Pine Warbler

Female pine warbler.

Pine warblers are in the St. Augustine area year-round, but in the winter the numbers swell with the migrants from the north. Pine warblers are aptly named since they spend most of their time in the tops of pine trees eating insects and seeds. They are often hard to see among the pine needles. I find them by hearing the trill that the males make. Click on the sound button the All About Birds page on pine warblers.

The birds have a broken eye-ring and white wing bars. Males are bright yellow, while females are duller in color. Immature birds lack yellow coloring. We attract pine warblers to our yard by offering shelled sunflower seeds, bark butter bits, water, and occasionally mealworms.

Female pine warbler.
Female pine warbler.
Male pine warbler.
Immature pine warbler.
Male pine warbler.
Immature pine warbler eating a shelled sunflower seed.
Male pine warbler eating a mealworm.

Eastern Bluebirds

A male eastern bluebird with food for its nestlings.

We love all birds, but we particularly adore bluebirds. We have had great success with birds nesting and raising their young in bluebird boxes we installed in Maryland and continued with the tradition of putting up bluebird boxes when we came to Florida. We have always had a successful nesting in our boxes. I recently became aware that not everyone has seen or knows about bluebirds on the east coast, so I’m using this blog to talk about eastern bluebirds.

Eastern bluebirds were in trouble at one point because they use cavcities in trees to raise their young and the changes humans made to the environment significantly reduced their nesting options and the introduction of starlings and house sparrows which compete with nesting space decimated the bluebird numbers. To save the species, people started putting up bluebird boxes and creating “bluebird trails” of nest boxes and the bluebird numbers increased. The proper nest box will exclude starlings but sparrows continue to be a problem.

Bluebirds appear blue but do not have blue feathers. The blue color is a result of the light shining on the feathers. They will look more or less vivid depending on the light. The male is a more vivid blue than the female. Bluebirds eat insects and love open areas where they can look for insects. They will perch on a high point, look for insects, and then swoop down to catch them.

A male eastern bluebird.
A female eastern bluebird.

You can attract them to your yard by having a source of water, a nest box that suits them, and proper food. They love live mealworms but will also eat Bark Butter Bits (a Wild Birds Unlimited item) and shelled sunflower seeds.

A family of eastern bluebirds.

As a volunteer with the Ark Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, I have had the opportunity to raise baby bluebirds and release them. These are precious, gentle birds and easy to raise if they are healthy. Once released, they come back for a few weeks to get food supplements while they figure out how to be on their own. Immediately after release, they will return and land on my head and shoulders waiting for food. Eventually, they land nearby. After a couple weeks, they are good to go and no longer return for food. Having bluebirds land on your shoulder is an amazing experience.

A rescued grackle looking for food from a rescued bluebird.
Three eastern bluebird rescues. All three were successfully released.

Here in Palencia, the golf course has installed 46 nest boxes to attract bluebirds.

A juvenile eastern bluebird figuring out how to eat on its own.
An eastern bluebird nestling peeking out of the nest box.
A newly released eastern bluebird.
An eastern bluebird in a pine tree.

Linda’s recent book Basic Guide to Birds Found Near Water in St. Augustine is now available at Wild Birds Unlimited in Murabella at 108 Capulet Drive, #5 in St. Augustine.

One final note: I am thrilled to report Regis won second place in the year end print competition of the Florida Camera Club Council with an image of the estuary behind our house.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler perched on a branch. You can barely see the yellow feathers on its rump between its wings.

We get a lot of yellow-rumped warblers in the St. Augustine area in the winter. They flit about in the bushes and are hard to see but you can hear their constant “chit chit”. The sound is similar to a cardinal, but in winter in this area, you can be sure most of them are yellow-rumped warblers. They have a yellow patch of feathers on their rump, just above the tail. They are affectionally called “butter butts”. If you live in the St. Augustine area, they are likely all around you and you don’t realize it. It is hard to get a good view with them flitting about. It is their “chit chits” that let you know they are there.

