Cuckoo!

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I have to use this terrible photo because I only got two pics of this weird bird that turns out to be a Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

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When I saw it flying to this perch yesterday morning I thought it was a small hawk. When I downloaded the pics and saw the bill and tail, I went right to the experts on What’s This Bird. A couple of them IDed it in several seconds.

Yellow-billed Cuckoos are slender, long-tailed birds that manage to stay well hidden in deciduous woodlands. They usually sit stock still, even hunching their shoulders to conceal their crisp white underparts, as they hunt for large caterpillars. Bold white spots on the tail’s underside are often the most visible feature on a shaded perch. Fortunately, their drawn-out, knocking call is very distinctive.

Uh-oh, fish crow

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While I was paying attention to warblers, this local Fish Crow flew onto a nearby tree.

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It gave the characteristic nasal call that I think sounds like Uh oh.

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It flew down to the street next to me and pecked at something in the road.

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Then it flew onto a cabbage palm right in front of me. I was beginning to get the feeling the crow was putting on a performance for this observer.

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It stepped or flapped from one boot jack perch to another, probing with its beak.

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I hardly zoomed in at all, this bird was so close.

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Such glossy black feathers.

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What was the attraction in there?

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The crow pulled out tufts of straw-like material and dropped the tufts on the ground.

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I’ve read that Fish Crows “cache” food for later. Was this a cache? Or was it looking for new, not stored food?

Like most of its relatives, Fish Crows will eat almost anything, including carrion, trash, nestlings and eggs of other birds, berries, fruit, and grain, and any items they can steal from other birds. Their association with water leads them to eat crabs, marine invertebrates, and turtle eggs more than other crows.

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Fish Crows, like other corvids (crows and jays), are intelligent, curious, social animals. Breeding pairs form in the summer, but in winter they gather into flocks of hundreds to thousands. Young Fish Crows, like other crow species, often play with objects that they find—one was seen hanging upside down and swinging from a weeping willow branch. Fish Crows join together (and may join American Crows) to mob hawks and other predators including raccoons, owls, and humans, driving them away.

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The crows are paired off all around Sewall’s Point now, no longer in big winter flocks. I see them every day. Last week I went for a walk on trash day and saw that the crows had been cleverly scavenging the weaker cans and bags, making little messes here and there.

Sunset warblers

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Warblers persist. This one is a female Cape May. I know that thanks to the help of members of What’s This Bird on Facebook.

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Setting sun, leafless tree, warbler holding still… perfect conditions for the amateur photographer with a not-very-expensive superzoom camera.

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Here’s a new warbler for me, a Blackpoll.

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Males get a jaunty black cap in breeding season.

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There’s something very special about these warblers

Blackpoll Warblers are long-distance athletes and they hold the record for the longest overwater flight for a songbird. During the fall, these half-ounce warblers fly nonstop for up to 3 days, covering on average over 1,800 miles over the Atlantic Ocean to reach their wintering grounds in Puerto Rico, the Lesser Antilles, and northern South America. Such a journey requires that they eat enough before they leave to double their body mass.

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And here’s another female Cape May, practically glowing in the warm sunset of spring in Florida.

When the warblers were in town

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Wednesday morning I went out with my camera to see if the warblers that stopped over after the storms on Tuesday were still here. First, a cardinal in our driveway reminded me that resident birds are special too.

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Mourning dove on a morning walk through leaf litter.

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Red-bellied Woodpecker was dipping his beak into a giant white bird-of-paradise flower… for a drink of water? for insects?

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Black-throated Blue Warbler, a bird-photo first for me!

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A uniquely colored, midnight-blue bird of tangled understories, the male Black-throated Blue Warbler sings a relaxed, buzzy I-am-so-la-zee on warm summer days in Eastern hardwood forests. He’s aptly named, with a midnight blue back, sharp white belly, and black throat. The olive-brown females, while not as dramatically marked as the males, have a unique white square on the wing that readily separates them from other female warblers. This warbler breeds in the East and spends the winter in the Caribbean.

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Black-throated Blue in morning sun. Oh, you beauty.

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Another resident made an appearance on our fence, a Carolina Wren.

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In the banyan, a flash of color that can only be an American Redstart.

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Strike a redstart pose.

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Northern Parula, also a photo first for me.

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An acrobat.

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A small warbler of the upper canopy, the Northern Parula flutters at the edges of branches plucking insects. This bluish gray warbler with yellow highlights breeds in forests laden with Spanish moss or beard lichens, from Florida to the boreal forest, and it’s sure to give you “warbler neck.” It hops through branches bursting with a rising buzzy trill that pinches off at the end. Its white eye crescents, chestnut breast band, and yellow-green patch on the back set it apart from other warblers.

