Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Glades

On our annual visits to Florida we spend much of the time in the vicinity of Tampa Bay where my parents stay for the winter. Occasionally we travel further afield. This year we explored the Everglades of southern Florida.


My arrival to Everglades National Park was highly anticipated

The term "Everglades" is somewhat confusing, because it is used differently by different sources. For example, the Everglades is sometimes used as an abbreviation for Everglades National Park. The park, however, only comprises the extreme southern portion of the much larger Everglades drainage basin. Another source of confusion may arise because the boundaries of the Everglades as a natural feature are imprecise. Unlike, say, the Grand Canyon that has an easily recognizable rim to mark its boundary, the Everglades is demarcated by hydrological conditions that are not as simple to observe and that are constantly changing. Further confusion may arise from the fact that significant portions of southeastern Florida that were once a part of the Everglades are now either heavily urbanized (in particular the area of the Atlantic coast from West Palm Beach south to Miami) or have been intensely modified for agricultural production.


Purple Gallinule

One final source of confusion is that the Everglades is often associated exclusively with one particular plant community: sawgrass marsh. Although sawgrass marsh is the habitat most characteristic of the region, and there are indeed vast areas of this particular community, Everglades is actually a complex and interdependent system that includes cypress swamps, hardwood hammocks, pine rockland, estuarine mangrove forests, and the marine environment of Florida Bay.


Crested Caracara

Approximately speaking, the Everglades is the area of southern Florida that includes the Kissimmee River watershed south to Lake Okeechobee, and the area south of the Caloosahatchee River and the St. Lucie Canal.


Snail Kite

Birdlife in the Everglades is weighted towards species with a lifestyle that is in some way aquatic (e.g. ducks, rails, herons, ibises), but there is a considerable abundance of passerine birds as well (e.g. tyrant flycatchers, swallows). Also well represented are birds of prey (e.g. vultures, osprey, hawks, kites and falcons) and pigeons & doves.


White-winged Dove

Also present in the Everglades is a growing list of introduced exotic reptiles, the most destructive of which are probably the Burmese Python and the Argentine Black-and-white Tegu.


What, Me Worry?

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Short-tailed Hawk

Every time I visit Florida I make an effort to see at least one new bird species. Lately this is becoming more difficult as the possibilities are diminishing. I was able to pull it off again this year, and although I saw only one new bird, it was a good one.

Short-tailed Hawk

Short-tailed Hawk


Short-tailed Hawk is a small Buteo known mainly from the neotropics (i.e. Central and South America). However, there is a small breeding population in south Florida. It comes in two colour "morphs": dark and light. The bird we saw was obviously a dark morph bird. The dark brown body feathers contrast nicely with the bright yellow legs and cere. In Florida, it has been reported that dark morph birds outnumber the light morphs by a ratio of 3:1.

While we were in Florida a Zenaida Dove was found at Long Key State Park; a rarity for North America. This location, being at the approximate mid-point of the Florida Keys, was too remote for us to drive to, so we didn't see it but this dove species holds special significance for me. On my first day of teaching in Jamaica, one of my second form (grade 7) students gave me a pair of live Zenaida Doves as a gift. In Jamaica they are locally known as "Barble Doves". Not knowing what else to do, I released them.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Colorado Canyonlands

I spent some time at the western edge of Colorado where the landscape is very dry and the canyons are very deep.

MacGillivray's Warbler

In addition to the scenery, there was an opportunity to search out some birds that are representative of the region, a few of which I hadn't seen before.


Painted Wall, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

In Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park my target bird was Green-tailed Towhee. After hiking the southern rim of the canyon for about an hour I was successful, but in the heat of the day the bird remained mostly concealed in the shade of the junipers so I was unable to get a photograph.

Gray Vireo

In Colorado National Monument my target birds were Gray Vireo and Virginia's Warbler; two range-restricted songbirds that are more-or-less confined to the "four corners" region of the southwestern United States.


Virginia's Warbler

Rim Rock Drive, the main road that traverses Colorado National Monument, is an excellent vantage point from which to view Golden Eagles and Turkey Vultures as they soar along the canyon rim.

