Sunday, November 21, 2010

My Loggerhead Shriek

One day in October as I was walking from the elevator down the catwalk to my condo I spotted a Shrike in the top of the tree in front of my condo. I was thrilled as I stood and watched it just sitting there quietly it appeared to me to be soaking up the last rays of sun. But the truth probably was he was looking with his keen eyesight for a little food before going to sleep for the night. Then I thought can I get to my camera and back out here for a picture. Well the only way to know is to try. So I very quietly open the screen door and walk across the porch and opened the door to the inside of the condo. I raced to get my camera turned it on and removed the lens cover and headed back out side.

The shrike was still there but trying to get a shot proved difficult and then he flew away. I could hear him and it sounded like he was now in the palm tree at the end of the condo, but I couldn't locate him. I looked and look but couldn't find him and he was being very quiet now so I though he was gone. I turned to walk away and caught sight of him out of the corner of my eye flying out of the palm tree. As luck would have it he flew to the corner of the roof on the next condo and I was able to get a few shots before he flew away again, swooping down this time to get a bit to eat.

Now I have seen a shrike here on the grounds before, but sitting on a distant light pole not close enough for a nice shot of. Those times I had to use my binoculars to get a good look and to verify what I was seeing with my naked eye.

One Saturday morning  in October I was sitting at my desk working (where else would I be) when I heard this awful noise. Something was squawking up a storm, I thought something was dying or being killed.  I stepped out on the catwalk to see what this noise was about. It took me some time to locate the source but I did and it was the most handsome Loggerhead Shrike. There he was in his black & grey tuxedo with his little mask looking like he was going to the masquerade ball. I still don't know why he was making that awful noise but it might have something to do with there being two of them (though I didn't know that for sure then). Maybe it is a territorial dispute or perhaps he was tying to attract a mate but isn't a little too early for that? I guess I need to read up on  them. (I did a little reading and they don't mate here in FL)

I did manage a few photos of him that day but he was well ensconced in the trees and the lighting was bad. I believe it was badly overcast that morning.

One Sunday Morning in November I was sitting there having my breakfast thinking I hadn't heard or seen the shrike lately. I was wondering if it was just passing through and had moved on or if it had any thing to do with daylight savings. When I first saw the shrike I would hear it in the morning before I went to work and see it usually on my way home at night. But that didn't last long. Now it is dark when I get home but still I don't see it in the morning either. Maybe he is a late sleeper.

I finished my breakfast and was doing up the dishes when I heard this familiar sound. it was my friend the Shrike. I went out camera in hand and although I could hear him I couldn't see him he was well hidden in the tree leaves. But I was patient and I slowly backed up against the wall and moved myself to the other side hoping to get a better view. This tactic worked well and I got a couple of shots, then he moved out into the open and I got several more shots of this handsome little guy in his grey and black tux with his little black mask...........My shrike.

I still hear him and occasional see him but on weekend mornings only. I think he is here to stay at least for the season. Some times I see both of them on on one light pole and the other on another light pole. I am sure enjoying these two little shrikes and now I will have to see if they come back next year.

I wouldn't be surprised if he likes my little tree so much because of the Bouginvilla that is growing up through the tree. I bet it would make a nice storage area for him. I haven't really tried to find any of his storage.........

A funny thing though is that the Eurasian-collared Doves that usually occupy that tree outside my condo seemed to have disappeared. You think.........................?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

I want to go Birding!

It's been a long hot summer and I have stayed home in the AC working on my picture files and longing for the cooler weather and the birding season to begin in earnest.  It's now The Labor Day Weekend and I Want to go Birding. Saturday I do the normal grocery shopping, cleaning and laundry all the while contemplating where I can go birding and get some enjoyment without sweating to death cause the weather is HOT & HUMID! I sit looking over maps and birding emails and finally decide on a plan. It probably wasn't the best plan for seeing birds but it would get me out of the house.

So Sunday morning we got up grabbed our gear and some bottled water and took off. Heading for Alligator Alley. It was a beautiful sunny day and the blue sky held a few puffy white clouds floating aimlessly.

