Tag Archives: Black Vulture

Bird Island: the name says it all

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Radar spots Bird Island.

Just off the east side of Sewall’s Point, in the Indian River Lagoon, the spoil island is one of the top ten bird rookeries in Florida. We borrowed a boat from our boat club on Thursday and went to see how nesting season is coming along.

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Is this place even real?

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Of all the islands in the Indian River Lagoon in Martin County, the birds have chosen this one for nesting, feeding, roosting, loafing.

We stay outside the Critical Wildlife Area signs and use binoculars and a superzoom camera to watch but not bother.

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Roseate Spoonbills, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and Wood Storks. Oh my!

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The most Great Egrets I’ve seen in one place – they seem to prefer the solitary lifestyle outside of breeding season.

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Snowy Egrets and a Wood Stork at the top right of this photo. Is that a rare Reddish Egret on the left? Or a Tri-colored Heron? Can’t tell.

(Update: confirmed to be a Tricolored Heron – white belly – by helpful birders on Facebook’s “What’s This Bird?”)

I saw what I thought were three Reddish Egrets on a sandbar adjoining this island a couple of months ago, doing their distinctive fishing dance, but didn’t have my camera. In March, we spotted what I think was a Reddish Egret on Bird Island and I got a photo (it’s in this post). (Update: that one confirmed as a Reddish Egret, yay!)

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“Gear down,” noted my husband, the airline pilot.

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Fuzzy-headed juvenile Wood Storks. It’s been a phenomenal breeding year for these big wading birds. I see the adults flying back and forth over our house every day now. Sometimes a fish crow or two can be seen chasing a stork out of “their” suburban residential territory.

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Wood Storks occur only in a few areas in the United States, so to get a look at one, head to a wetland preserve or wildlife area along the coast in Florida, South Carolina, or Georgia.

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Wood Storks are social birds that forage in groups and nest in colonies. Small groups of storks forage in wetlands, frequently following each other one by one in a line. In the late afternoon, when temperatures rise, Wood Storks often take to the sky, soaring on thermals like raptors. They nest in tight colonies with egrets and herons and generally show little aggression, but if a bird or mammal threatens them, they may pull their neck in, fluff up their feathers, and walk toward the intruder. Threats are also met with bill clattering and jabbing. Despite the myth that Wood Storks mate for life, pairs form at the breeding colony and stay together only for a single breeding season.

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Teenagers doing what they do best.

I’ve read that water levels affect their nesting rates. When levels are low, they have fewer offspring. Well, we did have a wet year last year!

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Just amazing to see (and hear and smell) this many birds in one place.

Bird Island is part of our town, Sewall’s Point. Here is a brief history of the island and a list of species observed, on the town website: Bird Island.

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Young stork, Brown Pelican and Black Vulture on the beach.

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Spoonbills and stork. I guess the juvenile storks start feeding on the island. I have not see the adults feed there – they fly off to other shallow waters, usually inland, usually fresh water.

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I was shooting into diffuse light, so these pics aren’t that great, but I wanted to show how many Magnificent Frigatebirds were in the trees on the northwest side of the island. I have been told that this is not a confirmed nesting site for frigate birds. I’m mildly skeptical… but humble about the limits of my bird knowledge.

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All together now, what a place!

More on Bird Island…

Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch: Sewall’s Point is for the Birds!

Visit Bird Island with Sunshine WildlifeTours

My blog: Bird Island Bird Spies; Bird Island from a boat; Boating near Bird Island.

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Meyer Art Originals Wood Stork print

A walk in Atlantic Ridge Preserve

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Sandhill Crane photographed through the windshield as we drove to Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park in Stuart, FL. There are a lot of these big birds in this riverside neighborhood off Paulson Road. They have a certain nonchalance.

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It’s a big park, 5800 acres in southern Martin County. It’s barebones too. If the phone line is busy to the Jonathan Dickinson State Park ranger station, as it was when we called, then you can’t get the code to the gate at the park entrance and you have to climb over the fence (and throw your dog over too).

