Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Keeping it Simple

Two trips to report on this week,


No big impressive species lists from Friday at Holloway Park in Lakeland, Three of us walked the big loop, and got some exercise. We also had some great views of different butterflies. We did have some very brief glimpses at some Northern Parulas and Blue-gray gnatcatcher. Most of the migrants it seems, were taking advantage of the tailwind provided by the tropical low in south FL that day.  Coolest thing I'd say I saw was a Loggerhead Shrike. I've always thought it's a good day when I see one of those. I did take some horrible pictures of an American Kestrel using my binoculars and my cell phone camera.

There he is!
I suppose it will pass as "art"

The girls (Katie age 9 and Emma age 6) woke me up this morning wanting to go bird Circle B Bar, once again, not a big list, but we did have good practice using binoculars, and had some excellent looks at a little blue heron, and a Turkey vulture. I was especially proud of Emma, who ID'd the Little Blue Heron using field marks, shape, leg color and bill color. She also spotted the turkey vulture, which was only 15-30 yards away. You could really make out the details on the turkey vultures's head, I think we were leaving just as the migrants were waking up, there was some BGGNs in the parking lot on the way out. We got there at 8AM and left at 9AM.

Here's the link to the ebird checklists:
Holloway Park: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S19809773
Circle B: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S19818484
I plan on being out at Holloway again at 09:15 Friday, and I'll certainly welcome any company.


Some notes on taking kids birding.
  • Prepare to be patient. You've got to be there to help the kids, iding birds, finding birds, and keeping lists comes second.
  • Make the outing about spending time together. They have fun birding, but I know it's mainly about being together, outside. The best part of our trip to Circle B was the ride home where I rolled all the windows down and they laughed while the wind blew through the car.
  • The right equipment makes a big difference. The most important thing to consider when considering binoculars for kids is size. smaller, even if it means less magnifcation is better. If you have to choose, choose lower magnification and bigger objective lenses. A pair of 6x 30s is good enough. Especially to start a young birder off right.
  • They'll love you forever if you remember to bring a snack. 

Monday, September 08, 2014

New Places and New Season

My girls are growing up!
I also have another one on the way.
Life is funny with the blessings that come your way.
Saturday August 30, KT (age 9) and Emma (age 6 almost 7) took a trek to explore a new park closer to our house called Holloway Park. It's an interesting little park that has a lot of potential to bring in some migrants. We got there at 8:15 in the morning, ready to find new birds in a new place.
There's a pond near the nature trail parking lot, and that's where we started. Fire ants got us, and E wound up with at least 6 bites. This proved to be the limiting factor for the day, as one can tolerate fire ant bites for only so long.

examining the ground for tracks.

At the pond we saw a Louisiana Heron (tricolor, I know, but this is a habit I keep), Sandhill cranes, and some black-bellied whistling-ducks.
Turning our attention toward the east side nature trail, we began walking down it, and discovered many tracks. Emma, despite her ant bites, loved seeing the tracks from various animals, and she was the track spotter for the day. We saw rabbit tracks, dog tracks, racoon tracks, bird tracks and bobcat tracks. Not to mention all the shoe prints on the ground from the runners. Holloway park is going to turn into a regular place to bird, I can tell. There's loads of oppurtunity and habitat.

look to the ground where they are looking, those are bobcat tracks!


I submitted my very first ebird.org checklist for this field trip! Not a very big list, but it's there now, and I hope to be submitting lots more. I hit the park again on Friday after dropping Grace ( age 4 almost 5) off at Pre-K. Ebird is a lot of fun, it's nice to have access to what's going on where. I resisted going there at first, but now that I use it, I've discovered some tools that I can use for developing web applications using Ebird data. I'll save those details for another blog though.

Katie, Emma, and I also joined the Audubon Society on the Saddle Creek fieldtrip again this year, and there wasn't a lot of birds out yet. The girls and I stayed out about an hour, and logged 18 species. The trip leaders only managed 31 according to ebird, so I don't feel so bad. Next week, Katie gets to pick where we will go, she was pushing pretty hard for Circle B this morning, but had fun anyway. Emma needs new nocs to get the most out of those sort of trips. The real highlight for me was watching at least two, maybe three or more Green herons fly around the ponds. The girls like getting a good look at the black vultures on the way out of the park.

From this trip I learned a couple of things, having decent kit for kids really helps, Emma needs a new pair of 'nocs. Right now she uses a pair of Tasco 7-15 X 35 bins that I inherited from my Nana when she passed. They are great for watching birds on the feeder, but the min focus distance is too great, the field of view too narrow, and if you use the zoom feature, the image is too dark. I did some research about good bins for kids, and came across the Bushnell Natureview 6x30. They came recommended by Bird Watcher's Digest. I'll let her write a review of them, I'm interested in seeing how a 6/7 year old figures binocular usefulness.

