Thursday, February 25, 2016

A three-falcon day

This winter "dry season" has now set rainfall records which exceeded some of the wettest days of summer. According to the South Florida Water Management District, "From November 2015 through January 2016, South Florida averaged 16.22 inches of rain-- the highest total for this three-month period since record keeping began in 1932." 

The moisture has produced some spectacular cloud formations over our local wetlands, such as these mirrored layers on  February 19, 2016:

Dawn to west HDR 20160219

Because prey is diluted into flooded prairies, herons are widely dispersed. The water is generally too deep for Wood Storks, tactile feeders which require greater concentration of prey. Alone on the lake, an immature Little Blue Heron casts a fine reflection (February 20, 2016): 

Little Blue Heron immature 4-20160220

Deer have retreated to higher ground. This yearling White-tailed Deer "button buck" on the levee is the only one I have seen so far this year (February 2, 2016):

White-tailed button buck HDR 20160202

Although I commonly see falcons in our west Miramar (Broward County, Florida) birding patch during the winter, nearly all are American Kestrels. I never tire of photographing this beautiful little raptor. The males have blue wings and those of the larger females are brown.

February 17, 2016:

American Kestrel HDR 20160217

January 9, 2016, perched high atop the emerging leaf spire of a Royal Palm:

American Kestrel 20160109

"Kestrel" refers to a species with the habit of hovering into the wind while searching for prey, as this bird is doing June 3, 2015:

American Kestrel IL20101108

Perhaps my favorite photo captured a male preening on a wire, December 7, 2015:

American Kestrel preening 20151207

Stretching, a kestrel shows off its bright plumage (December 10, 2010):

Kestrel stretching 20101210

Most of the kestrels I see here are males, as shown in the above photos, but here is one of my few of a female American Kestrel. Kestrels take small birds and rodents but subsist mainly upon insects. She is holding a dragonfly in her talons on March 1, 2014:

American Kestrel female 20140301

A second species of falcon, the Merlin, appears rarely but regularly every winter. This one caught a small bird and is in the process of plucking its feathers, February 8, 2016: 

Merlin with prey 04-20160208

I have found it difficult to get very close to a Merlin, so my photos are mostly of poor quality, as is this one, taken November 17, 2013:

Merlin 2-20131117

A lucky photo opportunity occurred on December 11, 2008 when a Merlin was sitting on the fence as I drove into the parking lot of nearby Chapel Trail Nature Preserve in Pembroke Pines:

Merlin 20081211

In flight the American Kestrel appears rather light underneath, while the Merlin is usually heavily marked. Merlin in flight, March 21, 2013:

Merlin in flight 4-20130322

Here a Merlin is in a dramatic confrontation with a Fish Crow (March 28, 2013):

Merlin chases crow 2-20130328

Earlier this winter I saw a large falcon fly over, undoubtedly a Peregrine Falcon, but never got a photo. Then, as I was trying to locate a calling Pileated Woodpecker at the far north end of the wetlands, this large falcon flew in right over my head and briefly settled in a tree only about 100 yards away. I obtained several images in a short burst before it flew off. This is my first image of a local Peregrine, on February 19, 2016:

Peregrine close HDR 20160219

My only other photos of Peregrine Falcons date back to October, 2009 when I last visited Brigantine refuge in New Jersey

 Peregrine Falcon at Brig 20091013

Peregrine Falcon at Brig 20091013

Immature Peregrine Falcon at Brig 20091013

I grew up calling these three falcons Sparrow Hawks, Pigeon Hawks and Duck Hawks. That was their official names when I relied upon my 1939 revision of Roger Tory Peterson's  "The Field Guide to the Birds." My mother gifted it to me around 1943 when I was a Cub Scout, after paying $2.75 for it. According to the Inflation Calculator, it cost $37.66 in 2016 dollars, quite a sacrifice in those days. 

I made a cover for it out of woodgrain-patterned oil cloth, and despite being exposed to sun and rain as well as a few dunks into swampy water, it has survived to this day:

PetersonGuideCover (2)

Peterson 1934 SparrowHawk Image

My 1947 edition of Peterson gave the three species new names in parentheses: Kestrel (now properly called American Kestrel), Merlin and Peregrine Falcon, with footnotes to indicate that these were the "Author's preference." This book also looks the worse for wear, as I started keeping a life list for a Boy Scout merit badge in December, 1948. I logged my first "Sparrow Hawk" on February 21, 1949, species #22.

Peterson Hawk Illustration 1947

Later I learned that these bird-eating falcons were not true hawks at all. Aside the obvious differences in morphology, they differ from other diurnal raptors in the manner in which they dispatch their prey. Eagles, Buteos and Accipiters "knead" victims with their talons, while falcons kill them with their sharp beaks. The American Kestrel is not closely related to the Common Kestrel of Europe, and indeed may be classified nearer to the Eurasian and Australian hobbies. (Ref: Wikipedia)

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Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to GOOD FENCES by Tex (Theresa). 

