Friday, July 20, 2018

Long-billed Curlew

On 19 February 2018 we continued down the Texas coast. We were amazed at the devastation caused by last fall’s hurricane of Rockport, one of our favorite birding places. We did manage to find several Long-billed Curlews. These birds breed in the northern Great Plains prairies. They winter along North American coasts, south into Central America. They eat a wide variety of invertebrates, and even some small vertebrates. In the winter they consume shrimp and crabs that burrow into coastal mudflats. In the summer they subsist on earthworms and arthropods.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Mangrove Buckeye

I thought this butterfly was a Common Buckeye. We found it in Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on the Wulfort Keys Trail on 7 February 2018. This walk was our first on the path, that led to a fishing pier. Months later I stumbled on the picture in Kaufman’s butterfly guide. Common Buckeyes have incomplete, white rings around their outer eyespots, not orange like on this Mangrove Buckeye. Mangrove Buckeyes live in Black Mangrove swamps in southern Florida, exactly the habitat we found this one. They often fly near other buckeye species, but are genetically distinct. This photo is a bit out of order in this account of our 2018 road trip.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Laughing Gull

On Sunday, 18 February 2017, we continued to Galveston, Texas. Our goal was grandchildren in Dallas, but we were not due until the next weekend. So we bided our time with a quick trip down the Texas Coast and two days in and around Mission, Texas. These Laughing Gulls followed our ferry into Galveston.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Avery Island

18 February 2018 found us at Avery Island, as we headed across the Gulf Coast towards Texas. Great Egrets greeted us. These birds represent a conservation success, as they were almost wiped out by the plume trade in the early 1900s. Their feathers were highly prized for women’s hats. Avery Island is owned by the Mcillhenny family. After the Civil War, they returned to home on a salt dome in the Louisiana swamps. They made their fortune farming the hot peppers used for Tabasco Sauce.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Reddish Egret

During our two weeks in Sanibel Island, we made almost daily visits to the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Interesting birds were always around, although, perhaps due to dredging on the part of the refuge, birds did not seem as close to the tour route as they were during previous visits. How many bird species are in the top photo? I count at least five: Tricolored Heron, Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, White Ibis, and, most strikingly, Roseate Spoonbills.
Reddish Egrets are our favorite heron. They dance around the shallows, watching for minnows to make a move. Other times they hold their wings out to create a shadow. Minnows may seek shadowy habitat to avoid the bright sunlight. Possibly the egret is just reducing glare to better see their prey. Or both.
The final photo shows a Reddish Egret capturing a minnow entangled in vegetation. Different studies indicate that the percentage of captures per strike ranges from 25 to 42 percent. Young are less successful than are adults (Lowther and Paul 2002). For more information and photos from Texas and from Florida, follow the links I just provided.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Brown Pelican

During our Sanibel Island sojourn, I made half-hearted attempts to photograph diving Brown Pelicans. I think the key to absolute success is to concentrate on a single species on any given day. In any case, here are my best results from 7 February 2018. Brown Pelican dive from heights of up to 20 meters. At the last second, the bird turns slightly to the left to avoid injuring its trachea and esophagus, which are located n the right side of the neck. The gular pouch fills with up to 10 liters of water. Air sacs keep the pelican from going under water, so prey is only taken near the surface. About 80% of the time the pelican’s dive is successful. Curiously few, if any, studies exist at total food intake. Captive birds require around half a kilo of fish per day (Shields 2014). 
The Laughing Gull in the final photo is kleptoparasite on the pelican. The gull is hoping for scraps from the pelican’s catch. In some studies, gulls were successful in their robbery about 15% of the time. Too bad I was slow about getting my camera in focus. A few seconds previously the gull perched on the pelican’s head.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Sanibel 4

Here are a few more of the cratures we saw during our visit to Sanibel Island. Gulf Fritillaries are a common southern species that wanders north in the summer. The black-ringed white spots in the fore-wing are indicative of this butterfly. They fly all year in frost-free regions. The larvae eat passion vines. We have seen them before in Key West and in southern Texas.
I did not recognize this Marl Pennant in the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge Bailey Tract. We saw this same species here during a March visit. This species is found along Atlantic and Gulf coastal areas, across Mexico, and south through the Caribbean to Belize and Venezuela (Paulson 2011). They are found in brackish and fresh water and often perch, like this one, on the tips of vegetation. Previous Marl Pennants sported a dark “W” marking on their sides. Perhaps this field mark becomes more apparent as the year progresses. Marl is a calcium carbonate or lime-rich mud; it is unclear if this substance is critical for this dragonfly.
Two ducks—a Mottled Duck and a Red-breasted Merganser. Mottled Ducks are found across Florida, but are otherwise coastal birds along the southeastern Atlantic and Gulf. They prefer freshwater ponds, so to see this one swimming in the Gulf was somewhat surprising. The merganser was less surprising. They winter along all the coasts of the United States, almost every Canadian shore, and those of northern Mexico. They breed across Canada and Alaska and migrate across the entire United State and Canada.
The next bird looks like a duck but, instead, is a Pied-billed Grebe. Its feet are not webbed, only each toe is. Unlike ducks, grebes lack tails. This grebe cruised close to the road in the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
A White Ibis in the surf. Ibis are normally marsh birds. Occasionally we saw ibis and herons feeding in the Gulf, were they must find an abundance of arthropods living in the sandy beach. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Sanibel 3

