Saturday, August 30, 2014

Good birds come in threes

The weather in south Florida was particularly hot and humid this August. Normally we would have been at our second home in Illinois, where the temperature has not gone over 90 degrees (F) for over a month. However, our trip to Alaska and other conflicts changed our normal pattern. Some mornings we have found it nearly impossible to brave the mosquito swarms that appear when the prevailing winds blow in from the Everglades to our west. Yet, the  past couple of weeks did provide some birding surprises.

We already described the first surprise, the appearance of the first "Great White Heron" subspecies of the Great Blue Heron on our lake. It continued to show up over a 9 day period, but as of this writing has not returned.

One evening the Great White Heron tarried in our back yard until a half hour after sunset. We thought it might spend the night. These photos, taken through the back patio window, are of poor quality but they capture the evening light and some nice poses as the heron engaged in some last-minute foraging along the lake margin.

.Great White Heron 1909 PM 20140816

Great White Heron 1905 PM 20140816

In mid-month the winds started moving in from the north, and we had several rain-free (and almost mosquito-free) mornings, allowing us to resume the habit of taking our mile walk on the gravel road into the wetlands next to our home. As usual, Mary Lou got way up ahead of me as I stopped to click a few sunrise shots. 

The water level of Harbour Lake mitigation area was high, discouraging and dispersing waders.

Harbour Lakes sunrise 20140806

A Great Egret flew overhead.

Great Egret on Saharan dust 20140806

Butterflies were still dormant, soaking up the first rays before taking off, making them easy subjects. This is an almost perfect specimen of a White Peacock:

White Peacock 20140825

Construction of this roadway began about 12 years ago. It was designed as a 4 lane divided parkway, to connect our neighborhood (which is now isolated by the protected wetlands to the west) with points to the north and US-27, about 2 miles west of our home. Presently we must drive an extra 5 miles east, north and finally west just to access the highway. Problems in acquiring a small portion of the right-of-way and the economic downturn in 2008 delayed the project indefinitely, to our joy. Once completed it will forever change the character of the wild lands it invades.

As I ambled along the path on the edge of the gravel road, a small bird burst up from the roadside grass,only about 2 yards away, near this point on the right side of the road.

Miramar Parkway extension HDR 20130525

It was a female Common Ground-Dove, which retreated to the branches of a nearby tree.

Common Ground-Dove 2-20140817

I suspected that the bird had been tending a nest and I had surprised her. Not wanting to cause alarm, I made note of the location and continued walking along the road. On the way back I gave the area a wider berth, but kept a close eye on the spot from which the bird had flown. As I passed by it flew up once again. 

The next morning I decided to find the nest. Keeping on the opposite side of the road, I slowly moved to within about 5 yards of the location, when my shadow startled the bird into flight. Using my telephoto lens, I scrutinized the immediate surroundings and spotted the nest, which held two very round white eggs.

Common Ground-Dove nest 20140817

The nest, no more than a flimsy platform of grass stems, was well-concealed, on the ground at the base of a broad-leafed weed among the foot-high grasses. There has never been any doubt that this species breeds locally, but according to the Breeding Bird Survey coordinator, it was the first documented finding of a Common Ground-Dove nest in Broward County.

Nest of Common Ground-Dove 20140817

Although this path is commonly used by hikers, dog walkers and cyclists, I took care not to use it and also not to back-track my steps to its vicinity, but rather take my photos and continue along. I monitored the nest daily for the next nine days, hoping to note the day of hatching and possibly follow the development of the hatchlings. They are born blind and helpless but grow rapidly and are flight-ready at about 11 days of age. 

Unfortunately, the landscapers began their task of "beautifying" the roadway. Their mowers had stopped only several yards short of the nest site, but when I checked the nest the next day it was empty. I believe that scavengers such as Opossums or Raccoons were attracted by the availability of rodents and snakes killed by the mowers, and they happened across the nest. It mattered little, because later that day the "landscrapers" finished their job, cutting the vegetation down to the bare ground and leaving no trace of the nest.

Common Ground-Dove nest site 20140927

Following this disappointing outcome, I was heartened by a third "good thing." On a brief visit to nearby Chapel Trail Nature Preserve, we found a newly-arrived flock of over a dozen migrating Eastern Kingbirds. Among them were several first-year birds with brown backs and dark face and heads. Adults are all black above. The younger birds somewhat resemble the Gray Kingbird, but are smaller and have shorter bills. Gray Kingbirds are usually found in coastal areas, and we are 18 miles west of the Atlantic Ocean.

Eastern Kingbird - Tyrannus tyrannus 20140824

On our way home from Chapel Trail we stopped at a rain puddle in front of a school. It sometimes yielded waders, as I reported earlier in Life in a Puddlebut we found none. Exiting the driveway we had to wait for traffic, and I looked up and saw this bird on a wire directly overhead. Compare its bill size with that of the Eastern Kingbird, and note its black mask.

