Backseat Birding

Oof. Ankle surgery has happened.

It’s been rough, but it’s getting better. The things that make it less rough are reading about birds, looking at birds outside the window, and thinking about birds. The yard birds have been okay, the best being a Barred Owl calling outside the week before surgery.

Other than that, besides a whole lot of juncos, we’ve seen our reliable and spunky Anna’s Hummingbirds, the occasional pair of Fox Sparrows, and a less than regular Townsend’s Warbler. Luckily there’s the (mostly-annoying) ever-amusing squirrels keeping us entertained.

Better than Netflix. Apparently I’ve picked a good time of year to have surgery because birding is slow. It’s the lull before spring. To liven things up, my friends Sarah and Max offered to take me on an outing to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, a perfect destination for those with walking challenges because: auto tour! Never have I been so excited for a car ride.

They picked me up and off we went on a chilly, but gorgeous weekend morning.

Bright robin morning

There were American Coots, Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, and Tundra Swans flying in and out and foraging in the winter waters.

We saw Red-tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles, and a gorgeous adult Red-shouldered Hawk.

We got a look at Jen’s favorite albino nutria, that was happy and cozy – and fertile? Yuck. I mean, congratulations!

We listened to Marsh Wrens and hoped for Swamp Sparrows. We cheered when we looked overhead and saw FOY Tree Sparrows zooming around in the sky like maniacs.

FOY terrible swallow photo

At the end of the trail we scanned the grasses when we heard a Virginia Rail! (and got a quick glimpse of rail tail). Then Sarah spotted an American Bittern that I eventually saw.

So cool. And to think, I’d almost left my camera at home.

After completing the loop we stopped by the information kiosk and decided to go around again after the kind refuge volunteer gave us excellent directions to a well-camouflaged Great Horned Owl.

Just a coupe of tufts

And another bunch of birds we’d missed, Wilson’s Snipes!

What? Don’t see them? Neither did we until we looked a little closer.

So many sneaky snipes! Love those birds.

On the way out the second time around we also got a bonus banded Cackling Goose.

This little lady (K9*) was banded five years ago, 2,000 miles away in Bethel, Alaska. Good job, goose!

And good job us! We left the refuge 51 species richer and feeling very satisfied spending the morning with such great birds and great company.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Florida: Circle B Bar Reserve I

My dad and I birded almost every day on this trip. It’s nice he shares a fondness of feathers. And since last time I left without finding Limpkins, this time he took time scouting parks for potential. He found Circle B Bar Reserve.

Located in Lakeland, FL, the former cattle ranch is over 1200 acres of now protected wildlife reserve home to more than 220 species of birds. Not to mention the alligators, bobcats, armadillos, otters, foxes, insects, reptiles, and 45 butterfly species. It’s part of the East Section of the Great Florida Birding Trail, a 2000-mile collection of protected spaces.

We made three trips to this park in six days and each time we found something new.

It’s glorious. And also a popular destination for photographers (check out the Flickr page).

On our first visit, just a few feet down the trail as I scanned for birds, all of a sudden Limpkins, Limpkins, Limpkins!!!

Not just Limpkins, BABY Limpkins!

I think my exact words were, “OMG baby Limpkins, are you kidding me?”

Limpkins’ main source of food is apple snails, and they are found in abundance here. Florida apple snails are the only native snail, but several invasives have moved in, including the island apple snail, wrecking havoc on wetland crops and the ecosystem, but creating a great food source for Limpkins. They also have the potential to help the endangered Snail Kite (one bird we missed).

Bubblegum or snail eggs?

Where food is plentiful, so are babies. Even in November apparently.

My dad and I watched mama Limpkin break open the apple snail to feed the little Limpkin chick. It was so amazing to watch.

Eventually I pulled myself away from the Limpkins long enough to admire other birds, like plentiful Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.

Including Black-bellied Whistling ducklings. Awwww.

And baby Wood Storks. Awwww?

Wood Storks are great, to feed, they balance one wing out while swirling their feet in the water stirring up good stuff.

So clever.

