Tag Archives: Boat-tailed Grackle

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).

Lazybirding June

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Gull loaf.

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A couple of young Laughing Gulls claimed a piling each at Sandsprit Park a few days ago.

Not a lot of bird action these days, with wintering birds gone and nesting season nearing the end. Or am I the lazy one?

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The grackle (Boat-tailed) is a reliable presence, easily spotted and willing to pose for portraits. This one found me, flew down from a cabbage palm, landed on a railing by the waters of Manatee Pocket and said, “HERE  I AM, LADY.”

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Yesterday evening I saw this Yellow-crowned Night Heron near the entrance of the east causeway park of the Ernest Lyons Bridge. I was riding in the passenger seat of the car, with my camera on my lap and simply asked my husband to slow down, then I leaned out the window and click! (Or whatever the digital camera sound is.) That was easy.

It’s my first photo of an adult Nyctanassa violacea! (Order Pelicaniformes, family Ardeidae.)

While not as slender as a typical heron, the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron’s smooth purple-gray colors, sharp black-and-white face, and long yellow plumes lend it a touch of elegance. They forage at all hours of the day and night, stalking crustaceans in shallow wetlands and wet fields. Their diet leans heavily on crabs and crayfish, which they catch with a lunge and shake apart, or swallow whole.

Here is a juvenile eating a crab, back in Dec. 2016 when I first moved to this exotic locale.

Field trip to Platt’s Creek

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Pie-billed Grebe… “part bird, part submarine.”

A week ago, on March 21st, I went on a field trip organized by the local Audubon to Platt’s Creek Preserve, a restored wetland area in St. Lucie County.

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Incoming ducks.

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These were Mottled Ducks. We had two expert birders leading the trip, Eva Ries and David Simpson, and their identifications and commentary were so helpful and educational.

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A couple of males were fighting for a few minutes.

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A male and a female watched.

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Boat-tailed Grackles were everywhere, and the males were noisy, bold and impossible to ignore.

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When you smell saltwater on the East Coast, it’s time to look out for Boat-tailed Grackles. The glossy blue-black males are hard to miss as they haul their ridiculously long tails around or display from marsh grasses or telephone wires.

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This is a Blue-headed Vireo, a new bird to me that is a “common and vocal bird of Northeastern forests.” Our expert birders identified it by its song. Maybe someday I will be able to do that too.

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In our party of 10, I am the one who spotted the  Bald Eagle first and I’m pretty proud of that. What a bird, look at those wings!

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Northern Harrier that appears to be pursued by a Tree Swallow? This could have just been the angle of the photo, or maybe that little bird was pissed off.

We saw a couple of harriers working the boundaries of the woods and marsh area. Very cool raptors.

The Northern Harrier is distinctive from a long distance away: a slim, long-tailed hawk gliding low over a marsh or grassland, holding its wings in a V-shape and sporting a white patch at the base of its tail. Up close it has an owlish face that helps it hear mice and voles beneath the vegetation.

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Also soaring around up in the sky, a couple of Swallow-tailed Kites. This one was eating a lizard while flying, nice trick.

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The lilting Swallow-tailed Kite has been called “the coolest bird on the planet.” With its deeply forked tail and bold black-and-white plumage, it is unmistakable in the summer skies above swamps of the Southeast. Flying with barely a wingbeat and maneuvering with twists of its incredible tail, it chases dragonflies or plucks frogs, lizards, snakes, and nestling birds from tree branches. After rearing its young in a treetop nest, the kite migrates to wintering grounds in South America.

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Common Gallinule keeping an eye on us.

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Sandhill Crane in someone’s backyard. Some birds are easier to spot than others.

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Limpkin stalking the pond side vegetation.

An unusual bird of southern swamps and marshes, the Limpkin reaches the northern limits of its breeding range in Florida. There, it feeds almost exclusively on apple snails, which it extracts from their shells with its long bill. Its screaming cry is unmistakable and evocative.

In all, we tallied 51 species in our 3-hour, 1.5 mile walk. David Simpson posted the checklist to eBird HERE. Very helpful photos and descriptions for us birding newbies!

Birds at Lakeside Ranch STA

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Good morning, Lakeside Ranch STA (Stormwater Treatment Area).

I signed in at the gate with the president of Audubon of Martin County bright and early yesterday morning and joined a few other cars driving around here and there on the narrow roads on top of the dikes in the 2600 acres under the care of the South Florida Water Management District.

Lakeside Ranch STA is located on the northeast side of Lake Okeechobee, about 50 minutes from my home in Sewall’s Point.

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Great Blue Heron in the misty morn.

