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.

Keeping an eye on Hampton marsh

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First thing we noticed, bird-wise, on our walk in Hampton marsh yesterday was the enormous flock(s) of crows swirling around and making a ruckus. This photo captures about a quarter of the number we saw (and heard).

Why were they there? It looked like a big crow meet up.

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It’s a great place for a dog walk, with the long, straight path of the old rail line cutting right through the marsh. Except Radar doesn’t like to walk across the scary old bridge so he swims and meets us on the other side.

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Crows everywhere, keeping an eye on us. Keen students of human activity that they are.

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We also saw several lone sandpipers… Greater Yellowlegs.

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John and Radar on the path, with crows watching.

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Greater Yellowlegs keeps an eye on the sky. (Later we saw two Bald Eagles a few miles away, when we stopped for lunch at Applecrest Farm in Hampton Falls.)

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The two yellowlegs species are very similar. Size is marked different when they appear together and can be compared against each other. Greater Yellowlegs‘s bill appears slightly upturned and blunt-tipped, while Lesser Yellowlegs’s bill is straight and sharp-pointed. Lesser’s bill is always dark, while Greater’s bill is grayish at the base in nonbreeding season. Voice is best distinguishing character: Greater gives three or four piercing notes, Lesser two rapid, softer short whistles (sometimes or or three).

This bird was calling, and definitely with three piercing notes.

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Although the Greater Yellowlegs is common and widespread, its low densities and tendency to breed in inhospitable, mosquito-ridden muskegs make it one of the least-studied shorebirds on the continent.

Heh.

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Blink!

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A very sweet looking bird, if you ask me.

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Greater Yellowlegs takes off. Marsh is getting its October colors.

We saw egrets and herons from a distance, but my photos weren’t great. Here are a couple of pics from a few weeks ago in the same marsh…

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Great Blue Heron.

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Great Egret.

Curious crows

In our town we voted yesterday for town and school candidates, budgets and other warrant articles. (Results.)

Crows were lurking around the school parking lot, watching voters come and go.

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This one hopped from car roof to car roof.

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The car crow was cawing to the tree crow.

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Tree top view.

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This one was on top of the school garage, maybe wondering why the parking lot comings and goings were greatly increased for one day.

Crows are one of those birds that pay much better attention to us than we do to them.

Worth watching: Nature on PBS “A Murder of Crows” (full episode available online)

Crows and a sparrow

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Bird silhouette. A crow hunting/ scavenging in Hampton Marsh.

I parked at the end of Depot Road and walked the old rail bed with the dog this morning. (I visited on April 12 too.)

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I love this way into Hampton Marsh. They say it will be a publicly accessible, fixed up rail trail someday and I have mixed feelings about that.

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Lots of crows in the marsh today. My theory is that recent super high tides and rain flooding have left fish stranded high and dry. Or else some bugs or other invertebrates are hatching out.

I like crows. They are people-watchers, among other things. They study us… and are rightfully wary – though also never very  far away.

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Savannah Sparrow along the old rail bed.

With this bird I have reached a new level of sparrow knowledge. “Savannah Sparrow” was my first guess to Google, I don’t know why. It’s not one I have seen and known before.

On both their summer and winter ranges, Savannah Sparrows live in grasslands with few trees, including meadows, pastures, grassy roadsides, sedge wetlands, and cultivated fields planted with cover crops like alfalfa. Near oceans, they also inhabit tidal saltmarshes and estuaries.

Named for Savannah, Georgia, these pretty little birds are in their summer range here.

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Boy with a Crow, Akseli Gallen-Kallela 1884

Lurking crow

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Big black crow and fat gray squirrel, cleaning up under bird feeder.

Crow likes the cracked corn in the seed mix.

This crow was here off and on for a week, a couple of weeks ago. I suspect it was keeping an eye on the soon-to-be fledglings in the nearby bluebird nest box.

The blue jays don’t usually tolerate crows, mobbing to drive them off. Not sure why this one, for one week, was the exception to the rule. Maybe they were in corvid cahoots. Blue jays eat baby birds too.

American CrowThey usually feed on the ground and eat almost anything – typically earthworms, insects and other small animals, seeds, and fruit but also garbage, carrion, and chicks they rob from nests. Their flight style is unique, a patient, methodical flapping that is rarely broken up with glides.