Summing Up Summer: Week 5

So, as many of you well know, I spent the summer working as an Ornithologist in the cloud forest of Cusuco National Park on the Guatamalan border of Honduras.  During the first half of the season I was based in and out of base camp and thus had access to internet.  For the latter half of the season, I was predominantly based at satellite camps on the eastern side of the camp. Camps on the west being more distant which I did not have a chance to visit.

Week 5, I returned to Base Camp to continue to work with students as we introduce them to the basics of field ornithology.

July 9 – Day  33 – Moved mist-netting to a new location.  Operated 3 nets, but quickly dropped to 2 when a local pup helped itself to some all natural puppy chow from the net.  Or so we suspect.  Upon a net check there was a sizable hole and three fairly happy hounds.   Began net repairs.

July 10 – Day 34 – Point counts along Transect 3.  Four students accompanied us.  The transect climbed up at a reasonable incline and then dropped dramatically as the mosquito swarm density picked up.  They invented tropical sledding and tropical bowling.  Tropical sledding being when you use the slope, mud and gravity to assist you on the way down while tropical bowling is where you use your trailmates to stop your descent.  Then we got to climb back up, but before that we had awesome views of Emerald Toucanets. Continued net repairs.

July 11- Day 35 – Mist-netting along the river. Repaired net not so repaired.

July 12 – Day 36 –   Another day of point counting.  We returned to our training transect.  So much easier this time around.  In fact, we were back for the end of breakfast.  Continued working with students afterwards discussing the science protocol and the objectives as well as giving some hands on experience in working with nets.  Yet another day of net repairs!

July 13 – Day 37 –  Mist-netting with students in a different site, yet again.  This one with fewer dogs.

July 14 – Day 38 – Mist-netting.  No dogs, but also no birds.  First day of absolutely no birds, but great views of the Resplendent Quetzal.  And then off to Guanales again!

Rarely caught Strong-billed Woodcreeper. Cusuco National Park, Honduras. Photo taken July 9, 2015.

Rarely caught Strong-billed Woodcreeper. Cusuco National Park, Honduras. Photo taken July 9, 2015.

Strong-billed Woodcreeper demonstrates how it got its name. Cusuco National Park, Honduras. Photo taken July 9, 2015.

Strong-billed Woodcreeper demonstrates how it got its name. Cusuco National Park, Honduras. Photo taken July 9, 2015.

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Summing Up Summer: Week 4

So, as many of you well know, I spent the summer working as an Ornithologist in the cloud forest of Cusuco National Park on the Guatamalan border of Honduras.  During the first half of the season I was based in and out of base camp and thus had access to internet.  For the latter half of the season, I was predominantly based at satellite camps on the eastern side of the camp. Camps on the west being more distant which I did not have a chance to visit.

Week 4*, I traveled to Guanales to spend a week mist-netting and conducting point counts.

July 1 – Day  26 – Traveled to Guanales. Arrived just before dinner. After dinner had my first experience with putting up mist nets along a mountainside in the dark with a fading torch.  While out in the field. we heard a peculiar sound.  A guide informed us it was a mammal. We were quite surprised.

July 2 – Day  27 – First day of mist netting in Guanales.  Caught Red-capped Manakins! Check out this video which explains why this is the one species students knew of before arriving in Honduras.

July 3 – Day  28 – Tackled Transect 1 in Guanales: one of the hardest trails in the park with Jack and Jeff. 2,650 meters up a mountain.  It was grueling!  Had some spectacular falls which Jack was considerate enough to rate.   For some reason the guide continued to increase the distance between us as he shot down the trail…. Spent the night investigating owls.

July 4 – Day  29 – Day 2 of mist-netting. Mosquitoes were less bad than previous day or I was better prepared.

July 5 – Day  30 – Strategy paid off. Did the easier transect today to extend recovery time.  Today’s transect was was only 600m with two points instead of the eight of two days ago.  Back in time for breakfast with great views of a Violet Sabrewing that buzzed us and a Keel-billed Toucan which did not. More owling.