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I think this is a female or immature male Cape May Warbler.

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A few blocks from home, this big tree, banyan or strangler fig, was full of warblers.

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Northern Parula.

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  • Before this species received the name Northern Parula (a diminutive form of parus, meaning little titmouse), Mark Catesby, an English naturalist, called it a “finch creeper” and John James Audubon and Alexander Wilson called it a “blue yellow-backed warbler.”

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This Cape May Warbler was a bit disheveled. Molting?

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Like a teenager who just rolled out of bed.

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Northern Parula-palooza.

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Cape May.

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N.P.

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Cape May in a magnolia.

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Another Black-throated Blue Warbler.

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B-t B.

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That was a fine hour of bird watching.

Little Blue breakfast

I went out with my camera to get warblers this morning, and I got them, but there were all kinds of other birds doing cool bird things. Just too many awesome avians!

Here is one, a Little Blue Heron walking and stalking in a neighbor’s driveway. The photos pretty much tell the story.

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After a thunderstorm, birds

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Black-and-white Warbler was one of a mixed flock of presumably migrating warblers that arrived in our neighborhood big trees yesterday afternoon after strong thunderstorms and even a tornado warning in central Martin County.

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They remind me of nuthatches or creepers the way they spiral around and up and down trees, searching for insects in the bark.

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Audubon Field Guide: Black-and-white Warbler

This bird is often a favorite warbler for beginning birders, because it is easy to see and easy to recognize. It was once known as the “Black-and-white Creeper,” a name that describes its behavior quite well. Like a nuthatch or creeper (and unlike other warblers), it climbs about on the trunks and major limbs of trees, seeking insects in the bark crevices.

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Northern Cardinal stopped by to see what all the fuss was about.

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology…

The Black-and-white Warbler is the only member of the genus Mniotilta. The genus name means “moss-plucking,” a reference to its habit of probing bark and moss for insects.

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These birds are boldly striped in black and white. Their black wings are highlighted by two wide, white wing bars. Adult males have more obvious black streaking, particularly on the underparts and the cheek. Females (especially immatures) are paler, with less streaking and usually a wash of buff on the flanks. The undertail coverts have distinctive large black spots.

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Black-and-white Warblers typically use deciduous forests and mixed forests of deciduous trees and conifers. They can be found in many habitats during migration, especially woodlots and forests in riparian settings. On their tropical wintering grounds Black-and-white Warblers use an immense range of habitats, including lawns, gardens, and other urban settings, fruit orchards, shade-coffee plantations, wetlands, mangroves, and all types of forests.

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I was able to get quite a few decent photos. They move a lot, but a little slower than other warblers, with more hopping than flying.

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Black-and-white Warblers eat mostly insects. Moth and butterfly larvae form the bulk of their diet during spring migration and throughout the breeding season. Other arthropod prey includes ants, flies, spiders, click and leaf beetles, wood-borers, leafhoppers, and weevils.

Tidy up that tree for us, thanks!

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Also close by the Black-and-whites were a few American Redstarts. Harder to get photos of them!

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Now that is not a bird I see every day! Must get out with my camera this morning and see what else is in town.

Beach walk with Willet

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Willet at Chastain Beach, Stuart, Florida a couple of days ago.

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Willets seem to be here on South Hutchinson Island year round. They are usually alone when I see them.

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Feeding both during the day and at night, Willets take most of their prey from the surface, using their sensitive bill tip to grab up worms, snails, and insects. They also probe for sand crabs and other prey on mudflats and beaches, and take shellfish and small fiddler crabs from rocky shorelines. You’ll usually see them on wetted shorelines or wading close to the water’s edge, but occasionally Willets paddle in shallow waters to chase down small fish and crabs.

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Pretty feathers.

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One Willet and one beachcomber.

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Chastain Beach.

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Willet alone.

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A short walk south, at Bathtub Reef Beach (closed now for renourishment and repairs) a Great Egret was fishing out by the reef.

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Rough seas offshore, calm water behind the reef.

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Nearby, a Snowy Egret.

Warblers and tanager in town

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When I saw these little birds a couple of blocks from home last night, I went back and got my camera.

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Warblers, I guessed, stopping in delicious Sewall’s Point on their way north. Delicious because we have lots of mature vegetation, fruiting and flowering trees and shrubs, and tasty little bugs.

Feed the birds… with habitat!

At home I reviewed the pics and decided these were Cape May Warblers, a first for me!

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This one is a female. There were four birds in this tree, flying out now and then to nab a tiny insect.

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Setophaga tigrina, their name means “moth-eating tiger-striped.”

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The Cape May Warbler breeds across the boreal forest of Canada and the northern United States, where the fortunes of its populations are largely tied to the availability of spruce budworms, its preferred food. Striking in appearance but poorly understood, the species spends its winters in the West Indies, collecting nectar with its unique curled, semitubular tongue.

