A Duck and a Horse

Two horses and a duck.
The duck is very fond of the brown and white horse.

January 6, 2019

When we were scouting for the Matanzas Christmas Bird Count, we stopped to talk to a property owner to request permission to bird on his property.  He was very nice and gave us permission.  We chatted for a bit and the property owner told us about his animals.  In that discussion, he mentioned that he had a horse with a duck friend.  The duck wants to be by the horse and is unhappy if he can’t be by his horse friend.

On the day of the Christmas Bird Count, we saw the horse and duck when we went to the property to bird.  We had to stop birding for a while just to watch as the duck made sure to stay close to the horse.  As you can see from the picture above, the field is currently a lovely place for a duck.  I’m not sure how the horses feel about all that water.

Below are a few pictures from the last several days.

Turtle
Turtle in Matanzas State Forest
Towhee
Towhee in Matanzas State Forest
Pine Warbler
Pine Warbler in my backyard
Chipping Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow in my backyard
Common Ground-Dove
Common Ground-Dove in my backyard

Thank Goodness for a Jeep

Muddy Jeep Cherokee
Our beautiful Jeep Cherokee.

January 1, 2019

The Matanzas Christmas Bird Count is tomorrow and I agreed to lead the count in the Matanzas State Forest.  The person who usually does it was unable to do so.  I had never been to the Forest.  A permit is required to gain access and I got the permit.  After talking to the lead Forester, I found that I could get a permit to drive on the roads that are designated for authorized vehicles only.

Two fellow birders and I went to the Forest the other day to scout.  It was amazingly muddy.  We did not drive on the “trails” that require the special permit.  We had a lot of ground to cover and I said that I would come back with Regis and try the “trails” to see if any were worth visiting during the CBC.  The Forest is 330 acres so we wanted to hit the best birding spots on the designated day to count.

The Forester recommended a couple trails would could only walk on, but would take us to the marsh.  We did the first trail but goodness knows why.  It was like walking through a swamp.  In fact, we were walking through a swamp.  Sue and I had proper boots for the adventure but poor Amy hung in there and got her shoes very muddy and wet.  We saw one bird in the marsh.  We decided to nix the wet hike for the CBC. At the end of the day, the car was as muddy as it has ever been including the car mats and Sue, Amy, and me.

Today, Regis and I went back to check out those side trails.  I drove and turned onto the first available trail.  It was a mess.  But, I was in a Jeep and on a bird mission!  When I saw the big puddle ahead, I didn’t think twice (or maybe I did) about driving through it with the Jeep.  The water turned out to be MUCH deeper than I thought.  I tried to keep the momentum going to get through it.  We had our windows open to listen for birds and I failed to close them before the “puddle” or small pond.  I was on the upside and mud and muck sprayed everywhere including inside the driver side window.

My momentum was stopped by a submerged tree that we did not see.  As I came to a stop in the middle of this pond, I turned to Regis and said “you can take it from here”.  I was petrified that we were going to spend the next several days partially submerged in this swamp.  Of course Regis got the Jeep out of there while I waded through the water removing logs for him.  The water was well over the top of my muck boots.  Thank goodness I didn’t see a snake.

I was ready to go home but Regis felt we should continue since we came there to see birds.  Of course, he may have been a bit wet, but he wasn’t full of mud like me.  And, he turned the driving back to me so I could sit in the disgusting mud and muck in the car as well as all over me.  But, onward.

Muddy map
The State Forest map I was using to make notes. It was sitting on my lap when we entered the “puddle”.

There were several pickup trucks driving through the Forest which led to big, big ruts in the big, big, muddy puddles in the road.  You could not drive a regular vehicle through this mess.  We got through the day just fine, but I will limit where we go on the CBC so we can return alive.

On the way home, we stopped in Tractor Supply to get a boot dryer.  I need the boots again tomorrow and they were soaked.  We couldn’t find them at first and almost gave up, but Regis went to look one more time.  He found the only box left.  So, he turned into my hero twice today.

When we got to the checkout counter, the lady asked me what happened to the car.  She said she noticed us drive into the lot.  When I got home and realized I how much mud I had on my face and clothes, I wondered why she didn’t ask what happened to me.

I spent a while cleaning the inside and spraying off the worst of the muck and vegetation from the outside.  Since I will be going back tomorrow, it doesn’t make sense to do more.  I guess this week-end will be spent thoroughly cleaning the poor Jeep.

While cleaning the inside, I noticed that the mud sprayed clear through half the car but stopped just short of getting any mud on Regis.  Really!

We have driven the Jeep in lots of off road situations all over the country.  Regis usually drives while I hold the camera ready for picture taking.  We agreed on the way home today that I get the award for getting the Jeep the muddiest it has ever been.

