Boat-tailed Grackles

A boat-tailed grackle on the beach with a grasshopper.

I love boat-tailed grackles. I usually see them in parking lots and call them parking lot birds, so I love it when I see them in a natural environment. While I was flitting around Seattle, Regis spent time on the beach and got some pictures of boat-tailed grackles (with attitude).

Boat-tailed grackle on the beach.
Boat-tailed grackle on the beach.

He captured images of other birds, but I loved the ring-billed gull pictures best.

Ring-billed gull
Ring-billed gull

The Gull

A gull jumping up to dive in the water.

I went back to Lake Washington today and it was mostly sunny. I was on a mission to see if I could find new gulls and ducks for my life list, therefore I spent time scrutinizing every gull and duck. I saw one gull repeatedly jumping up and diving into the water. It was fascinating to watch. In spite of the many pictures I took, I never determined what it was eating.

I saw another Anna’s hummingbird and got better pictures than last time.

I also found this lovely song sparrow singing beautifully.

I got the opportunity to see the leucistic crow again.

A Crow of a Different Color

American crow.

I am spending some time in Seattle and recently went to the shores of Lake Washington to seek out a light-colored crow my son saw several months ago. I found the crow immediately where he had seen it. The crow is light brown with some whitish feathers in its wings and tail. Compare that to the usual black color of a crow.

American crow.
American crow.

Seattle has had more rain than usual recently and I forgot my rain jacket, so I was not able to spend much time outside initially. I eventually went to Cabela’s and bought a rain jacket making it possible to seek out this interesting crow and wander through Seward Park. It was foggy and hard to photograph but there was enough of a break in the weather at the end of my loop through the park that I was able to get the following picture of Mt. Rainier.

Mt. Rainier and Lake Washington.

I went back the next day when the weather was drier and my favorite photographs were these house finches eating seeds.

House finch.
House finch.
House finch.

I saw numerous grebes, gulls, cormorants, coots, mallards, and hummingbirds. I am not used to seeing hummingbirds in winter.

A ring-billed gull on Lake Washington.
Anna’s hummingbird.

Christmas Bird Counts

Short-billed dowitchers on a dock at Vilano Beach in Florida.

I was the lead compiler for the St. Augustine Christmas Bird Count (CBC) on December 19. Fifty volunteers tallied 149 total species and 24,687 individual birds. It has been a joy to lead the St. Augustine CBC for the last three years because it was a joy to work with people who love wildlife. I have been fortunate that the Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas Estuarine Research Reserve and St. Augustine Ecotours has provided boats the last few years to allow us to count birds along the Tolomato and Matanzas Rivers. The last few years, I was on the GTM boat. This year, the volunteers on the boats found over 100 more American white pelicans and over twice as many American oystercatchers as last year. Additionally, we noted a significant increase in laughing, ring-billed, and herring gulls and a decrease in black skimmers and roseate spoonbills from last year.

The annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count began with an idea to count birds on Christmas Day rather than shoot them, which was the usual activity. The effort evolved into an annual event in which participants in the Western Hemisphere count birds within specific circles on a designated day during a two-week period around the Christmas Holiday. Circles are 15 miles in diameter based on a central point. According to the National Audubon website, there are over 2,500 circles in the Western Hemisphere. The center of the St. Augustine circle is just east of Fort Mose Historic State Park and the first count in the area was conducted in 1975. More information about the Christmas Bird Count, including historical data, is available at  Christmas Bird Count | Audubon.

Regis and I participated in the Matanzas CBC today. We recruited four wonderful friends to join us and Zach McKenna from St. Augustine Ecotours graciously took us out to count birds. We had a wonderful time and saw four Whimbrels. I have only seen a couple whimbrels and they were always alone. What a treat.

Whimbrel

I find it difficult to count birds out on the water but would not have it any other way. Birds hang out in the hundreds or thousands on the oyster rakes and certain docks. Trying to count from a moving boat is difficult when so many of the birds are hard to identify. Take a look at the photo below from today.

A variety of shorebirds hanging out on a dock in the Matanzas River.

Because it is so difficult, I have started to take pictures of the birds and count when I get back home. This works best on the docks so I can use the pilings to ensure I do not double count the birds.

It soothes my soul to see so many amazing birds hanging out not far from us. They are hard to see from the shore, but they are nearby. I hope we make it possible for them to continue to hang out.

White pelicans on the Matanzas River.
Green heron on the Matanzas River.
American oystercatchers on the Tolomato River.
American oystercatchers on the Tolomato River.
White pelicans on the Tolomato River.

Common Yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat.

I have been walking our path to the marsh behind us regularly to check out which shorebirds are feeding. As I stand next to the marsh, I am among some bushes. A female or immature common yellowthroat has come to check me out the last few times. As a result, Regis went to the edge of the marsh to try his luck and found a common yellowthroat with a brighter throat. They stay hidden among the leaves which makes them difficult to photograph. Yet, they are a joy to watch as they check us out.