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A little further north on River Road, I spotted a red bird near the top of a fruiting tree (ficus?) It was not a cardinal.

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Photos not great, but good enough to post on the Facebook group “What’s This Bird” and get an ID: a male Summer Tanager, his plumage changing from non-breeding to breeding colors. Also a first for me, what an evening!

The only completely red bird in North America, the strawberry-colored male Summer Tanager is an eye-catching sight against the green leaves of the forest canopy. The mustard-yellow female is harder to spot, though both sexes have a very distinctive chuckling call note. Fairly common during the summer, these birds migrate as far as the middle of South America each winter. All year long they specialize in catching bees and wasps on the wing, somehow avoiding being stung by their catches.

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Summer Tanagers specialize on bees and wasps on both their breeding and wintering ranges. They also eat other aerial and terrestrial invertebrates—such as spiders, cicadas, beetles, ants, termites, grasshoppers, flies, moths, and bugs—as well as fruits such as mulberries, blackberries, pokeweed, Cecropia, citrus, and bananas. They capture flying insects during short sallies, carrying their prey back and beating it repeatedly against the perch. They glean terrestrial insects from the leaves and bark of trees and shrubs. To harvest fruit, they may hover and pluck individual fruits, or glean from a perched position.

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That red color in the setting sun! There were a few Cape Mays in this tree too.

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I should have flicked over from autofocus to manual focus, but I was so worried it would fly off while I looked down.

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Soon this bird will be red all over.

These are my 84th and 85th Florida birds and 63rd and 64th 2018 birds.

Glossy Ibis

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Glossy Ibis in a Port St. Lucie yard, spotted on Friday, driving home from the botanical garden.

I don’t see many glossies out by the coast. The White Ibis are much more common around us.

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There are three species of ibis in North America. Apparently it’s easy to confuse Glossy Ibis with the brown White-faced Ibis (but not with the all-white White Ibis, of course). I’m going with Glossy, though, since we are not in the area for White-faced. More on ID from Audubon.org…

Birdist Rule #83: Identify Your First Ibis

Beware: We have three species, and two of them can be very confusing.

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Not confusing: White Ibis crossing the street in my neighborhood. I see lots of these birds, pretty much every day. Starting with their bills, ibises seem to be made of gentle curves.

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Because I don’t see many Glossy Ibis, I thought they were uncommon. Well, in fact they are the most widespread species of Ibis on the planet.

(It is impossible to learn what you think you already know. I got that from Epictetus, the Greek Stoic philosopher, and it might be my favorite quote. Applicable to so many situations.)

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Audubon Field Guide…

Flocks of Glossy Ibises wade in the shallows of eastern marshes, probing for food with their sickle-shaped bills. Widespread in the Old World, the species is found in the New World mainly in the West Indies and along our Atlantic Coast, especially Florida, where it was quite scarce as recently as the 1930s. It may have invaded within the last few centuries, riding the trade winds across from West Africa to the Caribbean.

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Ibis hieroglyph, Edfu Temple of Horus.

There are 29 species of Ibis (Theskiornithidae) in the world, including the African sacred ibis that was venerated in Ancient Egypt. It was associated with the ibis-headed god Thoth, whose domain was the moon, magic, mathematics, measurement, time and writing.

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An Egyptian bronze and wood ibis coffin, circa 747-656 B.C., Christie’s.

He served as a mediating power, especially between good and evil, making sure neither had a decisive victory over the other. He also served as scribe of the gods, credited with the invention of writing and alphabets (i.e. hieroglyphs) themselves. In the underworld, Duat, he appeared as an ape, A’an, the god of equilibrium, who reported when the scales weighing the deceased’s heart against the feather, representing the principle of Ma’at, was exactly even.

The ancient Egyptians regarded Thoth as One, self-begotten, and self-produced. He was the master of both physical and moral (i.e. divine) law, making proper use of Ma’at. He is credited with making the calculations for the establishment of the heavens, stars, Earth, and everything in them. Compare this to how his feminine counterpart, Ma’at was the force which maintained the Universe. He is said to direct the motions of the heavenly bodies. Without his words, the Egyptians believed, the gods would not exist. His power was unlimited in the Underworld and rivalled that of Ra and Osiris.

The Egyptians credited him as the author of all works of science, religion, philosophy, and magic. The Greeks further declared him the inventor of astronomy, astrology, the science of numbers, mathematics, geometry, land surveying, medicine, botany, theology, civilized government, the alphabet, reading, writing, and oratory. They further claimed he was the true author of every work of every branch of knowledge, human and divine.

That’s some bird god.     maat-feather.jpg