Sunday, August 14, 2016

Pluff Mud Perspectives: We Are Listening to "Talkin' Birds!"

Regular readers:  Do you remember this former banner for the blog?  It is a hint ..... Read on!  

 Sunday morning and it is too hot to bird -- so what do you do?  You can get your birding-fix by  listening to "Talkin' Birds."  And, no, I do not mean go outside to listen to morning birdsong.  Remember, it is hot!  You will not hear too much birdsong in August anyway since the breeding season is essentially over.  No, I am referring to the radio show, "Ray Brown's Talkin' Birds."   The show is broadcast live every Sunday morning at 9:30 am originating from South Shore, Massachussetts.  Ray Brown hosts the show and brings in a number of birding experts in an interactive format to cover such topics as different bird species and their behavior, attracting and feeding backyard birds, birding destinations & events, birders, bird photography .... pretty much everything bird-related.  The show is quite informative and fun as they always feature a "Mystery Bird" contest at the end of the broadcast.

Unfortunately, if you are out birding on Sunday mornings, as many of us are, you are likely to miss the broadcast, especially down here in the Lowcountry of SC.  Sadly, the show is not carried by any of our local stations.  They do broadcast it live on the internet thankfully which is how I heard show no. 587 this morning in the sweet coolness of my living room.  More good news:  you can listen to archived broadcasts from their website or even download podcasts to listen to when and where you would like.  In fact, I have to thank birding buddy David McLean for reminding me of the existence of this radio show.  This summer, David and I took a birding road trip and while driving, we listened to a couple of podcasts that he had downloaded onto his phone.  Each time, I knew the answer to the Mystery Bird contest and thought, "Darn, I should listen to this show live sometime and participate in the contest."

So, on this too-hot-to-bird morning (low temperature this morning was in the low 80s),  I listened to the live show!  It was a great show with an interesting piece on research on birds that sleep on the wing.  They also talked about the "Little Egret," a species (similar to our Snowy Egret) that is commonly seen in Europe, Africa, southern Asia, and Australia.  These days, they are rare visitors to our North Atlantic coast in North America.  In fact, one has been visiting the Maine coast regularly every summer for the last few years.  I actually have seen one ... but not on this side of the ocean.  I was in France 6 years ago when I saw it.

Little Egret, Parc-du-Marquenterre, Baie de Somme, France -- July 2010
 And as for the Mystery Bird contest, I did attempt an answer on the show.  Did I win?  Well, you are going to have to listen to  show #587 to find out!  Enjoy!

So, my birding friends, next time you cannot get out to bird on a Sunday morning, you can get that birding fix by listening to Ray Brown's Talkin' Birds!   Or, download a few podcasts and listen to them in the car with your fellow birders on road trips, like David & I did.  It's fun and informative!  Thank you Ray Brown for Talkin' Birds!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

THREE New Yard Birds within 16 Hours for Parc Perlière -- July 29-30, 2016!

Louisiana Waterthrush -- Parc Perlière, Charleston, SC -- Photo by Carl Miller

WOW!  Yes, it is true!  I am sort of dumbfounded by this.  Quite frankly, when your yard list already has 112 species on it, you do not really expect to be able to add 3 yard birds in a 16 hour time frame.   In fact, in 2014, we did not have any new yard species.  And yet, since yesterday 5 pm, we have indeed added 3 new yard birds to Parc Perlière's life list!  Thanks to late summer dispersal and the start of Fall migration!

It all began yesterday afternoon, Friday, July 29.  Carl had arrived home from work and found his access to the garage blocked by the cleaning crew who were loading their car to leave.  So Carl decided to park on the street and pass his time waiting by picking up pine cones in the yard.  He went to deposit the pine cones in a brush pile behind the house close to the creek and flushed this Louisiana Waterthrush (see photo above)!  He shot a few quick pictures and then came into the house to tell me.  We quickly looked up some websites that contrasted Louisiana and Northern Waterthrushes to make sure of the ID.   With that consistently thick, white supercilium line extending back from the eye and the pure white, unspotted chin, we were positive that we had a Louisiana:  Parc Perlière Yard Bird no. 113!

