Thursday, November 28, 2019

A Bitter(n) lesson in the birding patch

An advantage of walking in the same old patch, day after day, is that you get to know so many features of the landscape-- the clump of leaves which resemble a roosting hawk, the shaggy stump which can be mistaken for a deer, the old woodpecker holes... You notice when there is something new-- a discarded soft drink can, a broken tree limb, fresh tracks or scat... 

One morning I saw the unmistakable form of an American Bittern hiding in the sedges of the wet prairie:

American Bittern 20180104

The next day, to my surprise, it was still hiding in nearly the same spot:

Fake Bittern 20180112

Not wishing to disturb it, I casually took its picture and walked on. However, an hour later the bittern was there again! Now look at the second photo more closely. This little clump of reeds  will not fool me again!

Another day a small mammal (or maybe an owl?), was out in the open, watching me. It looked exotic, resembling a cross between a fox and a squirrel:

Foxy Squirell NOT 20190930

I cautiously crept closer, and this is what I saw, a coconut!:

 Foxy Squirell NOT 2-20190930

You are sensitive to changes in the soundscape-- the order in which various birds first call or sing in the morning and the seasonal variations in the mix and character of their sounds, the roar of flies crowded on the carcass of a dead animal or fresh scat, the hum of a swarm of bees:

Honeybee swarm 20140325

Your nose detects the opening of the flowers-- the sweet honeysuckle scent of Ligustrum, the strong camphor smell of Melaleuca flowers, the turpentine-like odor when you brush against the  Brazilian Pepper shrubs, the citrus smell of Lantana flowers which seems to be somewhat more or less pleasant depending upon their color...  As a kid I could detect the musky odor when the Garter Snakes emerged from their dens in early spring to gather in squirming copulatory masses, and the lemony sweetness of a colony of yellow Citronella ants in mid-summer (they smelled so good that I even tasted one-- to my surprise it was disgustingly bitter!).   

Honeybees and ants on fresh Ligustrum flowers:

Honeybees and ants on Ligustrum 20190814

Northern Harriers use their acute vision and hearing to pinpoint prey hidden in the grass. They sweep back and forth over a grassy area almost as if they are following a planned GPS grid. They have been said to notice even minor changes in the areas they scan, implying they have excellent spatial memory. 

This reminds me of digital subtraction technology which superimposes two images separated by a time interval and subtracts all the identical overlapping background areas to display only objects which are new, moved or have changed. It is useful in aerial photography to allow the tax assessor to easily find alterations in structures which may modify their size or shape, in astronomy to detect new or moving heavenly bodies, for armed forces to discover recently placed weapons or fortifications, and in medicine, when using the same technique, serial digital X-rays or scans may track changes in blood vessels, the progression of tumors or healing of fractures. 

Northern Harrier:

Northern Harrier 5-20131210

Is the harrier's small brain capable of such a feat? In a certain sense, walking a patch resembles this phenomenon. Humans have the power to ignore the familiar-- the cracks in the sidewalk, cooking and tobacco odors at home, even the voice of a spouse! While I plead no contest to the latter, one winter morning I was guilty of not hearing the distinct calls of an American Robin in our local south Florida wetlands. Since it is a bird which I heard so often back in Illinois, my brain was slow to alert me to the fact that the bird was misplaced, as robins are infrequent and unpredictable visitors. Luckily I became aware and I even obtained photos.   

American Robin:

American Robin 02-10280217

Some of the changes in the landscape are unwelcome. These are often noted on Monday morning, after weekend trespassers on "wreckreational " vehicles (ATVs, ORVs, mud bikes, swamp buggies and jeeps) have violated the pristine areas of the preserve:

ATV damage to wet prairie 20180708

This is all that was left of my dark and shady sit-spot under the canopy of the "Fake Hammock" after trees were cut and bonfires roared, thanks to the ATV crowd. Since this photo was taken back in 2013, tall Phragmites grass has completely  invaded the sun-drenched spot:

Remains of fake hammock 2-200130329

Destruction in Fake Hammock 3-20120424

Sometimes ugly spots can be beautified, as when Painted Buntings bathe in fresh Mud Buggy tracks:

Painted Bunting bathing 2-20131222

Painted Bunting 2-20131222

A Killdeer forages at a muddy rut:

Killdeer 20111122

The antics of the partying off-road drivers can actually be welcomed when they practice doing "donuts" in the marsh. They create artificial "alligator holes" which retain water and attract wildlife, such as this Northern Waterthrush which is following a venomous Water Moccasin along the "shore" of just such a depression (Ophidiophobia warning):

Northern Waterthrush 20131008

Northern Waterthrush with Cottonmouth 06-20131008
Northern Waterthrush with Cottonmouth 09-20131008

Hurricane Irma struck in October, 2017. It decimated flowering plants and killed almost an entire generation of local butterflies, adults, larvae and eggs. Before the storm they flocked to the Lantana patch. At times one could not distinguish between flowers and butterflies:

Lakeside Lantana HDR 20150821

The Lantanas recovered slowly and some bloomed about  six months later, but  few butterflies visited. This past summer I could go a week without seeing more than one or two Gulf Fritillaries...

