Launching into Birding at Loxahatchee

The SICB conference started on January 3rd. However, as it was only registration and that wasn’t until 3, this meant we had hours of birding before us. Tara and I decided to start at the southern most point of Loxahatchee closest to Coral Springs and work our way north to West Palm Beach where the conference was being held.

Loxahatchee was recommended by both our ornithology professor and also by Olin Sewall Pettingill’s Guide to Bird Finding, which was referenced by Kenn Kaufman in Kingbird Highway!  However Kaufman referenced the first edition, while I was making do with the second, published a bit after Kaufman’s go at a big year. (The guide is awesome!)

However, as we realized once we were in Florida, Loxahatchee is a big, big, big place… and despite the internet, determining location of the visitor’s center wasn’t happening.

Locations of birding locations in Loxahatchee.

Eventually we figured out where the visitor’s center was, but not until we arrived. Locations of birding locations in Loxahatchee.

So we figured out how to get to the Boat Launch, which we learned was a boat launch after we got there. Ah well.  There were still birds to see.

We saw Monk Parakeets which would have been exciting if we weren’t from Bergen County in New Jersey where we have our own flocks of devout parakeets. Zillions of Black Vultures loomed overhead, which was peculiar because we had only seen Turkey Vultures up until this point.  But the looming wasn’t menacing because the Florida winter sun is so bright and cheery.

Anhinga sits on the waters edge... with its wings folded. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Anhinga sits on the waters edge… with its wings folded. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Anhingas are more common than Cormorants here.  We were trekking determinedly after a coy American Kestrel, when I caught site of this one hanging out on the side of the slough.

Then, I got distracted by a butterfly wherein the internet redeemed itself.  I’ve been able to identify all the (two) butterflies I’ve looked up so far with vague search terns such as “Florida butterflies” and “orange butterflies in Florida”.

Gulf Fritillary Buterfly, Agraulis vanillae. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Gulf Fritillary Buterfly, Agraulis vanillae. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

You can see everything but it’s tongue and….. moving on.

We eventually did make our way up to the coy Kestrel.  Although each time we approached, just as I’d get the camera set, he’d move back further.

American Kestrels are not  in short supply in Florida. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

American Kestrels are not in short supply in Florida. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Eventually it worked out in my favor as when I finally captured a reasonably respectable image, it was in a natural setting and not on a sign.

Early glimpse at two White Ibis. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Early glimpse at two White Ibis. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

After that we opted to turn around so we could have a chance to try a site further north before heading to the conference.  We were heading back when we glimpsed a flutter of white and located two White Ibises.

Florida Total: 37
Loxahatchee Boat Launch: 20
New for Florida: 13
Lifers: 1

Posted in florida, travel | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Fighting the Fading Light

Florida Post #2

After birding Pine Trails Park and Tall Cypress there was a little light left in the day so we decided to pick one more green patch at random and try our luck there.   We opted for Sherwood Forest Park.

As a birding spot at sunset it was pretty much a dud.  But we did have a few gems that made the initial foray worth it.   To begin with, I found a butterfly willing to pause long enough for a photo.  Particularly due to low light levels this was an amazing feat!

 Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius), Florida's state butterfly.  Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius), Florida’s state butterfly. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

We also found Muscovy Ducks which totally count. (My general rule is if ebird counts it, I count it since I let ebird do all my math.)  At least that’s my take on the Muscovy Duck Debate, which I didn’t realize was a thing until both Tara and Laurence commented on it.  Although Kenn Kaufman relates an interesting insight into counting which resonated with me:

The list total isn’t what’s important, but the birds themselves are important. Every bird you see.  So the list is just a frivolous incentive for birding, but the birding itself is worthwhile. It’s like a trip where the destination doesn’t have any significance except for the fact that it makes you travel. The journey is what counts. - Kingbird Highway

Feral Muscovy Duck at twilight. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Feral Muscovy Duck at twilight. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

I can do dark, brooding ducks, too.  But to top it off, almost eclipsing my lifer of a Muscovy Duck, we came across a RBA for Florida: the Canada Goose!

Florida scenery featuring the rare Canada Goose. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Florida scenery featuring the rare Canada Goose. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Do you see it?  Just swimming off camera to the left?  When in the Galapagos a year ago, I recall explaining how rarities work.  What is not rare at all for New Jersey can be remarkably rare elsewhere.  So in Galapagos as we patrolled beaches for birds and other things,  we were always jokingly on the lookout for a Snowy Owl (hey, they made it to Bermuda!) and a Canada Goose.  Lo and behold one year later the rare Canada Goose because a Real Thing.

In other news I’ve elected to read Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman while in Florida.   So far the insights into birding before ebird and the internet is fascinating.  As a whole the book and its story has been delightful!

Florida Total: 24
Sherwood: Forest Park: 3
New for Florida: 2
Lifers: 1

Posted in florida, travel | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Ready? Set. Bird!

The official purpose for traveling to Florida was birding a conference.  But often times, it felt as though it was birding, because priorities.  With a departure for the airport at 3:30am, Tara and I anticipated being wiped by the time we reached our hosts’ home. We were being parasites for our stay (it was a biological conference, so fitting!)

After most of the airport hijinks had been straightened out, Tara and I refueled and decided there was daylight and there were birds!  We decided to stay close to our parasitic home in Coral Springs and explore what the local parks had to offer. Research through ebird suggested that two parks were promising: Pine Trails Park and Tall Cypress.

Pine Trails Park

Was a challenge to find!  We quickly learned that Florida is riddled with private communities that are unrecognized by GPS.  So once we worked that out, we did find our way to the Park.

Pine Trails Park is more athletic fields and a YMCA than, one would expect.  Upon arrival, the area seemed devoid of birds, but as we walked about we began to find signs of life.

We saw an unidentified gull and a Royal Tern swoop through before we heard a clamor in the reeds and located a raucous American Coot.

One of our first Florida birds: American Coot. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

One of our first Florida birds: American Coot. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Don’t let this coot’s docile and demur appearance fool you; it must have done something to set the other coot off on its tirade. Soon it was joined by this fellow, so maybe the coot wasn’t to be blamed after all.

Common Gallinule lives up to it's name. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Common Gallinule lives up to it’s name. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

After having ample opportunities for viewing the Common Gallinule, I’m still mesmerized by its appearance.  The evolution of the beak into a faceplate is phenomenonal.  I recall first glimpsing it through the fog in the Galapagos; followed by a serious hunt for it at Cape May, never dreaming I’d see it so often I could walk by without snapping at least a dozen photos.

Then there was this lovely lifer: Tricolored Heron.  In Florida, one really needs to look at all the herons.  It’s not like New Jersey where they’re quickly identifiable 99% of the time. And this one even blends with the water, whee!

Tricolored Heron fishing on the banks. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Tricolored Heron fishing on the banks. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Florida Total:  12 species
Pine Trails Park: 10
New for Florida: 10
Lifers: 2

Tall Cypress

After the highly manicured Pine Trails Park, Tall Cypress felt like everything a Florida birding locale should be: green, swampy, wet, alluring.   There was even a most convenient boardwalk to keep out feet dry and more importantly, minimize our impact on the landscape.

Tall Cypress looks more an illustration than a real place. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Tall Cypress looks more an illustration than a real place. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

My pishing for sparrows leaves much to be desired, but it can attract the warblers.  We managed to call in Palm Warblers, Prairie Warblers, and also Blue-gray Gnatcatchers.  This was promising.  When one travels to a new location you allows worry (1) Will you find anything? (2) Will you recognize it once you do?

Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Palm Warblers abound high in the canopy. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

The birding was at a pleasant pace.  Not so little as to be disappointed, but not so much that we were overwhelmed by it all.  We had enough time for distractions such as this reptile pictured below.