One last thing.  As I was asking Regis about how concerned we should be about any damage I might have done to the Jeep by submerging it in that much he water, he said that since the water wasn’t coming up through the floorboards, it wasn’t that bad.

We are off to a great start in 2019!!

Robin with a berry.
Robin. At least I got one bird picture out of today.

 

Photo Contests

Elk and other animals.
Friends

December 30, 2018

This year, I entered a few photo contests.  The biggest one I entered was the North American Nature Photographers Association annual photo competition.  The picture above placed in the top twenty in the Altered Reality category and in the top 100 overall in the competition.

The following photo won honorable mention in a Florida Camera Club Council digital competition.

Seattle From the Ferry at night
Seattle From the Ferry

There are so many amazing photos out there that I am honored to have placed where I did in these competitions.

 

Clapper Rail

Clapper Rail in the salt marsh
Clapper Rail in the salt marsh

December 30, 2018

For a few years now, I’ve been hearing the sound of Clapper Rails in the salt marshes but never saw one.  I would try to sneak up on them on my kayak when I heard them, but they would become silent and I couldn’t see them.

When I started going out on the boardwalk over the salt marsh in our community to watch the sunrise, I started to get lucky.  Occasionally, a Clapper Rail would come out of the grasses and run along side or under the boardwalk.

On one particular morning, I was able to get some video of these elusive birds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snail Kite

Snail Kite
Snail Kite

By Linda December 26, 2018

I got back to Florida yesterday.  I drove from Maryland to Florida on Christmas Day and the traffic was very light most of the way.  It was most astonishing to me to drive in the Washington, D.C. area and see almost no traffic on the beltway and 95 south from D.C. to Richmond.  I spent much of my life sitting in rush hour traffic in the D.C. area and I felt like I was in an alternate reality having very few cars on the road.

There were several friends I wanted very much to see while I was in Maryland, but I couldn’t stay long enough to make it happen.  I sandwiched the trip between two local Christmas Bird Counts.

I received several eBird alerts over the last couple of days about a Snail Kite in the area.  That is very unusual for here.  After I finished unpacking and catching up on a few things, like brushing Dart and cleaning his ears, Regis and I headed out to where the Snail Kite was last seen. It was there!!  It flew right by us as soon as we arrived.

Snail Kite
Snail Kite

We saw lots and lots of Ibis.  It is the most Ibis I have seen.  There were also a lot of Glossy Ibis.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than one Glossy Ibis at a time.  There were at least two dozen of them.

Glossy Ibis
Glossy Ibis
Ibis and an Egret
Ibis and an Egret
Glossy Ibis
Glossy Ibis
Wood Stork
Wood Stork
Greater Yellowlegs
Greater Yellowlegs
Forsters Tern
Forsters Tern
Forsters Tern
Forsters Tern plunging into the water for food.
Forsters Tern with food in its mouth
Forsters Tern successfully getting food.

When we got back from birding, Dart was as frisky as I have seen him in awhile.  I think he took a power nap while we were gone.

Birds

20181222 (3 of 1)
Tundra swans at Blackwater Wildlife Refuge. Most of the birds were far away for viewing, so we made heavy use of binoculars and could have used my scope except the focus ring broke on it.

December 23, 2018

I’ve been doing a lot of birding the last month.  I didn’t start a life list until a couple months ago.  It’s pretty late in life to start one, but better late than never.  I’ve been paying more attention to bird behavior and details and it has really heightened my outdoor experiences.

I did the St. Augustine Christmas Bird Count.  It was the first CBC I’ve done.  We got up well before sunrise in hopes of seeing a Great Horned Owl and we were rewarded for our efforts.  We saw our owl.

20181216 Great Horned Owl
Great Horned Owl at Sunrise.

We spent the morning birding the Palencia Saltmarsh.  I saw my first Surf Scoter.

Surf Scoter
Surf Scoter at Palencia Saltmarsh.
Black Skimmer skimming.
Black Skimmer skimming.

We spent the afternoon on the Intracoastal Waterway and I saw more birds than I have ever seen in my life.  I was overwhelmed.  I didn’t know enough about identifying shorebirds, especially in winter plumage.  I took lots and lots of pictures and with help identified them from the pictures and counted them.  I need to find a better plan for  next year.

We saw at least a dozen Ospreys and saw one carrying what we thought was a snake.  I managed to get a picture.  From the picture, we were able to see it was a Needlefish.  It was a cool but unfortunate fish.

Osprey with Needlefish.
Osprey with Needlefish.
White Pelicans, brown pelicans, cormorants, and other shorebirds.
White Pelicans, brown pelicans, cormorants, and other shorebirds.

