Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Morning Notes from Florida

I woke up even earlier today and headed out the door into a blanket of thick fog. Through the mist I hear the garooing of sandhill cranes flying high overhead and unseen. Curtains of mists travel across the grass like small, kindly spirits. I take my steaming cup of tea and stand near the mailbox where the mailbox post serves as an easy rest for my cup so I can raise my bins to my eyes and try to identify birds through the fog.

My brother told me yesterday that one of his neighbors told him with some concern that a strange woman was wandering around and looking at his house. He told them that was his sister, but the neighbor said, NO, it was some safari woman! Stephen reassured them once again that yes, that WAS his sister! Sure enough, it was me, all decked out in my new birding vest and birding hat. With binoculars on my chest and my Nikon D80 dangling from my arm with its 70-300mm lens pointed downward until needed I suppose I must look quite a sight walking around this suburban neighborhood!

Once my tea is gone I walk down to the bridge that spans the canal and just sit and listen to the morning. While the sun does its best to burn through the morning fog I watch and listen to a small bird moving about in the reeds. Suddenly it pops out into view and I am so pleased and surprised to be looking into the masked face of a Common Yellowthroat! So far each day I have been here I have had the pleasure of spotting at least one new bird. This is my first new bird for today. As I walk back to the house a trio of purple martins twitter and call overhead. My brain and body are quite confused for it feels like summer to me, and I am so happy. I am walking around with a stupid grin on my face because earlier this morning I received this text message from my husband:

"37 years ago today I asked you to marry me. Just so you know, I would do it all again! I LOVE YOU and have a good day just knowing I am thinking of you."

Its going to be a good day!

Here's what's on the menu for later today: Babcock Wilderness Adventures

Lift List: 465
Year List: 180
Month List: 88
Florida Life List: 84
Florida Year List: 50

Note: My white morph Reddish Egret turned out to be a juvenile Little Blue Heron so I lost one species for now but I am sure I will see one before I leave Florida!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Birds, Birds, and More Birds!

Overcast skies greeted me when I awoke this morning. After a quick drink of juice I was out the door and counting birds. Unless someone takes me someplace in a car, most of my birding is restricted to where I can walk to. So it is that most of my bird counts are within walking distance of my brother's house. That isn't so bad as so far I have counted 32 species of birds around here! I have not been to even one wildlife park yet, but yesterday we did take a drive to the dump!

My sister-in-law, Donna, took my mother and I to the Charlotte County Landfill on Zemmel Road in Punta Gorda. As soon as we turned down the road I could see hundreds of birds circling in the sky over the dump. Most of them were Turkey Vultures but I knew there were other species mixed in. We drove past the dump and turned around and entered the recycle area first. I asked to get out while they turned the car around as I started to count vultures. Next thing I know they were pulling up behind me and telling me to get in the car. They drove me quickly back to a marshy area and pond where there was a pair of sandhill cranes standing in the marsh and floating at the edge of the grass was an alligator. The alligator was about 6 feet long and doing its best log impression with only the eyes and the snout sticking out. Motionless, it stared at the cranes and we were all concerned for them but it soon became apparent that they were aware of the 'gater as they slowly moved away from it.

We drove along the 1.3 mile recycle road and saw other birds in other ponds, including 3 Pied-billed Grebes, Great Egrets, a Snowy Egret, a white-morphed Reddish Egret, 2 Little Blue Herons, and an Anhinga. Once done counting birds on that road we drove back out onto Zemmel Road and into the main entrance to the landfill. We were barely in the entrance when I jump out to count the birds that surrounded us in trees and on a little island in the middle of a small pond as well as up the slopes to the main dump pile and flying overhead. There were hundreds of Cattle Egrets as well as Wood Storks, White Ibises, more Great Egrets, Anhingas, Black Vultures, Turkey Vultures, Bald Eagles, dozens of gulls, Fish Crows, and Brown-headed Cowbirds! The Brown-headed Cowbirds were new to my Florida Life List and the Little Blue heron, the White Ibises, the Reddish Egret and the Laughing and Ring-billed Gulls are all new to my Florida Year List. Later in the day my brother took us for a drive to see some Burrowing Owls. while I had seen Burrowing owls here back in 2003, I was not able to add them to my eBird list as I had not recorded the date and the location that I saw them. Now they were finally on my Florida Life List! On our drive around we also found some Killdeer. Then, this morning I found Common Gallinules in the canal across the street and I had my largest bird count yet at 23 species of birds. As a result, here is where things stand so far:

