Florida: Circle B Bar Reserve II

Circling back to Limpkins. I was excited to see these subdued brown and white streaked waterbirds because Florida is its northernmost breeding range. It’s highly uncommon to find them north of southern Georgia and I certainly can’t see them in Oregon.

Structurally related to cranes and named for a perceived limp when they walk, Limpkins are the only surviving species in the genus Aramus and the family Aramidae. They were hunted almost to extinction in the 20th century.

They are no longer listed in Florida (as of January 11, 2017), but are part of the Imperiled Species Management Plan. Populations have improved since protections were enabled, but of course they’re still threatened by what ails most birds today: habitat loss.

They have an unmistakable wailing call that’s even been used in films (jungle sound effects in the Tarzan films, and for the hippogriff  in the film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkabanz). Hearing their call was almost as good as seeing them. Here’s a recording I took that includes the sound of baby Limpkins begging at the end.

One goal of the trip was to see a Limpkin, and I’d say that was a smashing success.

We had other successes too, including Purple Gallinule.

So pretty! And much more secretive than the Common Gallinule.

Another glistening bird was the Boat-tailed Grackle.

Above our heads were kettles of both Black and Turkey Vultures.

Occasionally we’d spot a Red-Shouldered Hawk.

You know those moments when you’re trying to get a good look at a bird, particularly a warbler in the trees, and you get the feeling it might be something new and different? Usually it turns out to be a Palm Warbler.

But every once in a while, it turns out to be a Northern Parula!

The gray hood, white eye crescents, wing bars, and that bright yellow chest means this is a female Northern Parula. So exciting to find a new warbler. Some day I’d like to meet her handsome male counterpart. Not far from the parula something orange caught my eye. Had to be something good, I knew it.

Indeed! Behind that leaf is a Baltimore Oriole! Another life-bird courtesy of Circle B.

Another goodie we came across was a White-eyed Vireo.

Followed by my lifer Blue-headed Vireo eating a moth snack.

We saw a lot of birds at Circle B and every time we were done for the day we had a difficult time leaving the park. Just one more bird! One day it was impossible to leave because my dad’s car battery died. No, I didn’t sabotage it 😉 but this did mean we could bird for another hour!

This turned out to be a pretty magical hour. First I saw something intriguing sneaking around low in the bushes.

It wasn’t until later that I recognized how awesome this sighting was – my first Painted Bunting! I got such a quick look at the time that I didn’t notice the green sheen on this female bird. I thought it looked like an exotic escapee finch, but it’s actually a lovely wild finch.

Around another corner I noticed a small dove that looked different from the Mourning Doves.

It has a scaly neck, and a pinkish bill with a dark tip, making it a Common Ground Dove. New dove!

Then below the tree I saw a small weird statue.

The statue moved and morphed into an armadillo! Native to southwestern North America, the Nine-banded Armadillo was introduced and expanded its territory to Florida. They’re creepy cute.

It’s a good thing Florida has signs on how to hand this situation. I did not climb the armadillo.

Other birds seen while waiting for AAA:

Pine Warbler; different from Palm Warblers with white wing-bars and a non-wagging tail.

Northern Cardinal

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Prairie Warbler

And a doe-eyed Tufted Titmouse!

Gah! – So cute.

Overall, we saw 63 species at Circle B, 8 of which were life-birds for me, including the Fish Crow that looks identical to American Crows, but says “uh-uh” instead of “caw-caw.” Audio here.

The battery was fixed and it was time for us to leave Circle B Bar Reserve.

Just one more bird.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

All the Grebes starting with a Gnatcatcher

I didn’t intend to chase the rarity, but I brought my camera and binoculars to work just in case, and when a second report of the Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher (originally found by Nick Mrvelj) came in at Kelley Point Park, I decided to go for it.

I arrived and immediately felt overwhelmed. Tiny bird, big park. Walking along the trails I tried to find clues but found only people and dogs. I’d all but given up until when I got back to the parking lot and bumped into more birders. Fresh eyes and more people looking couldn’t hurt so I joined the search party.

We managed to find even more birders, including Adrian Hinkle, who’d seen the gnatcatcher just 30 min prior. They kindly walked us to the area it was last seen, and in one minute, Adrian said “stop” and pointed up high in a cottonwood. He’d heard the bird a mile away, basically. And lucky for us because we were able to catch a quick glimpse before it moved on. I got one unflattering photo.

I was surprised to get it the frame, it moved around quickly high up in the tree as the light faded fast. There’s talk that this may be the eastern variety based on this bird’s characteristics (lighter undersides, position high up in the trees, and higher-pitched call notes), but it’s still under discussion. That reminds me, check out this website, Xeno-canto where you can listen to and share bird songs and easily compare songs from different regions. Cool stuff.

Feeling extremely lucky to have seen this bird, I pressed my luck further and stopped at Columbia Point near Hayden Island Marina to see if any Surf Scoters were still around. They weren’t but a Red-necked Grebe was.