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There is a map available in a box at the entrance.

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Our first bird sighting inside the park was this sweet little Eastern Phoebe at a marshy spot in the wet prairie.

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Phoebe fun fact: “In 1804, the Eastern Phoebe became the first banded bird in North America. John James Audubon attached silvered thread to an Eastern Phoebe’s leg to track its return in successive years.”

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Eastern Phoebes sit alertly on low perches, often twitching their tails as they look out for flying insects. When they spot one, they abruptly leave their perch on quick wingbeats, and chase down their prey in a quick sally—often returning to the same or a nearby perch.

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Bird #2 was a Bald Eagle! Slow flapping flight over wetlands.

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Speaking of wetlands, there were ditches on one or both sides of the flat sandy track and our dog stayed well-hydrated.

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Radar soaks his feet.

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Jungly, in that wet-dry Florida way.

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The view.

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Tracking. We saw signs of deer and wild (or feral) pigs but no encounters.

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A couple of miles in, John gets a phone call. Can’t we ever get away from it all??

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Wild thing.

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Sign in the middle of nowhere.

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Vegetation. Kind of monotonous in a beautiful way.

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Saw palmetto everywhere. Which is ironic because we want to plant some on our property and can’t find it available in local nurseries. Someone told us that the state buys a lot of it from the wholesalers because they have to plant a large percentage of native stuff when they landscape roadways etc.

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Pine Warbler in a pine tree.

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This is my first Florida sighting of a Pine Warbler.

I first encountered one in April of 2015 in my New Hampshire backyard, visiting a suet cake I put out: A warbler. And then again in March of 2016 nibbling my homemade suet dough on a porch railing: An Easter visitor.

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Tracks on the trail.

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We heard this hawk calling and calling and when it finally flew off its distant perch I couldn’t believe I got the photo with enough detail to ID it: it’s a Red-shouldered Hawk.

Whether wheeling over a swamp forest or whistling plaintively from a riverine park, a Red-shouldered Hawk is typically a sign of tall woods and water. It’s one of our most distinctively marked common hawks, with barred reddish-peachy underparts and a strongly banded tail. In flight, translucent crescents near the wingtips help to identify the species at a distance. These forest hawks hunt prey ranging from mice to frogs and snakes.

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Also spotted, a solo Blue Jay keeping an eye on us.

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This common, large songbird is familiar to many people, with its perky crest; blue, white, and black plumage; and noisy calls. Blue Jays are known for their intelligence and complex social systems with tight family bonds. Their fondness for acorns is credited with helping spread oak trees after the last glacial period.

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We walked along a large canal at one point, the “Seawind Canal” according to our black and white paper map. (We also used Google maps on my phone to not get lost.)

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A nearby committee of vultures took wing and became a kettle of vultures as we walked by. Lots and lots of them, seeming to really check us out.

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Black Vultures have the white wingtips.

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During the day, Black Vultures soar in flocks, often with Turkey Vultures and hawks. Their flight style is distinctive: strong wingbeats followed by short glides, giving them a batlike appearance.

It was a 4.5 mile walk in total, with some pleasant vistas and a nice collection of birds. We will go back to Atlantic Ridge.

Cathartes the purifier

So I went looking for the first bird of the new year, open to what the fates would send me yet pretty much expecting some sort of majestic raptor or rare wintering warbler.

If it was to be a woodpecker, I was hoping for the jaunty Pileated. If it was to be a heron, I felt a Great Egret would be appropriate… or maybe my oft-sighted pal the Little Blue. A Roseate Spoonbill winging overhead would be a pretty in pink.

