This year in a nutshell

What a difference a year makes.

My beginning birder self on day 1

My beginning birder self on day 1

Looking back at what I’d initially hoped to get out of birding: nature, awareness, education, patience, and pictures– I think I’ve accomplished that.

Since my first trip last Christmas I’ve gone on more than 80 birding trips. I have visited six states- Oregon, Washington, California, Alaska, Montana, and Florida. And after today’s Northern Shrike sighting, I have seen 231 bird species. In Florida alone I saw 60 species! Of course this birding thing is way more than a numbers game. It’s a lifestyle.

Lego Birding Audrey and Lego Outdoorsy Tomas

Lego Birding Audrey and Lego Outdoorsy Tomas

Over the past year, I had hoped to see owls, Cedar Waxwings, migrating birds, and Puffins. Yep, saw those too.

Horned Puffin

Horned Puffin

Some of my favorite trips:

Remember when I mentioned listing? It turns out that was wishful blogging and I didn’t do it. Until now. I’ve spent hours this week entering my trips in eBird. So far, I’ve entered 65 checklists totaling 202 species. With more to come. The more checklists I enter, the more interesting the data becomes.

List

It won’t be perfect, there may be discrepancies. I know I’ve seen more than the 231 species on my list, a few shorebirds here and there that I still can’t I.D. confidently, and I wasn’t coherent for much of the pelagic trip, but I’d like to include birds on my list that I could pick out of a line-up. I’ll keep trying. And keep listing.

And so it goes. If it’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it is to keep trying. Just when I think I know a species, it molts into something entirely different. But that’s okay, because if it were easy it would be boring. I’ve learned birding takes time, practice, and patience. As does learning anything new. It’s okay to jump in and try. And make mistakes. And try again.

I still feel like a beginner, but I have learned a few things along the way. Going back over photos I surprised myself and recognized a Lincoln Sparrow I originally filed away as a Song Sparrow. I notice more details and field marks now, and I pay more attention to season and habitat. Can I tell the difference between first-year and second-year gulls? There’s a small chance thanks to Gull Class. Can I tell the difference between House, Purple, and Cassin’s Finch? Not yet, but I’m working on it. And that’s the goal: keep working on it.

You are a Lincoln Sparrow

You are a Lincoln Sparrow

I have a few things lined up already that I’m looking forward to in 2016. I’m partaking in the 116th Christmas Count with Audubon in January, I’m taking Advanced Waterfowl I.D. class in February, and I’ve registered for Godwit Days in Arcata this spring where I’ll bird with David Sibley. That’s right. Birding with Sibley himself. Woooooooooooo! Pretty excited about that one. Lots more to come. I’m excited for more discovery!

Happy Birdiversary to me.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Florida: Weedon Preserve, Sawgrass Park, and Seminole Lake

One of the highlights of my trip to Florida was birding with my dad.

My dad

He lives in Largo and his birding enthusiasm is a close match to mine. In the past year since I started birding, we’ve have a blast quizzing each other by emailing pictures of birds we can’t see in our respective areas.

He sends me pictures of Limpkins (baby Limpkins!), Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, and Brown Thrashers harassing snakes. If there were any reason to visit Florida, these would be it. A handful of his pics:

Limpkin Limpkin Red-bellied WoodpeckerYellow-crowned Night Heron Brown Thrasher Brown Thrasher

He had a few spots picked out for us to see during my trip, including Weedon Island Preserve, a 3,700 acre preserve complete with a cultural and natural history center, trails, boardwalks (AKA Raccoon Highway), mangroves, wetlands, uplands, crabs (!) (Mangrove Tree Crab).

Crab

Weedon Island Preserve Paul Getting Memorial Trail Weedon Sunrise

And birds! A whole lot of them.

Wading birds

Wading birds

Of course it wasn’t that easy. They made us work for it. We showed up promptly at sunrise for low tide and there were no birds in sight. It wasn’t until the day warmed up that they came out to feed. Once they did, we saw Great Egrets, White Ibis, Snowy Egrets, and many more wading birds in the distance. And a Wood Stork flew overhead. It was a good time.

Wood Stork

The best part of Weedon Island though, was a moment that’ll go down in my book of birding history. After striking out on birds first thing in the morning, my dad and I rounded the corner to another overlook and found an unbelievable sight. A Roseate Spoonbill closely followed by a Tricolored Heron buddy. The wait was worth it.

Spoonbill and Tricolor

My dad describes Tricolored Herons as Little Blue Herons that’ve had too much coffee. Little blues stand still and intensely stalk prey (much like the Great Blue Heron), while Tricolors dart quickly back and forth in the water gathering up fish and bits of food. It’s a useful behavioral clue to identify them. We watched this one pick up bits the spoonbill stirred up. They made quite the pair.

Spoonbill and Tricolor

Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron Tricolored Heron Tricolored Heron

Shortly after, the spoonbill posed nicely for us and my day was made.

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Gorgeous wrinkly spoon face!

We went to Sawgrass Lake Park next. Surrounded by “the most densely populated county in Florida” (Pinellas County), the 400 acre park is a haven for wildlife. Especially alligators. We saw three of them. Florida wildlife sighting Level-Up.

Alligator

Alligator Alligator Alligator

And the obligatory “no molesting” the gators sign. So many feels. So many jokes. It’s too easy.

No Molest!

This park had a few gems besides gators and funny gator signs. Including adorable Little Blue Herons. So intense. So cute.

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron Little Blue Heron Little Blue Heron

And the most fun bird to say, Anhinga (an-HIN-ga)! With many nicknames: it’s called the Water-Turkey thanks to its tail and swimming habits, and also Snake-Bird because it often swims with just its head sticking out of the water. We saw several of them, usually sunning themselves since this species lacks oils that make feathers waterproof. Anhinga anhinga is named from Tupi Indian (Brazil) language. AnHINga!

