Archive for the ‘Glossy Ibis’ Tag

Southern Florida – part one: 18th-19th February 2020.   2 comments

Back in late 2019 I had no idea of the impending storm brewing in China and couldn’t imagine that within five months international travel and indeed most travel, would be banned for a year or more.

I was looking for a bird tour in late February/March and whittled down the possibilities to two; either remote and little visited areas of Borneo or Guyana and Suriname in northern South America. In the end I went for the latter which was a good idea, because as far as I can tell the Borneo trip didn’t go, whether that was from lack of bookings or cancellation due to the pandemic I don’t know.

So what’s this to do with Florida? I have paid a number of visits to the USA but my only time in Florida was limited to a few hours on the way to and way back from my first trip to Costa Rica in 1981. Florida has a number of bird species found nowhere else in the ABA area (USA, Canada and Greenland as defined by the American Birding Association) but all but one, the Florida Scrub-jay can be easily found in the Neotropics. But although I don’t make a habit of visiting the ABA area just to up my ABA list, whilst I was there I thought I might as well target the ABA ticks as well.

But the question was when to go, there were two bird species and one mammal, the bizarre Manatee, that I really wanted to see. If I went in the summer I could see Antillean Nighthawk, a bird that I have missed on all my trips to the Caribbean (as it doesn’t arrive on the breeding grounds until late April) and the Scrub-jay – but the Manatees would be well offshore in the warmer weather. If I went in the winter I could see Manatees and the Scrub-jay but not the Nighthawk. Margaret had no interest in going as she had lived in Florida for several years in her previous life, so I couldn’t turn it into a family holiday.

In the end I decided the best thing to do was to visit Florida for a few days on my way to Guyana this February and hope I could see the Nighthawk on a future visit to the Caribbean, so I planned for three and a half days birding in southern Florida.

 

The direct flight from Heathrow arrived in the late afternoon, which was of course, late evening UK time. All of the eastern cost of Florida encloses the Intracoastal Waterway. In fact this sheltered waterway can be navigated from Brownsville in Texas all the way up to Baltimore. When Margaret first visited the USA she lived on a 33ft yacht in which she journeyed all the way from Fort Lauderdale to Baltimore.

 

Accommodation on these islands and on the outer banks of the lagoon is reserved for the ultra-rich. Initial driving in the USA is always problematic as you adjust to driving on the right (or is it wrong?) side of the road. But exiting the airport at dusk into a multilane highway system in the rush hour was always going to be a bit of a nightmare, but I soon found my rather shabby motel. I was later told this was the type of motel that you could book by the hour for whatever nefarious deeds that you had in mind, but that didn’t matter, it was a convenient place to rest. Due to the time difference it was only 2030 when I went to bed but I was away by 0430 the next day and on the road north.

I drove 88 miles north to Jonathon Dickinson State Park, which I had been told was a good site for the jay, but I arrived far too early. Whilst waiting for it to open I birded along the road seeing species like Palm Warbler (above), Pine Warbler and Myrtle Warbler – a species I’ve seen on Scilly in the UK in the distant past.

 

Another common species was Northern Mockingbird. Amazingly one of these turned up in Devon in the UK this February but we were in the middle of a Covid lockdown at the time. Some chose to break the rules but I stayed put until they were relaxed and visited just before Easter. This was the third British record of this species (almost certainly ship-assisted) but the other two weren’t twitchable and so it has generated a lot of interest. Unlike the individual in the photo the one in Devon had a normal shaped upper mandible! Postscript – after writing this earlier today I heard that the Mockingbird has left Devon and has been relocated an equal distance to the east of me in West Sussex!

 

Once in the park it only took about 30 minutes to find a pair of Florida Scrub-jays.

 

Originally considered one species the ‘Scrub Jay’, it has now been split into four with Island Scrub-jay only on Santa Cruz Island off California, California Scrub-jay in the westernmost Lower 48 and Baja California, Woodhouse’s Scrub-jay in interior western USA and central Mexico and this species which is confined to south-central Florida. Clearly there is a research program going on here as both birds were colour-ringed.

 

I spent some time looking around the rest of the park hoping to see a variety of birds, I had some success eg with this Anhinga but I was later to regret that I didn’t drive back south and go for the Manatees at West Palm Beach.

 

I had booked a boat ride on Lake Kissimmee, a few hours drive to the north, for 1500 so to allow plenty of time I set off early. I arrived with loads of time to spare and birded along the access road and around the dock for a couple of hours.

