Saturday, May 31, 2014

Catching up with migration

Although our granddaughter Graciela summed up her Florida visit very nicely in her recent guest blog, I had to cut her words short before she really got into describing the sights in Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Sanibel Island, Florida. 

Here are a few images from this marvelous place. Unfortunately each of our three stops in the Refuge occurred at time of high or incoming tide, not good timing for wading birds. Yet, we got to see...

...Roseate Spoonbills...

Roseate Spoonbills 2-20140422

...Least Sandpipers...

Least Sandpipers 20140422

...Semiplamated Plovers...

Semipalmated Plovers 20140422

...Spotted Sandpipers (this one was stalking a crab)...

Spotted Sandpiper stalking 20140422

...and a stunning Northern Cardinal.

Northern Cardinal 2-20140422

OK, I'm boring you but I must share this photo of a mischievous Fish Crow caught in the act of raiding a bicyclist's camera bag.

Fish Crow mischief 20140422

I obtained a mug shot of the culprit.

Fish Crow 20140422

Upon returning to the wetlands next to our Florida home I captured a pleasant image of three young White-tailed Deer. The wind was in my favor and they stared at me for a long time before bolting off (click on the image for a slide show of many more photos in my FLICKR collection).

Whitail Deer 2 bucks 1 doe 2-20140427

There followed our unplanned trip to Arizona for the memorial Mass of Celebration of the  life of Mary Lou's brother, who passed away on Easter Sunday. From Phoenix we flew directly to our second home in NE Illinois. Migration in Florida had been rather slow in our neighborhood, so I looked forward to catching up with the northbound songbirds.

Listen to the bird sounds in this brief video clip, along the shore of the Fox River in Batavia, Illinois. If it does not display in the space below, visit this link

Blue Violets, the State Flower of Illinois, were blooming profusely.

Blue Violet 2-20140505

We were greeted by numerous Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, a species that had migrated away from Florida during the the previous weeks. This one looked a bit perturbed by my presence.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 20140505

Yellow-rumped Warblers had exchanged their drab plumage for spring colors.

Yellow-rumped Warbler 20140506

At nearby Nelson Lake/Dick Young Forest Preserve the Yellow Warblers were singing profusely.

Yellow Warbler 20140507

This Yellow Warbler inspected the undersides of the leaves in search of insects.

Yellow Warbler upside-down 2-20140507

Wilson's Warblers wore their black skull caps.

Wilson's Warbler 20140510

Baltimore Orioles showed off their blazing colors.

Baltimore Oriole 20140512

Black-throated Green Warblers passed through in good numbers.

Black-throated Green Warbler 6-20140506

Boldly patterned Black-and-White Warblers did head stands as they explored the twigs for insect prey.

Black-and-White Warbler 3-20140506

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks filled the air with persistent warbling song.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak 20140504

Flocks of Bobolinks appeared in the prairies. This male sang and displayed to a female hidden in the grass below.

Bobolink display 20140521 

The three primary colors were represented, first by the Scarlet Tanagers...

Scarlet Tanager 20140520

...then by the Indigo Buntings...

Indigo Bunting 20140520

...and finally by the American Goldfinches.

American Goldfinch 2-20140521

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Another Bald Eagle nest near home

This Bald Eagle nest is only about one mile from our second home in North Aurora, Illinois. The nest tree is on private land, located in the middle of the athletic field parking lot on the campus of Mooseheart Child City and School. 

The marked parking spaces go right up to the trunk of the tree. This seems not to have bothered the eagles, as they have returned to the same nest for a second breeding season. This year there are three eaglets. The oldest appears to be about 4-5 weeks old.

Coincidentally, as is the case with the Pembroke Pines nest which was the first active nest recorded in Broward County (Florida), this nest is the first known active nest in Kane County (Illinois). 

Last year the pair relocated from their first nest, also on the Mooseheart campus about a half mile away. That nest, first occupied in 2009, was destroyed in a wind storm in 2012. Happily both eaglets were successfully rehabilitated and released to the wild. 

It is such a thrill to have these two "pioneer" nests so close to each of our homes.

