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

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

Huzzah for Herons and Hawks and Other Hopefuls

*Now with corrected title. Oy.

One is always optimistic for any adventure to Cape May.  Possibly the premiere birding spot in the state, Cape May has the promise of good birds even on a bad day.  (That’s either a run-of-the-mill bad day and a bad day birding!)  The biggest problem is the distance.  It’s about three hours away (non-breeding season).  Basically you take the parkway until it ends, and you keep going.  Stop before Delaware.

Iconic Cape May Light House sets the scene and acts as a beacon bringing in birds and birders.  Last stop in NJ! Cape May, NJ.  Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

Iconic Cape May Light House sets the scene and acts as a beacon bringing in birds and birders. Last stop in NJ! Cape May, NJ. Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

It seems that the weekend of October 4th and 5th was the weekend to be at Cape May.  Once again, I joined the Montclair State University Ornithology class for the Saturday trip. That professor (previous adviser) was staying over through Sunday to make a weekend of it.  My *new* adviser was headed down Sunday to stay over through Monday.  The flight was supposed to be spectacular for Sunday, but I was only going for the day and had some assignment due for class that I couldn’t give up another day for.

Duck, duck, more ducks. It's fall! Blue-winged teal not yet in Basic (breeding) plumage and a an American Widgeon. Cape May, NJ.  Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

Duck, duck, more ducks. It’s fall! Blue-winged teal not yet in Basic (breeding) plumage and a an American Widgeon. Cape May, NJ. Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

As the trend has tended to be, the light started off poorly (what’s with that?!), but at least there were fun birds to see.  Tara and I got there a bit early, caught the last of the rains, but did get to see Blue-winged Teal, American Widgeon, and a Glossy Ibis fly overhead.

Glossy Ibis in flight.  Note curved bill. Cape May, NJ.  Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

Glossy Ibis in flight. Note curved bill. Cape May, NJ. Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

One of the best parts of Cape May for any new birder I suspect, and perhaps for the ornithologists who study raptors, is seeing the Bird Demo at their Pavilion.  The Cape May Bird Observatory has a long-running banding program particularly for raptors and will typically have 2 birds to show up close for any interested birders at about 10 am each weekend morning.  This day both birds were Sharp-shinned Hawks.  Look at that beauty.  Wispy feathers on the face, the slight notch in the parted beak,  the distinct color patterns!

What's better than a bird in the bush? Sharp-shinned Hawk in the hand.  At Cape May there is a long-running raptor banding program. Cape May, NJ.  Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

What’s better than a bird in the bush? Sharp-shinned Hawk in the hand. At Cape May there is a long-running raptor banding program. Cape May, NJ. Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

So there were plenty of Ardeidae to be had.  Ardeidae is the family of herons to which herons, bitterns and their allies belong while Pelicaniformes is the order, which of course includes pelicans.  No pelicans spotted today though.

Great Egret with a fish. Cape May, NJ.  Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

Great Egret with a fish. Cape May, NJ. Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

I think I might actually have video of the Great Egret wrestling and flipping the fish.  Is flipping the fish bird-slang for flipping the bird?

On the far side, there was also a Great Blue Heron hunkered down hunting near the ducks.  Mallard with the speculum appearing…. blue? Normally it’s more of a purple.

More games with birds: duck, duck, heron!  Cape May, NJ.  Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

More games with birds: duck, duck, heron! Cape May, NJ. Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

Also at a far distance, we had a few problematic sandpipers.  There was quite a bit of disagreement as they were poorly positioned each time and cameras and scopes could make little headway.  We did at least resolve than in the morning, there were probably two separate sandpipers simultaneously creating that discord.  Here’s one of the spotted.  We had Pectoral and Western.  As I look over my notes, I don’t see the third,  I wonder if we decided not to call it because of the lack of concurrence.

One of the pesky peeps plaguing our ID skills.  Thank goodness for photos and zooms. Cape May, NJ.  Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

One of the pesky peeps plaguing our ID skills. Thank goodness for photos and zooms. Cape May, NJ. Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

One of today’s two lifers; I had three opportunities to view it.  Now how often does one get a lifer and three viewing opportunities?   I tell you, it’s the Cape May promise.   Little Blue Heron in it’s white juvenile form.  Hard to tell in this photo as it’s experiencing momentary shyness, but there is a blue bill, thus ruling out Snowy Egret.

Lifebird: The Little Blue Heron that wasn't (blue). Cape May, NJ.  Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

Lifebird: The Little Blue Heron that wasn’t (blue). Cape May, NJ. Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

I do have to say that while at the Hawk Watch Platform we ran into Steve of Every Stranger Is a Promise and a second birding adventure involving rattlesnakes that I never had a chance to write up.  So I went up to the upper level and hung out with him for awhile. Best of both worlds as I could see better and hear more of the identification calls as well as pay attention to the birds under observation by the class. Steve did suggest I follow up with him to go look for Short-eared Owls this winter in New York.  So yay, more birds!

After a bit, by which I mean several hours, we decided to go for a loop through the field trails to pick up additional birds.  Lots of accipiters, most of which weren’t photographed as the birds buzzed past: Broadwing, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-shoulder, and great views of a Merlin.  We caught this particular Merlin in three different locations, but I’ll just share one photo:

The magnificent Merlin with minimal magnification. Cape May, NJ.  Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

The magnificent Merlin with minimal magnification. Cape May, NJ. Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

We had a chance to watch it eat a Yellow Warbler (hence the yellow warbler in the sightings list).  It flew in one tree ate for a bit, flew off and happened to land much closer to our new location.   It then flew away, and we (I) was distracted by another new bird.

So to back up the story a bit, as we headed into the trails, two exiting birders stopped us to inform us that the Common Gallinule was present today.  I was so excited I near sent my adviser back to learn the precise location of the bird, but he said he had a good idea (or he really didn’t want to go chasing after people!).

So each waterway we found, I’d search thoroughly.  I’d scout ahead so I could have more time, then linger behind making sure I hadn’t missed a single feather.  I did find a Green Heron for the class that way.

Obscured Green Heron is not a Common Gallinule. Cape May, NJ.  Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

Obscured Green Heron is not a Common Gallinule. Cape May, NJ. Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

At the next pond, my adviser found my my dream bird of the day:

Common Gallinule. Lifer. Cape May, NJ.  Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

Common Gallinule. Lifer. Cape May, NJ. Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

Lifer #2, the Common Gallinule.  And an additional photo of Lifer #1 the Little Blue Heron this time with beak feature obviously not black.

Little Blue Heron up close. Cape May, NJ.  Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

Little Blue Heron up close. Cape May, NJ. Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

We wrapped up shortly after that as the light faded with a bit more time on the platform. Then after the class departed home we went to the beach for a bit. Was close to getting a lifer gull then the flock spooked and I didn’t see it, alas. (But there’s a promise of gulls in December, so cross fingers!) I’ll close out with one of the last (but not the last) bird of the day. The last bird of the day was a screech owl that flew over the car on the drive home listening to bad radio, but there’s no photo of that.

Osprey with fish in the fading light. Cape May, NJ.  Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

Osprey with fish in the fading light. Cape May, NJ. Photo taken on October 10, 2014.

Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Gadwall
American Wigeon
Mallard
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Green Heron
Glossy Ibis
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper’s Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk —
Broad-winged Hawk
Common Gallinule
Semipalmated Plover?
Pectoral Sandpiper
Western Sandpiper
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Caspian Tern
Common Tern
Forster’s Tern
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Merlin
Peregrine Falcon
Blue Jay
American Crow
Fish Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Northern Cardinal
House Sparrow