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart


Please visit the links to all these memes to see some excellent photos on display


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Daily allowance of birds

I take Birdchaser's RDA  (“Recommended Daily Allowance”) of 20 bird species very seriously, and do feel disappointed when I finish my walk in a deficient state. Usually, even when the birding is slow,  I can make it to 20 species just by walking a bit closer to the north end of the trail where I am likely to see European Starlings, Fish Crows and (in winter) American Kestrels. 

Rain coming HDR 20160114

If the winter walk is cut short by threat of rain or other pressing matters I can still pick up 12 to 15 species rather easily. Starting before sunrise, it is possible to "bird by ear." While it is still dark the calls of mockingbirds ring out, and even before sunrise a Carolina Wren may start singing.  

As the sky lightens up the Gray Catbirds start mewing, the Common Grackles begin flying in from the Everglades, and the Boat-tailed Grackles screech their "songs" from the treetops. Blue Jays cry out to warn of my presence, House Wrens chatter a protest as I pass by. Pairs of Red-bellied Woodpeckers call back and forth. An Osprey or Great Egret may fly over. 

Ten species are logged already, of which eight were identified by their sounds. I should be hearing the clear whistled song of a Northern Cardinal, but no. Maybe later I will see one, as they are quite common.

Blue Jay:

Blue Jay 20151102

House Wren:

House Wren 20151018

Soon White Ibises and Ring-billed Gulls fly over, and Black and Turkey Vultures rise up to test the thermals. Eastern Phoebes "chip" and repeatedly slur their names. Fifteen species tallied, and I am only halfway out, almost reaching the lake. 

White Ibis:

White ibis in flight 20160120

Black Vulture:

Black Vulture 20151231

If the lake water were not so high, the mudflats would have hosted many long-legged waders: Snowy Egrets, Tricolored, Green and Little Blue Herons and even a Wood Stork. However, the unusually high water levels have dispersed the fish so that the birds must now range widely and work harder to find them, so I am lucky to pick up even one or two. Only a Great Egret, a species already counted, casts a reflection in still water under early light:

Great Egret before sunrise 3-20160121

Unlucky this morning, I push on, finding the starlings, but the Fish Crows do not give away their presence. My tally is stuck at sixteen, a breeze picks up and the clouds are gathering. 

Gray sky HDR 20160111

There is just enough time to visit the remains of the rookery, where a single lonely Yellow-crowned Night-Heron is an easy find. I recognize this Night-Heron as "Dirty-Crown" by her unusually streaked forehead and signs of old injury to her left leg. She has been present in the rookery for at least three breeding seasons. Last year she and a mate started a nest but abandoned it:

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron Dirty-crown 20160121

Now it is time to get aerobic and walk briskly, as home is more than a mile away. A Mourning Dove straddles a power line, and a cormorant lands in the lake as I hurry by. Only two more species are needed if I am to meet my RDA. Alas, on other winter mornings when I had the leisure to look and listen I did better by finding such "extras" as--

Northern Flicker:

Northern Flicker 4-20160121

Red-shouldered Hawk:

Red-shouldered hawk 01-20151112

American Kestrel:

American Kestrel 3-20160121

Loggerhead Shrike:

Loggerhead Shrike on cypress 20151109


Anhinga 2-20160121

The flowers and berries of Lantana attract buntings:

 Lantana flowers 20160113

An immature Painted Bunting shows only hints of the brilliant color which will emerge  in spring:

Painted Bunting immature male 3-20160120

An adult male Indigo Bunting in winter plumage shows a striking pattern:

Indigo Bunting winter male 20160120

The Indigo Bunting is pestered by a female Painted Bunting as he  probes at a seed head:

Painted and Indigo Buntings 20160120

A White-eyed Vireo sings its winter song::

White-eyed Vireo 20160121

A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher amuses us with its acrobatic actions:

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 4-20160119

Alas, I failed to see even one of the coveted Northern Cardinals:

Cardinal HDR 20151209

The broken fence in front of the Bald Eagle nest has been repaired and there is now a gate with barbed wire on top. Clearly a deterrent to anyone who does not know how to untie his shoes (or the bright red ribbon that serves as the "lock"):

Gate at eagle nest 20160110

= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =

Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to GOOD FENCES by Tex (Theresa). 