I came to Maryland last week to visit family and friends and go birding.  I had a great time visiting people and a couple wildlife refuges.  I got lucky.  In spite of the Federal budget impasse, the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge was open yesterday.  My brother and I stayed until sunset and watched the moon rise.  With so many ducks, geese, and swans flying around, we saw great views of birds flying across the moon.  I never got a good picture, but I wouldn’t mind trying again and again.  It was peaceful and beautiful.

Tundra swans flying at sunset.
Tundra swans flying at sunset.
Two Bald Eagles
Bald Eagle couple having a discussion. My brother thinks they were discussing what to have for dinner.
Gull
Gull at sunset
Moonrise over Blackwater Wildlife Refuge
Moonrise over Blackwater Wildlife Refuge

 

Grackles

Boat-tailed Grackle sitting on a spotting scope.
A Boat-tailed Grackle checking out my camera equipment. After looking it over, he stared at me while I took his picture.

November 28, 2018

Yesterday, when I was taking pictures in the morning and jumped in the car to warm up, a Boat-tailed Grackle came to check out my camera and scope.  We were nicely entertained.

Three Boat-tailed Grackles
Boat-tailed Grackles entertaining us while we warmed up in the car.  I call them the parking lot birds.  In the south, they are often found in parking lots. 

This morning we went to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge to watch the sunrise.  It was amazing.  It was also freezing, literally.  There were pockets of frost in the refuge.  I used a remote shutter release for the camera so I could keep my hands tucked into my jacket.  It was worth braving the cold.  The sunrise was absolutely beautiful.  And, we got to watch hundreds of birds fly on a bird highway to who knows where.  I suspect they were leaving the places where they had roosted for the night and were heading to the Gulf for breakfast.  We could recognize the silhouettes of many of them like the Great Egrets and Ibises, but some we were not sure of.

Sunrise over St. Mark's National Wildlife Refuge
Sunrise over St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge

We got the results of Dart’s biopsy and it is not cancerous.  Yipee!

St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

Tagged Monarch Butterfly
I only took two pictures of butterflies (Monarchs) today and this one turned out to be tagged. I can’t read the tag, so I can’t report it. I didn’t notice the tag until I loaded the pictures on my computer.

By Linda November 27, 2018

We arrived outside the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge on Sunday afternoon.  We set up camp and left to visit the refuge and promptly got lost.  There aren’t that many roads around here to get lost.  I forgot the maps and I tried to rely on my memory and signs.  Our GPS was useless.  I used the phone for navigation and that’s how we wound up on dirt roads.  The GPS showed us driving through the woods.  We wound up at Wekulla Beach at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.  It was fine, but we wanted to be at the lighthouse.  We enjoyed the tour anyway.

Snipe
Snipe

We visited the Lighthouse area of the refuge on Monday morning.  It was overcast and showed signs of thunderstorms coming our way.  We were able to spend several hours before we decided to get out before the rain started.  As soon as we got back to the RV and got inside, the rain started.

Semipalmated Plover
Semipalmated Plover

The rain brought very cold weather.  We woke up to temperatures in the 30’s.  That’s very cold for Florida.  We braved the low temperatures to go back and visit the refuge today before sunrise.  While Regis kept the car running with the heater on, I got out and looked for birds in the scope.  When I got too cold, I jumped back in the car.  The thing I needed the most today was a pair of gloves.  I wish I had brought my winter coat.

Scaups
Scaups

We came back for lunch to warm up and went back out this afternoon.  We thought the alligators would be too cold to come out, but we saw several lying in the sun trying to warm up.  There are some big ones out there.

Alligator and St. Marks NWR
Alligator and St. Marks NWR
Alligator and St. Marks NWR
Alligator and St. Marks NWR. This alligator looks different than most other alligators I’ve seen. Regis feels the same.

We never went kayaking.  I don’t know why we bother to bring the kayaks.  Monday it rained and today was so cold there was no way I could kayak without the right clothing.  We are headed back home tomorrow.

Ruddy Duck
Ruddy Duck
Pied-billed Grebe
Pied-billed Grebe
Palm Warbler
Palm Warbler
Horned Grebe
Horned Grebe
Cormorant
Cormorant
Bufflehead
Bufflehead
Brown-headed Nuthatch
Brown-headed Nuthatch
American Wigeon
American Wigeon

Next Stop

Swamp Sparrow eating seeds
Swamp Sparrow eating seeds

November 24, 2018

While Regis did most of the packing for the short camping trip we are leaving on tomorrow, I went birding.  It was a great deal for me.

Savannah Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow

We are headed to see the St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge.  We should be able to do some kayaking.  We are only staying a few days.  The campground host warned us that the space we are camping in is tough to get into with a rig like ours but doable.  Since Regis is the one who has to do it, it’s not stopping us.

