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

Texas: Party Parrots

After tacos we continued birding at Estero Llano Grande State Park. Our second trip to this destination. Or third? I’ve lost count. Every park in Texas is worth at least one revisit. This time it was for a Roseate Spoonbill knocking teals off a log.

The one with the biggest spoon wins the perch.

A pair of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks swam by.

And a White-faced Ibis blended into the grass.

Then we located the real reason we revisited this park. A Fulvous Whistling-Duck!

This warm-colored lifer cooperated just long enough before paddling farther and farther away, disappearing forever behind the grasses.

Going, going, gone.

The fulvous show was over. We returned to the main park area to head out while distracted by spiders and lizards along the way.

Six-lined Racerunner

But Sarah was distracted by a persistent bug harassing her down the trail, and as she flailed her arms somehow it worked to bring out a Clay-colored Thrush!

Thanks Sarah! Formerly known as the Clay-colored Robin, this secretive, shy thrush is the national bird of Costa Rica. Even after 6 days lifers were still showing up. We then left to head back to the airbnb before the night’s activities.

The Airbnb was one of the highlights of the trip. We stayed at a 2-acre farmhouse that had some of the best bird sightings.

There was a feeder table setup that had regular Green Jay, chachalaca, and cardinal visitors. We had Common Pauraque calling every morning and evening. And a repeat visiting Harris’s Hawk.

The hummingbird feeder attracted Buff-bellied and one Ruby-throated hummer. One morning we spooked an owl in the yard (possibly Barn). There was a pair of Great Kiskadees, Couch’s Kingbirds, Golden-fronted and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers. And Hooded and Altamira Oriole.There was lizards digging holes, prickly cactus to eat, butterflies to chase, it was hard to leave sometimes. 

But we had to leave later that evening to go to Oliveira Park in Brownsville. In celebration of Max’s birthday, we threw him a parrot party.

On some nights, hundreds of parrots throughout the city flock to this unlikely, inner-city park to roost in the evening. We weren’t sure what to expect when we arrived, but as the sun set it was like watching fireworks at the 4th of July. “Ooohs” and “aaaahs” as loud, raucous colorful personalities flew over our heads.

Party parrots! The majority are Red-crowned. We also saw Red-lored Parrots.

And Yellow-headed Parrots. The latter two species are escapees. It warms my heart that these social birds escaped and found one another.

We bumped into a couple of other birders at the park, including a grad-student from Texas A&M collecting parrot population data. Red-crowned Parrots in Texas and California are of interest to scientists because these unique city populations may some day save the species from extinction. According to Sibley the “naturalized population of Red-crowned Parrots is thought to exceed the native population in Mexico.”

A couple of other birds showed up to the party too. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

And *two* Lesser Nighthawks!

The skies darkened, the parrots quieted for sleep, and we headed back to the airbnb for the best tres leches! Happy birthday Max!

Yum.

Birders gone wild,

Audrey

Florida neighborhood birds

Florida was bound to happen. It was only a matter of time. My family lives there, umpteen birds winter in the tropical region, and it’s freezing in Portland.

I spent a week warming up, visiting family, and getting to know Florida birds. Growing up in the Tampa Bay area I would occasionally notice Blue Jays and Northern Cardinals, but it has taken a decade of dark, rainy, Pacific NW winters combined with a new love of birds to truly appreciate my hometown.

Sunshine, palm trees, and birds in November? Yes, please!

Sunshine, palm trees, and birds in November? Yes, please!

My mom and I went for a walk around the neighborhood, and spotted numerous birds, like the elegant White Ibis. 

White Ibis

This species has acclimated to suburban life pretty well. They nest and feed near humans, and they greeted us each morning on the lawn. In aquatic habitats, they eat fish and arthropods like crayfish, and on greenspaces they forage for large insects…and lizards! No kidding. I caught this juvenile with a brown anole gripped in its bill.

White Ibis

White Ibis

Good for the ibis, sad for the lizard. I miss living around those cutie-pie little reptiles. They liven up sidewalks, fences, shrubs, pretty much all surfaces in Florida. As a child, they provided hours of entertainment; I’d catch and play with the mini-dinosaurs by the handfuls.

Brown Anole

But I digress. Back to birds, like the Palm Warbler! They were everywhere. Sporting their winter plumage, they flittered around on driveways, lawns, shrubs, and even roofs, as they showed off their yellow undertail while making their signature tail wag.

Palm Warbler

And I saw grackles, phoebes, and mockingbirds – oh my!

So fun. On our walk we also saw three woodpecker species, a Downy Woodpecker, and two new woodpeckers! A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (juvenile) and a Red-bellied Woodpecker. 

Rain was in the forecast, but we continued along to the University of South Florida Botanical Gardens. Along the way, we spotted a Brown Thrasher!

Brown Thrasher

Lucky sighting. At the gardens we saw more Palm Warblers, a Bald Eagle mobbed by grackles, and a quick two-second glimpse of a Gray Catbird!

Gray Catbird

No way! I once drove a great distance to Eastern Washington in search of a Gray Catbird to no avail. It’s that easy, Florida? Okay, then.

Returning to the house, we got a big surprise.

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Make that two surprises!

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawks! These birds were on my I-hope-to-see-these-in-Florida list and here were two perched on the light post just outside the house. How cool. They flew to the top of a parking garage, then returned later to a nearby pine tree. What a gorgeous pair of birds.

Not bad for a quick walk around the neighborhood. But that’s not all! I couldn’t get enough, so I returned to the USF campus to wander around, thwart campus security, and chase flocks of birds. Because that’s what you do when you’re in Florida.

I followed this flock to get a better look of the Eastern Bluebird. (and Palm Warblers in background). Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Nice! I also noticed a small black and white bird that was totally a nuthatch but not a nuthatch.

Black-and-white Warbler

Once I read the description in Cornell’s Merlin Bird ID App, “creeps along branches like a nuthatch, searching for insects,” I knew this was a Black-and-white Warbler. (I’m curious why it’s not called a Black-and-white Nuthatch; something to do with genetics?) The genus Mniotilta (nee-o-TIL-ta) is Greek origin from mnion, moss, and tiltos, plucked. The Black-and White Warbler (Mniotilta varia) uses moss to construct its nest.

I saw a female Summer Tanager (wish I’d seen a male too!). They use their large bills to catch wasps and bees on the fly. I wonder if that’s what she’s munching on.

Summer Tanager

I saw another insect-lover, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

And if that weren’t enough, I returned to the house to find a Carolina Wren in the yard (looks like the eastern version of the Bewick’s Wren). 

Carolina Wren

AND a Black-throated Green Warbler!

Black-throated Green Warbler

So pretty! It was icing at this point. I watched the attractive little warbler catch insects around the ferns before flying far away to the treetops.

I lived in Florida for eighteen years, but I’d never seen its beauty in this way. I was always too focused on the heat, traffic, bugs, tourists, and moving as far away as I could. The change in perspective was refreshing. Satisfied with my first day acclimating to New Florida, I looked forward to seeking out the beauty of the next day!

Sunny tweets and chirps,

Audrey