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.

RBG in July

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Perched atop a swamp maple at the edge of our pond, the male Red-winged blackbird keeps an eye out.

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Piercing call sounds territorial.

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A handsome defender. But when the seasons change he will move on.

I haven’t posted much lately because I’ve been busy yard-saling, craigslisting, cleaning and painting to get ready to put our house on the market in less than two weeks. Stay tuned.

Game of Thrones, backyard edition

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A couple of Eastern Kingbirds arrived in the bird kingdom of Pond Field yesterday.

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They don’t hold still for long. Distinctive flight and buzzy song.

Behavior: Eastern Kingbirds often perch in the open atop trees or along utility lines or fences. They fly with very shallow, rowing wingbeats and a raised head, usually accompanied by metallic, sputtering calls. Eastern Kingbirds are visual hunters, sallying out from perches to snatch flying insects.

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Habitat: Eastern Kingbirds breed in open habitats such as yards, fields, pastures, grasslands, or wetlands, and are especially abundant in open places along forest edges or water. They spend winters in forests of South America.

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The Tree Swallows were not happy about the kingbirds and tried chasing them off, unsuccessfully. Not sure why. Maybe because they are already nesting in this deliciously buggy territory and don’t want to share?

Or is because kingbirds are such badasses?

The scientific name Tyrannus means “tyrant, despot, or king,” referring to the aggression kingbirds exhibit with each other and with other species. When defending their nests they will attack much larger predators like hawks, crows, and squirrels. They have been known to knock unsuspecting Blue Jays out of trees.

And speaking of defending nests, while I was attempting to photograph the flitting kingbirds a hawk soared overhead and the resident male Red-winged Blackbird took off for some aerial warfare to drive it off…

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Asymmetric warfare, but the little guy won in the end and the hawk soared off north and east.

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The male Tree Swallow watched the whole thing. Like many of the male birds now he perches at his post, on guard.

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Across the field, a kingbird was contemplating his summer kingdom.

It’s not called a kingbird for nothing. The Eastern Kingbird has a crown of yellow, orange, or red feathers on its head, but the crown is usually concealed. When it encounters a potential predator the kingbird may simultaneously raise its bright crown patch, stretch its beak wide open to reveal a red gape, and dive-bomb the intruder.

Here is one with his crest raised: Image.

The Eastern Kingbird is backyard bird number 53 for me.

Noisy neighbors

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Male Red-winged Blackbird in the field beyond the pond this morning, probably nabbing some tasty bugs among the dewdrops.

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Nearby, a female Red-Winged Blackbird gathers nesting material.

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The male RWBs have been noisy around here for a week or two, even perching up near the house and visiting the tube feeder by the back deck. Guys, you’re supposed to be out in the marsh!

The male has a “conk-la-ree” song and also a piercing “check” call that reminds me a bit of a hawk. For a couple of days I kept looking for a hawk in the front yard oak tree.

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When the pairing is complete and the nesting begins, will they be a little quieter?

Grab bag of May birds

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Brown-headed Cowbird at the top of the dawn redwood in our front yard.

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Gray Catbird at the edge of the red maple swamp out back.

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Common Yellowthroat takes off.

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Tree Swallow perches on the martin house “antenna.”

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Eastern Phoebe holds still for a moment.

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Red-winged Blackbird sings atop a maple at the edge of the swamp.

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Eastern Towhee, female, scuffling in leaves at the edge of the field.

One red-winged blackbird

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Red-winged blackbird, mourning dove, and more snow.

This is the second time that this bird-I-know-in-summer has shown up at the feeders during a snowstorm.

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Just one Agelaius phoeniceus

Oddly enough…

Claims have been made that it is the most abundant living land bird in North America, as bird-counting censuses of wintering red-winged blackbirds sometimes show that loose flocks can number in an excess of a million birds per flock and the full number of breeding pairs across North and Central America may exceed 250 million in peak years.

Redwings in rain

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Red-winged Blackbirds in the cold November rain, last Monday.

In winter Red-winged Blackbirds gather in huge flocks to eat grains with other blackbird species and starlings.

A large flock – maybe 40 birds – visited that morning, taking turns flying from the trees to scrounge fallen seed from the ground under the pole feeder. But a few ventured closer to the house, where a human and a cat watched them through the windows.

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We remember them for the red on their wings, but don’t forget the yellow. They are members of the family Icteridae.

Most species have black as a predominant plumage color, often enlivened by yellow, orange or red. The family is extremely varied in size, shape, behavior and coloration. The name, meaning “jaundiced ones” (from the prominent yellow feathers of many species) comes from the Ancient Greek ikteros, through the Latin ictericus. This group includes the New World blackbirds, New World orioles, the bobolink, meadowlarks, grackles, cowbirds, oropendolas and caciques.

Yesterday, waiting at a stop sign across from Optima Bank to turn onto Route 1 in North Hampton, I spotted a mixed group of blackbirds and cowbirds… plus one Yellow-headed Blackbird (very rare in the eastern U.S.) I would have thought my eyes were deceiving me, except I subscribe to the local birder email list and knew people had been seeing this flock around, with an eye-catching male and a couple of females.

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The Blackbird
William Ernest Henley

The nightingale has a lyre of gold,
The lark’s is a clarion call,
And the blackbird plays but a boxwood flute,
But I love him best of all.

For his song is all of the joy of life,
And we in the mad, spring weather,
We two have listened till he sang
Our hearts and lips together.

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

The Red-winged Blackbird wears epaulets to display his rank. He is Captain of the Red Maple Swamp beyond the woods. Sometimes he visits our backyard for seeds.

The genus name is Latin derived from Ancient Greek, agelaios, meaning “belonging to a flock”. The species name, phoeniceus, is from the Latin word meaning “deep red”.

Red-winged Blackbird

According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds

Red-winged Blackbirds eat mainly insects in the summer and seeds, including corn and wheat, in the winter. Sometimes they feed by probing at the bases of aquatic plants with their slender bills, prying them open to get at insects hidden inside. In fall and winter they eat weedy seeds such as ragweed and cocklebur as well as native sunflowers and waste grains.

The Red-winged Blackbirds ate our seeds in spring but I didn’t see them much in June and July. Is this visitor telling me it’s fall in bird world?