Thursday, March 29, 2018

Talking to eBird (#799)

The month of March gave south Florida its coldest temperatures of the year, dipping into the high thirties (~3 degrees Celcius) with one of our several cold (or should I say "cool?") fronts. Rain threatened with their approach but precipitation was sparse...

Gray Sky before sunrise 20180316

...and clear skies followed for several days after the passage of each front:

Red in the morning 20180316

As a teenager working towards a Boy Scout merit badge I started keeping daily logs of bird sightings. I still have my old records, and I enjoy re-living some of the sightings. 

The habit of carrying a pencil and a pocket-sized spiral notebook did not persist for very long, and even the notes I made about first or unusual bird sightings became more and more sketchy, finally deteriorating to date, name of bird and place-- the latter sometimes ambiguous. 

I assumed I would always remember the exact location of "Charlie's Woods," "up at Camp" and "down the river," but now they do not exist. These are the entries for my first ten weeks of birding (Don't the rubber-stamped dates lend an air of authenticity?): 


Stopping to take notes interfered with the joy of birding, and diverted my attention away from the sky and surroundings, possibly depriving me of exciting sightings.

Fast forward to the electronic revolution and the age of eBird. After moving to Florida I readily adapted to using this Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology iPhone application to report my sightings. Yet there remained a certain nuisance factor, as I still had to stop and occupy both hands to punch in and update sightings. 

After all, with snakes and fire ants to contend with, I was already looking down half the time just to walk from place to place. Then I found out that I could use the iPhone speech recognition feature. The eBird filter should be set to species expected locally. This will limit the matches to a single species or a select few.

Start eBird 20161115

eBird app menu

eBird report

Talking to the eBird app requires one to adopt a spartan language style. Use as few syllables as necessary. Speak distinctly, sounding every consonant. If you don't, your "Osprey" becomes "odd spray." Better to say "OHspray."  

Osprey 20160404

Say "Mottled Duck" too fast and it comes out "Matilda,"  or fail to pronounce the "TT" results in "modeled," neither of which matches a species in the eBird database. Ths Mottled Duck is in the company of a Black-necked Stilt (for which "black, hyphen, neck" will suffice for eBird):

Mottled Duck and Black-necked Stilt 03-20170421

A White Ibis must be called a "hWyte ibis" lest it become "what I best." 

White Ibis 20161228

Never use plurals, as they will be translated to possessives such as dove's and sparrow's. Goose matches many species while geese does not. Keep it short and simple. "Egyptian" is all you need to say to call up the Egyptian Goose:

Egyptian Geese courting 20130131

"European" is enough to auto-complete the Starling...

European Starling 01-20170601

...and "Loggerhead" matches the only bird in our local list. The local filter produces the Shrike but ignores the rare Loggerhead Kingbird (and Turtle):

Loggerhead Shrike on Red Maple 20161117

There is no such bird as a bluejay, so say "Blue, Jay:"

Blue Jay 02-20171219

Make sure the syllables are run together where appropriate, so that your "kingfisher" does not summon an unrecognized "King Fisher." Only the Belted Kingfisher is selected in south Florida, while you may need to choose from a list of kingfishers in south Texas or Latin America:

Belted Kingfisher female 20180208

Say "hyphen" when there is one in a bird's name -- it's a "red, hyphen, bell" if you want to report a Red-bellied Woodpecker in Florida (the filter in the western US  would turn up a sapsucker!):

Red-bellied Woodpecker 20091226

Truncating the names actually improves accuracy. For example, "boat, hyphen, tail" is enough for Boat-tailed Grackle:

Boat-tailed Grackle 3-20091129

"Tricolored" will match the Heron by that first name, if you do not improperly add a hyphen:

Tricolored Heron 01-20170605

Don't worry if "Mourning Dove" comes out "Morning Dove," as eBird will automatically spell-check it and enter it properly:

Mourning Doves DPP Processed 20130322

The eBird app's artificial intelligence (AI) also automatically drops the "e" in  "Downey" Woodpecker: 

Downy Woodpecker male 20170223

However, eBird seems to ignore a British flair, and refuses to match your Gray Catbird, which Apple's AI  insists on spelling as "grey," so simply say "catbird," (but not "cat, bird") to enter it correctly:

Gray Catbird 2-20151018

Similarly, to keep the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher from defaulting to unacceptable "grey," simply say "blue, hyphen, letter G."

