Sunday, February 15, 2015

Other Florida Specialties 2015

Here are some more feathered Floridians!

Mottled Duck (rear) with feral Mallard (front)

To many, the Mottled Duck might appear boring, blending in with the now globally ubiquitous Mallard. Historically, the breeding range of the Mottled Duck was separated from that of Mallard and Black Duck without a zone of hybridization. Mallards have gradually encroached to the point that doubts have been raised about the future genetic integrity of Mottled Duck as a species.

*Update: after reviewing the timely article on eBird found here, the putative Mottled Duck above actually shows some indications of a mixed genealogy. In particular, the extensive streaking in the cheek together with the appearance of white edging in the tail feathers suggests some unknown degree of Mallard ancestry.

Wood Stork

Wood Storks are not the baby-delivering kind of European fable, but rather an unrelated New World taxon. Genetic analysis confirms that Wood Storks have greatest affinity with the New World Vultures, Pelicans, Ibis and...

Roseate Spoonbill

...Roseate Spoonbill whose pinkish colouration is thought to be derived from its diet, like that of the American Flamingo.


Somewhat of an taxonomic anomaly, the Limpkin is not quite a rail, not quite a crane and not quite anything else! In fact it has been assigned to a taxonomic family all unto itself (Aramidae). The geographical range of the Limpkin includes most of the Caribbean, Central and South America, and Florida is the only place in North American where it occurs with regularity.

Reddish Egret

To me, the Reddish Egret is the most charismatic of the North American herons. Unlike most herons that forage with precise and deliberate movements, the Reddish Egret "dances" frenetically with its wings open; a behaviour thought to flush its fish, frog & crustacean prey.

Black Skimmer

Here's a bizarre one; in order to catch fish, the Black Skimmer drags its elongated lower mandible across the surface of the water while flying.

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Terns are such a nicely proportioned tern, and the yellow tipped, black bill is a distinct field mark.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Florida Shorebird Spectacular

We were in Florida again this winter and the shorebirding was particularly good. Here are some photo highlights...

We had a sweep of the four regularly occurring North American "small belted plovers". Here are photos of three of them (quiz: what's the fourth?)

Wilson's Plover

Snowy Plover

Piping Plover

Willets were plentiful along the coastline and posed nicely for the camera.


We took a tourist boat to Anclote Key Preserve State Park; an offshore gulf coast barrier island only accessible by water. These barrier islands are important habitations for wintering shorebirds. While there, Hannah discovered a previously unreported Long-billed Curlew; North America's largest sandpiper which regularly but sparsely occurs in winter on the Florida Gulf Coast. We received some "eyebrows raised" emails from the local eBird police for submitting this one ("what you saw was almost certainly a Whimbrel"). Luckily I had the photo evidence.

Long-billed Curlew

While roaming the beach at Howard Park in northern Pinellas County, we startled a pair of American Oystercatchers that were sleeping in the tidal wrack line.

American Oystercatcher

Notice the peculiar shape of the pupil in the bird above. The dark "fleck" which occurs in both American and Black Oystercatchers (and less prominently in other taxa) is thought by some researchers to be a sex-linked trait indicative of a female bird.*

* Reference: Guzzetti, B.M., Talbot, S.L., Tessler, D.F., Gill, V.A., and Murphy, E.C. 2008. Secrets in the eyes of Black Oystercatchers: a new sexing technique. Journal Of Field Ornithology 79 (2): 215-223.