Tag Archives: Blue Jay

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).

What’s black and white and red and blue?

Two birds I saw on a walk.

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A Blue Jay on the lawn.

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Pileated Woodpecker in a tree, with moss and a climbing cactus.

The Cornell Lab Bird Academy: How Birds Make Colorful Feathers

As one might expect from the amazing diversity of colors and patterns exhibited by more than 10,000 bird species found in the world, birds can see color. The colors in the feathers of a bird are formed in two different ways, from either pigments or from light refraction caused by the structure of the feather.

A woodpecker’s brilliant red cap is formed by pigmentation of the feathers, but a blue jay’s feathers look blue because of the structure of the feather and the way it scatters incoming light.

If you find the feather of a Blue Jay or Steller’s Jay you can see for yourself how this works. First, observe the feather in normal lighting conditions and you will see the expected blue color. Next, try back-lighting the feather. When light is transmitted through the feather it will look brown. The blues are lost because the light is no longer being reflected back and the brown shows up because of the melanin in the feathers.

Planting shrubs can be for the birds

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A treetop Osprey, Pandion haliaetus.

Our town of Sewall’s Point is on a narrow peninsula between the St. Lucie River and the Indian River Lagoon and there are lots of these fishhawks living here.

A few more pics from yesterday morning’s bird walk.

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Blue Jay on a wire with a wind-blown punk hairdo.

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Many, many Palm Warblers are here in winter and this is one of them.

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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  • Though the Palm Warbler’s name might imply it is a tropical bird, it’s actually one of the northernmost breeding of all warblers (only the Blackpoll Warbler breeds farther north). They got their name from J. P. Gmelin who named them based on a specimen collected on Hispaniola, a Caribbean island with a lot of palm trees.

 

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Lots of yellow on this warbler.

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Palm Warblers primarily eat insects including beetles, flies, and caterpillars. During the winter they also eat seeds and berries such as bayberry, sea grape, and hawthorn when available.

Create a bird friendly backyard for migrating or wintering Palm Warblers by planting native plants. Learn more about birdscaping at Habitat Network.

Yesterday we planted more native shrubs in our backyard, a couple of beautyberry and a couple of cardinal firebush. Last year we planted Simpson’s stoppers, wild coffee, silver buttonwood and Bahamas maidenbush along the back fence and three dwarf firebush in one corner of our little backyard.

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Last year’s firebush is about to bloom and feed the butterflies.

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American Beautyberry, just planted. The bird-feeding berries will look like this

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2018 is the Year of the Bird and the recommended action to help birds in March is to add native plants to your backyard. Here’s how to do it where you live: Native Plants Audubon.

Also: A Yard Full of Native Plants Is a Yard Full of Well-Fed Birds

As for feeding the Osprey, whatever keeps the rivers and oceans healthy and full of fish keeps the skies full of fishhawks too. Obviously!

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.

Birds are avian dinosaurs

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Sometimes when I look at Blue Jays I think of velociraptors.

Birds are avian dinosaurs. Does everyone know that yet?

Audubon Magazine: The consensus is in: Birds are living dinosaurs. But how that epic evolutionary leap took place remains one of science’s greatest mysteries

Newsweek: Birds are dinosaurs, but how did they get here?

Nat Geo: Birds evolved from dinosaurs slowly – then took off

What blue jays look like….

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What blue jays think they look like…

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To read:

Unknown

“Dinosaurs didn’t die out when an asteroid hit Earth 66 million years ago. Get ready to unthink what you thought you knew and journey into the deep, dark depths of the Jurassic. The discovery of the first feathered dinosaur in China in 1996 sent shockwaves through the palaeontological world. Were the feathers part of a complex mating ritual, or a stepping stone in the evolution of flight? And just how closely related is T. rex to a chicken? Award-winning journalist John Pickrell reveals how dinosaurs developed flight and became the birds in our backyards.”