 

Eastern Meadowlarks and …

 

… Loggerhead Shrikes were easily seen along the access road …

 

… and lots of American Kestrels.

 

Along the shore of Kissimmee Swamp I saw …

 

… Great Blue Heron …

 

… and Wood Stork bathing in the hot sunshine. The former of these two birds is common throughout the Nearctic region but the Wood Stork is (outside of Florida and southernmost California) almost entirely Neotropical. However I already had the species on my ABA list as many years ago, circling over Miami after a trip to the Caribbean, I saw a flock out of the plane window!

 

It wasn’t just the herons and storks that were sunbathing in the hot temperatures, a flock of Ring-billed Gulls had all turned to face the sun and were panting in the high temperatures, either that or I had chanced on a Ring-billed Gull choral group! This species has turned up so regularly in the UK in recent years that it has been dropped as an official rarity. I’ve seen 22 in the UK and it could have been a lot more if I’d have put the effort in.

 

A Forster’s Tern perched on sign, another species I’ve seen in the UK but only four times.

 

White Ibis fed around the margins of the lake.

 

This is a widespread species in Central America and Mexico, the Caribbean and northern South America but in the ABA area its confined to the Gulf Coast, Florida and the coast north to the Carolinas.

 

The related Glossy Ibis is more widespread being found in many parts of the Old World from Europe to Australia, including these days, occasionally in the UK.

 

However in the Americas it is largely confined to a narrow strip from Maine to eastern Texas. As there is another closely related species, White-faced Ibis further west then it may be that Glossy Ibis is a relatively recent colonist of the New World.

 

Ubiquitous throughout the whole of the Americas is the rather ugly Turkey Vulture.

 

One of my first big twitches in the UK occurred in 1979 when I went down to Cornwall to see the UK’s first Belted Kingfisher which over wintered on the River Camel. This species can be sexed by presence (female) or absence (male) on a chestnut belt on the breast, which isn’t much help here as the breast is hidden.

 

There are four species in the family Anhingidae, the ones in Africa, the Orient and Australasia use those geographic terms along with the name Darter, however the one in the Americas takes its name from Brazilian Amerindian for ‘snake-bird’ – Anhinga. This group of birds differs from cormorants by their long necks which can be shot forwards at great speed to spear rather than grab fish.

 

Soon it was time to head out onto the water …

 

… earlier there had been a question as to whether the boat would go or not as I was the only person interested, but another couple had booked, so it was ok. The boat, a sort of hovercraft with a huge fan at the rear, could skim over all the marsh vegetation in a way no normal boat could, but it was mega-noisy hence the ear protection.

 

With my lifer (the jay) under-the-belt it was time to look for some of the species that makes visiting Florida essential for ABA birders, starting with Purple Gallinule.

 

Not to be confused with what used to be called ‘purple gallinule’ in the Old World and which is now treated as six species of ‘swamphen’, this bird is a colourful cousin of our Common Moorhen. I’ve seen it before in Texas and many times in the Neotropics but these were the best views I’ve ever had of it.

 

Another widespread bird that is only found in Florida outside of the Neotropics is the Limpkin. Limpkins have an unusual flight style in which the wing is usually held above the horizontal and the up-stroke is faster than the down-stroke.

 

Perhaps one of Florida’s most iconic birds is the Snail Kite, (once known in the States as Everglades Kite, but as it occurs as far south as Argentina it’s not a very appropriate name).

 

The kites were visible almost constantly whilst I was at the lake.

 

Males have this slate grey plumage – note the thin and highly curved bill …

 

… that has evolved to winkle apple snails out of their shells.

 

This Snail Kite with a very broad supercillium and spotted breast is a juvenile. Females are similar but with a narrower supercillium and heavily streaked breast.

 

Other species commonly seen included Great Blue Heron …

 

… and Snowy Egret which differs from our Little Egret by its bright yellow iris and lores, yellow on the feet extending up the tarsus and even (as can be seen here) the tibia and more but shorter plumes on the head. There has been one record of the species in the UK, in Scotland in 2002, whilst there has been two records of Great Blue Heron both on Scilly (2007 and 2015) …

 

… however a most unexpected fact is that the ‘type specimen’ of American Bittern (ie the first one to be collected for scientific reasons) was shot in 1804 at Puddletown in Dorset, UK,  just 15 miles from where I live.

 

I had the most wonderful views of American Bittern from the boat, I have seen this species before in the ABA area and the UK but never this close.

