Sunday, April 24, 2016

Florida Keys to Woodstock (19-23Apr2016)

The past 4 days have been a whirlwind.  A business trip to Florida allowed me to take a short half day trip to the Keys.

These Barn Swallows at my kid's run group gave me a proper send off on the evening before my trip.

I usually try and stay as far away from malls as possible, but this particular mall in Miami has a some pretty cool birds that happen to be a lifer for me.

Gray-headed Swamphen at the Dolphin Mall in Miami.  These awesome birds have only relatively recently been granted ABA species status.

They are truly massive birds.

Its a shame that it was high noon and the light sucked because I would have liked to properly immortalize these beasts.

Boat-tailed Grackles are huge in Florida.

Mottled Ducks at a Mall pond?  Only in Florida.

Black-necked Stilts have some kind of calming effect on me.  When I see them, I know that all is right in the world.  Maybe it is the Ying Yang pattern.

At Long Key I began my search for the Zenaida Dove that has been hanging out for a couple months.

When this dove walked out on the trail I about pooped myself before I realized it was just a run of the mill Mourning Dove.  Spoiler alert, I dipped hard on the dove.  People at the park had seen the Zenaida copulating with Mourning Doves.  The theory is that it is sitting on a nest and not spending nearly as much time foraging.  Just my luck. On top of that, I ran into John H from Winston Salem and he said "Did you get the Cuban Vireo?"  Ummm what Cuban Vireo?  Apparently the day before the first ABA record of a Cuban Vireo had been found on Key West.  ARGGHHHhh, it was 5pm and the drive from Long Key to Key West was probably 2 hours in the current traffic.  I was on the fence but decided to stay put as I would probably dip and spend at least 4 extra hours on the road.  I had no option of staying overnight as I had a business meeting next morning.  I kind of wish that vireo never showed.  I consoled myself with some good Florida migration birds.

The many moods of a Great Crested Flycatcher - this shot is Blue Steel.

And here - Coy Boy.

Why is it that Spotted Sandpipers in NC never have spots this nice?

Black-and-white Warbler - The biggest issue is that the warblers were too close to get decent pics with my fixed 400mm lens.

This Cape May Warbler shot is a keeper!

Black-throated Blue Warbler

When I heard this bad boy calling I immediately knew it was a Gray Kingbird.  Look at the girth of that bill!

Gray Kingbird

The place was absolutely lousy with Prairie Warblers.  I had to bat them out of the way to look for other birds.

This Swainson's Warblers was causing a big stir with a birding group from Massachusetts.

I was more interested with this Blackpoll Warbler.  In NC, Blackpolls are usually seen in Fall and usually at the top of some massive tree.  Here they were at eye level in breeding plumage.

I finally got good looks at a bird I have heard many times before - Black-whiskered Vireo.  The whiskers were only evident when the bird turned its head in a certain direction.

The whiskers starting to show a bit.

Ahhh there they are.

A very neat and proper mustache!

The light was starting to fade at this time so I cranked up the ISO when I saw this stud of a Blackpoll.

I hope I can go back to South Florida some day soon and spend more than a half day.  It really was a tease.

Back in Wilmington a short trip to Greenfield Lake got me nothing but some cute Canada Goslings.

At Wade Park I had to talk a Red-winged Blackbird down from a ledge.

"Don't jump man, with a set of epaulets like that I am sure you will find a mate."

This first summer Orchard Oriole was testing his bagpipes.

I keep thinking this wonderful park with the plethora of Willows will attract some cool breeding birds like maybe Yellow Warblers or Yellow-throated Vireos but so far nothing.

Saturday was Howell Woodstock!  Actually I had no idea this annual festival was on when I headed over.  If you have never been to Howell Woodstock, think of a countryside festival attended by salt of the earth people (hunters, farmers, naturalists and some red necks) instead of hippies. It is more of a family affair then the free love orgy that was Woodstock.  Luckily I got there early enough to avoid the throngs of people and blaring music.

I ran into Peggy E and her husband at the entrance and we started off on the trail to the ethereal songs of Wood Thrushes.

It was fairly low light when I got this picture so I was happy it came out at all.

We ran into a couple of people at the Outer Slough Trail that were on a singing Swainson's Warbler that was not showing itself.  They also mentioned a Kentucky was showing nicely down the trail.  They didn't seem like the type of folk that would take kindly to playback so we decided to head down the trail for the Kentucky and try to get the Swainson's Warbler to pop out on the way out.  Playback is a contentious issue and I don't intend to go into a philosophic rant, but if you have birded with me you know I will use it under certain circumstances but I also try and be respectful of folks that do not like it. I hope that Cornell and other orntihologists conduct some conclusive research to put to bed the  assertion that playback is harmful to birds.  In the mean time I will try to be judicious and respectful in my use of it.

Kentucky Warbler!!  What a ham! He posed for us quite nicely.

On the way out of the trail we ran into the Cape Fear Audubon group that just had cracking views of the Swainson's Warbler.  That is the biggest problem with playback, it usually only works once and so when I got my chance it was too late and the Swainson's Warbler was wise and did not show again. Oh well, I will get another chance later.

This photo is crap but it was interesting for two reasons.  First off when I took the photo I had no idea there was an Indigo Bunting in it.  In fact we were later searching for what we thought was our First of the Season Indigo Bunting.  Secondly, when do you see such a palette of colors in one shot.  Indigo Bunting on left, female Summer Tanager in middle and male Summer Tanager on right.

This was a completely different Kentucky seen later in the day.

Male Summer Tanager

The light was really harsh when we finally found this Indigo Bunting.

