Thursday, October 30, 2014

Crops & Clips: Anhinga

My weekly potpourri gathered from the archives ties together several memes and features the Anhinga, also called Water Turkey and Snake-bird.

Green Cay wetlands, West Palm Beach County, Florida, February 20, 2011

Anhinga with trophy 20110220

Our back yard lake, Miramar, Florida, May 24, 2009

Anhinga 20090524

Anhinga drying its wings on decoy that keeps our lawn irrigation intake off the bottom of our lake, Miramar, Florida, August 22, 2014.

Anhinga on Decoy 3-20140822

My Mother told me to "never eat anything bigger than my head." (If video fails to appear in the space below, CLICK HERE )

This Anhinga brings home a trophy, but not without incident. (If video fails to appear in the space below, CLICK HERE)

My favorite Anhinga-watching places--

Chapel Trail Nature Preserve, Pembroke Pines, Florida, May 28, 2014...

Chapel Trail boardwalk 2-20140528

...and Green Cay wetlands in West Palm Beach County, March 18, 2012

Green Cay boardwalk HDR 91-20120318




GOOD FENCES by Tex (Theresa). 



Saturday, October 25, 2014

A colorful birding "shoulder season"

Our stay in northeastern Illinois began near the end of warbler migration, so we were mostly in the "shoulder season" of birding, a more quiet time before the northern bird species start to arrive. The pair of Bald Eagles that nested last year near our Illinois home will not lay their eggs until early spring, but they were roosting in their nest tree:
Bald Eagles at Mooseheart nest 2-20140930

Bald Eagle 20141017
By the time we were ready to return home to Florida at the end of October, the winter sparrows began showing up in fresh plumage.

White-throated Sparrows sported their golden lores;
White-throated Sparrow 2-20141009

White-throated Sparrow 3-20141009
White-crowned Sparrows are notably larger than their white-throated relatives and breed on the Canadian tundra. This one suddenly appeared on the deck of our daughter's home and posed very cooperatively:
White-crowned Sparrow 02-20141010
The immature White-crowned Sparrow has a buffy crown but this does not detract from its beauty:
White-crowned Sparrow 07-20141010
Song Sparrows are seen all year, but the local breeders fly south in the winter and are replaced by migrants from the north:
Song Sparrow 04-20141008
Larger and more richly colored Fox Sparrows followed:
Fox Sparrow 2-20141021
Ruby-crowned Kinglets move through after most of the warblers have departed, and will linger until cold weather sets in: 
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2-20141009
Kinglets are active feeders, "hover-gleaning" for insects in the tips of branches:
Ruby-crowned Kinglet hover-gleaning 20141009
Hardy (Slate-colored) Dark-eyed Juncos, commonly called "Snow Birds," will remain all winter:
Dark-eyed Junco 20141009

Dark-eyed Junco 20141023
Canada Geese arrived by the thousands in V-formation flocks, joining the permanent resident population. This video captures the sense of being immersed in the wild echoing calls of flocks of geese as they fly overhead. Many settled into the small pond in Jones Meadow Park, very close to our condo. Try to ignore the passing airliner! (If video does not display in the space below, please visit this link.)

