City birds, big bugs and a new birdwatcher

A Starling disassembles a cicada, on a sidewalk in Alexandria, Virginia.

It’s a big year for bugs.

Cicadas crawl about forests all over the world, and most have annual life cycles. But periodical cicadas, which don’t exist anywhere else on Earth but the eastern United States, spend far more time underground before emerging in broods to mate either every 13 years or every 17 years. A different cicada brood emerges most years, but these groups vary greatly in size and location. This year will be special: The so-called Brood X is among the largest and densest. The insects will appear by the billions in three distinct hotspots that cross parts of Pennsylvania, Delaware, Washington, D.C., Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Georgia, and Tennessee. 

House Sparrows were munching cicadas too.

Seems like a big bug for a small bird, but cicadas are slow and defenseless. Though perhaps their defenses are in their periodically large numbers.

Birds usually help keep bug populations in check, and the cicada influx will be a bonanza for a number of medium- or larger-sized birds that are big enough to dine on the two-inch insects. But because millions of cicadas emerge on a single acre of forest during big brood years, even the keenest birds hardly put a dent in the population.

If you live in the mid-Atlantic region, you can: Help researchers learn which birds eat periodical cicadas.

I am visiting my eldest daughter Anna who moved to the DC area with her husband a year ago during the stress, masking and lockdown restrictions of Covid. Regarding meeting new people and enjoying the culture and variety of city life, she said, “I might as well be living on the moon.”

Earlier this spring, Anna discovered a woodland area along a stream a few blocks from her apartment. It connects to a small park with a paved path looping under trees and through the grassy flood plain. She goes there many evenings after a long day of working from home and before doing homework for her online classes. She has started to learn the birds.

A Great Blue Heron is a regular visitor to the stream.

Yesterday in the early evening, Anna logged her first eBird checklist there. A new birdwatcher has fledged!

These Mallards made the list, as did one Mourning Dove, two Blue Jays pestering three Crows (Fish or American, we weren’t sure), a couple of Carolina Chickadees in a willow tree, four European Starlings strutting around on the park lawns, two madly-singing Gray Catbirds, three Northern Cardinals, and a couple of House Sparrows.

She also learned that a pair of binoculars plus intent staring up into the tree canopy or down into a meadow can be a conversation starter with other nature lovers, dog walkers and curious passersby. Welcome back to Earth from the Moon, dear daughter.

A loop around the pond, and precocious goslings

I watched these two cormorants swimming and diving for fish around the edges of the pond at Indian Riverside Park the other day.

I believe the darker one is an adult and the light brown one is a juvenile. They were staying close together, diving and surfacing at the same time – the young bird mirroring the older bird.

A Blue Jay was keeping an eye on me.

Great Blue Heron at the west side of the pond.

Muscovy Duck heading toward a woman calling for her. “Lily, Lily! I brought you something.”

People feed the birds and ducks here.

Florida Mottled Ducks are closely related to the more familiar mallard. The male has a yellow bill and the female’s is orangey and darker.

Egyptian geese keeping watch over three chicks.

So cute!

Egyptian Geese are native to the Nile River Valley and other parts of the Middle East. They are yet another non-native that is beginning to breed “in the wild” in South Florida.

Oh the tiny wings!

The feathers are all down at this age. So soft.

This one stopped to rest. But not for too long.

Soon it was time to forage again. They eat a variety of plants, seeds, tiny animals and insects. Believe it or not, popcorn and bread are not very good for them.

Egyptian goslings (like the chicks of domestic hens) are precocial, born with downy feathers and ready to start feeding themselves right away, as opposed to altricial birds born naked and helpless, staying in the nest for some time, needing to be fed.

Cormorants are altricial… and so are human babies!

Wood Stork nesting season begins at Bird Island

This is a post about getting close to Wood Storks. But not too close. It’s the beginning of nesting season and we don’t want to pester them too much.

