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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Florida's Only Endemic Bird

[Southwest Florida, November 2012]

The US is not known to be a hotbed of endemism (unlike South America) and therefore the observation of any US endemic is cause for justifiable excitement -- all the more so, then, when the one (and only) Florida endemic -- the Florida Scrub Jay is encountered. Thanks to Bob Pelkey's tireless efforts in documenting the birdlife of Southwest Floirda, I was able to spend a fruitful morning in Cape Coral where Florida Scrub Jays have been sighted.

These scrub jays (comprising 2 families) have moved to their semi-urban environment in Cape Coral relatively recently and have also unwittingly created a "problem" for the city. Unlike other birds (witness the decline of burrowing owls in this area) which have had to yield to the inexorable bulldozer of "progress", the Florida scrub jay is listed on the Federal Endangered Species List and therefore cannot easily be dispensed with.

This has necessitated the creation of a mitigation plan by the City which goes to considerable lengths to allay the concerns of the ordinary citizen wondering why they need to be bothered, or worse yet, financially encumbered, with protecting this threatened Florida endemic.


In any case, these charismatic and intelligent corvids are here to stay and, for a species in decline everywhere else in Florida due to loss of habitat, their present situation seems nothing short of "divine justice" at work -- a threatened species re-establishing itself in its former habitat.

Inquisitive and highly confiding, these gregarious jays probably number no more than 8,000 in Florida (and hence in the whole world) and there has been in the recent past an energetic movement to make it the state bird of Florida in favor of the Northern Mockingbird. I for one, would gladly lend my support were the scrub jay to be thus elevated.

In addition to the jays, the surrounding habitat of oak scrub and grasslands attracts other species as well including Northern Harrier, Burrowing Owl and Eastern Meadowlark.

The medowlark is a shy icterid that, better than 9 times of 10, I've managed to successfully photograph only from the back. I was hoping my luck this time would afford perspectives other than the posterior view.

A side view raised hopes that it would turn to face the photographer and then ...

.. a turn in progress ...

.. was followed by a full frontal -- photographic mission accomplished!

In contrast to the meadowlark, the burrowing owl, also found somewhat commonly in the area, is generously forthcoming in providing good frontal views -- especially of its piercing yellow eyes.

Seen here right off Kismet Parkway in the midst of urban sprawl.

This small patch of land in Cape Coral shows that at least some species are still making a tenuous stand and somewhat successfully clinging on to whatever habitat is still left unmolested from rampant development.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Yellow-throated Warbler at Corkscrew Swamp

Most people will see the yellow-throated warbler like this (here seen in early November at Bunche Beach Preserve, Fort Myers, FL):

This is a warbler of the high canopy where it prefers to nest and feed.

It is a wintering warbler in Southern Florida and sometimes can be found in mixed feeding flocks with pine warblers.

Occasionally, it will drop down low enough to permit some good views and the next series of shots aim to highlight this attractive warbler's distinctive looks.

This individual appeared at SW Florida's premier woodland birding hotspot -- Corkscrew Swamp in early November 2012.

It is classified as "Least Concern" and, thankfully, populations show increasing trends which is encouraging.

Perhaps less strongly dimorphic than other warblers, females and juveniles are duller versions of the male.

Not to be confused with the similarly named "Common Yellowthroat", this warbler, does however share some visual cues with the Blackburnian. However, the yellow-throat remains diagnostic [not orange like the Blackburnian].

A spectacular find anywhere in its range in the US, the yellow-throated warbler can be seen in Florida year round.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

White Pelican and Red Knot

[Southwest Florida, 1st week of November, 2012]

The arrival of November heralds the coming of wintering American White Pelicans at Ding Darling wildlife refuge. A huge bird (both in length and in wingspan), this is the only pelican in the world that grows a horn in the breeding season.

Entirely white except for the black trailing edge on the wings, the American White Pelican [seen here on November 4th at Ding Darling] is an unmistakeable bird and unlike the year-round Brown Pelican, it is not a plunge diver; preferring instead to corral fish in large flocks.

Not too far from Ding Darling at Little Estero Lagoon, a bulky sandpiper combs the beach. Chevrons on the breast and flanks and dull yellowish legs help identify this large sandpiper as a Red Knot. Seen at this same location earlier in April, gone now is the rufous blush from the knot's plumage; replaced instead by pale greys and whites. A transformation complete.

Other birds seen at Little Estero were (the always flashy) oystercatcher, snowy and wilson's plover, and western sandpiper.

Early winter is always prime shorebirding and other birds seen, this time at Ding Darling, were spotted and least sandpiper as well as dunlin.

All in all, many interesting birds were observed; but perhaps "the 747 of birds" the American White Pelican, and a chevron'ed sandpiper standout most vividly.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Pine Warblers at Corkscrew Swamp

Not all the US summer warblers escape to South or Central America (or the Caribbean) in the winter -- some warblers, like the black-and-white, yellow-throated, palm, pine, yellow-rumped, northen parula, ovenbird, and prairie can be found wintering in Southern Florida. And, for those looking for a "warbler fix" in the winter, Corkscrew Swamp is a great place to visit.

In an uneventful early November walk at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Collier County, just before exiting the premises, a feeding flock of passerines livened up an otherwise quiet morning with Pine Warbler being the star attraction.

First up, the female -- in winter as in the summer, the fairer sex is also the duller and her drab plumes stand in contrast to the male's which still show a hint of leftover yellowish summer brilliance.

In the early morning, these warblers were joined by blue-grey gnatcatchers who flew within inches of the photographer -- making repeated forays into the air, plucking insects and making crisp clicking sounds:

And talking about hawking insects, here's a successful catch by the pine warbler:

While this feeding frenzy lasted only 5 minutes, it nonetheless afforded several spectacular photo opportunities; and what started out as a slow morning ended instead in a burst of electrifying activity...

.. thereby proving, that surprises await the patient (and the occasionally lucky) observer.