Saturday, February 28, 2015

Florida! -- Fort de Soto & Gulfport

Fort de Soto Park.  This series of islands on the Gulf Coast is jam-backed with seriously rad birds.  So many birds I visited three times while I was in Florida despite the $5 entrance fee.  The first time was to meet up with my brother and his family when I first arrived, but since they were running late I had time to check out the beach for a little bit.

 Willets, Laughing Gulls, and Ring-billed Gulls dominated the scene initially.

After sitting in the sand for a few minutes a couple of Black Skimmers appeared!  They came to rest up the beach with a bunch of gulls.

So stoked, this was a bird I had been really wanting to see.  My brother and his family arrived and we poked around the historic fort and even drove around one of those bike/buggy-looking contraptions called a "double-train" as can be seen here.

After that grueling ride my brother and I walked out on the pier to look for sting rays and dolphins.  We found this funny group of birds:

Clockwise from top:  Ruddy Turnstone, Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, Laughing Gull (#floridapals)

 I knew there were many more birds to be had at Fort de Soto, so a couple days later I headed to the North Beach area early in the morning to track some down. 

Sunrise spoonbills

 American Oystercatcher

 Apparently I was too far north at North Beach.  I could see a ton of shorebirds and such to the south, so I drove to the south end of North Beach.  There I found the masses of birds I was hoping for.

That far sand bar was littered with birds and all kinds of signs and apparently video surveillance keep people from messing with the nesting ones.  There were tons of plovers out there and I finally picked out some I felt confident-ish were Wilson's.  [Confident-ish is not confident enough.  Seagull Steve crushed my dreams and I think all I saw were Semi-palmated.]

While I was scanning the shorebirds another one of my target birds flew in, a Reddish Egret!

White morph?  I'll take it!  I had to leave to meet my brother and a Red-shouldered Hawk perched on a sign on the way out...

My last day in Florida I had a couple spare hours before I had to leave for the airport so I spent them on yet another trip to Fort de Soto.  Things were foggy and shorebirds at a great distance were much harder to identify.

I decided to walk over to the terns and gulls roosting on an accessible part of the beach to see if I could pick out my desired bird, a Sandwich Tern.  I slowly inched my way through the fog, getting closer and closer till I could finally see the birds well enough.  A few sammies were among them!

Sandwich Tern with a Forster's Tern and Royal Tern backup crew

I made my way back to the shorebirds where I made my brain hurt trying to pick out Red Knots.  My brain was hurting so much it did not even notice there was a damn Reddish Egret strolling around.  Found it in my photos later on.

Thankfully I did find some Red Knots but I will spare you the foggy photos.

That is all from Fort de Soto.  One afternoon my brother took me to Gulfport where he and his family were staying with his in-laws.  We stopped by the local duck pond where White Ibises came running towards us as we approached.  They lost interest upon realizing we were not going to feed them.

Back at the condo, my brother had to take my niece to get a hot dog and my sister-in-law's parents asked if I wanted to go for a walk to their Gulfport beach.  Of course I did.

 More Black Skimmers!

 Marbled Godwits, Willets, Short-billed Dowitchers

Semipalmated Plover & Dunlin

We walked out to a dock where a Brown Pelican was fishing.

And that concludes this installment of crazy Florida birding.  More to come!  Good times!!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Florida! - 28th Street Wetlands & Sawgrass Lake Park

Five days in the sunshine state.  Not enough.  Let's begin.

28th Street Wetlands was not a place I had planned to bird.  My first day in Florida I was driving from my Super 8 to meet my brother and sister-in-law for dinner in downtown St. Pete's when something caught my eye on the side of the road.  Something pink.  A U-turn across four lanes of traffic resulted in my first Roseate Spoonbill.

I was so excited but it was getting dark and I was late for dinner, so I eventually forced myself back in the car.  I went to put it in eBird and learned the spot was called 28th St Wetlands.

You might imagine where I went as soon as the sky began to lighten the next morning...

28th St Wetlands

When I arrived, Boat-tailed Grackles were gathering on the power lines, taking turns bathing and being loud.