Anhinga

Anhinga Anhinga Anhinga

We also saw Common Gallinule (gal-li-NOO-l) and heard it’s cackling and yelping calls. The species was split from Common Moorhen (Old World) in 2011 by the AOU.

Common Gallinule

Common Gallinule   Common Gallinule  Common Gallinule

Upon leaving this park, we saw a neat grouping of three species together, Tricolored Heron in the far back, a Little Blue Heron front left, and three White Ibises!

All the water birds

And a softshell turtle.

Softshell turtle

Our final destination was Seminole Lake Park. The best trails in this park wind through pine flatwoods where we saw several species of birds. Some familiar, some new.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler

Osprey

Osprey

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker (see the red belly!)

Gray Catbird

More Gray Catbird! Can’t get enough of this one. 

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal (female)

And a whole bunch more.

Red-bellied Woodpecker Pileated Woodpecker Osprey Northern Cardinal Mourning Dove Little Blue HeronGray Catbird Great Egret Boat-tailed Grackle

Funny thing about this park, we actually visited several mornings in search of what turned out to be my “nemesis bird” of the trip, the Limpkin! My dad sees them here frequently, but I missed out this time. Good to have a reason to return. Next time!

We ended the search on a high note with a good look at this remarkable creature, the Wood Stork.

Wood Stork

Wood Stork Wood Stork Wood Stork

If I keep writing about Florida will that make it sunny in Portland?!

Too bad this post pretty much sums up my awesome trip. Thanks for following along!

Happy Turtles

Happy turtles,

Audrey

Shell Island, Florida

While on vacation visiting my family in Florida, my mom and I took a boat ride to Shell Key Island. This wouldn’t be like the last time I was on a boat when I got horribly seasick. This was a 10-minute quick trip from St. Pete Beach to Shell Key Island, part recreation destination, part wildlife preserve, part bird haven.

Shell Key Island

I’d never been before, but I heard a rumor that hundreds of White Pelicans nest there in the winter. My grandfather grumbled something about damn White Pelicans stealing his fish in Montana, but I was super stoked.

While waiting to board the boat, I spent the few spare moments appreciating the local Brown Pelicans hanging out by the docks.

Brown Pelican

Brown PelicanBrown PelicanBrown Pelican

I can’t help it. Every time I see Brown Pelicans with their long stretched out bills, it reminds me of Alec Baldwin (Adam) in Beetlejuice. Ooh, scary.

Beetlecan

See the resemblance? No?

Anyways, we eventually boarded the boat and set off. The island has no facilities and it is pretty rugged. It’s what I imagine Florida probably looked like before all the urban development and huge condo strips. Though practically swimming distance from civilization we felt like we had arrived at our own deserted island. Complete with oranges on the shore. It was awesome.

Shell Key Island

Shell Key Island Orange IslandShell Key Island

We crossed the sandy dunes toward where the captain said the pelicans should be. Along the way, I decided that the island should be called “Spur Island” after those vicious sandspurs. In reality they’re probably a good deterrent keeping people from trekking all over the place. Except me. (To be clear, I followed all island regulations and did not trespass in the bird nesting area).

We got to the pelicans just in time for a boat to speed by in the wake zone and scare them. I managed a couple of quick shots. White Pelicans!

White Pelican

White Pelican

White Pelican

Since they were long gone, we went back to the beach to eat lunch, look for shells, and watch the Foster’s Terns dive-bomb fish. It was a grand time, but after a bit we thought it might be worthwhile to check back in on the pelicans.

I’m glad we did. They were back! Hundreds of them! As were many shorebirds that I couldn’t identify from a distance. (Dunlins, Sanderlings, sandpipers?)

White Pelican

White Pelican

Shorebirds and a pelicanShorebirdsShorebirds, so far away

I did manage to find an American Oystercatcher! (in between the pelicans) I was pretty excited to find one since I had seen signs posted that they nest on the island.

American Oystercatcher

Shell Key Island

And a Little Blue Heron!

Little Blue Heron

I got a closer look at a few (I’m pretty sure) Dunlins. 

Dunlin

Dunlin

My mom and I happily watched the pelicans and shorebirds for a while, then went back to relax on the beach. Tough life. While relaxing I couldn’t help but notice a few birds in the water, like the Horned Grebe.

Horned Grebe

And another exciting sighting was a pair of Magnificent Frigatebirds (!!) that flew overhead at one point. I didn’t get the best look at them, and in fact, in the moment I knew they were something unique, but I thought maybe they were a kite of some sort. Until I looked it up. Nope, Mag Frig!! How awesome. Here’s my one quick frantic shot of one of them. Those long wings! I kept one eye on the sky after this, but didn’t see another.

Magnificent Frigatebird

I also saw an American Kestrel on the island and a Red-breasted Merganser that flew by over the water.

American KestrelRed-breasted MerganserRed-breasted Merganser

And, yes! We even found shells during our time on Shell Island. Though we did not take them. Instead, we filled our (provided) shell bag with garbage we picked up on the island. Leaving it better than we found it.

ShellsSand DollarRelaxing

Back at the dock we were greeted by a Snowy Egret (black legs and yellow feet!).

Snowy EgretSnowy EgretSnowy Egret

And a Great Egret! (larger, black legs and feet).

Snowy and Great EgretIMG_5545 (2)IMG_5544

And because this is Florida, and the birding never ends, here’s a Green Heron we found wading in the pool when we returned back at our condo.

Green Heron

Green HeronGreen HeronGreen Heron

Green Heron

Thanks, Florida!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey