‘Bout Bloody Time!

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“Quaaaack, quaaaack, quaaaack, quaaaack, quaaaack!”

When I hear that, there is a good chance there is a rare bird in Tallahassee. It’s the tone for an Elliot text.

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While watching the Willet, a Caspian Tern flew in! A county lifer for Elliot hence the all caps. It would be my 5th for the county. The Willet was my 273rd Leon County lifer and, the 298th species to be recorded on eBird for the county too. Willet is not a rare bird in Florida but very few are found away from the coast. I’ve had two in Jackson County so I knew it was only a matter of time before we got one in Leon. It was a ‘Western’ Willet, which are more commonly found in this part of the state during migration and winter. Caspian Terns are also rare away from the coast especially in the Panhandle. A stellar morning for Leon County birders.

Willet by Elliot Schunke
Willet by Elliot Schunke

I wonder what my 274th Leon County lifer will be? Rather hoping for an Upland Sandpiper.

Southern Hospitality

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One of the 12DBY competitors, and friend, Jim Eager called me for gen on where to go birding in the Tallahassee area for his July big day. A quick text to the missus for permission to go birding with Jim followed and the date was set. Elliot’s folks were visiting from Illinois so he had a day pass to join us. Jim hadn’t birded up here much before and was unfamiliar with the lay of the land so Elliot and I were more than happy to help him find his target birds. It was a great day despite the crap weather and Jim added a bunch of new birds to his big year total as well as 2 state lifers! I managed a few pictures when it was bucketing down with rain.

This Seaside Sparrow was very cooperative along Bottoms Road. All three of us got pictures of it from the car.
This Seaside Sparrow was very cooperative along Bottoms Road. All three of us got pictures of it from the car.
there were a bunch of Surf and Black Scoters at Alligator Point. What on earth are they still doing here? They can't fly right now as their wings are in molt.
there were a bunch of Surf and Black Scoters at Alligator Point. What on earth are they still doing here? They can’t fly right now as their wings are in molt.
this drake Black Scoter looks like his wings are quite far along the molt process
this drake Black Scoter looks like his wings are quite far along the molt process
this Surf Scoter's wing feathers have seen better days
this Surf Scoter’s wing feathers have seen better days
we got great looks at them from the van
we got great looks at them from the van
we came across a family of Common and Purple (pictured) Gallinules at St Marks NWR. They weren't very nice to each other
we came across a family of Common and Purple (pictured) Gallinules at St Marks NWR. They weren’t very nice to each other
get some!
get some!
on the way out of the refuge we came across this bad boy and helped him off the road so he wouldn't get squished
on the way out of the refuge we came across this bad boy and helped him off the road so he wouldn’t get squished
Welcome to the South!
Welcome to the South!

MEGA RARE BIRD ALERT!

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Florida’s first record of RED-NECKED STINT, a Siberian shorebird, has been found today on Boca Chica Key in the Florida Keys by Viktor Nilsson who is visiting Florida from Sweden. What a great find Viktor!

Directions: Take Overseas Hwy (US-1) to Boca Chica Key near Key West, approx mile marker 8. Look for Boca Chica Rd as you enter the key. There is a Circle K at the intersection. Turn south and continue on Boca Chica Road until it ends. Walk about 1/2 mile until you see a large telephone pole on the right that looks like a cross. Stint was feeding on the shore across from this pole.

Here is Viktor’s picture of said bird, a beautiful adult still in alternate plumage

Red-necked Stint by Viktor Nilsson-Ortman
Red-necked Stint by Viktor Nilsson-Ortman

12DBY: Local Sweep

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I wasn’t really that enthused to embark on another epic twitch for my July day and as I still needed to add a few locally common species it was an easy decision to take it easy today. So easy, I was done by noon!

I started off along Forest Rd 309 in Apalachicola National Forest on the Leon/Wakulla county line, a go to Swainson’s Warbler hotspot I’ve been birding since 2005. This has been one of my most reliable spots for Swainson’s and it came up trumps again. Within a minute of getting out of the van I could hear one singing close to the road. I got brief views of him and then saw another very briefly, a newly fledged juvenile, it took off after the male. I then encountered a family of Northern Parula and a family of Prothonotary Warblers. The juveniles were chasing their parents around begging for food. A White-eyed Vireo scolded them! It was carrying food also. A Yellow-billed Cuckoo suddenly appeared and started to sing. Well, gurgle!

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With 2 new birds for my 12DBY in the bag I headed back north to the Munson Sandhills, I scored a hen Wild Turkey and a couple of Mississippi Kites en-route. I love birding the sandhills, there are always lots of birds to see there. The Red-cockaded Woodpecker family were foraging close to their cluster trees. The juveniles were very curious and came over for a look see. They still had red on their crown. I got a picture of a male’s cockade too.