Another lifer common at the park was the Glossy Ibis.

So glossy

Different from the White-faced Ibis I’ve seen in southeastern Oregon because of its dark iris and pale lines on its face.

Tri-colored Herons coasted by.

Cattle Egrets scarfed down grasshoppers.

And Anhinga juggled fish. Birds here are so talented.

While watching this Anhinga toss fish like pizza dough I looked down and caught a glimpse of movement. Hey!

Sneaky snipe

Wilson’s Snipe! A great spot. It’s important to keep your eyes open, you never know when something will sneak up on you, it could have been this guy.

Hey, I recognize that hump.

We never got a look at its face but I’m pretty sure I heard a low growl rumble from those waters. Check out this video of it crossing the path. So big!

The only thing we saw crossing the trail were tiny birds like this Little Blue Heron.

And a turtle (peninsula cooter?) that stopped for a moment to lay eggs.

The real treat came when we turned around on the trail and something bright yellow caught my eye.

Hello Yellow-throated Warbler! What a beauty. Captivated we followed the busy warbler while it pried leaves open and searched the moss for tiny insects.

A treat for the warbler and a treat for us. This park was so great!

More Circle B birds to come.

Tweets, chirps, and Limpkins,

Audrey

Eastern Oregon – Day 3

The next morning we got up, packed up, and said goodbye to the Wallowa Mountains and hello to the Starkey Experimental Forest.

Say, what? Into the fenced-in wild we went.

I’d read information about a Flammulated Owl study performed in this forest. Unfortunately it was from the 80s so I had no idea what possibilities it still held but it was worth a shot. According to the paper, flammies like large diameter Ponderosa Pine snags with cavities at least as large as made by a Northern Flicker (though preferably by Pileated Woodpecker) located on east or south facing ridges and slopes. It was a starting point.

The Starkey forest is 40 square miles completely fenced in with easily navigable gravel roads so we explored all over the place.

And only got one flat tire.

Winner for most scenic flat tire

We passed coyote traps, bear traps, strange elongated nest boxes, and several game “cleaning stations” as besides research, the other main use of the forest is elk hunting in the winter. The Starkey Project researches combinations of forest management for elk, timber, cattle, deer, recreation and nutrient flows on National Forests. We couldn’t find any information about camping, but we passed a car with grad-students/employees inside that said it was okay.

They were pretty chill. The whole place was. There were no other people camping or otherwise. It was a nice break. Even if it did make me think of the Hunger Games arena.

The odds were in our favor. We found Mountain Bluebirds.

House Wren

The worst view ever of a Northern Goshawk.

A sneaky sparrow I think is a young Vesper’s Sparrow.

And so many Pygmy Nuthatches.

It was near this nuthatch’s nest where I spotted the perfect suspect snag. Large diameter, on a high ridge, a great hole, and I’d seen a Northern Flicker in the area. Maybe this could be it? Near sunset Tomas and I waited and watched the hole. Until…

Out peeked a Northern Flying Squirrel! No way. It climbed out for a brief moment and then scurried back into it’s hole.

Not an owl, but still a great find.

Meanwhile, a Mountain Bluebird found our tent.

We settled back in to camp hoping to hear owls in the night, but I slept too soundly and didn’t hear a hoot. Sad to leave the forest we packed up for the trip home. Oddly enough we hadn’t seen any deer or elk in the Starkey Experiemental Forest, it wasn’t until we were beyond the fence boundary that we bumped into a herd of elk.

Giving me The Eye.

This is also when we saw a coyote run across the road carrying a big hunk of a deer carcass. I managed one terrible photo.

Neat. So much excitement outside the fence perimeter.

Exciting Wilson’s Snipe

On the way home we made a point to stop at Philippi Canyon because there’s always something good to find and this time did not disappoint.

Lark Sparrow

Bullock’s Oriole

American White Pelican

Red-tailed Hawk

The biggest surprise was a Chukar that didn’t run away! At least for a brief enough moment.

Another fabulous trip to eastern Oregon with much to sing about!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey