New backyard bird: Downy Woodpecker, or why native plants love birds (and vice versa)

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescent with scale. Boca Raton, FL, May 1, 2014.

From time to time the native plants in my yard, which I do my best to foster, suffer from an overabundance of a certain tiny insect: scale. These insects aren’t scary to most people—they don’t bite, they don’t fly up and startle you, they don’t even move after they hunker down in their chosen spot to feed. But they are rather scary to the plants they parasitize. They latch onto a growing stem, use their piercing sucking mouthparts to penetrate the thin exterior walls, and suck up the vital juices that are supposed to be circulating through the [...]

Early spring birding in the front yard

It may be only Presidents’ Day on the calendar, but the weather down here in south Florida is nice and the birds are enjoying it. Was outside doing some early morning gardening on this blessed day off work and I heard the R2D2-like witchety watchety-doo of a White-Eyed Vireo across the street. Ran inside for my binoculars and picked up three warblers just in my front yard (palm, prairie, and yellow-rumped), along with Fish Crow and Green Heron. (The Green Heron loves our yard because we have such a rambunctious lizard population; I see him here most mornings prowling the [...]

Birds of Green Cay

Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps), Green Cay Nature Center, November 30, 2013.

Every Saturday after Thanksgiving for the last several years I’ve led the local Audubon Society’s field trip to one of the constructed wetlands in central Palm Beach County: Green Cay. It’s always fun to visit there because the birds know that the people never leave the boardwalk so they’re very tame. Photographers, well aware of this phenomenon, crowd the boardwalk every day of the year. And even those of us who have decent gear but will never be more than a snapshot artist can get a decent snapshot now and then:

Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps), Green Cay Nature Center, [...]

New yard bird: Green Heron

Green Heron (Butorides virescens), Boca Raton FL, November 26, 2013.

The week before Thanksgiving continues to be busy at the homestead. On Tuesday and Wednesday—both rainy, windy mornings—we had a special visit from a new bird for the yard: Butorides virescens, the Green Heron. It’s a nice little marsh bird, but rather uncommon here so far from the nearest canal or other permanent wetland. We felt quite favored to have it drop in. I managed to get a couple of decent (if you squint, you almost can’t see how blurry they are) snapshots before herding the kids into the van for school drop off:

Green Heron (Butorides virescens), Boca [...]

New backyard bird: Nyctanassa violacea, the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Nyctanassa violacea). Boca Raton, FL, June 11, 2013.

You never know when something new and unforeseen is going to drop in, but that’s what keeps you going back outside. My back yard is small. Not tiny, but small. There isn’t a lot of lawn, and there isn’t any water apart from the pool, which is completely surrounded by a rather inhospitable (to birds) fence. So to see a wading bird, other than an ibis, strutting around the back yard like it owns the place is a bit of a surprise. So imagine my surprise the other morning when I spotted this Yellow-crowned Night-Heron doing just that.

Yellow-crowned [...]

Chimney Swifts return (no photos this time): UPDATE: Now with photos!

Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica). Boca Raton, FL, May 6, 2013.

For the past few days I’ve been out in the back yard trying to track down as many of the abundant damselflies as I can (four species so far: fragile and Rambur’s forktails, and Everglades and southern sprites). All this time in the great outdoors has been accompanied by some great natural soundtracks—the piercing call of the cardinal, the ever-so-slightly less piercing but much more varied song of the mockingbird, the raucous screeching of the parakeets as they do their flybys. But more enjoyable than all of those songs has been the nearly constant twitter twitter tweet of the chimney [...]

Shooting through glass doors

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis). Boca Raton, FL, March 1, 2013.

When you have the opportunity for a photo of a bird in a nice setting, you run for your camera. This Northern Cardinal was singing in the starburst and bougainvillea on our neighbor’s property, in perfect view of our glass doors in back. So I went and grabbed my camera and fired off a few shots through the dirty glass before attempting to head outside and get a clear shot.

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis). Boca Raton, FL, March 1, 2013.

Unfortunately, I had neglected to factor the toddler into the equation. Seeing the open door, he rushed to close [...]

Bird on a wire

Juvenile accipiter. Boca Raton, FL, February 14, 2012.

This Valentine’s Day I was prowling around the back yard at lunch time as usual, camera in hand. I had the insect-shooting rig (macro lens, flash kit) because noon is normally a pretty poor time for shooting birds. But you never know…

I was in the corner near the firebush when I heard the rapid wingbeats of first one dove, then a couple more. The way doves beat their wings is interesting: they whistle with each wingbeat. The noise is actually part of a distraction strategy to disorient pursuers. When a dove is alarmed, the tempo of the wingbeats speeds [...]

Mob scene, Screech-Owl style

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Everyone’s heard of flash mobs by now—you know, those social media–inspired and -coordinated events where a group of smartphone-wielding people with too much time on their hands descend on an unsuspecting locale and do something silly/creative/fun/tragic?

Well, birds have been doing mob scenes since long before our hominid ancestors descended from the trees. And photographers have had flash bulbs since long before Facebook and Twitter erupted onto our social scene. (Come to think of it, birds have been tweeting since, well, you see where I’m going with this…) Combine the two, and you get a mob scene—Screech-owl style!

When you [...]

Spread your wings at Pondhawk

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The Monday after Thanksgiving is a great time to get out to a nearby natural area. While most folks are back at work after a four-day weekend, those of us who have the foresight to request this day off get to experience something fairly rare around this time of year: solitude! The prospect of some alone time, combined with the knowledge that two of Palm Beach County’s best birders had reported a juvenile Red-headed Woodpecker at a location near me decided my destination on this fifth day of a four-day weekend: Pondhawk Natural Area, which, as loyal readers of this [...]