Dunlins

Dunlin (Calidris alpina) searching for food in the salt marsh.

We went for a walk on the Palencia Boardwalk the other day and posted some pictures we took of the least sandpipers in our last post. We also saw dunlins which are also considered peeps. Peeps are little brown sandpipers. Dunlins are a little larger than the least sandpipers. They probe into the mud for food but tend to pick up invertebrates just below the surface. They do not probe deeply. The bills are very sensitive and they can detect prey by touch which allows them to feed at night. This is helpful in tidal environments when they can feed at low tide. Dunlins breed in the far north of the North American continent in the arctic and subarctic tundra and spend their winters throughout a large portion of the U.S. and Canada except for the Rocky Mountains. They stay in any wetland environment with muddy edges.

Dunlin probing for food.
Dunlin walking on the muddy edge in the salt marsh.

The Palencia Boardwalk is a great way to get closer to the wildlife in the marsh. To get many of the images, we sit or crouch on the boardwalk to get a better angle on the subject.

Linda sitting on the Palencia Boardwalk photographing sandpipers.
The Palencia Boardwalk. Picture taken in September 2019.

Least Sandpipers

Least sandpiper.

Yesterday, we went to the Palencia Boardwalk to see the wildlife. This is a boardwalk in our community that is about 3/4 of a mile long over the salt marsh and some islands in the salt marsh. There are a variety of habitats, therefore a large variety of wildlife. Regis and I spent a lot of time crouched down and watching the sandpipers from the boardwalk. For this post, I want to talk about the least sandpiper.

The least sandpiper (Calidris minutilla – minutilla meaning “very small”) is one of our smallest sandpipers and is often seen on the muddy edges of rivers, ponds, and marshes. The salt marsh is where you would expect to find these little birds. They walk across the mud flats probing their bill into the soil looking for invertebrates to eat. They are about the size of a sparrow. They are one of the small “peeps” which are brownish small shorebirds. Least sandpipers are the darkest, brownest “peep.” Besides its small size, this bird can be distinguished by yellow or greenish legs. Although this is a distinguishing feature, their legs are often muddy and hard to tell the color. The bill is slightly downward curved. These birds breed in the wet tundra and open areas of the boreal forest in the northern parts of North America. They breed as far south as Nova Scotia and British Columbia in Canada. They spend their winters in the southern United States and northern half of South America.

Least sandpiper probing into the mud searching for invertebrates.
Least sandpiper searching for food in very shallow water.
Least sandpiper searching for food on the drier mud flat.
If you look closely, you can see a small worm in this least sandpipers bill.

While walking the boardwalk, we saw a large nest in one of the dead trees that was not there the last time we visited. Shortly, two bald eagles arrived on the nest. What a thrill to have a nesting pair of bald eagles so close. We look forward to watching this pair raise a family.

We saw about 25 cedar waxwings. These are our first waxwings of the season.

Cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum).
The Palencia Boardwalk over the salt marsh on the edge of the intracoastal waterway in St. Augustine, Florida.

More Pollinators

Two feather-legged scoliid wasps (Dielis plumipes). The greyish one was pestering the brownish one.

I’ve been enjoying taking pictures of the pollinators on the plants in my garden. It’s easy to spot butterflies and bumblebees in the garden and see some of their details with the naked eye. I find it hard to get a good look at many of the other insects without stopping their motion with a camera. Getting an in focus picture can be challenging, but I find the results rewarding and worth the difficulty.

Having a close-up image reveals interesting details. The feather-legged scoliid wasps have tiny hairs on their legs and rings of hairs around their abdomen. The fly in the last picture below has wicked looking pointed hairs on its body and strange looking mouthparts. I am calling them hairs because I do not know what else to call them. The great purple hairstreak below has an orange and blue body. A close-up image makes it easier to see behaviors such as how a butterfly extracts nectar from a flower.

I have been using iNaturalist to help identify them. According to the website at www.iNaturalist.org, “iNaturalist is an online social network of people sharing biodiversity information to help each other learn about nature.” I upload my pictures to iNaturalist and it makes suggestions on identification. I make the selection I think is most correct. If I can not determine which is correct, I select the highest taxonomic order for which I am comfortable. That can be as simple as identifying it as an insect. Knowledgeable people either confirm the decision or make a further identification. iNaturalist allows for uploading pictures of all life forms. I have used iNaturalist for posting microscopic life forms I found while doing oyster spat counts at the Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM NERR). I took the pictures with my cell phone through the eye piece on the microscope.

