Thursday, February 27, 2020

Cedar Waxwing, ABA Bird of the Year

It is impossible for me to pin down the age at which I started taking an interest in birds. Wildlife fascinated me as far back as I can remember, whether it was following rabbit tracks in the snow with my Dad, catching Garter Snakes, or watching tadpoles develop into frogs and toads. 

My grandmother, who lived next door to our home in New Jersey, fed bread to the "Chippies," English (now House) Sparrows and maintained a nest box for the "Jenny" (House) Wren. 

The abundance and variety of birds always made them creatures which  deserved greater interest. I remember helping Dad rescue a young "crane" (in retrospect, a Great Blue Heron) which had gotten entangled in some kite string and bushes in the Passaic River bottomlands. He placed his jacket over the bird's head and menacing beak as he freed it and carried it out into an open field. There, we watched triumphantly as it took low and lumbering flight. 

My only concrete reference point is a loose-leaf "My Bird List," which I started as a Boy Scout merit badge project in December, 1948. The advent of spring migration boosted my list to 114 species by the end of May, 1949. The penultimate new species that month was a Cedar Waxwing, a member of a flock "in a cherry tree near Neil's yard." 

As is the case with many of my first non-routine sightings, I still remember these birds, crested and neatly attired in warm brown with yellow tail-tips and some with bright red accents on their wings. Now the American Birding Association (ABA) has designated the Cedar Waxwing as "2020 Bird of the Year."

Bird photography was not part of my life until 2008, four years after we  moved to south Florida, when our son-in-law gifted me with a first generation (6.3 megapixel) Canon Digital Rebel with a 70-300 mm zoom lens. My first photos of Cedar Waxwings were taken during a visit to their Illinois home, at neighboring Hawk's Bluff Park in September 2008:

Cedar Waxwings

Cedar Waxwing Closeup

Since then I have seen Cedar Waxwings during the winter a few times in Florida, but all my photos were obtained while visiting (and for several years, occupying our second home in) northeastern Illinois.

This photo was taken on May 2, 2009 with my upgraded Canon EOS 30D with 420 mm prime lens system:

Cedar Waxwing 20090502

Cedar Waxwings are very sociable. They travel in flocks:

Waxwing Ballet 20100212

Waxwings in Flight 20100207

The name of this species is descriptive. It eats the berries of cedar trees during the winter and older birds have waxy-looking red tips on their secondary wing feathers, features visible in this poor photo:

Cedar Waxwing eating cypress buds 2-20170521

Incidentally, the above waxwing is hovering as it plucks the small female cones on a Bald Cypress tree, on May 23, 2017 in Lippold Park, Kane County, Illinois. Many had assembled to harvest this crop:

Cedar Waxwing 04-20170521 

Cedar Waxwing eating cypress buds 20170521 

Cedar Waxwing 02-20170521

The deciduous Bald Cypress bears male flowers in autumn which persist as catkins on the bare branches all winter but do not produce pollen until spring, when the female cones emerge and are pollinated before new leaves sprout. This bird seems to be closely inspecting two of the cones:

Cedar Waxwing checking cypress buds 2-20170521

Immature Cedar Waxwings have streaked breasts and little or no head crest (Lippold Park, September 18, 2017):

Cedar Waxwing immature 03-20170918

Cedar Waxwing immature 02-20170918

This red-tailed Hawk has captured a young waxwing (along with a twig and some leaves) and is being pursued by a Red-winged Blackbird:

Redtailed Hawk with Cedar Waxwing prey 2-20150715

Red-tail pursued by Red-winged Blackbird 06-20150715

Out an hour before sunrise on our local wetlands on Sunday, February 23, I found that the off-road riders had done me a favor. For more than two years It has  been impossible to access  one of my favorite birding trails. Hurricane Irma had downed several trees and the entrance to the trail was hopelessly blocked. The ATV bunch came equipped with chain saws and opened the entrance. 

I call this trail the Bar Ditch Trail, as  it is a long-abandoned farm road created along a drainage ditch by using the soil from the ditch. The term "Bar" comes from "Borrow Ditch," referring to the earth and rocks "borrowed" for the road. The trail is mostly under water during the wet (summer) season, but I was able to walk in about 1/3 mile before encountering soft mud. 

It was so nice seeing the water and there were signs of aquatic life:

Bar Ditch  091-20200223

It was still dark when I reached a very muddy patch, so I turned around and enjoyed the sunrise:

Bar Ditch road sunrise 04-20200223

The soft mud contained the tracks of a deer and a Coyote:

Deer and Coyote tracks 20200223

I also found Bobcat tracks:

Bobcat print 02-20200223

Yesterday (February 26) I encountered a herd of seven White-tailed Deer, the  most I have ever seen together in the local wetlands:

White-tailed Deer herd- seven 2-20200226

I fear that the deer are refugees from a large plot of land which is being developed to the north of us. Interestingly, the second doe from the left in the above photo is blind in her right eye. Here is a closer look:

White-tailed Doe one-eyed 20200226

This is the same animal which I encountered five years ago, in 2015. I call her "One-eye" and had seen her few times since, once with a fawn following her. Here is my first photo of her, taken on January 23, 2015. She certainly is a survivor:

White-tailed one-eyed fawn 20150123

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Linking to :

Fences Around the World

Skywatch Friday

Weekend Reflections

Saturday's Critters


Camera Critters

All Seasons

Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday)

Our World Tuesday


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


Thursday, February 20, 2020

Crops & Clips: This week's clicks

A Muscovy Duck emerged from the dense Cocoplum shrub in our back yard and presented us with her 14 newly hatched ducklings:

Muscovy Ducklings 03-20200217  

Muscovy Ducklings 02-20200217

She led them into the water for their first swim:

Muscovy Ducklings 04-20200217

They clustered around her:

Muscovy Ducklings 01-20200217

Sadly, it is very likely that the ducklings' numbers will quickly be reduced by predation from Largemouth and Peacock Bass, turtles,  herons, hawks, Raccoons and feral cats. They may even be killed by rival male Muscovy Ducks, as I witnessed and reported other instances in this blog, Purposeful Infanticide: Birds killing babies

Our back yard West Indies Mahogany tree has hosted Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers for several winters. We are concerned about the damage they may do and shoo them away as soon as we see them. They fly off, or sometimes just hide on the opposite side of the trunk or in the upper branches. As soon as we go back into the house they are busy drilling their wells and sipping the sap.

