Tag Archives: Magnificent Frigatebird

Magnificence on display

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Magnificent Frigatebirds love the north end of Bird Island.

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Adult males, females and white-headed juveniles were there in large numbers last Wednesday evening when my husband, daughter and I boated out to the island.

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Fregata magnificens is the largest species of the five-member frigatebird family. Frigatebirds are found world-wide gliding above the warmer oceans.

Magnificent Frigatebird range map

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Wikipedia

Males are all-black with a scarlet throat pouch that is inflated like a balloon in the breeding season. Although the feathers are black, the scapular feathers produce a purple iridescence when they reflect sunlight, in contrast to the male great frigatebird’s green sheen. Females are black, but have a white breast and lower neck sides, a brown band on the wings, and a blue eye-ring that is diagnostic of the female of the species. Immature birds have a white head and underparts.

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When I first saw the frigatebirds on Bird Island, I thought they might be nesting like the other birds on that special mangrove island right next to our little peninsular town in the southern Treasure Coast. But there is only one confirmed nesting location for these birds in Florida.

From an article in the Orlando Sentinel, Magnificent frigatebird may face bleak future

Florida has a small population of frigate birds that nests each year; their home is a group of islands at the end of the Florida Keys called the Dry Tortugas.

Thousands more breed in South America or on Caribbean islands and come to South Florida for the winter.

And summer, I would say.

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That so many of the birds visit Florida suggests to (Florida expert Ken) Meyer that the state has enough habitat to support a second population of nesting frigate birds.

He thinks an ideal site would be among remote islands of the Florida Keys that are uninhabited and protected as sanctuaries.

Beginning last year on those islands, Meyer and staff of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been setting up frigate bird decoys and speakers that play recordings of the birds.

Customized with paint and plywood, the decoys are made from manufactured decoys of other birds.

Meyer said the decoys aren’t “fine art” but they work well, presented in a half-dozen postures.

“It’s really cool to watch; the birds come in and snuggle up next to a decoy,” he said. “It’s not like they ever catch on.”

Frigate birds do not breed until they are 5 to 10 years old, which means the efforts to lure the birds must be repeated for many years, Meyer said.

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Interesting! Maybe frigatebirds could start nesting on Bird Island too. These look mostly like males.

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FWS.gov: Luring magnificent frigatebirds back to Key West National Wildlife Refuge

Prior to each nesting season, adult males congregate at nesting locations in what is known as a lek, in an effort to attract females to the nesting site. As the nesting period draws nearer, the males will compete for their mates through an elaborate display. While female frigatebirds are soaring over the lek, the males will display from the top of the mangrove canopy by inflating their bright red throat pouch, roughly to the size of a volleyball, and flail their wings, all while tilting their bill towards the sky and calling out to the females above. Females use this display to select their mate, and will begin nest building soon after. Fledgling frigatebirds will stay in the care of their mother for six to nine months after hatching.

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While thousands of non-breeding magnificent frigatebirds can be found across the coastlines of Florida and the Caribbean during many months of the year, there is now only one known breeding frigatebird colony in North America. Historic accounts have documented breeding activities within the Key West National Wildlife Refuge on Marquesas Key from the 1960’s through the late 1980’s, when the nesting colony was abandoned. These birds were thought to have left their colony due to human disturbance, and were soon after observed nesting within Dry Tortugas National Park, 45 miles west of Marquesas Keys.

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Current efforts are in place to re-establish nesting frigatebirds within select islands of Key West National Wildlife Refuge through a social attraction and monitoring study. Refuge staff members and volunteers have partnered with Avian Research and Conservation Institute personnel to place fleets of frigatebird decoys within the mangrove canopy of each study site, mimicking the stages of pre-breeding and breeding behaviors. Each artificial colony has the added realism of audio from recorded frigatebird calls projected through a broadcast caller.