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There were several Bachman’s Sparrows singing and I had both Red-headed and Hairy Woodpeckers, the latter has become a tough bird to find in Leon County. There were lots of juvenile birds flying around chasing their parents. A male Eastern Towhee seemed like he had no fatherly duties though and sang alone from a trail side perch.

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There were tons of butterflies along the trail but I only saw a single Zebra Swallowtail.

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Rhoden Cove beckoned. I didn’t even have to get out of the car to add Limpkin to my list. At least 2 were wailing out on the lake. It was hot as balls and it was only going to get hotter so I headed to Tall Timbers, my final stop of the morning. I had a very pleasant stroll along the Henry Stevenson trail. I had at least a half dozen Yellow-breasted Chats, 2 White-breasted Nuthatches, singing Northern Bobwhite, Bachman’s Sparrow, Indigo Buntings….very nice. I ended phase I of my big day with 12 new species, which brings my overall total for the competition to 264. If the weather is fine this evening I’ll probably head south and try and pick up a couple more species.

F’ it Friday: Whistle while you work, Hitler is a….

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F’ it Friday: Snapper!

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Birding Maine (Part 5): Blueberry Barrens & Schoodic Head

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There were two more places on our list for us to visit during our trip to Maine; Schoodic Head, which is a more remote part of Acadia National Park and the Blueberry Barrens of Washington County. Schoodic head was first on the agenda. We saw very few birds but the scenery, fresh air and peacefulness made it a very enjoyable experience. We did get great looks at a marauding Common Raven and had at least 2 Red Crossbills (an ABA lifer) flyover us. We got more great looks at Black-throated Green Warblers, Alder Flycatchers, Red-breasted Nuthatches  and there were Black Scoters, Common Eiders and Black Guillemots from every oceanic vantage point.

 

yet another Alder Flycatcher
yet another Alder Flycatcher
"CRONK, CRONK"
“CRONK, CRONK”

The best wildlife encounter we had though was with a couple of young Red Foxes.

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After eating our lunch on Blueberry Hill, (where we enjoyed a Bald Eagle terrorizing Herring Gulls!) we headed inland to the blueberry barrens to search for Julie’s nemesis bird. After scanning lots of promising looking fields we finally spotted our target bird. Julie was so thrilled! We got out of the car to watch it and to my amazement another one was running around right in front of us.

Upland Sandpiper
Upland Sandpiper

There was a male singing from atop of a big boulder and two more chased each other around. Seeing this awesome shorebird on its breeding grounds was second only to the Spruce Grouse experience we’d had on Huber Road. We ended up seeing 6 Uppies in total.

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Last time I had as good looks of this species was 15 years ago on St. Marys airfield, Isles of Scilly.

We headed back towards our cottage stopping at a tidal estuary on the way so we could explore tidal pools with Maisie. The haunting song of a Common Loon was a fitting end to a terrific day.

We’d had a fabulous time in Maine, one of the best vacations we’ve had. I got 11 ABA lifers all told, which was great. We saw Spruce Grouse, which was one of my all-time birding highlights AND amazing views of Humpback Whales. Maine is a beautiful place….where to next? Scotland in 2015!

 

Birding Maine (Part 4): Now for something completely different!

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When you go on a family vacation you have to realize, accept and embrace the fact that you won’t be birding every waking hour. There is only so much absolute birding the rest of your family can take so I poured over the internet prior to our trip, planning non-birding activities. Now, that’s not to say that Maisie and Julie don’t enjoy birding BUT, they enjoy lots of other things too; mostly nature based but some more traditional touristy tuff too. Bar Harbor Whale Watching Co. had taken such great care of us during the Whale Watching pelagic that I knew the Lobster Fishing and Seal Watching trip we’d signed up with them for was going to be fun.

Lobster fishing is a major part of Maine’s culture, thousands of people depend on it to make a living. Maine would be a very different place without it. Going on a real lobster boat and learning about the industry, what they have done to sustain it, and learning about the amazing lobster was a real treat.

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Lobster fishermen in Maine can only keep lobsters that have a carapace between 3 1/4 and 5 inches in length. It’s the big ones that are important, especially the females. A 1 pound female can lay about 1,000 eggs, while a 9 pound female can lay 10 times that number! Maine has been very successful at not only sustaining lobsters but increasing the population through sound research and sensible regulations. And, the best thing? The lobster fishermen were the ones who recognized stricter measures needed to be implemented.

We got to catch a whole bunch of lobsters, all were returned. We all got to hold them, study them…it was pretty cool!

