Friday, March 15, 2013

A Sora and the Butcher Bird

Florida 2013 continued

I could have stayed with the reddish egret all day, but we had a lot of ground to cover yet. My plan was to get around Black Point Drive, head over to the Visitor Center to look for songbirds, then do the Black Point Drive again in the evening. We hadn't gotten far when I spotted three Northern shovelers close to the road. I stopped and hopped out. This is a bird I've seen before but didn't have very good images of. Unfortunately I didn't do much to improve on what I already had.

Northern shovelers, two males and a female.

For the most part, this was all I saw of them.

"Um, excuse me? Over here! Oh hell...."

Where the drive makes its first big turn to the right there is a large parking area (sponsored, I think, by Ducks Unlimited) and a couple of short trails along the levee tops. One of them has two wooden observation platforms, so we parked and walked down to the first platform. There were many shorebirds in the shallow water and mud flats along the levee. My heart sinks a little when I see these birds because they are so damned hard to identify.

I think these are dunlin. Hard to tell so far away.

These least sandpipers were quick to take to the air, zipping here and there, alighting and taking off again en masse. How do I know they are least sandpipers? I can assure you I didn't when I took the picture. I got home and looked them up in Sibley's....

Least sandpipers on the wing.

...and ID'd them thanks to these two birds. Considering range and habitat is important, too, but three things stood out:  Greenish-yellow legs (unique among sandpipers, or peeps, according to Sibley); white outer tail feathers and dark, V-shaped upper tail coverts; and the white wing bar.

This is why it is important to have a bird guide that shows them in flight!

Going through my photos I discovered this little guy, different still from the other shorebirds. This bird's short, thick beak puts it in the plover family. Based on size and winter range I think it's a black-bellied plover.

ID-ing shorebirds would be so much easier if I saw them in summer, wearing their breeding plumage. They all look the same in winter!!

When we had first pulled up to the parking area there was a group of birders with cameras and scopes pointed into the shrubbery. They were leaving by the time we got to the trail, but I overheard one say something about a shrike. I looked around but didn't see one. But while I was watching the shorebirds someone flew past. I looked and saw this loggerhead shrike perched atop the signpost. I was thrilled to get a few good images before it flew off again. I had seen one before but at a much greater distance.

Loggerhead shrike posing nicely. Later he would not be so nice....

On our way back to the car from the observation platform we met up with another group of birders. I have decided that this is one of the best things that can happen when you're birding alone, especially in an area you're not all that familiar with. The fellow leading the group (I forget this name now) had a pretty good idea where certain birds tended to be, and within minutes he had pointed out one of my target birds for the trip--a SORA! (This was probably what the first group had been watching.)

I have to admit here that I was one of those really annoying people who, no matter how hard I looked, could not find this bird at first. I could see where everyone else was looking but I just couldn't find it. I didn't realize she was in the water. Just a little embarrassing.

Most of the images I got looked like this, with some part of her blocked by foliage.

Male and female soras look alike, so I have no real idea if this is a male or female.

I did get a few clear shots. I was just excited to have seen one! She was either eating the algae off the roots of this mangrove or picking something out of the algae, I couldn't quite tell which.

While this was going on one of the fellas in the group announced that behind us, in a shrub on the other side of the levee, a shrike (possibly the one I'd photographed earlier) had caught a common yellowthroat (a warbler) and impaled it on a branch and was eating it.


We all scurried to the other side of the trail, trying to catch a glimpse. There were a few gasps. This is common behavior for shrikes but the general consensus was that no one had seen a shrike impale a bird before. Grasshoppers, frogs, things like that, but never a bird. I didn't get a very clear look at the scene, but I'm kind of OK with that. Yeesh.

It's not called the "Butcher Bird" for nothing! Shrikes don't have the strong feet and talons of raptors so after they catch and kill their prey they impale it on a thorn so they can tear it up and eat it. Mmmmm!

 After the dismembered warbler fell off the thorn and out of sight, I went back over to the sora.


Next: More firsts, thanks to Mom's eagle eye!

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