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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Green Heron

This Green Heron was watching and waiting for a fishing opportunity recently at J.N. Ding Darling NWR. This could be a migrant that will be returning to your area in spring!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Rails in Bailey Tract, Sanibel, FL

Green Heron

Clapper Rail

Clapper Rail


Green Heron

Green Heron

Clapper Rail

More rail happenings at Bailey Tract, Sanibel. Last night, at dusk, in the drying up pond, we waited for the rails to appear. First came two Green Herons, actively hunting little fish, while the Clapper hid in the tall grass and leisurely stretched. The Sora came out and darted around. Then finally the Clapper fully emerged, just as it got too dark for photos. Glad I went last night because tonight the rails did not emerge and the water level had dropped substantially. Perhaps they will move to a different area of the Bailey Tract.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Pileated Woodpecker Excavating a Home

This Pileated Woodpecker, male, is excavating a nesting cavity now high up in a dead tree stub. He was being secretive, understandably so, as he does not want other cavity nesting birds, or predators to find the location. He pecked at the interior wood for a while, then the female came and took a turn. Pileated Woodpeckers are common here on Sanibel Island, FL, but in NH where we are from, it is a rare treat to see one.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Lesser Scaup Identification

Lesser Scaup, male

Lesser Scaup, male

Lesser Scaup, male

Lesser Scaup, female

For at least two weeks or longer the Scaup that have been in Ding Darling are Lesser Scaup. There have been 4-6 birds. Mostly they are seen by the tower, one has also been seen on pond 2 a few days ago. They are frequently misidentified as Greater Scaup. We have been studying them carefully and over time. Here’s a list of clues and photos as to why they are Lesser Scaup, not Greater Scaup. There are also Lesser Scaup at the Pond Apple ponds and the Dunes golf course.

1. Head Shape. 
Head shape is touted as one of the biggest clues, with Lesser’s head having a steep forehead rounding off to a high, short, somewhat peaked crown with a slight “corner” visible at the rear. In general head height is greater than length (the opposite in Greater Scaup), creating a vertical appearance to head. Long crown feathers give the Lesser’s head the peak at rear. On Greater the head has a steep forehead which rounds out into a fairly long crown and head has horizontal, sometimes slightly rectangular appearance. In general, head length is greater than height (the opposite in Lesser Scaup). From head-on Greater’s head is broader cheeked: Lesser’s is more even width throughout although this is sometimes hard to judge. Lesser has a thin neck, Greater’s is thicker. HOWEVER, head shape varies considerably depending on what the birds are doing, such as feeding, sleeping, alert, etc.. When actively feeding head shape differences are negligible, the head of Lesser is sleeked back, peak not visible. Much of the misidentification of these Ding birds is because the observer has been relying on head shape alone, and as stated, that can vary considerably. You need multiple clues to ID these birds.

2. Wings. 
On Lesser Scaup, the broadly white secondaries, create a white stripe along inner wing, on Greater Scaup the white extends onto the inner primary feathers making the stripe longer. This can be an excellent clue. Note the wing photos of the Ding birds and you can see that the bright white occurs on the secondary feathers and then stops and does not extend along the primary feathers as a continuous and longer bright white stripe. Beware looking at photos of the Ding birds where the bright sunshine reflects too much off the wing, it can make the wing look like it has a long white stripe.

3. Head and Body Color. 
The head of male Lesser in good light can have purplish to greenish gloss. In dull light or back lit, the head looks dark. The sides are washed with pale gray. In Greater Scaup the male’s head, in good light, has greenish gloss. Greater’s sides are mostly whitish with underpart vemiculation finer than on Lesser. Again beware photos that blow out the whites which can make the Ding bird males look like they have cleaner whitish sides, more like Greater Scaup. Females of both species similar, have brown heads, gray-brown back and sides and white oval patch at base of bill. Lesser Scaup can appear shorter-bodied and often rides higher on water than Greater. Greater is a slightly bigger bird (18 inches) than Lesser (17 inches) although this may be hard to judge.

4. Bill. 
The bill of Lesser is bluish and about 2/3 length of head, black nail at tip. Greater’s similar bill is slightly longer, about 3/4 length of head with bill broader and flaring toward tip and black on nail can bleed down off nail, hard to see at a distance.

So to ID the birds in Ding, look closely, over time at more than one clue. The clues for head and wings are some of the most helpful. Lesser Scaup are the species most commonly seen here in winter, Greater Scaup would be more rare. For more detailed clues consult a good field guide or specialty guide.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Ding Darling Stokes Birding and Photography Tour 2018

American White Pelicans

Snowy Egret

Mottled Duck (hybrids)

Pied-billed Grebe, ruffling feathers

I had the pleasure today of leading, with Don, a fundraising the annual "Stokes Birding and Photography Stokes Tour" for J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. On Fridays the refuge is always closed, so when we took two tram buses of participants into the refuge we had the place to ourselves! Don taught bird identification and I taught bird photography. The birds were most cooperative and on the second pond we had a number of species come in for close photo ops, including the birds above that I photographed with my Canon SX 50. Lighting conditions are always a challenge in the Florida sun. The bright light can product photos of light birds with blown out highlights so photographers need to learn how to compensate for that. My participants had all levels of skill and cameras ranging from cell phones to expensive DSLR high end cameras and lenses. We covered the elements of exposure, how to know what to photo, how to move fast and anticipate the birds actions, bird photography ethics and much more. It was a fun time! Thanks all!

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Reddish Egret Wow!

Yesterday I had a wonderful, lucky opportunity to photograph this Reddish Egret, called Ding 1 as she did canopy feeding right in front of me at the tower pond in Ding Darling NWR! She has a satellite/GPS transmitter on her back and is one of the Reddish Egrets being studied by the Avian Research and Conservation Institute (with support from the refuge) since Reddish Egrets are the most rare heron here and maybe in decline. Here she also is this year with her mate, Ding 2, a male who has white feathers in his plumage and is banded on his right leg while she is banded on her left leg. Reddish Egrets are famed for their active "dancing" feeding positions as they hunt for small fish. So great they are being studied to learn more about how to protect the habitat they need. For more see,

Monday, February 05, 2018

Green-winged Teal Beauty

 Beautiful Green-winged Teal recently at J.N. Ding Darling NWR, Sanbel, FL. Male on right, female left. Female ducks often have more camouflaged coloring since they are the ones that have to sit on the nest.