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to I Heart Macro by Laura


Please visit the links to all these memes to see some excellent photos on display

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Crops & Clips: Flashback to February, 2013

Once again, this is a monthly reflection on past experiences, memories from three years ago. I will continue the "scavenger hunt" for photos which represent a few selected themes: Living CRITTERS of all kinds, beautiful SKIES and REFLECTIONS, as well as MACRO images and GOOD FENCES. I have met this challenge for the past 13 months in a row, so let's see how far I must travel into the month of February, 2013 to achieve my goal!

We started the month of February back home in Florida, having returned from Illinois late on January 24th in order to host Mary Lou's brother and his daughter and her husband whom we had invited to stay with us before we had to run off in early January to care for our daughter's family when she broke her leg. 

We took our guests to Shark Valley in Everglades National Park, where this American Alligator was basking. I did not dare get close enough for a Macro:

American Alligator 20130202

Although common throughout much of North America, American Robins visit the Florida peninsula only in winter. We see them infrequently, so they are a treat when they do appear. This one is feasting on exotic Brazilian Pepper:

American Robin 20120207 

You may recall that on December 22, 2012, two captive-reared Whooping Crane colts overflew their migration route and appeared in our local wetlands. During our absence, the female ("Tussock" #12-13) injured her foot, became emaciated and had to be captured and transported to Wild Kingdom in Orlando for treatment and rehabilitation. The male (Cypress #12-15) was still here, flying about...

Whooping Crane 12-15 at 0714AM  20130207

...and casting a fine reflection:

Whooping Crane 12-15 at 0837AM  20130207

Here is a brief slide show and video clip that tells more about the Whooping Cranes: 

(if video does not appear in the space below, click on THIS LINK)

Although he had been captive-reared in Wisconsin where great pains had been taken to shield him from human contact, Cypress looked right at home in a small park just across the street from our neighbor Scott's house:
Whooping Crane 15 3-20130205

Indeed, pedestrians and auto traffic seemed not to bother him a bit:

Whooping Crane 15 and pedestrian 20130205

This was cause for great concern as, after being left on his own, he seemed oblivious to the dangers of an urban environment. On February 10, two representatives of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) were dispatched to capture Cypress. They located him with telemetry and did a very professional job of safely retrieving the crane. He was malnourished, but soon recovered and was relocated to a ranch in the Lake Okeechobee area with others of his species.

Shrouded in a white sheet and tempting him with grapes, Jeannette led the crane into an open area where a snare had been placed:

Jeanette in sheet 20130210

The ruse worked, and the crane was trapped by the leg:

Crane is captured 20130210

Ricardo rushed to immobilize the great bird:

Ricardo rushes to assist 20130210

He quickly placed a sock over the crane's head, which immediately quieted him (Photo property of Scott McPherran, used with permission):

Ricardo and Jeannette by Scott 20130210

Within minutes, safely cradled in Jeannette's arms, Cypress was on his way to Orlando. I wish the story had a happy ending, but both cranes subsequently perished out in the wild during the harsh winter (Photo property of Scott McPherran, used with permission):

Scott Crane Photo Jeannette 20120210Ken

The very next day we flew back to Illinois to permit our son-in-law's parents to return home after taking their turn at caring for the household. It was snowy and cold, and the two Tibetan Mastiffs just loved it:

Agramonte and Sagua 20130222

Another canid, this a Coyote, stopped to watch us as we looked for winter sparrows in a cornfield:

Coyote cropped 20130225

Under gray skies, a bank of trees acted as a windbreak for the cropland:

Cornfield HDR 201300302

Among the cornstalk stubs we found American Tree Sparrows...

American Tree Sparrow 4-20130228

...Lapland Longspurs...

Lapland Longspur 20130228

...and Horned Larks:

Horned Lark 20130228

In our daughter's back yard, we saw another robin, this time fluffed up against the cold and falling snow...

American Robin 20130227

...and a hardy "Snowbird," a Dark-eyed Junco:

 Dark-eyed Junco 2-20130227

I had to really search for a shot that could legitimately qualify as a MACRO.

This is the only part of a Tricolored Heron that I could fit into the viewfinder as it roosted on the railing of the boardwalk at Everglades national Park:

Tricolored Heron 20130202

I got even closer to this Gray Squirrel as it refused to climb any higher in the tree in our front yard until it finished eating the acorn:

Eastern Gray Squirrel 20120207

In Illinois later in the month the snow had cleared. This is a better photo of the fence in our daughter's back yard. Behind it is a managed tall grass prairie which is very attractive to wildlife:

Feeder 100 mm 20130218

Two Black-capped Chickadees race each other to the feeders:

Black-capped Chickadees 20130218

This old barn is one of my favored subjects:

Barn HDR 2013024

Just in: Federal authorities to end use of ultralights for whooping crane project

Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to GOOD FENCES by Tex (Theresa). 

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to I Heart Macro by Laura


Please visit the links to all these memes to see some excellent photos on display