Saturday, December 21, 2013

When birding gets slow...

For the past few weeks it has been relatively quiet on our local south Florida birding patch. Numbers and varieties of birds have decreased for several reasons. 

The rainy season extended into November, maintaining high water levels in the wetlands. This disperses prey species. Sight feeders such as herons and egrets are not concentrated in the canals. Mudflats are not yet exposed to attract sandpipers. Tactile feeders, including Wood Storks and ibises cannot forage effectively in water that is deeper than the length of their bills. 

This time of year, mud flats should be exposed along the edge of the lake. The prolonged high water levels have encouraged the accumulation of periphyton, an essential element of the food chain in the Everglades ecosystem. A complex mix of "algae, cyanobacteria, invertebrates. secretions, and detritus attached to submerged surfaces," periphyton serves as a food source for fish and invertebrates. It improves water quality by adding oxygen and recycling nutrients and nitrogen from agricultural pollutants. Read more about periphyton here.

Note the mat of periphyton floating on the surface.

Periphyton floating at edge of lake 20131215

The arrival of the Yellow-rumped Warblers signaled the end of warbler migration.  

Yellow-rumped Warbler 20131209

Sparrows, goldfinches, waxwings and flocks of robins have not yet appeared, with a few exceptions. While they overwinter in our area, their local abundance varies greatly. 

Earlier this fall, we had  brief visits by three sparrow species, but none chose to linger more than a day or two. 

I sighted a Lincoln's Sparrow only once, on October 16.

Lincoln's Sparrow 20131016

Ten days later, two White-crowned Sparrows showed up and lingered for a week.

White-crowned Sparrow 2-20131026

Another one-day wonder was this Swamp Sparrow, on December 4. 

Swamp Sparrow PICASA 2-20131204

A single American Robin appeared on December 5. This is odd, as they usually arrive in large flocks more towards the middle of winter.

American Robin 20131205

Disturbance of the land has increased. As related earlier, we lost our "Fake Hammock" with its five mature Florida Trema trees due to vandalism and fire caused by the gang of off-road vehicle riders. In addition, a new roadway is being pushed through adjacent to the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron rookery.

The rookery occupies the trees on the opposite side of this canal-- a peaceful enough scene, looking south, ...

Heron rookery south end 20131208

...but the view from the same spot, looking north, reveals the construction.

Heron rookery construction north end 20131208

The noise and human activitiy caused by excavation and grading, milling and paving is having its toll on the rookery. Although the herons will not be courting and building their nests until late March, I often find a few roosting there all year 'round. Since construction started, I have twice seen one Black-crowned Night-Heron at the location, but only once this lone Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. It appears to be retching, perhaps attempting to disgorge some undigestible prey remains, but nothing ever came out of its mouth..

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron retching 20131208

I stopped visiting the rookery area except for weekends, when the workers and machinery are inactive. 

Construction next to heron rookery 20131117

A pair of crow-sized Pileated Woodpeckers still occupy the remnant of woodland that has not been killed by herbicides in preparation for the roadway extension.

The male sports a red "mustache."

Pileated Woodpecker male 20131208

He drummed atop a wooden utility pole, attracting the female.

Pileated Woodpecker pair 2-20131208

They provided me with some of my few flight shots of Pileated Woodpeckers.

Pileated Woodpecker in flight 3-20131208

Pileated Woodpecker in flight 2-20131208

On these quiet days I tend to stay in one place, with the rising sun behind me, and allow the wildlife to reach a baseline state of equilibrium. A favorite spot is next to one of the few remaining fruiting Trema trees. On one occasion the loud and brief shriek of a Blue Jay broke the silence as other birds dove for cover. The cause of their distress was evident a second later as an immature Sharp-shinned Hawk flew in rapidly and perched right in front of me.

Sharp-shinned Hawk 20131123 

A few days later, in the same tree, a Northern Flicker provided me with a very nice photo opportunity.

Northern Flicker male 20131217

A Gray Catbird perched nearby.

Gray Catbird 3-20131217

In an adjacent exotic Brazilian Pepper tree, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher eyed me.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 2-20131206

An immature Red-shouldered Hawk rested on the dried-out flower of a Royal Palm.