A white peacock butterfly (Anartia jatrophae) on a rosinweed flower (Silphium integrifolium). The rosinweed has been a great hit with the pollinators.
A white peacock butterfly missing a part of its wing.
Another white peacock butterfly missing part of its wing.
Not a pollinator, but I loved this green anole (Anolis carolinensis) hanging around.
A cloudless sulfur butterfly (Phoebis sennae). The legs are grasping the firecracker flower (Russelia equisetiformis) while the tongue is getting to the nectar inside.
A great purple hairstreak butterfly (Atlides halesus) on the bloom of a sweet almond bush (Aloysia virgata).
I believe this is a type of Tachinine fly (Tribe tachnini). It is a good thing these flies are not very big because they are wicked looking.

Pollinators

Long-tailed skipper (Urbanus proteus) on a rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium) flower.

We recently installed a garden in our backyard with mostly native plants. Over the last week, I’ve been trying to capture some photos of the pollinators visiting the flowers. I recently volunteered at the GTM Reserve for butterfly monitoring, so I am particularly intrigued by how many different species of skippers exist.

I have been finding it very difficult to photograph these insects because they move quickly and it is hard to get them in focus. When I am successful, I load the pictures on iNaturalist to make sure I have a proper identification. I’m providing a few images here, even though a few are out of focus. I am intrigued at how paying attention to the details on these insects is rewarding. If you don’t pay close attention, you don’t see their marvelous features.

Long-tailed skipper on a rosinweed flower.
Brazilian skipper (Calpodes ethlius) on a rosinweed flower.
Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) on a firebush (Hamelia patens) blossom.
Saltmarsh skipper (Panoquina panoquin) on a Romerillo (Bidens alba) blossom.
Furrow bee (Halictus) on a romerillo blossom.
A polka-dot wasp moth (Syntomeida epilais) on a coreopsis flower.

North American Nature Photographers Association

Graceful Arctic Tern.

I am excited that my image above was selected as part of the top 250 images in the North American Nature Photographers (NANPA) 2021 Showcase. The NANPA Showcase includes six categories: scapes, birds, mammals, macro/micro/all other wildlife, altered reality, and conservation. NANPA recently released most of the images which can be viewed here. The remaining images will be released next month. The images are stunning and worth a look.

If you are a nature photographer, I recommend joining NANPA. They are advocates for photographers rights and ethics in nature photography. They have many membership benefits including education opportunities and member discounts. For more information go to http://www.nanpa.org/membership-2/.

A Few Local Pictures

One of several red-shouldered hawks I saw on my walk.

I want to share a couple pictures from some local walks around the neighborhood.

A common ground-dove.
A red-bellied woodpecker getting ready to snatch an acorn.
The red-bellied woodpecker got the acorn.
A couple turkey vultures sunning. Notice the backs of the wings have lots of bird poop on them. They need a bath.

Mute Swans in Florida

Three mute swans swimming in a pond in Florida.

I regularly look at the eBird alerts to see what rare birds are showing up in my area. There had been several postings of the last few days about mute swans. Instead of doing my daily water aerobics today, I went to the spot where the latest sightings have been to get some pictures. I was fortunate to see three mute swans, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that one of the mute swans had a problem. I noticed that the right back leg of one of the mute swans was being held differently than the other birds. At one point, two of the mute swans flew to the other side of the pond, but the third swan just swam.

Later, they came out of the water and it was clear something was wrong with one of the swans. I didn’t know why there were mute swans in our vicinity because they shouldn’t be here. Also, these three birds were clearly sticking with each other. I am associated with a local wildlife rescue and wasn’t sure a rescue made sense. Taking the wounded bird away might allow the others to leave. When the wounded bird healed, where would it go? I took video and pictures of the wounds and called the local wildlife rehabilitator (The Ark) to get some guidance.

Injured mute swan. Its right back leg is injured preventing it from flying or walking.

