Carolina wren

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Can you find the little brown bird?

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Bingo!

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The Carolina Wren is beautifully camouflaged but actually kind of noisy, and that’s how I found it across the street from my house, yesterday, hopping around in the leaf litter.

In summer it can seem that every patch of woods in the eastern United States rings with the rolling song of the Carolina Wren. This shy bird can be hard to see, but it delivers an amazing number of decibels for its size.

I chatted with a neighbor a few blocks away last night, while out walking my dog. She said a fledgling wren hopped onto her shoulder while she was gardening yesterday, while one of its parents screamed at her from a few feet away.

The Carolina Wren creeps around vegetated areas and scoots up and down tree trunks in search of insects and fruit. It explores yards, garages, and woodpiles, sometimes nesting there. This wren often cocks its tail upward while foraging and holds it down when singing. Carolina Wrens defend their territories with constant singing; they aggressively scold and chase off intruders.

What’s black-and-white and blogged all over?

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Many Black-and-white Warblers in Sewall’s Point today!

I took a three-mile walk through the neighborhood with my camera and spotted these little birds in groups of three or more (probably many more, but they are small and hard to see) in seven or eight different large live oak and banyan trees.

I haven’t noticed them here before today, though the map shows that Florida is one of the places they winter… along with the Caribbean, Central and South America.

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I see from my blog archives that they were in our New Hampshire woods last year on May 9 and again with a bunch of other warblers on May 14. Reading the old posts makes me a bit nostalgic for our old home.

I suspect the birds I saw today are migrating north. Just like some of the snowbirds I talked to this morning at the dog park. I will be flying north in May to visit my daughters. I miss them!

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One of the earliest-arriving migrant warblers, the Black-and-white Warbler’s thin, squeaky song is one of the first signs that spring birding has sprung. This crisply striped bundle of black and white feathers creeps along tree trunks and branches like a nimble nuthatch, probing the bark for insects with its slightly downcurved bill.

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One of the big trees in our Tree City USA. Great places for insects and birds.

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It’s been a dry winter, which I guess is pretty typical for Florida with it’s wet/ dry season climate. But after the big rain on Sunday I’ve noticed more flying (biting) insects in the past couple of days. Are these bug-eating warblers following the bug bloom north?

April showers bring… ducks

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It rained and rained on Sunday and the drainage swale at the end of our street was a little pond on Monday.

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A pair of Mottled Ducks was happy about that.

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Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission…

Because the plumage of male and female mottled ducks is similar, the easiest way to tell them apart is by bill color. The male mottled duck has an olive green to yellow bill whereas the female has an orange to brown bill with dark blotches or dots.

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The female is keeping an eye on the skies.

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The Florida mottled duck, often called the Florida duck or Florida mallard, is a unique subspecies found only in peninsular Florida. This nonmigratory duck spends its entire life within the state’s brackish and freshwater marshes, ponds, lakes, rivers, canals, ditches, and mosquito impoundments on the east and west coasts and inland. Approximately 40 percent of the mottled duck’s diet consists of insects, snails, mollusks, crayfish and small fish. The remainder of its diet is composed of grass seeds, stems, and roots; seeds of other marsh plants; and bayberries.

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Bonus, on the walk back up the street I got a photo of a zebra longwing, Heliconius charithonia. Did a bird take a bite of this one?

The adult butterflies are unusual in feeding on pollen as well as on nectar; the pollen enables them to synthesize cyanogenic glycosides that make their bodies toxic to potential predators. Caterpillars feed on various species of passionflower, evading the plants’ defensive trichomes by biting them off or laying silk mats over them.

They are the state butterfly of Florida.

Boating near Bird Island

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Ahoy, a Magnificent Frigatebird. My husband loves these birds.

This one is immature, according to the ID photos on Cornell’s All About Birds.

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A Brown Pelican!

