Monday, February 09, 2009

White Ibis Sunset

On my final trip around the Black Point Wildlife Drive at Merritt Island NWR near Titusville, Florida, I was standing along the road with a few friends at sunset when a passing bald eagle scared every bird nearby into the air. Nearest us was a flock of white ibis. These birds burst into the air from an impoundment to our east, flapping frantically past us, headed west into the sunset. I tracked them with my camera and took about 25 photos of the flock as it wheeled left and right.

Then the birds were gone, disappearing over the trees on the western horizon.

Here are the highlight images of those few moments when the ibises were in the air.

The white ibis flock as it took off—the low light turned the fast-moving birds into blurry figures.

Turning to head northwest, the white birds took on the pink of the sunset.

Just enough light to discern some detail.

Well above the bright western horizon, but a hint of the sun's color comes through the ibises' primaries.

Turning back from north to west.

To my eye these scimitar shapes look more like skimmers or bulbats than ibises.

Dropping lower on the horizon now, against a tangerine sky.

The requisite palm tree helps us know this is Florida..

The flock changes its collective mind and wheels northward again.

Every child has drawn the M-shaped birds in pictures created with lots of sky space. Now I know why.

My camera loved the palms as much as my eyes did. Birds are still passing.

The final frame. Lead birds are setting their wings to land.

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

A Good Year Bird: Least Bittern

I got to see and photograph a least bittern—my first sighting of this species in several years—at the Viera Wetlands on Florida's east coast last week. Many of the birders attending the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival in Titusville, Florida, got to see this bird. A lucky few saw its larger cousin, the American bittern, at the same locale on the same day.

Even though I have yet to write down a single species, I think I am keeping a North American year list this year. Maybe if I keep saying and thinking that, I'll actually do it. Regardless of my slothful ways, I was chuffed to add the least bittern to my 2009 list.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Many Joys of Book Authorship

I've never been so proud to be the author of a book as I was when I saw my friend Bart carrying a copy of The Young Birder's Guide in hands-free mode.

In the booth where it was being sold at The Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival, dozens of copies of the book were purchased by blushing female customers following Bart's appearance.

Steven King, John Grisham, Oprah, and that mom that writes lusty vampire books can just eat their collective hearts out.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Red Sky At Morning...

What was that old saying about the weather for sailors? Red sky at night, sailor's delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning?

I and a couple of dozen hearty souls are heading out to sea today on a pelagic trip. This is the final activity for the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival in Titusville, Florida.

It's too early for the sun to be up this morning, so I'm using a sunrise form a few days ago. The weather looks promising, so I'm not too worried about having rough seas. I'm just hoping that, if the morning sky is red, the saying won't be:

Red sky at morning, the birding is boring.

I'm excitied. This is my first pelagic trip in a long time. We don't get to do too many pelagic trips in southeaster Ohio. The only thing that could make my anticipation higher would be if it were Talk Like A Pirate Day.

Special thanks to Connie Toops for the photo advice on this sunrise photo, and to Jeff Gordon for the rain suit. Hope I don't need it.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Talking 'bout Anhingas

Anhinga, male.

I can never remember which day in the Blog Week is supposed to be wordless. And which one is all about the sky. Is there one about the Wordless Sky, too? I'm confused.

This male anhinga was so durn purty that I just had to share him—wordlessly or not. I encountered him as he was drying his wings on a chilly morning at Viera Wetlands.

Anhingas are interesting birds. Whenever I get to see one, I am reminded of the very first one I saw on a Florida trip with my family in the early 1970s. Driving through the Everglades, we noticed all these dark birds with snake-like necks swimming in the water and perching near it with outstretched wings. What WERE these things?

We laughed when we found the bird in our Peterson guide. It was the anhinga. Back home in Pella, Iowa, we knew a family (of Dutch origin as most in Pella were) with the last name Hinga. They had a daugher named Ann.

No lie. Ann Hinga.

Last night at dinner, Robert Kirk from Princeton University Press, posed the question: How many birds are like the anhinga, which has the same name for its common name as it does for its genus and species (its two-part Latin name). In other words, the anhinga is noted in field guides thusly:

Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)

Are there any other birds with this unusually repetitive name structure? Have I left you wordless in pondering this question? I certainly hope not.

Happy weekend to all.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Space Coast Moment

Reddish egret on Black Point Wildlife Drive in Merritt Island NWR.

I am just back in the past few hours from Titusville, Florida, where I was attending the Space Coast Birding & Nature Festival. Florida in winter. . . man i could almost see buying some Bermuda shorts, a floppy hat, a Members Only windbreaker, and some golf clubs and hanging it up down there in the Sunshine State. Or maybe not just yet.

The Space Coast of Florida (the area around Cape Canaveral, epicenter of the NASA space program) could use as its marketing phrase: "It's Birdy as Heck Here!" There are huge flocks of American robins already preparing to move north. The sky is peppered with swooping tree swallows. Lines of ibises, cormorants, pelicans, spoonbills, and skeins of ducks look like stitching across the sky. Every bit of water hosts a wood stork, white ibis, coot, or gallinule. Bald eagles and osprey are so common as to elicit a yawn from the local birders. Yellow-rumped warblers tchup from every shrub and tree, joined by the occasional palm warbler.

Among the birds I encountered in Florida are several species I get to see just once or twice a year. Perhaps the most interesting such water bird is the reddish egret. It has an unusual hunting strategy—it walks along slowly in shallow water until it spies a school of fish. Then it chases the fish, trying to catch them by stabbing its bill into the shallow water. As it runs it looks something like a drunken sailor, legs and wings reaching out in all directions.

The reddish egret's color scheme is subtle but evocative—classic colors blended so well. I love the pink bill with a black tip. I got these few pictures of reddish egrets while in FL.

More about FL soonish. Right now, like an astronaut might experience coming back to Earth, I am in the midst of re-entry into my normal routine.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

From Ice Scrapers to Skimmers

Later this week I'll be heading to Titusville, Florida for The Space Coast Birding Festival, going in a few hours from the land of ice scrapers to sand flats full of black skimmers. It's 11 degrees F in SE Ohio this morning. Even the icicles are shivering.

I've found over the years that there's nothing like a beach covered in resting black skimmers to cure the winter blahs (or even your run-of-the-mill seasonal affective disorder).

If I get any good bird pix, you'll be the second to know. Until then, go easy.

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