more CBC fun
mystery flower photographed at Babcock Webb WMA, 12/14/08
Each time I detected Bluebirds, I'd head toward them and invariably I found other species with them. The bulk of these flocks were made up of Pine Warblers, with lesser numbers of Yellow-rumped & Palm Warblers numbering into the triple digits. In the biggest flock there were >100 warblers, 8 individual Bluebirds, 4 Brown-headed Nuthatches, 3 Red-bellied Woodpeckers, & 2 Downy Woodpeckers. I got lucky in one flock and had a Blue-headed Vireo and a Pileated Woodpecker mixed in. Eastern Towhees, Northern Flickers, and Eastern Meadowlarks could invariably be heard nearby but they don't seem to join these mixed species flocks.
Loggerhead Shrikes are commonly seen foraging throughout the open flatwoods habitat. This small predatory songbird does not (obviously) join the feeding flocks and is another one of the loners out here. It might try to join in, but likely only to attempt to capture one of its smaller feathered brethren. With their sharply hooked beaks the Loggerhead will rarely capture and eat a small bird, but for the most part they nab insects like the Gulf Fritillary shown above. Grasshoppers and crickets are a favorite. Slightly larger Northern Shrikes found (as you'd guess) across many northern states in winter do take a higher percentage of birds and rodents though.
Shrikes are a curios predator. They lack the talons of a true raptor (bird of prey) so are reliant on their hooked beak for capturing and killing their prey. They also have the unique habit of wedging their prey in a forked branch or impaling it on a long thorn or barbed wire fence. This habit has earned them the nickname "Butcherbird". The bird below put on quite a show and I felt obligated to shoot some images and video through the spotting scope since it was being so accommodating.
My assigned area included the large "Babcock Lake" that runs three miles south from the park entrance. Along it's length is a mix of young open flatwoods and marhes perfect for all kinds of critters like the toothy resident below.
As I stood at the lake's edge another large feeding flock swept through the area and disappeared to the south slowly rolling through the vegetation like a slow motion tumble weed. It dawned on me how this type of birding was kind of like fishing. You're in the right habitat there's miles of it and the birds are in tight packs here and there. To my eye at least there was very little difference in the habitat from one spot to another either. These birds just roam through these habitat areas and you need a bit of luck to find them. My Bluebird trick has seemed to help me stack the odds in my favor a bit and it seems this home court advantage likely helps me detect more than the uninitiated birder visiting for the first time. Unlike fishing though birding is non-consumptive so once I see the bird it will still be there for the next birder or my next visit. Also, since my seeing it does not make it more wary and harder to see on future visits (unlike catch and release fishing perhaps), I happily share my secrets to success with other birders. Something the local fisherman might take to his or her grave to insure their secret spot and techniques continue to work for them on every visit. This spirit of open sharing is one of the great things about the birding community actually that is not as common in other outdoor recreational pursuits.
female Belted Kingfisher, digiscoped image, Babcock Webb WMA 12/14/08
Belted Kingfishers are another one of the unique stories from the birding world, they are one of the VERY few examples (along with Phalaropes) of a bird species where the female is more colorful than the male! I have no idea why this is, but the males show only the upper blue neck band and none of the reddish coloration found below on the belly and flanks. Phalaropes are actually a polyandrous species where the more colorful female attracts a mate, breeds, lays eggs and then leaves the male to tend for the nest and raise the chicks. When she has had enough mating she simply returns to sea and joins a flock of other single bachelorette phalaropes! The male's more subdued, cryptic coloration is then understandable as he will be doing all of the incubation and brooding of small young. I don't know what the story is with the Belted Kingfisher though. Anyone care to jump in to offer more enlightenment here?...
adult Osprey digiscoped Babcock Webb WMA 12-14-08
The sad looking Osprey above played a part in one of my final memorable moments at the Webb. I heard him first (likely a male by plain unmarked breast - most females show a "necklace" of dark streaks) giving typical piercing single notes of protest. I looked up and was not surprised to see this guy carrying a fish with an adult Bald Eagle closing in on him fast. It all happened so quickly I never even bothered or thought about snapping a picture, I just enjoyed the show through my binoculars. The Osprey attempted to stave off the inevitable and allude the Eagle's piracy by going into a steep dive toward the surface of the lake. However, he was heavily laden by a large fish and was no match for the agility and power of an unburdened adult Bald Eagle. The eagle closed in fast leaving our sad Osprey with only one option; to release his quarry just above the lake's surface.
Very often when this happens the eagle will be able to snatch the falling fish out of the air, but there was not enough space in this instance and the heavy prey splashing into the lake looked like a depth charge being released from some WWII airplane in old film footage. The eagle broke off the chase and spiralled back around to look for its quarry but not before two other eagles who had detected this less than quiet exchange came barrelling in as well. Now all three eagles were spiralling low over the lake's surface chittering madly at one another: one adult, a three year old bird (by plumage), and a youngster hatched this year. After a while they all peeled off and perched. The adult selected a short 12' high pine close to the splash down site, while the two younger birds landed in the same large pine on the opposite shore. It seems no one ever got the fish (at least not while I was there) but it was a wonderfully fun event and one of the many memorable highlights of this day.... although the Osprey likely disagrees!