But you cannot choose your New Year’s bird, your New Year’s bird chooses you. Behold…

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… the Turkey Vulture.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology…

If you’ve gone looking for raptors on a clear day, your heart has probably leaped at the sight of a large, soaring bird in the distance– perhaps an eagle or osprey. But if it’s soaring with its wings raised in a V and making wobbly circles, it’s likely a Turkey Vulture. These birds ride thermals in the sky and use their keen sense of smell to find fresh carcasses. They are a consummate scavenger, cleaning up the countryside one bite of their sharply hooked bill at a time, and never mussing a feather on their bald heads.

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I was walking the dog, my camera hanging from my shoulder, attuned to the sounds and movements of birds around me. An Osprey above, flying too far away for a photo. The little chirps of what may have been Palm Warblers, invisible in the trees. The noisy calls of Red-bellied Woodpeckers in someone’s backyard.

Instead my first good look at any bird, with a positive ID and photos, was of a committee of vultures, silent silhouettes lazing late into the morning on their dead-tree roost, waiting for sun and thermals to lift them into the sky to circle and scan for brunch.

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A group of vultures is called a kettle, committee or wake. The term kettle refers to vultures in flight, while committee refers to vultures resting on the ground or in trees. Wake is reserved for a group of vultures that are feeding.

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There was one Black Vulture with six Turkey Vultures.

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology…

With sooty black plumage, a bare black head, and neat white stars under the wingtips, Black Vultures are almost dapper. Whereas Turkey Vultures are lanky birds with teetering flight, Black Vultures are compact birds with broad wings, short tails, and powerful wingbeats. The two species often associate: the Black Vulture makes up for its poor sense of smell by following Turkey Vultures to carcasses. Highly social birds with fierce family loyalty, Black Vultures share food with relatives, feeding young for months after they’ve fledged.

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Black vulture pair feeding on a mule deer, John James Audubon, via Wikipedia.

American naturalist William Bartram wrote of the black vulture in his 1792 book Bartram’s Travels, calling it Vultur atratus “black vulture” or “carrion crow”. The common name “vulture” is derived from the Latin word vulturus, which means “tearer” and is a reference to its feeding habits. The species name, ātrātus, means “clothed in black,” from the Latin āter ‘dull black’.

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A Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura.

Cathartes means “purifier” and is the Latinized form from the Greek kathartēs/καθαρτης. Is aura from aureus “golden” or Aura, the Greek goddess of the breeze?

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Grasping the tree with its dark pink, clawed foot.

I have noticed Black Vultures here in Florida year-round, maybe more of them in winter, but I think the Turkey Vultures are here mainly in winter. They benefit from each other: the Turkey Vulture smells and locates the carrion and the Black Vulture has a stronger beak to start the tearing.

And they benefit us too.

National Geographic: Vultures Are Revolting. Here’s Why We Need to Save Them.

THE VULTURE MAY be the most maligned bird on the planet, a living metaphor for greed and rapaciousness. Leviticus and Deuteronomy classify vultures as unclean, creatures to be held in abomination by the children of Israel. In his diary during the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle in 1835, Charles Darwin called the birds “disgusting,” with bald heads “formed to wallow in putridity.” Among their many adaptations to their feculent niche: the ability to vomit their entire stomach contents when threatened, the better to take quick flight.

Revolting? Perhaps. But vultures are hardly without redeeming values. They don’t (often) kill other animals, they probably form monogamous pairs, and we know they share parental care of chicks, and loaf and bathe in large, congenial groups. Most important, they perform a crucial but massively underrated ecosystem service: the rapid cleanup, and recycling, of dead animals. By one estimate, vultures either residing in or commuting into the Serengeti ecosystem during the annual migration—when 1.3 million white-bearded wildebeests shuffle between Kenya and Tanzania—historically consumed more meat than all mammalian carnivores in the Serengeti combined. And they do it fast. A vulture can wolf more than two pounds of meat in a minute; a sizable crowd can strip a zebra—nose to tail—in 30 minutes. Without vultures, reeking carcasses would likely linger longer, insect populations would boom, and diseases would spread—to people, livestock, and other wild animals.