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More fascinating frigatebird facts from NPR: Nonstop Flight: The Frigatebird Can Soar For Weeks Without Stopping

Frigatebirds, seagoing fliers with a 6-foot wingspan, can stay aloft for weeks at a time, a new study has found. The results paint an astonishing picture of the bird’s life, much of which is spent soaring inside the clouds.

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“It’s the only bird that is known to intentionally enter into a cloud,” Weimerskirch says. And not just any cloud — a fluffy, white cumulus cloud. Over the ocean, these clouds tend to form in places where warm air rises from the sea surface. The birds hitch a ride on the updraft, all the way up to the top of the cloud.

Frigatebirds have to find ways to stay aloft because they can’t land on the water. Since their feathers aren’t waterproof, the birds would drown in short order. They feed by harassing other birds in flight until they regurgitate whatever fish they’ve eaten and the frigatebird takes it. Or they fly over a fish-feeding frenzy on the ocean surface and scoop up small fish that leap out of the water to escape larger fish.

So in between meals, apparently, frigatebirds soar … and soar … and soar.

In one case, for two months — continuously aloft.

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(That one seems to be molting.)

New respect for these strange birds. It’s pretty special we get to see so many at rest in one place.

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One of the tagged birds soared 40 miles without a wing-flap. Several covered more than 300 miles a day on average, and flew continuously for weeks. They are blessed with an unusual body. No bird has a higher ratio of wing surface area compared with body weight — something called “wing loading.”

Writing in the journal Science, the researchers discovered that frigatebirds have also capitalized on a lucky coincidence. Winds that form these updrafts in the atmosphere also disrupt waves at the sea surface.

“We found that there’s a remarkably good correspondence between those two things,” Deutsch says. And when the regularity of waves is disrupted, deeper water rises to the surface, carrying with it things such as phytoplankton that attract small fish. The small fish attract bigger fish, which creates the feeding frenzy that frigatebirds need to dine.

So it seems the life of a frigatebird is simply hopping off at the bottom of this atmospheric roller coaster, eating and getting back on again to search for the next meal.

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A cormorant and a pelican among the frigatebirds.

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It was neat to watch them take off by just opening their huge wings and lifting up with the wind.

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We’ve had some wind lately, when Hurricane Gordon traveled north through the Gulf of Mexico on the other side of Florida. I wonder if these birds came in on the east winds and are taking a break on this sanctuary island.

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Bills of the cormorant and frigatebird are similar. The two species are related, both members of the Suliformes order.

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Seven-foot wingspan on display.

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A magnificent spot.

Bird Island bird spies

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Ahoy, Bird Island!

Four of us old friends, aboard a 21-foot Hurricane deck boat nicknamed “Little Tanny” for the color of its canopy, went exploring yesterday.

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We stayed outside these signs that mark the boundary of the rookery/ bird sanctuary on an island in the Indian River Lagoon just to the east of Sewall’s Point, FL.

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Arrow points to the location of the little island full of birds.

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Roseate Spoonbills caught our attention with their bright pink wings.

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According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology…

The flamboyant Roseate Spoonbill looks like it came straight out of a Dr. Seuss book with its bright pink feathers, red eye staring out from a partly bald head, and giant spoon-shaped bill. Groups sweep their spoonbills through shallow fresh or salt waters snapping up crustaceans and fish.

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Brown Pelican and spoonbill.

  • Roseate Spoonbills get their pink coloration from the foods they eat. Crustaceans and other aquatic invertebrates contain pigments called carotenoids that help turn their feathers pink.

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Bird Island is a special place… for birds with preposterous bills.

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Roseate Spoonbills nest in colonies with egrets, ibises, and herons, typically on islands or over standing water. They nest in mangroves, Brazilian pepperbush, willows, sea myrtle, and other shrubs near the water. They tend to put their nests in the shadiest part of the tree or shrub, up to 16 feet high.

They lay 1 to 5 eggs, incubate them for 22 days, and the chicks stay in the nest for 35 to 42 days. There are just a few spoonbills on Bird Island right now.