When they are still, which is not often, you may not be able to see their distinctive yellow rump feathers. In flight, look for a flash of yellow on the rump and you will know you have seen a yellow-rumped warbler.

Yellow-rumped warbler with a small yellow patch near its wing.
Yellow-rumped warbler.
Yellow-rumped warbler. Note the small patch of yellow at the base of its tail between its wings.

Black and White Birds in Flight

A juvenile wood stork in flight.

One of our blog readers requested that I do a post on a different species each day until the St. Augustine Christmas Bird Count on December 19. As I was thinking of which bird to choose today, I saw white pelicans flying overhead. There are three common species of birds with black and white plumage that can be seen in St. Augustine, Florida in the winter: wood stork, American white pelican, and white ibis. They clearly vary in size, but that can be hard to tell when they are in flight.

Wood storks are in the area year-round. They have black trailing feathers along their entire wing and a long, gray beak that appears pointed in flight. Except when landing, their long legs trail behind them while flying.

Wood stork in flight with long legs and pink feet trailing behind.
A wood stork revealing the stunning feathers on its wings. They appear green in this lighting.

White ibises have black feathers on the tips of their wings. They are the smallest of the three species with a distinctive down-curved bill. Juvenile birds are brown and gradually replace their brown feathers with white feathers. Brown or mixed brown and white birds in the flock will be a clue that you are looking at ibises.

White ibises in flight.
A close-up of a white ibis showing the black feathers on the wing tips.
A flock of white ibises comprised mostly of adults but there are a few juvenile bids in this mix.

American white pelicans are one of the largest birds in North America. When I see them swimming on the water, they remind me of swans because of their size. The have black trailing feathers on their wing but it only goes from the tip of the wing to about three-quarters of the way to the body. They have orange feet and an orange bill.

White pelican flying.
White pelican flying.

When I saw the birds flying overhead today, my first thought was wood stork, but the orange bill and feet identified them as pelicans. These three species are social birds and tend to be seen in groups. Occasionally these birds can be seen alone, but it is usually as they are moving to join their group. I will see wood storks flying alone as they arrive at our local pond to meet up with other wood storks. I was told by a naturalist that the black and white feathers help the birds to see each other regardless of the weather. Bright skies make it easy to see the black feathers and dark clouds make it easy to see the white feathers. It makes sense to me.

For those who are local, I will be at the Holiday Market at First Look the Artisans Market on Sunday, December 12 at 162 San Marco Ave in St. Augustine from 10-2. There will be live painting demonstrations, live music by local singer Miranda Batt, Old Town Specialty Jams tasting (and I can attest to how delicious), Spice and Tea Exchange mulled wine, holiday cookies, baked goods, coffee and tea, and a raffle drawing for a Christmas Radio Flyer Wagon. I will be there with my new book Basic Guide to Birds Found Near the Water in St. Augustine and framed canvas and torn prints for sale. Everything at my booth will be marked down 20%. I will have my remaining three 24×36 inch canvas prints (snowy egret, pelican, cedar waxwings) marked down also. Come visit.

Palm Warbler

A palm warbler searching for food among the mangroves in the saltmarsh at Fort Mose Historic State Park in St. Augustine, Florida.

I recently took a friend to Fort Mose Historic State Park and came upon a palm warbler feeding among the mangroves in the saltmarsh. We saw other birds like osprey, great blue herons, and little blue herons. The palm warbler was my best photographic catch. Palm warblers have yellow feathers under their tail and can be seen bobbing their tail constantly. They spend a lot of time on the ground which is unusual for warblers.

Note the yellow feathers under the tail.

Signed copies of my book Basic Guide to Birds Found Near Water in St. Augustine is available locally at First Look the Artisans Market at 162 San Marco Rd. in St. Augustine. I will be at the Bougie Market from 10-2 at First Look on Sunday December 12 and will have my books and prints of the estuary and wildlife for sale.