July 6 – Day 31  – Day 3 of banding in Guanales.  Best bird of the day: Golden-crowned Warbler through the Ruddy Woodcreeper was also quite nice.

July 7 – Day 32 – Extra birding with students back on Transect 3.   And then it’s back to Base Camp for another week!

Scrawny looking Golden-crowned Warbler in the hand. Look at that stare down. Cusuco National Park, Honduras. Photo taken July 6, 2015.

Scrawny looking Golden-crowned Warbler in the hand. Look at that stare down. Cusuco National Park, Honduras. Photo taken July 6, 2015.

* Counting has never been my strong suit. Especially when tired.

The One Whooo Gets Away

Field Report #6
Location: Guanales

Did three days of ringing at satellite camp the previous week. It was very mosquito-plagued! When students weren’t around we buried ourselves under every extra bit of clothing available.

However, the camp had some very nice birds! This is one of our common captures (We had at least three of them!) and it was a lifer! However, if you didn’t immediately run for it when you spotted it in the nets, it was about to power its way out of the pocket with sufficient adrenaline rush. We were quick to instruct students on the safe way to pin a large bird in the net after a few got away.

It’s too large for any of our bands. It’s legs are large, red, and rubbery and the face hardly looks white. I’m certain it could have been named more aptly.

White-faced Quail-Dove in the hand.  Cusuco National Park, Honduras. Photo taken July 4, 2015.

White-faced Quail-Dove in the hand. Cusuco National Park, Honduras. Photo taken July 4, 2015.

Note: While in the field I will have limited access to social media including Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

Coffee vs. Conservation

Field Report #5
Location: Buenos Aires

Conservation zones are often in regions that are difficult to access and have been so for a very long time. If they were more accessible, people would already have been there, leaving their footprints, and there would be less worth conserving. So it is with Cusuco. Cusuco is challenging terrain both by foot and by vehicle.

Buenos Aires is the closest town to Cusuco. It’s the lowest “camp”. By camp I mean we eat three meals a day in a restaurant and stay with local families. But we still do science, though it’s a longer trek to the reseaarch areas than from the other camps. The area immediately around the town is a mix of fragmented forests, small holdings comprised predominately of coffee plantations with occasional plantain, yucca, or corn, but mostly coffee.

As a result of Opwall’s presence, I suspect the economy has grown. It seems people typically make $1-2/day growing coffee, but working for Opwall brings in significantly more. Muchulados (sherpas) make $8/day, cooks make about $10/day, guides can make up to $15/day. This year as well, any locally employed people receive healthcare as well.

The other day, Chip and I finished up our birding with a trip to the school. It was highly productive visit for Chip who has been working here for a number of years. He’d like to see more conservation efforts and was investigating the possibility of using the school as a cafe with hummingbird and oriole feeders to increase tourism in the park. While there we also learned of a NGO that was working on reforestation with a number of species being started on the school grounds. Unfortunately, the school and its students aren’t involved, but it’s a promising enterprise.

As I mentioned previously, initially the local people were eager to bring specimens to the camp. While that practice has been stopped, people have changed their behaviors due to Opwall. Since Opwall arrived 11 years ago, there has been a local movement to grow shade grown coffee. Many of the science staff (non-Honduran) here are outright skeptical about it, but from digging a little further, it seems that shade-grown is a recent phenomenon. People in town have gone as far as forming a cooperative. I am not entirely sure whether people are attempting to reintroduce cloud forest trees into their fields or if they are continuing to expand the plantations into the forest. I suspect it is a bit of both. Regardless, there is a wide range of shade in the shade grown coffee fields.

Every day, there is coffee served twice a day. Locally sourced coffee, which means for better or for worse Opwall is supporting some level of deforestation as they fight to conserve the forests.

Some of the most foundational work is done by the Habitat team. They use the same sites year after year where they measure changes to the forest. Louis and I helped out with the Habitat surveys our last day in BA. We did the bird work on the way out and habitat work on the way in. We were responsible for measuring the girth of all the trees within the plots with a dbh greater than 15cm. Rick did some other measurements including vegetation density, canopy coverage, and tree height. Some of these sites fall in coffee plantations. Some years the scientists return to find the sites have been replaced by coffee plantations. It’s a measurement of the human impact on this remote forest.

Fields and forest surrounding Buenos Airess. Cusuco National Park, Honduras. Photo taken June 25, 2015.

Fields and forest surrounding Buenos Airess. Cusuco National Park, Honduras. Photo taken June 25, 2015.

Bird Work at Base Camp and Buenos Aires

Field Report #4
Location: Buenos Aires

June 18 – Day 13 – Did first point count on my own. Well, with two of the three new birders and four uni students. Went really well. Positive feedback all around and I could identify most birds.

June 19-21 – Did demo banding near camp while Kate conducted the point counts. Owled at night.

June 23 – Day 18 – Departed Base Camp for the first time since arrival. Headed to Buenos Aires (closest town) to work there for the week.

June 24 – Day 19 – Walked around town looking for a place to do mist-netting. Very limited options. Town is very steep.

June 27-29 – Days 22-24 – Power is out for the entire town due to a blown transformer. Radios are running off a car battery. Limited availability to do work outside of town.

June 29 – Day 24 – Very productive day. Attempted to find a missed subsite for a transect (fail), but we made it work. Realized our earlier discovered mystery bird nest had nestlings. Birded around town with Chip. Spent the afternoon observing the nest of the Bright-rumped Antilla. Photos once my camera isn’t packed away. Did more investigations. Found two more probable sites for nocturnal surveying, but a severe thunderstorm prevented that from happening.

June 30 – Day 25 – Finished our work in BA this morning with a final point count along Transect 1. Then pitched in with Habitat surveying. Stopped around 11 at an amazing lilac tree. We ended up sending Habitat and the guide back when they got bored at staring at all the hummingbirds. We opted for hummingbirds over lunch, but recognized not everyone would share our stance. We got 11 identifiable species of hummingbird and one more we need to work out the identification for. All in one tree.

July 1 – Day 26 – Data entry in the morning, then heading off to satellite camp, Guanales, today after lunch. Apparently there are lekking Red-capped Manakins there!

Prowls for Owls

Last week, seven of us took a free afternoon to walk to town. It was an hour down and two hours up. So we didn’t actually have much time in town. It was enough to spot a few birds and buy a few cool drinks. While we were outside one shop, children came out to show us their newest pet.

Turns out it was a baby owl! They communicated to us that it had fallen out a tree far, far away. We instantly cooed and ooohed. Everyone wanted to hold the baby owl and pose with it. Someone has a photo of me with it, don’t recall who – perhaps Charlotte or Jordan has it. The interesting thing about the community vibe is that we’re all freely asking people to take photos of various spectacles, including scientific documentation with their own cameras…. I can’t imagine how hundreds of people are going to redistribute the photos at the end of all this.

Some of the party wanted to take the owl with us on our return up the mountain, but I vetoed that idea. I didn’t want to explain to children we were about to deprive them of their pet. Also, I was pretty certain Opwall would have a policy regarding bringing back orphaned wildlife. Nevertheless it was cute.

We believe the owlet to be a Mottled Owl, which is one of the two common types here, the other being the Crested Owl. At least those are the two we’ve identified on our Owl Prowls.

We found out later that during Opwall’s first year in Honduras, the locals were very eager to bring unusual specimens to the camp to show the scientists. But that’s not what Opwall is about.

While in Base Camp this week, (hence access to internet) Kate and I were assigned to complete each transect (4) once and to complete opportunistic surveys at will. We split on the first day because we had eight students and 3 new staff with us. Then she did the remaining two transects on her own and I did the teaching with demo netting. (We have 2-3 very worn nets, but no banding equipment). It’s still enough to show students birds up close and teach them how to work with nets.