Canada Geese 20141017 Canada Geese landing 20141007 Canada Goose in flight 20141007 These migrating geese come in two distinctly recognizable sizes. The smaller ones actually represent a separate species, the Cackling Goose, which breeds high in the arctic tundra and spends winter more to the south. The four in the foreground exhibit not only smaller size, but short necks, rounder heads and stubbier bills: Cackling Geese 20141022 Three Canada Geese are joined by a Pied-billed Grebe: Canada Geese and Pied-billed Grebe 20141007The number and variety of birds was down, but in contrast to their muted plumage, the fall colors were superb. This is something that we really miss in Florida, where the Wet Season simply transitions into the Dry Season without fanfare around the middle of October. At Hawk's Bluff Park near our daughter's home in Batavia, Illinois this magnificent Oak provided copper highlights: Hawks Bluff Park 3-20141016 The Cottonwoods along Mill Creek added gold to the palette: Mill Creek 20141016 Hawks Bluff Park 20141016 In early October we had already experienced a few snow flurries, so we were a bit apprehensive about our daughter's invitation to join her family for a long mid-October weekend over 200 miles to the north in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. The city straddles the namesake inlet and bay that connects Lake Michigan with Green Bay. We were pleasantly surprised to find cloudless skies and fair temperatures. From the lawn of our condo on the bay, sunset was serene and colorful despite the clear sky: Sturgeon Bay sunset 4-20141011 At a local farm, Sugar Maples were in fine color: Autumn color at The Farm in Sturgeon Bay WI 20141012 Large flocks of migrating ducks followed Sturgeon Bay southward. This flock consisted of over 20 Redheads with a Red-breasted Merganser taking up the lead position.Ducks in flight2 20141012 Ducks in flight Merganser 20141012 Hundreds of Horned Grebes foraged just offshore. This was the first time I ever was able to photograph this species, though the images suffered because the sun was behind the birds: Horned Grebe 20141012 These two Mallard drakes, though seen at a distance, were in better light: Mallard drakes in flight 2-20141012

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Crops & Clips: Snipe hunt

My weekly potpourri gathered from the archives features... a snipe hunt.


Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico, June 21, 2010

Acoma Pueblo Kiva HDR 2-20100621



CRITTER: Wiley Coyotes

Hiding behind the fence and thinks we can't see him.

Buffalo Lake NWR, Texas, November 12, 2008

Coyote 2008_11_12 Buffalo Lake 104

My goodness, those stripes on its back-- an extinct Tasmanian Tiger?

Nelson Lake, Batavia Illinois, August 13, 2009:

Coyote 20090813

Curious about us, out in the open on February 25, 2013 in Sugar Grove, illinois:

Coyote cropped 20130225

Spooky-- just outside our cabin door!

Estes Park, Colorado, June 15, 2010:

Coyote 2-20100615




GOOD FENCES by Tex (Theresa). 



That's a snipe right in the middle of the photo, reflected in the water. Where's Waldo? Keep looking!

Miramar, Florida, February 2, 2013:

Couldn't find the snipe 20121202

Gave up? Here's Waldo!

Wilson's Snipe found 20121202

Better view of Wilson's Snipe, Miramar, Florida, January 2, 2013:

Wilson's Snipe 6-20130102

Now that you have had practice, find the American Bittern right in front of your nose, March 23, 2011 at Chapel Trail Nature Center, Pembroke Pines, Florida:

Find the bittern 20110323

I will finish with an easy one, its smaller cousin, a Least Bittern, about to join the reflected reeds on September 5, 2009 at Green Cay Wetlands, West Palm Beach County, Florida:

Least Bittern 20090905


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Wood Storks: Missing but not Endangered

South Florida contains the historic breeding grounds of Wood Storks, but the species has had almost total reproductive failure here over the past four seasons. Ironically, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), under pressure from developers and agricultural interests who are largely responsible for the loss of their habitat, proposed to remove them from the protection of the Endangered Species Act. In June 2014, USFWS officially upgraded their status to "Threatened." 

Adult Wood Stork in our south Florida back yard, August 19, 2014:

Wood Stork 20140819

While it is true that Wood Storks have extended their breeding range northward into Georgia and the Carolinas, their status in Florida is critical. This is somewhat analogous to the situation of the Bald Eagle, which was almost extirpated from the lower 48 States but continued to thrive in Alaska where DDT poisoning was not a threat. I had hoped that the USFWS would grant the stork continued Federal Endangered protection under the Act as a "distinct population segment" (DPS) in southeastern Florida while reclassifying it to Threatened status in the other States. My hopes were not realized.  

Breeding success of Wood Storks in the historic Everglades of south Florida depends upon a complicated and delicate balance between water levels and prey abundance. Young storks must become self-sufficient before the rainy season which normally begins in late May or early June. Nesting normally begins as the wet season ends, around late November and it takes four months for their young to gain independence. In recent years, unusual weather patterns and human activity have greatly altered the hydrological cycle of the Everglades.

