Tag Archives: Florida birds

True colors

Three photos from the archives, for the glorious Fourth.

red

Red.

white

White.

blue

And blue.

From this morning…

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Sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean, from Virginia Forrest Beach on Hutchinson Island, Stuart, Florida. Latitude 27.23 north, longitude 80.18 west.

Have a beautiful day… today and always.

It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.  – John Adams

Birds, the Beast and Blue Cypress

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Our sweet ride awaits, the bug-eye green boat that is the Marsh Beast. Birdwatching by airboat, oh yeah! We did that yesterday morning.

Audubon of Martin County organized the trip with Captain Kenny Elkins of Marsh Beast Airboat Tours.

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Our trip was in Blue Cypress Conservation Area, west of Vero Beach, an hour north of home. INFO and MAP

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We could get a really nice view of some birds from the boat, like this Anhinga at rest.

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Guys fishing and an osprey nest.

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Two juveniles and one adult in this photo.

Captain Kenny said this is one of the few nests with juveniles still in it.

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Another airboat coming in for a look.

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We saw lots of Ospreys during our trip.

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Ma or Pa Osprey.

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The Osprey kids’ brown feathers have more white on them than the adult.

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That’s a fine young bird!

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Osprey at rest. Big wings like a cloak.

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Osprey in motion…almost a great photo!

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We came upon some small black fuzzy creatures in the floating vegetation.

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They are seemingly running on top of the water.

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They were Purple Gallinule chicks, we were told.

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Long legs and long toes make them look funny if you are more used to hen chicks than swamphen chicks.

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Looks like a little wetland roadrunner.

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There’s an adult.

A beautifully colored bird of southern and tropical wetlands, the Purple Gallinule can be see walking on top of floating vegetation or clambering through dense shrubs. Its extremely long toes help it walk on lily pads without sinking.

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On the move.

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Iridescent.

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More chicks.

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Adult coming in for a landing.

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Purple Gallinule chicks.

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Coming up on an alligator.

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Alligator spotting is an important part of any airboat trip in Florida, right?

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A Least Bittern!.. a new bird for me.

A tiny heron, furtive and surpassingly well camouflaged, the Least Bittern is one of the most difficult North American marsh birds to spot.

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What a beauty!

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Thanks to its habit of straddling reeds, the Least Bittern can feed in water that would be too deep for the wading strategy of other herons.

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I think this is a male, because its back and crown are almost black. Females’ crown and back are brown, according to Cornell.

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A short flying hop to some new reeds.

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Shake it off.

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Thank you for posing, little bittern.

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Common Gallinule.

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We watched one big gator for a while.

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And he watched us.

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Scenery.

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Great Blue Heron in a mat of water hyacinth.

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We investigated an area I’ll called Egret Town.

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Great Egret.

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Three Greats.

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Big wings, big feathers.

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Great Egret wingspan is four-and-a-half to five-and-a-half feet.

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Another Common Gallinule.

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It was nice to have a breeze when we were on the move on a typically warm Florida summer morning.

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Nice golden slippers, Snowy Egret. Another one of those just-missed-it action photos, oh well.

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Birds and beast.

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American Coot.

Captain Kenny said they are normally here in winter, not summer.

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Coot relocating.

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Decorating the tree a bit early this year, in Egret Town.

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Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets.

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More gallinule chicks.

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An older gallinule chick among the lotus?

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These lovely lotus are native plants, we learned.

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Lotus blossom.

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Anhinga in the treetops, my last bird of the trip.

Grow up so I can tell what you are!

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Well, there’s another one. Juvenile night heron. Yellow-crowned? Black-crowned? It’s so hard when they don’t have their crowns yet.

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Perfectly still and nicely camouflaged, at the edge of the retention pond on the corner of South Sewall’s Point Road and Ocean Boulevard.

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Sometimes the pond fountain is on, sometimes off. Looking from the Ocean Boulevard sidewalk you can glimpse the town’s nice little park beyond and a bit of the Indian River Lagoon.

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Members of Facebook’s “What’s This Bird” IDed this as a Yellow-crowned Night Heron and shared a helpful link: Birdzilla: Juvenile Night Heron Comparison.

When not to feed the birds (and alligators)

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A couple of big birds walking at Park of Commerce Boulevard just off Beeline Highway in northern Palm Beach County.

The wetlands in that area are remnants of northern Everglades, with some big employers too like Pratt Whitney and destinations like Palm Beach International Raceway.

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Also, wildlife abounds.

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We were at the gas station there yesterday, after giving up on a walk in a too-wet wetland. When I saw these Sandhills Cranes, I walked over and sat at a picnic table (with my camera) to see what they would do.

