Saturday, April 27, 2013

Change is inevitable

Each time we relocate between our first and second homes in south Florida and northeastern Illinois the time lapse of several weeks or months amplifies our awareness of changes that have taken place. Like Rip Van Winkle, we see the full impact but fail to perceive the gradual transition from what was then and what is now. 

Change is inevitable, from the destruction of our quiet  sitting spot, now in full sunlight and overgrown with grasses, to the clearing of the prairie in front of our Illinois townhouse.

When we returned to Florida only a month ago we saw that vandals, who earlier removed the only 5 mature native Trema trees, had carved an ATV road through the heart of the last small patch of woodlands that we called our "Fake Hammock." Click on this link to see it before it was disturbed. They also ignited a small wildfire. Now the quiet dark and cool spot under the canopy has become a nighttime gathering place with a fire pit.
Remains of fake hammock 3-200130329
Upon arrival in Illinois I captured this view from the top floor of our Illinois condo. The scene has changed radically. Where meadowlarks, Spotted Sandpipers and Horned Larks once nested and Sandhill Crane families visited we now stare upon a drastically altered landscape. See Illinois "Yard" Birds. Construction of additional townhomes was not unexpected, but delays in completion of the project allowed us to grow accustomed to the scarred but bountiful prairie that developed as the land lay fallow over the past nine years.
Front yard no longer a birding patch 20130422
On a positive note, there were interesting creatures to be seen in Florida during the week prior to our departure for Illinois. As usual, Mary Lou and I got out before sunrise, and she beat me home by over an hour. This is a view looking to the northwest just as the early rays are reaching the high clouds.
Harbour Lakes to NW at sunrise HDR 20130417
The lake held a welcome surprise. A noisy flock of Black-necked Stilts flew across the water in front of me.
Black-necked Stilts in flight 20130418
An Osprey occupied its usual roost.
Osprey 20130418
A Common Nighthawk, probably getting ready to nest at the side of the path, watched me from its perch on a wire.
Common Nighthawk 20130418
Gray Catbirds were everywhere, but not a single warbler had migrated in. Southeasterly winds seem to be encouraging migrants from Cuba to follow north along the west side of the Florida peninsula or even cross the open water of the Gulf of Mexico.
Gray Catbird 20130416
Least Terns have arrived, and within two days I observed their mating rituals. The male brings a little fish to the female who adopts a bill-up posture. If he proves to be a good provider, she will accept him as a mate within a week or so. See the full ritual in: The Least of the Terns.
Least Terns feeding ritual 20130417

Least Terns feeding ritual 2-20130417
Duck migration was in progress. Several small flocks of a dozen or so flew rapidly to the north, high overhead and illuminated from beneath by the first rays. Most were teal and shovelers. This flock consisted of Blue-winged Teal.
Blue-winged Teal northbound 20130415
Cormorants were mirrored in the early morning calm.
Double-crested Cormorant 20130416
The humidity was high, and this immature Red-shouldered Hawk spread its well-worn feathers to dry them in the rising sun.
Red-shouldered Hawk immature 2-20130416

Red-shouldered Hawk immature 4-20130416
All was well in the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron rookery, with at least six nests in various stages of completion and at least three pairs incubating.
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron incubating nest 22 HT 20130416

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at nest 10 non-HT 2-20130416
There were two immature birds among the dozen or more adult herons.
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron immature 20130416
An Eastern Box Turtle ambled across the path. I would have missed him, but Mary Lou pointed him out.
Box Turtle 20130416
This Opossum was crossing the gravel road. When it saw me it started moving away. Suddenly it stopped and picked up a freshly-killed rat. It proceeded to eat it in large bites, right down to its tail.
Opossum eating rat 20130408
We made a last stop at the local Bald Eagle nest to check on the welfare of the recently-fledged eaglet. It was roosting just adjacent to the nest tree, calling to be fed.
Bald Eagle juvenile 20130409
The eaglet swooped down right in front of me, heading for a tree where an adult was resting.
Bald Eaglet in flight 3-20130412
The adult did not even look up at its demanding offspring, and continued preening.
Bald Eagle adult preening 20130412
A young Gray Squirrel scurried up a tree in my neighborhood as I finished my walk. ¡Hasta la vista!
Gray Squirrel 20130418

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Delightful birding on Florida ranches

You may have been following the adventures of the two captive-reared juvenile Whooping Cranes that visited our local patch. They were among the six that were allowed to find their own way south from Wisconsin. Part of the International Crane Foundation's "Direct Autumn Release" experiment, they were not assisted by the "Operation Migration" ultralight aircraft. This year their journey was fraught with danger.