Usually we see immature sapsuckers, but this winter an adult female has dominated the tree. She occasionally allows a younger bird to work in her presence. 

Female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker:

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker female 4-20200217

Hundreds of sap wells, many freshly drilled, cover the trunk and all the main branches of the tree: 

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker female 5-20200217

A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird has succeeded in taking over our back yard feeder. Females have defended it every winter, until a few weeks ago when this male appeared:

Ruby-throated Hummingbird male 01-20200207

Ruby-throated Hummingbird male 02-20200207

Ruby-throated Hummingbird male 05-20200207

Another back yard visitor, a Great Egret (shot through the window):

Great Egret thru window 20200217

Out in the Wounded Wetlands, the large male Bobcat appeared along the trail on February 13, emerging from the brush not very far ahead of me. I almost did not see him in the deep shade, about an hour after sunrise:

Bobcat 01-20200213

Bobcat 02-20200213

He saw me but seemed rather indifferent as he walked across in front of me, the sun behind him. Obtaining a proper exposure was difficult, so the quality of these photos suffered:

Bobcat 04-20200213

Unflappable, he looked back at me one last time before disappearing on the other side of the track:

Bobcat 05-20200213

A Loggerhead Shrike stared me down:

Loggerhead Shrike 02-20200213

At the lake, an Anhinga dried its wings:

Anhinga 02-20200212

An American Kestrel kept  watch from high on a Royal Palm spire:

American Kestrel 03-20200213

A pair of Mottled Ducks cast reflections on the quiet surface of the lake:

Mottled Ducks 01-20200214

Northern Flickers put on an amazing show. The female called repeatedly from a Royal Palm spire:

Northern Flicker female calling 05-20200218

She flew to a tree very close to me and a male joined her, so close that I could not fit all the action into my viewfinder. Typically, the female displays while the male (or sometimes two or three) dance about like fencers. They parry as if there is an invisible sword extending from their bills, usually not coming into physical contact, but darting and swaying, advancing and retreating. 

This is tail of the female:

Northern Flicker female display 01-20200218

Here she dives down, allowing me one of my few full-body photos:

Northern Flicker female display 02-20200218

This was my only (almost) unobstructed view of the male flicker:

Northern Flicker male 02-20200218

A White Ibis probed the earth for worms and insects along the trail:

White Ibis 01-20200217

At Chapel Trail Nature Preserve in nearby Pembroke Pines, two female Painted Buntings appeared:

Painted Bunting female 03-20200216

Painted Bunting female 01-20200216

At Chapel Trail there were nearly a dozen exotic Gray-headed Swamphens, pulling up the Spike-rush to eat their tender roots and shoots:

Gray-headed Swamphen 01-20200216

Gray-headed Swamphen 02-20200216

About 15 years ago, over 3,000 of these invasive swamphens were gunned down because they were reported to kill the young of native birds and also destroy the Spike-rush, a cornerstone species in the wet prairies of the Everglades. I fear that a similar native species may have been easily confused with the dreaded swamphen. Indeed, I found far fewer Purple Gallinules after the extermination campaign. Were they an unintended "by-catch?"

This sub-adult Purple Gallinule, grazing on lotus flowers, has a pale beak. An adult's beak will be bright red with a yellow tip. It is about half the size of a swamphen:

Purple Gallinule sub-adult 01-20200216

Back on our local wetlands, other critters deserved attention. This is a Horace's Duskywing, on an Ixora flower:

Horaces Duskywing 20200217

One of the few Monarch butterflies I've seen so far this winter. It may be a member of the local non-migratory population:

Monarch butterfly 20200218

I had to kneel down to photograph two tiny butterflies-- Ceraunus Blue...

Ceraunus Blue 02-20200218

Ceraunus Blue 01-20200218

...and Fiery Skipper:

Fiery Skipper 20200218

The view before sunrise, looking back to the east:

Before sunrise 20200214

Fog lifting over the Pine Bank:

Pine Bank 20200214

On the morning of February 18, the Snow Moon eclipsed (occluded) the Red Planet Mars. I actually  was unaware of the event, although I noticed a bright heavenly body very close by, the white dot in the lower left of this photo, hand-held (click on photo to enlarge). My Canon 80D has remarkable image stability-- see EXIF* below. The round dot even contained a few red pixels:

Planet Mars and waning crescent Sno Moon 20200218

*EXIF for Moon and Mars image:

Camera Model Canon EOS 80D
Shooting Date/Time 2/18/2020 6:05:49 AM (50 minutes before sunrise)
Tv (Shutter Speed) 1/250
Av (Aperture Value) 8.0
Exposure Compensation -1
ISO Speed 6400
Lens EF300mm f/4L IS USM +1.4x
Focal Length 420.0mm

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Linking to :

Fences Around the World

Skywatch Friday

Weekend Reflections

Saturday's Critters


Camera Critters

All Seasons

Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday)

Our World Tuesday