 

Another heron seen from the boat was Little Blue Heron, again this has been seen in Britain and Ireland, just the once in Co Galway in 2008. Of all the five American heron species seen in the UK and Ireland I’ve only seen two back home; Green Heron and American Bittern.

 

There were also a good number of Great Egrets on the lake. Whilst widespread throughout much of the world its only been the last 15 or so years that they have become regular in the UK. So far there’s no evidence that a New World Great Egret has made it to Britain but they are separable on bare part colouration and plumes during the breeding season and are probably a different species from the Old World ones (with the Australasian ones being a third species.)

 

There were other raptors around the lake, I usually have difficulty in identifying all the mid-sized American raptors because I mainly see them briefly when driving but here in the south the commonest species is Red-shouldered Hawk. This is an immature.

 

But there was no difficulty identifying this magnificent bird …

 

… I tend to associate Bald Eagles with boreal forests, so it was a bit of a surprise seeing two breeding pairs just a few degrees north of the tropics. I have previously seen them on the Oklahoma/Texas border but that was in winter.

 

I saw lots of other species from the boat from the ubiquitous Boat-tailed Grackle …

 

… to a terrapin with the wonderful name of Florida Red-bellied Cooter.

 

Of course no visit to a Florida wetland would be complete without views of Alligators, big ones …

 

… baby ones …

 

… and some very close views indeed.

 

There were a number of small waders out in the marsh. When I pointed them out to the boatman he replied that he ‘didn’t do peeps’ but closer views revealed them as Least Sandpipers mainly on account of the yellow legs.

 

One of the highlights of the boat trip was really close views of a nesting Sandhill Crane. This species is migratory over most of its range, wintering in southern USA and Mexico and breeding in the north from eastern Canada to eastern Siberia. However there is a resident population in Florida and Cuba.

 

The boatman convinced me that this sitting bird was used to the boats and didn’t move at all as we passed by.

 

Back on dry land there were a couple of Limpkin in a paddock close to the dock.

 

This ibis-like bird isn’t related to the ibises at all but to the cranes, rails and gallinules, thus its taxonomically closer to the Purple Gallinule above that to the White Ibis and Glossy Ibis shown earlier in this post.

 

After leaving the lake I stopped a few times along the access road seeing a range of species, Eastern Phoebe …

 

… Savannah Sparrow (I once saw an ‘Ipswich Sparrow’ a localised race of Savannah Sparrow, at Portland Bill in Dorset – first record for the UK) …

 

There were also a good number of Sandhill Cranes feeding in the fields.

 

Back in 2015 we went to Kearney in Nebraska to see the huge gathering of migrating Sandhill Cranes on the Platte River. In Florida I saw about 40 Sandhills, in Nebraska we saw 150,000!

 

From time to time I mention that this bird or the other has been ‘split’ ie is now treated as a full species when formerly it was treated as a subspecies. Of course the opposite happens, sometimes two species are found out to be a single species and are merged or ‘lumped’. This has happened since I went to Florida with the Northern and Southern Caracaras being lumped into Crested Caracara. The two former species were separated by the Amazon rainforest but as deforestation continues the two ‘species’ met and interbred. It’s likely this is a case of incomplete speciation, given another few tens of thousand years of continuous separation perhaps the speciation of the two forms would have been complete.

 

I headed back south, I didn’t find any motels in the area, indeed the one I had planned to stay at was in ruins after having been hit by a truck a few months earlier. I asked about motels at a gas station but was told I was ‘in the middle of nowhere’ and not to expect such things. I continued back south on the turnpike until tiredness and hunger took over so I stopped just outside Fort Pierce. The first motel I tried was mind-numbingly expensive but I found another at a more reasonable cost. Whilst checking in I told the receptionist I was heading down to West Palm Beach the following day to look for manatees when a guy queuing behind me said ‘no need to go all that way, there’s some just down the road from here, I saw them this morning’.

So what happened the next day and the two days after that will be the subject of my next post.

 

 

 

 

Great birds in May: 7th – 14th May 2016   Leave a comment

With no updates for two months regular readers of this blog could be forgiven for thinking I had given up with it. In fact Margaret and I have recently returned from a very long trip known as the Atlantic Odyssey, a repositioning cruise that is available once a year as a tourist ship ends its program in the Antarctic at the onset of the southern winter and moves to the Arctic for the northern summer. On top of that we went straight from Cabo Verde, the end point of the cruise, to Mallorca to join our friends at Birdquest in Mallorca to celebrate their 35th year of operation. It total we were away 45 days.