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A mild chaos of comings and goings. Wood storks are nesting in greatest numbers.

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Yesterday morning, on a walk before boating, I got lots of photos (like this one) of Wood Storks that had flown the short hop from Bird Island to Sewall’s Point to break off branches for nesting material. (I will post those photos later.)

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Wood Stork in flight.

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Wood Storks showing off their best side.

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Next: a very exciting find, spotted by Lisa, a Reddish Egret, a first for me!

A medium to large heron of shallow salt water, the Reddish Egret comes in a dark and a white form. It is a very active forager, often seen running, jumping, and spinning in its pursuit of fish.

And…

There is little information on Reddish Egret population trends or numbers, but the species appears to be declining. The North American Waterbird Conservation Plan estimates a continental population of 6,000-10,000 breeding birds, rates the species about a 15 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, and lists it as a Species of Moderate Concern. Reddish Egret is on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List, which lists bird species that are at risk of becoming threatened or endangered without conservation action.

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John maneuvered the boat around to the northwest side of the island and we spotted a few Magnificent Frigatebirds, usually seen soaring high over the beach or ocean.

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This appears to be a nesting pair.

Males have a bright red pouch on the throat, which they inflate like a balloon to attract females. Females unlike most other seabirds look different than males with their white chest.

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The frigate bird with a white head is a juvenile.

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Frigatebirds, wood storks, cormorants… this mangrove tree has it all going on.

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  • The breeding period of the Magnificent Frigatebird is exceptionally long. Males and females incubate the eggs for around 56 days, and once hatched, chicks don’t leave the nest until they are about 167 days old. Even after they leave the nest, females continue to feed them until they are one year old.

Each pair only lays one egg.
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Not sure if this is a male or female. Maybe it is incubating an egg and the mate is away feeding.

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Magnificent Frigatebirds eat primarily flying fish, tuna, herring, and squid, which they grab from the surface of the water without getting wet. They also eat plankton, crabs, jellyfish, and other items on the surface of the water including discarded fish from fishing boats.

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The young ‘un.

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Frigatebirds soar effortlessly over the ocean rarely flapping their long, pterodactyl-like wings and using the long tail to steer. Though they are frequently seen soaring, they are masters of pursuit. They chase other birds including frigatebirds, forcing them to regurgitate their recent meal, which they scoop up before it hits the water. Their gracefulness ends as soon as they head towards land, where they awkwardly perch in low shrubs and trees. Their strong toes help them hold onto branches, posts, and boat masts, but their small feet in combination with their short legs makes it nearly impossible for them to walk on land. On land, males often flutter the balloonlike throat sac (or “gular pouch”) to cool off. Males and females also regulate their body temperature by holding up their wings up to sun themselves. To get airborne, they flap a few times and use the wind to help lift them into the air.

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Meanwhile, a few branches away, Wood Storks are cuddling.

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They almost make this Great Blue Heron look small.

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Wood Storks and Magnificent Frigatebirds.

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We watched these birds for a while then traveled south to Peck Lake and the Hobe Sound Wildlife Refuge and later up the St. Lucie River to downtown Stuart. Lots of boat traffic but it was still a nice way to spend a day on the water.

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Last bird I photographed on Bird Island: an Anhinga.

 

Falcon migration

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Peregrine falcons were migrating south along the beach a couple of days ago.

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I saw a post on the Audubon of Martin County Facebook page about a pair of birders counting 40 or 50 of them on the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 4 near the House of Refuge. I was heading out to Hutchinson Island anyway in the early afternoon so I stopped by for 10 or 15 minutes.

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One after another, peregrine falcons were coming along the beach. Flap, flap, flap, glide. They were faced into the fierce onshore wind, both battling and using the gusts.

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

Powerful and fast-flying, the Peregrine Falcon hunts medium-sized birds, dropping down on them from high above in a spectacular stoop. They were virtually eradicated from eastern North America by pesticide poisoning in the middle 20th century. After significant recovery efforts, Peregrine Falcons have made an incredible rebound and are now regularly seen in many large cities and coastal areas.

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Also saw a few Frigatebirds. There have been more around lately, with our easterly winds.

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Such a distinctive shape.

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Next stop was a little further north on the island to Florida Oceanographic Society where I joined a workshop on Seagrass Collecting.

The F.O.S.T.E.R. program relies on community-based restoration efforts to restore seagrass habitat. With a growing volunteer base, F.O.S.T.E.R. restores seagrass by collecting and growing seagrass fragments in nurseries, constructing seagrass planting units, and transplanting living seagrass into the estuary.

We headed out to Stuart Beach to collect, in strong winds.

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We saw more falcons while we were there. Weirdly exciting!

Audubon.org:

One of the world’s fastest birds; in power-diving from great heights to strike prey, the Peregrine may possibly reach 200 miles per hour. Regarded by falconers and biologists alike as one of the noblest and most spectacular of all birds of prey.

Boating near Bird Island

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Ahoy, a Magnificent Frigatebird. My husband loves these birds.

This one is immature, according to the ID photos on Cornell’s All About Birds.

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A Brown Pelican!

Boy, you don’t see many of those around here.  😉

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We borrowed a 21-foot center console fishing boat from our boat club down in Port Salerno. Radar our 20-month-old German Shepherd Dog came with us.

After trying a few fishing spots unsuccessfully, we pulled up on on a deserted island, swam the dog (he loves to fetch a ball), then we motored past Bird Island to see the sights.

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The sights included Roseate Spoonbills and I finally got a few photos.

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Pretty in pink! Here’s one with a Great Blue Heron. I spotted a total of three.

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Bird Island is a spoil island in the Indian River Lagoon, created years ago (1950s? 1960s?) from dredging the Intracoastal Waterway. Mangroves grew on it and birds began nesting here.

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A bizarre wading bird of the southern coasts, the Roseate Spoonbill uses its odd bill to strain small food items out of the water. Its bright pink coloring leads many Florida tourists to think they have seen a flamingo.

The spoonbill is Florida bird #53 for me.

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But the coolest thing was seeing baby Wood Storks!

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Just across the channel is the town of Sewall’s Point, Florida. This house is closest to Bird Island. If I lived there I’d be out on one of the balconies every day with binoculars… or maybe I’d even invest in a scope.

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Do not pester the birds. We didn’t.

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Radar was bird watching too.

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According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife North Florida Ecological Office…

The wood stork is a highly colonial species usually nesting in large rookeries and feeding in flocks.  Age at first breeding is 3 years but typically do so at 4.  Nesting periods vary geographically.  In South Florida, wood storks lay eggs as early as October and fledge in February or March.  However, in north and central Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, storks lay eggs from March to late May, with fledging occurring in July and August.  Nests are frequently located in the upper branches of large cypress trees or in mangroves on islands.  Several nests are usually located in each tree.  Wood storks have also nested in man-made structures.  Storks lay two to five eggs, and average two young fledged per successful nest under good conditions.

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Small fish from 1 to 6 inches long, especially topminnows and sunfish, provide this bird’s primary diet.  Wood storks capture their prey by a specialized technique known as grope-feeding or tacto-location. Feeding often occurs in water 6 to 10 inches deep, where a stork probes with the bill partly open.  When a fish touches the bill it quickly snaps shut.  The average response time of this reflex is 25 milliseconds, making it one of the fastest reflexes known in vertebrates.  Wood storks use thermals to soar as far as 80 miles from nesting to feeding areas.  Since thermals do not form in early morning, wood storks may arrive at feeding areas later than other wading bird species such as herons.  Energy requirements for a pair of nesting wood storks and their young is estimated at 443 pounds of fish for the breeding season (based on an average production of 2.25 fledglings per nest).

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A birdy place.

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A Wood Stork, Mycteria americana.

