Author Archives: Amy

I had help seeing the birds

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This is a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, first thing in the morning when it was still kind of dark for my camera.

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Looking into the mangroves at a Roseate Spoonbill.

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Spoonbill with its cousin the White Ibis.

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On Saturday morning I was invited to join three more experienced birders for a walk in a bird-friendly spot between wetlands and the Indian River Lagoon on Hutchinson Island. So helpful to have them notice birds by sight and sound and explain how they could identify them.

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Morning light in a spider web.

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Yellow-crowned Night Heron.

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This was identified as a Tennessee Warbler. Not a great photo, but a new bird for me so here it is!

A dainty warbler of the Canadian boreal forest, the Tennessee Warbler specializes in eating the spruce budworm. Consequently its population goes up and down with fluctuations in the populations of the budworm.

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Black-crowned Night Heron.

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Night herons have such big eyes.

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Palm Warblers are back in town.

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Fluffball.

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We see lots of these in Sewall’s Point in winter, hopping around on the ground, wagging their tails up and down.

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We were surprised and happy to spot a Painted Bunting. Well, I did not notice it – I had help from the other birders! How could I miss such a bright bird?

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This is a new bird for me, #192 on the sidebar blog list.

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It really let us get a good look (if not a very good photo).

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With their vivid fusion of blue, green, yellow, and red, male Painted Buntings seem to have flown straight out of a child’s coloring book. Females and immatures are a distinctive bright green with a pale eyering. These fairly common finches breed in the coastal Southeast and in the south-central U.S., where they often come to feeders. They are often caught and sold illegally as cage birds, particularly in Mexico and the Caribbean, a practice that puts pressure on their breeding populations.

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Cattle Egrets perched up high.

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White bird, blue sky.

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A bit further down the path, a green (female or immature) Painted Bunting was scuffing around in leaves and grass.

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In migration and winter, search for Painted Buntings by targeting sources of seeds such as weedy fields or bird feeders. In the summer, cruise through secondary growth or edge habitats with dense understory and listen for the species’ metallic chip call or the sweet, rambling song of a male. Painted Buntings spend a lot of time hidden in dense habitat so patience might be necessary; however, the wait will be worth it when you finally spot this gem, surely one of North America’s finest songbirds.

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Such a pretty green color.

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Very exciting for me to see these buntings for the first time!

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Great Crested Flycatcher poses nicely in the morning sun.

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Northern Parula.

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Peekaboo.

You’re welcome to our bugs, little migrating friends!

When you are looking up at birds…

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…the bird butt is a pretty common shot.

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Also the partly obscured shot.

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I think this is a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

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Yellow-throated Warbler.

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I checked Birdcast early this morning for the Migration Forecast and it looked like last night was a big night for migration. I found a mixed flock of warblers right down the street from our house, in a big live oak tree.

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The well-named Yellow-throated Warbler shows off its bright yellow throat in the canopy of forests in the southeastern United States. It hops up branches, working its way high into the canopy probing for insects in crevices and clumps of pine needles, much like a Brown Creeper or Black-and-white Warbler. Unlike those birds, the Yellow-throated Warbler is gray above with a black triangle below its eye and a white eyebrow. It is also one of the few warblers that can be found during the winter in the U.S.

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American Redstart.

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Sweet.

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This bird was calling very loudly for such a small bird. It’s a Yellow-throated Vireo.

A bird of open deciduous forests and edges, the Yellow-throated Vireo is one of the most colorful member of its family. Not only does this bird have a bright yellow throat, it looks as if it’s wearing bright yellow spectacles. This small heavyset songbird slowly hops through the canopy picking insects off branches and twigs. Males sing a burry three eight, on repeat throughout the day. Females join the males with a harsh scolding chatter during aggressive encounters.

A new sandpiper

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New bird! This little Semipalmated Sandpiper is the 190th bird I have photographed, IDed and blogged.

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I was at Fort Pierce Inlet this morning and took a quick walk out on the jetty after rain.

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Have I mentioned the sargassum is a bit of a problem on area beaches right now? This is the worst I’ve seen it – very thick and full of trash.

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Ruddy Turnstone goes poof.

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At first I thought the solo little sandpiper with the turnstones was a Sanderling.

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But it seemed smaller, especially next to the turnstone, and active in a different way, zipping around here and there.

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Preening Ruddy Turnstone and the little sandpiper.

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Snowy Egret.

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The flock of turnstones and little sandpiper. First fisherman arrives.

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One of these birds is not like the others.

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I checked for birds resembling Sanderlings on All About Birds and thought this might be a Western Sandpiper. I posted the guess to What’s This Bird, to doublecheck, and was helpfully informed it was a Semipalmated Sandpiper.