Golden Eagle

Independence Rock, Colorado National Monument

On my return to Denver, I stopped at Vega State Park mid-way up the western slope of the Rockies where I was fortunate to observe a very obliging Dusky Flycatcher; a bird that I had somehow missed on previous trips out west.


Dusky Flycatcher

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Black Swifts of Box Canyon Falls

Nesting Black Swifts tend to be difficult to observe as they typically occupy nest sites behind inaccessible mountain waterfalls. An exception is the well established nesting site at Box Canyon Falls in Ouray, Colorado where I visited recently.


Black Swift

Box Canyon Falls is itself a natural wonder; over time the rushing waters of Canyon Creek have eroded a deep tunnel or "box canyon" through a layer of fault-weakened limestone. The resulting waterfalls, surrounded by canyon walls on all sides is ideal for nesting Black Swifts. The site is easily accessible by a short trail and the canyon walls can be directly accessed via a metal scaffold and suspension bridge.

The State of Colorado is the stronghold of the breeding range of the North American race of Black Swift, and Colorado has been extensively censused for the breeding locations of these birds. Information about the life history as well as details about the efforts to record the nesting sites of these birds has been documented here. North American Black Swifts are migratory, however there is a separate Caribbean race of Black Swift that is non-migratory. It is noteworthy that Black Swift was the final North American migratory bird to have its wintering grounds confirmed; a discovery that was not made until 2010.*

Cordilleran Flycatcher

Other birds in the vicinity included Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Cordilleran Flycatcher, American Dipper, Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak and Cassin's Finch.



"Audubon's" Yellow-rumped Warbler

As a side note, Ouray is a mountain town that attracts various tourists and adventure seekers. The most prominent activity in the summertime is off-roading and there were abundant jeep rental agencies in the area.


Ouray, CO


*Beason, J.P., C. Gunn, K.M. Potter, R.A. Sparks, and J.W. Fox. 2012. The Northern Black Swift: Migration Path and Wintering Area Revealed. Wilson Journal of Ornithology 124:1-8.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

BMW Birding on Mount Bierstadt

I visited my best friend in Colorado last week and we had a blast of a time. Although birding was not the main purpose of my visit, I was still able to get a few photographs of some great Colorado birds.


BMW 1-Series Convertible

Getting around together was made considerably more exciting in Matt's bimmer. Let's just say it gets a lot more attention than my Honda Civic.

We decided we should hike a mountain, and Mount Bierstadt was a nearby choice. Mount Bierstadt is not far from Denver in the front range of the Rocky Mountains and is one of Colorado's 14ers (mountains that exceed 14,000' elevation). We huffed and puffed our way to the summit and were rewarded on the way back down by a sighting of a hen White-tailed Ptarmigan and her two chicks.


White-tailed Ptarmigan

Hen & Chick

Chicky

There is not a great variety of birds likely to be encountered at this elevation but we did see Clark's Nutcracker, Common Raven, White-crowned Sparrow and a recently fledged American Robin. It was odd to see the Robin at several thousand feet above the tree line, and I'm not exactly sure what it was doing there.

We were also fortunate to see a nice assortment of alpine mammals.


Mountain Goat

Bighorn Sheep


Yellow-bellied Marmot

Fabulous.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Getting Out of Dodge

During our recent visit to Florida, we encountered a banded Piping Plover at Howard Park near Tarpon Springs. Hannah immediately recorded the colour band combination in her notebook, and later I was able to obtain a photograph.


Pimped-out Piping Plover

The upper left leg has a metal USGS numbered band. The lower left leg has an orange auxiliary band over a black band. The lower right leg has two green bands, and the upper right leg has a light blue "flag".

The flag is important because no two regions where these birds are banded will use the same colour. In this case light blue denotes that the bird was banded in the vicinity of the Platte River by staff from the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission. More particularly, it was banded in Dodge County, Nebraska. If I was him I would want to get out of Dodge for the winter too!

We submitted the information about our encounter to Patuxent Bird Banding Laboratory and received a reply shortly thereafter with some additional details together with the standard "certificate of appreciation". This individual bird was banded as a hatchling on July 1, 2014. It is interesting that a Piping Plover originating from the Great Plains population would spend the winter on the Florida Gulf coast. I would otherwise have assumed that birds from the prairie population spend the winter in Texas and that this was a bird from the Atlantic coast breeding population.