12 DBY: Shorebirds galore!

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As is normal I planned about 600 different scenarios for my big day in August and eventually went with the, “least amount of effort because I can’t be arsed” one! Palm Beach and Hendry County looked so inviting, 2 ABA lifers, a potential 15-22 year birds, shorebirds galore and potential for boosting my county lists to half decent levels. There was really only one setback with that scenario, the 14 hours of driving and missing a night of sleep. Yeah, fuck dat shit! I really like birding at god forsaken places that are good for shorebirds. If you can’t smell sewage, if there ain’t no tractors driving around, and there aren’t piles of yesterday’s technology rusting away lying around then bollocks it ain’t for me…LOL It was an easy decision to make the easier, 3 hour drive to the Okaloosa Holding Ponds to get my shorebird fix. It wasn’t a bad decision.

There were 7 Wilson's Phalaropes spinny doing on the western most pond
There were 7 Wilson’s Phalaropes spinny doing on the western most pond
Wilson's Phalarope (juvenile) with Short-billed Dowitcher (juvenile)
Wilson’s Phalarope (juvenile) with Short-billed Dowitcher (juvenile)

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Other species present included Pectoral, Stilt, Western, Least, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Black-necked Stilt, Semipalmated and Black-bellied Plover, Willet, Spotted Sandpiper and both species of yellowlegs.

I headed east to check the dry beds out as they are often more productive for grasspipers. I came across a flock of about 20 Pectoral Sandpipers feeding in the grass. They were accompanied by three smaller peeps. 2 juvenile Baird’s and a Least. Nice!

a really crap picture of a juv Baird's
a really crap picture of a juv Baird’s

I enjoyed them all for a while hoping they would come closer for better pictures but they stayed about as far from me as they could. Who can blame ‘em! I grabbed my scope and walked about a minute further along the trail and saw a bird sitting on the gravel track.

Lark Sparrow
Lark Sparrow

I was starting to really enjoy my morning now and had no regrets about not driving south.

I made my way back to the wet ponds and checked through all the shorebirds again hoping something new had arrived but nothing had. I hadn’t really planned on where I was going to next so I sat in the comfort of my AC’d van and googled sod farms. I found a pretty large one near Panama City that I had a vague recollection of visiting once when I worked as an Environmental Specialist. It took me a little over an hour to get there and I drove around the many sod fields scanning each of them carefully for grasspipers. There were a few Killdeer.

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But no Upland or Buff-breasted Sandpipers. This site is definitely worth checking in August though if you’re in the area. I designated it as an eBird hotspot – McCall Sod Farm.

From there I continued east and birded in Calhoun County where I found my bird of the day. A Horned Lark! Totally unexpected find at the Clarksville Sod Farm off route 20 west of Blountstown. This farm looked better for grasspipers than McCall but again all I found were Killdeers, shorebird wise. Bank and Cliff Swallow were nice too.

I slowly made my way back home via Jackson County and Lake Seminole. I was hoping there might be a shorebird or two on the ACI Prison Pond or a Black Tern on the lake but Killdeer and Spotted Sandpipers were all I had.

Spotted Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper

I ended up adding 6 new year birds to my 12DBY total, which now stands on 272. My goal of 325 is probably out of reach now but who cares. Next month will be my last big day outside of the Panhandle; I’ll be in the Keys…huzzah!

Gray Day

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Not every bird in the world is as blessed as a male Painted Bunting, but what some birds lack in color they make up for in watchabilityenous. I had a meeting in Steinhatchee today and stopped off at a couple of birding trail sites on the way there. There were a bunch of Reddish Egrets at Hagen’s Cove, which is part of the Big Bend Wildlife Management Area in Taylor County…the Hidden Coast. It’s a wonderful site, totally under birded due to its location BUT it is very rewarding at all times of year particularly in spring and fall during shorebird migration. Be sure to visit on an incoming tide; 3-4 hours before high tide is best.

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There were quite a few Willets and Short-billed Dowitchers, 4 Marbled Godwits and a good scattering of Western and Least Sandpipers. I wish this site wasn’t as far as it is from Tallahassee or I would bird it much more often.

On the way home I stopped at Keaton Beach for a break and had an enjoyable 5 minutes watching a family of 4 Grey Kingbirds.

"MAAAAAA THE MEATLOAF!"
“MAAAAAA, THE MEATLOAF!”
"Where is she? I never know where she is!"
“Where is she? I never know where she is!”

Gulf coast fishing villages are great for doves. Always enjoy watching these guys.

Common Ground-doves
Common Ground-doves

 

 

Baird’s Sandpiper

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I was fortunate enough to find a beautiful juvenile Baird’s Sandpiper (my 274th Leon Co. lifer) on my lunch break today at the Tram Road Holding Ponds. For me they are one of the most beautiful shorebirds, just love the scalloped patterned plumage. As far as I’m concerned you can keep your warblers! Yeah, I am strange!

long primary projection, neatly arranged dark centered feathers with crisp pale edging make juv Baird's really stand out amongst other shorebirds
long primary projection, neatly arranged dark centered feathers with crisp pale edging make juv Baird’s really stand out amongst other shorebirds
The last Baird's record in the county was 10 years ago
The last Baird’s record in the county was 10 years ago
the birds, as is typical with a lot of juvenile shorebirds, was pretty confiding
the birds, as is typical with a lot of juvenile shorebirds, was pretty confiding

 

eBird Blitz #1 – Calhoun County

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Last weekend, 8 birders headed out to Calhoun County in the Central Florida Panhandle to carry out an eBird Blitz, organized by myself and Elliot. We came up with the idea while out birding, our aim, to increase our knowledge of bird distribution in under birded areas in the Florida Panhandle. They are mostly under birded due to “herd” mentality that persists in many birding communities around Florida and beyond. Herd mentality? Birding the same locations that everyone else birds. Why do they do that? Confidence…knowing what birds have and are likely to be found in well birded locations draws them in like moths to a candle flame. Birders tend to not take a chance birding areas that are off the beaten track and one can’t blame them. Most birders don’t have much time to go birding so, rather then spend a day searching for good bird habitat, they go to a site with a proven track record. With a little encouragement through projects like this, sites that were once off the radar can become birding hotspots. If you’re a county lister then the eBird Blitz is a great way to build your lists. It’s also really exciting birding areas you’ve never birded before, it rekindles that fire we all have for discovering new things. Elliot and I hope that our blitz concept will catch on and knowledge of our state and nation’s bird distribution will be improved upon. We also hope it will encourage more people to use eBird.

Blitzers!
Blitzers!

Anyways, back to last week’s inaugural blitz. Calhoun County has great potential. Two long stretches of undeveloped river (Chipola and Apalachicola) persist in the county, as well as Cypress Swamp and remnant Longleaf Pine Forest. The Chipola River was one of the last known haunts of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Florida, last seen in the area during the late 1940s. Breeding species typical of the panhandle such as Mississippi and Swallow-tailed Kite, Swainson’s Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Indigo Bunting and Blue Grosbeak still persist and are easy to find between April and July. The county is mosty dry and has few lakes and ponds, which is why the county’s waterfowl and shorebird list is low, BUT in a wet year, there are several ponds on agricultural lands that act as oases, particularly during migration.

Calhoun County, Florida
Calhoun County, Florida

I split our group into 3 so that we could cover as much of the county as possible. Elliot and I created a map and split it into 3 areas, much like we do for a Christmas Bird Count but on a much larger scale. Each group then set out into their respective area and birded until lunch. Prior to the blitz we studied google earth to identify potential hotspots in the county; lakes, ponds, creeks…and so on.

Eastern Kingbird
Eastern Kingbird

We all had a terrific time and many checklists were submitted to eBird. Elliot crunched some numbers and wrote the following account of our day.

Three groups of birders, totaling 8 individuals, birded mostly on Saturday, 16 Aug., 2014 in Calhoun County, FL. In all, those three groups submitted 72 checklists into the eBird database. Five of these checklists were submitted on the previous day by a participant on the 15th, so we will go ahead and include those data.

Within those checklists, 86 ABA countable species of bird were reported. An additional 3 uncountable species were observed, as well. Three of the countable species were new to the county’s eBird list: Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Redhead, and Laughing Gull. The 72 checklists make up 16% of all checklists ever submitted to eBird for Calhoun County.

For 2014, the Blitz was responsible for 37.5% of the year’s submitted checklists to date, and 14 species were added to the County’s 2014 eBird list.

Calhoun was particularly under-birded in the summer, only logging 34 species in 7 checklists all-time in the month of August. The Blitz added 55 species to the County’s all-time August list, bringing it to 89 species. It is also accountable for 91% of August’s checklists.

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks - despite living in the county for many years Travis and Karen had never seen this species before. They have been found in many new areas over the last couple of years.
Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks – despite living in the county for many years Travis and Karen had never seen this species in Calhoun County before. They have been found in many new areas over the last couple of years.

As a result of the blitz eBird added several more hotspots to Calhoun County. I highly recommend the three sites near Altha and the Cypress Swamp at Parish Lake. Hopefully this will entice birders to visit the county more often thus further increasing our knowledge. I cannot wait to bird some of the areas again, particularly the Cypress Swamp around Parish Lake, and we will definitely be organizing another blitz in Calhoun County in the near future. If you would like to take part in one of our upcoming eBird Blitzes, please visit the Tallahassee Bird Club meetup site

old growth Cypress Swamps where Ivory-billed Woodpeckers once thrived
old growth Cypress Swamps where Ivory-billed Woodpeckers once thrived – picture by Elliot Schunke

 

F’ it Friday

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F’ it Friday: Fly MIKI Fly!

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Cow Pond Diary: Swallow-tailed Kites

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It’s been a very long summer thus far and lately the birding at my local patch has been even more repetitive than usual, which is saying something. Even the Cattle Egrets look bored; one looked at me today and had this, “WTF do you keep coming back here for?” slapped all over its Chevy Chase. Every once in a while though there has been a brief glimmer of joy! Amidst the 500-800 Cattle Egrets I’ve beamed at a juvenile Glossy Ibis, the dragonfly filled sky was full of Mississippi Kites one day, and a calling Yellow-billed Cuckoo had me fist pumping and doing the Meininger Shuffle. Today was another stellar day. I arrived with high hopes of more shorebirds, maybe a Wilson’s Phalarope had joined the 3 Pectoral Sandpipers or the White-faced Ibis decided it just had to see what was what at the ponds. No such luck with rare ibis or phals BUT, just as I turned around to trudge back to the van of awesomeness, a shadow cast over me. I looked up to see this!

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There were three of them feeding over the pines on the west side of Biltmore Avenue. Splendid! Let’s hope visits like day become more frequent.

 

Tis the Season…

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…for shorebirds in Leon County. August is THE best month for shorebirds in our area and provides county listers with great opportunity to add to their list. I’ve managed to add 26 shorebird species to my Leon list over the last 10 years so I’m running out of opportunity. Upland Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper and American Avocet are all potential additions. Marbled Godwit has been recorded in the county before and megas such as Ruff and Red-necked Phalarope have too. So for the next few weeks I’ll be trying my best to find a new shorebird. Today, at Tram Rd Holding Ponds, I found 4 Western Sandpipers, a scarce visitor, only my 6th county record and the first since 2008. There were 2 Pectoral Sandpipers at the cow ponds and 2 Solitary Sandpipers at Mom & Dad’s Pond.

not the greatest picture. you can see the long slightly downcurved bill. All 4 birds were adults and still had black streaks on their flanks and rufous scapulars.
not the greatest picture. you can see the long slightly down curved bill. All 4 birds were adults and still had black streaks on their flanks and rufous scapulars.

 

 

Not another bloody White-faced Ibis!

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Yep, but I actually think this one is the same bird that I found last week at Mom & Dad’s pond on the south side of town. Today it was way up on the north side of town at the Fuller Road Ponds. A group of us (Tallahassee Bird Club) had headed there on a recommendation from Rob W. It proved to be a nice little spot and one I am looking forward to birding more often over the following months.

White-faced Ibis
White-faced Ibis

There were at least 4 Limpkins at this site and judging from the number of bubblegum pink eggs (from the exotic apple snails) there is plenty of food them.

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There were 2-3 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks present as well.

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We racked up about 25-30 species between the 7 of us and headed to Jackson View Park. There weren’t any migrant warblers to speak of but we did have nice looks at a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk.

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Jackson View Park is another site that looks promising and I expect it to be pretty good for songbird migrants this fall.

 

Tallahasse Bird Club: Kites Galore…NOT!

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Sometimes the best laid plans of mice and men go awry. The farmer told us, “Shoulda been here 2 days ago.” Oh well, we still had a good time at the Jeffco Dairy Farm in Jefferson County today. We did see 3 Swallow-tailed and 1 Mississippi Kite. There were 7 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and the usual assortment of cow farm lovin’ birds, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Cattle Egrets, White Ibis etc.

Far fewer whistlers were present than I've experienced in the past but they were very confiding as is typical for this site
Far fewer whistlers were present than I’ve experienced in the past but they were very confiding as is typical for this site
our target bird wasn't present in the numbers that we had hope BUT they are always nice to see
our target bird wasn’t present in the numbers that we had hope BUT they are always nice to see. This is a molting adult still growing its new secondaries

We saw 3 Wood Storks.

light was awful so photoshopped this one so it was a silhouette
light was awful so photoshopped this one so it was a silhouette

We left just in the nick of time as it started to pour while we were driving off the farm, This prevented us from stopping at Rabon Rd pond where many Black-whistling Ducks are often gathered. There were a few present but we didn’t linger.

We then stopped at the US-90 boat landing and fishing pier on Lake Miccosukee and a few non-bird species drew our admiration.

Gator!
Gator!
water snake, not sure which yet. Banded?
water snake, not sure which yet. Banded?
female Golden Orb Weaver eating a Regal Silk Moth
female Golden Orb Weaver eating a Regal Silk Moth
awww! Baby turtle
awww! Baby turtle
Greater Siren - a lifer for most of us and easily the best sighting of the day. Sometimes the birds have to play second fiddle
Greater Siren – a lifer for most of us and easily the best sighting of the day. Sometimes the birds have to play second fiddle