Boy, you don’t see many of those around here.  😉

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We borrowed a 21-foot center console fishing boat from our boat club down in Port Salerno. Radar our 20-month-old German Shepherd Dog came with us.

After trying a few fishing spots unsuccessfully, we pulled up on on a deserted island, swam the dog (he loves to fetch a ball), then we motored past Bird Island to see the sights.

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The sights included Roseate Spoonbills and I finally got a few photos.

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Pretty in pink! Here’s one with a Great Blue Heron. I spotted a total of three.

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Bird Island is a spoil island in the Indian River Lagoon, created years ago (1950s? 1960s?) from dredging the Intracoastal Waterway. Mangroves grew on it and birds began nesting here.

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A bizarre wading bird of the southern coasts, the Roseate Spoonbill uses its odd bill to strain small food items out of the water. Its bright pink coloring leads many Florida tourists to think they have seen a flamingo.

The spoonbill is Florida bird #53 for me.

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But the coolest thing was seeing baby Wood Storks!

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Just across the channel is the town of Sewall’s Point, Florida. This house is closest to Bird Island. If I lived there I’d be out on one of the balconies every day with binoculars… or maybe I’d even invest in a scope.

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Do not pester the birds. We didn’t.

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Radar was bird watching too.

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According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife North Florida Ecological Office…

The wood stork is a highly colonial species usually nesting in large rookeries and feeding in flocks.  Age at first breeding is 3 years but typically do so at 4.  Nesting periods vary geographically.  In South Florida, wood storks lay eggs as early as October and fledge in February or March.  However, in north and central Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, storks lay eggs from March to late May, with fledging occurring in July and August.  Nests are frequently located in the upper branches of large cypress trees or in mangroves on islands.  Several nests are usually located in each tree.  Wood storks have also nested in man-made structures.  Storks lay two to five eggs, and average two young fledged per successful nest under good conditions.

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Small fish from 1 to 6 inches long, especially topminnows and sunfish, provide this bird’s primary diet.  Wood storks capture their prey by a specialized technique known as grope-feeding or tacto-location. Feeding often occurs in water 6 to 10 inches deep, where a stork probes with the bill partly open.  When a fish touches the bill it quickly snaps shut.  The average response time of this reflex is 25 milliseconds, making it one of the fastest reflexes known in vertebrates.  Wood storks use thermals to soar as far as 80 miles from nesting to feeding areas.  Since thermals do not form in early morning, wood storks may arrive at feeding areas later than other wading bird species such as herons.  Energy requirements for a pair of nesting wood storks and their young is estimated at 443 pounds of fish for the breeding season (based on an average production of 2.25 fledglings per nest).

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A birdy place.

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A Wood Stork, Mycteria americana.

Birdwatching with my niece

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Birds are nesting on Bird Island, in the Indian River Lagoon, a few blocks and an open channel away from my home.

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My seven-year-old niece was visiting with her parents and little sister and one afternoon last week we went birding.

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She was into it.

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She liked the binoculars and learned to use them quickly.

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We could see Wood Storks with nesting material.

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So many large birds perching and nesting on top of the mangove trees.

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Pelicans, cormorants and egrets are there now too, with a few vultures waiting for an opportunity to dine.

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Clean up crew.

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Birds everywhere!

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Next we went to Sandsprit Park looking for parrots but didn’t find any. We did spot a big bird “fishing”.

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This Great Blue Heron was quite comfortable around a fisherman at the end of a dock.

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My niece was thrilled at the bird’s size and beauty.

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A Great Blue Heron is not something she sees often in her Philadelphia suburb.

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“He’s so pretty!”

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GBH: Largest of the North American herons with long legs, a sinuous neck, and thick, daggerlike bill. Head, chest, and wing plumes give a shaggy appearance.

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Big feet!

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We saw other birds in the park too, including this clever crow taking bags out of the trash and rolling them around to see if there was any food left in them.

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In Manatee Pocket, a pelican caught a fish.