Louisiana Waterthrush -- Parc Perlière, Charleston, SC -- Photo by Carl Miller

We then went back outside so that I could find and observe the bird!  Carl was able to capture a few more pictures for us and I was able to get the scope on him to see some excellent, tail-bobbing action.  Louisiana Waterthrushes are one of the earliest migrating species.  They nest and feed alongside streams inland.  They do not breed in the SC Lowcountry so this one was passing through.  According to Birds of North America Online (an invaluable resource on the life histories of our North American species from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the American Ornothologists' Union) when they migrate, they still tend to gravitate towards water.  So they are often seen in migration along side ponds, ditches, wooded creek areas such as what we have in our backyard.  We were thrilled to be able to add him to our yard list.

Louisiana Waterthrush -- Parc Perlière, Charleston, SC -- Photo by Carl Miller

This morning, like many mornings this summer, I had my breakfast with the Bijou (our kitty) sitting on the swing on our back deck.  With these hot summer days, early morning & late evening are truly the only times of day when we can enjoy the deck.  I hoped that perhaps the Louisiana Waterthrush had hung around and that I might see him again.  Such was not the case.  However, as I was bringing the birding gear out on the deck, I looked up to see a flyover Barn Swallow!  I was pretty sure that we had never observed one in our yard before.  They tend to stay close to their nesting sites and I did not know of any nesting closeby.  I checked our eBird list for the yard and sure enough, this Barn Swallow was Parc Perlière Yard Bird no. 114!  Sadly, there is no photo to commemorate the sighting.

Being early, the birds were fairly active and thus, I decided to keep a stationary list.  Birds tend to come and go in waves.  I have been watching a young & clumsy Brown Thrasher trying to become a feeder bird.  This morning he succeeded in getting a nut.  I looked up to the live oak on the right when I heard the raspy European Starlings arrive.  Their calls announced another multi-species wave of birds.  And there, right above the starlings in excellent light sat a yellow Summer Tanager!  OMG!  I am pretty darn sure that we have never had a Summer Tanager in the yard!  I lifted the camera and began to adjust the settings and he/she was gone.  I saw this bird one more time before it became too hot to sit out on the deck.  I am not sure whether this bird was a female or a juvenile.  I checked our yard list to confirm that this was indeed a new species for our yard:  Parc Perlière Yard Bird no. 115!

This evening, when the high temperature begins to abate, I will go out and look for this Summer Tanager and the Louisiana Waterthrush again.  Perhaps I will get a photo ...  It would be nice to have a photo of the Summer Tanager for the record!

Who would have thought that our yard list would increase by three in a 16 hour period!  It just goes to show that you never know when you will be surprised by a bird or THREE!  

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Views on Nature from the Back Deck Swing -- Saturday May 14, 2016

Bijou -- Age 16 going on 17 -- April 23, 2016

       Ah yes, the simple, sweet moments in life -- a bit of sunshine & fresh air on a Spring day along with birds and other critters to watch from the back deck swing!  When you are old and do not still have a lot of oomph left in you, life can be still be savored with the aforementioned special pleasures.  For me, I do still have a little oomph but I had some work obligations yesterday -- grading papers.  Bijou convinced me that the best place to do that was the back deck swing!  And she was right!  And so with coffee, papers, red pen, laptop, binoculars and camera, I perched outside on the swing alongside my old girl, graded papers and watched the wildlife.

       We have several families of birds, parents and young who hang out in the trees nearby as our bird feeders hang off of the deck.  So I was able to watch the antics of Blue Jays, Carolina Chickadees, Carolina Wrens, Downy Woodpeckers, House Finches.  The goofy begging youngsters are wonderfully entertaining.  Several other species, not with young in tow, were also observed:  Northern Cardinal, Cedar Waxwing, an occasional flyby egret, Chimney Swift, Northern Mockingbird, American Crow, Mallard, Brown Thrasher, Tufted Titmouse, Eastern Kingbird, Great-crested Flycatcher and American Robin.  And yes, there is a Mama Wood Duck on eggs in the nestbox and so I did see her fly into the box after her morning feed.

      Quiet time on the deck allows for a few decent photographic moments of the wildlife.  With camera ready, I took advantage of it.  Here is what I got:

Carolina Wren -- Parc Perlière -- May 14, 2016
Northern Cardinal -- Parc Perlière -- May 14, 2016

House Finch --  Parc Perlière -- May 14, 2016

       Bijou is much more into the watching and/or snoozing, than in the chasing these days so neither I nor the anole worried too much about his safety as he traversed the deck in front of us.