Bald Eagle nest 20140521

The tree is leaning quite a bit. The Field House and stadium bleachers are at the far end of the parking lot. The adult is perched in the tree to the far right and can be seen in the enlarged view (click on photo).

Eagle Nest and Parking Lot pano 120140521

Here is a better view of the adult standing guard at the nest.

Bald Eagle standing guard Mooseheart 20140521

The nest tree is about 1/3 of the way from the left margin of the photo below. The athletic field is to the right. Click on the photo for a larger view. You can see the nest with the adult standing guard.

Eagle Nest and Field House pano 20140521

The Fox River runs along just to the east of this property. Here the oldest eaglet eyes its parent.

Bald Eagle and eaglet Mooseheart 20140521

All three eaglets are visible in this photo. The oldest is noticeably larger and more active.

Mooseheart three eaglets 20140521

The parent bird flew away for about 45 minutes, and then took a perch between me and the nest tree.

Bald Eagle Mooseheart 6-20140521

Bald Eagle Mooseheart 2-20140521

Bald Eagle Mooseheart 4-20140521

Newspaper articles: 

2010 was the second year the pair nested here.

In 2012, following this article, the nest was destroyed in a storm and the two eaglets were grounded and found to be malnourished.

Story and video about recovery of the grounded nestlings, construction of an artificial nest (which failed) and their eventual rehabilitation and successful release.

If video does not display below this space, please visit this link:

Saturday, May 17, 2014

This Week's Crops & Clips: Palm Warbler

Near our south Florida home we have lots of birds that are big and showy, such as egrets and other herons, as well as ibises, storks, gallinules and exotic ducks and geese. Medium-sized birds like pigeons, doves, blackbirds and grackles also abound the year round. House Sparrows hang out in the more urbanized areas. However we do not see very many small birds except during migration. In winter, Palm Warblers arrive to our neighborhood in droves and are the most common dooryard birds. They constantly wag their tails, much more persistently than do the Prairie Warblers which are also fairly common in the wetlands during the winter.

The Palm Warbler's long legs are an adaptation to terrestrial foraging habits, and their coloration is somber brown, causing many people to mistake them for sparrows. There are two subspecies, an eastern "Yellow Palm Warbler" and a western dull form. They occupy separate breeding areas in Canada and parts of northernmost US. The eastern subspecies has entirely yellow underparts, while in the western form the yellow is less extensive, confined to the undertail coverts and sometimes throat, while its belly is whitish or only slightly tinged with yellow. In breeding plumage their brown caps turn to a bright chestnut color.

Here is a typical western Palm Warbler I photographed on February 19, 2012 as it was enjoying a big meal.

Palm Warbler (Dendroica palmarum) with worm 20120219

Their migration patterns are interesting, as the western birds winter in the southeastern Atlantic coastal US while the eastern subspecies spend the winter along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. They actually cross paths during their migratory journeys. Nearly all of the Palm Warblers that winter in southeastern  Florida represent the western group.  

Our winter visitors show some variation in coloration.

Palm Warbler on Road 20081109

This Palm Warbler showed a rather bright reddish cap, on February 24, 2012:

Palm Warbler 3-20120224

Another local mid-winter Palm Warbler appeared to be unusually bright on November 29, 2009. Its all-yellow underparts identify it as an eastern "Yellow Palm Warbler." Over the past 10 years I have only seen three or four of this subspecies in our neighborhood:

Yellow Palm Warbler 2-20091129

As spring approaches the winter visitors brighten up a bit and many begin to look more like the eastern Yellow Palm Warblers. This photo was taken in south Florida on March 2, 2009. It probably is the common western subspecies, as its breast and belly are not entirely suffused with bright yellow. Yet the difference between the two is subtle, making this a close call, especially in the field:

Palm Warbler Bright 20090402

This bird is characteristic of the eastern subspecies, photographed in Illinois, May 1, 2012:

Palm Warbler 20120501

Many "Yellow Palm Warblers" were passing through in early May when we arrived at our second home in NE Illinois:

Palm Warbler eastern 20140504

Palm Warbler eastern 2-20140504

Yellow Palm Warbler  in NE Illinois, May 12, 2014. Although pale, the yellow color suffuses its entire undersides:

Yellow Palm Warbler 20140512

Another representative of the eastern subspecies, seen on May 14, 2014:

Yellow Palm Warbler 20140514

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Corkscrew Swamp and Sanibel Island (Guest Blog)

Our daughter's family visited us from Illinois during the Easter recess, and our 10 year old granddaughter Graciela was once again very anxious to compose another blog post. (See links to her previous contributions here). It turned into more of a journal and was many pages long. Wishing not to interfere with the creative license I had bestowed, I simply got her permission to cut it off just into the main part of her story, which was our visit to Ding Darling National Refuge during our stay on Sanibel Island on the west (Gulf) coast of Florida. She selected her illustrations from my many RAW files, and it took me some time to get to a desktop computer to edit and convert her chosen ones.

On Easter Sunday we received the sad news that Mary Lou's brother had passed away in Arizona. Larry was my classmate in high school and we attended college together. He introduced me to his sister and "fixed me up" with her for a couple of double dates. We did eventually hit it off and now Mary Lou and I have been married for nearly 54 years! We detoured to Phoenix for his funeral and then flew on to Illinois. Suffice it to say that between house guests and traveling I have fallen hopelessly behind in correspondence but will try to catch up. Ken

The following is the excerpt in Graciela's own words. Click on photos for more views and more birds from Sanibel:

When my family flew from our home in Illinois to Florida for spring break I had no idea of the adventure that was waiting for me. As soon as we got settled my Grandfather and I went out in the back yard to look for Mediterranean Geckos, but instead we found a Cane Toad. It was bigger than any toad I had ever seen before. Grandpa took a bit of dead palm leaf and played with the toad to make the poison come out, then took pictures of the toad's white poison dripping from special glands behind the eyes. 

Cane Toad 2-20140416

Later Grandpa had me guess where the Cane Toad came from and I said "Cuba." He said "Right on first try." He also told me what Cane Toads are used for. Someone brought Cane Toads to America to kill bugs in the sugar cane and they ended up taking over, even killing some of the native toads. 

Cane Toad 20140416

Two days later we went to Bass Pro Shop to get supplies for our trip to Sanibel Island. There were two big water tanks with Florida fish. The big one had a waterfall and the skins of animals that people killed, even a model of a Bald Eagle. There was also a snake that I identified as a Burmese Python but Grandpa first thought it was a rattlesnake with the tail broken off by someone. When he took a closer look he realized it was a Burmese Python! There were three kinds of gar: the biggest one was Florida Gar, and the smallest was the Long-nosed Gar and the one in the middle was the Alligator Gar. The neatest thing was when we went to the restaurant that had the second fish tank I spotted FOUR iguanas begging for food from people at the outdoor part of the restaurant. 

Green Iguanas 4 at Bass Pro Shop 2-20140418

Green Iguanas 4 at Bass Pro Shop 20140418

The next day we drove to Sanibel Island. We stopped at Ave Maria for lunch, then went to Corkscrew Swamp. That place had a nature hike that was two miles long along a boardwalk. We saw a family of Barred Owls. My Dad noticed that the father owl had something tied around its ankle. We figured it was only moss.

Barred Owl foot 20140421

The father owl did something that seriously surprised us. He got off his perch and flew real low right over our heads and some other tourists. I think he was just trying to lead us away from his baby and his wife. Maybe he didn't like us standing there taking pictures.


Barred Owl 2-20140421


Barred Owl adult 3-20140421


Barred Owl juvenile 20140421

After walking some more we came to Lettuce Lakes. We tried to find any alligators but didn't succeed at first. But we did notice dragonflies and little fish that were trying to eat them when they sat on the floating duckweed. As we passed by Lettuce Lakes my Dad noticed a stork that was fishing in a little clearing semi-hidden by some trees. At the right angle I could see it. Then three Wood Storks flew overhead.

Wood Stork 20140421

A little down the boardwalk we saw people standing very still. They were trying not to scare a Great Egret that was standing on the boardwalk railing. Nobody wanted to walk on because they wanted to get a picture of the bird without anyone scaring him. Then I heard some people say that they wanted to get a picture of the bird flying so I said that I would do it. I carefully crept up to him and crouched down so he would think that I would be ready to pounce on him like a bobcat who wanted a yummy bird for dinner. The egret flew and perched nearby. 