Oddly, my contact told me they already had my wounded swan. I had just left the swan, so I was puzzled how they picked it up so fast. I asked when they picked up the bird and she said “two days ago”. Obviously, I saw a different bird.

As we talked, my contact said the Ark thought that the bird they retrieved may have been raised by someone nearby and released after the birds got too big. Knowing there were three more birds made them believe that they may have all been released at the same time.

The Ark attempted to retrieve the wounded bird I found and they were unsuccessful. But, they realized the location was, for the most part, a good place for the swans to be. They had sufficient water and vegetation to feed. There is a nearby road that presents a danger, but otherwise it was a good place. They decided to return the wounded bird they had to the same pond where the other three birds were located. They recorded the release of the 4th bird and it was a reunion to bring a tear to your eye. The four birds appear to be happy together at this location.

Mute swans are considered an invasive species in most of the United States, so no public organization is likely to care about the outcome of these birds. Letting them make their way as best they can in this little pond is the best these birds can hope for. And local folks can get a great view of these beautiful birds.

In the following video, you can see three of the swans. Note that one of the swans holds its right back leg awkwardly and when it is on land, it can’t walk.

Cedar Key

Roseate spoonbill ((Platalea ajaja) we saw while kayaking.

We recently returned from camping several days in Cedar Key, Florida. We stayed at our favorite location – Low Key Hideway. They have about 10 campsites and all located on the water. There is a small hotel and a Tiki Bar and it is adults only. Our plan was to watch the wildlife and sunsets from the deck at the campsite and go kayaking.

Dart sitting on the deck at our campsite. We always watch over the water for wildlife while he watches the campground for potential human or canine activity. Since we were the only camper two of the three nights, it was boring for him.

We arrived in the rain and it continued to rain most of the next day. During a small break in the rain on the first full day, we hauled my kayak across the street and launched from the shore. It was high enough tide to float the kayak but required walking through the silty mud. I was sure I was going to sink down to China. It was a muddy mess. I did my best to limit the mud in the kayak and took off. Once I got on more open water the wind was too much to stay out and I immediately returned.

Instead, I got some fresh squeezed margaritas from the Tiki bar and enjoyed the view. There were no spectacular sunsets to be seen the first two rainy nights but plenty of wildlife watching available.

Skate or ray in the water by our campsite.
White ibis (Eudocimus albus) feeding by our campsite.
Regis noticed this off the dock at the Tiki bar.

We were fortunate to have great weather the last day and Regis recommended launching from a boat ramp instead of the muddy shore. Great idea! The boat ramp and launch was only about a 1/2 mile from our campsite and less muddy conditions. We paddled out to the Gulf of Mexico and saw lots of birds with flocks and flocks of them flying occasionally. I rarely get to see a captivating sight of so many birds flying together in flocks.

Willet (Tringa semipalmata) feeding on an oyster bar.
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) standing on an oyster bar. Those oyster bars were rough on the bottoms of the kayaks when we occasionally scraped bottom.
American oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus) on an oyster bar with a willet in the background. There was an oystercatcher super highway going by on our kayak return. It appeared there was going to be an oystercatcher gathering on the gulf and they were flying by in singles and multiples. I tried very hard to get a picture, and with so many going by, I would have thought I could get just one in focus. Not.
Black-bellied plover (Pluvialis squatarola).
Willet.
Brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis).

It became too hot to stay out, so we returned to the campsite and got prepared for a spectacular sunset and were not disappointed. In the middle of taking pictures, it started to rain on top of us and we had to watch the stunning colors that appear after the sun sets while sitting in the motorhome. The Tiki bar was closed the last night or I would have had a margarita in one hand while the other hand was free to press the shutter release on the camera.

Sunset from the deck at our campsite.
My last sunset picture before those clouds at the top of the picture starting dumping rain on us. See how the colors become more spectacular after the sun sets.

On this short adventure, we learned that we are incapable of properly packing for a short trip. We forgot so many things I had to run to the grocery store twice. I forgot Dart’s leash, which is unbelievable. Part of the problem was the thorough job of cleaning the RV after our summer trip and removing lots of items that would normally stay in the RV. For example, I removed many dishes to run through the dishwasher and all the towels, sheets, blankets, etc. All that stuff did not make it back into the motorhome. We published a packing list for other campers to use but we didn’t bother to use it ourselves.