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They walked slowly and fearlessly toward me.

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An adult and juvenile, maybe.

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Head shot of the larger crane.

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Got an itch.

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The young one.

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Probably people have fed these cranes, which is illegal in Florida.

In Florida, it is illegal to feed manatees, sandhill cranes, bears, raccoons, foxes, and alligators.

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Feeding wildlife often has a detrimental rather than a helpful effect. Feeding animals may cause some species to concentrate so much on this supplemental feeding that they become a nuisance or a threat to people (e.g., bears, sandhill cranes). When fed, alligators can overcome their natural wariness and learn to associate people with food. When this happens, some of these alligators have to be removed and killed.

A bold, 12-foot alligator killed a woman in South Florida a few days ago. It had taken up residence in a park in an urban area where people fed the animals and sabotaged traps set out to capture nuisance critters.  Some people can be so dumb.

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But I can certainly understand the temptation to attract and interact with this cool animal. Growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs, I read National Geographic, watched animal documentaries and TV shows, and dreamed of safari jobs and adventures getting close to large animals in wild habitat.

But of course you don’t have to go to Africa to observe wild animals.

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The cranes gave up on me and headed toward the Fried Chicken and Hot Subs.

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My husband and dog were at the table over there. The top of our German shepherd’s head is just visible. Radar has his ears in the irritated-with-us position. He was ready for a big walk, but the trails in J.W. Corbett WMA were mostly under water. Rainy season has been too rainy.

Much of South Florida is dense-pack developed, but there are huge swaths of preserved land for exploring too. Many are Wildlife Management Areas, with dirt roads and some trails, where hunting is legal. I’m realizing why I see a lot of jacked-up mud trucks with monster tires around here. An airboat would have come in handy yesterday too.

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Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: Living With Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill cranes are cherished members of the Florida ecosystem. They stand almost 4 feet tall and their bugling or rattling calls are haunting and beautiful. Sandhill cranes occur in pastures, open prairies and freshwater wetlands in peninsular Florida from the Everglades to the Okefenokee Swamp.

Florida sandhill cranes are present in many urban areas and some unlikely places such as golf courses, airports and suburban subdivisions. This is probably due in part to the rapid development of their native habitat by humans. Cranes are probably attracted by the open setting (mowed grass) and availability of some foods (acorns, earthworms, mole crickets, turf grubs).

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A few minutes after I took these photos, I watched a guy gassing up at a pump toss some leftover unidentifiable mystery food from a styrofoam container onto the ground in front of the cranes and they pecked at a few bites.

The omnivorous Sandhill Crane feeds on land or in shallow marshes where plants grow out of the water, gleaning from the surface and probing with its bill. Its diet is heavy in seeds and cultivated grains, but may also include berries, tubers, small vertebrates, and invertebrates. Nonmigratory populations eat adult and larval insects, snails, reptiles, amphibians, nestling birds, small mammals, seeds, and berries.

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Whether stepping singly across a wet meadow or filling the sky by the hundreds and thousands, Sandhill Cranes have an elegance that draws attention. These tall, gray-bodied, crimson-capped birds breed in open wetlands, fields, and prairies across North America.

Elegant even at a gas station.

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

Savannas in early May

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Partridge pea is blooming at Savannas Preserve State Park. We went for a walk there yesterday, at the far south entrance off Jensen Beach Blvd.

Savannas Preserve State Park encompasses 6,000 acres stretching 10 miles from Jensen Beach to Fort Pierce with the largest freshwater marsh in South Florida. Water levels are seasonally variable.

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This is a marsh overlook, with trusty dog and adventurous husband, but without much water to see at the end of the dry season.

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But the water is coming. In fact, half an hour after our walk it rained hard off and on for the rest of the day. Rainy season officially begins May 15 and lasts to Oct. 15.

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Not a lot of birds got close enough for me to photograph. The exception to the rule was odd: a Little Blue Heron flew to the top of a tall pine tree.

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Bird’s eye view.

Check out the Nature & History of the park at the Friends of Savannas Preserve State Park webpage.

The Savannas comprises six natural communities: pine flatwoods, wet prairie, basin marsh, marsh lake, sand pine scrub, and scrubby flatwoods. Each community is characterized by a distinct population of plants and animals that are naturally associated with each other and their physical environment. 

Of particular interest is the sand pine scrub, a globally-imperiled plant community covering the eastern boundary of the park. It is dominated by sand pines and is home to the Florida scrub-jay and gopher tortoise.

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We were walking on trails through the flatwoods and scrub. But that is not a Scrub Jay…

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Those feet seem to work for perching as well as the usual shoreline wading.

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Little Blue.

Check out this drone video of the Savannas by Alan Nyiri on Youtube.