Alligator Alley

 I thought sure we would see something out there and I was right. First stop got a group of Turkey Vultures sunning themselves with wings spread. I thought they would hang around so was in no hurry to photograph them. I headed for the lookout tower and as I started up the stairs a Grackle let me know I wasn't wanted up there. But I didn't let that stop me and I continued on.
Go away lady, I was here first
There was a nice few from the top. There were a few fishermen out there but not much else to be seen.
Looking West

Looking East

Save for a few dragonflies and an occasional butterfly but nothing I could really get close enough to to photograph although I did get some fish trying to eat something white. Probably some runaway bait or a leftover sandwich that someone couldn't finish.
Something's fishy

OK, that over with I was ready to try to photograph the Turkey Vultures but alas they had all taken flight. I did manage to get a few flight shots, nothing great but it marks the occasion.
Turkey Vulture

We drove west on Alligator Alley until we reached the Gas Station turn on US833 and headed North toward Lake Okeechobee. This road is almost like driving out in the country on Sunday afternoon. This is a two lane road. Not the usually 4 or 6 lanes that you usually see here in South Florida.
Country road mirage

It was a nice drive with views of pasture lands and orange groves and small clusters of homes. There were horses grazing and cows laying down resting in the shade.
We drove along just enjoying the scenery when all of a sudden in this one section the trees were full of birds and I yelled STOP! STOP! STOP!. Why so many birds in the trees. Were they roosting? Or were they just resting? It seemed a strange site for this time of year. If it were spring then I could understand it. But why in September were all these cattle Egrets sitting in the trees?
Cattle Egrets by the dozens
We continued to drive North without seeing much traffic except for an occasional swamp buggy or an air boat. I would hate to break down out there not sure if I would have any service on my cell phone and traffic was sparse to say the least.


Swamp Buggy
 At one point we came upon a large group of  Black vultures eating on something that smelled so foul we didn't hang around too long to take pictures......PeeU
I don't want to come back as a vulture.........eweeee the smell!
Before stopping at Pahokee we check out this other area and saw a little park which we didn't investigate as it was too hot and a boat ramp. Here we found a cormorant. You can just male it out at the end of the dock.
Boat Ramp - Can you find the Cormorant?
Soon we came into a more civilized area and stopped for lunch at the local hamburger joint. After a brief stop for lunch we started to head to Pahokee and Lake access.
Pahokee Water Tower - Where's the Osprey?
I was disappointed in our stop here as things have changed since my last visit. There use to be a lookout tower here and it is gone. I remember climbing to the top. Not an easy job but I did it. Also the area that we used to pull over next to the water has been turned into a private camp ground the dock area is closed to the public and turned into some kind of yacht club with out the yachts.......
Moored Boats 
Although the public can't enjoy the dock area the Gulls are taking advantage of it.
Gulls on the docks
One can not really capture the vastness of this lake, but take my word for it it is huge. As far as the eye can see it's water.
Lake Okeechobee

Lake Okeechobee looking toward the docks

Our originally plan called for traveling all the way around the lake but by this time it was late afternoon and we  had just begun. so we called it good and headed for Rt. 27 and home. On the way home we hit some rain showers as well as lots of flycatchers hawking bugs brought out by the rain. Sometimes these birds would just miss hitting out car and there were sooo many of them flying fast and furious. It was a little scary and I didn't want them to get hit but also at the same time fun to see them in action and to be surrounded by so many of them. (no pictures they fly way too fast for me)

Rain is coming

Storm over the Sugarcane
Getting closer to home

Traffic, Traffic, everywhere
The end of a perfect day!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Last Hurrah

Well at least till the cooler weather comes back. It is way too warm already. We had a cold winter and now it looks like it will be an early and very warm summer. That's OK I have plenty to keep me busy inside and I will probably find a topic or two to write about as well. But this Blog is about our last hurrah or our last birding trip at least until the cooler weather returns.

My plans this particular weekend were to just hang out at home and rest up a little but after doing the grocery shopping, I kind of got this nagging feeling to get out and look for some birds. So when I got home I said let's pack up and take off for the weekend so we did.

We headed North pushing our way up the coast till we got to the Daytona Area. I wanted to go back to Ponce Inlet to check it out for shorebirds as it had been so productive when I was there earlier in the year and I had read about some terns nesting on one of the birding lists so we went.

Well when we got there late afternoon on Saturday there were cars everywhere. What was going on I wondered. Well a wedding for one and it was super warm, so the beach goers were there and their cars along with them. We did find a parking space and did walk down to the beach but there were more people then birds on the beach that day. We walked the boardwalk but still didn't see to much in the way of birds.