The first excursion for the new birders (Andrew, Daniel, and Monte) was owling. 5 of us and 1 pre-med tag-along sitting on a ridge in silence straining to hear hoots and whoos. (We heard 2 mottled owls on our second ridge and then called it a night because they were jet lagged). Much more exciting than the previous week where 7 birders went out and heard no owls. This time we used ipods for playing calls and strategically visited ridges for better acoustics.

Kate, Daniel, and I went out the next time with another bird enthusiast, Chip, but poor weather conditions prevented us from staying out long or hearing owls.

The following night, Kate and I had our best luck. We had two owls, of two species both unknown at the first point. At the second point, we could still hear one from the first point, picked up two more of the same species as well as recording 1 Mottled and 1 Crested Owl in the distance as well. Total of 6 owls across four species. Best owling ever. Especially since it doesn’t require wearing two winter coats just to feel numb.

IMG_0515

Note: While in the field I will have no access to most social media, including facebook, twitter, and google+.

Learning Feather by Feather

Field Report #2: Base Camp

If you’re looking for the frontiers of birding, try the tropics. Limited knowledge exists and the ability for mistakes abound. Last week during a training session we noticed a number of presumably juvenile Barred Forest-falcons clustering in pines along a ridge (2-3, with a possibility of some of those being adults). The following day we were treated Barred Forest-falcon consuming a passerine. It was quite exciting to watch the predator consume the prey. As the act proceeded,feathers rained down and the ornithologists scurried about collecting the feathers. One of the projects here is to sample isotopes across the various communities to construct food webs.

We’ve since used our assortment of feathers to identify the deceased as a Blue-crowned Chlorophonia. Go science!

A day or so later towards the end of a low-key banding day, we captured one of these fine, fierce predators. As we were reading the description in detail, something wasn’t quite adding up. Turns out, we weren’t working with Barred Forest-falcons after all, but the much rarer, endemic White-breasted Hawk. Whee and whoops!

How we mistook a hawk for a forest-falcon I’m not entirely sure, particularly as the forest-falcon in question has great Elvis sideburns of feathers. It wasn’t until we were examining the hawk feather by feather that we realized our error. (To be fair, there was some question of where the bars were in the earlier encounters!)

This was a much more exciting discovery. The Americans on the team (Rob and I) received a bit of grief over the misidentification initially as the White-breasted Hawk is a subspecies of Sharp-shinned Hawk. However, unlike the Sharpie, White-breasted Hawks have….. white chests. I did however note as I arrived to the net that it was very much Sharpie sized, so I feel I’m off the hook on that one. (There’s a bit of bantering and division between American and British procedures and customs. It’s mostly in good fun unless you say anything less than stellar regarding David Attenborough*.).

The White-breasted Hawk was a ringing first for the park. I can’t share all my photos due to limited bandwidth, but from just this one I hope you can get the sense of what a fine bird it is!

Hawk in the hand. White-breasted Hawk, a ringing first in Cusuco National Park, Honduras. Photo taken June 15, 2015.

Hawk in the hand. White-breasted Hawk, a ringing first in Cusuco National Park, Honduras. Photo taken June 15, 2015.

*They’re probably just as displeased if you misspell Attenborough. Alas.

Note: While I am in the field I will have no access to most social media including facebook, twitter, and google+.

Team Bird Unite

Field report #1: Base Camp
Days 1-12.

June 6 – Day 1 – Arrived in at Cusuco National Park in Honduras where I will be operating as an Ornithologist for the summer field season. Currently seven of the ten team members are present. The final three will be arriving during week 2. Broke my smaller, lens upon arrival when my bag spilled open. Bugger.

June 8- Day 3 – Learning mostly by ear than by sight. Can only keep a few species in my head at a time as my head is quite muddled. Came down with what I thought were allergies that transformed into a fever and sore throat. I’m going birding anyway.

