A path to the beach

This is not a bird. But it is an American Bird Grasshopper.

I followed this one from a stalk to some grass blades to this sea grape leaf, snapping away.

I found it along this path through the dunes out to the beach. I parked at the sandy pullout known as Beachwalk Pasley on Hutchinson Island, in Stuart.

There were dune sunflowers along the path.

Its bright flowers attract a variety of pollinators, including butterflies, moths and bees. Its dense growth pattern provides cover for many small animals, while its seeds are eaten by birds.

Right in the middle of the path: a Northern Curlytail Lizard.

They are native to the Bahamas but were brought to Florida early in the last century to control insect pests.

We are lucky in Martin County to have a number of simple paths like this to unguarded beaches. Parking in the sandy lots is limited but free. It is one of the reasons we chose to live in this county rather than the more densely populated counties south of us.

It was a mellow beach day, not a lot going on. This Ring-billed Gull is dozing, fat and sleek facing into the southeast breeze.

Nearby, another gull keeps an eye on me.

When wind is from the east (or southeast), especially in winter, we can get Portuguese Man O’ War washed up on the beach.

We think of them as stinging jellyfish but they are actually a species of siphonore, a colony of animals related to the jellyfish. Some people call them Blue Bottles. Do NOT step on or near them!

I walked north towards Jensen Beach, a guarded beach. You can see in the distance where Martin County ends and St. Lucie County begins. Martin County has a four-story height limit on buildings.

I got a nice look at a Willet running in the surf. They are bigger and have longer legs than the other common sandpiper-type beach birds.

I find grackles and crows

This grackle is like a centerpiece in a cabbage palm bouquet.

Blue-black with a tinge of green, I love the iridescence of a male grackle’s feathers.

Female grackles are dark brown and smaller than the males. They go about their business, foraging with focus, while the males flash around, calling, and stirring up trouble.

This male grackle is pestering a crow who is working to get a peanut out of its shell.

I find grackles and crows under in the east causeway park, under the Ernest P. Lyons Bridge between Sewall’s Point and Hutchinson Island. I was there yesterday. It’s close to home and I wanted to grab a few bird photos before the front passed through.

Looking north into a coming storm. It’s a busy park on weekends, in good weather. People fish here, have picnics, launch boats at the ramp, or go kitesurfing off the narrow beach.

Chubby gull.

The black band on its yellow bill identifies this as a Ring-billed Gull. There are more of them here in winter. They breed elsewhere, in summer.

A study in coastal grays. (That’s the Jensen Beach Bridge, further north in the Indian River Lagoon.)

Adults are clean gray above, with a white head, body and tail; their black wingtips are spotted with white. They have yellow legs and a yellow bill with a black band around it. Nonbreeding adults have brown-streaked heads. 

Why do I think these are Boat-tailed Grackles? The other two species in North America are Common Grackles and Great-tailed Grackles.

Great-tailed and Boat-tailed have long tails like the bird above, but Great-tailed are not found in Florida. Common Grackles are smaller, with shorter tails, and they favor open fields, lawns, towns, but not marsh or saltwater areas.

When you smell saltwater on the East Coast, it’s time to look out for Boat-tailed Grackles. The glossy blue-black males are hard to miss as they haul their ridiculously long tails around or display from marsh grasses or telephone wires. The rich, dark-brown females are half the size of males and look almost like a different species. Boat-tailed Grackles take advantage of human activity along our increasingly developed coast, scavenging trash and hanging out in busy urban areas away from predators.

Of course crows also take advantage of human activity, like this one that has scavenged a peanut. The male Boat-tailed Grackle is on the left and Fish Crow is on the right. Crows are a bit larger than grackles, with a thicker bill and duller black feathers.

I know it’s a Fish Crow rather than an American Crow mostly because I learned a general rule from local birders that all crows east of Route 1 in this area are Fish Crows and I heard this one’s nasal call and saw it fluff its neck feathers like a raven.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology: How do you tell a Fish Crow from an American Crow?

All my Fish Crows. All my Boat-tailed Grackles.

eBird: Grackles – Are you getting them right?

eBird mobile, ducks, geese and golf balls

Duck on a golf course.

Goose on a golf course.

Egyptian Goose to be precise.

They are native to Africa but have busted free of zoos and backyard breeders and established wild populations in Florida and elsewhere.

A Mottled Duck, a common Florida duck.

This is a male, with the yellowy-green bill. Females have an orange bill. Very tame little guy. Looking adorable – hoping for a bread crust, I suppose.

My birdwatching wanders yesterday morning, at the Hutchinson Marriott Resort. I was trying to get close to a few ponds and look for winter ducks.

Also yesterday I used eBird mobile for the first time. The night before I (finally) completed the free course eBird Essentials in the Cornell Lab or Ornithology Bird Academy.

Here’s me trying to zoom in on some distant gulls to figure out what species were loafing around on the golf course. (Laughing gulls and Ring-billed Gulls, it turns out.)

Over the course of the hour I watched birds, I saw three different groups of Double-crested Cormorants. There were five individuals in each group. Cormorants come in fives?

My old eyes tuned in to the fact there were a bunch of little sandpiper birds out there too. I should have brought my binoculars but I felt like carrying my camera was enough.

They flew over to a different patch of grass. I hope nobody thought I was telephoto-stalking the golf players!

A lady walking her dog advised me to keep an eye out for flying golf balls.