Gray Kingbird -Tyrannus dominicensis 06-20140824

It was the first Gray Kingbird I have ever found in the western suburbs of Broward County, Florida. When I checked the eBird data I learned there had been only three reported sightings of this species in the County's inland corridor west of I-75 and east of US-27 during the past 10 years. 

It eyed a passing dragonfly, but decided not to chase it.

Gray Kingbird -Tyrannus dominicensis 03-20140824

Gray Kingbird -Tyrannus dominicensis 04-20140824

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Crops & Clips: Chipping Sparrow on a fence

CRITTER: On a fence

This Chipping Sparrow posed on our daughter's back fence

Batavia, Illinois on May 9, 2013

Chipping Sparrow 4-20120509

Sharing this photo on GOOD FENCES by Tex (Theresa), 

Linking to CAMERA CRITTERS, and



REFLECTIONS: Black bird and still blue water

Red-winged Blackbird

April 6, 2014, Miramar Florida

Red-winged Blackbird reflection 20140406



SKYWATCH: False sunrise on western horizon

Sun rising in the west??? Actually this is a mirrored sunrise attributed to dust in the atmosphere. It causes a reflection of the rising sun rays which, though parallel like railroad tracks, appear to converge on the opposite horizon. Taken at 7:22 Am on October 20, 2012 in Miramar, Florida. 

Harbour Lake Mirrored Sunrise in the west 20121020

Linking to Skywatch Friday 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

An unusual (and big) white wading bird

We are accustomed to seeing white wading birds in our south Florida back yard lake. The most common of these is the White Ibis. Adults are mostly white, with black wingtips.

Not herons but rather more closely related to spoonbills, they have strikingly red bill and legs.

 White Ibis 2-20110330

During mating season, around the middle of winter, the males squabble to establish dominance.

White Ibis squabble 20121230

Tactile feeders, the ibis probes into the mud and clamps down upon prey. This one just caught a crayfish.

Ibis With Crayfish 20090906

Egrets are also common. Great Egrets might be seen at any time. They are sight feeders and either wait patiently or stalk for prey such as small fish, crustaceans and insects. 

Great Egret 2-20091129

They are quite wary, and I find it difficult to obtain a closeup. Note the long bright orange-yellow bill and all-black legs.

Great Egret 20100930

The smaller Snowy Egret appears sporadically. A  more restless feeder, it quickly traverses the shoreline in search of food. Its bill is black and its "golden slippers" contrast with mostly black legs. It startles prey by stirring the water with its yellow feet.

Snowy Egret 20100524

Even smaller is the Cattle Egret, distinguished by its short yellow bill and dark legs. Rather than hunting in the water, it searches our garden for insects and lizards.

Cattle Egret 2-20101222

The Cattle Egret develops rusty plumes on its head and breast during breeding season.

Cattle Egret 20090118

We usually have Little Blue Herons on the lake, but most are dark adults. During their first year they are white, and we must take a closer look to postively identify them. Deliberate hunters, they seem to be near-sighted as they walk slowly with their bills almost touching the water (or the grass, as this one is after a dragonfly). Greenish legs and a light bill with a dark tip are distinctive features.

Little Blue Heron Immature 3-20090529

Less common, especially in recent years, is the Wood Stork. A tactile feeder, it slowly moves along with half-open bill. Like the Snowy Egret, it stirs the water with its feet, which are bubble-gum pink.

Wood Stork Stirring Water 20081026

Rare indeed is the visitor which occasioned this post. Look closely and compare it with the white waders described above. 

Great White Heron 2-20140812

It is a "Great White Heron,"  a subspecies of the Great Blue Heron. Admittedly, I almost passed it off as a Great Egret when I first saw it across the lake. However it seemed bulkier and had a habit of roosting in one spot for a long time, even up to an hour, so I took a closer look. This was my first photo, which confirmed my suspicions.

Great White Heron 2-20140811

Known to breed in Cuba and some of the Caribbean Islands as well as the Yucatan Peninsula and on islands off the coast of Venezuela, the Great White Heron's North American range is almost exclusively limited to the Florida Keys and the tip of the Florida south of Miami. 

Its upper mandible is dark, contrasting with the orange lower bill, quite identical to the common "blue" form of the Great Blue Heron.This bird's thighs are light, and its lower legs are darker but not black.

Great White Heron (Ardea_herodias_occidentalis) 20140811

Great White Heron portrait 20140811

This bird was earlier considered to be a variant color morph of the nominate Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias herodias), but is actually a distinct subspecies, Ardea herodias occidentalis. The blue and white subspecies occasionally interbreed. 

Since Great Egrets are sometimes misidentified as Great White Herons, I had the unusual opportunity to photograph both individually from the same distance, walking across a lawn on the opposite side of the lake. Both photos were taken at a range of 140 meters and nearly the same angle. They exhibit the larger size and more robust body of the Great White Heron.