:Gulf Fririllary on Lantana 03-20191001

... or Julia heliconians. This was the first female Julia I saw in over a month (September 4, 2019):

Julia heliconian female 20190904

Julias are now becoming more common this is a male visiting the Lantanas on September 21, 2019: :

Julia heliconian male 01-20190921

As if the fury of Hurricane Irma's wind were not enough, vandals set fire to wind-felled trees (February, 2018):

Fury of wind and fire 01-20180207

Paradoxically, the fire created a new but temporary habitat. The opening in the wetlands attracted prey for a Louisiana Waterthrush which remained there last autumn for an unprecedented three month stay as it probed among charred tree trunks and branches (October, 2018):

Louisiana Waterthrush 05-20181001

Louisiana Waterthrush 02-20181005

Louisiana Waterthrush 08-20181018

The fire improved sight distance, making it easier to see and photograph wildlife, such as this Gray Squirrel...

Gray Squirrel 01-20190902

...and a  Pileated Woodpecker which  was  attracted to the dead and dying trees:

Pileated Woodpecker female 20181117

This White-tailed Deer buck failed to notice me as he entered the edge of the burned area:

White-tailed Deer buck portrait 06-20181022

The burned area is quickly recovering as invasive Melaleuca and Australian Pines sprout and flourish. Some have thrust up more than 15 feet during the two years since the  fire. This photo shows the area about one year later (August 28, 2018):

Sturgeon Moon over burn area 04-20180828

Here is the scene on October 24, 2019. Open water is already obscured by dense vegetation:

Burn area at sunrise 20191024 

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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, November 21, 2019

Two small falcons

Most winters we have hosted two or three American Kestrels in our local wetlands preserve. Each has occupied rather distinct foraging/hunting territories along the 1.5 mile stretch of gravel road which runs through the area. All have been males, although some females have passed through. I always welcome their arrival and try to determine the extent of their territories, which they sometimes defend if another kestrel ventures near them. They have had favored roosts, usually high on a utility pole, pine tree or Royal Palm apical shoot. 

The kestrel which occupies the southernmost territory almost always may be found sitting atop the spire of the emerging leaf of one of the Royal Palms which line the road near the entrance. It eats mostly insects, mainly grasshoppers and dragonflies, but also takes amphibians and reptiles such as small lizards, frogs and snakes. It also catches small rodents and songbirds:

American Kestrel 01-20191113

American Kestrel 4-20160202

American Kestrel 20160109

A Northern Mockingbird competes with a kestrel for a dominant perch:

Northern Mockingbird attacks American Kestrel 00-20180201

Male searching for insects among the fruit of a Royal Palm

American Kestrel male on Royal Palm 01-20180205

The other two kestrels tend to range either to the north or south of the lake which is about 3/4 mile north into the preserve. They often come into conflict along the lake shore, with the one whose territory is invaded most deeply usually chasing the other one away from the lake area. The central territory provides a variety of roosts from which its occupant can survey the the stretch of gravel road and its surroundings:

Power distribution lines run along this part of the track. Photos taken on wires disturb some purists, but I will settle for whatever view I can capture:

American Kestrel, male 980x400 20151113

American Kestrel male 3-20151220

American Kestrel preening 20151207

Small trees along the lake shore are also favored:

American Kestrel HDR 20160217

In the northernmost territory, I often find its occupant high on a lightning arrestor pole next to an electrical power sub-station:

American Kestrel 20171118

It also selects the top of one of the tallest trees nearby:

American Kestrel 04-20191106

This particular territory was recently visited by another small falcon, a Merlin, an efficient predator of small to medium-sized birds:

Merlin 04-20191101
With an average length of about 12 in (31 cm) and wingspan of 25 in (64 cm) the Merlin is slightly larger than the American Kestrel, North America's smallest falcon, which is 10.5 in (27 cm) long and has wings which spread to 23 in (58 cm). The Merlin has a bulkier, muscular appearance and its flight is energetic and direct, while the kestrel seems rather delicate and more buoyant in flight.

American Kestrel in flight:

American Kestrel 03-20180218


Merlin in flight 02-20191031

For several days, both falcons co-existed without signs of conflict:

American Kestrel and Merlin 01-20191101

The Merlin fanned its tail, possibly as a sign of aggression towards a grackle which landed (fearlessly) in an adjacent tree:

Merlin 4200K 01-20191101

The male kestrel's plumage is especially colorful. His steel-blue wings contrast with copper-red tail and topside:

American Kestrel in flight 20180113

American Kestrel male 04-20191101

American Kestrel IL20101108

Nearly all the American Kestrels I have seen and photographed have been males. The female is also quite beautifully marked with barred brown wing coverts and matching back and tail:

American Kestrel female 2-20140301

There was a full Beaver Moon in mid-November as we started  walking out about 40 minutes before sunrise. As usual, my child bride MaryLou was out ahead of me with her flashlight. (62 years ago, on November 22, 1957 I popped the question and we became engaged to marry). The Royal palms stand out against the dark sky in the southernmost winter territory of the kestrel:

Full Beaver Moon COREL 03-20191112

The Beaver Moon shines over the lake which is the zone of conflict between the north and central territories of the American Kestrels:

Beaver Moon looking west 20191113

Zebra heliconian, Florida's State  Butterfly on Firebush (Hamelia patens) flower:

Zebra heliconian 20191112

= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =

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