Audubon Florida News

Topic: Birding,Coastal Conservation,Wildlife

Banded Snowy Plovers Tell Story of Conservation in Florida

posted on December 8, 2015 in Birding,Coastal Conservation,Wildlife

SnowyPlover_1_2015Audubon Florida’s Coastal Conservation team operates throughout the state. They are – in many ways – the eyes and ears of our shores. Please take a moment to enjoy this interesting story from Audubon’s Marvin Friel in the Panhandle:

Yesterday evening, just before dusk, we rushed down to Windmark Beach (a mainland beach located in Gulf County near Port. St. Joe). What we were looking for as the sun was quickly setting was a uniquely banded Snowy Plover – a Snowy Plover whose haunts and habitat are known only to Audubon’s research team and a few locals like Barbara Eells, a longtime bird rehabilitator, volunteer and snowy plover enthusiast.

This prominent Snowy Plover’s “name” is his band color combination: WL:RS, or as it is stated out loud White, Lime : Red, Service. We first recognized this noteworthy male Snowy Plover in 2006 during the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) state-wide Snowy Plover census.  Barbara, who had monitored WL:RS the two years prior, provided us with WL:RS’s history.

SnowyPlover_2_2015Today, WL:RS is only one of three known individuals remaining from a handful of Snowy Plovers adults originally banded in 2004 by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Like him, these individual ‘Snowies’ were the first banded in Florida to study nest productivity and adult survival. Today, WL:RS is at least 12 years old!  His exact age is unknown because he was originally banded as an adult.

The reason we rushed down to Windmark yesterday evening was to check on WL:RS’s recovery. Just two weeks prior, the Florida Park Service – Audubon Florida partnership team captured him at the tip of St. Joseph Peninsula State Park (SJPSP). He had a persistent but subtle leg injury that Barbara and our team had noticed at the end of the nesting season, in late July of this year. Following the end of the nesting season, we continued to monitor him, albeit infrequently, and were hopeful that he might recover without needing recapture. However, after three months, our team decided to capture him due to his persistent limping.

SnowyPlover_3_2015On November 3, while conducting our scheduled winter shorebird surveys at SJPSP, WL:RS was observed at the park still coddling his right leg. After he was captured and in hand, we discovered that WL:RS had a small piece of shell debris lodged between his service band and leg. The shell debris was causing discomfort and inflammation.

With delicate and deliberate hands, we removed the service band and dislodged the shell debris. Almost immediately, WL:RS, appeared relieved. Because he was missing one of his color bands, we wanted to confirm his identity and upon scrutiny of his metal leg band, we were able to do so by confirming the 9 digit code engraved on his aluminum Federal Service band.

SnowyPlover_4_2015Recognizing that he would likely recover from his injury, we replaced his missing lime band with a green band and replaced his old faded service band (now difficult to read) with a new one. To allow the injured leg to heal without further harm, we changed the location of his bands to the upper right leg instead of the lower right leg. All this was to ensure recovery of the leg in the short-term, but in the long-term it would allow researchers and volunteers like Barbara to continue monitoring him in the years to come.

Running out to see WL:RS yesterday evening before the sunset was much more than a crazy birder’s bizarre compulsion and obsession. For over 10 years, the life of WL:RS paralleled our careers as researchers and how we evolved as scientists grappling with difficult questions in hopes of improving the Snowy Plover’s population in Florida. As our monitoring program grew at the Florida State Parks in the Panhandle, as more and more beachgoers visited the Florida Gulf Coast beaches, as the need for public awareness and participation in conservation increased, what we realized is that WL:RS has already persevered and transcended many of the aforementioned obstacles.

SnowyPlover_5_2015Despite weather events, tropical storms, increases in recreational pressures and the numerous native and non-native predators present on our beaches (such as coyotes, ghost crabs, raccoons, fish crows or gulls), WL:RS is still cruising the shoreline looking for that next mouthwatering amphipod. Of herculean note, the extensive data collected on WL:RS has demonstrated that he has produced at least four generations of Snowy Plovers that span the panhandle beaches from SJPSP to Tyndall Air Force Base (an FWC Critical Wildlife Area) to Dog Island (land managed by The Nature Conservancy). Remarkably, one of the chicks he fathered holds the winter migration record, for plovers banded in the Florida panhandle; wintering down at Marco Island, Florida.

SnowyPlover_6_2015So yesterday evening was a success story! Hopefully WL:RS, (now White Green: Red Service on upper leg) will continue to inspire all of the beach-nesting monitoring efforts. Snowy Plovers like WL:RS are the true Florida beach bum, they are here to be enjoyed and respected as a Florida native to our coastal beaches, like sea turtles and beach mice. Each individually banded plover has a unique story to share that ultimately shows their biological resilience in their native habitat.

We hope that birds like WL:RS will persist at coastal beaches in Florida such as Windmark Beach or St. Joseph Peninsula State Park for future generations to enjoy.

Baird’s Sandpiper Visits Panhandle Beach

posted on December 1, 2015 in Birding,Coastal Conservation

Baird's SandpiperCheck out this uncommon visitor on one of our Florida State Parks’ western beaches!

A Baird’s Sandpiper (Calidiris bairdii) (right) was sighted with two Sanderlings (Calidris alba) foraging along a lake outfall.

Baird’s Sandpipers breed in the arctic regions of Alaska and Canada and then travel a long migration route through the interior of North America to winter in South America. They are considerably uncommon on either coast but have been noted from time-to-time in Florida.

The Baird’s is a beautiful bird that can easily be mistaken for a more common long-winged peep, the White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis). (Below)

It certainly took some time, but with some wonderful photos (and a lot of analyzing) we were able to conclude that we, indeed, saw a Baird’s Sandpiper in the Florida Panhandle.

On the top is the Baird’s Sandpiper and on the bottom is the White-rumped Sandpiper.

Now let’s take a closer look…
White-rumped SandpiperCan you see on the white flanks on the Baird’s, whereas on the White-rumped you can see some dusky streaks?

Also, the Baird’s has a thinner, slightly straighter bill compared to the bulkier, drooping White-rumped bill.

Lastly, take a look at the Baird’s lifting its wing. Its tail is exposed just enough to show that its rump is indeed brown! If this were a White-rumped you would see a white patch of feathers across its rump.

Ninth Season of Nature Coast Surveys Begins With High Shorebird Numbers

Pat and Doris Leary are avid birdwatchers and citizen scientists from Fernandina Beach, FL, who volunteer their time and substantial skills to survey coastal waterbirds in Northeast Florida, coastal Georgia and Florida’s Big Bend. This continues a blog series in which they share their experiences, sightings, and photographs as well as observe the challenges these increasingly imperiled birds face.

American Oystercatcher flockTaking advantage of seasonal spring tides and a break in persistently inclement weather, we conducted our first Gulf surveys in mid September. Fortunately, persistent summer rains abated somewhat and allowed for productive outings. Beginning on the west side of Cedar Key, we noted much higher numbers of American Oystercatchers compared to a pre-season survey  three weeks earlier and, scoping the roosting flocks for markers, we noted migrants had arrived from several Atlantic coast states.

One favored, traditional, roost site was usurped by a stranded sailboat Sailboat stranded off Cedar Keycompelling the birds to seek refuge elsewhere. Fortunately, state officials were aware of the nuisance vessel for months and contractors were scheduled to remove the offending vessel. Florida FWC researchers documented the oystercatchers’ critical dependence on eroding roost sites in the region. Protecting the integrity of surviving sites is an ever-higher priority.

As frequently occurs on the Nature Coast, favored Oystercatcher roosts are often cohabited by multiple shorebird species. This was the case at one roost rake where ten federally Threatened Red Knots were present. Although none were marked, seven were hatch year juveniles – a good sign for this seriously declining species.

Due to brisk headwinds and chop we elected to avoid the Gulf and navigate through a protected, hazardous maze of salt marsh taking us to the east side of Cedar Key. Exiting the maze of marsh waters, a dense flock of American Avocet, Willet, and Marbled Godwits greeted us at the first shell rake on the edge of a wooded Key. We continued on to an Shorebird flock, Cedar Pointexpansive series of low rakes stretching into the open gulf. Approaching closer, we noted dark masses of birds clustered on several rakes and these soon proved to be densely-packed Oystercatcher flocks. We were now challenged to determine which flocks provided nearby vantage points where we could land our vessel and scan the birds for markers. During this process, we noted “clouds” of shorebirds swarming over the most distant shell rake and it soon became apparent that the flocks were being flushed by wading anglers hiking along the shorelines. Roosting shorebirds flushed by waders.

Disturbances to roosting shorebirds is a universal problem requiring considerable public education and outreach. Typically, disturbance is not intentional but the impacts can be significant where roost/rest sites are few as they are around Cedar Key or where disturbances are frequent and/or associated with pets.  Often impacts can be minimized with a little consideration for the birds, but the growing unfamiliarity with birds and associated conservation issues by today’s recreational public remains a challenge to declining bird populations. Doris and I plan to work more closely with the community and state agencies to raise awareness of these issues on the Nature Coast.

For the remainder of that afternoon, we carefully shifted from rake to rake, recording the diversity and numbers of birds and documenting unique markers.  In addition to the many marked Oystercatchers, we recorded several Red Knot bands among densely-massed flocks. One interesting observation was noting numbers of Western and Least Sandpipers perched in low vegetation on several rakes. This behavior is somewhat curious since adequate substrate is available for the normally ground-roosting birds. Least Sandpiper roosting in tall vegetation

In addition to the hordes of shorebirds, we also noted small numbers of larids, including migrant Caspian Terns but none were banded. One small flock of Blue-winged Teal passed low over the rakes as they continued south to unknown destinations. The next day, we traveled to Horseshoe Beach in northern Dixie County and visited a low shell rake south of that diminutive community. Over many seasons, we have learned where the flocks stage prior to shifting to the low jetties in the Gulf nearer the town. Initially, few birds were present, but as the tide slowly rose, many more birds arrived until ninety crowded the roost. At one point a small flock of Oystercatchers was spied passing far offshore suggesting they were actively migrating. Similarly, a lone Northern Harrier came in off the Gulf – our first sighting of the species since spring migration carried them off to northern breeding grounds.

Predictably, the oystercatchers eventually shifted north to the jetties where we found them flushing frequently and flying over open water. Oddly, no other shorebirds flushed off the rocks and we assumed that an unseen eagle must be cruising high aloft. For unknown reasons, Oystercatchers react more adversely to eagles than any Oystercatcher with coded leg markersother raptor on the wintering grounds.  Once the birds settled down, we slowly cruised along the rocks collecting digital images for later review to identify band codes that were missed or that we were unable to decipher at the distant rake.

During our recent travels along regional highways going to and from boat launch sites, we noted remarkable amounts of flooded forest, ditches and fields resulting from the deluge of summer rains.  Most ditches were saturated with water and lush Gulf Fritillary butterflyaquatic foliage in full bloom attracted numerous butterflies. How the rain waters impact the native flora and fauna we cannot know, but if the health and abundance of regional oysters is dependent on influxes of fresh water, their historic declines may soon be reversed to the benefit of American Oystercatchers and humans alike.


Florida’s State Parks Are Critical for Piping Plovers

Pat and Doris Leary are avid birdwatchers and citizen scientists from Fernandina Beach, FL, who volunteer their time and substantial skills to survey coastal waterbirds in Northeast Florida, coastal Georgia and Florida’s Big Bend. This continues a blog series in which they share their experiences and sightings as well as the challenges these increasingly imperiled birds face.

TGreat Lakes Piping Plover overwintering at Little Talbot Island State Parkhe critical role of high quality habitat protected within Florida’s coastal parks and preserves was demonstrated recently by two recent, cross-state resightings of the same banded Piping Plover. On March 23, during a routine beach survey at Little Talbot Island State Park in Duval County, I detected a flagged plover in alternate plumage roosting with several other birds. Because none of the regional winter-resident plovers were as advanced in their molt, it had to be a migrant heading back to its northern breeding grounds. Careful study through a spotting scope offered partial views of the gray flag’s code, but positive identification was impossible. And then the birds flushed and vanished in the gloomy conditions.

BaldPointObserving other birds flying south with the wind, I elected to return to the park’s south inlet shore. Approaching the area, I found a large concentration of mixed shorebird species including a few piping plovers and the “lost migrant”.  Perhaps due to the harsh conditions and presence of migrating merlins, all the birds were nervous, rushing about the beach and taking flight repeatedly. As I carefully approached the birds, they flushed yet again with most landing on the opposite side of a shallow beach overwash but I soon detected my quarry running through the milling birds toward the distant inlet shore.

I removed socks and boots and waded through the chilly waters. Fortunately, the mass of birds ultimately settled down and I was able to approach the plovers to once again study the flag code. Some time passed before I was certain of reading the bird’s plastic leg marker correctly: a gray flag on the upper right leg bearing the code “E1”. At one point the migrant rested next to another banded plover carrying a black plastic flag with the code “J5” denoting it as a Maritime Canada plover that spent the winter locally.

Upon returning home, images were processed and a report was submitted to Cherri Gratto-Trevor in far distant Canadian Maritime Piping Plover with gray flagSaskatchewan, Canada. Cherri is a long time plover associate and the current director for piping plover banding efforts across Maritime Canada. As is her practice, Cherri quickly responded and informed me that the migrant was originally banded on May 29, 2014 at Crow Neck Beach in southern Nova Scotia. This bird spent the winter on Three Rooker Island, part of Anclote Key Preserve State Park in Pinellas County. Audubon Florida’s Marianne Korosy recorded the plover there on February 6th during Florida’s statewide mid-winter shorebird survey and it was last recorded there on March 9th.

A high percentage of migrant and wintering piping plovers are annually recorded in Florida’s state park and preserve beaches every season. Two Canadian Maritime plovers wintered in Little Talbot Island State Park and several others were recorded there during fall migration. Likewise, many banded plovers were recorded as migrants and winter residents in the Gulf Coast state parks – on Three Rooker Island and adjoining Anclote Key. Several other maritime plovers wintered in Cayo Costa State Park in southwest Florida. On both Florida coasts, banded plovers from the Great Lakes and Great Plains populations have been recorded frequently in passage or winter on state park beaches.

Huguenot Memorial Park: the bird protection area keeps flightless chicks from being harmed by vehiclesWith so much of Florida’s coastlines heavily developed and impacted by burgeoning numbers of residents and tourists alike, our undeveloped coastal parks will only increase in value to Piping Plovers and other shorebirds as time passes. We must be vigilant to increased pressures to expand development and carrying capacities in our parks if we hope to maintain their natural integrity and critical functions for native and migratory wildlife for decades to come.

Flamingos Return to Palm Beach County

posted on March 23, 2015 in Birding,Birds in the News,Everglades,Wildlife

Flamingos in STA 2Many tourists travel to Florida each year and mistake the beautiful Roseate Spoonbill for another iconic pink bird – the American Flamingo. Savvy Florida birders and big year listers know that the only place in the state you have a chance of seeing real, wild Flamingos is in extreme south Florida. Only occasional reports pop up on rare bird alerts or on ebird in isolated places like Snake Bight or Cape Sable in Everglades National Park. That may be changing. Last year a group of over 100 Flamingos showed up in Palm Beach County. This year, some have returned to the same spot.

So where is this mysterious location that has been attracting this sought after Florida icon? A place called STA 2. STA stands for Stormwater Treatment Area. These areas are large treatment wetlands that are critical pieces in the puzzle of Everglades restoration efforts. STAs help filter out phosphorus and nitrogen from water on its way south to the River of Grass. The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) operates these areas and – luckily for birders – has established a great partnership with Audubon chapters to allow birding at several STAs.

Audubon Society of the Everglades (ASE) is now organizing field trips to see the Flamingos and other birds at STA 2. This is thanks to the efforts of ASE board member Linda Humphries who coordinated with SFWMD staff member Dr. Bijaya Kattel to organize the chapter-run trips.

On March 22, Dr. Tabitha Cale, Audubon Florida Everglades Policy Associate, attended the most recent trip to see these rare and iconic birds. The Flamingos did not disappoint. Eight birds were seen close enough for visitors to get some great looks at the birds through spotting scopes, binoculars, and camera lenses. ASE board member Susan McKemy lead the trip and SFWMD staff members Dr. Bijaya Kattel and Dr. Mark Cook were also in attendance helping answering questions about the STA and its birdlife.

The next field trips to see the Flamingos are scheduled for March 22 and 28, and April 4, 12, 18, and 25. Reservations are required. Birders interested in attending one of the upcoming trips can email to request a spot. More information is available on the ASE website.

Audubon Florida commends the partnership between its local chapters and the SFWMD. Along with trips to STA 2 and STA 1-East run by ASE, birders can also visit STA 5 with Hendry-Glades Audubon, and Lakeside STA with Audubon of Martin County.

Click here for more information about all STA field trips.

Join Audubon for the 2015 Statewide Mid-Winter Shorebird Survey

Red Knots in flightThe annual mid-winter survey period is right around the corner – February 6 -12, 2015.

Team leaders are organizing volunteer survey crew members to walk miles of Florida’s beautiful coastline during this 7-day period, tallying numbers of shorebird and seabird species. If you can readily identify these species individually and in flocks of 50 or more birds, WE NEED YOU! 

Teams will be counting PipingSnowyWilson’s, Semipalmated, and Black-bellied Plovers, American Oystercatchers, a multitude of sandpiper species including Red Knots, several species of terns and gulls, Black Skimmers, and others. The data is reported to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as well as to state and local park managers. This is an annual survey that could not be accomplished at a statewide scale without the help of citizen scientists. Team leaders will enter the data in a Google spreadsheet so that anyone interested can see what other teams found across the state.

David Macri. Winter birds with BLSK in flight. Matanzas.120108_staug_DMM0216

No experience is necessary to join an experienced team in your area that will survey beaches accessible from the mainland. Most teams will walk a minimum of 1-2 miles. Come on out and join other citizen scientists for Florida’s one-time annual winter shorebird survey!

For information on how you can get involved with surveys in:

The Christmas Bird Count is Many Things to Many People

posted on January 13, 2015 in Birding,Wildlife

Georgia Shemitz captured this foggy scene on the Four Rivers Audubon Count.For many Floridians, the Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is as much a tradition over the holidays as the Christmas tree. Each Audubon chapter in Florida (44) either coordinates a count circle or has members who participate in one.  On Monday Jan. 5, the 115th 3-week CBC window closed.  Now compilers will be gathering checklists, checking on rare bird sightings and preparing to submit their data. While providing valuable data to the science community CBCs have different meaning for different individuals.

Bill Nolte of Santa Fe Audubon captured this photo of a Bald Eagle feeding on a freshly killed coyote.The average species of birds seen is well over 100 (as high as 150) with numbers of species such as Coots, Robins, Tree Swallows, gulls (at the dump) and others often in the thousands.   Some people participated in just one count while others like Alachua Audubon Society member Dottie Robbins did eight this year!

What is it that draws so many people to this annual event?

Some people use the “count” as an excuse to take a break from the rush and pressure of the holidays.  What a great way to justify spending a full day at your favorite pastime.

West Pasco Audubon counters were featured in the Tampa Tribune There is a social element in spending a whole day with a small group of people.  The “count” can result in new friendships or can give old friends a chance to catch up. Teams often bond and look forward to having an excuse to get together once a year.

For the “listers” (serious birders who love to keep lists for birds seen in lifetime, a year, a day, a county, etc.) assisting in areas other than your own can bump the numbers up quickly.   It is hard to beat local knowledge when exploring a new area with one who knows where to find the birds!

Ellen Westbrook from Florida Keys Audubon rescued this young Brown Pelican during their CBC.There is a job for everyone. Beginners will often be tasked with keeping the checklist.  This is a welcome relief to the spotters and the more experienced counters who have their hands free to focus their binoculars and scopes quickly and count as a bird or flock flies by.  Lucky for new birders the best way to learn is to get out into the field with the experts.

Whatever the reason people participate they deserve a huge thank you for making such a unique and valuable contribution to bird conservation.