Ruddy Turnstones, a couple of Sanderlings, some Killdeer.

And one lone Dunlin! It’s the bird with the longest bill in the photo above. A new bird to my blog, number 218.

Five Killdeer and one Ruddy Turnstone.

A small duck caught my eye. Wished I could get closer. Like, hitch a ride on a golf cart to go private-golf-course birding! There should be such a thing.

It was a Hooded Merganser, by itself.

In another pond was a group of three Hooded Mergansers.

I’ve seen this species of duck one other time, on a pond in NH in January 2016.

Winter visitors.

Anhinga and gulls out on the golf course, with the other winter visitors. Walking around the condos I noticed license plated from Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Maryland and West Virginia.

Fuzzy, cropped in pic of a Pie-billed Grebe, also down from the frozen north.

Ahoy, six mystery ducks!

My first Lesser Scaup, bird number 219!

In another pond I saw a bunch of floating golf balls.

Wait, do they hit golf balls into the pond on purpose? That’s weird.

Here’s my complete eBird checklist from my two-mile walk: January 29 Hutchinson Island Marriott.

Some sanderlings I saw

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I walked from Santa Lucea Beach almost to the House of Refuge.

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Busy beach Saturday, not a lot of parking left along the southern end of Hutchinson Island. Lots of people.

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I focused on the peeps.

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Sanderlings running.

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Sanderling feeding.

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Sanderling at rest.

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Ring-billed Gull (second winter?)

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Brown Pelicans were fishing.

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Dive.

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Sanderling loaf.

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Sanderlings three.

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A little bird and shelly grains of sand.

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Ruddy Turnstone bathing in a tide pool.

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Ruddy Turnstone rocks.

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Heading south towards House of Refuge.

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Camo.

 

Two gulls on a Florida beach

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Gulls eating Doritos, South Beach Park in Fort Pierce on Hutchinson Island yesterday.

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Sitting in a beach chair on a perfect sunny warm day is a nice way to watch birds. Our New Hampshire snowbird friends were with us.

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These two gulls were together for a while.

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This is a Laughing Gull. They have solid black heads in breeding season so maybe this one is transitioning.

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Swirling over beaches with strident calls and a distinctive, crisp black head, Laughing Gulls provide sights and sounds evocative of summer on the East Coast. You’ll run across this handsome gull in large numbers at beaches, docks, and parking lots, where they wait for handouts or fill the air with their raucous calls. Laughing Gulls are summer visitors to the Northeast and year-round sights on the coasts of the Southeast and the Gulf of Mexico.

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This one is a Ring-billed Gull. I would see them a lot in New Hampshire. This one looks like a “second winter” gull with tan streaking.

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Familiar acrobats of the air, Ring-billed Gulls nimbly pluck tossed tidbits from on high. Comfortable around humans, they frequent parking lots, garbage dumps, beaches, and fields, sometimes by the hundreds. These are the gulls you’re most likely to see far away from coastal areas—in fact, most Ring-billed Gulls nest in the interior of the continent, near freshwater. A black band encircling the yellow bill helps distinguish adults from other gulls—but look closely, as some other species have black or red spots on the bill.

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Laughing Gulls and their distinctive calls remind me of summers at the Jersey Shore when I was growing up.

This is a very vocal species whose common call is a loud, descending series of laughing notes lasting 3 seconds or more.

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Ring-billed Gulls are here only in winter/ non-breeding season, whereas Laughing Gulls are year-round residents. As with humans, it’s a busy season when residents and snowbirds are in Florida at the same time.

Bridge walk and diving duck

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Osprey on a light pole, Ernest Lyons Bridge.

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Daughter Laura and I walked across the bridge and back around noon today, about 2 and a half miles altogether.

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Nice views of the Indian River Lagoon from the bridge.

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And soaring ospreys.

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And a dolphin.

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Ring-billed gull loafing on a light pole.

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Laura spotted a diving duck and I zoomed in.

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Looks like a female Red-breasted Merganser.

A large diving duck with a long thin bill, the Red-breasted Merganser is found in large lakes, rivers and the ocean. It prefers salt water more than the other two species of merganser.

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The Red-breasted Merganser breeds farther north and winters farther south than the other American mergansers.

Good eyes, Laura!

It’s winter

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Ring-billed Gull in late afternoon light, Bob Graham Beach, Hutchinson Island.

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I was walking on the beach and noticed the sun was about to drop behind the dunes – and I had not yet begun to plan dinner. The short days of December are not as short as they were in New Hampshire, but they still catch us by surprise.

But the sun has reached its southernmost position in the sky. Winter solstice was at 5:44 a.m. E.S.T. this morning.

Today the sun rises here in Stuart, FL at 7:06 a.m. and sets at 5:32 p.m. and the day is 10 hours and 25 minutes long. In our old hometown of North Hampton, NH, sunrise today is 7:11 a.m., sunset 4:12 p.m. and the day is 9 hours long.

Here’s to another hour and 25!

Barefoot gull watching

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Ring-billed Gull at Seabrook Beach.

I have been taking lots of walks with my camera. I have posted about a few of them on my (kinda old) general/ personal blog at amykane.net.

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I posted this bird, this beach and this day: After the Fourth. Plus diving terns.

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Familiar acrobats of the air, Ring-billed Gulls nimbly pluck tossed tidbits from on high. Comfortable around humans, they frequent parking lots, garbage dumps, beaches, and fields, sometimes by the hundreds.

Or all alone, like this gull.