Thursday, September 17, 2020

An overdose of warblers at Chapel Trail

I must admit to sometimes overdoing it when I see a beautiful bird in good light. Only the capacity of my camera's memory card will hold me in check. This was the case during a recent visit to Chapel Trail Nature Preserve in nearby Pembroke Pines, Florida. The park has a boardwalk which traverses a reclaimed Everglades wet prairie. As was the case with most public attractions, it closed down back in March because of the pandemic. During the cooler months we usually lead a South Florida Audubon Society monthly nature walk at this location and I was hoping it might open in time for the November event.  

In late August, anxious to escape the confinement of COVID quarantine, after checking the Bald Eagle nest near Chapel Trail, I drove by the entrance to the preserve and was surprised to find that the gates were open. There were no signs restricting entry, the parking lot was empty and the boardwalk was not barricaded, so I parked and walked in. Rain threatened and I was not able to spend much time there. 

Near the boardwalk's entrance, a pair of Gray-headed Swamphens were tending to four half-grown youngsters. While three of them were actively foraging, one appeared to be dependent upon its parent and constantly begged to be fed. This species has a specialized technique for obtaining its favorite food, the fresh roots and shoots of the abundant Spike Rush. Using their huge prehensile feet, they pull up the roots to display the new growth, then carefully strip open the stalks to expose the white nutrient-rich pulp. 

The adult swamphen patiently harvested the tender morsels, which were immediately seized by the hungry chick:

 Gray-headed Swamphens 05-20200828      

Gray-headed Swamphens 06-20200828

The other adult was accompanied by two of the other chicks:

 Gray-headed Swamphens 02-20200828

Six months ago, before the preserve closed down, an adult swamphen high-stepped:

 Gray-headed Swamphen 01-20200322

A call to my contacts reassured me that the preserve had just officially opened and that signs were to be placed advising that the boardwalk is too narrow to permit social distancing and masks must be brought and worn when there is unavoidable contact with other visitors.

Views of the boardwalk during my next visit:

Chapel Trail boardwalk 05-20200904

Chapel Trail boardwalk 03-20200904

That day I encountered several migratory species. Among them were a Red-eyed Vireo...

Red-eyed Vireo 02-20200904

...and a flock of Eastern Kingbirds:

Eastern Kingbird 01-20200904

Eastern Kingbird IN FLIGHT  03-20200904

This kingbird perched atop a Swamp (Red) Maple which typically puts out new leaves in mid-summer:

Eastern Kingbird in Red Maple 05-20200904

Warblers were a main attraction. Prairie Warblers had returned from their nesting locations among the coastal mangroves:

Prairie Warbler 02-20200904

Prairie Warbler 07-20200904

Some Black-and-White Warblers breed locally. Their ranks were probably swelled by new arrivals heading south:

Black-and-White Warbler 03-20200904  

Yellow-throated Warblers also nest along coastal and northern Florida and are welcome invaders inland for most of the year. They can be elusive as they search for insects in the foliage, so it is rewarding when I can catch one out in the open on a bare branch. During a visit which lasted only a few seconds, I was able to capture bursts of over 50 photos. A sampling of my "overdose": 

Yellow-throated Warbler 01-20200904

Yellow-throated Warbler 04-20200904

Yellow-throated Warbler 05-20200904

Yellow-throated Warbler 08-20200904

Their bills are longer than those of most other warbler species:

Yellow-throated Warble portrait 091-20200904

Next to the parking lot, I saw a creature which could be a body-double for one in Jurassic Park. It is a Brown Basilisk, an exotic species introduced in the pet trade, but now well-established in south Florida:

Brown Basilisk 02-20200828

As is common in sub-tropical climates, the skies over our back yard were clear at dawn and the wind was calm with no hint that afternoon thunderstorms may visit:

Thanks to COVID quarantine, we had prime seating to watch a backyard Great Egret catch a snack. The sequence of events:

Great Egret 01-20200814

Great Egret 03-20200814

Great Egret flipping fish 01-20200814

Great Egret flipping fish 20200814

This September has two full Moons. Saharan dust attenuated the rays of the early one:

Corn Moon 04-20200902 

When there is only one it is called the Harvest Moon, but if it appears twice, the first is known as the Corn Moon, here reflecting on the lake in the wetlands:

Corn Moon 06-20200902

In mid-August, the Moon and Planet Venus had a close encounter above our home. The constellation Orion is visible in the sky to the right in my iPhone photo. Click to enlarge:

Moon Venus Orion 20200815

The occupants of that section of sky are identified here:

Moon Venus SKY 0600 AM 20200815

= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =

Linking to:

Fences Around the World

Skywatch Friday

Weekend Reflections

Saturday's Critters


Camera Critters

All Seasons

Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday)

Natasha Musing

Our World Tuesday


Please visit the links to all these posts to see some excellent photos on display

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Beauty is in the eye of the Barn Owl

I first encountered a Barn Owl in our local wetlands preserve in 2015, when I saw one on the top of a dead Royal Palm along the gravel entry path. That tree was subsequently removed and replaced by another which also died.  

According to Cornell University's global eBird database, this species has never before been reported to breed anywhere in southern Broward County. The nearest historical sightings occurred in undeveloped areas in Miami-Dade County about 4 miles / 6.4 kilometers to the south.and in Broward County 10.5 miles / 17 kilometers to the north. I never saw another until I photographed one in flight near this location in February, 2019.

Since then they have been present consistently. These are earlier photos:

Barn Owl 02-20200408

Barn Owl 03-20200408

Here is the topless palm tree in an undeveloped spot where I first saw a Barn Owl, in August, 2015:

Palm trunk Barn Owl roost 20150811

Although I never saw them again until 2019, I was encouraged when I found this wing feather in October, 2018, very close to the old tree:

Barn Owl wing feather 20181009

I suspected that they may have been nesting on the top of another Royal Palm behind a home across the gravel road. This tree had also died and lost its foliage. I heard and recorded a young owl nearby only a few weeks ago (Link to eBird checklist)

This species nests all year round. This week there were two Barn Owls occupying the top of this second tree, too dark for my camera, so here is the daytime view (along with our neighbor's  regulation-compliant fence):

Barn Owl nest tree 01-20200830

Our homeowners association contracts with landscapers to maintain the area along the berm where the nest tree is located.  Many people cannot stand the sight of an old dead tree and I feared they may be planning to remove and replace it with a more "fitting" representative of our refined community. The Barn Owl does not see it this way.

Therefore, I worked with the homeowners association on a plan to to protect the nest tree. A pair of Barn Owls and their brood can eat as many as 3,000 rodents in a single nesting season, so they are much more efficient than a pest control company. While they are protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and they are the least numerous among Florida's 5 owl species, they are not threatened or endangered. 

Happy to say that my mobility and energy have vastly improved since starting on Prednisone. MaryLou and I have been out about an hour before sunrise almost every morning. We arranged for Juan, a fellow birder to meet us on the way in and he was treated to seeing both Barn Owls as they emerged from the palm trunk and flew overhead, their pure white undersides reflecting the glare of our flashlights.

As we were observing the Barn Owls we heard an Eastern Screech-Owl calling nearby. Juan located it and I obtained poor photos with the help of his flashlight:

Eastern Screech-Owl 01-20200829

Eastern Screech-Owl 03-20200829

That day I logged over 10,000 steps for the first time in almost a month as we trekked into a more primitive area of the preserve on the Bar Ditch Trail. As we walked westward, Juan turned around to capture the rising sun:

Sunrise captured by Juan 20200829

Were it not for the sound of airplanes and distant traffic, we could have been lost, deep in the wilderness:

Bar Ditch Trail 05-20200829

A motley molting Blue Jay was missing his splendid head-dress:

Blue Jay molting 01-20200829

Later we spotted one almost completely feathered:

Blue Jay 20200825

A female Prairie Warbler appeared against the blue sky:

Prairie Warbler 03-20200829

The male Prairie Warbler was partially obscured in the brush:

Prairie Warbler 02-20200829

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers flitted about actively:

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 01-20200826

Northern Cardinals were numerous, a male...

Northern Cardinal 08-20200526

...and female posed for photos:

Northern Cardinal female  04-20200526

An Ovenbird appeared briefly:

Ovenbird 02-20200826

Ovenbird 01-20200826

There were fresh Bobcat tracks...

Bobcat print 01-20200826

...Raccoon hand-prints...

Raccoon prints 29299826

...and evidence of a large feral hog:

Feral hog print 20200826

A White-tailed Deer with deformed antlers stepped out into the path in front of us:

White-taled Deer one-horn buck 01-20200826

A pair of Loggerhead Shrikes rested together in a treetop:

Loggerhead Shrikes 2-20200825

Two Yellow Warblers were passing through, southbound:

Yellow Warblers 01-20200818

Yellow Warbler 09-20200818

Among the insects, a richly patterned Horace's Duskywing...

Horace's Duskywing - Erynnis horatius 02-20200820

...and a Band-winged Dragonlet (Erythrodyplax umbrata):

Dragonfly 01-202008120

Back home and in seclusion, we enjoyed a visit from the mamma Muscovy Duck, who hatched out 15 ducklings in our back yard. She now was guarding the last four survivors of her brood. Turtles, bass, cats, herons and hawks are not kind to baby ducks:

Muscovy ducklings 02-20200819

Muscovy ducklings 03-20200819

Muscovy ducklings 04-20200819

White Ibises gathered along the shore:

White Ibises 02-20200525

Opposite to the sunrise, the anti-solar rays reflected on dust blown in from the Sahara Desert and the shadows of clouds intersected over the Everglades:

Before sunrise 03-20200830

Morning sun touched the south wet prairie:

South wet prairie 20200831

Great Egret in morning light:

Great Egret 06-20200830

The egret cast a meager reflection on the breeze-dimpled lake surface:

Great Egret 05-20200830

= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =

Linking to:

Fences Around the World

Skywatch Friday

Weekend Reflections

Saturday's Critters


Camera Critters

All Seasons

Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday)

Natasha Musing

Our World Tuesday


Please visit the links to all these posts to see some excellent photos on display