A couple of Brown Pelicans flying along the inlet, a Morning Dove or two in the dunes and a Tern or two, too far out for me to ID. We did see other interesting things such as Gopher Tortoises slowly prodding along in the sand while picnickers were unaware they were even there.

The sand dunes held my interest as did the views of Ponce Inlet Lighthouse always a favorite. There were what I thought were crab parts in the sand that the ants were picnicking on that upon closer inspection I discovered were just pieces of bread. Guess these old eyes just aren't what they use to be. There were also Cactus blooming in the dunes though I couldn't get close enough for a good shot.

It was getting late now so we needed to make up our minds what we were going to do next. We could get a hotel on the beach and spend the night and hit the inlet again in the morning early or go west young man go west. So heading west won out, the plan was to find a place to stay near Blue Springs then go there in the morning and do the boat ride on the river. I had enjoyed the trip the first time I went and was looking forward to doing it again.

We found a place to stay and found a place to eat after which we headed back to the hotel and began preparing the equipment for the next day and reviewing what we had shot today.

Sunday we woke early and went downstairs to eat the complimentary breakfast. I had brought yogurt with me so just fixed a bowl with some cereal and mixed my yogurt into it and got a piece of fruit and a cup of tea and I was good to go. So off we went.

We made a few right turns and a few left turns and were soon out in the country and by this time I was completely lost. Soon though we did find the little gift shop there and we thought they might have a map of the area. Unfortunately they were not open after all it was not quite 7 am. But we did find some info about the area and a rough drawn map. So we drove down the road a little ways and parked the car. Got our cameras and off we went.

We walked what looked like and old road threw some trees and came out on a wetland prairie. What a view boy I think I was so awe struck I didn't get any pictures of that view but did get others as we walked in search for wildlife. I think I was struck more by what I was seeing because it wasn't what I had expected to see in this wooded area I had been driving around in.

It appeared as first a small wetland just beyond the tree then a more vast wetland as we walked further up the path. We could have gone further west but chose to turn right and headed north. At the next intersection the west path was shut down so we climbed the tower to look out over the area and listened to the Sandhill cranes out on the prairie but could not see them. Later we did see one sitting an a nest. We turned right again and finally ended up back a the beginning.

One of the highlight of this trip was a lifer. (a Bobolink) I really didn't expect to get any lifers out here and was thrilled. this bird was heard before it was seen. It played hard to get for a long time before it finally showed it self. Then when it did I couldn't take my eye off of it ans was so nervous that most of the shots I took didn't come out that great. But they are good enough for and ID and that was what was important.

We were just moving slowly and enjoying the sites that surrounded us as we walked back to where the car was parked. I was photographing so white flowers when all of a sudden a bird flies straight over my head barely missing me. It flew into the brush on the other side of the path, so we quietly and slowly went to investigate and soon located the hawk. What a handsome creature he was. Don't you think so?
This actually turned out to be a great little trip, we saw quite a few birds, lots of dragonflies & Butterflies and tons of wildflowers, several alligators and a snake.

On the way home we stopped at Merritt Island and of course saw a few more birds. Driving Black Point Drive we saw the usual herons and egrets as well as an Osprey,  a few Red-winged Blackbirds, a handsome Reddish Egret in breeding plumage, several Blacked Necked Stilts and a real treat for me was a Black-bellied Plover in breeding plumage. As we were leaving the drive we go to see a few Black Vultures having a meal on a dead alligator. What a wonderful treat to see this little bit of nature in action. The vultures were very calm and allowed me to get a couple of portrait shots.

I love Merritt Island no matter what time of year. There is always something around whether it be bird, butterflies, dragonflies, pretty wildflowers or some other type of wildlife like wild boars, alligators, or river otters. I hear there is also a large cat but I have yet to see it. Just a matter of being in the right place at the right

Birds seen on this trip Green Heron, Great Egrets, Wood-storks, Sandhill Cranes, Little blues both juvenile and adult. Tricolor Egrets, Glossy, White, and one white faces Ibis, Osprey, Black Vultures, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Killdeer, Brown Pelicans,Reddish egret. Bobolink, Red shouldered Hawk, Moorhen, Great Blue Herons, Yellowlegs, Black-bellied plovers, unidentified Terns, and Morning doves.