We borrowed a small boat from our boat club and heading out of Manatee Pocket towards the Five Corners then into the Indian River Lagoon.

On the way out of the Pocket, we saw dolphins. You can just see a fin in the center of the above photo.

The water in the Indian River Lagoon was clean and clear and beautiful! We liked the name of this trawler, heading north on the Intracoastal Waterway… “Quite Nice.”

Just east of Sewall’s Point, there is a small island popular with roosting and nesting water birds and wading birds.

Bird Island.

Birds ahead!

Nesting season has begun for the Wood Storks and this is a favorite spot for them in the region.

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.

Boats are supposed to stay outside these signs, and we did. So bring your binoculars and telephoto lens.

Other birds that like Bird Island include the Brown Pelican and the Roseate Spoonbill.

Wood Storks are gangly – a little over three feet tall with a wing span of five feet. They drop their legs and feet forward like this as they near a landing spot.

A Wood Stork turning for Bird Island, with the bridge between Sewall’s Point and Hutchinson Island beyond.

Roseate Spoonbills are in the air too.

I could loiter in this spot for hours… although an east wind can bring a strong scent of bird poop.

Great Blue Heron on the sandy beach.

“Look out below. Here I come, everybody!”

Wood Storks nest in trees above standing water. They build nests in cypress swamps, in oaks in flooded impoundments, in mangroves, and in flooded areas with black gum and Australian pine. Almost any tree or shrub will do as long as standing water is present.

Wood Storks are colonial nesters, like many other bird species.

The habit of nesting in groups is believed to provide better survival against predators in several ways. Many colonies are situated in locations that are naturally free of predators. In other cases, the presence of many birds means there are more individuals available for defense. Also, synchronized breeding leads to such an abundance of offspring as to satiate predators.

For seabirds, colonies on islands have an obvious advantage over mainland colonies when it comes to protection from terrestrial predators. Other situations can also be found where bird colonies avoid predation.

I think the majority of the nesting Wood Storks in Florida are found in freshwater habitats like cypress swamps and in the Everglades. We are lucky to have a colony here on our coast.

Despite the myth that Wood Storks mate for life, pairs form at the breeding colony and stay together only for a single breeding season. Males initially are hostile to the female, but once he accepts her into the territory he starts preening her and offering her sticks.

I have never noticed Wood Storks feeding in the waters immediately around Bird Island, but I have seen them many times at freshwater ponds and marshes further inland, or in ditches along roadsides.

Some days they soar overhead on thermals like vultures or raptors.

This stork is carrying a stick back to the island. I’ve seen them “perched” awkwardly in treetops in south Sewall’s Point, noisily breaking off branches.

Males and females gather sticks from the surrounding areas. Together they build a large, bulky stick nest 3–5 feet wide. They line the nest with greenery that eventually gets covered in guano, which helps hold the nest together. Nest building typically takes 2–3 days, but the pair continues to make improvements throughout the nesting period.

We were birdwatching, but then we got a chance to do some fishwatching!

I think a tarpon was chasing these mullet. I saw a big one near our boat right before this.

Beyond is a house in the Sewall’s Point neighborhood called The Archipelago.

There are usually fish here in this little corner close to shore, but this is the first time I’ve seen a show like this.

The Great Egret was flying near the island. Note how they fold up their necks in flight, unlike Wood Storks that fly with their necks extended.

White Ibis passed the island in a V formation (necks extended).

This Brown Pelican (neck folded) passed close to our boat. Wingspan of these birds range from 6.5 to 7.5 feet!

The water was so clear, we could see underwater creatures moving here and there. This was one of two pair of Spotted Eagle Rays cruising around together, over a shallow sandy bottom.

After Bird Island, we wanted to go ashore on one of the other mangrove islands in the lagoon. We passed this one, that we have nicknamed Hot Dog Island for a couple of picnics we’ve had there.

We went ashore on Boy Scout Island (it’s real name, locally) and spent an hour swimming, exploring, idly casting a line without catching anything except rays – the kind from the sun.