We arrived home on 6th May with many thousands of photos to sort and edit. Whilst I am making good progress, it will be some time before I can upload more than a few. On our return we found there was a whole suite of quality birds locally, which has greatly delayed progress on sorting photos and other matters. So my first post since returning will not be about the Atlantic Odyssey or Mallorca, but  on the good birds I have seen in the last week.

On Saturday 7th I was keen to get ringing again, especially as I had not seen my ringing colleagues for several months. Ringing at Durlston this spring has been pretty slow, but thanks to local ringer Mick Cook the site has been manned on eleven occasions. We have only ringed 72 birds over the spring but retraps have included a number of migrant birds that were ringed in previous years which have returned to breed, this is very useful data. Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Lesser Whitethroat and Common Whitethroat (above) have made up the bulk of migrant birds.

Red-footed falcon1 Chris Minvalla

After ringing my trainee Daniel and myself stopped off at Mordon Bog, he heard a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker drumming and a Cuckoo but the prize was this beautiful female Red-footed Falcon that hawked insects over the bog. Unfortunately the views were quite distant, but my other trainee ringer Chris Minvalla provided me with this superb flight shot he took a few days earlier. There has been speculation that this is the same individual that was seen at Wareham in 2015, but we will never know either way.

IMG_4760 Pom Skua

On Sunday 8th I went to Portland in the hope of seeing some of the spring migrants, but many have already passed through to their breeding grounds and I won’t be seeing them until the autumn. I was also keen to do some seawatching and in particular look for Pomarine Skuas, as the first ten days or so of May is the best time of the year to see them. In the event I saw three, along with two Arctic Skuas and a few Manx Shearwaters. Of course birds seen from the Bill are far too distant for photography, so I have included a shot I took from a pelagic off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina in May 2014. Note the lovely spoon-shaped tail feathers of an adult bird in spring, in the local vernacular ‘with a full set of cutlery’.

A full low tide at Lytchett Bay results in many waders feeding out of view in the creeks.

During the last few days the flooded fields and mudflats of Lytchett Bay have been attracting good numbers of migrant waders. A visit on Monday 9th gave me views of two Ruff and other birds but not the Whimbrels that have been regular at this site recently.

IMG_4966 Caspian Stonechat

Late on Tuesday news broke of a ‘Caspian’ Stonechat at Titchfield Haven in Hampshire so my friend Roger and I decided to pay a visit on Wednesday morning.

IMG_4941 Caspian Stonechat

The taxonomy of the Stonechats has been complex and controversial. DNA studies confirm what has long been suspected that at least three species (probably four) occur; African, Siberian and European. The trouble is that the DNA studies didn’t include the very distinctive ‘Caspian’ races of Siberian Stonechat variagatus and hemprichii.

IMG_4949 Caspian Stonechat

Siberian Stonechat is an annual vagrant to the UK with about 10 records annually but this is only the 6th record of ‘Caspian’ Stonechat. Whether this is considered a subspecies or a species, this is a bird well worth travelling for.

IMG_4956 Caspian Stonechat

One of the features of Siberian Stonechat is the black underwing coverts and the paler rump, in addition the ‘Caspian’ races also show extensive white in the tail …

IMG_4946 Caspian Stonechat

… the white rump, uppertail coverts and the base to the tail can be seen in this and later photos.

IMG_4945 Caspian Stonechat

There had been heavy rain that morning but Roger and I turned up just as it cleared up and the bird perched up to preen and dry out.

IMG_4971 Caspian Stonechat

Moult pattern clearly shows this is a second summer bird (one year old). The primaries and most of the flight feathers have been retained, whilst the tertials and outer secondaries and the remaining coverts have been moulted.

IMG_4979 BW Stilt

Whilst still at Titchfield Haven we heard that a Glossy Ibis had been seen at Lytchett Bay, less than a mile from my house, a first record for the site. We decided to return once we had the fill of the stonechat but later heard that it had flown off. Late that evening I had the news that a Black-winged Stilt had been found there, second record for the site but my first. I arrived with very little light left and a mist descending. Through my scope I could see a faint black and white blob but little else. Hardly a satisfying patch tick.

IMG_4976 BW Stilt

The following morning (12th) I had already arranged to visit Durlston with Daniel, Chris and Mick but only a few birds were around. Hearing that the stilt was still at Lytchett we packed in early and returned to Poole. To our delight we found that the stilt was showing well.

