Best Birds 2015 Edition

Truth be told, I am actually surprised I birded and generated a list at least once every month! I did cut it rather close with February and November. Perhaps  I should change my  handle to badbirder….  Anyway 27 minutes until the clock strikes 12….

So how many lists did I submit? It was an  up and down year, but over all lower than  in years past.  This was also the first year that I was in grad school for the entirety of the year. Grad school and birding do not go as well together as one would think!

Lists Submitted to Ebird by Month

month 2013 2014 2015
January  50 2 26
February  34 4 1
March  25 4 4
April  22 26 12
May  24 36 13
June  16 10 15
July  5 3 19
August  22 6 6
September  4 9 2
October  8 17 4
November  5 5 1
December  8 9 5
Year 223 131 109

So still respectable?  In regards to species, it became even more extreme with ups and downs.  I had a drop of 98 species between September 2014 and September 2015, but an increase of 101 from January 2014 to January  2015.  Travel makes a difference!

Species By Month

month 2013 2014 2015
January 70 30 131  (65) *
February 52 39 17 (0)
March 60 46 40
April 48 87 52
May 114 162 101
June 64 85 54 (0) **
July 37 32 48 (0) **
August  65 40 45 (13) **
September  72 102 10
October  57 114 34
November  63 86 6
December  79 90 65
Year 200 222 287 (169)***

* Includes Florida birding efforts.NY/NJ totals in ()
** Includes Honduran birding efforts. NY/NJ totals in ().
*** Global total. NY/NJ totals in ().

In Florida, Tara and I picked up 100 species, and while I don’t have all the records updated yet, I believe I also observed 100 birds in Honduras (ebird currently has 81 listed).

As I compile this review, what surprises me the most is now many life birds I picked up.  Traveling for nearly  3 months really helps!   So  91 new lifers added to the list.  I won’t bore you by listing them all.

However, I will close with some of my favorite photos already  shared this year:

And my  clock  warns me that I have less than  5 minutes remaining…

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

Wonders of Wakodahatchee

One of the greatest wonders of Wakodahatchee may be finding it.  Tara and I heard of Wakodahatchee from out-of-town birders at Loxahatchee.  (I think they were even from New Jersey!) They promised us it would be better than Green Cay.  Not having been to Green Cay (yet) we took their word for it.

But words are funny things.  We didn’t write it down; we had only heard the word.  So figuring out where wado-wado-what? was located was quite a challenge.  Not too mention all the hatchees everywhere!  The birders had described it to us as “almost across the street”.  And that’s how we found it.  A place beginning with “W” in the vicinity of Green Cay.  Thanks, Google Maps!

Anhinga preening. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Anhinga preening. Their green eye skin looks surreal. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Wakodahatchee is a boardwalk loop that crosses several small shallow waterways.  The design of the walkway brings you very close to the wildlife.   It’s a single loop that allows birders, walkers, and families a chance to get outside and experience nature to whatever degree you desire.

This photo shows better than any other how Wakodahatchee is chock full of wildlife. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

This photo shows better than any other how Wakodahatchee is chock full of wildlife. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

I won’t continue the narrative between each photo, but just present the rest of the photos as their own narrative.  I took 799 photos here as I continued to explore the new camera equipment.  The birds were that close and plentiful!

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks look unreal. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks look unreal. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Great Egret stalks the waterways. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Great Egret stalks the waterways. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

White Ibis stalks up a stick. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

White Ibis stalks up a stick. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Vibrantly colored Tricolored Heron. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Vibrantly colored Tricolored Heron. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Pied-billed Grebe preening. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Pied-billed Grebe preening. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Anhinga preening. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Anhinga preening.  Note their striking wing plumage. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Drawing a blank... really should do a better job processing photos immediately after taking them!  Thoughts? Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Drawing a blank… really should do a better job processing photos immediately after taking them! Thoughts? Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

RBA Yellow-headed Blackbird in Florida.  Makes up for missing it in the Meadowlands. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

RBA Yellow-headed Blackbird in Florida. Makes up for missing it in the Meadowlands. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Glossy Ibis balances  between preening sessions. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Glossy Ibis blends into the Florida marsh. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

[Can you tell the semester started?  I just realized I haven’t blogged in over a month. That’s embarrassing.  I think I need someone to peck at me when I slack off…]

Florida Total: 53
Wakodahatchee Wetlands: 28
New for Florida: 8
Lifers: 1

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