The water is so clean and beautiful now, since we haven’t had any polluted and algae-laden discharges from Lake Okeechobee in a while.

The Army Corps of Engineers is rewriting their regulation schedule that determines when discharges will occur. Our local Congressman Brian Mast shares more information HERE (Army Corps Must Seize Once In A Decade Opportunity To Stop Discharges), including a link to the Army Corps email where you can share your views on this topic. I will be writing to them!

Almost-spring on Bird Island

Come fly with me…

… to a strange and wonderful place known as Bird Island. It’s very close to home.

This Magnificent Frigatebird knows the way.

Black frigatebirds on lower branches, white Wood Storks above.

The storks are the most numerous nesting birds at this time of year on this small mangrove island in the Indian River Lagoon that’s just off our peninsular town of Sewall’s Point.

Frigatebirds don’t nest here, they just roost, I’ve been told. But I’m keeping an eye on that situation!

We took a boat out on Tuesday, March 17, late afternoon with the newest member of the family, Ruby the 10-week-old German shepherd. It was her first boat ride and she was great! (We are members of a boat club in Manatee Pocket, about a 20 minute ride to Bird Island.)

Brown Pelicans had reserved their own roosting and nesting spots in one section of the canopy.

Big wings, big bill.

Wood Storks flew close to the boat.

Very common sight in Sewall’s Point at this time of year, as they fly over on their way to Bird Island, sometimes even stopping in our trees to break beaches for nesting material.

Peachy pink feet visible in this photo, as well as some color under the wings.

Speaking of color, the White Ibis have more intensely colored bills and feet in breeding season.

I am so glad this island was designated a wildlife area.

A Great Blue Heron among the Wood Storks. Looks like a Little Blue Heron mixed in there too.

Birds everywhere.

Ruby was watching them too.

White Ibis flying over. They don’t stop on this island – they have their own on the other side of the Intracoastal Waterway.

White Ibis zoomed in.

My husband’s favorite bird was this Fish Crow perched on the sign, as if to draw attention to its important information!

Great Egret.

Wood Stork coming in for a landing.

“Honey, I’m home!”

“Great to see you, gimme a smooch!”

Smooch!

I’m looking forward to getting out to Bird Island again later in the season, when the chicks pop up.

Here are some photos of young Wood Storks from a trip to Bird Island May 2018.

Causeway birds – January

Ospreys always overhead. Every day.

This one was soaring above one of our favorite spots, “the causeway.” It’s a park under the west side of the Ernest Lyons Bridge that crosses the Indian River Lagoon, connecting Sewall’s Point and Hutchinson Island. We can walk there from home. It’s a favorite spot to throw the ball for the dog and watch birds, fish, boats, fishermen and windsurfers.

We are the watchers. The walkers and watchers.

Here’s a bird we watched.

A Great Blue Heron was standing in shallows on the north side.

This bird can strike a pose. Vogue Heron.

It is showing some blue coloring near its eye and some long dark plumes on its head. Its legs are turning a darker color too. Mating season ahoy.

Spotted from afar, a Spotted Sandpiper. I moved slowly closer.

These are the most widespread sandpipers in North America, but not super common around here as far as I can tell. They migrate north for their summer mating season.

The tail bobbing movement of this bird is distinctive, and caught my eye while I was watching this one and trying to ID it.

From Cornell Lab of Ornithology…

  • Its characteristic teetering motion has earned the Spotted Sandpiper many nicknames. Among them are teeter-peep, teeter-bob, jerk or perk bird, teeter-snipe, and tip-tail.
  • The function of the teetering motion typical of this species has not been determined. Chicks teeter nearly as soon as they hatch from the egg. The teetering gets faster when the bird is nervous, but stops when the bird is alarmed, aggressive, or courting.

I tallied the birds I watched on this day and submitted an e-Bird checklist here: Amy Kane January 3 Ernest Lyons Bridge 7 species

I think I’ll check in at this spot once a month this year, and keep an eye on the birds close to home.