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 02-20180130

The correct species will pop up if you leave off "Heron" and just say "Great, Blue"...

Great Blue Heron 03-20170207

 ...or "Little, Blue:"

Little Blue Heron 02-20180112

"Red hyphen shoulder" is enough for the Red-shouldered Hawk: 

Red-shouldered Hawks 02-20150222

I could go on and on, but if you haven't used speech recognition with the eBird app, try it and you may like it! This feature also simplifies addition of species comments and other observations about weather and habitat.

Oh, and some bird names, notably "vireo" for me, will never be properly recognized, although "white hyphen letter E" will match with the White-eyed Vireo...

White-eyed Vireo 02-20171018

...and "red hyphen letter R" brings up the Red-eyed Vireo:

Red-eyed Vireo HDR 20160917

If all else fails, go back to punching in the full name or its four-letter banding code, but watch where you step!

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Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Our World Tuesday by Lady Fi

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday) by NC Sue

Linking to ALL SEASONS by Jesh


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


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Cryptic Critters

When I took this photo of a Great Blue Heron and its reflection, I did not know that a deer was watching from the seclusion of the wooded grove on the other side of the water:

 Deer photobombs heron 01-20140915

Sunrise from our back patio:

 Sunrise 20180308

Early one morning, I almost stepped on these three newly hatched Killdeer chicks, huddled at the edge of the gravel track. I had unknowingly walked by their nest many times previously:

Three Kildeer Chicks 2-20090416

Killdeer eggs are also very hard to find. This courageous female stood defiantly in my way. At first I did not see the four eggs in the nest she was protecting, just to the right in this photo:

Killdeer at nest PowerShot 01-20170617

Another incubating Killdeer is nearly invisible:

Killdeer incubating 5-20160529

It's hard to believe that a male Painted Bunting might be included among the "Cryptic Critters" I have encountered: 

Painted Bunting 02-20170301

Yet, here he is in a Brazilian Pepper, almost overlooked against the green leaves, red berries and blue sky:

Painted Bunting male camo 20170130

The bright green female Painted Bunting can sometimes be very hard to find among the leaves:

Painted Bunting female 02-20170219

A Wilson's Snipe is very easy to overlook amid the grass and sedges. It is in the center of this photo at the edge of the water (click to enlarge):

Couldn't find the snipe 20121202

See it better in this crop of the above photo:

Wilson's Snipe found 20121202

It is nice when one comes out into the open:

Wilson's Snipe 20130102

I almost did not see this Limpkin, standing right behind a White Ibis:

Limpkin and White Ibis 20160221

This is a clearer view of a Limpkin hunting for Apple Snails:

Limpkin hunting 20120219

This American Bittern is watching me intently:

American Bittern 4-20180104

A study of stealth in slow motion, the bittern can disappear right before one's eyes:

Bittern stepping 20110123

American Bittern 3-20110123

American Bittern 20110323

So, the lesson in all of this is to tread lightly and watch where you step. Fire ant nests are often not this easy to find:



When birding in marshy areas I spend almost as much time looking down at my next footfall as looking up. I followed a little muddy deer trail and nearly stepped on something even more dangerous. I did not see it as I was taking photos of scenery and distant falcons. Then, as I turned to walk back to the main path, I saw something next to my foot which looked like a small yellow insect fluttering its wings-- an odd dragonfly or moth? No, as I bent down for a closer look I saw it was the vibrating yellow tail of a juvenile venomous Cottonmouth water moccasin .

It was in a defensive posture. When I moved, it opened its jaws wide and straight up. However the lining of its mouth was not white as is the case of adult Cottonmouths.

