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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Florida Trip - Day 1

          
Male Painted Bunting at Markham Park
            I was searching eBird and had been watching the sightings of a Western Spindalis in southern Florida. I just so happened to be looking at flights on Southwest Airlines for a future flight and noticed a flight to Fort Lauderdale for only $59, so Sharon and I jumped on the opportunity. We landed in Florida

 after a three hour flight and picked up our rental car and immediately drove to Markham Park where the Spindalis was hanging out.          
We arrived at the park and found several people walking around searching for the Spindalis but as of yet no one had seen the bird today. The bird was reportedly hanging around with a small group of Spot-breasted Orioles and we found the orioles several times but no go with the Spindalis.

Spot-breasted Oriole
 While in search for our target bird we also found Mottled Ducks, Anhinga, Cattle Egret, White Ibis, a dark morph Short-tailed Hawk and lots of Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers plus one Prairie Warbler.
White Ibis
            We searched for the bird for about 3 hours with no luck and it was getting late, so I decided to drive across Florida on the Alligator Alley to the Gulf Coast and take a chance on finding the American Flamingo at Fort Myers Beach. We made the two hour drive and arrived around 4:30PM. We parked at Bunche Beach Park and made our way to the beach carrying my scope and binos. When people saw the optics we were carrying they immediately knew what we were after. They told us the Flamingo was standing out in the water fairly distant from shore. We were in luck! We got to the beach and could see the flamboyant Flamingo standing about 300 yards out from shore, yet the water was only up to the bird’s knees so the water depth was about 18’” deep. We set up the scope for a better view and could see the brilliant pink plumage and the odd downward curved bill with a black tip.


          This was a life bird for me and one that I’ve been waiting for 50 some years to find. I remember seeing them when I lived in Florida but they weren't countable because I saw them at the Hialeah Race track and they were all wing clipped birds.

             After viewing the Flamingo for a while we walked the beach for some distance and were able to find a white morph Reddish Egret. The bird was not shy and I was able to get some close photos. 

Reddish Egret - White Morph
             When we got back to the beach entry point I set up the scope again to view the Flamingo. Once I did this we had a mob of people wanting to take a peek through the scope to view the Flamingo. The people were from Massachusetts, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota and elsewhere. They were very excited to see the bird and thanked us profusely. While everyone was watching the Flamingo it took off and we observed the long outstretched neck and trailing legs making the bird look larger than life. Also while in flight we noticed the contrast in the pink wing coverts versus the jet black primaries and secondaries. 
Just a small part of the crowd waiting to view the Flamingo

              Another short walk along the beach in the opposite direction produced Black Skimmers, Caspian and Forster's Terns, Short-billed Dowitchers, Marbled Godwits, both White and Brown Pelicans and Black-crowned Night-Heron. 
                So after an unsuccessful attempt for the Western Spindalis we were rewarded with a life bird on the gulf coast. We were happy with the Flamingo and were looking forward to tomorrow's drive back across Florida on the Tamiami Trail.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

South Florida Birding - 2016

American Flamingo at Bunche Beach Park


        Checking out my notes from last January 2015 I discovered quite a number of 80 degree days.  Not the same situation this year:  low 70’s at best with most days in the 60’s plus lots of rain and a number of serious storms with tornado activity.  In the last two weeks there were at least two tornadoes touching down fairly close to our condo but no direct hits.  In fact one night Susan and I slept through a cell phone tornado alert and only the next day discovered many folks in our community spent part of the night huddled in their closets as per the direction of the National Weather Service.  Luckily we dodged a bullet!  Still the weather failed to stop us in our jobs as real life beach combers and naturalists. 
         Generally the day would start slowly with breakfast and the crossword puzzle (unfortunately I just read that working on these puzzles does not prevent senility). After packing our lunches and loading up the car we were usually off to some beach for exploration. One benefit of all the storm activity is the profuse animal and plant deposits left behind on the beaches. On a visit to South Beach on Marco Island we found thousands of Florida Fighting Conchs almost all of them still alive washed up on the beaches and jetties. 
          

Florida Fighting Conch

          Like a flashback from a year earlier we discovered the same large numbers of Black Skimmers and Royal Terns along with small numbers of Sandwich and Forster’s Terns in the same area of beach. 
 
Royal and Sandwich Tern
           New this year was a very tame Brown Pelican and an Osprey devouring a striped bass only a few feet from us passer byes.  


Gary and his trained Osprey

            A Magnificent Frigatebird briefly soared overhead but there was no Peregrine Falcon (a usual sighting on past visits).  From here we hiked up to the more northern part of the beach, Tigertail Beach.  Here I was treated to some of the same birds that were lifers for me last year including Snowy and Wilson’s Plovers in addition to Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers, Dunlins, Western Sandpipers and Short-billed Dowitchers.    

Snowy Plover - notice the black bill

Wilson's Plover - notice large bulky bill
           Another morning we visited Delnor-Wiggins Park following a different storm.  On entering the beach we discovered a large pile of Nine-armed Starfish in a spot we were clearing for our beach chairs.  Initially, I assumed some folks had collected them earlier and just left them behind rather than drag the bounty home and have it smell up their car.   As we started exploring the beach however, we discovered hundreds of the spiny-bodied creatures covering the entire beach! 
 
Susan debating rather to use this starfish as a Ninja weapon
          We also got to witness a life and death struggle between a Sheepshead (a rather attractive bait fish) and a Brown Pelican.  Good for the Pelican but not so great for the unfortunate fish.  The bird struggled for at least 10 minutes attempting to get the fish properly positioned in his pouch to allow passage down his throat which ultimately he succeeded in accomplishing.    


 

         On days that were not so great for beach exploration we would trek over to one of my favorite birding hotspots:  Eagle Lakes Park.  This wonderful suburban park with its ponds, lush vegetation and great walking paths is just 15 minutes from our abode. My wife’s son gave us both Fitbits for Christmas and we try to put them to good use daily. I am not sure how the device works but it logs our steps and translates them into miles and calories burned.  Hoping to reach the hundred year milestone we are attempting to cover 4 to 5 miles per day.

          I had previously reported on a retired ornithologist who frequented the park and kept tabs on the local Loggerhead Shrike population. I have not yet run into him this season but I have seen at least one Shrike with a leg band which is far short of the usual 4 or 5 birds seen in past years. 
 
Banded Loggerhead Shrike - short bill and broad mask
           On our first visit to the park we saw a pair of Limpkins and a pair of Roseate Spoonbills. 
 
Roseate Spoonbills
         A Caspian Tern was regularly seen fishing at the largest of the three ponds. The usual assortment of birds were present including Storks, Osprey, Coots, Common Gallinules, Red Shouldered Hawks, Peregrine Falcon, Anhingas, Double Crested Cormorants, Wilson’s  Snipe, Least and Solitary Sandpipers, Lesser Yellowlegs, Snowy, Cattle and Great  Egrets,  Tri-colored, Green,  Little Blue and Great Blue Herons, Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers and Blue-Grey Gnatcatchers.
Gary goes snipe hunting - Wilson's Snipe

Solitary Sandpiper


           A surprise lifer for me was an American Flamingo at the San Carlos Preserve in Fort Meyers.  Al Guarente sent me an e-mail alerting me to this magnificent bird which Susan quickly discovered just a block off the beach. Always the entrepreneur Susan tried to recoup our gas expenses by charging the numerous passing gawkers a dollar to check out the bird through our spotting scope!
Add caption
            To date we sought unsuccessfully to locate two target birds:  a Western Spindalis and Spot-breasted Oriole in southeastern Florida. We made two trips to Markham Park in Sunrise without seeing either bird but did get some nice looks at a female Painted Bunting and quick looks at a flock of Monk Parakeets.
 
Painted Bunting
          We still have time to revisit the area and hope to return.  I’m writing this during a torrential rainstorm. Hopefully it will bring in a few birds.  The adventure continues….

                                       
The one that got away _Western Spindalis

The other escapee - Spot-breasted Oriole

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Vermilion Flycatcher and Loggerhead Shrike in Maryland

