Author Archives: Amy

Short-billed dowitcher, thoroughly photographed

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Short-billed Dowitcher, with a Willet for size.

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The dowitcher was tagging along behind the bigger bird, on the beach at Hobe Sound NWR, Jupiter Island.

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Cloudy day and my camera settings could have been better. I will learn all that when I’m finished renovating our new house. Yeah, right.

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This is my first dowitcher ID. Bird # 215 on the sidebar.

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Ruddy Turnstones were turning over sargassum in search of snacks. The dowitcher was interested.

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Lots of plastic trash was washing up with this bunch of weed.

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A medium to large shorebird with a long bill, the Short-billed Dowitcher is a common and conspicous migrant that uses a “sewing-machine” method of foraging across the mud flats. Its long bill is short only in comparison with the very similar Long-billed Dowitcher.

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Breeds in muskegs of taiga to timberline, and barely onto subarctic tundra.

Winters on coastal mud flats and brackish lagoons.

In migration prefers saltwater tidal flats, beaches, and salt marshes.

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A flock of Sanderlings arrived at our stretch of beach, with a couple of plovers mixed in.

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I had ID help on Facebook’s What’s This Bird… it’s a Black-bellied Plover, in non-breeding plumage. Latin name Pluvialis squatarola is kind of funny.

  • Wary and quick to give alarm calls, the Black-bellied Plover functions worldwide as a sentinel for mixed groups of shorebirds. These qualities allowed it to resist market hunters, and it remained common when populations of other species of similar size were devastated.

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One of our friends, exploring the beach.

Warbler among the sea grapes (plus otter)

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What a mug! Boating yesterday, we saw a young otter in the Intracoastal Waterway between Hobe Sound and Jupiter Island.

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We pulled up on a narrow strip of beach on the island, narrower than usual because of full moon high tide, and walked through some sea grape trees to the ocean side, at Hobe Island National Wildlife Refuge, Peck Lake (a favorite destination).

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There were some warblers in the woods, stopping over on their migration north, including this handsome, puffy Yellow-throated Warbler.

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Some of these warblers winter in Florida, but this guy was in a mixed flock with other warblers in a sandy coastal habitat so I figured he was heading north.

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Yellow-throated Warblers are found in pine forests, sycamore–bald cypress swamps, and woodlands near streams, especially areas with tall trees and an open understory.

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A sign of spring, I say!

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On the other side of the Jupiter Island, the Atlantic Ocean, clouds and wind.

Anhinga at the park

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I got some nice shots of this Anhinga a few days ago at Indian Riverside Park.

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I haven’t been visiting the birds as often as I’d like because we bought another house nearby that we’re remodeling. It’s crazy-busy at the moment, but in a good way.

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But now and then the planets align and I’ve got my camera with me when birds are nearby doing pretty bird things like drying the feathers of their wings.

If a mockingbird perches in the forest…

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…The mockingbird took a single step into the air and dropped. His wings were still folded against his sides as though he were singing from a limb and not falling, accelerating thirty-two feet per second, through empty air. Just a breath before he would have been dashed to the ground, he unfurled his wings with exact, deliberate care, revealing the broad bars of white, spread his elegant white-banded tail, and so floated onto the grass. I had just rounded a corner when his insouciant step caught my eye; there was no one else in sight. The fact of his free fall was like the old philosophical conundrum about the tree that falls in the forest. The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.
– Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

The neighborhood owl

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“The great horned owl is back!” my neighbor texted. She lives a block away. It was getting dark. But I managed to hustle over there and get a few shots of this impressive bird.

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With its long, earlike tufts, intimidating yellow-eyed stare, and deep hooting voice, the Great Horned Owl is the quintessential owl of storybooks. This powerful predator can take down birds and mammals even larger than itself, but it also dines on daintier fare such as tiny scorpions, mice, and frogs. It’s one of the most common owls in North America, equally at home in deserts, wetlands, forests, grasslands, backyards, cities, and almost any other semi-open habitat between the Arctic and the tropics.

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This owl has been spotted in this tree a number of times in the past month or so.

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In other owl news, the Screech Owl house my husband built has been occupied by a pair of lovey-dovey squirrels. Annoying.

Haney Creek East

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I often wander the Haney Creek North section but a few days ago I finally explored “East” shown on the map above highlighted in yellow. It’s located in Stuart, Florida north of the St. Lucie River.

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A trail leads away from the pull-off area along Dixie Highway.

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We can thank Stuart City Commissioner Jeffrey Krauskopf for helping save this land from development. There is a freshwater marsh on the right hand side here, and brackish swamp with mangroves on the other.

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An Osprey rested on top of a pine tree.

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Enjoy this good bird news: Ospreys Have Made a Remarkable Recovery

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Blue flag? It used to bloom by our New Hampshire pond in spring. I didn’t know it grew in this part of Florida.

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Boardwalk with plenty of cautionary signs.

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Got a good look at a young Little Blue Heron. Yes, they start off as Little White Herons.

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Little white.

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Maple? Also haven’t noticed that around here. Maybe swamp maple… which also grew by our old pond 1400 miles north of here.

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Palm Warbler in the trees.

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Unless you live in Canada, spring, fall, and winter are your best times to see Palm Warblers. They spend the winters in the Caribbean and in a narrow strip along the southeastern United States and occasionally along the West Coast. They’re a fairly common early migrant across much of the East, reaching New England by mid-to-late April. They start slowly heading south in late August.

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Weedy fields, forest edges, and scrubby areas are great places to look for them during migration and winter. Look through groups of birds foraging on the ground—they’re often with sparrows, juncos, and Yellow-rumped Warblers—so watch for their characteristic tail wagging to pull them out of the crowd. They also forage in low shrubs and isolated trees in open areas, where they sometimes sally out for insects like a flycatcher. Palm Warblers typically aren’t skittish, so if you find one, you should have enough time to get a good look.