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We drove to a neighborhood in Port Salerno near Pirate’s Cove where I had seen parrots a few times before and… bingo! Quaker Parrots, aka Monk Parakeets.

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“My goal is to see parrots this vacation,” my niece had told me a couple of days before. We high-fived each other.

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It may come as a surprise to see noisy, green-and-gray parrots racing through cities in the U.S. But Monk Parakeets, native to South America but long popular in the pet trade, established wild populations here in the 1960s. They are the only parrots to nest communally; dozens live together year-round in large, multifamily stick nests built in trees and on power poles.

We saw 8 or 10 flying around and they appeared to be nesting in a cabbage palm covered in viney vegetation.

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Monk Parakeets are very social, spending their whole lives living in bustling colonies of dozens of individuals. Every morning they leave their nests to forage, spending the day climbing through trees (sometimes using their beaks as a climbing aid) or dropping to the ground in search of food. At dusk they all gather back at the nests to roost, both during the breeding season and after it is over.

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Monk Parakeets were introduced to the U.S. in the 1960s via the release or escape of pet birds. Since then their numbers have grown and they now occur in several cities including San Diego, Phoenix, Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, New Orleans, Chicago, New York, Providence, Miami, and St. Petersburg. They are also numerous in their native South America. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 20 million, with 3% of these in the U.S. and none in Canada or Mexico. The species rates a 6 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Monk Parakeet is not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. Historically, most management efforts toward Monk Parakeets, both in the U.S. and in South America, have been directed at curbing their populations because of their reputation as an agricultural pest. As it turns out, their populations have persisted but have not spread, and in the U.S. there are no longer active programs to control their numbers.

I guess we have learned to live with these noisy, pretty little green birds.

Front yard birds

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I walked out the front door and a pair of Wood Ducks zipped past and landed in the strangler fig on the border of our front yard Friday morning.

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The male.

I went inside to get my camera and managed a couple of shots before they flew off.

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Then later that day the roof guys finished our new metal roof. When we came back from errands, my husband spotted a Little Blue Heron perched up there.

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Close up.

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Nice weathervane.

Lawn ornaments

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Some lawns have plastic pink flamingos.

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Others have Great Egrets.

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I see them sometimes when I’m out walking, and they’re out stalking.

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Egret crossing.

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Sewall’s Point is a nice place for birds.

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Walk this way.

Looking up

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This Prairie Warbler was singing a pretty song near my house this morning.

Song is a rapid series of ascending buzzes. Calls vary; most common is a “chek” note.

This is my first Prairie Warbler and my 50th Florida bird.

A tail-wagging yellow warbler with black streaks down its sides, the Prairie Warbler is found in scrubby fields and forests throughout the eastern and south-central United States, not on the prairies.

Go figure.

American Bird Conservancy…

Contrary to its name, the Prairie Warbler is a bird of scrubby fields, clearcuts, and open woods, where it can be located by its buzzy, ascending song, tail-pumping habit, and black-streaked yellow plumage. This species has a bold facial pattern that gives it a “spectacled” appearance.

Like other early successional species such as Golden-winged and Kirtland’s Warblers, Prairie Warbler numbers have declined due to habitat change. Along with other migratory birds, they also face threats ranging from collisions with glass to free-roaming cats.

A separate subspecies of Prairie Warbler is resident in Florida; these birds are slightly larger than migratory individuals and nest in mangroves.

From a Mass Audubon blog

Natives of more western states than Massachusetts might scoff at the scrubby clearings that we Easterners call “prairies,” but such areas provide perfect habitat for the Prairie Warbler. This species abhors forests, and breeds in shrubby clearings and only the most open woodlands. Both human-caused and natural disturbances have created plenty of Prairie Warbler breeding habitat in the Commonwealth over the past several centuries. However, as forests reassert themselves, Prairie Warblers stand to lose habitat as a result of this natural succession.