Five of the six departed from Horicon National Wildlife Refuge on the last day of October, 2012 and flew 1200 miles to Clay County, Florida in only six days. Only two days later, on November 8, the flock of 5 was tracked by satellite to Everglades National Park at the southern tip of Florida. The next day they had doubled back nearly 100 miles north to a ranch in Hendry County, Florida. The sixth crane finally migrated from Wisconsin with a flock of Sandhill Cranes in late November and on December 9 had settled down for the winter in Volusia County, Florida.

Three of the five cranes remained in Hendry County, but on December 22, two cranes (a female nicknamed Tussock and a male called Cypress) relocated to the wetlands adjacent to our home in Broward County, about 50 miles to the southeast. Unfortunately, two of the three remaining Hendry County cranes expired on the ranch during late December or early January. As related in an earlier post Tussock suffered an injured foot and had to be captured. After a week of treatment at Disney Animal Kingdom, she was released in Tennessee on February 9 to join a group of other Whooping and Sandhill Cranes. Cypress was subsequently captured on February 10 and released to rejoin the surviving crane "Fireweed" on the J-Seven Ranch in Hendry County.

The ranch owners invited several of us who had provided ground observations in Broward County to come up and see "our" crane, but before we got up there, we were disappointed to hear that Cypress migrated north in late February or early March. For a time Fireweed was also presumed to have died, as his satellite signal constantly pointed to one spot, and ground searches were not successful. Rhonda Roff and Margaret England from the Hendry-Glades Audubon Society joined four of us from South Broward Audubon. Minutes after we enjoyed coffee with John and Gretchen Ward, owners of J-Seven, we received a call that announced, to our great surprise, Fireweed had turned up on a neighboring ranch, Devil's Garden Bird Park (DGBP).

Doug and Catherine Zipperer, owners of DGBP, invited us all to come over. We headed there immediately.

DGBP entry sign 20130414

Neighboring ranchers John Ward and Doug Zipperer chatted as we scoped out the first overgrown pasture.

John Ward and Doug Zipperer 20130414

Devil's Garden Bird Park  provides guided custom birding tours for the public, but the Zipperers extended us the courtesy of lending us an extra Ranger all-terrain vehicle so that we could travel cross-country if necessary. 

Watching the cranes at DGBP 4-20130414

Fireweed was readily located, foraging with a flock of Sandhill Cranes near the entrance road.

Whooping Crane Number 16-12 4-20130414

Sandhills and Whooping Crane no 16 20130414

A Crested Caracara posed on a fence post.

Crested Caracara 20130414

Many Eastern Meadowlarks sang in the prairie.

Eastern Meadowlark 20130414

Red-shouldered Hawks were conspicuously present.

Red-shouldered Hawk 3-20130414

As we approached a beautiful native Cabbage Palm-Live Oak Hammock, Swallow-tailed Kites wheeled overhead.

Swallow-tailed Kite 20130414

Inside the hammock, a pair of Barred Owls flew towards us, most likely because their newly-fledged young were hidden deeper in the trees. We did not advance, but watched the owls as they called "Who cooks for you?".

Barred Owl 20130414

We returned to J-Seven, where John Ward guided us on a tour of wonderfully varied habitats. Two newly-fledged Bald Eagles flew up in front of us.

Bald Eagle juveniles 20130414

A little while later they returned to their nest to feed.

Bald Eagle juveniles at nest 20130414

An adult eagle flew high overhead.

Bald Eagle adult in flight 20130414

In a well-concealed nest, two Red-shouldered Hawk chicks waited to be fed.

Red-shouldered Hawk chicks 20130414

Red-shouldered Hawk nest 20130414

Several pairs of Burrowing Owls nested in berms on the grazing land.

Burrowing Owls 20130414

Burrowing Owls 2-20130414

Glossy Ibises foraged in the wet prairies.

Glossy Ibises 20130414

In the wetlands, we had magnificent views of Roseate Spoonbills.

Roseate Spoonbills with Great Egret 20130414

Roseate Spoonbills 20130414

Roseate Spoonbills in flight 20130414

A flock of Wild Turkeys scurried in the tree groves.

Wild Turkey 20130414

A wild sow hurried away with her piglets as we approached.

Wild sow with piglets 20130414

Caracaras nested in the top of a Cabbage Palm.

Crested Caracara in flight 20130414

Crested Caracara 3-20130414

We really worked up an appetite, and Gretchen spread out a delicious lunch for us in the chickee. Their hospitality was overwhelmingly warm! From left to right, Barry Heimlich, John Ward, Gretchen Ward, Helen Harringer, John Abbott, Margaret England, and Rhonda Roff.

Lunch in the Chickee at J-7 2-20130414

Friday, April 12, 2013

Grocery bag birding boots

Our granddaughter Graciela has contributed to my blog in the past, but this week I am letting her take over the whole thing. She wrote it the day after her ninth birthday.