When Regis went to pack the RV this morning, he found that the radio is dead.  That’s how we view the cameras, like the backup camera.  We’re going to go on this short trip anyway and Regis will repair it when we get back.  Regis thinks that there may have been a lightning strike near the RV that toasted the radio.

For those of you who know that Dart had some surgery last Wednesday, I’ll give an update.  Dart had a small tumor in his mouth and they removed it on Wednesday.  He came home ready to play.  He’s been eating well and driving us crazy, so we know his recovery period was almost zero.  I did have them send it out for a biopsy and I will get the results next week.  I think he acts too healthy to have anything wrong, so I’m sure the results will come out ok.

Phoebe
Phoebe
House Wren
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler

 

Manatees by the Saltmarsh

Manatee
Manatee.  You can see the scars from propellers. 

November 18, 2018

Regis and I went birding at the Saltmarsh yesterday and saw lots of birds.  We saw four different birds of prey:  Bald Eagle, Osprey, Red-tailed hawk, and Northern Harrier.  While standing on the dock at the intracoastal waterway (ICW), I looked across the ICW at the GTM Reserve to watch all the bird activity.  Regis called that a manatee had just surfaced.  It turned out to be four manatees cruising by the dock.  There was a baby in the group!  They were so close, I couldn’t get a picture with my long lens until they got further away.   I suppose they are migrating to warmer waters.  There were lots of boats headed south on the ICW also.  The manatees were hugging the shore and I hope they do that the whole way so they don’t get run over by those boats.

I took Regis birding with me at the same place I saw the leucistic Blue-gray Gnatcatcher last Monday and Regis found it again.  How cool is that??

Following are some favorite bird pictures from the last few bird hikes.

Limpkin
Limpkin
Marsh Wren
Marsh Wren
Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Phoebe
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Savannah Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Sedge Wren
Sedge Wren
Swamp Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Mottled Duck
Mottled Duck
Muscovy Duck
Muscovy Duck
Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret
Wood Stork
Wood Stork
Red-winged Blackbird (female)
Red-winged Blackbird (female)

 

Leucistic Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Leucistic Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Leucistic Blue-gray Gnatcatcher near Hastings, FL

By Linda November 13, 2018

I’ve been spending some time birding in the area lately in preparation for the Christmas Bird Count.  I plan to participate and I’m trying to get a handle on the local birds I might see.  I have lived here 3 years, so I’m still learning.

I recently went to a local storm water management facility with two friends to do some birding.  It was an amazing place to bird.  It also shows the wonderful outcomes when you use natural ways to deal with storm water issues.  The facility creates a wonderful wetland that attracts a large variety of birds.

The coolest bird we saw while we were there is a Leucistic Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.  According to Wikepedia, the definition is leucism ” is a condition in which there is partial loss of pigmentation in an animal resulting in white, pale, or patchy coloration of the skin, hair, feathers, scales or cuticle, but not the eyes.”

Here are some pictures of a regular Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and our leucistic Gnatcatcher.  We identified 41 birds while we were there in one area.  Here is a link to an area of our website that includes other bird photos from that trip.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher near Hastings, FL
Leucistic Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Leucistic Blue-gray Gnatcatcher near Hastings, FL
Leucistic Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Leucistic Blue-gray Gnatcatcher near Hastings, FL

I also hang out at our local saltmarsh regularly.  It is very beautiful.  Every time I go, the weather, lighting, and clouds are different so you get a different feel for the area.

Saltmarsh on a cloudy day
Saltmarsh on a cloudy day
Saltmarsh on a cloudy day
Saltmarsh on a cloudy day

Regis, Dart, and I are planning an adventure to another part of Florida in early December.  As long as the motor home hasn’t been sold, we intend to enjoy it!

 

Wood Stork

Wood Stork
Wood Stork on Anastasia Island.

By Linda (November 9, 2018)

I love Wood Storks.  They are ancient looking and beautiful in their own way.   This stork was hanging out by the Ark Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation center hoping there would be fish available.  If the Ark has more fish than they need for their current patients, the extra fish are tossed to the birds waiting outside who are happy to quickly dispose of the leftovers.

I went to the marsh again this morning to watch the sunrise.  It was particularly beautiful.  Following are some favorite pictures.  I also got a confirmed siting of my first Clapper Rail.  I’ve heard them many times, but they have eluded me and I have never see one.  Not only did I see one today, but I got a picture too!

Sunrise over the salt marsh
Sunrise over the salt marsh
Sunrise over the salt marsh
Sunrise over the salt marsh
Sunrise over the salt marsh
Sunrise over the salt marsh
Clapper Rail
Clapper Rail