  • Florida Life List: 83 species
  • Florida 2014 Year List: 49 species
  • Lee County Life List: 74
  • Lee County 2014 Year List: 34
  • Cape Coral Neighborhood List: 32
  • Total FL Checklists submitted 2014: 26
  • Kathie's Life List: 465
  • Kathie's 2014 Year List: 181
  • Kathie's February Month List: 87 species (all birds seen since February 1st across the whole USA)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

24 hours of Florida Birds

I have only been in Florida just a little over 24 hours and already I cannot believe all the birds I am seeing! I counted birds as best as I could out the train windows. Then I continued to count them out the windows of the car as we drove south on routes 17/35 from Winter Haven to Cape Coral. It soon became apparent that this is where all the Turkey vultures go in the wintertime! I must have counted hundreds of them since I have been here!

Sometimes it is so hard for me to be with people who are non-birders. Only birders understand the need to stop and identify birds seen alongside the road. I know that some birds are too small or too far away for I.D., but a good birders can usually identify larger species by profile and behavior as well as color. The shaggy crest and horizontal posture of a kingfisher on the utility wires is unmistakable. Still, I was surprised to find THREE of them along a stretch of road just south of a town called Zolfo. What was even more surprising was a vertically perched dark raptor with long orangey-yellow legs. I knew it was something different and I hinted to my brother that I would like to go back and take a photo but he and mom were both tired and intent on getting from point A to point B, so we whizzed on by, but when I looked the bird up I was shocked to discover that the only bird that fit what I saw was a Snail Kite. Then, when I entered it into eBird it was flagged as unusual. Oh great! Now I would have to defend my sighting, and as this was a Life Bird and I had never seen one before and I did not get a photo and I was going about 50 mph in a car, I know that this would seem doubtful, but what other bird has a charcoal gray body and long, bright orange legs? So, I submitted the sighting and was immediately contacted by the eBird Administrator. I did my best to describe once again what I saw and where I saw it. I just hope he or someone else can go out and find the bird. It would be nice to have it confirmed since I learned from the eBird Administrator that one has never been sighted in that county before! Chris Rohrer, where are you when I need you! Then I face a moral dilemma, if it is not confirmed, do I remove it from my eBird record and my Life List?

As we neared the place where my brother lives we started to see egrets and Wood Storks alongside the road. As a result I have already added all three white egrets to my Florida List for this year as well as the Wood Stork. Once settled into my brother's house I took a walk around the block late in the evening. The sun had already set and its soft, gray light settled over the landscape. A cool ocean breeze skipped over the short grass lawns. I set out in flip flops and a sleeveless shirt with my bins around my neck. I did not need my hat since the sun was down, nor did I bring my camera, since the light was low. Mockingbirds and Catbirds called and sang from all around me. On the utility wires behind one house I saw a Loggerhead Shrike. I had never seen this species in Florida before so I knew it would be new to my Florida Life List. I crossed over a canal hoping to find some ducks or gallinules, but no such luck. However, a soft hooting came from nearby and it did not take me long to find a Great Horned Owl perched high in the top of a nearby pine tree! I could see some sort of smaller birds flitting about in the hedgerows along the canal, but the light was too poor for verification of their species. The route I was taking was a 1.6 mile loop but it grew dark before I finished it and my brother showed up in his car to get me. He was getting a bit worried, plus everyone else was ready to go out to eat!