Brown Anoles a common sight and an invasive species throughout Florida. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Brown Anoles a common sight and an invasive species throughout Florida. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Tara’s training is first as a Herptologist (someone who studies reptiles and amphibians) so she was quick to take an interest and identify all the herps we came across.  We also found a mammal!

Raccoon! Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Raccoon! Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

At this point we were mostly birding by ear with Gray Catbird, Blue Jays, several Northern Flickers, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers.

The views of insects was also fantastic.  I’m not sure if this is because they were truly marvelous or just seeing insects in January is bizarre.

Best guess is a Four-spotted Pennan (Brachymesia gravida). Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Best guess is a Four-spotted Pennan (Brachymesia gravida). Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

We took an hour to meander the very pleasant park which was actually created through the effort of concerned high school students.

This 66-acre natural area has long been known for its richly forested resources. Owned jointly by Broward County and the City of Coral Springs, the site was once slated for development. It has been preserved through the efforts of local and county government, along with the Coral Springs High School  environmental group Save What’s Left.  – Broward.org

Florida Total: 22
Tall Cypress: 10
New for Florida: 8
Lifers: 0

Posted in florida, travel | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Belated Big-Day Blah

On New Year’s Day after all the birders’ lists reset in a moment much like Anti-Christmas (instead of getting everything on your list, you lose it!), Tara and I returned to Sandy Hook hoping to repeat last year’s successes. It was just the two of us: the other six people intending to come along didn’t make it for various reasons.

This year we did not have our own videophotographer, nor did we have a repeat of 2014 success.  I say that, then I fact check it and I’m off.  In 2014, we had 22 species (+2 other taxa) whereas this year we had a grand total of….. 36! Another year under our belts and a scope makes a world of difference.

I believe the first bird of the year was a Sanderling.  It may also currently be the most photographed bird of the winter.  I was continuing to play with the borrowed Nikon 3200 and the rented Sigma 500mm.

Sanderling struggles with a snack. Sandy Hook, NJ. Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

Sanderling struggles with a snack. Sandy Hook, NJ. Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

A second day with the camera saw improvement.  This time I had a sense of where the camera wanted to focus.  Generally not where I wanted it to!  We’re continuing to work through our differences.

Tara scanning the ocean. Sandy Hook, NJ. Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

Tara scanning the ocean. Sandy Hook, NJ. Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

It was a very small outing and a very cold day.  We typically start off at Lot B and scan the shore and ocean.  Well, Tara scans and I take photos of Sanderlings. Lots of Sandering photos.

Then we head over to the bay side where we discovered pretty much the same species as we did four days earlier.  I chased sparrows while Tara scoped out the ducks.  Sparrows were camera shy, but a disgruntled Greater Scaup put up with a few photos (and a misidentification!).

Ring-necked Duck on a bay-side pond. Sandy Hook, NJ. Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

Ring-necked Duck on a bay-side pond. Sandy Hook, NJ. Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

Next we headed to the forest interior.  I was searching for owls while Tara was searching for everything else. (We typically use the divide and conquer method.)  There were reports of a Northern Saw-whet Owl, but we dipped.

However, we did find some other species.  We heard the Cedar Waxwings before we could locate them.  Eventually they moved into the trees directly above us and I attempted to photograph at an 80 degree angle.  It was challenging.  My arm was trembling from fatigue!  It’s challenging to hold up a 5 pound lens.   So I decided to lay down on the cold, paved ground and shoot from my back.  It’s more effective than shooting from the hip when using a camera.

Cedar Waxwing, taken from a horizontal position. Sandy Hook, NJ. Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

Cedar Waxwing, taken from a horizontal position. Sandy Hook, NJ. Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

Along the path that follows the road we discovered a few Northern Cardinals, a sprinkling of White-throated Sparrows, and a devoted Downy Woodpecker.  In the photo, note the nictitating membrane covering the eye, protecting it from bits of flying wood.