Additional news:

Good Water Management is Good for Northern Everglades Birds and Wildlife

Lake Okeechobee by Tabitha Cale

As the wet season is wrapping up, we are breathing a sigh of relief for the birds and wildlife in Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuary ecosystems. Due to thoughtful water level management amongst the state and federal agencies this season, (and just the right amount of rain), our ecosystems are in a solid place as we enter the winter months.

During the wet season between May and October, Lake Okeechobee received slightly more than average rain.  Thanks to new management approaches and patience from the agencies, there were minimal summer discharges from the Lake to the St. Lucie, and mostly beneficial releases to Caloosahatchee Estuaries, allowing these delicate ecosystems to continue to recover from the devastation from last summer. Lake Okeechobee’s levels reached 16 feet in October, which is the considered threshold for harm. But with levels now dropping, lake levels are within the ideal zone for the end of the rainy season.

Lake Okeechobee’s ideal water level range is between 12.5 to 15.5 feet over the course of the year.  If the Lake is over 16 feet for too long, damage to the marsh occurs. The 50,000‐acre submerged marsh community is in deep enough water that plants begin dying from wave action and from the loss of light in the deep, turbid, water. Prolonged deep water eliminates the wildlife rich wet prairie communities from the Lake, areas needed to support wading bird foraging. Rapidly rising water can drown alligator and bird nests (including Everglade Snail Kites) across the marsh. Click here to learn more about the effect of lake levels on the wildlife of Lake Okeechobee.

An Everglade Snail Kite surrounded by eggs from an exotic apple snail.

Managing Lake Okeechobee’s water levels is not easy. One wet tropical storm can raise Lake levels several feet –  levels harmful to the marsh and perilous for Hoover Dike safety.  The Corps cannot lower the Lake as fast as it can rise so they must make proactive releases to avoid harmful levels.   The management plan for the Lake allowed Lake releases to the estuaries virtually all summer, but the Corps decided to minimize releases to the estuaries.  This approach prevented harmful Lake discharges.  Note that the estuaries did receive some water from polluted local basin runoff, but it was not nearly as harmful as the previous year.

Very importantly, the SFWMD experimented with new operations to flow over 200,000 acre feet of water (about 5 inches of Lake level) south to the Everglades- water that otherwise would have been released to the estuaries.

The Corps and SFWMD’s approach over the summer came with some risk, but Audubon supported it based on climate patterns and lake level trends during the summer.  Almost weekly, the Corps hosts “Periodic Scientist” calls to get input from scientists from myriad agencies and interests, including Audubon, on day-to-day system conditions from throughout the system.  This information is then used to guide weekly decisions on Lake management.

We commend the Corps and SFWMD for innovative lake management this season and look forward to a healthy spring drawdown.

American Oystercatchers Return to Gulf Coast Via Detour Through NE Florida

posted on October 10, 2014 in Birding,Northeast Florida,Wildlife

Pat and Doris Leary are avid birdwatchers and citizen scientists from Fernandina Beach, FL, who volunteer their time and substantial skills to survey coastal waterbirds in Northeast Florida, coastal Georgia and Florida’s Big Bend. This is the seventh blog in which they share their experiences and sightings as well as the challenges these increasingly imperiled birds face.

Two American Oystercatchers from North Carolina on their way to the Gulf CoastEvery fall we look forward to resuming our annual surveys of American Oystercatchers wintering along the “Nature Coast” and each season finds new birds venturing south on their first migration along with veterans of many years returning to their favored locations from Horseshoe Beach in Dixie County to the power plant jetty just south of the Barge Canal spoils in Citrus County.

On rare occasions, we will encounter birds of that population in northeast Florida. Such an event occurred October 1st in lower Nassau Sound during a routine shorebird survey. Approaching a favored roost site for local Oystercatchers and other coastal species, I noted two birds resting near a flock of migrant Caspian Terns. Presuming these to be “resident” birds, my first binocular view brought quite a surprise: both birds carried dark green bands with alpha codes! With multiple Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons present in the sound I rushed to set up a tripod and mount my scope to read the bands. Experience has taught us that marked birds can flush and fly over the horizon in minutes taking all valuable data with them, and  a flying Peregrine Falcon at any distance can compel birds to flush without warning and abandon a site.  Fortunately, no raptors appeared and the resting birds provided ample time to study their bands and record the codes.

I immediately knew that both birds originated from North Carolina, but we have recorded far too many band codes to recognize a previously sighted bird and I would have to wait until I returned home to search our records before confirming any resights. Doing so, I learned that one bird (EO) was indeed a winter veteran recorded on the gulf every year since 2007. The second bird (UT) was more problematic. Banded at North Core Banks, Cape Lookout, NC in 2010 UT had been resighted there multiple times but nowhere else. However, Doris reminded me that each season we record a few “problem” codes that cannot be matched in the database. Typically, this is attributable to misread codes, data entry typos or incorrectly recorded codes. The original “wrap around” alpha codes have always presented a challenge to read and record correctly due to partial exposure of one or the other letter. Depending on distance, wind vibrating optics, ambient light, flock density, vantage point and other factors, Xs can resemble Ks, Fs with Rs, Ps with Rs, Os with Js, Js with Us and so on. Often, even photos cannot resolve a “suspect code” if only a partial letter is exposed. Such factors may have contributed to our lack of records for the UT bird on the gulf coast. It’s possible the bird was present for one or more years, but due to our failure to correctly read and report its bands, the sighting could not be entered into the database.

The fact that the two North Carolina birds were together certainly suggest they will eventually cross over to the gulf coast and join the wintering flocks there. Given the mystery of the UT bird, it will certainly be on our radar as we resume our gulf surveys and hopefully we can confirm its presence there soon. Some might recall that bird DG[CF6] with satellite transmitter was tracked from North Carolina to the vicinity of Amelia Island last fall before turning and crossing over to the gulf toward Horseshoe Beach. Later that winter, the bird shed its transmitter but was resighted prior to spring migration. Perhaps we’ll cross paths with that bird too sometime during the next several months.

Observations of My Backyard Woodpeckers

posted on October 7, 2014 in Birding

Caroline Stahala is Audubon Florida’s new Panhandle Program Manager located in Panama City. Caroline has lived in Florida since 2005 and worked in a variety of ecosystems and bird species including woodpecker species, shorebirds, wading birds, grasslands songbirds and tropical parrots. Enjoy her latest post, below.

Red-headed Woodpecker by Lorraine MargesonI have always had a fondness for woodpeckers, therefore, I was thrilled when a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers set up a nest in a dead oak tree in my new northwest Florida sandhills backyard.  These birds are expected in managed forests but I didn’t really expect them in my backyard!

This species has been on a consistent decline since the mid 1960’s with an estimated 50% population reduction. This summer I had the pleasure of sitting on my back patio watching the parents fly in and out of the cavity in the dead oak tree. No wonder they picked my backyard, Red-headed woodpeckers are cavity nesters that seem to prefer existing cavities in snags for nesting and roosting. This means dead trees or dead snags are vital to the species. Of course most of us remove these sorts of snags from our yards.

It was obvious when the chicks fledged because of their begging calls.  The chicks would start calling in a far pine tree and that’s when the distinctive white flash of the parents’ wings would appear headed straight for the chicks, most likely to feed them. This species is known to cache or store food for later on. Although I did not observe this particular behavior, these woodpeckers did exhibit some remarkable mid-air insect catches and also foraged on the ground quite frequently. Towards the end of August, the chicks were identical in silhouette to the parents but the young woodpecker’s could still be heard begging.  I hope they were calling due to laziness and not because they couldn’t feed themselves yet, because in mid-September, they disappeared. Although they are resident in Florida, they must have been looking for habitat that was better suited to their needs.  Maybe an area with more acorns or insects. It is common for these birds to move from breeding locations even as residents.

Maybe more oaks in my backyard would provide them with acorns for the winter, but that could also decrease some of the open space they like to forage in. Well, I will just have to wait for them to return next spring.  But in the mean time, maybe this means the sapsuckers that left rows and rows of holes in my oak trees will now be returning.  Stay tuned and I will let you know if they show up.

For more information on Red-headed Woodpeckers or other bird species, please visit Audubon’s website


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