We created a short video of some of the bird feeding behavior we saw from our campsite. Notice the mud on the feet of the first bird (little blue heron) as it walks and sinks into the muck. That bird doesn’t weigh much. I had to walk through stuff like that to launch the kayak and it was hard to pick my feet up after I sunk into the silty mud. Also, notice how the roseate spoonbills move there bills through the water to get food.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

Family of black-bellied whistling ducks (Dendrocygna autumnalis). There are six babies but one of them is hidden in this picture.

For the first time in our neighborhood, we saw some black-bellied whistling ducks. A few days ago, I saw two adults and seven babies. Today there are only six babies. These ducks used to be called black-bellied tree ducks because they roost in trees and sometimes nest in tree cavities. They are mostly vegetarians and like to eat the grain from agricultural fields. They usually feed at night. They can be found year round in the peninsular part of Florida. These birds make a very interesting whistling call. The little ones kept trying to get underneath one of the adults for shade. It was hard to fit six babies under one adult.

Six baby ducks trying to fit under the parent to get shade.
Family of black-bellied whistling ducks. The adults mate for life.

While trying to get photos of the ducks, I heard the rattling call of some belted kingfishers and saw a pair of them on one of the branches of a tall pine tree. These birds are only seen in our area in the winter. The female has two chest bands, blue-gray and rusty while the male lacks the rusty band. These are two males.

Two male belted kingfishers (Megaceryle alcyon).

Local Wildlife 2

I enjoy all the wildlife we see near our home. As much as I love to travel and see all the wildlife on the road, I also enjoy all that I can see from home. There is always something happening.

We have been seeing lots of tree fogs lately. I found this little guy sitting on the vegetation in the front garden. We usually see the frogs stuck to the side of the house. Tree frogs are small, making it easy for them to climb trees and other vegetation. They have small legs that help them grasp and toe pads that allow them to stick to the side of the house.

Tree frog. I think the foggy look is because the lens fogged up. The camera had been in the air conditioned house and it was very hot and humid outside. As a reference the stick is half the size of a pencil.

This fawn was lying under the palm trees near a pond a few blocks from our house. Mother deer leave their fawns alone for safety reasons and return to them later in the day. Fawns do not have an odor while the mothers do. Usually, the fawns are tucked away in the vegetation but this little one was enjoying the sunshine. It is a little big for a fawn but it still has its spots.

Fawn lying under palm trees.

Regis went exploring at the beach and found this bedraggled grackle.

Grackle that has some feather issues. It could be molting but it shouldn’t be down to one lousy looking tail feather.

Regis loves taking pictures of ospreys.

Osprey.

One of our little raccoon families has broken up since we first saw them when we returned. The small babies are now on their own and one baby shows up under our bird feeder regularly. We don’t know whether momma kicked the babies out or something happened to her. The babies are too small to be on their own so soon. The other family has one baby left with the mother and the her baby is bigger than the little ones that are on their own. Regis found two dead raccoons in the preserve behind our house and based on their decay, they did not recently die. I found a raccoon skeleton back there after we moved in, so it appears to be some kind of raccoon graveyard back there.

One day I went into the back yard with Dart and didn’t notice the baby raccoon under the feeder. It bolted for the nearest tree when it saw us. That tree is a slash pine at least 60 feet tall with no branches until you get to the top. We have an owl box mounted on the tree and the baby raccoon climbed onto the top of the box and stayed there for about an hour and slept part of the time. I was worried a hawk would get it because the raccoon is small. When the raccoon started to come down, it lost its grip coming off the owl box and plummeted to the ground. Even though it fell at least 15 feet, it appeared to be unharmed and we continue to see it.

Baby raccoon sleeping on an unoccupied owl box.

We have seen Topaz, our released blue jay, several times in our yard. Topaz acknowledges us when it visits by doing its begging wings when it sees us. It talks to us and then leaves. It has been coming to the feeder that has Bark Butter bits. I know it is back there when I hear a unique bird sound. I recognize the hawk and osprey calls that it makes but I can’t figure out what all those other sounds are. The bird sounds are so unique that we know Topaz is around before we see it. When I hear it, I run out and look for it. That’s when it lets me know when it sees me by shaking its wings. The bird looks very healthy.