When we first moved to south Florida from New Mexico in 2004, we commonly saw immature Wood Storks on our back yard lake.  They were often accompanied by one or two parents, but sometimes the youngsters flocked together. They appeared in greatest numbers in the fall and early winter, such as these two in November, 2009.

Two Immature Storks 20091125

Water levels must be high during the early nesting period for two important reasons. High water protects the storks' nests, encouraging alligators and discouraging terrestrial predators such as Raccoons, Gray Foxes and Bobcats. It also nourishes an abundance of fish to eventually serve as food for the storks when it is most needed. Receding water concentrates the fish, making it easier for parents and young birds to catch them. As tactile rather than sight feeders, Wood Storks depend upon high prey concentrations for successful foraging. 

As this adult stork demonstrates, water that is just deep enough to cover their bill but lets them keep their eyes above water is ideal. Jaws open, the bird is ready to clamp down on any prey that ventures between them. The stork stirs its foot and extends its wing to provide shade where the fish will tend to retreat, thus luring them into the trap.

Wood Stork 2-20140211

This short video illustrates the foraging habits of our backyard Wood Stork.

If you do not see it in the space below, visit this link    

Drainage, filling of sloughs and development have altered the natural cycle, and aberrant rainfall patterns have complicated this balance. Summer drought or early onset of the wet season produce adverse conditions. Prolonged drought kills off the fish and their populations may take more than a year to recover even if water conditions are favorable. The 2012 wet season had much greater rainfall than normal, which was very favorable, but heavy rains during late winter reversed the drying process and dispersed prey, accounting for their failure to produce young during 2013.

The role of invasive Burmese Pythons in nesting failure is presently uncertain, but these top predators are known to feed on storks and have caused a massive decrease in the small mammal population. They even eat deer and alligators. Running out of rabbits and raccoons, they may increasingly prey on larger bird species (Ref: Snakes on the 'Glades).

Immature Wood Storks were particularly abundant here during the winter of 2009-10.These four were part of a larger assembly in our local wetlands in January 2010.

Stork Cluster 20100113

Young storks seemed to be everywhere:

Stork Tree 20100118

Restoration projects are helping to reestablish  the historic hydrologic conditions of the Everglades, but Wood Storks have gradually delayed the onset of nesting to January or even as late as March, producing nestlings into the wet season, leading to abandonment of the nests and/or loss of the young birds. This is because parents may need to fly 50 miles or more to find suitable foraging areas, resulting in fewer feedings and starvation of the nestlings. Even when water levels are adequate over the wet prairies, storks must find their prey in sloughs and canals where the the fish converge. 

During the winter of 2009-10, South Florida and the Everglades experienced a severe spell of cold weather. The jet stream descended and persisted for nearly 2 weeks. On January 11, 2010, air temperatures in Miami reached 35° F (1.7° C), but dipped below 28.4° F (-2° C) at the Royal Palm Station in Everglades National Park and below 26.6° F (-3° C) in Everglades City. For 12 consecutive days, air temperatures did not go above 51.8° F (11.5° C) -- (Ref: Recover: 2014 System Status Report-- Greater Everglades). This had a devastating effect upon fish in estuarine and wetland habitats. Canals and sloughs were littered with fish carcasses, a temporary boon for carrion-eaters but a population setback for storks that was worsened by subsequent drought. 

Venemous Cottonmouth Water Moccasins actually may favor carrion over live food. Here one is eating a fish killed by the cold spell: 

Cottonmouth Attacks Dead Fish 20100118

Beginning in the summer of 2010, adult Wood Storks remained rather common the year around. This was a bad sign. When they should have been tending to nests and offspring, pairs of storks were working to save their own lives. Despite actively watching for them, I saw no more immature storks in our back yard for the next three winters. During that period I photographed one in January, 2012, in nearby Long Key Nature Center:

Wood Stork immature 3-20120109

Then, in November of 2012 I saw only one locally. Note the pale bill of this immature stork:

Wood Stork immature in flight 20121125

Finally, in April, 2013 at nearby Chapel Trail wetlands a pair of adults with one young bird showed up:

Wood Storks 20130406

The juvenile bird begged to be fed:

Wood Stork chick begging from adult 20130406

Since then, no youngsters have visited our lake, though adults have been occasionally present during 2014. A single adult Wood Stork, possibly but not certainly the same bird, did shown up almost every day during January and February, but then disappeared. During the months of August through October, no more than one or two Wood Storks were reported to eBird at scattered sites in far south Florida (Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties). A small colony of this species did breed successfully in West Palm Beach County just to our north.

