Fort Myers, Florida, 2020

Last month, I put on my snowbird training wheels for the second time and flew to Fort Myers, Florida, to visit my snowbird parents and to, of course, bird. This year’s trip doesn’t necessarily top last year’s trip because last year’s trip resulted in a waterfall of lifers. This year’s trip did involve the following:

  • Visiting some of my favourite birding spots
  • Visiting some new birding spots
  • Complaining about the humidity
  • Enjoying the ubiquitous serenade of the Northern Mockingbird
  • Joining the Caloosa Bird Club on a visit to Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge
  • Joining the local Audubon chapter on a visit to Caloosahatchee Creeks Preserve
  • Seeing five lifers: Limpkin, Mottled Duck, Magnificent Frigatebird, Monk Parakeet, and Crested Caracara
  • Spending time with my incredible family, including my nephew

What follows are out-of-order photos of my trip, followed by a link to some birding videos.

Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, Florida, February 2020.
Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, Florida, February 2020.
Caloosahatchee River, North Fort Myers, Florida, February 2020.
Boat-tailed Grackle, Cape Coral, Florida, February 2020.
Full Moon, February 9, 2020. North Fort Myers, Florida.
Green Heron, Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Florida, February 2020.
Yellow-throated Warbler, Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Florida, February 2020.
Reddish Egret, Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Florida, February 2020.
Snowy Egret (background) and a White Ibis (foreground), Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Florida, February 2020.
Spotted Sandpiper, Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Florida, February 2020.
Little Blue Heron, Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Florida, February 2020.
Prairie Warbler, Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Florida, February 2020.
Anhinga, Lake County Park, Florida, February 2020.
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Lakes Park, Florida, February 2020.
Limpkin, Harns Marsh, Florida, February 2020.
White Ibis, Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, Florida, February 2020.
Laughing Gull, Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, Florida, February 2020.
Little Blue Heron, Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, Florida, February 2020.
Willet, Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, Florida, February 2020.
Laughing Gull, Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, Florida, February 2020.
Magnificent Frigatebird, Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, Florida, February 2020.
Ruddy Turnstones, Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, Florida, February 2020.
Yellow-crowed Night-heron, Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Florida, February 2020.
Blue-winged Teals and American Coots, Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Florida, February 2020.
North Fort Myers overlooking the Callosahatchie River, Florida, February 2020.
Kayaking at Marsh Point, North Fort Myers, Florida, February 2020.
Kayaking in the mangroves at Marsh Point, North Fort Myers, Florida, February 2020.

For Florida 2020 birding videos, including one with the Reddish Egret’s serious dance moves, visit my YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/user/lburfitt/videos?view_as=subscriber

Shorebird Confusion at the Coast

We no longer live 1 hour from the coast. It’s more like 2 hours now, so we have yet to make the trip since we moved north. In late January, we decided to head to Cannon Beach, the birthplace of our PNW love.

We started (birding of course) at Ecola State Park, which was a new stop for both of us. It was mostly be accident. When we entered the town of Cannon Beach, we turned right at some point, then drove down a very long road through an enchanting forest to Ecola State Park.

This park is breathtaking, and I’m happy that it’s the closest part of the coast to our house.

I need to visit the coast more often because my shorebird ID needs some work. Almost every time I see shorebirds, it’s like I’m starting over in bird ID. I guess that keeps things interesting, and I’m glad I have a decent camera that allows me to bring home bird ID homework.

Surfbirds that I originally thought were Black Turnstones.
But there were a few Black Turnstones! They just were not ALL BLTUs. Compare this individual’s bill colour to the Surfbird’s in the previous photograph. Eh? The Surfbird’s bill has orange at the base. This guy? All black.
Medley of both Black Turnstones and Surfbirds.
I believe these are mostly Surfbirds taking off because they lack the white stripe on their backs (that Black Turnstones have).
Some Surf Scoters getting testy with each other.
Black Oystercatchers looking ridiculous as always
I do love the Oregon Coast.
Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach.
Harlequin Ducks, always a pleasure.

