Monday, June 25, 2007

Dodging rain was the trick of the day.

Gray Kingbird Sea Pinks are in bloom

Jekyll bird Ramble June 21, 2007
I was excited for I was joined by long time rambler, Jean Barrel. A few rain showers were not going to keep us from this bird rambling. It was the first day of summer and showers were welcome after a very dry spring. Jean had lots of news about the birds on the golf course. She was thrill after sixteen years of coming to Jekyll for a family reunion some of her folks were beginning to pick up bird watching. She found her reward for her creating new birders at the southend of Jekyll. She had great views of three Wilson’s Plover chicks with their parents. In fact we were joined by another birder from Tennessee who was also on the island for a family reunion. While we watched the antics of the three chicks we exchanged the typical birder’s information.

“What birds were where? When the birds were seen? And the question to me is: “Where else can I go see birds?” In the course of the conversation I found out there were other birders birding on Jekyll that week. It goes to show how nicely we blend into the area.

After the nice exchange, we hurried on still dodging the rain. We had Painted Bunting at both Tidelands Nature Center and the campground sanctuary. I had to see what was going on at the Amphitheater. The Wood Storks are still doing ok in the dead pine but the rain caught before I could really see how the Anhingas were doing. They were there so there is hope. Now to finish I looked for the White-eyed Vireo nest. It was still on the nest this week.
With Jekyll’s birdlife on my mind….Good Birding
photos by Lydia
Growing up Wood Stork
Shrimpboat at Jekyll Point

Monday, June 18, 2007

June 14, 2007, Thursday Morning Bird Ramble

The summer doldrums have settled in. Please don’t think that this means, "No more birding till fall!" It may be quiet, but the quiet is just the cover for fascinating nesting birds as well as a little hidden drama.

Jekyll has had some astonishingly high tides lately. The rack line (highest tide line mark) is cutting into the dunes, and the birds are all gathered down at the southwest corner of Jekyll. There are still some lingering shorebirds: four Semipalmated Plovers huddled in with one very tired Semipalmated Sandpiper, along with two Ruddy Turnstones and three Sanderlings. Just over the dunes on the Jekyll River side, a few Laughing Gulls are concealed in the large flock of Forster’s and Royal Terns. There are no signs of Wilson’s Plovers, and I wonder if they even had a chance to nest.

The feeders are empty at Tidelands Center, our next stop. I take my group over to the dock, where they watch the Osprey nest while I fill the feeders. There are two week-old Osprey chicks standing by one very patient parent. This pair of Ospreys wasn't successful last year, so it's gratifying to see these two chicks.

Two of my guests on this rambles, Mark and Helen come around the building just as I finish filling the two feeders. Obviously they aren't the only ones waiting for the feeder to be filled, as within minutes a male Painted Bunting appears! I move back but notice that Mark and Helen are frozen in rapt fascination: this "nonpareil" (a colloquial name for the Painted Bunting) was only about three feet away from them! Betsy, Mark’s wife, tells me later that his day was made with that bird!
Excitement fills the van along with a load of smiles all the way up to the Bird Sanctuary in the campground. It is a nice treat to find a family from Ohio there. Although they are not birders they are fascinated by this little oasis. The children are carefully writing in the sighting book, and the father is snapping pictures of the birds at the feeder. The mother leans over and asks me what the little bird with the red belly and blue head is, and to help, the father shows me the image on his digital camera screen…. it is indeed another Painted Bunting! Not to be outdone, a male Northern Parula puts on a show at the bird drip. But the antics of a Great Crested Flycatcher steal the moment: this bird is in frantic pursuit of every cardinal around, and there are a lot of cardinals…poor flycatcher! It's a thankless task and we leave him to continue.

At the Amphitheater pond the Wood Storks are still tending the nest on the large dead pine. The chicks continue to grow, and the Anhingas are still on the nest. There are sixteen Yellow-crowned Night-herons hanging around the back side of the pond; these birds do not nest in the open but rather back in the underbrush, so are they truly nesting, or just "hanging"?

We are almost back to the van when I remember that we had spotted a pair of White-eyed Vireos building a nest the week before. Were they successful? Yes: there on the side of the path about six feet off the ground is a very well-constructed nest, and looking at us from inside that nest was a very quiet White-eyed Vireo! Summer doldrums perhaps, or maybe it is just quiet drama. Who will raise young and who will not…more drama to come?

