Welcome to the ongoing quest to photograph 700 or more ABA countable North American bird species. Of the 711 total species of birds possible to see in North America currently published to this site, the number of ABA “countable” species presently stands at:
June 28 – 29 Whiteface Mountain, NY
September 1 – 5 San Diego, CA (pelagic)
September 6 Salton Sea, CA
Gator with dinner – maybe…
April 22: This afternoon’s visit to Green Cay was primarily to check for migrant warblers, but most of those reported in the past few days were gone and it was quiet except for just a few – three Blackpolls, two Cape Mays, and a Worm-eating were all that I could find – all of them in the trees by the entrance. The most interesting sight actually turned out to be a large alligator that had grabbed a Florida Red-bellied Turtle in the water, carried it ashore, and was, or so it seemed, attempting to make a meal of it but not succeeding. It tossed the turtle in the air, caught it again, dropped it, grabbed it again, clamped down on it repeatedly, and, still not having eaten any dinner, was still entertaining a small crowd in this manner when I left. It seems like an alligator could capture a turtle anytime it wanted, but in all the years I have observed gators here in Florida, I have never seen this phenomenon before. Also…I have no idea what that gross black thing hanging out of the gator’s mouth is.
April 22: This afternoon’s visit to Green Cay was primarily to check for migrant warblers, but most of those reported in the past few days were gone and it was quiet except for just a few – three Blackpolls, two Cape Mays, and a Worm-eating were all that I could find – all of them in the trees by the entrance. The most interesting sight actually turned out to be a large alligator that had grabbed a Florida Red-bellied Turtle in the water, carried it ashore, and was, or so it seemed, attempting to make a meal of it but not succeeding. It tossed the turtle in the air, caught it again, dropped it, grabbed it again, clamped down on it repeatedly, and, still not having eaten any dinner, was still entertaining a small crowd in this manner when I left. It seems like an alligator could capture a turtle anytime it wanted, but in all the years I have observed gators here in Florida, I have never seen this phenomenon before. Also…I have no idea what that gross black thing hanging out of the gator’s mouth is.read more »
March 29: When out-of-state birders visit Florida, such as Dickson Smith visiting this week from Utah, one bird often high on the wish list is the federally endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker. Three Lakes WMA in Osceola County has stands of the sparse mature pine woodland that the woodpecker favors, and is a particularly reliable place to see this species, along with the secretive Bachman’s Sparrow, which likes the same habitat. The birds become active at first light, but the woodpeckers have generally left the nesting area and have scattered for the day by 9 AM and the sparrows tend to stop singing, so it is essential to arrive very early.
Red-cockaded Woodpeckers live in small social groups, so it is common to see a number of individuals flitting from tree to tree in the same general area. Bachman’s Sparrows are numerous here and are usually seen flying low to the ground away from the observer, but occasionally one will perch low on a young evergreen or an overhanging larger tree branch. This habitat also features Brown-headed Nuthatch, good numbers of Eastern Bluebirds, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Pine Warblers, and Northern Bobwhites can be heard calling from various hiding places. On this particular day both Red-cockaded Woodpeckers and Bachman’s Sparrows were uncharacteristically still active when we left at 9:30.
Next stop was Joe Overstreet Road and Landing, where again we saw Sandhill Cranes but no Whooping Crane. The landing had just the usual suspects, including three adult Bald Eagles all perched close by on posts.
We then headed south on Route 441 toward Kissimmee Prairie State Park in Okeechobee County. On the way, in the area east of the park itself, we came across several Crested Caracaras, and were treated to the spectacle of two separate pairs of Swallow-tailed Kites soaring and swooping over the road. As they worked their way along the road, we several times drove a couple of hundred yards ahead in anticipation of their catching up while we waited with cameras poised.
We hadn’t been at Kissimmee Prairie long before the rain, which had been predicted all day but had luckily held off until now, finally began in earnest, but not before we finally managed some photos of a very shy Northern Bobwhite that had been calling from deep cover for a half hour before finally allowing a glimpse.
read more »
March 22: If you are planning a birding trip to Florida and want to assure yourself of finally seeing a Snail Kite, you’ll want to visit Stormwater Treatment Area 5. This 6.5 square mile tract of terrific wetlands habitat is located mid-state about 25 miles south of Lake Okeechobee. It’s in the middle of nowhere and a bit of a drive to get to, but well worth the effort. STA-5 is accessible only by special arrangement in groups that go out on specified Saturdays (see above link). Expect to see anywhere between 65 to 80 species. At least six pairs of the endangered Florida Snail Kite are known to be nesting here, and you should have no trouble seeing multiple individuals.
We arrived at 8:30 and spent six hours there, birding along the berms mostly from the car, but occasionally stopping for scope views and to photograph birds inflight. Highlights among some 65 species were at least 9 Snail Kites, 7 Crested Caracaras, 11 Roseate Spoonbills, several Stilt Sandpipers and Long-billed Dowitchers, and a Florida Grasshopper Sparrow. CR 835 just before the turnoff to the wetlands had 5 Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and a couple of Western Kingbirds hawking insects from perches on the roadside wires.read more »
March 9: This morning we checked out a known spot for White-winged Parakeet (the fourth new species of 2014 for birdspix.com) just south of Miami International Airport in “Little Havana.” These sociable birds are noisy and thus not hard to locate in their nesting palm trees adjacent to a large bank building. The white on the wings is very prominent in flight, but not as obvious when the wings are folded. There are a few Yellow-chevroned Parakeets mixed in with the group, providing a nice comparison between the two species which were formerly considered to be conspecific. At first glance the two species look similar, but besides lacking the white on the wings, Yellow-chevroned has a prominent white eye ring and feathered lores (the space between the eye and the beak).read more »
February 13 – 16: The lower Rio Grand Valley of Texas has long been regarded as one of North America’s “must visit” birding destinations because of its large offering of specialty species, a good number of which are seen nowhere else in North America. One such species is the Hook-billed Kite, an uncommon tropical raptor not often seen even in Texas. U.S. sightings have generally been limited to rare brief high fly-overs, most often over the Rio Grande itself, however this January a family unit of five birds was discovered feeding daily among the mesquites in Mission Nature Park, giving U.S. birders a virtually unprecedented opportunity to look for this species with at least some reasonable hope of success. That, along with the continuing Tropical Parula at Edinburg Scenic Nature Center, enticed me to make a focused third trip to the Valley, following the two prior (more general) visits there in 2009 and 2012.
I arrived in McAllen at 4:30 PM on February 13, and was at the kite site by 5 PM where I remained until sunset with no luck. The following morning I was at Edinburg by 7 AM because the nature center was going to be closed for the entire weekend and this one day would be my only opportunity there. As it turned out, the Tropical Parula, a small warbler that is common in the tropics but rare in the U.S., was not hard to find in and around its favorite Coma Tree, but from the path this tree was backlit at this time of day, and photography was limited by the bad lighting to just a few poor images, so I decided to look for the kite again (less than fifteen miles away) and return at 2 PM. I knew full well that midday was not optimal for the kites, but one can’t be everywhere first thing in the morning, and it wasn’t a particular surprise that no kites were seen.
Back at Edinburg, a Tennessee couple and I staked out the Parula tree for three hours to no avail. The Nature Center was closing at 5 PM, and I was just getting ready to follow the couple back to the parking lot, when along came Javi Gonzalez, a staff member to whom I had been introduced in the morning, and Javi immediately spotted the bird. Since it was now after closing time, I would have been out of luck had not Javi generously taken it upon himself to ask permission to stay late to lock the gate himself. That’s what made the “Eureka” moment possible.
The Tropical Parula, which had been giving just fleeting obstructed glimpses through the foliage at the treetop, suddenly flew down into a low shrub at eye level less than ten feet from us and proceeded to alternately pose and flycatch in full view for the next fifteen minutes. It was so unexpected and so extraordinary that if I didn’t know better it seemed almost as if this little bird was knowingly putting on a private show especially for us. Javi has seen this bird every day and says he has never seen this behavior before, nor seen the bird in full view so close in.
The next morning the entire area was socked in with pea soup fog. I went back to Mission Nature Park where a sizable group of Saturday birders were already gathering up on the east side of the levee hoping for a Hook-billed Kite sighting. The fog had mostly lifted by 9:45, and at exactly 10:05, from my spot down at the closed bridge, I spotted a mid-sized bird approaching over the levee some two hundred yards to the west. Paddle-shaped wings – yes, the kite! I fired off a burst, and for a moment it looked like it would fly over, but then it caught an updraft, circled a single time, (just one more quick burst), flew off to the southwest, and was gone. The photos were distant, but the ID was good. Three birders on the west portion of the levee got the best view, but I don’t think any of the group on the east side saw the bird at all. Fellow birders Melissa and Wade Rowley, with whom I exchanged status texts during the three day visit got some really wonderful photos of the kites some two weeks earlier.
After lunch I drove up route 77 to Sebastian to look for Mountain Plover along CR1600, a narrow dirt farm road that is a known wintering spot for them. Melissa and Wade got there first, and although we didn’t find any plovers, by the time I arrived they had discovered a few Sprague’s Pipits among the more numerous Horned Larks in the freshly plowed fields - a surprise life bird for all three of us.
Later in the afternoon I met Melissa and Wade again along the Old Port Isabel Road at a spot where the previous day they had had an unusual encounter with an Aplomado Falcon fighting with a White-tailed Kite and Wade got some amazing photos. We stayed until dark, but the only Aplomado Falcon sighting was on a pole so far in the distance that we could ID it only through Melissa’s scope. I had a similar distant view of two Aplomados in 2012, but I haven’t counted either sighting, and after three visits to the Valley still no photos. My new nemesis bird.
Sunday morning I tried again for the Hook-billed Kites, but the park was busy with joggers, dog walkers, and bicyclists, and in addition the border patrol was trying to cordon off a group of “runners” (i.e. illegals who had just come over the Mexican border), and there was a helicopter and all manner of official vehicles and even mounted police. It was all far too much bustle for the shy kites, which never showed.read more »
January 4, 2014: Although this new year’s annual Xmas week bird count still yielded 75 species in our assigned territory in the western portion of Palm Beach County, the area unfortunately is now comprised almost entirely of residential and commercial developments, with almost no accessible virgin land remaining. Passerines are increasingly hard to find each year, and it is hard to escape the conclusion that year-to-year numbers continue their inexorable trend downward. One notable exception is the Limpkin. Ten years ago one had to search hard here to find this species, whereas now they are literally everywhere in Palm Beach County. Today we counted 26. It seems every man-made lake or pond has at least one resident Limpkin, and they are seen along the roadside, along canals, and even on lawns and on golf courses. Their shrill wailing cry is considered a nuisance in residential communties. What has changed? The widespread proliferation of an introduced species of large apple snail has provided the Limpkins with a limitless supply of their favorite food.read more »