Haney Creek list

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Green Heron!

Not an uncommon bird, but hard to spot. This is my first sighting since we moved to Florida.

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I went for a walk at Haney Creek yesterday late morning. I kept track of the birds I saw and heard and posted an eBird checklist for the first time in a while.

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The first to greet me: a couple of Gray Catbirds.

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Meow.

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Next, a non-bird.

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A slow-moving Gopher Tortoise was grazing at the edge of the path.

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On the fence at the dog run, an Eastern Phoebe.

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“Phoebe!” it said, helpfully.

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I expected to see more wading birds in the wetlands but only came up with this immature Little Blue Heron.

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That is a school just beyond the wetlands.

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The Little Blue is starting to get its adult colors.

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Why do they start off white and turn slaty blue-gray? I don’t know.

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On the hunt.

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Mirror, mirror.

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Last time I was at the dog park at Haney Creek (two days before), there were a pair of Sandhill Cranes and a pair of Great Egrets having a turf battle. I did not have my camera. I was hoping to see them this day but no luck.

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Next I walked a trail through sand pine scrub.

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There were little birds calling but I only got a good look at a few, including this Yellow-rumped Warbler.

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There have been a ton of butterbutts around this winter. I’m almost getting sick of them.

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More info on Florida sand pine scrub, an endangered subtropical forest ecoregion.

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Another gopher tortoise out for a stroll.

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Finally an animal that can’t outrun me, or fly away.

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Lots of Northern Cardinals around.

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I think it’s nesting season for them.

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Chestnut cap helps identify this (out of focus) Palm Warbler.

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Who doesn’t love a Green Heron??

Catbirds are songbirds

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Gray Catbird perches on the birdbath behind Audubon of Martin County yesterday at the Possum Long Nature Preserve in Stuart, FL.

I am still learning year-round vs. winter residents. Looks like catbirds are snowbirds in Florida.

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Resident along the Atlantic Coast; otherwise migratory. Catbirds from across North America spend winters along the Gulf Coast from Florida through Texas and all the way down Central America and the Caribbean.

They would arrive at our old house in coastal New Hampshire in early May, when tree flowers were blooming and insects were out. Contrary to popular opinion they were not shy. But I did serve them a fine feast at the feeders.

Scroll down for catbird photos from days of yore: GRAY CATBIRD – Amy’s Birds.

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Catbirds are mimids, members of the Mimidae family which includes mockingbirds and thrashers, notable for their vocalizations and ability to mimic other birds and outdoor sounds.

Yesterday I attended an Audubon class on Songbirds and Woodpeckers. Catbirds are songbirds or, more scientifically, Passeriformes or perching birds. Of the 10,000 species of birds in the world, about half of them are “songbirds” possessing the vocal cords and brains that allow them to sing, not just vocalize or call.

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From Cornell Lab Bird Academy: How and Why Birds Sing.

I went outside to get the Sunday paper during this morning’s dawn chorus and heard and saw two noisy catbirds in the bushes across the street.

If I could understand the language of the birds, I might hear them saying: “Write about us, write about us! We are leaving soon to fly north for the summer. See you next fall.”

Cedar waxwings are Florida snowbirds

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Cedar Waxwings visited the live oak tree across the street from our house in Sewall’s Point, Florida yesterday in the early afternoon.

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cedar Waxwing:

A treat to find in your binocular viewfield, the Cedar Waxwing is a silky, shiny collection of brown, gray, and lemon-yellow, accented with a subdued crest, rakish black mask, and brilliant-red wax droplets on the wing feathers.

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We spotted several large flocks flying over, plus this flock that had settled in for some perching and trilly whistling. Maybe 50 or 60 birds in this tree?

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I’ve only seen Cedar Waxwings in winter, when we lived in New Hampshire. They liked the berries from the winterberry holly growing wild around us.

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Cedar Waxwings are social birds that form large flocks and often nest in loose clusters of a dozen or so nests. When feeding on fruits, Cedar Waxwings pluck them one by one and swallow the entire thing at once. They typically feed while perched on a twig, but they’re also good at grabbing berries while hovering briefly just below a bunch. When eating insects, waxwings either fly out from an exposed perch, or make long, zig-zagging flights over water.

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Notice that the bird on the left has an orange-tipped rather than yellow-tipped tail. What’s that all about? I don’t know.

During courtship, males and females hop towards each other, alternating back and forth and sometimes touching their bills together. Males often pass a small item like a fruit, insect, or flower petal, to the female. After taking the fruit, the female usually hops away and then returns giving back the item to the male. They repeat this a few times until, typically, the female eats the gift.

I saw a few of them do this. Charming!