The path that leads to to our favorite birding patch is only a few paces outside the entrance gate to our subdivision. However, we must reach the gate by walking in front of about two blocks of residences. Clothed in our rugged garb, we accept quizzical stares from passing motorists as they bring their kids to school or head for the office, all dressed up. We are often recognized as birders, and have acquired some legitimacy by answering questions from neighbors, such as “Did you notice that a lot of baby white cranes [translation: Snowy Egrets] have just joined their parents [translation: Great Egrets] along our lake?” Here in Florida we must pay special attention to protection from sun and insects. Sensible wide-brimmed hats, trousers tucked into socks and long sleeves on the hottest of mornings make us stand apart on the fashion scene. (No wonder Mary Lou regarded all birders as rather eccentric folk– until she became one herself! See: “A Valentine for my Favorite Birdwatcher“)
Returning from Illinois this past Thursday, our aircraft passed eastward over the Fort Lauderdale airport and took a long downwind leg over the ocean. This meant that the wind was blowing in from the Everglades, and we could expect rising temperatures and a plague of mosquitoes until the easterly sea breezes returned.The unsettled air produced a lovely sunrise, but bad as the mosquitoes, heat and humidity have been, other concerns are keeping us from going afield...
Alas, we are leaving our second home in northeastern Illinois to return to Florida, just at the start of warbler migration. Yesterday Kane County Audubon Society sponsored its monthly “Scope Day” at Nelson Lake/Dick Young Forest Preserve, only about a mile from our condo. Although I obtained not a single decent shot of any of the Common Yellowthroats, American Redstarts, Magnolia Warblers and Black-throated Green Warblers we sighted, the arduous 3 1/2 mile walk around the lake made for a most enjoyable morning. We logged over 60 species.The group included a nice mix of experienced and casual local birders, as well as visitors from out of state. They gathered on the east viewing platform to scope out herons and ducks...
It’s nice when the birds come to visit. During our eleven years of living in New Mexico I encouraged them with feeders, and attracted 120 species. Back then I set up my spotting scope inside the house and photographed the birds by focusing a little 2 megapixel point-and-shoot camera through the scope’s eyepiece. My New Mexico yard list and photos may be seen at this link. Unfortunately, after moving to Florida I kept my “yard list” on my Palm handheld, and lost it when a computer crash coincided with my switch from the Palm to an incompatible iPod Touch. I think it was in the high 50s, but some day I will try to reconstruct it. Anticipating the question, I promised an answer when I posted “Why in [!!#!@*##&%] Did You Move From New Mexico To Florida?” However, I never got around to explaining our motive for relocating from a mile and a half high in the mountains to a hot and muggy lakeside plot. I still plan to address this, but it is a story in itself, as is, indeed, our decision to occupy a second residence. Now that Mary Lou and I have homes in both Florida and Illinois, I have collected photos of quite a few yard birds that I have photographed, many from inside or from porch and patio.
Travel, first to Alaska, and more recently in Europe, has occupied much of my past two months. Before leaving for a visit to Spain and a western Mediterranean cruise earlier this month, I wrote three blog posts and scheduled them for publication on consecutive Saturday mornings. I now have to catch up and tell about the varied results of my recent hunting experiences. The great painter John James Audubon was known to cook and eat many of the birds he collected.“Although he would shoot the birds for sport, he also shot them in order to paint their features. In his mission for new specimens, Audubon would shoot a minimum of a hundred birds each day... ”
We enjoyed a scenic four hour drive from Homer to Seward, first retracing our route north and westward on Sterling Highway (Alaska #1). The early King Salmon run bypasses Soldotna for some reason, but upstream at Sterling, fishermen were lined shoulder-to-shoulder along the banks of the Kenai River. Joining Alaska #9 southward, we were treated to the rugged beauty of the Chugach Mountains. This is a continuation of the narrative of our Alaska journey...
Soon after returning from from Alaska to our second home in Illinois, I took a break from editing and reviewing the photos from the trip. Illinois weather had been quite variable, from cool and rainy to hotter than Florida. Our first stop was at Aurora West Forest Preserve, only a couple of miles from our condo. Our target bird was the Clay-colored Sparrow that nested there last year. We had no luck in finding the sparrow, but it was a delightful morning full of color and sound.
An Indigo Bunting sang a variant song from the top of a tree. Mary Lou and I had heard this same bird before we left for Alaska. Instead of the usual series of coupled warbling notes, this bird repeated two wheezy phrases that sounded like “Wree-Wree, Wree-Wree…” etc. It definitely meant to be singing, not sounding call notes.
After reading my past three blogs about our Alaska trip, our son-in-law, who accompanied Mary Lou and me in the 32-foot RV with our daughter and their two children, was only half-joking when he commented that I wrote volumes about the birds, but only a few lines about my loving family! The truth is, we spent much more time having fun together than we did looking for birds. But my blog is usually about birding and photography, and when it isn’t, I publish a disclaimer.The route from Soldotna to Homer was direct and only about 75 miles. Approaching from the bluffs north of the city, we could see Homer Spit arching out into Kechimak Bay. Our objective was Heritage RV Park, which turned out to be a very nice place for our two-night stay.
and birders flock to water treatment plants. My first experience with
one was the sewage pond at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. It was a green
oasis in the otherwise arid desert, chock full of shorebirds. It
smelled to high heaven! This one has a modest name, Stormwater
Treatment Area Number 5, STA-5 for short, managed by the South Florida
Water Management District, and located south of Lake Okeechobee in
no-man’s-land of Hendry County. In the middle of the sugar cane fields,
STA-5 consists of four large shallow ponds that occupy an area of eight
square miles. Audubon of
Southwest Florida calls it one of the best birding spots in
all of Florida.
Similar to domestic sewage settling ponds, STA-5 receives waste water and allows impurities to precipitate out and serve as food for millions and billions of trillions of microorganisms, algae and water plants. But unlike urban sewer plants, the source of the water is runoff from Florida’s generous summer rains, and the waste is agricultural effluent from the many farms upstream. Fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides dissolved in the runoff are captured and stored before purified water is released into the Everglades. Phosphorus is the main culprit. The Everglades are historically poor in nutrients, and phosphorus stimulates the growth of cattails that overrun the sawgrass that normally carpets the River of Grass.
walking in wild places, it is best to expect the unexpected.
More often than not, whether searching for a goshawk in the mountains
of New Mexico, the Red-headed Woodpecker in my favorite birding patch
in Illinois, or a Cottonmouth in the wetlands next to my Florida home,
my quest eludes me. Therefore, I keep an open mind and just wait for
each new day’s surprise. By South Florida standards, yesterday
morning was another in a string of unusually cold days. The temperature
was in the low forties, and a brisk breeze blew in from the north.
Insects were inactive in the cold. Tree leaves and grasses were
swaying, making it difficult to detect subtle movements that might
betray small creatures hiding in the foliage. Not a good day for
finding birds and butterflies.
My first stop, as usual, was a patch of mostly exotic shrubbery at the edge of our subdivision, happily left undisturbed by the landscaping contractors. It was decidedly “un-birdy.” Even the usually reliable mockingbirds and gnatcatchers seemed to have shunned it. Then I saw a flash of bright red in a weedy patch just to my left. Too small for a cardinal. It had to be a male Painted Bunting, the only other bird I could expect to see sporting that color. So far, I had never seen a male bunting here, and that would be a nice find. This turned out to be the first of two surprises.
Observers of our local Bald Eagle nest have noted some interesting behaviors. These are personal discoveries. They gain insights into the lives of these magnificent birds, and it matters not that their findings are not new to science. We learned that, unlike many other birds, the eaglets do not abandon the nest after learning to fly. After their first flight, the adults coaxed the fledglings back to the nest with food. The youngsters returned to be fed at the nest daily for two full months. Sometimes one or both would follow the parent as it carried prey back to the nest.They witnessed interspecific competition, as, for example, when an Osprey, probably distressed after an eagle had stolen its fish, chased the larger raptor back to its nest. The eagle did not endanger its chicks by allowing its pursuer to make a close approach. Instead, the eagle flew off until it eluded the Osprey, then returned to feed the fish to the eaglets. They saw how smaller birds will harass the eagles that roost in their territory by “mobbing” them until they depart. For a video and my photos of grackles ganging up on an immature eagle,