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Three little birds

I leaned back in a chair on the patio, looked up, and waited for a bird to come into the sunny spot overhead. Lights, camera, action… Palm Warbler.

When the sun first hits the tree tops is the best time to see and hear the variety of small songbirds arriving for the winter, or passing through on their way further south.

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are familiar winter visitors – easy to hear, harder to see.

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.

The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher’s grayish coloring and long tail, as well as the way it mixes snippets of other birds’ repertoires into its own high, nasal songs, have earned it the nickname “Little Mockingbird.”

The Northern Parula “hops through branches bursting with a rising buzzy trill that pinches off at the end.”

The warblers are in my yard because of the laurel oak and all the tasty insects and arachnids it hosts. The tree has a tendency to shed many little leaves, even more so at this time of year. But sweeping is a small price to pay for happy warblers and happy warbler watchers.

Listen: Three Little Birds, Bob Marley

A visit from a Wood-Pewee

This little gray bird was perched on the hammock stand in our backyard, between short flights to catch insects on the wing. It was there for about 20 minutes on Monday morning and didn’t seem to mind me watching, first from behind French doors, then from the edge of the yard with my old Canon superzoom I had grabbed from a dark closet corner.

At first I thought it was an Eastern Phoebe. But after I posted the photo to Facebook a friend helped me ID this as an Eastern Wood-Pewee. The contrast on the wing bars and the pale loral patch between the eye and beak are pewee clues. Also, phoebes bob their tails almost constantly. I did not observe that with this bird.

Blogging has been light overall this year and I took a total break from bird photos and blogging since July. But since my curiosity has been sparked by this little flycatcher’s visit, I decided to open up the blog again and record this bird, which is #224 on my blog life list.

From Cornell Lab of Ornithology…

The Eastern Wood-Pewee’s plaintive song of three sliding notes (pee-a-weeeee) is distinctive and easy to learn. It makes finding these woodland birds fairly straightforward. It helps that male Eastern Wood-Pewees are inveterate singers, belting out song nearly throughout the day. Look for small, olive-colored birds making sallies and watch such birds until they perch; Eastern Wood-Pewees pause frequently after sallying, which usually enables you to study them well.

While an Eastern Phoebe might have been arriving to spend winter in Florida, the Eastern Wood-Pewee is a long-distance migrant, wintering in South America. Most migrate over land through Mexico, but some (maybe this one?) will fly over the Caribbean.

Pewees and phoebes are members of the tyrant flycatcher family of passerine birds. They live in North and South America and they are the largest family of birds, with more than 400 species.

In North America most species are associated with a “sallying” feeding style, where they fly up to catch an insect directly from their perch and then immediately return to the same perch.

I definitely observed that, and thought, “This bird really likes my hammock.” I hope mosquitoes were on the menu.

Wood Storks take wing

Young Wood Storks at Bird Island a few weeks ago. They have since started flying. I was out biking a lot for the first few days they were airborne. They would make a big loop out over Sewall’s Point, then return to the island to land and rest.

That’s a lot of birds.

I’m a bit behind on bird photography, as I’ve been busy with other projects. Indeed, I have promised myself to put my camera aside for the month of July at least to catch up in other areas. Then hopefully pay better attention to my camera and the birds when I take up that hobby again!

Wood Storks. Looks like the ones on the left are a bit younger. Fuzzier!

What a privilege to watch these Wood Storks growing up!

Have a lovely July and see you in August or September.

Frigatebird and osprey

Magnificent Frigatebird at Bird Island.

This is an immature frigatebird, with its white head and breast.

Frigatebirds have a favorite corner (northwest) of the mangrove island in the Indian River Lagoon. This was was coming in for a landing.

Osprey above.

Fish hawk keeping an eye out for a fish, before a spectacular dive.

Snowy egrets

Island of Many White Birds, from a recent boat trip. It’s actually Bird Island off Sewall’s Point.

There are mainly Snowy Egrets in this photo, up in the mangrove trees, both adults with yellow feet and yellow eye patches and juveniles with dull green legs.

Snowies are a bird I see fairly often, but it was special to see so many in one place, in this popular nesting and roosting spots for many birds.

Snowy Egret flyover.

What a privilege to be in a boat with a good camera and birds all around!

Some people are birdwatchers, but all crows are peoplewatchers

Some birds mind their own business. Crows do not.

They keep an eye on you. They study you. I guess this can be rewarding for them, since they are scavengers and we are messy and careless.

This crow flew over to perch near me as I walked up the path onto the berm at the entrance to Green River. It flew a short distance and I followed, then I walked off and it followed me.

I assume it was a Fish Crow because of my location. I had come with my camera for Kites – Swallow-tailed or Snail. Didn’t find them.

Calling now and then, maybe to let another crow nearby know something about the situation? “Betty, I’m watching a human. Keep the kids quiet. I’ll see if she squashes a lizard or drops a cracker.”

Do crows caw at people? I doubt it. But if so, they are talking and we just aren’t getting it.

I’ve noticed that when Blue Jays are watching you and you start watching them back, they don’t like it and they fly off. But crows will hold your gaze longer. They are interested; we are interesting.

Some people are birdwatchers, but all crows are peoplewatchers.

Just another bird

A limpkin alone.

Aramus guarana is the only species in its genus and family, a member of the Gruiformes order of cranes, crakes and rails.

The weather was dark last Saturday, like my mood a month into the coronavirus shutdown. I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself, more like sorry and a bit angry for everything and everyone on earth. And I wanted to get out of the house.

I brought my camera as an excuse why I was leaving loved ones at home and stalking off alone. I expected the photos would not be great with the washed-out early afternoon overcast sky, forecasting the coming rainy season. And sure enough, none of them were great.