Great White Heron at 140 meters:

Great White Heron walking at 140 meters 20140818

Great Egret at 140 meters:

 Great Egret walking at 140 meters 20140818 

The Great White Heron prefers coastal waters and rarely ventures north of its habitual range, but has been documented along the Atlantic into New England and even Canada. Inland sightings are quite rare. Our home is 18 miles away from the ocean, and this was the first one to visit our yard.

The Great White Heron spent much time on our back lawn, remaining for three days straight, then after a two day absence it reappeared. It was so close that even after I backed away I could not fit the entire bird in the video frame!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Crops & Clips: Song Sparrow on barbed wire

My weekly potpourri gathered from the archives features...


Song Sparrow on barbed wire
March 14, 2010, Batavia Illinois

Song Sparrow 20100314

Sharing this photo on GOOD FENCES by Tex (Theresa), 

Linking to CAMERA CRITTERS, and




Skies over Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico
June 21, 2010

Acoma Pueblo street scene HDR EDIT 20100621

Linking to Skywatch Friday 



Great Egret in full sunlight
January 27, 2014 in Miramar, Florida

Great Egret reflection 20140127


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Back from Alaska

We flew from Anchorage to Illinois, arriving after midnight. It was dark, and the days were shorter. The next morning we learned that a local group who sponsored exchange students from Spain were suddenly in need of host families. They were in an "immersion" English language program. Our daughter agreed to house one of the girls, and we offered the guest suite of our condo to the group's chaperon, a teacher from north of Madrid.

Returning to O'Hare Airport only two days later, we held signs to help the arriving students find us in the welcoming crowd. Celia, a delightful high school student from Madrid who spoke perfect English, stayed with our daughter, 

Celia arrives from Spain 20140630

Our granddaughters loved having a new "big sister" for a few weeks.

Celia Cari Graci at Portillos 20140709

Fernando, the teacher, was great company. Both were treated like family.

Jackie Fernando 20140709

We soon found time to check out the local Bald Eagle nest at Mooseheart. I could find only two of the three eaglets. They appear big enough to have already fledged.

Bald Eagle juvenile 3-20140705

Bald Eagle juvenile 20140705

Amid all the excitement of showing our guests the sights of the big city, we were able to walk in nearby Hawk's Bluff Park.

Hawk's Bluff Park Batavia IL 2-20140708

The birds were rather quiet, as breeding season is just about over for most species, and they are undergoing molt. Gray Catbirds were active.

Gray Catbird 20140708

A Song Sparrow seemed interested in our presence.

Song Sparrow 20140608

Blue Jays alerted the world to our intrusion.

Blue Jay 20140708

A Twelve-spotted Skimmer was on the lookout for the numerous mosquitoes.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer 20140608

Great Egrets explored the lily pads on the Fox River.

Great Egret 2-20140705

Common Yellowthroats sang vigorously in the grasslands.

Common Yellowthroat 7-20140704

The Japanese Garden at Fabyan Park in Geneva reminded me of an Impressionist painting, so that is how I processed my photo (click on photo to enlarge it).

Japanese Garden in Fabyan FP Impressionist 20140705

There is no need to travel far and wide to find beauty, but I'm sure glad I cruised to Alaska one more time!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Crops & Clips:Tibetan Mastiff

Tibetan Mastiff pup Agramonte at three months of age with our Illinois granddaughters, Easter Sunday, 2008.



Agramonte waiting for the girls to catch up with him at the Mill Creek fishing platform, Batavia, Illinois

Agramonte at Mill Creek

At two years of age, Agramonte has grown into his feet!

Agramonte 28 NOV 09



and GOOD FENCES by Tex (Theresa). 


SKYWATCH: Mediterranean

Basilica Santa Croce Florence, Italy, August 10, 2011

Basilica Santa Croce Florence HDR 20110810.

Mediterranean Sunset

Mediterranean sunset HDR 20110810

Linking to Skywatch Friday 



Still mornings on the lake produce the "good" reflections that can turn a bad shot of a Roseate Spoonbill into a "keeper."

Roseate Spoonbill 20091227

Too early and too dark for much detail, but take another look at this Great Egret.

Great Egret reflection 20110218

Some can be so "good" that you can't tell which side of this photo of a Black Skimmer is "up."

Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger) 2-20100215

The second kind can really spoil your shot, like this one of a Bobcat that I saw before sunrise in our neighborhood south Florida wetlands. I forgot that I had the flash turned on. This is the worst of the "bad."

Bobcat 3-20110721

I turned off the flash, which rewarded me with a poor but recognizable portrait.

Bobcat 20110721

Of course, nothing beats natural light!

Bobcat cub BW 20111125

Some reflections are more like photobombs. They unexpectedly spoil a beautiful scene but on "reflection," they actually can add interest to the photo, as does the bartender in the observation deck of our train from Denali to Anchorage, Alaska.

Bartender at work on Wilderness Express 20140623