Carolina Anole -- Parc Perlière -- May 14, 2016

        My favorite photo of the day was my lucky shot of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird!  He did not really give me but one opportunity and thankfully, the light was right and the camera ready!

Ruby-throated Hummingbird -- Par Perlière -- May 14, 2016

         Yes, indeed, these quiet moments in nature are a delight to share with my old girl who loves the sunshine, the fresh air and the swing.  Sitting still and watching reveals so much about the lives of our wildlife -- even right off of the deck!.  It can also be a great place to unwind from the more hectic pace of the work week.  Sometimes all you need is a bit of nature, binoculars, a comfortable, swinging perch and the cheerful company of a cozy kitty!  Thank you, Bijou!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Spring Visit to the Fabulous Francis Beidler Forest -- May 7, 2016

Prothonotary Warbler -- Francis Beidler Forest & Audubon Sanctuary -- May 7, 2016

          The beginning of May, Spring has most definitely arrived.  One of the best places in South Carolina to witness a truly natural, uncultivated version of Spring's renewal is in the Francis Beidler Forest.  The swamp is teeming with new life easily viewed by the observant from the boardwalk. This year, on the last weekend of April, I made our annual trek to SC Audubon's  Wine & Warblers event at the Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Center and Sanctuary solo.  Carl was out of town on business, unfortunately.   I thoroughly enjoyed the event and was quite sorry that Carl had missed out because the swamp was quite busy with multiple species of warblers, plenty of snakes, interesting insects, crayfish and other wildlife.  I took note of where I saw nesting warblers, and when Carl returned home, I convinced him to return last weekend to the swamp.  He was quite happy to see much of the same wildlife that I had experienced at Wine & Warblers.  

The Hooded Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler and the Yellow-throated Vireo were in the same area close to the center, as was the family of Barred Owls.  We also saw quite a handsome American Redstart.   We had excellent views of all of these species and we were wonderfully serenaded by warbler song but we did not experience as much luck photographically.  The exception was in capturing the delightful, head-bobbing owlets.  I enjoyed a game of Peek-a-boo with one of them!

Barred Owl youngster --  Francis Beidler Forest & Audubon Sanctuary -- May 7, 2016

         As we progressed from the uplands into the swamp, we encountered a decent-sized and friendly group of photographers from the Columbia chapter of the Carolina Nature Photographers Association.  They were camped out in front of a cypress knee housing a nesting pair of Prothonotary Warblers who were bringing food to the chicks inside.  

Female Prothonotary Warbler at nest -- Francis Beidler Forest & Audubon Sanctuary -- May 7, 2016

Male Prothonotary Warbler at nest -- Francis Beidler Forest & Audubon Sanctuary -- May 7, 2016

          Continuing down the boardwalk, we found what appeared to be a possible nesting cavity for a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers.  We did see one of them enter, but the birds did not make regular trips to the tree so we are unsure of what the nesting status may be there.  

          This Spring seems to be exceptionally good for the crayfish -- which in turn is quite good for the other wildlife such as Yellow-Crowned Night herons and the owls!  

Crayfish -- Francis Beidler Forest & Audubon Sanctuary -- May 7, 2016

Yellow-crowned Night Heron -- Francis Beidler Forest & Audubon Sanctuary -- May 7, 2016

        We saw a few species of turtles (mud, box, and yellow-bellied sliders) as well we several skinks, including this romantic pair of Five-lined Skinks.

Five-lined Skinks making more -- Francis Beidler Forest & Audubon Sanctuary -- May 7, 2016

Then, we encountered this ambitious fellow (or gal?) attempting to finish off a dragonfly!

Five-lined Skink attempting to make lunch of a dragonfly -- Francis Beidler Forest & Audubon Sanctuary -- May 7, 2016

We saw the skink wrestle with the dragonfly twice as the odonata did manage to get away -- twice.  So sadly, the skink did not enjoy a dragonfly entrée for lunch -- even after all that effort.  

         There was no shortage of snakes!  The most beautiful one was this golden-hued and venomous Eastern Cottonmouth!  Funny, I used to cringe when it came to snakes.  Now, I am absolutely fascinated by them and, I also maintain a very healthy respect for them -- particularly the venomous varieties.  

Eastern Cottonmouth -- Francis Beidler Forest & Audubon Sanctuary -- May 7, 2016

Further down the boardwalk, we continued to find active Prothonotary Warbler nests.

