen or so nests. When feeding on fruits, Cedar Waxwings pluck them one by one and swallow the entire thing at once. They typically feed while perched on a twig, but they’re also good at grabbing berries while hovering briefly just below a bunch. When eating insects, waxwings either fly out from an exposed perch, or make long, zig-zagging flights over water.

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Notice that the bird on the left has an orange-tipped rather than yellow-tipped tail. What’s that all about? I don’t know.

During courtship, males and females hop towards each other, alternating back and forth and sometimes touching their bills together. Males often pass a small item like a fruit, insect, or flower petal, to the female. After taking the fruit, the female usually hops away and then returns giving back the item to the male. They repeat this a few times until, typically, the female eats the gift.

I saw a few of them do this. Charming!