With Jekyll’s Birdlife on my mind-good birding!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Swamp is burning Ware County Breeding Bird Survey

Under any other circumstances, 3:30 am would NOT be a welcome time to get up, but this morning I am excited. This is my 21st Ware County Breeding Bird Survey. The first 20 years have raced by; in the early days my father and I ran this route together, and it took awhile to get the stops defined. My father's fifty plus years of working in the “woods” came in handy when it came to describing the stops. (Trust me: it is very hard to find landmarks in evenly aged pine plantations!) My father's input was invaluable. The route has some odd twist and turns: it starts out east of Waycross Georgia (Waycross was and is a main railroad town about an hour west of Jekyll and St. Simons Islands), then skirts Waycross and heads south toward the Okefenokee Swamp. The Okefenokee can be seen as a fringe of cypress and gum trees on the horizon to the left. Little fingers of the “Swamp” snake along my route.

For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, let me back up a little... What is a Breeding Bird Survey (BBS)? It is a point count survey conducted at the height of the breeding season from late May to early June. The best description of the survey is found on the Breeding Bird Survey website, and I quote: “The BBS is a long-term, large-scale, international avian monitoring program initiated in 1966 to track the status and trends of North American bird populations. The USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and the Canadian Wildlife Service, National Wildlife Research Center jointly coordinates the BBS program. Each survey route is 24.5 miles long with stops at 0.5-mile intervals. At each stop, a 3-minute point count is conducted. During the count, every bird seen within a 0.25-mile radius or heard is recorded. Surveys start one-half hour before local sunrise and take about 5 hours to complete. Over 4100 survey routes are located across the continental U.S. and Canada.” The trained observer who does these counts must know the breeding birds not only by sight but, more importantly, by sound. It is an intense morning: it starts very early with the observer racing out to be at the first stop at the assigned time. He/she then drives from stop to stop, getting out to look and listen at each stop. This goes non stop for about five hours, until the observer reaches the last stop.

There have been changes over the years, both large and small. In the beginning there was a huge landfill between stops #16 and #17. The landfill closed in 1990; now it is a small green mountain surrounded by coastal plains. I’ve watched trees grow up, be cut down, and then grow up again. The Okefenokee Swamp has been plagued by wild fires this year, and one of those fires went right through the last half of the survey route. I am wondering what, if anything, is going on in these burned areas.

I have made plans to meet my friend Sheila Willis, who has lived most of her life in Ware County. She is as curious as I am about what has changed about the area along Swamp Road. The first part of the survey moves along at a good pace; there are no real changes. There are fewer Eastern Kingbirds and Eastern Bluebirds than in years past, and this year I have noticed that we have more Orchard Orioles than usual (this is true on our coast as well). As we move south on Swamp Road, more fire-fighting trucks are barreling down the road. Around stop #25 we start to notice little areas damaged by fires, but the last ten stops are hit the hardest: there is some kind of fire damage on each stop. What's amazing to me is the fact that birds are still singing: we even have a Bachman’s Sparrow singing close to one burned area! It's been quite a few years since I’ve heard Bachman’s Sparrows on this route!
One point has to be made here: although we don’t like wildfires, nature requires it. Wild birds and animals live or die by it; fires are an integral part of the Balance of Nature. But they can still pose a serious threat to humans. The fire-fighters are doing an amazing job protecting homes on the Swamp Road, and there were homemade signs in several places along the road praising the hard work these dedicated folks are doing. Next year will be just as interesting.
With Georgia Wildlife on my mind, Good Birding! Lydia

Help Those Who are Fighting Fires

Wildfires continue to rage in Ware County, home of First Presbyterian Church in Waycross. There are many fire-fighters battling these blazes every day, and you can help them by keeping them supplied with necessary items. You can donate the following items to First Pres who in turn hand them out to firefighters: lip balm/chap stick, travel size baby powder or foot powder, 45 or higher SPF sunscreen, eye drop/saline, socks, energy snacks (that can go in their pockets), Gatorade/PowerAde. For more information, call First PC at 912-283-5077.
Thanks to Mary Beth for being my editor!

Friday, June 8, 2007

The Challenge of Low Tide

June 7, 2007. Low tide was at 8 a.m. today. This created a problem for me logistically. You see, we have six to nine foot tides here along the Georgia coast. This means that at low tide, the habitat is exposed and the birds are spread out across the wide expanse of complex marshes, making it harder to predict where the birds will be feeding. Under these conditions, going to the beach first would not have been productive at all; it would have been better to go to the south end around mid tide, but that would have put us out on the hot beach in the middle of the morning.