Sanderling walk

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What bird is this?

I parked at Santa Lucea Beach on Hutchinson Island and walked south around 1 p.m. yesterday.

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A sandpiper doing that sandpiper thing.

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Sandpiper sees seashell down by the seashore.

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This was a Sanderling, I discovered.

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Sanderling:

The Sanderling’s black legs blur as it runs back and forth on the beach, picking or probing for tiny prey in the wet sand left by receding waves. Sanderlings are medium-sized “peep” sandpipers recognizable by their pale nonbreeding plumage, black legs and bill, and obsessive wave-chasing habits.

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Hard not to sift and sort through all these pretty shells, but I didn’t want to fill my pockets and I did want to find some birds.

The strange rocks along this Treasure Coast beach are part of the Anastasia Formation. It is “is composed of interbedded sands and coquina limestones. The formation is an orangish brown, soft to moderately hard, coquina of whole and fragmented mollusk shells within sand often cemented by sparry calcite.”

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Just out past the breakers, a man in a boat. Not a calm day, but it seems it is often breezy and rough offshore here. Keep going straight east out past that boat and you’d get to the northernmost island in the Bahamas, Walker Cay, about 100 miles out into the Atlantic, I’d guess.

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Dead crab. Pretty colors.

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A Magnificent Frigatebird flew north past me.

A long-winged, fork-tailed bird of tropical oceans, the Magnificent Frigatebird is an agile flier that snatches food off the surface of the ocean and steals food from other birds.

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Coming out of an incomplete swooping dive.

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I saw five or six Sanderlings on my walk, all of them alone.

Audubon Field Guide, Sanderling Diet:

Mostly sand crabs and other invertebrates. Feeds on a wide variety of small creatures on beach, including sand crabs, amphipods, isopods, insects, marine worms, small mollusks; also may eat some carrion. Wintering birds on southern coasts may eat corn chips and other junk food left by people. In spring, may feed heavily on eggs of horseshoe crab. On tundra, feeds mostly on flies and other insects, also some seeds, algae, and leaves.

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Okay, I did pick up the pink one.

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The beach was not a busy place on a cloudy Thursday in December.

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Cornell Lab: “The Sanderling is one of the world’s most widespread shorebirds. Though they nest only in the High Arctic, in fall and winter you can find them on nearly all temperate and tropical sandy beaches throughout the world.”

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Sweet solitary Sanderling stands still on Anastasia rock.

A Sanderling is a movie star. Audubon.org: Behind the Scenes of Piper, Pixar’s New Short Film

Sanderlings spend a lot of time in the ocean, scuttling in and out of the water in search of tiny invertebrates buried in the sand. Even downy hatchlings must immediately learn to fend for themselves and feed between unrelenting waves. So the last thing any Sanderling needs is a crippling phobia of the ocean. But such is the lot of the young heroine in Pixar’s newest short, Piper. Directed by Alan Barillaro, the six-minute film preceding Finding Dory concerns the trials of a young chick as she conquers her natural habitat, and greatest fear.

The idea came to Barillaro during his morning jogs in the Bay Area, where he would see hordes of the little speckled birds scampering to feed amidst giant kelp, resembling little wind-up toys. He found this collective feeding frenzy charming, but he couldn’t quite shake his impression that these shorebirds were afraid of, well, the shore.
To create Piper, Barillaro and his entire team entered the Sanderlings’ world. They spent weekends on beaches all over the Bay Area, meeting at 5 a.m. on a dusty road under a bridge in search of the birds. “Half of us were chasing around different beaches and calling each other on cell phones until we found a flock we could get close to,” Barillaro says. “It became this treasure hunt.”

 

Some birds of Pacific coast Costa Rica

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

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

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

Pacific Ocean and beach across the street.

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Magnificent Frigatebird above.

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Great Kiskadees were nesting on the rooftops of the condo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Probably Brown Pelicans.

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Good morning, Sanderlings.

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

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Grackle time.