That includes our winter friends the vultures, like this Black Vulture on a causeway lamppost.

“I think the most important quality in a birdwatcher is a willingness to stand quietly and see what comes. Our everyday lives obscure a truth about existence – that at the heart of everything there lies a stillness and a light.” – Lynn Thomson

Haney Creek East

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I often wander the Haney Creek North section but a few days ago I finally explored “East” shown on the map above highlighted in yellow. It’s located in Stuart, Florida north of the St. Lucie River.

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A trail leads away from the pull-off area along Dixie Highway.

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We can thank Stuart City Commissioner Jeffrey Krauskopf for helping save this land from development. There is a freshwater marsh on the right hand side here, and brackish swamp with mangroves on the other.

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An Osprey rested on top of a pine tree.

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Enjoy this good bird news: Ospreys Have Made a Remarkable Recovery

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Blue flag? It used to bloom by our New Hampshire pond in spring. I didn’t know it grew in this part of Florida.

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Boardwalk with plenty of cautionary signs.

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Got a good look at a young Little Blue Heron. Yes, they start off as Little White Herons.

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Little white.

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Maple? Also haven’t noticed that around here. Maybe swamp maple… which also grew by our old pond 1400 miles north of here.

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Palm Warbler in the trees.

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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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Weedy fields, forest edges, and scrubby areas are great places to look for them during migration and winter. Look through groups of birds foraging on the ground—they’re often with sparrows, juncos, and Yellow-rumped Warblers—so watch for their characteristic tail wagging to pull them out of the crowd. They also forage in low shrubs and isolated trees in open areas, where they sometimes sally out for insects like a flycatcher. Palm Warblers typically aren’t skittish, so if you find one, you should have enough time to get a good look.

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I like the way the light hit the bird’s eye in this shot.

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Also spotted a Downy Woodpecker, near the southern end of its range too.

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View walking back on the boardwalk over freshwater.

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Great Egret.

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Great Blue Heron, with “civilization” beyond.

GBH nest

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“Honey, I’m home!”

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My husband and I watched a pair of Great Blue Herons yesterday, on a nest in a cypress tree in a man-made pond near the Green River Parkway in Jensen Beach.

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It seems a bit early for nesting season, but I suppose these birds know what they’re doing.

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Funny to see these big wading birds up in a tree. They are the largest herons in North America.

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Male Great Blue Herons collect much of the nest material, gathering sticks from the ground and nearby shrubs and trees, and from unguarded and abandoned nests, and presenting them to the female. She weaves a platform and a saucer-shaped nest cup, lining it with pine needles, moss, reeds, dry grass, mangrove leaves, or small twigs. Nest building can take from 3 days up to 2 weeks; the finished nest can range from a simple platform measuring 20 inches across to more elaborate structures used over multiple years, reaching 4 feet across and nearly 3.5 feet deep.

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Like other herons they often breed in colonies, with many other nests and pairs nearby, but these two appeared to be alone.

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Beautiful plumage.

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It was a sunny day, warming into the lower 70s. It felt good after a few cold, windy days.

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Some wings!

Early November in Savannas Preserve

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American Kestrel looks fierce and cute at the same time.

I saw this bird and others on Saturday during a solo 1.1-mile walk in the Martin County section of the wonderfully unique Savannas Preserve, off Jensen Beach Boulevard.

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Entrance fee is $3, self service. There is a picnic pavilion and a bathroom building.

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Info.

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The main trail heads off into the wild.

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Holly berries gave a festive, late autumn look to an otherwise not very autumnal landscape – at least for those of us who have lived in north most of our lives. This is Dahoon holly, I think.

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Wood Stork.

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Great Egret heading in the other direction.

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Main trail goes straight. This time I took the side trail to the right, heading east towards a lower, wetter area.

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Northern Mockingbird posed on a stump.

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Wildflowers in bloom.

