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Monday, February 27, 2012

Painted Bunting and More

Corkscrew Swamp offers interesting birding year round. These pictures were taken in February 2012. Just 40 minutes from Naples in Southwest Florida, Corkscrew is a convenient birding stop for all locals as well as visiting "snowbirds".

Corkscrew is a reliable place for Painted Bunting [left] and in Spring, for migrating Indigo Bunting as well. It is also excellent for white-eyed vireo [middle and right] as well as palm warbler [lower right].

Other common residents and over-winterers here include Northern Cardinal [upper left], red-bellied woodpecker [lower left], yellow-bellied sapsucker [upper right], and black-and-white warbler [lower right].

Pine warbler [left] is another wintering warbler that is well seen. Vociferous Carolina Wren's [lower right] is the loudest bird in the Swamp and can be heard throughout the Swamp. Great-crested flycatcher [middle] and Eastern Phoebe [upper right] hawk insects from the branches.

Another regular resident is barred owl. This owl is heard more often than seen but nevertheless makes regular appearances to the delight of onlookers. Its dark, liquidy eyes are deep-set in conical eye sockets creating a bit of a heart shaped appearance.

On the shorebird and wader front, common residents such as oystercatcher and wilon's plover are joined by overwinterers such as Least Sandpiper and Piping Plover in February.

Finally, while American Pelican are aerial giants, their smaller cousins, the Brown Pelican is still impressive. Be it on land, water or in the air.

While February is generally a challenging month for the birder, Southwest Florida offers plenty of birding action in superb weather.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Birding Victoria: Laughing Kookaburra and the Rest

No birding trip to Australia could be considered complete without encountering the signature kingfisher native to Australia: the laughing kookaburra. This large, carnivorous bird is reportedly common and therefore I started proactively panicking when my 48-hr birding excursion neared its end and there was no sign of the kookaburra. Simon, my guide, ultimately delivered the target species and I could safely return to the States without the shame of being known as the birder who counts common species as nemesis birds.

Perhaps the most common bird of prey was the whistling kite [right]. This kite reminded me of our harriers in its behavior. Also seen were little eagle [middle] and black shouldered kite [left; compare with our white-tailed kite with which they were earlier considered conspecific].

The brown falcon [left] is another endemic; in addition to the black shouldered kite and little eagle.

Among larids, the most common gull was the silver gull [left and lower right]; they are very common and quite attractive in their breeding colors. Also sighted was crested tern [upper right] which has a distinctive yellow bill.

Australia is known, if for nothing else, but the richness of its psittacids. The first one I saw, in urban Melbourne, was the Sulphur-crested cockatoo [upper left]. Another common cockatoo is the Galah [right] which is increasing in numbers. While I missed the male King Parrot, I did see the female [lower right]; and, a much smaller parrot -- the red rumped [middle].

Concluding the psittacids: the purple crowned lorikeet [left] and the spectacular crimson rosella [center and lower right].

In the final assortment, we see the top notch pigeon [aka the crested pigeon, left], the prehistoric emu [right], and the white-throated treecreeper [center].

Birding Victoria is an extremely rewarding exercise. If you have limited time, I strongly recommend a guide -- you are guaranteed to see an incredible amount of endemics and lifers.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Birding Victoria Part III. Herons, Rails, and Waterfowl.

The avifauna of Australia is blessed with 2 species of spoonbill: the yellow-billed [upper right] as well as the royal spoonbill [lower right]. Both were seen at Werribee. Given that there only 6 species of spoonbill in the world, it would mean that Victoria has 33% representation of global spoonbill species! On the heron front, the Australian count is 14 species; of which the white-faced heron is shown here [left].

The purple swamphen [center and bottom right] is a bright and large rail that is widely seen. The Australian race, as can be seen, is more royal blue with a black head compared to the race from the Indian subcontinent which is more cyan and has a grey head. This particular race can now also be found in Florida due to escapees from collections and eradication efforts have failed to strop their spread. Also seen were dusky moorhen [upper right] and Australian spotted crake [left].

Australia is full of surprises and it was little surprise, therefore, to encounter a white cormorant with black wings: the pied cormorant [upper right]. A welcome variation to the all-black cormorants we are accustomed to in the US. More familiar were the Australian white ibis [left] and the straw-necked ibis [lower right].

In reference to unusual creatures, in addition to white cormorants, Australia has black swans. Black swans were considered an impossibility in the old world -- hence the term "a black swan event". However, black swans [lower right] are native to Australia and they only thing impossible about them is their grace and beauty. Other members of the waterfowl seen were Australian wood duck [left] and Chestnut Teal [upper right].

Wrapping up the waterfowl seen were great crested grebe [left], Australasian grebe [middle and upper right], magpie goose [a very odd bird, right center] and the Australian Pelican [lower right]. And, finally, a picture of a Cape Barren Goose; a rare goose whose population is recovering at about 18,000 individuals. It has the remarkable ability to drink salt water.

Shown left to right: Cape barren goose, black swan, Australian pelican.

Black Swan Theory: link

Friday, February 24, 2012

Birding Victoria Part II. A sampling of shorebirds of the Southern Hemisphere.