Audubon…

Small and plain in appearance, this sandpiper is important in terms of sheer numbers. It often gathers by the thousands at stopover points during migration. Semipalmated Sandpipers winter mostly in South America, and studies have shown that they may make a non-stop flight of nearly 2000 miles from New England or eastern Canada to the South American coast. The name “Semipalmated” refers to slight webbing between the toes, visible only at extremely close range.

Beach bird walk

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Bathtub Reef Beach on Hutchinson Island in Stuart, Florida last Sunday around noon. Red flag advises against swimming but does not forbid it (that would be two red flags).

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I walked south to the inlet and back, 2.2 miles, for an hour and 45 minutes, watching and counting birds.

Here’s my eBird checklist: Oct 7 Bathtub Beach.

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When little shorebirds are holding still, it’s hard to see them.

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These people walked right past and didn’t seem to notice the plovers.

Fancy houses along the beach here. It’s the gated community of Sailfish Point, right at the southern tip of the island. Can’t get in unless you live there – although you can walk along the beach.

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These are Semipalmated Plovers, a new bird for me.

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology…

A small dark shorebird with a single band across its chest, the Semipalmated Plover is the most common plover seen on migration in most areas.

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Audubon

The most common of the small plovers on migration through most areas. On its breeding grounds in the north, it avoids the tundra habitat chosen by most shorebirds, nesting instead on gravel bars along rivers or ponds. In such surroundings, its seemingly bold pattern actually helps to make the plover inconspicuous, by breaking up its outline against the varied background. The name “semipalmated” refers to partial webbing between the bird’s toes.

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Willets flew in for a short visit.

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A Ruddy Turnstone was digging into a sea turtle shell.

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A sleepy solitary Sanderling was near the turnstone and small flock of plovers.

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The turnstone was very busy.

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I watched it rushing here and there, pushing away bits of sargassum , sticks and shells to see what was underneath.

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“It’s turning ‘stones’ like a turnstone!” I thought.

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Audubon

Best known for habit of inserting bill under stones, shells, etc., and flipping them over to find food underneath. Several birds may work together to overturn a larger object. Often probes under seaweed or debris.

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Gusty east wind and strong surf. Brown Pelican can handle it.

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Brown Pelicans have a wingspan between 6.5 and 7.5 feet. They are the smallest of the eight pelican species, but still very big birds.

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Getting closer to the inlet, I came upon a bird I’ve only seen once before: a Black-bellied Plover.

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It relocated as I walked past on the high part of the beach, but didn’t go far. Nice view of wings and tail.

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Audubon

This stocky plover breeds in high Arctic zones around the world, and winters on the coasts of six continents. Some can be seen along our beaches throughout the year (including non-breeding immatures through the summer). Although the Black-bellied Plover is quite plain in its non-breeding plumage, it adds much to the character of our shorelines with its haunting whistles, heard by day or night.

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Most migrate along coast or over sea, but numbers stop over regularly at some inland sites. Winter range remarkably extensive, from New England and southwestern Canada to southern South America, Africa, Australia.

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The other time I spotted these birds was at Ragged Neck in in New Hampshire in Nov. 2016, along with some Snow Buntings.

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An attractive, large shorebird.

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A couple of guys on jetskis were playing in the waves near the inlet.

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Sanderling in motion!

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I see these sandpipers a lot in non-breeding season.

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You don’t see too many fishermen at this spot since they have to walk a ways to get here.

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Looking across the St. Lucie  inlet from Hutchinson Island to Jupiter Island. And Sanderlings running along the sand.

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Little Blue Herons… an adult on the rocks and an immature in the water. Yes, the young ones are white not “blue”.

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Little Blue strut.

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Sanderlings at rest.

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View west from the inlet. The St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon connect to the Atlantic Ocean here.

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Sandwich Tern, a tern I know thanks to the yellow bill tip!

October Big Day

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American Redstart at Possum Long Nature Preserve in the city of Stuart yesterday morning.

I joined a field trip organized by Audubon of Martin County. We didn’t see too many birds, even though migration is underway. Also, fifteen people trying to sneak up on birds is kind of a lot.

But we did learn more about the history of the nature preserve and the good spots and individual trees for seeing birds.

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A few years ago, the edges of the freshwater ponds at Possum Long were cleaned up and restored. Wading birds like the Great Blue Heron are finding their way there, slowly but surely.

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Warbler watchers.

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The American Redstart rarely holds still!

Here is our checklist, posted by group leader Robin Potvin: Oct 6 Possum Long.

Yesterday was the first October Global Big Day.  I decided to contribute a bit more and popped over to the south end of Hutchinson Island to watch birds for half an hour at Sailfish Flats in late morning.

Here is my CHECKLIST for that. Note to self: go at low tide next time, so there are birds on the sandbars too.

It was neat to spot a migrating Peregrine Falcon but I had the most fun watching a couple of kingfishers chasing each other and screaming their raucous calls.

Later in the afternoon I was in my backyard with the dog and spotted a pair of Bald Eagles high overhead, moving just fast enough to the southeast that I knew I had no time to run inside and grab my camera, just enough time to watch and enjoy.

 

 

Baby food

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Gray-headed swamphen and chick at Green Cay Wetlands in Boynton Beach yesterday afternoon.

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Ever since I first saw these marsh birds a year ago at Lakeside STA I have hoped to see another.

Blogged Oct. 2017: New bird: escaped swamphens thrive in Florida wetlands

If you crossed a small purple dinosaur with a backyard hen you would get the Gray-headed Swamphen. They do run around (seemingly on top of the water) like sleeker, more athletic chickens. Their feather colors are beautiful.

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Look at those magnificent feet and crazy-long toes. Good for walking on wetland vegetation.

The adult grasps a blade of grass and bites off a piece.

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Porphyrio poliocephalas is an escaped nonnative that’s been making itself at home in South Florida since the 1990s.

Porphyrio is the swamphen or swamp hen genus of birds in the rail family. The genus name Porphyrio is the Latin name for “swamphen”, meaning “purple”.

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Feeding the chick.

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That is adorable.

 

First visit to Sailfish Flats

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A boardwalk through the mangroves leads to a view over the Indian River Lagoon and the shallow sandbars known as Sailfish Flats. The boardwalk is across the street from Bathtub Reef Beach. (And within my 5-mile radius.)

Location…

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This was my first visit here. I stopped by this eBird Hotspot this morning at 8 a.m. and watched birds for 15 minutes.

Here is my eBird checklist. I forgot my binoculars so I couldn’t ID the terns on the farthest sandbar. Next time!

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First bird was a White Ibis.

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A young Reddish Egret flew in from the north and landed on the railing near me.

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I suspect this is the same bird I saw on the ocean side on September 20: LINK.

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One guy was coming back from fishing. It was 86 degrees and a bit windy, but the wind was from the east so we were a bit protected on this side of Hutchinson Island.

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The egret flew out to the flats and started its fishing dance.

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I didn’t see it catch anything, but it was pretty to watch.

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Master fishing-bird the Osprey did catch something.

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It was immediately harassed by another Osprey, something I haven’t seen before.

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Maybe it was a young Osprey begging for food from a parent?

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Still hopping around out there.

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American Bird Conservancy…

The Reddish Egret stalks its prey—mostly small fish—more actively than other herons and egrets. The birds first locate their quarry by sight, then the dance begins. They dash, lurch, and zig-zag after their prey, often holding their wings over the water as they hunt. This shadow-casting strategy is thought to reduce glare and help the egret more accurately sight and spear its prey.

I also saw, but did not get great photos of: Green Heron, Snowy Egret, Brown Pelican, a couple of terns species flying over, and Laughing Gulls.

Field trip to Hawk’s Bluff

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Early birders at Hawk’s Bluff, Savannas Preserve State Park yesterday morning just after 7 a.m. We saw 28 species in 2 hours and 22 minutes, in a one-mile walk on sandy trails. Here’s our eBird checklist.

The field trip was organized by Audubon of Martin County and led by Roy Netherton, who was knowledgeable and passionate about this special area of old sand dunes and scrubland, oak hammocks and freshwater marsh along Florida’s Atlantic Coastal Ridge.

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A Brown Thrasher made an appearance.

The theme of my better photos this day: Birds On Snags! Hawk’s Bluff has plenty of standing dead trees.

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology…

It can be tricky to glimpse a Brown Thrasher in a tangled mass of shrubbery, and once you do you may wonder how such a boldly patterned, gangly bird could stay so hidden. Brown Thrashers wear a somewhat severe expression thanks to their heavy, slightly down-curved bill and staring yellow eyes, and they are the only thrasher species east of Texas.

This was only the second time I’ve seen a Brown Thrasher. I love the cinnamon color above and bold spots below.

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Hawk’s Bluff lived up to its name when this young Red-shouldered Hawk flew to this spot, mobbed by grackles who settled on nearby trees and kept up their noisy complaints.

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It was great to be walking with an expert birder who could tell us what we were looking at, and listening to. My usual method is take photos, ID at home and then read about the bird.

My fall resolution: more guided field trips!

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Roy said young hawks like this one take some time to learn how to hunt and they have a high mortality rate. So we all stood there feeling a bit sad for this little guy who seemed not to know what to do about the cackle of grackles calling in reinforcements.