Common yellowthroat.
Common yellowthroat.

There was an astonishing sunrise this morning which Regis took the time to capture behind our house. In his first picture, he used a flashlight to “paint with light” the foreground vegetation. You can tell from the blur in the clouds that there was insufficient light for a quick picture, so the shutter stayed open awhile.

Sunrise over the Tolomato River.
Sunrise over the Tolomato River.

Lastly, it is always a joy to see the white pelicans in flight overhead.

American white pelicans in flight.

Palencia Saltmarsh

Palencia saltmarsh in the morning fog.

Instead of focusing on a specific bird today, I’m sharing my birding excursion on the Palencia Saltmarsh. I arrived before sunrise. Without the clouds and colors, it was not spectacular, but all sunrises are beautiful in their own way. There was fog over the water. As the sun rose, the spider webs dazzled.

At one point, I was facing north watching a dunlin in the marsh when I heard noise behind me and turned to see about 35 white ibises landing. It was startling, but so cool. I love watching the saltmarsh wake up with the sunrise.

White ibises.
Dunlin.

I got a new life bird when I saw several Nelson’s sparrows. I am not good enough to figure this out while I am in the marsh. I have to take a bunch of pictures and load them on my desktop to figure it out. I process the image and then take a picture of my monitor with my cell phone and run it through Merlin. To be sure, I also upload to iNaturalist. These little sparrows hang out in the marsh grass which makes it difficult to focus on them, but they tend to stay still long enough to attempt a manual focus.

Nelson’s sparrow
Least sandpiper. Note the yellow legs.

My favorite clapper rail showed up again today. No clapper rail lets you get a good view, but this one does and hangs out in the same area. It must be the same one.

Clapper rail.

Doves

Common ground dove.

There are four species of doves that may be seen in the St. Augustine area: common ground dove, mourning dove, Eurasian collared-dove, and white-winged dove. The Eurasian collared-dove and white-winged dove are not common in the area.

Common ground doves are small birds about the size of a sparrow that are often found feeding on the ground. They also nest on the ground. The feathers on their chest have the pattern of scales. They have short tails, red bills with a dark tip, and short, pink legs. Although smaller than a mourning dove, I see them regularly chase the mourning doves away as they look for fallen seeds under our bird feeder.

Common ground dove.

Mourning doves are very common. They have a long, pointed tail and forage for seeds on the ground. They are easily attracted to bird feeders. They feed from platform feeders or on the ground. They need a feeder with some room for them to fit. They are pale in color and you often hear their mournful cooing sound.

Mourning dove.
Mourning dove.
White-winged dove.
Eurasian collared-dove

Red-bellied Woodpecker

A red-bellied woodpecker pair at a nest cavity. Note the red belly on the female.

Red-bellied woodpeckers are abundant in St. Augustine year-round. We have had the pleasure of seeing a nesting pair behind our house when we first moved here. They have a red patch of feathers on their belly, but it is hard to see when observing. It was named the red-bellied woodpecker back when birds were identified by killing them first and then holding them in your hand.

These birds like insects and travel up and down the trunks and branches of trees looking for something to eat. They also eat seeds and nuts which makes it possible to attract them to your backyard by offering peanuts and shelled sunflower seeds.

They nest in the holes of dead trees. This is why it is important to leave dead trees stand if they are not a detriment. Males have a red stripe from their back to their beak. The red stripe on females does not extend over their head to the beak.

A female red-bellied woodpecker peeking out of a nest cavity.
Red-bellied Woodpeckers on a pine tree in St. Augustine, Florida
A juvenile red-bellied woodpecker.
A female red-bellied woodpecker at a feeder.
A red-bellied woodpecker feeding its young. Note the red belly.

Brown-headed Nuthatch

Brown-headed nuthatches are in the southeast United States year-round. They love pine trees. They sound like squeaky toys. They are usually found in groups. If you see one, there should be others around. They climb all over trees up and down searching for spiders and insects. They are adorable and I love seeing them. I usually hear them first with their squeaky sound and then I look up into the nearest pine trees and can spot them moving up and down the trunk and branches searching for food. You can sometimes attract them to your yard with seed, but we have mostly been successful with providing water.

Gray Catbird

A gray catbird is aptly named. If you hear something in the bushes that sounds like a cat, it may be a gray catbird. They tend to stay low in the bushes and love to eat berries. They can be hard to see since they hide among the leaves, but with patience you can see them. I was recently working in my office with the window open and heard a catbird outside my window. I have a beauty berry bush in that location with beautiful purple berries. The catbird was enjoying the berries and I had a good view from inside the house. These birds are charcoal gray with a black patch of feathers on their head and rust-colored feathers under their tail. In St. Augustine, we have many of them in the winter.

A branch of purple berries on an American Beautyberry bush in St. Augustine, Florida.