A busy Downy Woodpecker. Sandy Hook, NJ. Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

A busy Downy Woodpecker. Sandy Hook, NJ. Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

We scanned Horse-shoe Bay picking up Common Goldeneye and a Greater Scaup somewhere along the way before heading out to the North Shore.  We opted to walk all the way out to the shoreline.  By this time I was carrying all the gear (scope and the camera!) through very loose sand. What a workout.  Warmest part of the day.  We got there to see there wasn’t much.

However, upon inspecting the grassy dunes behind us we witnessed formations of feathers.  I was curious to see how well the camera could handle flight so I snapped away.

Snow Buntings in flight. Sandy Hook, NJ. Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

Snow Buntings in flight. Sandy Hook, NJ. Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

As we were watching, we noticed that sometimes the flock looked…. different.  Eventually I got a photo confirming our suspicions.  There were multiple flocks flying around the dunes.  Above you can see the Snow Bunting Brigade while below you have the House Finch Posse.

Sandy Hook. Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

Sandy Hook. Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

I like the way they’re flying directly at the camera and the complete chaos.  Eventually, the sun worked it’s way down the sky and we called it a day. January second would bring a 6am flight to Florida and there was packing to do.

Sunset at Sandy Hook on the first day of 2015. Sandy Hook, NJ Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

Sunset at Sandy Hook on the first day of 2015. Sandy Hook, NJ Photo taken on January 1, 2015 with a Nikon 3200, Sigma 500mm.

Posted in monmouth | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Snow Unfortunate

wpid-imag4105.jpg

Great Egret in flight at Green Cay Wetlands, Florida. Photo taken on January 6, 2015.

I understand that there’s been snow from Arizona to New Jersey since I left.  Today after the conference, we were birding at Green Cay wetlands when we were treated to a sudden squall. Had to take shelter in a series of huts (and chickees) conveniently located along the boardwalk during downpours and limit our birding to the breaks. Loads of neat birds: common gallinule, little blue heron, black-crowned night-heron, yellow-crowned night-heron, and woodstork. More to come once photos are processed.

Posted in florida, travel | 1 Comment

New Goals, Old Goals

An end of year New York Times tweet admonished, “Before setting new goals, evaluate the previous ones.”  So today I should begin by reviewing 2014’s resolutions. Last year, in what is no longer my shortest post ever, Renewed Resolve, I outlined my resolutions:

  • Continue working on warbler identification.
  • Work on identification by song.
  • Learning more about my camera and how to take better photos. (from Prairie Birder)

Camera Resolution

Considering I’ve uploaded 300 photos over the course of the year, that’s nearly 1 per day I have consistently worked with my camera, most particularly discovering it’s limitations.   I’ve gotten shots I’m happy with, shots I can live with, and shots that only belong in the trash heap.

I’ve also reached a point of frustration with the point and shoot, and the one I have in particular.  So I’ve decided to upgrade to a dSLR.  I haven’t decided which one (Canon or Nikon?), but I’m borrowing a Nikon currently and have rented a 500mm sigma lens for my upcoming trip to the Everglades (I depart tomorrow…. in 9 hours!), so continuing to work on photography will stay on the list.

Sanderling with a snack.  Taken with Nikon 3200 Simga 500mm. Sandy Hook. Photo taken on December 27, 2014.

Sanderling with a snack. Taken with Nikon 3200 Simga 500mm. Sandy Hook. Photo taken on December 27, 2014.

Songs Don’t Resonate for Me

I think any progress I made has been eroded by time.  This might need to be a life goal.   I did work on it significantly this year.  I can tell you that Tennessee Warblers have a three part (sometimes two) whereas Nashville have a two-part song.  What it sounds like?  Haven’t a clue at the moment.  To my ear, Hooded Warblers sound like they’re saying “Nice to, nice to meet you!” but to other birders that’s the description for a different warbler.  Chestnut-sided?

Female Hooded Warbler, first of three Hooded Warbler sightings. Doodletown Rd, Bear Mountain State Park. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

Female Hooded Warbler, first of three Hooded Warbler sightings. Doodletown Rd, Bear Mountain State Park. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

Wibbly-wobbly with Warblers

Warblers and songs sensibly go hand in hand.  I had first looks this year at Blackburnian, Chesnut-sided, Hooded, Worm-eating, Kentucky, Cerulean, Bay-breasted, Grace’s, and Red-faced.  (The last two in Arizona.)  So it was a good warbler year!  I began to really explore two warbler hotspots: Garrett Mountain (New Jersey) and Doodletown Road (New York.), but then the season ended.   Think it needs to go back on this list.

Aptly named Red-faced warbler.  Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Aptly named Red-faced warbler. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Therefore, after serious reflection and a strong need for sleep, I’m just going to keep my 2014 resolutions, thanks.

  • Continue working on warbler identification.
  • Work on identification by song.
  • Learning more about my camera and how to take better photos. (from Prairie Birder)
  • Submit at least 1 paper for publication

I will add one new resolution, however. I need to get focused and get at least one of the two proposed papers out from my Masters Thesis.  So this way I won’t feel so guilty when I miss birding to work on it….

Posted in "thesis", monmouth, resolutions | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Best Birds 2014 Edition

The obligatory moment as a handful of sunlit hours remain in the year: time to reflect on birds past.  The year began with a bang, and a trip to Ecuador, and continued strong through the spring.  May saw a whopping 162 species, nearly double what I saw in April and June.

The summer saw a significant drop between running a summer camp and building a bed (it’s a beautiful bed though!).  Returning to Rutgers, saw an uptick of birding opportunities and species which I maintained through the year’s end.

Lists Submitted to Ebird by Month

month 2013 2014 change
January  50 2 -48
February  34 4 -30
March  25 4 -21
April  22 26 4
May  24 36 12
June  16 10 6
July  5 3 -2
August  22 6 16
September  4 9 5
October  8 17 9
November  5 5 0
December  8 9 1
Year 223 131

What I lost in frequency of birding, I made up for in species. The 2013 list is exclusively domestic, specifically the NY/NJ region while my 2014 list is limited to the same region for comparison purposes and for standardizing the geographical limits of The Bet.

Species By Month

month 2013 2014 change
January 70 30 -40
February 52 39 -13
March 60 46 -14
April 48 87 39
May 114 162 48
June 64 85 21
July 37 32 -5
August  65 40 -15
September  72 102 30
October  57 114 57
November  63 86 23
December  79 90 11
Year 200 222

Additionally, I have 39 species from Arizona (28 unique) and 154 from Ecuador (135 unique) for a world total of 385 for the year.   I had an opportunity to post regarding my Arizona adventures (Key to Life, Sunrise Stakeout, Oooooh for Owls, All the Broken Things).  I didn’t get to post as much as I wanted about the Galapagos (where did the time go?) but what I did post is collected under Galapagos Journals.

My best day of birding occurred early in the year: I mentioned it in my brief update from the field, Birding Trifecta Achieved (Wandering Albatross, Galapagos Penguin, Short-eared Owl).  I’m not sure a better day of birding is possible, ever.  (Unless I get photos of all three species!)

wpid-IMAG3342.jpg

Galapagos Penguin at the Lava Tunnels at Isabela Island. Galapagos, Ecuador. An unreal moment in an unreal landscape. Photo taken January 8 2014 with a cell phone.

I’ll be kicking off 2015 leading a trip down to Sandy Hook tomorrow, with the conclusion at the Meadowlands.  Then on the 2nd, I jump on a plane and head to (hopefully sunny and warmer) Florida for the SICB conference, to be followed with some Everglades birding.

Posted in resolutions | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments