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Why Do the Best Birds Like Ugly Fences? at Lust Road

I don’t understand it.  Why do the prettiest birds seem attracted to the ugliest fences?  We really need to send our winter visitors to photography school to teach them the value of a good natural-looking perch! :)

I met Michael on Saturday for a morning of birding on Lust Road.  He said I was supposed to share my recent good luck there.  As it turned out, he spotted most of our birds.  :)  It was a cloudy morning, and there wasn’t a huge amount of activity, but we did find a lot of the specialty birds at that area.

The Ash-throated Flycatcher continues at the Lust Road gate.  He’s a very mobile little bird, so if you don’t see him at first, keep looking.  He first showed up for us in the trees on the north side of the road, then we re-found him as he was flycatching near the palm tree on the south side.  Try not to notice the fencelines behind him! :-p

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Ash-throated Flycatcher

The female Blue Grosbeak continues as well.  She made an appearance during one of the rare bursts of sunlight that we had on Saturday morning. I hope she finds a mate soon.  Her bright blue male counterpart is gorgeous.

Female Blue Grosbeak

Female Blue Grosbeak

Our American Robin friends appear to be leaving us.  Last week I had large flocks flying overhead all morning; this week I saw significantly fewer birds.  I love to listen to the happy little babbles of robins.  Safe travels on your journey north, little guys!

American Robins

American Robins

“Potato chip!”  I often hear American Goldfinches singing overhead while I am birding, but I don’t always see them land close enough to get a shot.  It’s fun to see them in their natural habitat, away from my feeder!  The goldfinches are starting to turn yellow in anticipation of springtime.

American Goldfinches

American Goldfinches

Michael was on the lookout for Grasshopper and Vesper sparrows, so we spent a while scanning the fence lines and fields.  It takes some patience.  As soon as I go hunting for sparrows, I find the ones that were right in front of me – as they fly away!  I snagged a quick shot of a Grasshopper Sparrow as he posed–you guessed it–on the fence.

Grasshopper Sparrow

Grasshopper Sparrow

The trees were overrun with Yellow-rumped Warblers.  “Butterbutts”, Michael calls them.  As fast as they were hopping around, I decided they were good practice for long-lens photography.  Especially when they fly away…

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Painted Buntings are another good find at Lust Road.  I often hear them before I see them, now that I am used to hearing their call notes in my own backyard. :)  I often see greenies at Lust Road, but males are more scarce.  When we found one, I bet you can guess where it was…

Male Painted Bunting

Male Painted Bunting

You know, leading lines are supposed to draw your eyes into a photograph.  But the people who say that probably are not referring to the leading lines of a wire fence!

I took some digital liberties with this last image.  We spotted a female/juvenile “greenie” Painted Bunting across the canal, feeding in some lantana bushes.  (Yes, Dyeyo, Lantana bushes are good for birds, even if they are weeds!)  I was struck by how well the greenie blended into her habitat.  You could barely make her out, and that wasn’t just because of the terrible lighting conditions or my high ISO setting.  I cropped the image and took it into some photography filters (Topaz Glow, Nik Color Efex, and an added texture).  This last one earned me a “Wow” from Rich.  High praise indeed! :)

Greenie Painted Bunting on Lantana

Greenie Painted Bunting on Lantana

A Scouting Trip to PEAR Park

My goldfinches had a problem last weekend.  We were out of niger seed.  And out of millet for my buntings!  Time for a trip to Wild Birds Unlimited, and on my way, I stopped at PEAR Park in Leesburg to check it out.  I’d read that it was good for sparrows.  It was a foggy morning, and I didn’t stay for long, but I will definitely be going back.

Have you ever seen a fog bow?  It’s like a rainbow, but in the fog.  A fog bow greeted me as I drove into PEAR Park.  I took it as a good sign for the birding opportunities to be found there!

Fogbow at PEAR Park

Fogbow at PEAR Park

PEAR Park is pure Florida.  Scrub habitat.  Think bluebirds, kestrels, and sparrows.  I had a great time meandering around.  Best of all, there were so few people there!