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A group of Wood Storks was feeding near a Great Egret.

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Holly and a nest box, at the edge of the wetlands.

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Wood Storks took off and then I counted them (two others went in another direction).

My eBird checklist for the walk is HERE.

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Great Blue Heron was standing very still.

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A came upon a large trap. I guessed it might be for wild pigs, which can be such a problem in Florida.

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A pair of Anhingas.

IMG_9939Raccoon has been here.

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This part of the trail was a bit muddy from recent rains.

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Mystery track. Sort of cat-like and cat-sized. Domestic cat out for a prowl? Fox?

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Sort of boring yet oddly beautiful landscape, to me.

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Silvery saw palmettos between the freshwater marsh grass and slash pines.

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I heard this kestrel calling before I saw it.

American Kestrels have a fairly limited set of calls, but the most common one is a loud, excited series of 3-6 klee! or killy! notes lasting just over a second. It’s distinctive and an excellent way to find these birds. You may also hear two other common calls: a long whine that can last 1–2 minutes, heard in birds that are courting or feeding fledglings, and a fast chitter, usually used by both sexes in friendly interactions.

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A bit windy that day.

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North America’s littlest falcon, the American Kestrel packs a predator’s fierce intensity into its small body. It’s one of the most colorful of all raptors: the male’s slate-blue head and wings contrast elegantly with his rusty-red back and tail; the female has the same warm reddish on her wings, back, and tail. Hunting for insects and other small prey in open territory, kestrels perch on wires or poles, or hover facing into the wind, flapping and adjusting their long tails to stay in place.

 

October Big Day

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American Redstart at Possum Long Nature Preserve in the city of Stuart yesterday morning.

I joined a field trip organized by Audubon of Martin County. We didn’t see too many birds, even though migration is underway. Also, fifteen people trying to sneak up on birds is kind of a lot.

But we did learn more about the history of the nature preserve and the good spots and individual trees for seeing birds.

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A few years ago, the edges of the freshwater ponds at Possum Long were cleaned up and restored. Wading birds like the Great Blue Heron are finding their way there, slowly but surely.

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Warbler watchers.

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The American Redstart rarely holds still!

Here is our checklist, posted by group leader Robin Potvin: Oct 6 Possum Long.

Yesterday was the first October Global Big Day.  I decided to contribute a bit more and popped over to the south end of Hutchinson Island to watch birds for half an hour at Sailfish Flats in late morning.

Here is my CHECKLIST for that. Note to self: go at low tide next time, so there are birds on the sandbars too.

It was neat to spot a migrating Peregrine Falcon but I had the most fun watching a couple of kingfishers chasing each other and screaming their raucous calls.

Later in the afternoon I was in my backyard with the dog and spotted a pair of Bald Eagles high overhead, moving just fast enough to the southeast that I knew I had no time to run inside and grab my camera, just enough time to watch and enjoy.

 

 

Wake up, birds!

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Good morning, night heron.

I saw this  juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron on the mud flats by the Snook Nook bait and tackle shop in Jensen Beach the other morning.

This location is within my 5-mile “local bird” radius. (More on 5MR birding HERE at the Bourbon, Bastards, and Birds blog.)

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I like the pattern of little triangles on the feathers.

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The pier behind the bait and tackle shop is a popular resting spot for a variety of Indian River Lagoon birds. Great Blue Heron wades below.

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Gulls and White Ibis.

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These Laughing Gulls seem to be just waking up.

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Tern hanging with the gulls. I think it’s a Sandwich Tern because the bill is dark and maybe tipped with yellow. The light isn’t great for getting the colors, but Royal Terns have orange bills that are pretty bright.

A bird of marine coasts of the southeastern United States and the Caribbean, the Sandwich Tern is readily identified by its shaggy crest and yellow-tipped black bill.

One of my summer bird goals is to learn more terns.

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Bird holding still. Always good for my level of photography skill!

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Yo! Does this night heron need a cup of coffee or what?