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After having fun with lobsters, the skipper turned the boat towards Egg Rock for an encounter with one of the cutest creatures on earth…the Harbor Seal.

they are very curious and some swam up to the boat to see what was up
they are very curious and some swam up to the boat to see what was up
we saw several pups that weren't that old
we saw several pups that weren’t that old
this pup was having breakfast
this pup was having breakfast

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We did see some birds. mostly gulls, a few eiders and we had awesome looks at Black Guillemots and a Bald Eagle.

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It was a fun 2 hour trip.

Egg Rock
Egg Rock

 

 

Birding Maine (Part 3b): Whales and Puffins

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So after enjoying all the puffins and seabirds on Petit Island NWR the skipper, Brian, cranked up the boat to 30+ knots and we headed out to the edge of the Grand Manan Banks. It wasn’t long before we began to see strings of weed and somewhat bizarrely, pollen! We flushed a beautiful Red-necked Phalarope and an Arctic Tern was perched on a lobster pot buoy. A Common Loon in basic plumage too! As we got closer to the banks we started to see one of my favorite seabirds, although I hadn’t seen any in the ABA before.

Great Shearwaters
Great Shearwaters
small groups were flying around
small groups were flying around
this one was so close to the boat. You can see it's in wing molt
this one was so close to the boat.

All of a sudden the main target for the trip suddenly appeared ahead.

Humpback Whale
Humpback Whale
what an absolutely magical experience
what an absolutely magical experience

Before we could gather our senses, Zack the naturalist shouted, “Northern Fulmar” we got decent looks but it flew by and kept going. It was hard getting pictures once whales started to appear as everyone cam out on deck. There are some cons to being on a non-chumming, non-birding, pelagic! More Great Shearwaters appeared and a couple of Leach’s Storm-Petrels were feeding near where the first whale had surfaced. A lifer for Julie!

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Then the whales began to put on a real show! We ended up seeing 4 different ones, all named and previously seen in the area before. Allied Whale, a group organized by the College of the Atlantic have been monitoring the whales in the Gulf of Maine since 1972. They have documented over 6,000 Humpback Whales in the North Atlantic and over 800 Fin Whales!

you can tell by how much they arch their back as to whether they will show their classic fluke display
you can tell by how much they arch their back as to whether they will show their classic fluke display
this one is called patchwork
this one is called patchwork
and this one is Churn
and this one is Churn
Chablis
Chablis
and finally, Jigger
and finally, Jigger

Other species we saw, in between enjoying Humpbacks included White-sided Dolphins, Harbor Porpoise, Northern Gannets, and a very frustrating glimpse at a small shearwater, which was most likely a Manx Shearwater. However, I did use to live less than 10 miles from the largest Manxie colony in the world so I can’t be too disappointed eh?

I can’t praise the Bar Harbor Whale Watching Company enough, if you are heading to Maine between June and September you MUST go on a trip with them. They were awesome. The only negative thing that happened was the weather, but at least the sea was fairly calm! I ended up with 4 ABA lifers (Atlantic Puffin, Common Murre, Great Shearwater and Northern Fulmar) on the trip, which was fantastic. Julie and Maisie had a great time. A great experience for all.

Birding Maine (Part 3a): Whales & Puffins

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Our first day on Mount Desert Island (MDI), Maine was spent exploring Acadia National Park. We stopped by the Peregrine nest watch, and Maisie got to see the male leave the nest site, which was a lifer for her; like her dad she has a thing for Peregrines. The scenery in the park is quite simply stunning, we had a nice hike, explored, went rock pooling at the end of the Wonderland trail and had lobster (over-rated) for dinner.

We were excited about our second day on MDI as I had signed us up for the Whales and Puffin cruise with the Bar Harbor Whale Watching Company. Our ride would be the very modern and comfortable Friendship V, a high speed catamaran. After boarding, we learned we would be venturing out to the Grand Manan Banks from the onboard naturalist Zack, who provided great information throughout the trip. Cold water upwelling along the edge of the bank’s shelf had attracted Humpback Whales to the area and the previous day’s trip had encountered lots of seabirds there too!

The first area we would explore on the trip though was Petit Island NWR. The birding was great!

Atlantic Puffin - an ABA lifer!
Atlantic Puffin – an ABA lifer!
there were lots of puffins
there were lots of puffins

Other alcids were present too.

Black Guillemot
Black Guillemot – ABA lifer
"Bridled" Common Murre, another ABA lifer
“Bridled” Common Murre, another ABA lifer
Razorbills - seen them in Florida!
Razorbills – seen them in Florida!

There were Common Eiders everywhere!

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Lots of terns too.

Arctic Tern
Arctic Tern

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We enjoyed the seabird colony for 30 minutes or so before the skipper took us out to deeper water and the Grand Manan banks. Tune tomorrow for what happened next on this amazing cruise.