Friday, November 21, 2014

Raptors at Port St. Joe

Today we started out early and drove around the coast to Port St. Joe, where there is a big state park on a peninsula between the Gulf and St. Joseph Bay. We hoped to see lots of shore birds given all that habitat, but it ended up being a big raptor day instead. We were greeted by one Bald Eagle in a tree, and later her mate came to join her. We even got to walk around in short sleeves with no jackets for the first time this week!
The park boasts a wilderness protection area, where cars and campers are not allowed. We walked through some of the biggest dunes I've ever seen on the way to the beach, but only a small handful of people were there. It felt like having a private beach. I've dumped the sand out of my shoes three times, and still feel like I'll be cleaning sand from between my toes for the next two weeks! The word "sandwich" takes on new meaning with a picnic on the beach.
The beach had lots of shells in good condition, since no one walks over them. There were very few shore birds, and a small flock of Buffleheads off shore. We kept hoping to see some Stilts or Oyster Catchers, but no luck.
We found some mystery birds, standing belly deep in the water. I thought they might be Godwits or some other sandpiper, but now I think they were Willets, even though I've never seen a Willet standing so deep in the water.
The Egrets are everywhere, feeding in the shallow water, or flying up to perch in a tree.
Along the Bay we found a large blob of sticks in a pine tree - the nest of the Eagle couple we'd seen earlier.
Later, along a nearby marsh, we saw a juvenile Bald Eagle flew overhead, landing in a dead tree top. Oh, yes, this is a terrific place for eagles!
First a Red-tailed Hawk landed in a tree (no picture) then a female Northern Harrier cruised the marshes looking for dinner. We saw her several times before I could track her for a photo.
 You could easily get lost in the maze of the marshes along the shore.
As the sun started sinking, a young American Kestrel raced in from the marshes to land in a nearby pine tree.
Each day we watched the beautiful sunsets, without any words to describe them. Sometimes, the sun went down between clouds, sometimes directly into the ocean. Every time we vacation at the beach, I expect to see the water sizzling as the sun drops into it, but no luck yet! A group of people turned quickly into a municipal park as the sun dropped today. Somehow, the gulls never care about the pinks and reds in the sunset, but I enjoy them every night. You can actually watch the sun move down to the horizon!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Great Day in the Morning

What a great way to start the day at St. Andrew's State Park - a Bald Eagle in a tree!
The Common Gallinules called across the lake when we played their call from my phone.
The same Osprey from yesterday perched atop the mast of a beached sailboat...
... then flew off. Look how long his wings are!
We watched several of the waders going after lunch. This little Sanderling looked over a crab...
 ...then walked away in disappointment...
 ...but came back to try one more time.
The Willet looked at the sand....
 ...dug deeper than I've ever seen. Something really caught his attention.
Hmm, is it still there?
Gotcha, you tasty morsel!
Let me just crunch the shell open...
You're a tough one! I'll have to crunch extra hard! Although I didn't get the photo, he did finally swallow that morsel down. Glad I don't have to work so hard for my meals!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Gulf World

Sea Turtle Snorting Water
We had a busy day today, starting the morning at Gulf World, the local marine park. We had the first car in the parking lot, although more families arrived as the morning progressed. Since there were no crowds, the staff gave us personal introductions to all the animals. Have you ever watched a sea turtle eating? They push water out through their nostrils before swallowing!
Bearded Dragon
Since it was quite chilly, many of the non-swimming animals were not in their outdoors exhibits, but we got to see them indoors, including exotic birds and this bearded dragon. Roar!
Otto - Sea Lion
Otto is a 500 pound sea lion with black teeth who lives at Gulf World. The staff gave great demonstrations on how they train all the animals.
Rough-toothed Dolphin
We are all familiar with the bottle-nosed dolphins who star in most marine parks, but this one also had rough-toothed dolphins, which are named for their 20-27 teeth with faint ridges located in both their upper and lower jaws. They have a small head with a long beak with no crease at the melon. Their dorsal fin is relatively large and tall and is located at the mid-back and they have relatively long flippers (pectoral fins). Body color is dark with white lips and throat and a dark dorsal cape that is narrow between the blowhole and dorsal fin. The belly (ventral) surface has irregular spots and blotches.Rough-toothed dolphins may be confused with bottlenose, spinner, and spotted dolphins, all 3 of which are species that have been observed associating with rough-toothed dolphins. They are most commonly found in tropical and subtropical deep waters from the western Pacific to the Mediterranean.
But as much as we enjoyed Gulf World, we didn't see any birds there! Let's go check out St. Andrew's State Park. Ah yes, this is the place to go birding! We are going back tomorrow, and I'll have lots and lots of bird photos!