Shorebirds are a favorite category of mine and having read in advance of some of the specialty species of the area, I quickly put Hooded Plover, Red-kneed Dotterel and Australian Pied Oystercatcher on the target list.

Werribee was our preferred destination for shorebirding and it did not disappoint. An uncommon tringa (for the area) was the Wood Sandpiper [right and upper left]. Like other tringas, the resemblance to the family is evident (compare with our yellowlegs for example). Another similarity, this time to our Pectoral Sandpiper, is its old world cousin, the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper [middle and lower left].

Another visually similar sandpiper was the red-necked stint [upper right] which bears a strong resemblance to our semi-palmated sandpiper (but lacks the partially webbed feet). However, for something quite different, it was hard to beat the red-kneed dotterel [left and lower right]. These are handsome plovers, and in their breeding plumage, show very contrasting and distinctive colors. Also seen, were masked lapwing; an endemic and somewhat large shorebird with bright yellow wattles.

Perhaps the bird of the trip, for me, at least, was the hooded plover [middle and upper right]. This species is endemic to Australia, classified as Vulnerable because of a small population of 7000 that is decreasing and is highly endangered in the state of Victoria. It resembles our piping plover but with a spectacular hood and black-tipped scarlet bill. Very familiar, on the other hand, was the pied oystercatcher that is instantly recognizable as a cousin to our own.

In contrast to the dashing hooded plover, the curlew sandpiper [right and lower left] was seen in mixed flocks with some individuals showing a hint of coming into color.

The black-fronted dotterel is another attractive plover [middle and upper right] and was seen at inland freshwater. It is a common shorebird and completes the shorebird round-up of the trip.

Hooded Plover blurb at BirdLife: article

Birding Victoria Part I. Honeyeaters and wrens.

Invited to Australia for a friend's wedding, I was excited to see the fabled land "down under". This was my maiden trip to the Southern Hemisphere and excitement was building that virtually every bird seen would be a lifer. To ensure that most of free time was spent looking at birds rather than looking for directions, I had hired a local birding guide specializing in birds of the State of Victoria.

First stop was Serendip Sanctuary at the base of the You Yangs. This allowed me to get accustomed to the local birds. First up, was the spectacular Spotted Pardalote.

Also known as the "Diamondbird", this tiny bird is quite common but not commonly seen.

Next was another endemic -- the Crested Shriketit [middle]. This is a medium sized insectivorous bird that uses its parrot-like bill to pry for insects under the peeling bark of trees. To the right is a rufous whistler seen in the Brisbane Ranges National Park; and, in the lower left are 2 zebra finch [seen at Werribee; the male is on the lower branch; the female on the upper]; and, above them a white-browed scrubwren.

Further exploring woodland habitat, a cooperative grey fantail [center] was spied. Seen at Serendip Sanctuary was a dusky wood swallow [juvenal, bottom right] and a flycatcher [upper right]. But, the star of the show, surely, was a scarlet robin [left] that was found in dry scrubland.

Victoria, though a small state in Australia has recorded about 500 species. Dominated by the various species of Australian wrens and honeyeaters, there are, however, no woodpeckers. A fact, of course, noted by Alfred Wallace of Wallace's Line fame [link]. There are, of course whistlers; such as this golden whistler [middle and upper right], grey shrikethrush [left] and the endangered helmeted honeyeater [lower right].

A confusing converse of the helmeted is the white-eared honeyeater [right] with a black face and prominent white cheeks. A real delight was the chestnut-rumped heathwren [middle and upper left] which showed well but was somewhat ADHD.

Perhaps the commonest honeyeater, is the new holland honeyeater [right]. These were commonly seen in flocks. Another common bird is the olive-backed oriole [center] which we stumbled upon while chasing a black-faced cuckoo shrike [failed to photograph well]. More cooperative birds were the black currawong [lower left] and the red-browed finch [upper left].

Red wattlebirds [center] were also plentiful, but besides a flock of black-chinned honeyeaters [upper left], the honeyeater that stole the show was the Eastern Spinebill [right and lower left] which looks like a giant sunbird with very distinctive markings.

Perhaps the most enigmatic endemic of the trip was the Southern Emu-Wren [left]. It is so named because the tail feathers resemble those of the emu. These feathers don't form a tight tail; but rather each is an individual strand that is loosely bunched with the rest. Another endemic is the white-fronted chat [center] which was found in Werribee. The Satin Bowerbird is well known in ornithology for its courting antics involving the construction of a bower to attract the female. However, after extensive searching in the hills by Lorne [Southern Victoria] for the male, it was sighted but only the female obliged for a photograph [right].

Perhaps, second only to the Emu-Wren would be the superb fairy-wren [right]. This is not an uncommon bird and was seen both at Serendip as well as Werribee. It is a dazzler wherever it appears.

Here it is again [Center] with a juvenal spinebill [left] and a brown thornbird [right].

Useful Resources:
Birding Guide: Simon's Firetail Tours
Serendip Sanctuary: Serendip
Where to See Birds in Victoria: Book