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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Barn Swallows are migrating now!

Down here on Sanibel Island, FL we are now seeing Barn Swallows migrating north along the beach and they're coming your way! These beautiful swallows winter as far south as South America then return and breed, usually on man-made structures like sheds and barns, across much of North America.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Northern Gannet Bonanza

Spectacular Northern Gannets were flying by in large numbers. It can take 4-5 years for them to reach their white adult plumage. Younger birds have dark on their bodies.

We moved over to the breakwater on Captiva, just north of Sanibel because they were closest to shore there. 

Such a dramatic bird, this one is almost an adult.

They were stacked up but did not touch.

They went up above the horizon then roller-coastered down low to the waves.

We climbed out onto the breakwater, I stood on the rocks above Don. He counted, I photographed the gannets. (photo of us by Meade Cadot.)

On Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Florida, today, Northern Gannets, dramatic, large seabirds, were migrating past at the rate of about 900 per hour!! We went with our visiting NH birding friends, Meade and Sandy, to the beach at Blind Pass and could not believe the numbers. Strong storms had come through and there was a WNW wind blowing hard, pushing these birds, who normally are out farther in the Gulf of Mexico, closer to shore. The birds were heading south and will eventually go around the Florida peninsula and up the Atlantic Coast to their colonial breeding grounds in the North Atlantic off the coast of Newfoundland and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
These birds are incredible flyers and spend most of their life at sea. They fly in lines, undulating up and then down, skimming along in the wave troughs. The eat fish and can plunge dive as deep as 72 feet.
We had a fabulous time watching them.

Monday, March 19, 2012


We just visited Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and the highlight was this Barred Owl. Barred Owls nest there in hollow trees and, if you're lucky, you will see one sitting right next to the boardwalk. Their hooting sounds like, "Who-Cooks-For-You."

It's not just the birds that give you special moments there. This beautiful Ruddy Daggerwing butterfly posed on a leaf out in the water.

A Great Egret balanced on the boardwalk rail, its breeding plumes hanging down like a bridal veil.

Northern Parula Warblers were everywhere in the low light of the Cypress forest canopy, some were singing and about to migrate.

Black-crowned Night-Herons were active, even though it was daylight.

Beauty is where you find it when you're a photographer like I am, and its often right in front of your nose. I don't pass up a photo up just because it's a common bird, like this White Ibis.
Corkscrew Swamp Audubon Sanctuary, in Naples, Florida, is a magical place, be sure and visit when you go to south Florida.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Short-tailed Hawk, a Florida specialty

Short-tailed Hawk, another sought-after Florida speciality for birders and not easy to see. This bird breeds primarily in southern and central Florida and a little in southern AZ and south TX. We have one on our property list here on Sanibel, FL, lucky us.

The Short-tailed Hawk comes in two morphs, a light morph, shown here, and a dark morph. Dark-morphs are dark below with blackish brown body and wing coverts, paler flight feathers and tail, and dark trailing edge to wings. Short-tailed Hawks mostly soar and may hang in one spot for a time. We almost always see them in flight when we encounter them.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mangrove Cuckoo, the holy grail of SW FL birding

Mangrove Cuckoos are striking, but elusive birds found in Southwest Florida.

They can sit still in the vegetation and you would never know they were near you.

The long tail (folded here) has bold white tips to outer tail feathers.

Perhaps the most sought after species for birders in Southwest Florida is the Mangrove Cuckoo. With its limited range and secretive habits, its like the holy grail for these birders. We recently ran into a birder at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge who has been searching for more than 10 years for this bird. We have been lucky and seen it a number of times at Ding Darling in winter, but usually there are only a handful of sightings of it there during this time.

Mangrove Cuckoos are the rarest of the landbird specialists inhabiting mangroves and research indicates their population is in decline. However, exciting new research is now going on at J. N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida, on the Mangrove Cuckoo to help shed light on the habits and behavior of this elusive bird, about which very little is known. 

The Ecostudies Institure, with support from the JN Ding Darling and Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuges and Disney's Wildlife Conservation Fund, will study the cuckoos by putting radio transmitters on a few of them, to learn about their nesting ecology, habitat preferences, and seasonal movements. Hopefully this will aid in the future conservation of this species. To follow the progress of the project, see their facebook page.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Swallow-tailed Kites, Wow!

The Swallow-tailed Kites have returned from migration here on Sanibel Island, FL.

These beautiful birds winter mainly in South America

and return to the Southeast U.S. to breed. Note the interesting pattern on the topside of the wing.

We lucked out and had just pulled into a parking lot and saw 3 kites overhead. They did lots of calling and diving at one another. Swallow-taild Kites catch insects in the air and may pluck lizards from trees. They nest in woodlands and forested wetlands and build nests in trees. What a show we had.