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Peaceful and pretty. Temps around 57 when I arrived at 7 a.m., climbing to 75 or so by the time I left at 10:30.

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Sandhill Crane flyby.

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Another birdwatcher.

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Great Egret and Great Blue Heron.

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Anhinga keeping an eye on me.

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Tri-colored Heron hunting for breakfast.

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Snowy Egret and  juvenile night heron.

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Little Blue Heron and Tricolored Heron.

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Rotten photo but I’ve been seeing these birds in Florida and didn’t know what they were. Audubon president helped me ID it as a Palm Warbler. “Yellow butt? Brown capped head? Wagging tail?”

The rusty-capped Palm Warbler can be most easily recognized by the tail-wagging habit that shows off its yellow undertail. It breeds in bogs and winters primarily in the southern United States and Caribbean.

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Voguing grackles. Or maybe males having a sing off? I am pretty sure these are Boat-tailed Grackles.

Boat-tailed Grackles are large, lanky songbirds with rounded crowns, long legs, and fairly long, pointed bills. Males have very long tails that make up almost half their body length and that they typically hold folded in a V-shape, like the keel of a boat.

Males are glossy black all over. Females are dark brown above and russet below, with a subtle face pattern made up of a pale eyebrow, dark cheek, and pale “mustache” stripe.

These scrappy blackbirds are supreme omnivores, feeding on everything from seeds and human food scraps to crustaceans scavenged from the shoreline.

Boat-tailed Grackles are a strictly coastal species through most of their range; however, they live across much of the Florida peninsula, often well away from the immediate coast.

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Is it a duck?

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Or a wading bird? Neither… it’s a Common Gallinule!

The Common Gallinule inhabits marshes and ponds from Canada to Chile. Vocal and boldly marked with a brilliant red shield over the bill, the species can be quite conspicuous. It sometimes uses its long toes to walk atop floating vegetation. This species was formerly called the Common Moorhen and is closely related to moorhen species in the Old World.

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Red-winged Blackbird.

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Killdeer.

A shorebird you can see without going to the beach, Killdeer are graceful plovers common to lawns, golf courses, athletic fields, and parking lots. These tawny birds run across the ground in spurts, stopping with a jolt every so often to check their progress, or to see if they’ve startled up any insect prey. Their voice, a far-carrying, excited kill-deer, is a common sound even after dark, often given in flight as the bird circles overhead on slender wings.

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Let these dead trees be decorated with Anhingas!

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Aw, sweet. Two Great Blue Herons starting a nest in a cabbage palm.

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My first Eastern Meadowlark!

The sweet, lazy whistles of Eastern Meadowlarks waft over summer grasslands and farms in eastern North America. The birds themselves sing from fenceposts and telephone lines or stalk through the grasses, probing the ground for insects with their long, sharp bills. On the ground, their brown-and-black dappled upperparts camouflage the birds among dirt clods and dry grasses. But up on perches, they reveal bright-yellow underparts and a striking black chevron across the chest.

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Juvenile White Ibis strikes a pose.

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Cattle Egret, that chunky little white egret found near or away from water. Often seen (by me) on top of shrubs planted in medians.

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Anhinga draws attention to an important road sign.

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Great Blue Heron pose.

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Alligator smile.

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There were five gators in this one spot.

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View across a small canal to another birdwatcher’s car.

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Blackbird (grackle?) draws attention to this important sign.

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Cattle and cattle egrets, just past the edge of the STA.

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Sandhill Crane, maybe on top of the beginnings of a nest.

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Glossy Ibis.

A dark wading bird with a long, down-curved bill. Although the Glossy Ibis in North America lives primarily along the Atlantic Coast, it also can be found in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia.

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Blurry pic because it was far away, but with important identifying features. I described this bird to the Audubon president when I got back to the gate and he said it was a Loggerhead Shrike. Another new bird!

The Loggerhead Shrike is a songbird with a raptor’s habits. A denizen of grasslands and other open habitats throughout much of North America, this masked black, white, and gray predator hunts from utility poles, fence posts and other conspicuous perches, preying on insects, birds, lizards, and small mammals. Lacking a raptor’s talons, Loggerhead Shrikes skewer their kills on thorns or barbed wire or wedge them into tight places for easy eating. Their numbers have dropped sharply in the last half-century.

At the end of January, I attended a couple of days of a local Audubon Field Academy. I am signed up next to do a day with raptors at a local wildlife rehab center, then a unit on migration at the end of March. More field trips are on the calendar too.

Meanwhile, back to fixing up this little old Florida concrete-block-and-stucco house. I am painting the last of the three bedrooms today before the wood floor installation guys arrive tomorrow.