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Red-shouldered Hawks soar over forests or perch on tree branches or utility wires. Its rising, whistled kee-rah is a distinctive sound of the forest. They hunt small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles either from perches or while flying.

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Grackle on a dead tree in morning light, with a freshwater basin marsh beyond and thunderstorms to the southwest.

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This male Boat-tailed Grackle was quite shiny with iridescence.

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To see Boat-tailed Grackles, head to the southeastern or Gulf Coast and look for long-tailed black birds around marsh edges, boat launches, and parks. They often walk around boldly on long legs with their tails cocked up, searching for food. It is also common to see Boat-tailed Grackles perched on roadside utility wires. If you still can’t find one, head to a fast food restaurant in a beach town and scout around for discarded French fries—you’re almost sure to find grackles there.

Ha ha, Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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Boat-tailed Grackles breed abundantly in salt and freshwater marshes along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. They are closely associated with saltwater and are rarely found more than about 30 miles from saltwater except in the Florida peninsula, where they occur across its breadth.

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It is not breeding season, but the males were displaying anyway. Just keeping in practice?

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The harem mating system of these grackles is unique to birds in North America, though it’s shared by oropendolas of the American tropics. Individual males defend clusters of nesting females from other males. Only the high-ranked males, having established their status through displays and vigorous fights, get to mate in the colony, although DNA evidence indicates other males manage to mate with females away from the colonies.

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Grackles are pretty much the mascots of this section of Savannas Preserve, with their boldness and high visibility.

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Roy told us that the higher of two displaying males is generally the more dominant.

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Dominance is also signaled by the head up, beak in the air.

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“I’m the man.”

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Here comes an upstart.

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I believe these were Common Grackles.

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Roy and another member of our group who is a plant expert pointed out a field of native lupine. There was just one flower, but during bloom time it is a spectacular field of flowers, and right along the trail.

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The trail is mostly about this wide and we were advised to keep an eye out for coral snakes. Gopher tortoises are sometimes seen. Roy saw a bobcat and kittens along the trail once, he told us.

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Prickly pear cactus, another native. When we left the trail we were cautioned to step carefully, mostly to keep from harming delicate lichens.

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Roy told us about a pair of Bald Eagles that had been nesting for many years on the other side of the marsh. Eventually they obliged and flew into binocular range.

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We saw Mourning Doves and Common Ground-Doves on our walk. I’m pretty sure this is a Common Ground Dove. We watched and listened to three of them in a tree earlier.

A dove the size of a sparrow, the Common Ground-Dove forages in dusty open areas, sometimes overshadowed by the grass clumps it is feeding beneath. Its dusty plumage is easy to overlook until the bird springs into flight with a soft rattling of feathers and a flash of reddish-brown in the wings. These small, attractive doves are common across the southernmost parts of the U.S. from California to Florida.

That’s bird #187 for me, on my blog sidebar!

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I only got one pretty-bad photo of the flitting Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers, of which there were at least four, probably more. I have seen them in winter near my home in Sewall’s Point.

A tiny, long-tailed bird of broadleaf forests and scrublands, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher makes itself known by its soft but insistent calls and its constant motion. It hops and sidles in dense outer foliage, foraging for insects and spiders. As it moves, this steely blue-gray bird conspicuously flicks its white-edged tail from side to side, scaring up insects and chasing after them.

Roy said it’s a good bird to know in the Savannas because it will often be in a mixed foraging flock and you will notice (or hear) it first, then see the other species.

Migration should be ramping up soon, with warblers and others arriving on the scene. Roy said he uses Birdcast to keep track of migration in real time.

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Exciting moment when some large terns flew over. One was a Royal Tern, a local species, but then there were three Caspian Terns, vocalizing with raspy, loud calls.

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They are only in this area in “winter” or non breeding season.

As large as a big gull, the Caspian Tern is the largest tern in the world. Its large coral red bill makes it one of the most easily identified terns throughout its worldwide range.

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As I’ve recently started to learn my terns, I’ve been keeping an eye out for Caspians. But these were high enough and just passing over that I wouldn’t have known what they were without our bird guide.

This is a new bird for me too, #188.

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We also saw old friends, like this Blue Jay.

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A small rainbow to the west.

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And we conclude this photo essay with yet another … Bird On Snag! A young Red-bellied Woodpecker with no red on its head yet.

I will be back to this location again soon. It’s just 6.5 miles from my house.

Here is the eBird Hotspot to review all birds that have been seen there: Savannas Preserve SP- Hawk’s Bluff Trail. 163 species year round, and 393 checklists (as of today).