Black Skimmers

Black skimmers, Forster’s terns, and royal terns

During a recent stay at the beach, Regis found a shorebird hangout including lots of black skimmers and Forster’s terns. He was able to get a few shots of a black skimmer “skimming” the water and successfully catching a small fish. The lower bill on the black skimmer is longer than the upper bill. The birds fly with their lower bill in the water and snap their bills shut when they sense a fish.

Black skimmer.
Black skimmer fishing.
Black skimmer with a small fish.

Peregrine Falcon and Magnificent Frigatebird

While staying in a rental on the beach recently, we saw a Magnicificent Frigatebird which was a life bird for me and a perergrine falcon. The falcon was actively pursuing the local birds. We did not witness a successful catch.

Peregrine falcon.
Peregrine falcon.
Magnificent frigatebird.

While watching the frigatebird over the ocean, we realized it was not something we were used to seeing. Having a good lens on the camera allowed us to zoom in on the photo on our computer and realize it was a magnificent frigatebird. Unbelievably cool to me.

Forster’s Terns

We recently stayed in a beach house in Summerhaven, Florida. We were smack dab on the beach. We noticed a lot of activity with Forster’s terns fishing during certain times of the tide. The tide couldn’t be too high or too low for them to grab fish in a particular area. We were fascinated to watch the activity and Regis got the best pictures. The terns are beautiful fliers and a joy to watch them regularly dive into the water. We looked forward to it every day. They are beautiful and graceful.

Recent Stay on the Beach

Linda walking along the beach next to the road access to the houses.

We are actively selling our house after having managed to get a contract on a house in Bremerton, Washington. The house listed last Thursday and there were open houses on Saturday and Sunday. With all the interest, we decided to get a place to stay over the weekend. I work in the First Look Artisans Market on Saturday afternoon, so we couldn’t go far. I found a pet friendly beach rental in Summerhaven that requires four-wheel drive for access. Sounded cool!

We arrived on Thursday to beautiful weather which kept up through Friday. I had to take Dart out twice Friday night, carrying him down the steps, and it was warm. When we woke up on Saturday morning it was cold. The weather deteriorated. It was cool in its own way, but not as much wildlife and we could not sit out on the deck to enjoy the weather. We were grateful for the two beautiful days.

This particular stretch of coast has interesting history with abundant storms altering the landscape. At one time, the houses were accessible on an asphalt road, but no more. You must drive on the beach to get to the houses. Some of the houses along our stretch were no longer habitable. It was very cool to be so close to the ocean, but I was glad to not own the house. It is a matter of time before it gets washed away.

Shorebirds in the foreground, battered houses in the background.
Beautiful sunset from our beach house. We got to see sunrise over the ocean and sunset over the intracoastal waterway.

White Pelicans on a Local Pond

American white pelicans fishing with a wood stork on the left.

We have lived on our street on the salt marsh for three years and have seen white pelicans on the Tolomato River and flying overhead, but have not seen them on our local retention ponds. Recently, we saw them on the retention ponds actively fishing. They fish by swimming on the water and dipping their bills in to scoop up fish. This particular pond is saltier than the other three ponds on our street and has mullet in it. The mullet regularly leap out of the water, so the pond has acquired the name “Jumping Fish Pond.”

American white pelicans.
Bedraggled wood storks. They regularly hang around a few of our retention ponds. They usually look better than this.
Sunrise over the Tolomato River and salt marsh behind our house. Regis stood on our patio to take this picture through the trees. Between the astonishing sunrises and abundant wildlife, it is hard to say which is the best feature in our current home.

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.