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

 

And the ticks just keep on coming…

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Well, for Elliot that is! Glad I could return the favor after all he did just find my county Willet 3 days ago. I’ve now seen 63 White-faced Ibis in Florida! 60 of them have been at St. Marks NWR. They aren’t really a rarity anymore are they? Today’s find was only the 3rd record for Leon County but I’m sure by the end of this decade that number will have increased significantly. Looking forward to some more stellar birding at the Mom & Dad’s Ponds…gonna have to try the food at the Italian restaurant the ponds are named after.

JUUUUUST ONE MOOOOORE WHITE-FACED IBIS, GIVE IT TOOOO MEEEEEE, BLOODY PLEGADIS IN TALLAHASSEEEEEEEE! ONE MOOOORE AND IT’LL DO MYYYYYY HEAD IN……….JUST ONE MOOOOORRRRE WHITE-FACED IBIS……IN TALLAHASSSEEEEEEEEEEEEEeeeeee! Yeah, bonkers mate!

picture by Elliot Schunke
picture by Elliot Schunke

 

 

‘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

This great find was featured in the Miami Herald…GREAT STORY!

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