Late during our two-week stay on Sanibel Island, we discovered the Bailey Homestead Wetlands. This area appeared to consist of a couple of water purification ponds.  Although the area seemed ideal, we saw very few dragonflies here. The birds, however, were remarkably tame. The first was a male anhinga. Anhingas are classified in the order Pelicaniformes, due to their webbed feet and throat pouches. Among the birds in that order, Anhingas are thought to be closest to cormorants. Among other unique features, Anhingas have only one carotid artery, nostrils with no outer openings in adults, and vestigial tongues (Frederick and Siegel-Causey 2000).
During a visit to the Bailey Homestead Wetland on 10 February 2017, I took this photo of a Cattle Egret. I have posted about this invasive bird elsewhere in this blog. Cattle Egrets appeared to be less common in Sanibel during this visit, but that status may have been due to the time of year. Elsewhere in Sanibel, on the Bailey Tract of the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, we came upon a Great Blue Heron in a very strange pose. Clearly this behavior was an attempt to lose heat. The day was one of the hottest of the year, with temperatures around 90 degrees. I had never seen anything like this before, but since I have seen photos of Great Blue Herons doing the same thing here in Minnesota.
Every day we beach-combed, seeing different birds on nearly every hike. This Black-bellied Plover perched on a large piece of driftwood, elevated above the beach. Black-bellied Plovers breed in the Arctic of the New and Old Worlds. In this hemisphere, they winter along most coasts of the United States and south along the South American coasts. In mixed shorebird flocks, Black-bellied Plovers act as sentinels. They are “wary and quick to give alarm calls” (Johnson and Conners 2010). 

Monday, July 9, 2018

Sanibel 2

The Bailey Tract is part of the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The tract consists of several large ponds that are surrounded by marsh—perfect dragonfly habitat. We saw a few Odonata, the most interesting being these two saddlebacks. I believe they are different species. The first seems quite clearly to be a Red Saddlebags. I think the second is a Carolina Saddlebags. Differences between the two species are subtle, at least to humans. Look at the second to last abdominal segment. It should be red in a Red Saddlebags and black in a Carolina. I think this difference shows up in my photographs. I was surprised that Odonata Central concurred with my identifications.
Oddly, eBird questioned my identification of the following Bonaparte’s Gull. I am clearly correct. We saw three of them along the Sanibel beach. Perhaps in Florida this species is seldom seen except as single individuals. I am not sure. eMails questioning eBird identifications are generated automatically, so it is also possible that Bonaparte’s Gulls at Sanibel were mistakenly tagged as unexpected. I was glad to have photographs.
A common bird along the Sanibel beach—a Sandwich Tern. Note the yellow-tipped bill. You can see the oil gland on its rump that the bird uses for secretions to maintain its feathers. No problem with eBird with this report.
I reported the next tern as a Common. In this case eBird is probably correct in replying, “No, this bird, based on its head pattern, is a Forester’s Tern.” I thought that the black edges to the forewings are a classic field mark for Common Tern. On the other hand, winter-plumaged Common Terns should be black on the back of their head. So chalk up another advantage to using eBird—correcting mistaken identifications. Remember Pete Dunn’s adage that beginners occasionally misidentify birds; experts misidentify hundreds.

Finally, I was surprised that eBird did not flag my report of a pair of Wilson’s Plovers. I was expecting an email from them, so took this photograph. I thought these plovers showed up in Sanibel later the year. According to eBird, however, they are found all year in this region.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Sanibel Island 1

We stayed in Sanibel Island for the first two weeks of February 2018, walking the beach looking for seashells, searching the Bailey Tract (part of the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge) looking for dragonflies, and driving through the main refuge looking for birds. The next few posts report on some of the wildlife we found. Each species will be hot-linked to other accounts in this blog. The first of these birds was a nesting Pileated Woodpecker at the Bailey Tract. The crest seems inordinately long, but that might be typical of male birds.

We shared a condo with good friends. One morning we were greeted by a Red-shoulded Hawk, a common species in the area. You can see the reddish shoulders even on this young bird.

Beach walking was constantly entertaining. Erika searched for shells, while I looked for birds. Two of Erika’s fellow beachcombers kicked up this sandpiper flock. Most appear to be Sanderlings, common along the coasts of North and South America in the winter. A few Dunlin, another common species, were mixed in the flock, though I do not see one in the photo. The next picture is of a Dunlin.

The crows on the beach scavanged for scraps left by the beach-goers, human and bird. The crows were clearlyb smaller than normal American Crows—indeed they are Fish Crows. The best way to identify a Fish Crow, however, is npt by its size, but by its double-syllabed call. They say, “wonk-wonk.” The only trouble is that I have heard that call from a young crow here in Minnesota. This bird could have been a Fish Crow—they are expanding their range up the Mississippi drainage. So far they are not known to occur in our state.