Basic Guide to Birds Found Near Water in St. Augustine

I recently published a basic guide to birds found near water in St. Augustine which is available through Barnes and Noble. Following is the overview for the book.

“Are you interested in quickly identifying birds that can be found near the water in the St. Augustine area but do not want to access a thick and comprehensive bird guide? Then, this guide is for you. With 339 species of birds observed in St. Johns County in which St.¬†Augustine is located, it can be overwhelming. The purpose of this guide is to introduce some of the common bird species found near the water and identify some public places where they can reliably be seen. It includes with over 70 color photos.”

I had a lot of fun writing this book and even more fun taking all the photos. Regis took many of the photos and Karen Mitchell put her heart and soul into editing the book. This kind of book would have been helpful to me when I first moved to Florida. I ordered a box of books for anyone wishing to purchase local to me. They are scheduled to be shipped December 13.

Purchase at this link.

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, Finally

Eastern diamondback rattlesnake at the GTM NERR.

We have been in Florida for six years and the place is full of snakes. Yet, we have never seen an eastern diamondback rattlesnake. Regis was at the Guana-Tomoto-Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM NERR) today and was looking to photograph a spider and its web that he did not get in focus last time. I love the photo, but it is a tad blurry. While there, he saw an armadillo and was photographing it as it did its armadillo thing rummaging through the vegetation and dirt for grubs and other delicious fare. As Regis was stepping over a branch, he spied a rattlesnake on the other side. After he snapped the first picture, the snake was not pleased and rattled to show its discontent. Regis managed to get himself out of the situation, but I think he spent too much time getting a picture first.

Spider that is not tack sharp. Regis was attempting a redo.
Eastern diamondback rattlesnake at the GTM NERR rattling.
Nine-banded armadillo at the GTM NERR.
Nine-banded armadillo at the GTM NERR snuffling around the tripod Regis left on the ground.

In the meantime, I was photographing safer wildlife.

Tricolored heron.
Least sandpiper. Note the yellow legs.
Least sandpiper.

I was at the Palencia Boardwalk and there were a few ruddy turnstones on the pier. As I stood taking pictures, one came so close I could barely focus with my long lens. Head shot.

Ruddy turnstone.

As I was leaving the Palencia Boardwalk, I found this squirrel eating a mushroom.

Squirrel eating a mushroom.

Lastly, there was fog over the Tolomato River this morning. This is one of my morning shots.

A bit of morning fog at daybreak over the salt marsh.

Lastly, for the locals. I will be selling photographs and notecards at the Bougie Market at First Look the Artisans Market at 162 San Marco Ave., in St. Augustine from 10-2 on December 12. There will be cookies and music and cool stuff from local artisans.

Interesting Couple of Wildlife Days

We have been out and about with our cameras the last couple days and have found some interesting wildlife pictures. I want to start with a picture of my favorite blue jay. I raised this little one as a volunteer with the Ark Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation and when I see “Topaz” on a walk I am thrilled. The bird does not usually stay still long enough for photos, but I got one yesterday.

Today I saw a snake on our driveway, which was a North American racer. I suspect I was able to get pictures since it was chilly.

When I came home today after a walk on the Palencia boardwalk, I heard a scattering of birds in the backyard. I checked to see a red-shouldered hawk hanging out.

While kayaking on the Guana River yesterday, Regis captured this image of me attempting to photograph wildlife while a brown pelican flew right by.

While at Fort Matanzas National Monument we saw this beautiful reddish egret. It was hanging around the fishermen for good reason. It snagged some bait.

While at the Matanzas inlet, we saw the dolphins circling to gather fish. The brown pelicans flew to where the dolphins where circling.

Sanderlings Fighting

We recently came upon some sanderlings fighting at Fort Matanzas National Monument. For such little birds, it was interesting to see such brutal fighting.

Pelican Landing

I wanted to share the grace and beauty of a pelican landing. Regis took the pictures.

Oh wait, no, that was not a landing. That is what pilots call a touch and go.