Pteradactyls or Pelicans?

Whenever we come to the shore, the Pelicans are my favorite birds. 
I could sit all day watching them glide in formation. Have you ever noticed they they use synchronized flying? The front bird raises his wings, followed by the second, then the third. And how do they fly so close to the waves without getting their wingtips wet?
If you asked, I would discuss their feeding habits with confidence. They dive into the water to catch fish, then sit there for a bit to swallow, right? Well, this trip I've learned something else. We saw one just sitting on the water...
...Then it lifted a bit and I saw a fish in its mouth! Look closely and you can see it.
Another wing flap, tip the head up, and watch that fish slide down the gullet! Pretty cool!
Sometimes, you can look at them in flight, and see a kinship to pteradactyls. After all, they say birds are descended from dinosaurs!

Monday, November 17, 2014

November at the Beach

Life keeps getting in the way of my blogging. I seem to take more grandchildren photos with my iPhone and post them to Facebook now than I take bird photos. This week, though, we are in the Florida Panhandle, avoiding some of the deep cold in Kentucky, but dressing warmly nonetheless. This morning's thunderstorms were followed by dropping temps and winds that kicked huge spray off the waves. It's dark by 4:45 here in the Central Time Zone, so between the cold and dark, our outings are shorter than on other trips. With careful planning, it will still be a good vacation though.
Brown-headed Nuthatch
The Conservation Park sounded good, and the map showed lots of ponds and wetlands. Unfortunately, the wetlands were full of bushes and trees in shallow standing water, so there was no place for any water fowl at all. The field guide describes the Brown-headed Nuthatch as a bird of the Southern pine lands, and we realized that's where we've always seen them. This little guy enjoyed standing in the warm sunshine.
Red-bellied Woodpecker
A Red-bellied Woodpecker searched the cracks and crevasses of a dead pine branch searching for insects. The park is actually planted with young pine trees in rows, and part of it was closed for a few weeks while they harvest the older trees. Doesn't quite sound like a "park" to me.
Southern Leopard Frog
 A few insects chirped in the brush, but everything else was quiet in the cold. One Leopard Frog decided he could warm up faster by sitting on the white sand of the roadway. He wasn't afraid of us a bit!
Down the road we found Lake Powell and Camp Helen State Park just as the shadows started to lengthen. The firm sand is perfect for walking on, even wearing shoes. I love the Pelicans, and will do a separate blog post about them, no doubt. 
Bald Eagle on the Beach
As we turned back, I focused on a dark blob sitting on the sand.OMG! It's a Bald Eagle! I've seen them around the ocean before, but never actually sitting on the sand. Looks like a teenager - maybe 4 1/2 years old, and just growing his white head.
When he flew off, you could see the brown and white mottling, normally found in immature eagles. Anyway, it was a good afternoon.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Early Rising

Blood Moon
OK, I'll admit it. I have been incredibly busy/unambitious/lazy (take your choice of adjectives) when it comes to blogging lately. It can't be the weather - that's been pretty good. It can't be age, can it (shudder)? Could it be exhaustion from over commitment? Yeah, that's a possibility.  Anyway, the lunar eclipse was visible for a while early this morning in Kentucky, so we set the alarm and went to the nearby middle school to watch it. I'm always astounded to see kids on school buses at 6 a.m. Glad I didn't have to ride the bus that early.
Morning Mist
When the sun rose and the moon set, we got a healthy breakfast at a local (non-chain) restaurant, and headed out to do a little birding.
Dewy Spiderweb
I must admit, that it's easier to go on the dawn bird hunt when the sun rises at 7:30, than in summer when it's so much earlier. The morning dew makes everything sparkle.
Brown Thrasher
A Barred Owl hooted along the trail before heading to his roost for a little shut eye. The early birds today weren't after worms, but they chowed down on the Virginia Creeper berries, flitting about and making tough targets to photograph.
Song Sparrow
I know many of the seeds and berries are on invasive plants, but the birds don't seem to care.
Even the grasshoppers took advantage of the warm sunshine. I suppose their eggs will over-winter, won't they?
The does spend so much time watching the walkers on the trail, I'm amazed they get enough to eat themselves.
I love reflections in a lake. It always makes me wish I lived by a lake. Unfortunately, this is a high rent district, and even if we decided to move for the scenery, I don't think I want to go through 36 years of accumulated junk!