Vermilion Flycatcher
          On Wednesday, after seeing the photos from Nick Pulcinella and Sheryl Johnson, Sharon and I decided to travel the hour and fifteen minutes to Millington, Maryland in search of the Vermilion Flycatcher and Loggerhead Shrike. We arrived around 11:15AM at Carroll Clark Rd where the shrike has been hanging around since the Christmas Bird Count in December. We made several passes up and down the road but were unable to locate the shrike. 
          We decided to head to Quail Run Nursery about two miles south to hunt for the Vermilion Flycatcher. The nursery owner is being very cooperative and allowing birders to drive around his property in search of the bird. We arrived and on the advice of Sheryl we drove over to the pond and started our search. Before I even got out of the car I noticed a bird that had a little yellow coloring on the belly flying around the distant burlap wrapped nursery trees on the far side of the pond. I knew this had to be the flycatcher. So I got out of the car to get my scope but then another car pulled up and it was Tim Freiday who had been driving around for an hour looking for the bird. I told him it was right here and we both got out our scopes. By the time we set up the scopes we didn't need them because the Flycatcher was close enough to get a great view with binoculars. Although I couldn't get a decent photo of the Flycatcher because it was always in motion, I managed a few lousy photos. Unfortunately, the Vermilion Flycatcher was not a brilliant red male but it was still fun to see in the eastern U.S.
           We then went to another nearby pond on the nursery property to find the Greater White-fronted Geese that were around but had no luck with them. So we headed back to the shrike area and searched again with Tim Freiday trailing behind. Once again, no luck. 
           It was now time to have lunch so we drove into Millington and found this very pleasant restaurant called the Two Trees. The food was excellent and Sharon enjoyed her Shrimp Lejon and Wild Mushroom and Truffle Soup. I had one of the best Bacon Cheddar Burgers on a Brioche bun. They also make their own homemade ice cream and Sharon enjoyed Chili Praline Crunch while I tried Chocolate Chess Pie. I would highly recommend this restaurant. 
           After lunch we headed back for one final look for the Loggerhead Shrike. As we drove up to the spot that we were going to stop, the shrike flew right in front of us and landed on the wire about 200 feet away. This allowed for another lousy photo but we had managed to accomplish our mission.
 
Loggerhead Shrike
           After a successful Maryland adventure we made a quick stop at Stave Landing Rd in New Castle Co, Delaware and picked up a new county bird, Tundra Swan. It was a great day all around especially when I got all my target birds and a great lunch.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

eBird Analysis Report for 2015



Hi all

       I have made a simple analysis of eBird submissions from the past 5 years and you can see it below.




2015 Delaware County eBird Years in Review



***eBird Web Site (http://ebird.org/content/) for all kinds of data characterizations and how to join in if you care to do so. Except for the value of time and effort involved, it is all available free of monetary charge; allowing access to: review of data submitted from all over the world, rare bird alerts, feature articles, personal lists from life lists to specific area lists, and a venue for contributing to a data-base of world-wide submissions in a "Think Globally, Act Locally" manner.

***Species reported for each month for 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015; year total for 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015; and All Time totals for each month and year for all years combined back to earliest entry from 1900:
2011:      J-077, F-071, M-083, A-134, M-140, J-100, J-078, A-119, S-098, O-128, N-089, D-092, Y-211
2012:      J-081, F-080, M-084, A-134, M-135, J-098, J-084, A-102, S-124, O-146, N-084, D-086, Y-216
2013:      J-084, F-079, M-098, A-130, M-147, J-087, J-102, A-109, S-129, O-113, N-087, D-098, Y-214
2014:      J-093, F-089, M-100, A-135, M-155, J-098, J-099, A-112, S-123, O-130, N-097, D-097, Y-220
2015:      J-081, F-081, M-104, A-150, M-152, J-112, J-082, A-120, S-129, O-124, N-098, D-089, Y-223
All Time: J-144, F-135, M-149, A-219, M-233, J-152, J-151, A-185, S-229, O-224, N-178, D-173, Y-328



***Discussion via Bullet Points:

  • 328 species have been reported to eBird all time for Delaware County. No new species were added to the Delaware County eBird list in since 2013 -  American Avocet.
  • 223 species were listed on eBird for Delaware County in 2015, 13 more than in 2014.
  • A new total species high count was set for 5 months out of twelve: March, April, June, August & November 2015and also a new yearly high was set at 223.
  • 100+ species plus having now been reported in eight out of twelve calendar months at least once,  leaving only the winter months November thru February outstanding.
  • 150+ species have been reported for just two months: April & May. October is the only other month which approaches 150, missing by only six species.
  • 63 species have been reported for Delaware County for every one of the 48 eBird bar chart weeks in a year.
  • The top 15 of 41 Delaware County eBird locations based on species diversity reported to date:

1.  John Heinz NWR-wetlands(Delaware Co) – 265

2.  Ridley Creek SP (IBA) – 202

3.  Delaware River-Ft Mifflin/Hog Island Rds- 199

4. Tyler Arboretum – 185

5. Ridley Creek SP--Bridle Trail – 178

6. Springton Reservoir (Restricted Access) – 178

7. Darlington Tract – 167

8. Crum Woods – 157

9. Big Bend Farms (restricted Access) – 139

10. The Willows – 137

11. Haverford College (Delaware Co)- 135

12. Rose Tree Park – 133

13. Crum Creek Reservoir –126

14. Thornbury Township Trail – 124

15. Chadds Ford Marsh – 123 & Hildacy Farms Natural Lands Trust - 123




Delaware County data sets for bar chart and other eBird status & distribution characterizations were greatly increased in 2015 by the record participation of birders by/for whom data was entered. Thank you to us all!