June 9 – Day 4 – Overdid it. Lost my voice. Now have laryngitis. Still birding.

June 10 – Day 5 – It’s raining an awful lot for the dry season.

June 13 – Day 8 – Project developed. I’ll be exploring three additional methods in my research (incidental camera trapping, nocturnal point counts/transects, and opportunistic sightings). I’ve been working with the ornithology team lead, the biodiversity coordinator and the stats team to develop a sound and exciting project. (I hope). The goal is to figure out the relative amount of time to pursue each method to rapidly inventory the avifauna of an biologically unknown cloud forest.

June 14 – Day 9 – Voice returned, then I lost it again.

June 16 – Day 11 – Training is over. Tomorrow the team splits and the real work begins. I’ll be spending the week (week 2 per the official schedule) in Base Camp running the lectures and completing point counts and opportunistic sightings.

June 17 – Day 12 – Teams have departed to Capuco, Guanales, and Cantiles – various camps throughout the park.

 Bird team and associates during an early season practice season. Louie (1), Rob (2), Kate (5), and Jack (6) showing birds to Jordan (3), Sophie (4), and Brittany (7). People numbered from left to right. Cusuco, National Park, Honduras. June 12, 2015.

Bird team and associates during an early season practice season. Louie (1), Rob (2), Kate (5), and Jack (6) showing birds to Jordan (3), Sophie (4), and Brittany (7). Peopled numbered from left to right. Cusuco, National Park, Honduras. June 12, 2015.

* Note: While in the field I will have no access to most social media, including facebook, twitter, and google+.

Cavorting at Cape Florida

This post could also be called “A Reason to Return”.  There are two reasons, so settle in for a long story.

On our first conference free day, Tara and I decided to venture over to the Gulf Coast to visit J. N. Ding Darling NWR.  However, Our foray was not meant to be.

What we didn’t realize when we arrived is that there are three classes of roads in Florida.  There are the streets with a light at every possible intersection (very slow going!), the freeways (highways without a cost, also very slow going!), and the tollroads (much faster going!).  However, Florida has switched over to a mandatory automated toll payment system based on either a tag or your license plate (no more cash/coin payments!).  If you inadvertently drive through without the tag, they sent the fee to the address associated with the license, no big deal and no big cost, unless you happen to be in a rental vehicle.  If you are in a rental, then you are charged a ~$50 surcharge for each day you go through tolls.   If you wish to rent a tag in addition to the vehicle, it’s $10/day.  Neither option is ideal.  So our solution was avoid toll roads.  Which doesn’t work if you want to go to Disney World or travel across the state.  We didn’t want Disney but we did need to cross southern Florida.  We searched and searched, but couldn’t figure out a route after accidentally getting on the toll road and getting right off again. (Had we just kept going we would have had the fine either way and very different birds to share, oh well!).

By the way, the solution we learned on our way out of Florida is to purchase a tag at a grocery store. It’s a few dollars and prevents the charge going to the lisence and thus through the rental agency.   Now, you know too, and back to the birds.

Since going west was a fail…

“”Go West, young man, go West. There is health in the country, and room away from our crowds of idlers and imbeciles.” “That,” I said, “is very frank advice, but it is medicine easier given than taken. It is a wide country, but I do not know just where to go.” “It is all room away from the pavements. […]” 
                  —Josiah Bushnell Grinnell [3]

We went south.  We drove into Miami-Dade county (home of the 2000 election controversy which was realized as we drove through!) and decided to visit Not Bilbo Baggins, but Bill Baggs Cape Florida SP (Bilbo Baggins would be much better a name!)

Cape Florida: What's a post about Florida beaches without sand or a lighthouse?   Photo taken on January 8, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Cape Florida: What’s a post about Florida beaches without sand or a lighthouse? Photo taken on January 8, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Since many more of you know of Bilbo Baggins than Bill Baggs: Bill Baggs was a Miami journalist and editor who did much coverage of racial tensions in Florida during the 50s and 60s as well as opposed the Vietnam War (per Wikipedia).  More relevantly, he supported Florida conservation efforts.  So we ended up at Bill Baggs State Park.