This morning I awoke to the songs of mockingbirds once again. As soon as possible I am out the door with camera and bins. Earlier a thick fog blanketed the neighborhood, but by now the fog has lifted and the thick cloud cover is breaking up. Patches of blue sky are starting to peek out from between the gray tatters of clouds. Turkey Vultures are soaring over the neighborhood in what feels like an aerial attack! In wave after wave they ride in on thermals, circle and glide away. I examine every bird and flock and soon discover first an osprey, then a Bald Eagle, then a pair of Black Vultures, an American White pelican, and a Cooper's Hawk! Eventually a Double-crested Cormorant flies by low over my head in its quick and ponderous flight, beak extended like a dart and long turkey tail streaming behind. I hear a couple of Northern Cardinals calling. I see the shrike once again. I see a small bird in a pine tree and walk across the short spikey grass until I am close enough to both see and photograph a Palm Warbler. After turning the corner I find a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher in a bush and farther up the road I spot a small dark bird flying like a swallow. A quick look through the binoculars reveals a Purple Martin in flight darting this way and that! It takes me an hour to go .6 miles and once again my brother shows up in his car to get me. I am thankful because I am getting hungry and hot and very thirsty! once I enter my data via BirdLog into eBird I discover I have seen 20 species of birds in one hour over a distance of .6 miles! Wow! and I have not even left the neighborhood!

I am so frustrated by my inability to post pictures from here. It's mostly my own ignorance of how to make it happen! I have this new notebook, I just need to install a photo processing program on it and start offloading photos! I am also trying to learn how to post photos from my smartphone so at least I can show you the scenery! I know I have many more birding adventures ahead of me while I am here and I am taking lots of pictures. Once I get back to Maine I hope to be able to squeeze some blogging and birding time in-between finally unpacking the rest of my house! My sweet husband has already unpacked some of my books since I left. I can only hope that he doesn't try to do too much more or it could be months before I straighten it all out! he is a good sport to stay at home and watch the pets and let me go and have my fun! I love you sweetheart!

My 2014 Florida Birds:

  1. Turkey Vulture-seen from train, Magnolia Gardens 2-22-14*
  2. Great Egret-seen from train-Orange Park
  3. Anhinga-seen from train, Palatka
  4. Osprey
  5. Black vulture-seen from train, DeLand
  6. Rock Pigeon
  7. Mourning Dove
  8. Great blue heron-driving south on Rt. 17, Kissimmee
  9. American White Pelican-south on Rt. 17, Fort Meade
  10. Sandhill Crane
  11. Common Grackle
  12. Snail Kite- south on Rt 17, Zolfo Springs
  13. Belted Kingfisher
  14. American Kestrel
  15. American Crow
  16. Cattle Egret-south on 17, Arcadia, FL
  17. Wood Stork-Punta Gorda, Tamiami Trail
  18. Snowy Egret
  19. Blue Jay-Cape Coral Neighborhood
  20. Northern Mockingbird
  21. Great Horned Owl
  22. Loggerhead Shrike
  23. Gray Catbird
  24. Double-crested Cormorant-Cape Coral Neighborhood, 2-23-14*
  25. Cooper's Hawk
  26. Bald Eagle
  27. Fish Crow
  28. Purple Martin
  29. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  30. European Starling
  31. Palm warbler
  32. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  33. Northern Cardinal
*birds below date were all seen on that date: all species following location change were seen at that location

My Florida Life List has now surpassed my New Mexico Life List with 78/77 species respectively. It is hot on the heels of my New Jersey Life List which Rick Wright helped me with last summer and which stands at 86 species, but it is my hope that I will surpass the 100 species mark for Florida on this trip! In the past 24 hours I have already added 12 species to the list, which was only at 66 species when I arrived.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Notes From my (New) Nest: At Home in Maine

I am sitting here on a snowy morning by my great room windows watching birds. Soon I will be leaving for Connecticut and then on to Florida. It has been a whirlwind of experiences over the past 3 weeks and I am not done yet! I wish that I had pictures to show you but I have not gotten my computer set up yet and so have not been able to offload photos. We just got internet last Saturday and I am using my laptop at home for the first time.

We have had storm after storm after storm since moving here. All the way across the country we dodged storms and only got caught once on the second morning as we left Abilene, Texas. We drove in sleet and slush for about an hour but soon drove out of it as we neared Dallas. Then it was just rain, rain, rain. What a long day! We arrived in New England on February 6th and moved into the house on the 10th. The day before the movers arrived I bought some inexpensive feeders and hung them up so I could already start attracting birds. At first I just had chickadees by the hoards, but then a few other birds started to show up. On Tuesday of this week my feeders were mobbed as yet another storm was headed our way. This morning I saw my first House Finch in the yard as well as my first gray squirrel sitting atop the seed block in the feeder cage that Chris Rohrer gave me before I left. It's been all birds and bliss until now. Let the feeders wars begin!