The ibis good life

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Morning walk yesterday and some White Ibis were still roosting from the night before. Lazy late risers!

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White Ibis is reading the Sunday paper and sipping coffee in bed.

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Moon and bird.

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As I type this on Monday morning, we are an hour and a half past the Spring Equinox so it’s officially SPRING.

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Across the street, more roosting ibises.

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A few blocks away, White ibises were coming down from their roosts and hitting the lawns. Lots of them.

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Breakfast time.

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Northern Mockingbird in a sunny spot.

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I met a boy walking a big Great Dane. He said, “There are a lot of birds around. I can hear more birds this morning than usual.”

“It’s spring!” I said.

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Another block or two and another flock of White Ibis having breakfast. Wish I had counted my grand total of Sunday morning Sewall’s Point White Ibis.

Ducks in a ditch

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I was walking to the beach this morning and I saw this little tucked-up duck by a drainage canal along Ocean Blvd, A1A on Hutchinson Island.

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Here’ s better look. I think it’s a Blue-Winged Teal.

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Pairs and small groups of this tiny dabbling duck inhabit shallow ponds and wetlands across much of North America. Blue-winged Teal are long distance migrants, with some birds heading all the way to South America for the winter. Therefore, they take off early on spring and fall migration, leaving their breeding grounds in the United States and Canada well before other species in the fall.

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See the little patch of blue?

Size & Shape: A small dabbling duck, a Blue-winged Teal is dwarfed by a Mallard and only a touch larger than a Green-winged Teal. Head is rounded and bill is on the large side.

Color Pattern: Breeding males are brown-bodied with dark speckling on the breast, slaty-blue head with a white crescent behind the bill, and a small white flank patch in front of their black rear. Females and eclipse males are a cold, patterned brown. In flight, they reveal a bold powder-blue patch on their upperwing coverts.

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The female Blue-Winged Teal was quite close by.

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Behavior: Pairs and small groups dabble and up-end to reach submerged vegetation. You’ll often find Blue-winged Teal with other species of dabbling ducks. They are often around the edges of ponds under vegetation, choosing a concealed spot to forage or rest.

Habitat: Look for Blue-winged Teal on calm bodies of water from marshes to small lakes. The prairie-pothole region is the heart of their breeding range, where they thrive in grassy habitats intermixed with wetlands.

So I guess this pair is on its way north.

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Nearby, a pair of dabbling ducks that live year-round in Florida: Mottled Ducks.

The only duck adapted to breeding in southern marshes, the Mottled Duck is a dull relative of the Mallard. It is in danger of being displaced by introduced Mallards, primarily because of hybridization.

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Pretty feathers. And such orange feet.

Compared to other species of ducks, pair formation occurs early, with nearly 80% of all individuals paired by November. Breeding starts in January, continuing through to July and usually peaking in March and April.

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Habitat: Freshwater wetlands, ditches, wet prairies, and seasonally flooded marshes.

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Also, on Wikipedia…

The mottled duck (Anas fulvigula) or mottled mallard is a medium-sized dabbling duck. It is intermediate in appearance between the female mallard and the American black duck. It is closely related to those species, and is sometimes considered a subspecies of the former, but this is inappropriate (see systematics).

There are two distinct populations of mottled ducks. One population, A. fulvigula maculosa (mottled duck), lives on the Gulf of Mexico coast between Alabama and Tamaulipas (Mexico); outside the breeding season individual birds may venture as far south as to Veracruz. The other, A. fulvigula fulvigula (Florida duck), is resident in central and south Florida and occasionally strays north to Georgia. The same disjunct distribution pattern was also historically found in the local sandhill cranes.

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Bigger picture of where I was walking, along A1A, and the ditch next to the Hutchinson Island Marriott golf course. The water level is low now, at the end of the dry season.

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Also spotted wading in shallow water then walking off across the dry mud, a Tricolored Heron.