There was a lighthouse (pictured above) and white sand beaches (not pictured), but there were also birds. Not the tons and tons we were hoping for, but quality enough that it made the excursion worthwhile.

Immature Double-crested Cormorant flying   just above the water.  Playing with birds on the move and the telephoto lens. Photo taken on January 8, 2015  with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Immature Double-crested Cormorant flying just above the water. Playing with birds on the move and the telephoto lens. Photo taken on January 8, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

There’ll be a few photos of Cormorants in this post in part because they were common, but also because they’re super cool!  As we were wandering around the interior, I happened to look up to spot this fellow: Short-tailed Hawk.  Short-tailed Hawk was  on our wish list.

Our only view of a Short-tailed Hawk during our entire visit.  Much more cooperative than the Galapagos Hawk of a year past! Photo taken on January 8, 2015  with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Our only view of a Short-tailed Hawk during our entire visit. Much more cooperative than the Galapagos Hawk of a year past! Photo taken on January 8, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

I also happened to look up and spot a Magnificent Frigatebird, but no luck on that photo. (I have plenty from Galapagos to tide me over though!).

After seeing what the park had to offer, we decided to move on a bit and try nearby  Bear Cut Preserve at Crandon Park.  Most of the birds were to be found around the Marjory Stoneman Douglas visitor’s center (which was lovely).   We spotted 3 Eurasian Collared Doves around the building.

Eurasian Collared Dove looking mournful it's not a mourning dove.  Photo taken on January 8, 2015  with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Eurasian Collared Dove looking mournful it’s not a mourning dove. Photo taken on January 8, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

We walked their recommended trail and came across a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (not pictured) and then walked back along the beach  (frequently ranked in the top 10 of America’s best beaches) where we came across this view:

The only fossilized reefs in the world.  How cool?! Photo taken on January 8, 2015  with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

The only fossilized reefs in Florida. How cool?! Photo taken on January 8, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

What you’re looking at are fossilized mangrove reefs.  They’re really only inches tall here.  I suspect they’re mostly buried under the sand. And yes, that is Miami in the background. More on fossil reefs can be learned here.

Second photo of the still only fossilized reefs in the world.  Still cool. Photo taken on January 8, 2015  with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Second photo of the still only fossilized reefs in Florida. Still cool. Photo taken on January 8, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

I’m including the next photo just because I like the alignment of birds.  Some type of gull.

The detail on the photo is rubbish.  But I love the clouds and the alignment of the birds.  Authentic photo, no photoshopping here! Photo taken on January 8, 2015  with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

The detail on the photo is rubbish. But I love the clouds and the alignment of the birds. Authentic photo, no photoshopping here! Photo taken on January 8, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

As we returned, the tide was creeping out and by just rolling up our pants (in my case because only I go to Florida and still wear pants!) a few inches, could we walk out along  a sandbar to get much closer to the birds.

Glorious detail of Double-crested Cormorant feathers. Double-crested Cormorant feathers are cool.  Photo taken on January 8, 2015  with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Glorious detail of Double-crested Cormorant feathers. Double-crested Cormorant feathers are cool. Photo taken on January 8, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Yes, this Cormorant has his back to us, but note the feathers. The feathers are truly amazing.  Feathers of cormorants are truly amazing.  I recently read a paper discussing the unusual feather structure in Great Cormorants.  Any birder familiar with Cormorants knows how they stand with their wings outstretched.  Why?  All birds have fine feather control.  What this means is that there are muscles attached to their feathers that allows the precise rearrangement of each feather.  It is believed that cormorants manipulate their feathers underwater to help them dive.