Red-shouldered Hawk 20131208

From an upper branch, a male Boat-tailed Grackle's iridescent coat reflected all the colors of the rainbow.

Boat-tailed Grackle 20131208

Just as the birding slowed down, the butterflies increased.

I found two butterfly species that were new to my patch, the Common Buckeye...

Common Buckeye 2-20131203

... and a Silver-banded Hairstreak.

Silverbanded Hairstreak - Chlorostrymon simaethis 20131203

Monarch butterflies are declining in number due to loss of habitat containing milkweed, host for their larvae. Their winter home in Mexico is also being destroyed. I could not resist this shot of one against the sky.

Monarch butterfly on Lantana 20131208


  1. I received this comment from Anni I'd Rather B Birdin-- referring to a blog I posted on Google+. I have noted that I received very few comments after linking to Google Plus, and as was the case with Anni, when I clicked on links to posts that were linked to Google Plus I was directed to the writer's profile rather than the blog itself. I had to look for the blog among the other posts, very inconvenient. Further, i understood that linking to Google Plus automatically posted the blog on my home page but this was not the case. Had to do it manually. So I just un-linked my blog from Google Plus and now ALL my comments have disappeared! Go figure-- I've had enough of the Google bells and whistles. Here is Anni's note:

    I can't seem to leave a comment unless I'm logged in with Google Plus Profile. That's odd. Did you change your blog over to Google Plus Commenting only? If I don't leave comments any longer, then you'll understand that I stopped using Google Plus for several reasons...mainly because Google Plus now has special effects and other photo implementation I don't care for at all. I switched off Google Plus to get rid of the 'monopoly' they're creating and went back to just blogger only.

    Awesome photos, and the woodpecker you've shared in photo is one I'd LOVE to see!!

  2. First - I am glad you have changed back from Google+ - On your last post I tried to comment and couldn't!
    Beautiful birds and very interesting to see the changes that human activity is causing around your local "patch". Close settlement seldom leaves much room for birds and wildlife I find. Around here we can at least approach our local Council and since the wetlands are Ramsar listed they have to listen!
    Happy Holidays to you and your family.

  3. Great series. Merry Christmas.

  4. All beautiful birds, I hope your bird watching area survives the construction. Love the Pileated especially the in flight photos. Merry Christmas!

  5. Great collection of birds and photos. The Pileated Woodie is my favorite.

    Wishing you and your family a very merry Christmas!

  6. SO much to view and enjoy here; thanks for sharing and best wishes

  7. Hi Ken, another well documented post, very informative. First off you do have some wonderful local birds, you have a migration trap that will always offer alternatives to the regulars throughout the year. Secondly I hope the human disturbance is kept to a minimum and things don't change too much.... thirdly even at a low level area as in and around my garden I have unintentionally upset the Sparrows territory by building a conservatory, it ends just before their favoured bush, and then they seldom visited. However I have recently noticed that they have moved to the neighbours bush next door so a happy ending in some way.

    I have enjoyed your posts and will continue to check in 2014. Have a great Christmas and 2014


  8. Hi Ken, first of all google+ is rubbish, If I look into that type of site I find it hard to navigate round, and end up leaving it.
    Back to birding, a great set of pics, love the Pecker. When I was over there in March, I went looking for that species in Matherson hammock, but no luck.
    Hope you are having a good Christmas
    All the best Goron.

  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  10. Thanks, all for visiting my blog despite the problems navigating through Google Plus. I have discontinued the link but am still trying to figure out how to keep my posts from continuing to point to Google+ instead of directly to the chosen post. I do agree with Gordon and Anni that this has been why so few people left comments after I liked up. Best wishes to all this holiday season!

  11. I hope 2014 proves to be a good year for you and yours.

  12. Thats not a bad selection for a quiet time! Love the woodpeckers!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  13. Your photos are always a treat! Birding is slow here in central Ontario too but things ought to pick up soon.

  14. thank you for sharing such AMAZING closeups .these are truly eye holder

    loved the sparrow looked familiar
    red bird is not seen here


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