Thanks, clean-up crew.

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Pink hibiscus blooming today, on the first day of 2018, in our front yard. The flowers only last a day or so.

First bird of the year, in years past…

2015 (NH): The sometimes dazed but indefatigably diligent downy woodpecker.

2016 (NH): Northern cardinal in the snow.

2017 (FL): Grackles running around at the gas station.

Happy 2018!

Stilts and limpkins

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We took a drive all the way around Lake Okeechobee yesterday. On one little walk we spotted this wild animal!

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Just kidding. It’s Radar, our goofy German Shepherd.

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On another stop we spotted the aptly named “Stilt” bird… the Black-necked Stilt.

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We were at the Harney Pond Canal Recreation area on the west side of the lake, near the little town of Lakeport.

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There is a strange rickety bridge/ boardwalk over to an island.

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Nice views of what, from this Army Corps of Engineers map, appears to be Fisheating Bay.

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Incoming stilt.

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On the little island is another boardwalk with a view, going up to a little observation spot. Hundreds of dragonflies everywhere!

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Here are a few.

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It was very windy, with an east wind, and some dragonflies were clinging to branches, windblown.

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Looking back at the recreation area across the bridge.

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Looking out into the bay and marshes.

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Hey, what’s that bird? It’s new to me. I searched the internet later and discovered it’s a Limpkin!

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:

The limpkin is a long-legged species of waterbird that has dark brown feathers with streaks of white on the head and neck and absent on the rest of the body.  Limpkins can grow up to 28 inches (71.1 centimeters) long, with a 42 inch (106.7 centimeters) wingspan, and weigh up to 46 ounces (1,304 grams) (The Cornell Lab of Ornithology 2011).  White blotches and triangular marks can be found on the neck and upper body.  The key physical feature of the limpkin is their down-curved bill, which is used to feed on their primary prey, apple snails.

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Thirsty Turkey Vulture.

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Black Vulture soaring over us.

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Limpkins and maybe some kind of gallinule?

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A nice watery, marshy spot.

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View from the rickety bridge.

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Black-necked Stilt.

A striking black-and-white bird with very long, thin red legs, the Black-necked Stilt is found along the edges of shallow water in open country.

And…

They have the second-longest legs in proportion to their bodies of any bird, exceeded only by flamingos.

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.

Some birds of Pacific coast Costa Rica

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The first bird I saw in Costa Rica was… a grackle! Great-tailed Grackles were zooming around just outside the airport in Liberia, C.R.

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At our condo in Tamarindo, a White-winged Dove was nesting on the fourth-floor balcony.

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And howler monkeys were hanging around in the trees just outside.IMG_9951

Pacific Ocean and beach across the street.

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Magnificent Frigatebird above.

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Great Kiskadees were nesting on the rooftops of the condo.

We saw a lot of them in Costa Rica. They live as far north as south Texas.

These are bold, loud birds that quickly make their presence known. They sit on exposed branches near the tops of trees, often above water, where they give a piercing kis-ka-dee call and dart out to catch flying insects or pluck food—often small fish—from the water. They also eat fruit and sometimes come to feeders.

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I took a walk in the morning and found Black Vultures lurking.

These birds are uniform black except for white patches or “stars” on the underside of their wingtips (this can be hard to see in strong light or from far away). The bare skin of the head is black.

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Their strong beaks made it easy to rip into garbage bags.

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I never did figure out what this little bird was, hopping around like a sparrow in the underbrush.

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And I think, but I’m not sure, that this flycatcher is a Tropical Kingbird.

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Probably Brown Pelicans.

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Good morning, Sanderlings.

Sanderlings breed on the High Arctic tundra and migrate south in fall to become one of the most common birds along beaches. They gather in loose flocks to probe the sand of wave-washed beaches for marine invertebrates, running back and forth in a perpetual “wave chase.”

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Grackle time.