Dozens of Cattle Egrets were roosting in trees in the middle of the wetlands.

A Tricolored Heron that initially seemed upset with my presence at the wetlands decided I was alright and flew back to where I was standing. 

I walked over to where I had seen the spoonbill and sure enough there were a couple around.

The best thing about all these weird Florida birds?  They hang out with other weird Florida birds.

 Wood Stork & spoonbill pals

This was a neat little spot with lifers ripe for the picking before it even really got that light out.  By 8:00 a.m. I was on my way to the next place, Sawgrass Lake Park, to do some birding and exploring with my brother.

While waiting for him to join me I was entertained by a couple of Pileated Woodpeckers, followed by a couple of Blue-headed Vireos...

An Anhinga kept me from molesting alligators...

Shortly after this my brother and I did find some gators, three young ones, out on the lake.

Later on I was watching some White Ibises poke around the grass when I noticed a hawk soar overhead.  It circled allowing some photos, then came back a second time even.

Short-tailed Hawk!  I was not actually expecting to see this bird, so I was stoked.  My brother did not seem impressed.  We explored the rest of the park, getting to see some of them Muddled Ducks nobody likes.

If you want to know more, check out this recent eBird article.  Nearby was some trash and a big turtle.

An Anhinga kept watch here also, probably keeping countless people from molesting the turtle.

That's all for now.  So much more to come.  Good times!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Sauvie Island

All the cool kids have been talking about Sauvie Island lately, and with another spring-like day predicted for Portland yesterday, I decided to head out there with the mutts.

Coon Point

I spent over an hour searching for the recently reported Tricolored Blackbird along Gillihan Road before throwing in the towel and heading to Oak Island Road.  Sandhill Cranes flying by at close range were the highlight there.

At Coon Point I walked the dogs up to the dike where Steve Halpern was already set up.  Tundra Swans, Cackling Geese, and American Wigeons made up the majority of birds in the water.  A kestrel flew in to a nearby tree at one point and I watched my first of year Tree Swallow dive at her.  A few minutes later a Sharp-shinned Hawk soared over.

From Coon Point I drove up to Rentenaar Road, stopping to watch a crow dive at a harrier.

And stopping again to check out the Great Blue Heron rookery.

My last stop before Rentenaar was a house that has been empty for a long time.  There are five structures on the property and every single one is falling down and sketchy.  But if you walk through the backyard there's a great view of some water that happened to be filled with Snow Geese and Tundra Swans.

A Bald Eagle cruised overhead causing some commotion.

The Snow Geese settled down again just as the Bald Eagle reached a field of Cackling and Canada Geese farther away.

I was trying to get a better look at that dark dot in the tree in the above photo (bottom left), hoping to turn it into the recently reported Golden Eagle. 

The view above looks possible, but a later photo made it look a bit different.

Now it appears to have some white on the belly, which would rule out Golden Eagle.  Crappy photos don't help.  The property I was viewing from is for sale for the low low price of...

Alright, finally we made it to Rentenaar Road and I walked the dogs up and down to see what we could find. 

Mount St. Helens was looking ridiculously fantastic yesterday.  

A big ole murder of 60+ crows was hanging out in the reeds, occasionally taking flight to really show their numbers.

Sandhill Cranes were flying by closely again...

A couple of wild kitties got the dogs excited.

They're pretty cute with bright green eyes.  Someone should go trap them!  Nearby the kitty hangout is the area known for sparrows.  The only interesting one yesterday was the leucistic Golden-crowned Sparrow which looks way cooler in person than photos.

The mutts were stoked on their sunny walk, filled with animal smells and sounds, and stuff to pee on. 

I think we all agreed that the California Quail sounds coming from the blackberry bushes were the best sounds of the day. 

After Rentenaar I stopped by Gillihan Road again and found Colby looking for the Tricolored.  He thought he had seen it earlier, but wanted a better look.  I gave it another half hour before giving up again.   Oh well, it was a beautiful day to spend outside with several FOY species for me.  Good times!