Male Prothonotary using a nestbox -- Francis Beidler Forest & Audubon Sanctuary -- May 7, 2016

Female Prothonotary presumably on eggs -- Francis Beidler Forest & Audubon Sanctuary -- May 7, 2016
An Acadian Flycatcher also showed us the way to her nest.

Acadian Flycatcher -- Francis Beidler Forest & Audubon Sanctuary -- May 7, 2016

Acadian Flycatcher -- Francis Beidler Forest & Audubon Sanctuary -- May 7, 2016

             And as different birds are in various stages of the nesting cycles, we also witnessed some adorable, recently-fledged chicks, such as this little Downy Woodpecker who truly needed a longer tail.  Nonetheless, he managed to climb this tree balancing on his stubby tail feathers!

Downy Woodpecker chick -- Francis Beidler Forest & Audubon Sanctuary -- May 7, 2016

We were entertained by a family of four Northern Parula chicks chasing after Mom begging for food.

Northern Parula chick -- Francis Beidler Forest & Audubon Sanctuary -- May 7, 2016

Northern Parula chicks -- Francis Beidler Forest & Audubon Sanctuary -- May 7, 2016

The wildlife in the sanctuary are habituated to seeing humans on the boardwalk and since they never experience hunters and because the humans in their habitat do not leave the boardwalk, many are rather fearless.  And thus, we watched this pregnant White-tailed Deer unabashedly approach us to nibble on some choice green leaves close-by.  

Female White-tailed Deer -- Francis Beidler Forest & Audubon Sanctuary -- May 7, 2016

Female White-tailed Deer -- Francis Beidler Forest & Audubon Sanctuary -- May 7, 2016

        Such beautiful moments in the Spring in our southern forests!  And the Francis Beidler Forest critters allow for close at hand observations into their family lives.  Carl and I found it hard to leave last weekend.  We actually doubled back on the boardwalk after one complete circuit.  I wholeheartedly recommend a visit to the forest now.  Go slowly and quietly, listen and look -- the forest will not disappoint!  It is a wonderful place for connecting to nature.  And thus, you should not be surprised to find me out there again if you do visit.  Hmm -- perhaps tomorrow! 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Wine and Warbler Time at the Francis Beidler Forest!

Prothonotary Warbler -- Star of the show at Wine and Warblers --  Francis Beidler Audubon Swamp -- April 18, 2015
The Charleston area offers numerous wonderful events each Spring but my all-time favorite, not to be missed is Wine and Warblers, a visual feast for the eyes and a delicious treat for the palette, to boot.  This event, a major annual fund raiser for the Francis Beidler Audubon Swamp, showcases the incredible natural beauty of the ancient cypress Four Holes Swamp while treating visitors to a guided tour around the boardwalk with a trained and talented (one of them actually sings on occasion, others can imitate bird calls and all of them truly know their stuff) naturalists who inform you on the secrets of the flora and fauna in this habitat.

Brown Watersnake -- non-venomous -- Wine and Warblers --  Francis Beidler Audubon Swamp -- April 18, 2015
Yes, you may see all kinds of critters -- snakes, turkey, deer!  But you are safe up on the boardwalk from the wilds of the swamp.

A variety of migrating warblers are flying up our coasts going to their nesting grounds and we have the possibility of seeing some of them.  The swamp is an ideal stopover place on the routes north.  But I kid you not -- the favorite of the evening for all -- is our own local, bold Golden Boy songbird -- the Prothonotary Warbler!

Prothonotary Warbler --  Star of the show at Wine and Warblers --  Francis Beidler Audubon Swamp -- April 18, 2015

I understand that there are still spots available for this year's event which also includes a silent auction of fabulous items for any nature lover!  So reserve your spot before they fill up.  All the proceeds go to preserve the swamp habitat and the programs of SC Audubon.  Your belly and soul will both be sated with the bounty of hors-d'oeuvres made by talented chefs and and the beautiful visual feast provided by nature.  And of course you will be serenaded by the Star of the Show -- the handsome Prothonotary!  Come enjoy!

Female Prothonotary with nesting material -- Wine and Warblers --  Francis Beidler Audubon Swamp -- April 18, 2015

Female Prothonotary in nesting cavity -- Wine and Warblers --  Francis Beidler Audubon Swamp -- April 18, 2015