My kids love sharing what they are good at with me, when I give them the chance to share back and incorporate something we share together, we get the maximum learning and togetherness experience. On Sunday evening, Katie decided that she wanted to make a powerpoint about something bird related. I suggested she make one about all the places she's been to watch birds. So far, I have to say, it's pretty good. I'll have to find a way to get it online for people to watch.

We're already talking about the next trip out, and can't wait to give the next update!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Field Trippin' With the Audubon Society

I've been a card carrying member of the Audubon Society Since I was in the fourth grade. I had a book about bird gardening, and in the back of the book, there was an address for the National Audubon Society. I wrote them, telling them I was in the fourth grade and asked for a membership packet. About two months later, I got the packet, and I ponied up the fee out of my own money. I've been a member since, usually remembering to re-up, occasionally forgetting, mostly, I get a gift membership every year from my parents for my birthday or Christmas. When we moved to Jacksonville, FL from Louisiana in 1989 I discovered the wonderful joys of going on the Local Audubon Society chapter field trips. Until then, birding had largely been a solo pursuit for me, and I quickly discovered that having people with you when you went out really made the birding fun, especially when there were people who are better birders than you.

On the 7th, I introduced the two eldest kiddos to Audubon field trips. We went with the Lake Region Audubon Society to Saddle creek. Hey, it's the local warbler spot. It's reasonably close to the house, and doesn't have an entry fee, what's not to like?

The LRAS puts on several fall migrant walks at Saddle Creek. The next one is on September 21st and the final official one of the season is October 26th. They promptly start at 8AM. We arrived about 10 minutes late, because I was still sleeping when the girls were almost ready to go. At 7:20, I felt a tap tap tap on my leg, peeked open my eyes, and saw Emma:
"Dad, it's time to get up and go birding."
Yes Sweetheart.
Sometimes, I really dislike having a second shift job. Saturday mornings are one of those times. When I operate on my natural rhythm I am asleep by 10pm, and awake by 6am. Since college however, I've been shoehorned into jobs and other activities that have kept me out. Right now, it's hard to get to bed early on my day off, but when I do, it's very easy to get up.
Last Saturday was not easy to get up, but get up I did, and get coffee flowing through my veins. After feeding the kids, we were off.

The group was still close to the gate so to speak, glancing hopefully upward in the trees, hoping to catch a passing migrant. As we approached the group, someone pointed out a mockingbird on top of the plastic owl by the county facilities at the park entrance. The girls got a kick out of seeing this peculiarity. Walking up the big hill, we saw our first migrants, a red eyed vireo and yellow throated warbler. KT especially liked the warbler, and said it made the list as her favorite bird of the day. Another ovenbird appeared at the same spot it did the week before. Someone reported black crowned night herons by the creekside (yep, there is an actual Saddle Creek!), but we missed it. We did however see a black and white warbler.
There were more vireos. And then there were more vireos! all of them were red eyed. come to think of it, I've seen a lot of red eyed vireos all this week. They must all leave for points south at the same time. We had to leave early so I could get to work, and on the way back, just after we passed the ovenbird spot on the way to the hill, I spied a bird on the ground, waggin' it's tail, looking like a waterthrush. I raised my 'nocs to see a streaky breast, overall yellowish bird with an eyestripe that lead me to conclude "Northern Waterthrush" I was really hoping for a Lousiana. Any waterthrush is worth the view, but Louisiana seems to be my nemesis bird for the area. The Audubon group had it on it's list, but no Northern. The bird I saw was too yellow, and the eyestripe was off for a Louisiana. I guess I can take comfort in that they didn't have Northern on their list.

Once in the car, I directed the girls to the top of another pole where a red shouldered hawk surveyed the lakes and all around. When we got on the road, and to the bait shop, right before getting onto Memorial Highway, a Great egret gave us a really close look. Emma was impressed, and said it was her favorite bird of the day. We also laughed at the "No tail Grackles" that were singing and flying around.

It's late Friday night as I finish this up, and the morning is coming quick. I have a feeling that I'll be getting another nudge. I think tomorrow morning we will go to Lake Hollingsworth though, I spied some terns on some bouys that need perusing on the way to work the other day.

Our list:
Northern Mockingbird
Yellow Throated Warbler
Red-eyed Vireo
Northern Cardinal
Red Bellied woodpecker
Ovnbird
Black and white warbler
downey woodpecker
northern waterthrush
carolina wren
red shouldered hawk
mourning dove
Anhinga
white ibis
great egret
boat tailed grackle (no tail grackles)
tricolored heron.


*****EDIT*****
Didn't make it to Lake Hollingsworth with girls, but I did drive by on the way into work. There were no terns on the southside bouys when I rode by at 11:40 AM today.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Saddle up For Saddle Creek!

Yesterday I got it in my head that one thing I could do to help my wife be able to sleep in on a Saturday was to take our two kids in elementary school (3rd grade and kindergarden) out for a lil birding while she and my youngest slept.  For a plan, it mostly worked out! She at least didn't have to get out of bed until after we left. Lil' Sister was very anxious about not seeing her big sisters when she got up though.
#1 and #2 are neophytes in the realm of birding, and I expect that mainly they do such things with me because they get to do such things with me, but we do enjoy birding together every now and again. Our last trip was a success, but that was back in spring, and the migration is once again upon us!
Today was their first trip out to Saddle Creek for birding. We've been fishing out there a couple of times, but never birding. I haven't been birding out there since #2 was born. I thought the Audubon Field trips were every weekend out there, but I guess they changed it up some, no matter. We were late getting out the door anyway, and the weather was too nice for migrants.
We began birding as soon as we turned from Memorial and passed the bait shack. Right away we had a whole group of rough looking molting Boat tailed grackles. The girls thought they were funny looking. Driving along we noted several other birds, Great Egrets, Great Blue Heron, Common Moorhen, and even a Belted Kingfisher on a powerline. My oldest was especially impressed by it. Kingfisher's got some style, I'll give him that! The moorhen had some mostly grown chicks with her, and that produced the expected "Awwwwwwwww"'s too.
After parking, we began a brief excusion. I was planning on being out there for not more than an hour and a half, and we wound up walking for about forty minutes. I let the girls set the pace, and while trying to direct their wandering, let them roam about chasing butterflies on the morning dewed grass. We had to climb up the observation hill, and go through the brush tunnel. They enjoyed that. I kept hearing an ovenbird, and when we got to where it was I pished at it for a little bit. Out popped the Ovenbird, a northern cardinal, scads of Blue-gray gnatcatchers, and a rough looking northern Parula. While looking around, a gent came by in search of moths. I'm not certain, but I think it was Tom Palmer of Lakeland Ledger fame, I'm shooting him an email, update to follow. (EDIT: Sure was Tom Palmer, I hope he found some cool moths!) We walked back to the car, found some racoon tracks, and followed them some. Then we birded our way back to memorial. Got out of the car down one of the fishing spurs that heads off into the old mine pits, and noted some squirrel tracks. Then it was back to home, and snacks!
Lil' Sister was mad at us, but she calmed down.
The List:
White Ibis
Boat Tail Grackle
Great Blue Heron
American Anhinga
Belted Kingfisher
Common Moorhen
Great Egret
Loggerheaded Shrike
Mourning Dove
Fish Crow
Northern Cardinal
Ovenbird
Blue Jay
Northern Parula
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Had Some Time to Enjoy the Outdoors.

Location: Ichetucknee river, FL, near . Things seen of note: Birds (see list below), coons, manatees, otterscat, crawfish, bass, bream, mullet, rednecks, turtles, a lined sole, or maybe a hogchoker still suprising though...
Wildflowers!
I had to stop to take a pic, couldn't help myself. Poetry came afterward.

For the birds, there wasn't enough time for a "formal evaluation," but for an informal evaluation, I was able to accumulate quite a list!
Carolina wren
Tufted Titmouse (see Greg Scheckler's excellent portrait of TUTI)
Carolina Chickadee
Great Crested Flycatcher
Pileated Woodpecker
Red Bellied Woodpecker
heard a Downy Woodpecker
Fish Crow
Blue Jay
heard many Northern Parulas
Yellow-crowned Night Heron - I really really really needed a good long telephoto lens for him!
heard a Hummingbird (i'm guessing Ruby throated. Sounded like every RTHU I've ever heard)
Cooper's Hawk
Heard Barred Owls at night (many of them, more than 2!)

The girls got a kick out of seeing it all, especially when I pished up the TUTIs, had those lil jokers hopping all around me. Thought a couple of them looked like they had recently fledged, they were begging from others in the group. Is it time for them in Columbia County to be fledging? I've never taken part in a breeding bird census, mainly because my work schedule keeps me busy when normal people have the time for such things. Maybe it's time to start such a thing, especially if I can get the girls involved during the summer.