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I like the way the light hit the bird’s eye in this shot.

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Also spotted a Downy Woodpecker, near the southern end of its range too.

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View walking back on the boardwalk over freshwater.

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Great Egret.

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Great Blue Heron, with “civilization” beyond.

Look at those wings

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I saw this juvenile Bald Eagle circling for a long time over Haney Creek in Stuart yesterday morning.

Eagle wingspan: 6 to 7.5 feet!

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It’s not unusual to see an eagle in this Stuart and Jensen Beach area north of the St. Lucie River, but I think this is the first juvenile I’ve spotted.

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According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission…

The bald eagle, our national bird and a symbol of the United States, is a conservation success story. Today, Florida, has one of the densest concentrations of nesting bald eagles in the lower 48 states. While no longer listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act or the Florida Endangered and Threatened Species rules, bald eagles remain protected by both the state eagle rule (68A-16.002, F.A.C.) and federal law.

Florida has an Eagle Watch program coordinated through Florida Audubon.

Club Scrub-Jay

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Cool lake on a hot day at Jonathan Dickinson State Park, last Sunday, when I went on a solo trek to find scrub jays.

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I walked around this lake. It smelled a bit like a northern freshwater lake – cool, fresh, watery and alive!

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This narrow trail was shared by mountain bikers. Best to choose the trails marked for foot traffic only, I learned.

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Jonathan Dickinson preserves a large area of Florida scrub habitat.

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Florida sand pine scrub is an endangered subtropical forest ecoregion found throughout Florida in the United States.[4] It is found on coastal and inland sand ridges and is characterized by an evergreen xeromorphic plant community dominated by shrubs and dwarf oaks. Because the low-nutrient sandy soils do not retain moisture, the ecosystem is effectively an arid one. Wildfires infrequently occur in the Florida scrub. Most of the annual rainfall (about 135 cm or 53 in) falls in summer. It is endangered by residential, commercial and agricultural development.

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Can you see the mountain biker in the above two photos? There is an active club at the park, Club Scrub.

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But count me as a member of Club Scrub-Jay! (They should start one, right?) Here’s a Florida Master naturalist who is a big fan…

Why the Scrub-Jay should be Florida’s state bird, with Eva Ries

It has a beautiful dusty-gray breast, it has a gray collar around the back, it’s blue up top with a gray eyebrow, and it has the most unusual call. When they call to their compatriots, they make a rrih! rrih! rrih-rrih-rrih!

Video of Florida Scrub-Jay “happy song” while perched on a man’s hat! LINK

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They are not hard to find, when you are in their habitat. They are curious and the landscape is open.

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Audubon…

This bird is noteworthy on several counts. It lives nowhere in the world except Florida, it has a complicated social system, it has been the subject of very detailed field studies, and it is threatened by loss of habitat. Formerly considered just a race of the scrub-jays found in the west, it is now classified as a full species.

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Breeds in cooperative flocks. Each nesting territory is occupied by an adult pair and often by one to six “helpers,” usually the pair’s offspring from previous years. These additional birds assist in defending the territory and feeding the young. Studies have shown that a pair with “helpers” is likely to raise more young than a pair without. Nest site is in tree or shrub, usually an oak, with sand live oak strongly favored.

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I saw a total of three scrub-jays but just focused on getting decent shots of this one, close by and in good light.

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Range map.

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A bit jay-like appearance but without a crest. Here is the familiar and widespread (east of the Rocky Mountains) Blue Jay for comparison, from a little later that morning in the park…

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Blue Jays’ behavioral attitude seems a bit fussier and sassier, like they enjoy complaining and picking fights. I watched them a lot in New Hampshire, especially at my bird feeders.

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From a Feb 5, 2015 blog post: Birds are avian dinosaurs 

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The Scrub-Jay seems a bit more peaceful, even elegant, especially for a corvid. Although maybe I need to spend more time observing them.

Saving Florida’s Friendliest Native Bird Matters

For the past 2 million years, Florida has been home to a superlative bird found nowhere else on earth. These birds are remarkably smart, with extraordinary memory and perhaps even the ability to plan ahead. Highly social yet quarrelsome, they’re like the stars of an avian soap opera. And they’re as brash and curious as precocious kids. Many a jubilant birdwatcher has turned to find one mischievously perched upon their shoulder.

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Park sign.

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I also got close to a Yellow-rumped Warbler in a thicket, a winter visitor to Florida.

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The Yellow-rumped Warbler is the only warbler able to digest the waxes found in bayberries and wax myrtles. Its ability to use these fruits allows it to winter farther north than other warblers, sometimes as far north as Newfoundland.

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Yellow-rumped Warblers are perhaps the most versatile foragers of all warblers. They’re the warbler you’re most likely to see fluttering out from a tree to catch a flying insect, and they’re also quick to switch over to eating berries in fall. Other places Yellow-rumped Warblers have been spotted foraging include picking at insects on washed-up seaweed at the beach, skimming insects from the surface of rivers and the ocean, picking them out of spiderwebs, and grabbing them off piles of manure.

I bought an annual pass to Florida State Parks and I will be heading back to Jonathan Dickinson again soon!

A new warbler

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Catching up with Costa Rica photos!

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There’s that volcano, out there somewhere.

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Raccoon-like coatis just off the deck at Arenal Observatory Lodge.

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Chestnut-sided Warblers were in town for the winter.

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A common bird of second growth and scrubby forests, the Chestnut-sided Warbler is distinctive in appearance. No other warbler combines a greenish-yellow cap, a white breast, and reddish streaks down the sides.

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Capuchin monkey overhead.

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The volcano was recently active.