To beat the heat here in south Florida, Mary Lou and I set out on our daily 3 mile walk a half hour before sunrise. Temperatures are usually in the high 70s F (25-26 degrees C) but within two hours climb into the high 80s (31-32 degrees C). It is still quite dark at first, so I bird mostly by ear. A White-tailed Deer buck peers at me through the semi-darkness:
The sun is still well below the horizon, but its light reflects against the high clouds:
Not many birds are singing in late July. Many have raised their families and are undergoing an energy-consuming molt. While mockingbirds may sing even during the night during breeding season, they are now quite silent.
Adult Northern Mockingbird:
Fledgling mockingbird in June:
An older juvenile mockingbird exhibits a speckled breast:
Northern Cardinals are a welcome exception. I can often count a half dozen singing males, some in duets with females, which also sing (as do female mockingbirds):
Female Northern Cardinal:
We may hear one or two Carolina Wrens singing despite the heat:
Mourning Doves coo persistently before sunrise...
...as do White-Winged Doves. This one used the roof of our home for his performance:
I walk out on the little "peninsula" and just listen. Maybe I will hear a Pileated Woodpecker or a Red-Shouldered Hawk, but only the calls of Blue Jays and Red-bellied Woodpeckers pierce the silence:
The monotone trill of an unseen Eastern Screech-Owl is like music to our ears and a reward for being out early. This week I heard two calling, about a mile into our walk. One had a more high-pitched voice. It may have belonged to the juvenile owl, which I briefly viewed through the branches of a thicket, about ten minutes before sunrise:
Here is an adult Screech-Owl which paused in better light very near this spot last year:
This is the time of year when I sometimes fall short of meeting Birdchaser's Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of 20 species
Seeing fewer than 20 species in a morning makes me feel "malnourished." If my list seems to be stuck at 18 or 19, I may delay my return home and risk heat stroke, hoping to see one or two more. It is especially frustrating when I fail to find one of the more common birds, such as a European Starling, or the sky does not contain any vultures or crows. High water discourages wading birds and one morning this week I saw no herons at all.
The fun of birding is not just about "body counts." There is so much to discover at any time of year. One day last week I saw only 15 species but had the thrill of seeing the eaglet from the local Bald Eagle nest suddenly pass low overhead. Why has she not wandered north, as is the habit of south Florida's younger eagles? By July, most of them are following the Atlantic coast up into the Carolinas and Chesapeake Bay, where waters are cooler and fish are easier to catch. Oddly, she is carrying some grass in her talons. Why?
We know she is a female by her bulk and the extension of the gape of her bill below her eye She exhibits first-year (juvenile) plumage: a dark body, dark beak, head and tail, along with white "armpits." Her set of fresh and longer wing and tail feathers cause her secondaries to bulge and add more than an inch to her length. She flies a direct line from the nest tree to a lake in our subdivision. Her lighter wing linings are also visible in these views as she moves away:
At the lake, the water is still. A Little Blue Heron dashes to find a better fishing spot:
There has been a hatch of White Peacock butterflies. Many seem to be taking their first flights. By tomorrow their wings will be tattered from their constant struggle over territory and mates:
Walking home at 8:00 AM, the restless clouds portend the rain which is sure to arrive by noon:
A Northern Curly-tailed Lizard appears at the base of a tree as I exit the wild area. This species, native to the Bahamas, was introduced into Palm Beach County to the north in hopes that it would control insect pests on the sugar cane. It has spread over the southern part of the State, although this was the first I have seen at this particular location. While invasive, they seem not to be a threat to native creatures:
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