Great Egret 20140421

As I walked by the egret I heard him screaming at me. He wasn't too happy and I knew it so I said "Whether you like it or not!" 

Then we noticed a "teen-aged" alligator just stitting in some mud. He was two feet long and had just left the care of his mother, shown in this picture. There was also a little alligator that  looked like a baby.

American Alligator 20140421

One of the other tourists noticed some birds that were fishing behind some reeds in a large clearing a little ways up the boardwalk. This one was a Little Blue Heron.

Little Blue Heron on Water Lettuce 20140421

We saw a female Anhinga drying her wings in the sun. Some people thought she was fishing too.

Anhinga female 20140421

A male Anhinga was on the other side of the boardwalk doing the exact same thing as his mate.

Anhinga male 20140421

There was a little telescope set up to show the Anhinga nest. I could only see two babies, but Grandpa got three in the picture.

Anhingas juvenile 20140421

A Black-crowned Night-Heron was roosting in the shadows.

Black-crowned Night-Heron 20140421

When we finished walking we were hot and thirsty. We got back to the car and continued driving to Sanibel Island.  My father and I brought fishing poles and tackle to try and catch sharks along the beach. By the time we got there it was very dark and I couldn't  see anything but when I looked up I saw the Big Dipper and Orion's belt. Dad didn't get any bites but I caught a sea anenome that ingested my bait and my hook!

The next day we headed down to the beach again. My sister Carina and I brought our boogie boards with us. 

Cari Papi Garci 20140423

Graci surfing 20140423

Our parents found lots of sand dollars. A girl asked where we got them and Mom showed her family and they found some too. Later my Mom noticed dolphins swimming and jumping near us.

Dolphin 20130423

Our parents held our boogie boards for us to stand on. I fell on Dad's hat twice. I dented the front and the back.So he called me the "hat denter."

Graci standing 20140423

Papi was able to get very close to this pelican before it flew away.

Brown Pelican 20140423

When we were fishing again that day our Mom caught a piece of seaweed that had the strangest ever sea creature on it. It had the wings of a Sting Ray, a little tail and the head of a Hammerhead Shark. We dug a little pool and filled it with water to hold the creature.  Mom took a video of it swimming on its back! After some research we found it was a kind of Sea Slug. *

On our last day, at the Ding Darling sanctuary we saw a family of Manatees, two parents and one child. Most of the time they were underwater and they rarely poked their noses above the water.

Florida Manatee 20140424

Gramps really wanted me to see this bird called a Reddish Egret, and we saw one right away next to a cormorant.

Reddish Egret 20140422

There were lots of White Pelicans and a flock of sandpipers with two Black-bellied Plovers in the mix.

White Pelicans 20140424

Willets and Black-bellied Plovers:

Black-bellied Plovers with Willets 20140422

There were also lots of fiddler crabs.

Fiddler Crab 20140422

* I later learned that the "hammerhead" appearance is created by the oral tentacles and that the eyes are posterior to the tentacles. It is swimming normally, not on its back, and the remnant of a shell is visible though its skin. This species of sea slug is actually named "sea hare" because of the supposed resemblance of its tentacles to a rabbit's ears. It expelled large quantities of purple ink when we captured it. The following is from the Web page of the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce, Florida.  Ken

"Sooty sea hares are perhaps the most commonly encountered sea hare in east central Florida.  They are robust, soft-bodied mollusks that reach 8 - 10 inches in length.  Body color is variable, but typically ranges from red-brown or red-purple to lighter shades of brown.  Mottled white to yellowish splotches and spots cover the body surface.  A pair of  lateral, wing-like parapodia is used for swimming.  Tentacle-like rhinophores, located on top of head, originate directly behind the eyes.  Oral tentacles flare laterally at the terminal mouth.  A flattened internal shell, partially embedded in the mantle,  is visible along the dorsal surface over the visceral mass.   Eye is small and dark, with the area around the eye generally white."