Here is a list of the birds I have seen so far since moving in:

Kathie's Mere Point Cottage Yard Birds 2014
  1. Black-capped chickadee 2-7-14
  2. American Crow
  3. American Robin
  4. American Goldfinch
  5. Herring Gull 2-10-14
  6. Tufted Titmouse
  7. White-breasted Nuthatch 2-11-14
  8. Downy Woodpecker
  9. Red-tailed Hawk 2-12-14
  10. Blue Jay
  11. Hairy Woodpecker
  12. Northern Cardinal 2-17-14
  13. Cooper's Hawk
  14. Dark-eyed Junco 2-18-14
  15. American Tree Sparrow
  16. House Finch 2-20-14
I cannot believe the beauty of the place I am living or the proximity to the ocean! I will have to learn all my sea and shore birds. I will finally get to use my spotting scope! There are so many places to explore, but I am off to Florida with my Mom for now and will check back in when I can. It's time to finish packing my suitcase and get in the car and drive once more! I'm beginning to think I was born with wheels!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


1. IMG_3075 cowgirls-Dom

Celeste and I astride our horses on December 23, 2013.

Besides our love of birds and nature, Celeste and I also share a love of horses. Last year I took my daughter on a horseback ride through Saguaro National Park as one of her Christmas presents. This year I invited Celeste to join me and we both did this as a Christmas present to ourselves. By now we both knew I would be moving at the end of January, so this made a nice memory for both of us.

2. IMG_3086 cowgirls-DomV Celeste's Horse is named Shooter while mine is named Soldier.

They were both well behaved horses and just look at Celeste holding those reins like a pro! Not bad for a Brit!

3. IMG_3090 horseback riding with celeste-DomV Off we go!


4. IMG_3091 horseback riding with celeste-Dom V 

5. IMG_3092 horseback riding with celeste-Dom V 

6. IMG_3093 horseback riding with celeste-DomV 

7. IMG_3094 Horseback riding with celeste-DomV 

8. IMG_3095 horseback riding with celeste-DomV Many Thanks to Dominic, Celeste’s husband, who ran behind us in the desert and took all these pictures!

9. Happy trails IMG_3074 cowgirls-domV

“Happy Trails to you…until we meet again!”

 Click this link to see-Scenes from last year’s trail ride.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Did I find a Life Bird in Cave Creek Canyon?

1. what warbler-kab What Warbler is this?

I saw this warbler in Cave Creek Canyon on October 4, 2013 near the Sunny Flats Campground Area. It was high in the trees alongside the road so most of these photos are blurry or my view of the bird is obstructed in one way or another. I really hope it is a Hermit Warbler in fall plumage but fear it is simply a Townsend’s. I only have one clear shot of the bird’s head as it flew from one branch to another. Otherwise it simply crept along the branches and my only views of it are of its underbelly or sides.

2. undertail-kab 


3. creeping along branch-kab Are those cheek patches or shadows?


4. hiding on me-kab There appears to be a few fine streaks on the sides.


5. peekaboo-kab But there isn’t any yellow on the breast.


6. another view from below-kab View from below.


7. backside-kab Back and side view.


8. left side-kab Full on side view.

Besides the fall plumage issue, these two species do interbreed and produce hybrids. While a Hermit Warbler would be a Life Bird for me, I don’t want to claim it if I haven’t seen it. All of these photos were taken within a 60 to 90 second time frame.

9. in flight-kab So…is it a Hermit Warbler or a Townsend's Warbler?

What say you?

Notes: By the time this publishes Gus and I will be on the road and headed east. I will check in whenever I can, but we are travelling with 2 cats and a dog and trying to out maneuver the winter storms! We’ll see how THAT goes!

You can read all the posts from Cave Creek Canyon by clicking the link below.