You Down with PPP (Yea You Know Me)

Go ahead and roll your eyes at me. I’ll give you a few minutes. Don’t run out of eye rolls though, because once I define this marvelous abbreviation for you, you’ll be back at it again.

PPP = the Philomath Poo Ponds, aka the Philomath Sewage Ponds.

Note: Access to these ponds is restricted! You need to have a permit, which is available free of charge from the Philomath Public Works Department.

It’s been several months since I’ve birded the PPP because it’s now more than 2 hours away. But, enter the Willamette Valley Birding Symposium in Corvallis, plus a visit from my birding sister Lindsay, and I’m back down in arguably the best birding area in Oregon (IMHO). The symposium was on the Saturday, and we birded on Sunday. We planned on birding the PPP and Finley, but hitting both in 1 day is difficult when the sun sets at 4:30-ish and you’ve slept in and had a lazy morning birding your AirBNB property.

Views of the Coast Range from the Poo Ponds.
And sometimes, you get a rainbow over the sewage ponds. But … where are all of the birds?
There are six cells (ponds). We found the birds. This cell is boiling over in Northern Shovelers. We counted approximately 930 individual shovelers. No that’s not a typo.
A possible Eurasian x American Wigeon (hybrid)? https://ebird.org/checklist/S63844912
An Eared Grebe with a robust dust ruffle!
The cacophony that is the PPP seed pile. Check out my video here, if only just to hear the juncos and their crazy 80s video game-themed calls.
https://youtu.be/uTbaCbODsZI
This Lincoln Sparrow was a nice highlight at the seed pile.
A White-crowned Sparrow nestled in a small depression. I’m guessing he’s full of seed.
A Northern Harrier flying in for some afternoon preening. See video here:
https://youtu.be/pJ6j_TJBBcU
Alfred the Greater Sage-Grouse at the Willamette Valley Symposium with pals Lindsay and Linda.
The traditional post-symposium beers and burgers at Squirrels in Corvallis.

The Full Dipper Experience

I ventured out my front door today to find the American Dippers that are regulars, at least for now, above and below the Lower Falls in Lacamas Regional Park.

The streamflow in the creek today was fast, and as soon as I got to the bridge, I found one dipper, dipping and bobbing on a big mossy rock on the side of the creek. The water was rough today, but Dipper took to the air and masterfully dived into the creek and returned to the mossy rock seconds later with a tasty treat. I was close enough today to get a video capturing the full dipper experience (FDE)! It’s short and worth it! Check is out at the following link, especially if you’ve never seen the FDE: https://youtu.be/4VwPwQJws_g

American Dipper, Lacamas Creek, Lacamas Regional Park, January 19, 2020.
Incoming (snack in bill)!
Lacamas Creek, Lacamas Regional Park, January 19, 2020.
Main bridge, Lacamas Creek, Lacamas Regional Park, January 19, 2020.
Lacamas Creek, Lacamas Regional Park, January 19, 2020.

A Mid-Day Skirmish

January 8, 2020, and a new yard bird—#73—makes a dramatic appearance in the backyard.

#73 is a Sharp-shinned hawk.

#73 flew in quickly today, snatched a specimen belonging to #16 (Spotted Towhee), and settled down in the grass for a few minutes (very-still towhee in talons) before flying off. I noticed this skirmish after hearing a small but loud cry (poor towhee) then looked over to see the latter half of the scene.

Wild! I feel awful for the towhee. I bait towhees with delicious seed and inadvertently baited a sharpie with a delicious towhee. I have a lot of towhees, so I suppose I can spare a few? I still feel a bit awful. RIP towhee. I think you went quickly.