Grasshopper Sparrow

Grasshopper Sparrow

My second Grasshopper Sparrow this month!  Actually, I saw at least three Grasshopper Sparrows.  Not bad, huh?  There were plenty of Savannah Sparrows also.  I know there are Vesper Sparrows there also, but none wanted to pose.

This Swamp Sparrow obliged me by posing in full view, in good light.  I learned the right way to walk the paths during my scouting trip.  It doesn’t pay to walk against the light.  By the time you get on the right light angle, you’ve startled the birds, and they’ve hidden.  :(

Swamp Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow

There were all the normal winter birds at PEAR Park.  Plenty of Eastern Phoebes…

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

…and I found a couple of singing White-eyed Vireos, too.  You know it’s starting to be spring as you hear the birds starting to sing.  Apparently the birds didn’t get the Groundhog Day memo from Punxsutawney Phil.  It’s an early spring in Florida!

Caw, caw went the crows.

American Crow

American Crow

But the best bird of the morning was also the most cooperative.  This American Kestrel flew in to a nearby tree and let me photograph him.  Repeatedly.

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

The park caretakers told me that they often see bluebirds on the trails.  As if I needed more enticement to go back! :)

Will Fly For Food: Snail Kites in Apple Snail Paradise!

This weekend my dad and I went exploring and found Apple Snail Paradise.  What’s an apple snail?  It starts as a small pink egg – you might have seen one in a nearby pond.  The mature snail has a shell about the size of a small fist.  Two types of birds love apple snails, Limpkins and Snail Kites.  So you can guess what kinds of birds we found in Apple Snail Paradise…

Snail Kite with Apple Snail

Snail Kite with Apple Snail

Yep, that’s a female Snail Kite.  A year-round resident in Florida, this bird’s main food source is the apple snail.  Snail kites are endangered in the US and in Florida, and I’ve had limited opportunities to observe and photograph them, so my trigger finger went a little crazy! :)

Here’s a fun sequence of photos as the kite saw a snail, flew overhead, snatched it from the water, flew off with it, and settled on a stick to eat it.  The Snail Kite’s beak is perfectly designed to pull the snail meat from the shell.

Snail Kite on the Hunt

Snail Kite on the Hunt – look at her feet all stretched out, ready to snatch up her prey

Snail Kite Snail Catch

Snail Kite Snail Catch – she grabs the snail with both feet, then switches it from left to right to left talon as she flies off

Snail Kite with Snail

Snail Kite with Apple Snail – a beautiful bird in her wetlands habitat.  The small pink clumps on the vegetation are apple snail eggs.

Snail Kite Tight Grip

Fly Away / Tight Grip – This bird needs to go to photography school, to learn that you’re not supposed to fly away from the camera!  But the view does show what a careful tight grip she keeps on the snail as she flies off.

V is for Victory! Breakfast Time

V is for Victory! Breakfast time is near as she settles on a branch to eat

Snail Kite Extracting Her Prey

Snail Kite Extracting Her Prey – yep, that beak is perfectly shaped for this bird’s needs

All Done! Toss the shell aside for someone to step on :)

All Done! Toss the shell aside.  My dad kept hearing “crunch!” as he stepped on discarded shells

Such a great morning with a great bird!  Later she was really nice to us and flew right by…

Snail Kite in Flight

Snail Kite in Flight

Apple Snail Paradise is, of course, home to another bird that loves apple snails, the Limpkin.  We lost count of the number of Limpkins we saw that morning.  I think my dad was actually a little happy to get away from their constant cries when we left!  I did get some photographs of Limpkins carrying snails, but they always flew away from me.  I’ll have to go back and get some better angles.

Apple Snail Paradise is also the home to some shy and beautiful birds, who don’t eat apple snails.  Say hello to the Wood Duck Trio! :)

Wood Ducks in Flight

Wood Ducks in Flight