It was so well camouflaged that I could not see it in the viewfinder. The muddy foot path is on the left in this photo and I took several shots just to be sure one of them included the snake. It is on the right side of the path just beneath the very center of this picture (click to enlarge).

Cottonmouth Moccasin 02-20180214

Its yellow tail is near the upper left corner of this photo:

Cottonmouth Moccasin 01-20180214

It is only about 10-12 inches long. Here its mouth is partly open:

Cottonmouth Moccasin 03-20180214

Baby Cottonmouths are born alive. Unlike adults, they are colorfully banded and "...juveniles have bright-yellow tail tips that they use as a caudal lure to attract prey. They undulate the tail tip slowly back and forth to lure prey, such as frogs, within striking distance." Ref:

Here is a better photo of a "Yellow-tail" which I took back in 2011. It was sitting out in the open in the middle of a muddy path:

Cottonmouth 20111001

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Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Our World Tuesday by Lady Fi

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday) by NC Sue

Linking to ALL SEASONS by Jesh


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


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Fish fry for the long-legged waders

Before sunrise on March 9, clouds hung low over the lake:

Clouds over lake 3-20180309

The rising Sun briefly broke through the cloud cover to illuminate the Pine Bank on the far end of the Wet Prarie, but rain never materialized:

Pine Bank at dawn 02-20180309

During times of high water, the lake spills over into the Wet Prairie. Normally the water begins to recede after the end of summer. Lake levels have been unusually high for the past three years.

The entire prairie was still inundated in December, 2016

Wet prairie on foggy morning 20161208

In October of 2017 the lake remained fairly high, but the water was confined to a slough created by an ATV trail.

Margin of wet prairie 20171031

On March 6th the lakeside marshes had nearly dried up, trapping many fishes which did not escape before being blocked off from the lake. The concentration of prey attracted herons, opossums, Bobcats, raccoons and even venomous Cottonmouth Water Moccasins, which subsist largely on carrion:

Water low at Wet Prairie 20180307

It was only a few minutes after sunrise, and the sun had not yet touched a little residual pool in the Wet Prairie. It was teeming with tiny life forms as evidenced by the ripples they created on the surface of the water.

I assumed that the larger fish had long ago escaped back into the lake or met their fate with predators and scavengers. Behind, they left their eggs and offspring to await an inevitable fate. It will probably be entirely dry within a week.

As I scanned the prairie, an immature Little Blue Heron flew in and settled atop a small Pond Cypress tree:

Little Blue Heron roosting 06-20180306

The heron's plumage might look as if soiled, but it is transitioning from its white immature plumage to the dark blue of an adult:

Little Blue Heron roosting 03-20180306

The "Little Blue" flew down to the pool, now appearing as liquid gold,
reflecting the winter foliage in warm light. The heron immediately spotted its prey:

Little Blue Heron immature 06-20180306

Little Blue Heron immature 05-20180306

I recognized its catch as the tiny fry of the introduced Mayan Cichlid, one of the most common fish species in south Florida canals and lakes:

Little Blue Heron immature 04-20180306

This fish is noted as a protective parent, defending its eggs and fry for several weeks, until their offspring grow to about 2 cm (3/4 inch).  These babies appear to be a bit larger and were probably abandoned when the adults either escaped to open water or perished  in the isolated pools or were taken by predators.

Little Blue Heron immature 02-20180306

Native to Mexico and Central America, Mayan Cichlids are a good food source and most likely escaped from south Florida fish farms about 30-40 years ago.They can survive low oxygen levels but succumb if temperatures drop to near freezing.

A Tricolored Heron suddenly flew in to join in the feast:

Tricolored Heron 04-20180306

Tricolored Heron 03-20180306

Tricolored Heron 01-20180306

Tricolored Heron 02-20180306

The two species fed together amicably:

Tricolored and Little Blue Herons 01-20180306

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Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Our World Tuesday by Lady Fi

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday) by NC Sue

Linking to ALL SEASONS by Jesh


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