Sharpie spent maybe 2 minutes sitting here, and I quickly took a few shots through my office window. I was tempted to open the window, but sharpie would have certainly flown off.
I alternated between taking photographs and viewing this scene through my binoculars. It appears that the towhee went quickly. The time between the sharp, small cry of the towhee and a very-still towhee was less than 1 minute.
RIP towhee. Nice work sharpie. He then flew off with his chunky red-eyed lunch.

January 5, 2020

It’s a blog revival! Since you were last here, the blog has appropriately changed from Oregon Big Year to Sauntering Birder, and I have changed locations. I’m still in the Pacific Northwest, but we moved up to southwest Washington in June 2019. Moving is all consuming, and the months that followed were made up of many highs and and one real low. Nevertheless, the blog was unintentionally put to sleep for a bit.

I haven’t stopped birding of course, and I haven’t stopped taking photos. So, consider this a long photo-based catch up of the birds and birding locations I’ve enjoyed these past several months in my new backyard and 5-mile radius (5MR).

My office window,  January 2020. You can see my feeders at the bottom left, Lacamas Creek, and to the top right, the Washougal River. I do get work done, I promise.

My new 5MR is HOT. Let me tell you about it right now.

As you can see, our backyard overlooks some great habitat and is thus exceptionally birdy. This may have been a key factor in deciding on this exact location. Since we moved here in June, my yard list is at 72. On eBird my yard is called “Lacamas Creek-Washougal River Confluence Area (and backyard feeders)”.

My daily fall-winter yard visitor, the Golden-crowned Sparrow, January 2020.
My daily summer yard visitor, the Black-headed Grosbeak (female), July 2019.
My daily all-season visitor, the Spotted Towhee, fall 2019.

Beyond our backyard is a series of walking paths (some paved, some not) that make up the Washougal River Greenway Trail. I can see part of the unpaved trail from my yard. The unpaved trail winds through a floodplain comprising mainly Oregon Ash. The paved portion follows the Washougal River, crosses the river, and passes through and by a young riparian forest and some old quarry ponds.

Bridge on the Washougal River Greenway Trail, summer 2019.
Me and my Dad in November 2019 on the Washougal River Greenway Trail.
Quarry pond along the Washougal River Greenway Trail, fall 2019.
Queue the Twin Peaks theme song, it’s the Pacific Northwest classic, the Varied Thrush! In December 2019 and now in January 2020, there is one very reliable spot for this species along the Washougal trail.
My Mom in June 2019 on the Washougal River Greenway Trail.

Down the street and a 2-minute walk from our house is the trailhead to Lacamas Creek Park. The approximately 40-acre park is in a dense Douglas-fir forest (some old-growth) and has myriad unpaved trails and three waterfalls. The main trail follows Lacamas Creek, whose flow is controlled from a dam upstream at Round Lake. Round Lake is also part of the park and provides added habitat diversity and superb flatwater kayaking.

Lacamas Creek Park, November 2019.
Lacamas Creek Park, Woodburn Falls, and Clint, December 2019.
Lacamas Creek Park, January 2020.
Lacamas Creek, Lacamas Creek Park, January 2020.
Who is that over there?! It’s an American Dipper! I’ve seen these in December 2019 and again in January 2020. Lacamas Creek, January 2020.
The dipper flew in closer and had a partner! This was the best shot I could get, but I was thrilled. Lacamas Creek, January 2020.

Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge is just barely within our 5MR. The refuge features riparian forests, wetted fields, and ponds. It’s currently undoing a massive makeover, the Steigerwald Floodplain Restoration Project. The project will eventually connect the refuge and Gibbons Creek Watershed to the Columbia River and restore approximately 900 acres of Columbia River floodplain habitat.

Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge with Mount Hood in the background, January 2020.
Nesting Purple Martins, Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, August 2019.
American Kestrals in some Mountain Ash, Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, August 2019.
Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, August 2019.
Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, August 2019.

April 29, 2019

Salem, Oregon, and I’m sure other parts of the Pacific Northwest, is abundant in Bushtits. These little nuggets of pure joy are currently out and about, building their nests, amending the insides, feeding, and calling. No matter where I go in Salem these past few weeks, I hear and see Bushtits (they are calling right now outside my window).

During nest construction, Bushtit males and females gather plant materials (e.g., moss) and other fine items (e.g., spider webs) to make a sock-like nest with an opening near the top. This sock is attached firmly to a tree or large shrub. Post-construction, they continue to amend the inside of the nest, preparing the inside for egg-laying perfection.

While birding the Capitol property last week, I found three Bushtit nests and confirmed that two were active. On April 29, I visited one of the active nests in a cedar tree (Cedrus sp.) to see if I could get some shots of one of the adult Bushtits arriving or leaving nest. I set up my camera and tripod, pointed up at the nest and focused, sat down, and waited and watched from a distance as they came and went from their nest. With an incredible amount of patience, and a lot of crappy, blurry shots, I managed to catch a few decent shots of an adult female leaving the nest (adult females have white eyes).

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Fort Myers, Florida, March 7–15 (Part 4 of 4)

I promise that this is the last post about my 2019 Florida trip. Nobody cares anymore, I know. After this, we are back to birding in the PNW (until I go to Utah, then watch out).

This post is a handful of mini-posts. I’ll keep the text “short,” and I’ll be generous with the photos. Here we go.

March 11, 2019: After my trip to the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, I headed north to find Scissor-tailed Flycatchers. En-route, I found another target bird—the Roseate Spoonbill! The spoonbills were in a wet field with an assortment of egrets, etc. If Florida had an egret-heron punch card, I would have all spots punched except for one at this point. eBird checklist here.

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A medley of waders; Immokalee Road; Collier County, Florida; March 11, 2019.

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Roseate Spoonbill; Immokalee Road; Collier County, Florida; March 11, 2019.

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Roseate Spoonbill (judging you) and a Snowy Egret; Immokalee Road; Collier County, Florida; March 11, 2019.

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Roseate Spoonbills; Immokalee Road; Collier County, Florida; March 11, 2019.

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Great Egret and Snowy Egrets; Immokalee Road; Collier County, Florida; March 11, 2019.

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Great Egret; Immokalee Road; Collier County, Florida; March 11, 2019.

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Snowy Egret; Immokalee Road; Collier County, Florida; March 11, 2019.

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Cattle Egret (hey I’m different!); Immokalee Road; Collier County, Florida; March 11, 2019.

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Roseate Spoonbill and Wood Stork; Immokalee Road; Collier County, Florida; March 11, 2019.

After enjoying this wader medley, I went straight to my flycatcher spot, scared an alligator into a canal (splash!), and then a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher flew into view! How perfect. It stayed long enough for me to get a really terrible photo. I’m including it here because it’s a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher! My goal next year is to get better photos of this bird. It’s a gorgeous bird. I also saw Swallow-tailed Kites here and continued to see them (always while driving) for the remainder of my trip. eBird checklist here.

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Scissor-tailed Flycatcher; Church Road; Hendry County, Florida; March 11, 2019.

March 13, 2019: My dad and I spent the day at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. It was really hot. We didn’t find any Mangrove Cuckoos, but we did find another one of my target birds—the Reddish Egret. My Florida egret-heron punch card is complete!  Florida has a total of 6 heron species and 4 egret species, and I saw them all on this trip. eBird checklists here and here and here.

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My birding partner, my dad, Tom; J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge; March 13, 2019.

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Tricolored Heron; J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge; March 13, 2019.

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Osprey; J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge; March 13, 2019.

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Little Blue Heron; J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge; March 13, 2019.

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Mangrove Swamps (with some Blue-winged Teals); J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge; March 13, 2019.

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Coolest Birders; J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge; March 13, 2019.

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Mangrove Swamp (Mangrove Cuckoo I’ll find you next time!); J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge; March 13, 2019.

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Mangrove Swamp; J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge; March 13, 2019.

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Along Wildlife Drive; J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge; March 13, 2019.

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White Pelicans; Mangrove Swamp; J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge; March 13, 2019.

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White Pelicans and a Reddish Egret; J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge; March 13, 2019.

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Reddish Egret; J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge; March 13, 2019.

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Reddish Egret; J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge; March 13, 2019.

March 14, 2019: My last day in Florida, and I’m off to return my rental car to the airport. But wait! Was there not a reliable spot to find Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks? Yes, there was/is, and it’s just north of the airport. Off to get the whistling ducks (piles of them!), then to the airport for a very long day of travelling.

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Gateway Boulevard; Lee County, Florida; north of the airport; March 14, 2019. This was my view of the whistling-ducks. This is a gated community and I had to be discrete and quick! I parked at some type of mega-church across the street, ran across the street, enjoyed the whistling quackers for a few minutes, took a few zoomed-in shots, and absconded.

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Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks (very nervous looking); Gateway Boulevard; Lee County, Florida; north of the airport; March 14, 2019.

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Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks; Gateway Boulevard; Lee County, Florida; north of the airport; March 14, 2019.

Florida, I will see you in exactly 1 year.

With love, Linda

 

 

Fort Myers, Florida, March 7–15, 2019 (Part 3 of 4)

Florida has its own species of scrub-jay. It’s endemic to Florida, federally threatened, and appropriately named the Florida Scrub-Jay, Aphelocoma coerulescensFlorida also has its own subspecies of Burrowing Owl, Athene cunicularia floridana. Both species have some overlapping habitat preferences: open sandy areas with low-growing scrub-shrubs. Fortunately for me, this habitat is in the Fort Myers area in nearby Cape Coral. Before I drove out to the site, I reviewed this beautiful map of the Cape Coral area.

capecoral zoom

A computer motherboard or Cape Coral, Florida?

Welcome to Cape Coral, Florida, where you get your own canal. You also get your own alligator, but they don’t advertise that part. This area went through a complete landscape transformation in the 1960s. Not surprisingly, the area was “swampy” and uninhabitable by human standards. Mangrove swamps and palmetto scrublands dominated the area. Out-of-state dreamers were convinced they could turn this place into a real estate paradise. The main developer at the time “… passed off inaccessible mush as prime real estate, sold the same swampy lots to multiple buyers, and used listening devices to spy on its customers” (Grunwald 2017).

Back to the Burrowing Owls and Florida Scrub-Jays, because that’s why we’re here and because they live here, in this motherboard.

On March 10, 2019, both species were within walking distance from each other in the red circle on the image below. You can even go onto eBird and search for the scrub-jay, and you’ll see a whole cluster of points at this very spot. When I was there, so were other birders.

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Cape Coral area, Florida;  Imagery 2018 Google, Map data 2018 Google.

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Florida Scrub-Jay; Cape Coral, Florida; March 10, 2019. Seeing this species was pretty special for me. I now look at my own local scrub-jays (California) with more admiration.

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Burrowing Owl; Cape Coral, Florida; March 10, 2019. This was a bit of a surprise. I thought I would have to drive to the other side of the motherboard to see the Florida Burrowing Owl, but apparently there are burrows throughout the motherboard. And, Florida Burrowing Owls will sometimes dig their own burrows!

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Florida Burrowing Owl; Cape Coral, Florida; March 10, 2019.

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Eastern Meadowlark; Cape Coral, Florida; March 10, 2019.

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Loggerhead Shrike; Cape Coral, Florida; March 10, 2019.

And that, my readers who made it this far, is all I have to say right now. I thought I could fit my last few Florida posts into one post. Nope. There’s more to come. Maybe I need to move there and do a Florida big year? I’m realizing now that this blog needs a new name, too.

Next up: SPOONBILLS!

Literature Cited

Grunwald, M. 2017. The Boomtown That Shouldn’t Exist. Politico Magazine.  November/December 2017