IMG_4975 BW Stilt

Himantopus stilts are another group with complex taxonomy, the six forms have been considered to fall into one, two or five (curiously never six) species, but the differences between the five ‘pied’ forms is rather slight, so perhaps two species is the best approach. Whatever the taxonomy, stilts are common in the tropics, subtropics and milder temperate reasons worldwide. The occurrence of another at Lytchett was not wholly unexpected, but was very welcome indeed.

IMG_4993 Glossy Ibis

Whilst admiring the Black-winged Stilt we learned that yesterday’s Glossy Ibis had returned, but was now in hiding. After a while all the Shelduck took to the air and the Glossy Ibis with them. Another Lytchett tick and a Poole Harbour one too. 

7F1A2267 GS Cuckoo

Friday’s schedule was greatly disrupted by the discovery of a Great Spotted Cuckoo on Portland. Initially the views weren’t great, as it was buried deep in a bush but later it perched up giving better views.

7F1A2278 GS Cuckoo

It returned on a number of occasions to this bush bordering a footpath (where it was sometimes spooked by passers-by) as there was a good supply of Brown-tail caterpillars.

7F1A2282 GS Cuckoo

Great Spotted Cuckoos are scarce summer visitors to Iberia, southern France, Turkey and parts of the Levant. There is also a breeding population in tropical Africa. Nowhere near as well known as Common Cuckoo, this species parasitises corvids, especially Magpies. On average one is found in the UK annually. This is the third record for Dorset but the first to be seen by more than one observer. This is the third I have seen in the UK (Humberside in 82, Hampshire in 00) and only the 22nd worldwide.

Great Spotted Cuckoo1 Chris Minvalla

Although it was sunny in Poole when I left there was rain, often heavy, at Portland not making for ideal conditions for photography. In poor light and rain I failed to get any flight shots, but again it was Chris Minvalla to the rescue, who turned up just as I was leaving and offered to share this wonderful photo with me. Note the rusty-brown tones of the primaries, these are unmoulted first year feathers and indicate that the bird is in its second summer.

IMG_4383 Daniel, Ginny and Chris

It was back to reality on Saturday, I was joined at Durlston ringing station by Mick Cook and my three trainee ringers, L-R Daniel, Ginny and Chris. I think this is the first time I have ringed with all three of them at the same time. However the results didn’t justify the effort, just two birds were ringed, a Whitethroat and a Willow Warbler. As far as the majority of migrants are concerned spring migration is over and we won’t man the site again until the start of autumn migration in mid-July.

HB Mustafa Sozen Turkey

That said, the morning wasn’t wasted as we had distant and rather brief views of a Honey Buzzard to the north of the ringing station. Of course I didn’t get a photo, so here is one from Internet Bird Collection taken by Mustafa Sozen in Turkey. Our success was short-lived as whilst we were taking down the nets we completely missed a Black Kite that was seen flying over the car park.

 

12th May – New Forest birding   Leave a comment

 

 On the 12th May, Margaret and I spent the morning in the New Forest , followed by a brief visit to Coward’s Marsh at Christchurch on the way back.

 

IMG_0061-Acre's-Down

We first visited the raptor watch point at Acre’s Down. There is a panoramic view over the forest and indeed this is the only spot I know in our area where no human artifacts are visible.

IMG_0057-Goshawk

It didn’t take long until our target, a Goshawk was seen. This large bird, presumably a female was seen circling over the forest.

 

IMG_0053-Goshawk

A dreadful, greatly enlarged image, but one that shows several Goshawk ID features: the deep chest, bulging secondaries, a long tail with a wide base and rounded tip (square tip in Sparrowhawk)

 

IMG_0051-Goshawk

Goshawks soar on flat wings, unlike similarly sized Buzzards. The white undertail coverts can even spread out and be visible on the upper tail as can be just  seen on this shot.

IMG_0058-Goshawk

The bird drifted towards us and entered a blue patch of sky. The prominent white supercilium can just be seen on this picture.

IMG_0062-Wood-Warbler

Nearby a Wood Warbler was in song. This Phylloscopus warbler is much rarer than than either Willow Warbler or Chiffchaff and in our area is confined to mature beech woodland in the New Forest.

IMG_0077-Starlings

Later we headed for Coward’s Marsh near Christchurch. Close to the viewing spot newly fledged Starlings were being fed by their parents.

IMG_0083-Glossy-Ibis

They were pretty distant, but we soon located the pair of Glossy Ibis that had spent the last few days on the banks of the River Avon. Once a mega-rarity in the UK, increased numbers breeding in Spain has led to a small numbers occurring each autumn, although spring records are still pretty unusual.