Consider it this way.  Birds have these amazing adaptations that help them take to the sky: they need to be lightweight.  However, this is not beneficial if you want to sink, which cormorants do.  Thus, as they dive, scientists hypothesize cormorants rearrange their feathers allowing water to seep in, decreasing their buoyancy whereas most birds will arrange their feathers in such a way as to repel water.   When you look at the structure of the feathers themselves, cormorant feathers are actually different: the density of the barbs is actually where it’s thinnest in other birds.

A less than white looking American White Pelican. Photo taken on January 8, 2015  with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

A less than white looking American White Pelican. Photo taken on January 8, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

After our visit to Bear Cut Preserve, we headed to the other side of the road to Miami Seaquarium Marina where we picked up more gulls and views of aquatic birds. The feather detail on the American White Pelican is also notable.  So colorful!  And the bill looks like the Pelican had a wonderful, messy encounter with a painter.

Preening Double-crested Cormorant.Photo taken on January 8, 2015  with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Preening Double-crested Cormorant.Photo taken on January 8, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Preening cormorant.  Got to wet those feathers just right.

Regarding the second reason to return.  It wasn’t until much later in the trip, possibly the flight home when I got to the portion of Kenn Kaufman’s book discussing the birds of Florida’s Cape.  Clearly we needed to go further south and even out on the water for the best birds.  So some day we will definitely need to return to Florida for both the more western and more southern birds.  Onward, birds!

Florida Total: 76
Bill Baggs State Park, Cape Florida: 23
Bear Cut Preserve, Crandon Park: 18
Miami Seaquarium Marina: 8
New for Florida: 13
Lifers: 2

Paper: Ribak, G., Weihs, D. & Arad, Z. Water retention in the plumage of diving great cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis. J. Avian Biol. 36, 89–95 (2005).

The Gray Casts of Green Cay

The following day when talks concluded, Tara and I decided to cross the road to Green Cay.   We were starting to get the hang of navigating Florida and the endless evening traffic.   Despite the dreary forecast, Tara and I decided to risk the rains for birds.

Green Cay in the rain. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Green Cay in the rain. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

The Green Cay preserve is a boardwalk punctuated with covered villas (or Chickees) that allowed us to keep our equipment dry as we scouted about.

White Ibis in flight. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

White Ibis in flight. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

With the rain, there were just as many birds out foraging as there were hunkering and waiting out the rains.

Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron hunkers down in the afternoon showers. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron hunkers down in the afternoon showers. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

But unlike home, this bad weather was (relatively) pleasant to be out and about in… I believe the northeast was being hit with another snowstorm.

Anhinga spreads its wings to dry between dives and downpours. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Anhinga spreads its wings to dry between dives and downpours. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Not sure how effective it is to dry out your wings in the rain, but the rain may feel pleasant as it wicks down the wings.

Common Gallinule braves the weather. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Common Gallinule braves the weather. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

With the proximity one can achieve at Wakodahatchee and Green Cay, you can get such intricate feather detail.  The wings look almost art deco!

Green Heron hidden in the reeds.  Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Green Heron hidden in the reeds. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

The variation in feather detail is incredible.   Here you can see the long, flowing plumes that made egrets desirable in millinery trends 100 years ago.

Tricolored Heron, hunting. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Tricolored Heron, hunting. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

I love that the camera/lens combination acts so quickly that each raindrop hitting the water’s surface.

Great Egret and Common Gallinule experience the downpour. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Great Egret and Common Gallinule experience the downpour. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

There were breaks in the rain where we could see a tree where a Wood Stork stood with White Ibis.

Wood Storks are the most alien looking birds, ever. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Wood Storks are the most alien looking birds, ever. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

The ibis stalked about, heads bobbing down and wings aloft for balance.

White Ibis perch in a dead tree. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

White Ibis perch in a dead tree. Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

A break in the rains and we make a break for home.

Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Photo taken on January 6, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Florida Total:  56
Green Cay: 32
New for Florida:  3
Lifers: 0