04 June 2013

Chunk of Georgia

I had finally made it to Georgia and was primed to start my short spring field job.  First, though, was where I was to be living during my stay here.  I was completely impressed with the situation; I was going to be living at the Altamaha Wildlife Management Area, just south of Darien.  I didn't know it at the time but this spot is likely the best birding location in the entire county and I was going to be living there every day.

The first thing to greet me was the field house, an old historical plantation house built in the 1920s:

The house is surrounded by lush vegetation and swampy woods.  Here is a view of the yard, right next to where I park my car:

If you look at that and think "Hmm, looks like there could be gators in there", you're definitely correct.  Here is a small AMERICAN ALLIGATOR that was sunning itself in the yard:

There's lots of other wildlife around the house too.  Here's a CAROLINA ANOLE:

Some of the common butterflies around the house include this CAROLINA SATYR:


But as one would assume, my senses first keyed in on the local birds.  I had never lived in a place quite like this.  For one thing, BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCKS are abundant around the house.  I see and hear these every day, often perching actually ON the house:

Here you can see them using the observation platform across the street (no one said only humans could observe their surroundings from the platform, right?):

Every morning and evening, hundreds of WHITE IBIS fly over the house going to/from their night roost:

Arguably one of the most strikingly-colored birds here in North America is the male PAINTED BUNTING.  I've been lucky to have these around all spring.  In fact, as I'm typing this, the male is singing relentlessly out in the yard.  Here are some photos of them from this spring:

Another family of birds well-represented behind the house here at the Altamaha WMA are the rails.  There was a period where SORAS were abundant.  Here's one with good light:

I was rather keen to see and photograph a KING RAIL though; I had actually never seen this species before (despite hearing it several times).  The local rails provided for me.  At times, their relentless "kacking" in the yard actually became distracting and somewhat annoying!  Anyway, here's one peeking through the reeds:

One thing that was quite disappointing was the warbler migration here on the coastal plain.  I wasn't sure what to expect but migration was much slower than I thought it was going to be.  Here are some of the warblers.  First up, COMMON YELLOWTHROATS are still common breeders:

Coming from California, I was happy to lay eyes on BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLERS once again.  They came through the area in small numbers:

Another species of warbler that came through in decent numbers were NORTHERN WATERTHRUSHES.  It wouldn't be uncommon to hear these singing in the yard  Here's one skulking around:

I didn't realize it but one of the better migrant warblers I had was this very distant CAPE MAY WARBLER.  I only had a couple of these:

However, probably the most-uncommon migrant I had was this BLUE-WINGED WARBLER:

Nope, it's not a warbler.  The SUMMER TANAGERS are tending to be pretty common, even here at the wildlife management areas (but only in areas with decent chunks of habitat):

The first day of work was actually spent down at Bloody Marsh on Saint Simons Island trying to trap WHIMBREL.  Although we didn't catch any that day, we were lucky to catch a BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER.  I was still pleased, I had never handled a BBPL before!

The flock of Eastern and Western WILLETS there at the marsh was pretty impressive though:

We spent a lot of time sitting at the edge of the marsh and when you have THAT much time, things to start to come out of the woodwork for you.  The local CLAPPER RAILS are the tamest I've ever seen.  We got to watch every single aspect of CLRA life; mating, nest building, courting, calling, fights, chases, swimming, bathing, feeding, etc.  Here's one of the superstars:

Finally, it was time to boat out to some of the barrier islands to look for shorbs.  However, we couldn't even get out there without finding some cool stuff.  Here is a flexible LEAST BITTERN along the Altamaha River:

But yes, we finally got out to some of the barrier islands to start looking for migrant RED KNOTS.  My job in Georgia was extremely simple on paper; resight banded knots.  It didn't take too long to spot a few knots, although none of these were banded:

More interesting to me were the PARASITIC JAEGERS that we would see every once in a while.  I guess I hadn't expected to be around these and I found myself very out of practice:

The MARBLED GODWITS were still around in good numbers:

Terns are very well-represented here on the coast of Georgia.  Here are some ROYAL and SANDWICH TERNS along with a lone BLACK SKIMMER:

I'll leave you with a typical view of RED KNOTS here on the coastal islands of Georgia:

All these pictures were from only about a week of work.  I'll post a couple more times with more Georgian goodies.  Maybe before long I'll actually catch up??

02 June 2013

Wandering in Florida

I started making my way back down to Florida, this time at a much more leisurely pace.  I had a week to spend down south before my job in Georgia began.  It had been a while since I had seen some of the spring migrants that the east has to offer so I kept myself busy enjoying those.

For example, I was birding at a local park in South Carolina when I found myself actually enjoying the company of things like BROWN THRASHERS.  Remember, having spent the last two years in California, these rich-brown guys were a welcome sight:

It didn't take long to make it back down to Florida though.  I have some family that lives in Lake County so I visited with them for several days.  Evening walks around the neighborhood put me in a very different world from one out west.

The nearby wildlife kept my camera busy too.  Here's a LITTLE BLUE HERON:

.... with a small AMERICAN ALLIGATOR nearby:

This CATTLE EGRET was surprisingly wary but they're still fairly attractive little herons if you just take a moment to appreciate them:

I ventured to some nearby scrubby areas on a couple of days too.  I was actually targeting SHORT-TAILED HAWKS but where ever I went, I failed to find any.  As a consolation prize, I stumbled onto a bunch of FLORIDA SCRUB-JAYS one day, upwards of 15-20 of them.  Here's an unbanded bird on a power line:

The abundant BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS were in high gear with the upcoming breeding season ahead of them.  This one was gathering nesting material:

A species I had seen probably fewer than ten times was another side-target of mine.  The BACHMAN'S SPARROW favors the open undergrowth underneath pines here in the southeast.  They are endemic to the USA and, as luck would have it, fairly common where I was birding that day:

I started paying more attention to butterflies while I was in Florida as well.  Here is a Zarucco Duskywing, an abundant species in the areas I was frequenting:

My grandfather and I set out one day to capture something that we both thought would make for an interesting picture.  Luckily, it couldn't have gone better.  The invasive BROWN ANOLES were abundant around the neighborhood and this one did exactly what we wanted; he extended his dewflap:

Before I knew it, days were passing and I had to start venturing north again, this time to the Brunswick, Georgia area.   But remember how I was trying to find SHORT-TAILED HAWKS?  Right, as I was driving north, leaving Florida, luck caught up with me and I had two directly over my car.  Cutting it close but I didn't mind.

Once in Georgia, it was clear that BOAT-TAILED GRACKLES really were going to be one of the most abundant species around:

... but I didn't mind, the water was warm