But I did like this picture of the limpkin. Just one bird standing still in the middle of a field, balanced between indecision and resignation, and keeping an eye on things.

In the field I also found some nice little Florida wildflowers, easily overlooked, growing and blooming whether or not anyone notices.

Culvert birding near Green River

Pink bird, gray wall.

This Roseate Spoonbill was on its way to a roadside culvert along Green River Parkway yesterday.

Spoonbills incoming.

This mucky spot has been attracting a lot of birds lately. “Something hatched,” my husband theorized. He’s been biking past this spot and telling me, almost daily, that there’s a nice concentration of photogenic birds there.

The pipes pass under Green River Parkway to a series of freshwater ponds in the fenced-in area known as Green River.

Limpkin and chick, looking for lunch.

The gangly, brown-and-white Limpkin looks a bit like a giant rail or perhaps a young night-heron. Its long bill is bent and twisted at the tip, an adaptation for removing snails from the shell. Limpkins are tropical wetland birds whose range reaches into Florida.

When I approached the culvert, there were three women and three kids there already. The women were talking while two of the three kids threw rocks and snail shells in the general direction of the birds.

The spoonbills didn’t seem to mind. The boys’ aim wasn’t very good. But I still felt someone should take the birds’ side in this matter.

“Hi,” I said. “Just letting you know, I see an alligator here sometimes. Down where the boys are.”

“We’ve seen that alligator before,” said one woman. “It’s a little one.”

Forget Florida Man, there should be a Florida Mom meme!

I’d include the time I was at the beach and saw a shark in the waves and kids swimming nearby while moms were on the beach chatting and I thought, I don’t want to be annoying but they would probably want to know about a shark. I would. So I told them and one said, “We saw it. It’s a lemon shark.”

I took a few more photos while the boys tossed stones, then I tried a new angle. I said to the little girl who was not throwing stones (loud enough for the moms to hear), “Do you see the chicks? Aren’t they cute? See that one there, all little and brown and fuzzy, hiding behind its mom?”

“Aw, it’s cute!” she said. Soon the small group of humans continued on their way.

I continued north on the bike path, scanning the drainage ditch for birds like this Great Egret.

And this Tricolored Heron.

I passed one of the side entrances to the southern section of Savannas Preserve State Park.

Wildlife enthusiasts and photographers will enjoy the diversity of habitats this undisturbed area has to offer. 

But not right now.

State parks are closed, to prevent gatherings of more than ten people in one place.

So I kept walking north, the road and ditch on my left and the forbidden state park on my right.

Behind me, the bike trail crosses over the ditch on a small bridge, perfect for bird and alligator watching. This is near the boundary between Martin and St. Lucie counties.

Savannas Preserve to my right, so inviting.

I met a man walking south along the low dike as I walked north. He had binoculars around his neck, a good sign. We talked birds and favorite places to find birds. We lamented loss of access to a park we never see anybody else in. We agreed we don’t care if handshakes, hugs, close-talking and crowds never make a comeback. Then we each continued our own solo stalk along the margins.

Great Egret.

Spoonbill above. I turned and retraced my steps back to the culvert.

A White Ibis had arrived while I was gone.

I watched Limpkins.

This one stayed close to the foraging adult.

Roseate Spoonbills and Limpkins.

Limpkins eat almost exclusively apple snails (genus Pomacea), plus at least three other native freshwater snail species and five species of freshwater mussels. They also eat small amounts of seeds and insects, along with lizards, frogs, insects, crustaceans such as crayfish, grasshoppers, worms, and aquatic midges. Where the water is clear, Limpkins hunt for snails and mussels by sight, walking along the water’s edge or into the shallows (rarely wading deeply) and seizing prey quickly with the bill. When waters are muddy, or have extensive vegetation, they probe into the water rapidly, rather like ibis, sometimes with the head submerged. If vegetation cover is extensive, Limpkins often walk out onto the mat of floating vegetation to hunt snails that cling to the undersides of leaves and stalks. To extract the mollusk from its shell, Limpkins place the forceps-like tip of their bill into the snail or mussel to cut the adductor muscle, using scissoring motions. They then discard the shells, often in a pile if prey is abundant in one spot.

I got a good long look at Limpkins, a bird I had never heard of before I moved to Florida a few years ago.

Getting a good start in life.

My final culvert bird was a solo Wood Stork.

Great spot, I shall return.

Before driving off, I decided to pop over to Green River for a quick look. I was thinking: I bet there’s one more special thing out there before I’m finished for the morning.

There was. Flying low over distant marsh, my first Snail Kite!

The highly specialized Snail Kite flies on broad wings over tropical wetlands as it hunts large freshwater snails.

The kite is blog bird #224.

I found an owl

This owl is not feeling well.

I found it on the grass in a busy park yesterday, at the end of a long, slow walk with my 14-week-old puppy Ruby. It was on its side like this, eyes closed. I bent close and it seemed to be alive so I scooped it up gently – it was so soft – and placed it in the nearest tree.

A quick iPhone photo… looks like the strangest Easter basket.

At home, I posted the photo on the Facebook group What’s This Bird? with these words…

Yes, it’s an Eastern Screech Owl. Initial comments agreed to leave it there, then there were some questions about whether it might be sick since it was on its side. I went back later, found it was gone and called Treasure Coast Wildlife Center to see if someone else brought it in. Yes, they did. The woman on the phone said the owl was sick, they didn’t yet know with what sickness, and they would do their best.

I posted the update on the facebook group. Tremendous interest and engagement… my post garnered 221 likes or loves so far, 33 comments, 5 shares. All these humans from near and far, gathered around the unwell owl, concerned and trying to be of help.

Be well, little owl.