As was a Ruddy Duck (on the left). Also, I wasn’t positive, but I thought I saw the Clark’s Grebe that had been reported by Andy Frank earlier in the week.

Maybe? The light was so terrible. I needed to investigate further, so I returned the following day. This time I brought along my new scope.

Am I doing this right?

It worked! I found four Surf Scoters (and one Lesser Scaup in the middle).

And grebes. So many grebes.

With a handful of perky-tailed Ruddy Ducks in the mix.

Back to the grebes. There was Western Grebe.

Horned Grebe.

Western and Horned Grebes.

Eared Grebe.

Horned (top) and eared (bottom) grebes together for a nice comparison. Note the peaked head and darker cheek on the eared.

Western, Eared, and Horned.

And my best combo: Western, Eared, Horned, and Clark’s. In that order.

There was safely one Clark’s Grebe with more white around the eye and an orangeish bill.

I was surprised to see the variation of black around the eye among the grebes.

That or it was one giant Loch Ness Western-Clark’s Grebe.

Anyways, I passed a couple of cool cats along the marina. One bengal-looking kitty wearing a bell and another the stylish Birdsbesafe collar. I hope those things work.

I found the sixth and final grebe species safe from cats in the water, Pied-billed Grebes.

That’s it. At one location in two days I found all six species of grebes that can be seen in Oregon: Red-necked, Western, Clark’s, Horned, Eared, and Pied-billed.

I might as well throw in a Least Grebe from Texas.

That’s all the grebes of North America! What’s next? Great Grebe? Great-crested Grebe? Hoary-headed Grebe? All real. I had no idea there were so many grebes in the world, 19 species remain, and some like the gorgeous Hooded Grebe, one of the rarest birds in South America, are critically endangered. There’s even a documentary about them: Tango in the Wind.

How lucky we are to have all the grebes.

If there is no bird, there is no tango.

Tango and chirps,

Audrey

Texas: Lost Maples

Spring break is all about drinking, partying, and birding, right?

For months a group of friends and I planned a trip to Texas this spring to accomplish at least one of those things. Jen and I flew in a couple of days early to explore the Hill Country area of Texas two hours west of San Antonio that is home to the rare and endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler that only nests in juniper-oak woodlands of Central Texas.

The warbler has good taste. This is the prettiest part of Texas I’ve ever seen.

We stayed at Foxfire Cabins less than a mile from Lost Maples State Natural Area. What the cabins lacked in swankiness the property made up for with birds.

feeder titmouse

Inca Dove

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Carolina Chickadee

Boom. Just like that, four lifers. There was also a Yellow-throated Vireo sighting and a drive-by Ringed Kingfisher. Make that six lifers. Birding is so easy. Once the sun dipped below the hills we star-gazed enjoying the clear dark skies, then got up early in the morning to hike Lost Maples Park.

The chalkboard doesn’t lie.

We parked the car, started up the trail, and almost immediately heard the buzzy “ter-wih-zeee-e-e-e, chy” song I’d studied long before the trip. Incredible. It took much longer to get a visual on the warblers, but when we did it was even sweeter.

Yay! The extra time and effort was all worth it. Relaxed and happy, we soaked up other sights along the trail including Yellow-throated Warblers and White-eyed Vireos.

And a Black-chinned Hummingbird that stopped to take a drink from the stream.

Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures soared higher in the sky as the wind picked up and we hiked up the hillside.

Black Vulture

Here we’d hoped for an early Black-capped Vireo, but came up with Black-crested Titmouse.

And Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

Along the trail we were easily distracted by damselflies, butterflies and lizards.

And a Carolina Wren singing like crazy.

The wind picked up further as we hiked back to check the feeders near the trail entrance.

This turned up many birds including:

White-tipped Dove

Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

Three more lifebirds. Bam! What a gorgeous birdy place. I’m already dreaming of a return backpacking trip.

In the heat of the day we took a quick lunch break before heading north to Kerr Wildlife Management Area to try again for Black-capped Vireo. On the drive there we passed a Vesper Sparrow.

A Lark Sparrow.

A mystery snake that slivered quickly across the road.

And we passed a pile of vultures on the side of the road with a Crested Caracara in the mix!

New bird! I was surprised to learn they’re actually quite common in southern Texas. Here’s a picture from a later sighting:

Eventually we made it to Kerr WMA, and dipped again on vireos, but we found plenty more lifebirds for me including Vermilion Flycatchers.

A Field Sparrow.

And a wonderful surprise bird Jen spotted just as we were leaving the park, a Louisiana Waterthrush! Good spot.

We made it back to the cabins without running out of gas and prepared ourselves for an early departure the next morning. 18 new birds in less than two full days? Not a bad start!

Thanks Texas.

Birders gone wild,

Audrey