Early this morning when it was still dark my Grandfather said "I'm going out on a bird hike." I asked him if I could come along. He said to make sure with my parents first. I had to knock twice on their door to get their permission. Then I headed to my room to get dressed. My sister Carina and I shared a bedroom while visiting my Grandparents during our Easter break. We live in Illinois.

Gramps was planning to walk all the way over to the heron nests but he looked at the sky and said it looks like it's going to rain. He checked the radar and said we could take his car to a place close to the heron nests. I asked Grandma if I could use her binoculars to see the herons, and she said ok. Gramps helped me to put them on the way Grandma wears them.

It had rained all night and Gramps thought it would be muddy, so he brought grocery bags for Cari and me to use as boots so we would not ruin our new tennis shoes. We got there and Grandpa was right. It was muddy all right.  I am in the teal jacket and my sister is in the pink jacket.
Nietas bird-watching 20130406
Grandpa took this video of the herons just a couple of days before we arrived.
We got to the place where the herons were nesting and at first I couldn't see any. Gramps helped me find the first one. It was like a little gray dot in the green tree. When we got closer we saw three more. This one was higher up in the tree.
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron 2-20130406
Almost immediately we saw a nest with a father bird in it. You can tell by the red legs. 
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron male at nest 9HT 20130406
It was a very pretty Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. Looking through the binoculars his head looked like a gold crown like he was king of the birds.
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron male near nest 9-5 non-HT 20130406
We walked a little ways farther and Gramps said there was another nest. We found three in all.
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron nest 9HT 20130406
We walked down farther and saw a female night heron standing up and in the background saw a male sitting down. Gramps said it was the father sitting on the eggs with the female standing guard.
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron pair incubating nest 13-5 non-HT20130406
One heron didn't have a crown and I didn't know what it was at first. It was a young night heron from last year. Amazing! This one did not have bright red eyes like the adult. 
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron immature 20130406
As I walked along ahead of my Grandfather and my sister I saw something run toward me and then stand very still. I realized it was a deer. "Grandpa, Grandpa, come here. I think I see a deer!" They quickly came and Grandpa thought I was just imagining. Then he saw it WAS a deer. As the deer started running away he quickly took pictures. After it was out of sight he looked at the pictures and saw that it was a baby with spots. As we walked back to the car he said "It was the first one I have seen at this spot."
White-tailed Deer fawn fleeing 20130406
We stopped at the soccer park so that we could use the bathroom. We then walked along the little boardwalk that was there. We saw a few signs and the first one was about the poisonous Cottonmouth snake that can look like a non-poisonous water snake. It also said that when it throws up its head the throat is white, which makes it look like it has cotton on it. Gramps said the white is a warning to stay away.
Nietas at W Pines Soccer Preserve 2-20130406
Then we went to the eagle nest and it was empty. We didn't see the baby eagle or the parents at all because they were teaching the baby how to fly and hunt. Gramps snapped a few pictures anyway.
Bald Eagle nest empty 20130406
Then our last stop was Chapel Trail. We heard a Cardinal singing.
Northern Cardinal 20130406
As we headed along the boardwalk there was a turn, and then I saw a Mourning Dove. Cari said "Where? I can't see it!" So I helped her find it and she said "Oh now I can!"
Mourning Dove 20130406
Farther along the boardwalk we saw a Wood Stork that we had seen earlier from far away. Grandpa said "Look at it put up its wing. It's making shade to attract fish so it can eat them."
Wood Stork 20130406
Two more joined in. One had feathers on its head, the other was bald. The one with feathers was just a baby and the other was a parent. They joined the other Wood Stork to feed.
Wood Stork chick with adult 20130406
The young stork wanted to be fed. He headed over to the Wood Stork that was already there and started pecking at her. The older stork flapped her wings to say "Get your own food!"
Wood Stork chick begging from adult 20130406
One stork flew away but the others stayed behind and fed.
Wood Stork in flight 20130406
Right where we were watching there was a sign on the boardwalk that told about the stork. Funny, it was right behind us!
Wood Stork sign 20130406
We walked to the end of the boardwalk. Just before the end three big blue birds flew up. Grampa said they were Purple Swamphens. This was so exciting! I had never seen Purple Swamphens in my life before! 
Purple Swamphen in flight 2-20130306
I asked Grampa what time it was, and he said it was 9:05. We were supposed to be back home by nine, but I forgot, so Cari and I had to race to get back to the car. But we were late. We had to get ready to go for a baptism in Miami. If you click on the picture you can see how clean our shoes are! 

P.S. Grampa stepped in Bobcat poop!!!
Nietas at Chapel Trail Preserve 20130406