These kinds of tide levels make me fall back on experience. After years of birding here, you learn to read the signs, and that has to be done in the field, not the day before when you're making plans! It is truly living in the moment. So when I met Diane and Amy, I warned them that this was going to be a challenging Ramble. This was their first time to trek for birds so they were excited to see how this challenge would play out.

yellowlegs in marsh
It was intriguing to watch beginner luck kick in; hard-to-see birds were popping out at almost every stop! We did find one Roseate Spoonbill way out in the marsh, and along with the spoonbill, there were two Black Skimmers skimming along behind it. The Loggerhead Shrike was nowhere to be found, but instead, a Great Crested Flycatcher was on the tree, calling and flycatching. This is a bird that is often very elusive, so I was trilled!

The next stop was the Glory Boardwalk, which is located next to the soccer field at the south end of Jekyll. This boardwalk was named in honor of the 1988 movie Glory, and was built to create a safe path for the movie crew to get out to the beach from the field staging area. (The movie company worked very hard to be environmentally sensitive as well.) The last scene in the movie, where the valiant troops are charging down the beach, was filmed south of the boardwalk. At this stop I was after one bird: the Wilson’s Plover that nests north of the Glory Boardwalk. We did see a female who was obviously directing our attention away from the male and the nest. We left her to her job and were rewarded with great views of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers being chased by a male Northern Parula! Whoa! This was turning out to be a pretty good morning!

We topped it off with two male and two female Painted Buntings at the campground. When I pointed out the calling Pileated Woodpecker, Amy expressed an interest in seeing the bird, so we walked in the direction of the call. Just as I was warning them that these birds could be hard to find, one flew into the tree just in front of us! That was impressive in and of itself, but then a second one flew in and landed! Amy (as well as the rest of us) was elated!

We finished the morning at the Amphitheater. The majority of the Wood Stork’s nest made it through Saturday’s rains from Tropical Depression Barry. Unfortunately, one of the dead pines that had at least three nests was gone, and there appeared to be a few pairs of adults just listlessly hanging around together; could these have been the pairs who lost their nests? This just points out the fact that life in the wild is not easy. Then we moved on to find that the Anhinga had made it through the storm: there was at least one still sitting tight on a nest. The Yellow-crowned Night-Heron sitting near the Amphitheater was the finishing touch on this challenging Ramble.

On the way off the island I stopped by the entrance to Jekyll, and sure enough, there were two Gull-billed Terns sitting out in the marsh! These elegant birds were a good way to end the June 7th Ramble.

With Jekyll’s birdlife on my mind, good birding!

Thank you Mary Beth for stepping in and being my editor!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

June 5th Harris Neck

June 5th, 2007. Today we had our monthly festival meeting at Harris Neck. Attending the meeting was Beth, Regi, Harriet, Gene, Pat and Dot, and, of course, me. As far as I was concerned, this meeting could be long or I could keep it short and sweet. So when Gene announced that he had to leave at noon, I knew "short" was it! We worked on details for the Colonial Coast Birding Challenge: basically, the “Challenge” is a Big Day held before the festival. We decided to have people choose a day from October 5 through October 12 to find as many birds as they could on any or all the Colonial Coast Birding Trail sites in a twenty four hour period. The real change this year was a monetary prize for the winner! It took a while but we finally came up with a plan, and the meeting was over! Gene took off, after which the rest of us stood around tying up loose ends. A birding festival takes a great deal of planning: we give ourselves eighteen months to get the plans laid out for this three day festival.
All the chatter ended abruptly with the announcement that someone had found two Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks! Cars were loaded, and we zipped up to the dike at Woody Pond, only to find a pair of non-birders looking for alligators. They had no clue that they had flushed a rare bird! Oh, well.... There was still a lot to look at: Wood Storks with chicks, Anhinga chicks, egrets, herons, night-herons, and ibis were spread across the pond. The air was filled with the calls of the moorhens; those calls sound like the beginning of the song “Wipe Out” to me...

Scanning with my scope I spotted a small group of nesting White Ibis. I did an etching a while back of White Ibis nesting at Harris Neck, but I felt it was a bit heavy on the greens and reds. Well, today I saw that etching come to life: there they were, tucked into those trees that were a little too green and a little too red!
Thanks to Bob Churi for allowing me to use his photo of whistling-ducks.

With Georgia coastal birdlife on my mind--good birding!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

June 1 exploring Jekyll's beach

June 1, 2007

When Kim called and wanted to go birding with her nine year old son Preston as well as her parents. I agree to meet them Friday on Jekyll. I choose a couple of places that I thought would fascinate them all. The tide was too high to walk the beach so we went to the Amphitheater first. The Wood Storks were a hit. Preston told me that the Anhingas were his favorite.

What was puzzling was that the Anhingas were not sitting on the nests day. Anyone know what is going on? The both nests looks good and secure. I just can not figure out what these birds are doing this year.

Even though it was late morning we made our way to the beach. It was perfect on the beach. There was a cool breeze. The birds were way down at Jekyll Point so there was a walk a head of us. Still there was a lot to talk about. The winds have been out of the east so there was a lot of Sargassum grass washed up. Preston became fascinated by the shells. He picked them up and carefully looked to see if it were inhabited. We talked about these creatures and how they related to the birds. This south end of Jekyll is so diverse, rich with life, beneath the surface, on the surface and in the water and air. It takes a couple of hours to make the round. We saw Royal, Forster, and Least Terns. The Black Skimmers were there in a good tight flock. We did have one Wilson’s Plover skulk by us.

By the time we were off the beach it was lunch time so I recommended a couple of restaurants. They were going to go by Tidelands Nature Center in the afternoon.

On the way off the island I did a quick check of the entrance ponds sure enough two Gulled-billed Terns.

With Jekyll’s birdlife on my mind-Good Birding!

Rambling along on Jekyll in the pink

Thursday is finally here. I get to really go out and look for and see birds on Jekyll. Don’t get me wrong I watch birds everyday. This week the Tufted Titmice have fledged two young. They were back and forth to the feeder with the little “darlings” in toe several times a day. The Blue Jays are in and out of the bird drip all day. The Great Crested Flycatchers are whipping around in the tops of the trees. At several stops around as I attend planning meetings for the Georgia Colonial Coast Birding & Nature Festival as well as promoting birding for our coast I am hearing Orchard Orioles. What a wonder song!

With the full moon our tides are very high and the wading birds are feasting on trapped fish. I met Janet and her sister Sue. Sue is a photographer birder so the first stop is the pond under the Sidney Lanier Bridge. It is easy to watch the huge concentration of egrets, herons, and storks from Gisco Marine Drive. The Roseate Spoonbill is the first bird the scope lands on talk about luck. There are several lingering immature birds, dowitchers, Semipalmated Plover and Semipalmated Sandpipers. As we peruse the edges of the pond I spot a pair of Black-necked Stilts. I move the van in a better position to watch these birds closer and we notices the terns flying over the pond. Most of the terns are Least Terns but there are two Gulled-billed Terns wheeling around over the surface of the pond as well. What I am learning about myself is that terns fascinate me. I am not sure if it the way the fly or that they have that classic sleek look but it is a trill to see them. Gull-billed Terns are no exception. Since we have wide expanses of marsh for these marsh birds to spread out finding a place to watch them up close is significant. They appear to be mostly white and pale gray except for that sleek black cap and blunt black bill. “Just stunning!” is all I can think to say.

Pulling us away is all I can do for we have some many other places to visit we head back toward Jekyll. As we drive it become clear that we need to stop at a little roost for the storks and spoonbills.
Janet had had a little accident early in the week so she decided to stay with the van as we creep into the roost area. It was a rewarding stop Sue and I snapped away as seventeen Roseate Spoonbills loafed on a skeleton of a tree. When we head back to the van, Janet is resting comfortably having seen some of the spoonbills fly around the area.

Hoping to add Wilson’s Plovers to the day’s experience I decide to walk the south end from St. Andrews Picnic area. This pair of plovers were elusive and today was no exception but we add the ever courting Royal Terns to our list as well as late Ruddy Turnstones.

To finish the morning of course we go by the Amphitheater. The Wood Storks are the stars of the shows. One good sighting was the Anhingas. There were two females sitting tight on nest. Let’s hope that they will raise a few young. There is nothing so fascinating than Anhinga chick. Stay tuned.
With Georgia birdlife on my mind-good birding