What is the significance of these changes in abundance? Was the presence of a single adult an indication that its mate was then incubating or tending young birds? It had periods of absence-- was it flying back to feed its chicks? Is this actually a good omen? I hoped so, but by now I would have hoped to see some immature storks at our lake.

Alarmingly, there are now proposals to further weaken the Endangered Species Act by removing its protection for species that sustain a population, however small, in any area of the nation despite widespread annihilation over the rest of its range. Such a change would never have allowed the Bald Eagle to recover from its near extinction in the lower 48 states because they continued to flourish in Alaska, where DDT had not yet entered the food chain.  A draconian legislative proposal would automatically remove a species from the lists of endangered and threatened species after five years, even if it has not recovered, and require consent of state governors and a joint resolution of Congress before a species can be listed as threatened or endangered. 

My hopes were buoyed by glimmers of "Good News" items, which confirmed my suspicion that Wood Storks were indeed nesting somewhere this year:

March 16 2014

Corkscrew's Wood Storks are Growing Up 

Wood storks returned to their famed Corkscrew nesting grounds starting in December for the first time in five years. Wood storks are endangered, and an indicator of wetland health. Their return tells us the natural system in Southwest Florida still has the capacity to grow wood storks. This group of chicks are around four weeks old, with dark fuzzy heads and a white topknot They are at the life stage in which the birds are ravenous, requiring both adults to search for enough fish to sustain their hungry brood. It can take about 440 pounds of small fish to feed a family of four wood storks. 

May 19, 2014

Corkscrew Wood Stork sanctuary sees first nests in years

Wood stork news in South Florida is good, but it could have been better.

For the first time since 2009, the endangered birds nested Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, historically the largest wood stork breeding colony in North America: Storks built 200 successful nests and fledged 300 chicks; in the Everglades, wood storks built about 1,400 nests.

"Nesting occurred early, and the vast majority of the chicks left the nest with several weeks between fledging and the start of rainy season," sanctuary director Jason Lauritsen said. "So they stand a good chance of making to adult breeding age. That's the goal. You can count nests and fledglings, but if they don't make it to be breeders, it doesn't matter."

Nesting success for wood storks depends on a rainfall formula:

* Step 1: Heavy rains in the summer fill wetlands in and around Corkscrew, so fish, crawfish and other good wood stork food breed in high numbers.

* Step 2: The area gets little rain in the fall and winter, so the wetlands "dry down," and the stork food becomes highly concentrated in small, shallow pools. That makes prey easy to catch, so adult storks can get plenty to feed themselves and their chicks.

But sometimes the formula breaks down...

...Although Corkscrew's wood stork nesting season was a success, the numbers were comparatively low.

In 2009, the last time wood storks nested in Corkscrew, 1,120 nests produced 2,570 fledglings.

Even that number is small compared to the wood stork nests of more than 30 years ago.

Since 1958, the first year Corkscrew wood stork nesting data were recorded, the Top 5 nesting years were all before 1980: 1961 (6,000 nests, 17,000 fledglings), 1960 (4,760 nests, 13,724 fledglings), 1959 and 1979 (4,505 nests, 8,910 fledglings) and 1967 (3,680 nests, 7,350 fledglings)... (Read More)

More Wood Stork News:

All need to act to stop loss of wood storks in the Everglades (July 9, 2014)

Wood Storks at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Wood Stork's Endangered Status Is Up In The Air

Press Statement: Audubon's Jason Lauritsen on USFWS Intent to Downlist Wood Storks

Petition of the Florida Homebuilders Association to Reclassify the Wood Stork Under the Endangered Species Act