Prairie Warblers were thick.

Blue Grosbeaks made a couple appearances.

Prothonotaries never get old.

I did go back to the Outer Slough Trail after the Audubon Group left to see if I could get a Swainson's.  No luck but the Kentucky was still hanging out.

Finally on my way out I heard the distinctive call of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo!

Life is good.

I have been scouring the calendar trying to figure out when I can finally get up to the mountains.  I just don't see any possibilities with a Soccer Tournament next weekend in Charleston and Mother's Day the weekend after that.  That is going to not bode well for my big year effort.  Such a shame considering the streak I have been on.  I guess it is my fault for convincing my wife to go back to work after 10 years as a stay at home mom.  Now we have to share weekends and I can't just take off random days in the middle of the week anymore because I have to stay home and be here when the kids get out of school.  The good news is the extra cash she is bringing in will let us take more extravagant vacations.  We are planning Maine in the summer and maybe Ecuador near Thanksgiving.  I am already starting to bone up on Ecuador birds.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Spring Cleaning (14-18Apr2016)

I love Spring Cleaning... Cleaning out the garage after a long winter, cleaning out the flower beds... and of course cleaning up on returning breeders and passing migrant birds.

Thursday a quick visit to Brunswick Nature Park yielded me an Ovenbird.  I say quick because right after I snapped these two shots and before I could get a decent shot, my battery ran out.  I need to carry a back up.


I would have crushed this bird if my battery did not run out.

I loved this speed blur shot, it's Art!

The two Yellow-crowned Night-herons are still hanging out at Burnt Mill Creek.

When it rains, it pours.  This one was at Airlie Gardens.  I would imagine a separate bird.

Saturday was the annual trip to Howell Woods, and probably not the only one as I love this place.  Unfortunately there was a Hunting Dog convention going on and although there was plenty of birdsong, the baying dogs was a bit of a distraction.

As many of you know, I have terrible hearing.  Probably the only genetic flaw my dad gave me apart from my knobby toes.  So recently I have picked up a pair of top of the line hearing aids which my insurance benefits mostly cover.  What a difference it makes.  I could hear so many birds and actually it was a bit overwhelming.  I was hearing a veritable cacophony of birds in the canopy that I never would have heard before.

Hooded Warblers were easy to find, just follow the song.  In learning songs afresh, it is like starting as a novice birder all over again but easier now because once I find the source I can easily confirm by sight and don't have to look in a book.

Common Yellowthroat - also a prolific singer.

Yellow-throated Warbler - I never had trouble hearing this rich song when up close but now I was hearing birds that were probably 100 yards away.

I could always hear Prairie Warblers but I think I was missing certain frequency components because now I can really appreciate the whole song and not just bits.

Prothonotary Warblers have a simple song but it carries well and really makes the swampy forest come alive.

This Palm Warbler was not singing, probably just a migrant passing through.

I still have trouble hearing the Yellow-rumps but maybe they just are not singing because they are on the way up North and all I heard was some chip notes.

That is seven species of warbler photographed and I ended up with 11-12 species seen for the day.  If you have not been to Howell Woods, you should stop procrastinating now.

Now as good as any time to start my Butterfly list.  Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.  I have been using Will Cook's online reference to butterflies of NC to ID.  Thin yellow crescents on trailing edge of hind wing makes this an Eastern Tiger.  If any of you notice a wrong ID let me know.

At Governor's Rd. in Brunswick County I got my first Red-eyed Vireo photos for the year.

The lighting made this guy look more yellow than usual.  However the eye stripe revealed his true identity.

Northern Parula - previously I could only here the last bit of the song but now I can hear every beautiful note.

What an undertail!!!  How it can retain it's elegance with such a beast of a tail is beyond me.

I always shoot raptors soaring so I can study them later and check just in case an interesting species eluded my ID at the time.  This adolescent Red-shouldered Hawk was interesting enough.

Spicebush Swallowtail? Two rows of orange spots.

It's cool how the pattern on the top does not always reflect the pattern on the bottom.

Is it me or does this Turkey Vulture look angry?

The best of all birds in NC as everyone knows is the Swallow-tailed Kite.  Usually I have to take numerous trips to Northwest, NC to find them.  This time one trip did the trick.  Talk about lucky!  Although the photos are decent, it was not easy and the bird only flew by for about ten seconds.  As soon as I saw it coming my way, I veered off onto the side of the road and was able to slam it into park before jumping out and snapping these frames.

This bird was found just South of the Northwest Mine on Blue Banks Loop Rd.

They nest in the area, or at least I think they do.  Not sure if anyone has ever found the nest.

I can't wait to properly crush this bird with my better camera set up.  However I will have to find some feeding birds for that.

When in Northwest, you are just a stone's throw away from Oakland Sod Farms so there I went.

Eastern Kingbird.

I dipped on any good shore birds.

In the failing light back in Wilmington I had this out of focus Wood Duck family but I just had to add this strictly based on cuteness factor.

At CB State Park I was still having Common Loon fly overs as of yesterday.

Great Crested Flycatcher

Painted Bunting

Love this song!

Great Crested

Finally I decided that I will start a Backyard Birdlist on my other blog.  So yesterday I shot these while on a conference call through my window in my office.  Actually this is my front yard but it still works.

Common Grackle on my front lawn.  Figures my through the window shot in my backyard is better than my year shot out in the field.

What a cracking good year so far.  I think it will be setting the standard for photographic big years in NC for years to come with this effort.  I just wish someone else would try.  Good to see Steve H doing it this year too.