Saturday, 15 December 2018

Twitch on!

A couple of weeks ago I found myself in New York. No accident of course, I was twitching a Mandarin Duck, or should that be the Mandarin Duck in Central Park. Or that's what I said on Twitter at any rate. And strike! Reeled LGRE straight in. Apparently I am very lucky, and people are coming from all over the world to see it! 



Well if they are then frankly they are very stupid indeed. Obviously I did not travel across the Atlantic to see a duck. I mean yes, I did see it, but only as an afterthought as Charlotte and I were having a wander around Central Park. It was at the Gapstow Bridge, which she instantly recognised from the Fantastic Beasts film. It was still drawing quite a crowd, so we had a little look and moved on. Tick and run as they say. 

Central Park stupidity

It was a great weekend actually, just the two of us, exploring NYC for a taste of the Big Apple. Masses of people, lights, cabs, sirens, manholes emitting steam, subways shaking the pavement, the NYPD and amazing fire engines. We went to see a Broadway show, went to the 911 Memorial, the Flatiron building, Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue, The Rockefeller Centre, The Empire State Building, 34th Street, Battery Park and much much more, as much as we could fit in a few short hours. I also paid homage to the Walter Kerr Theatre but unfortunately could not source tickets....









Monday, 10 December 2018

Beluga

Did I tell you about that time I saw a Beluga? And unlike most people I got a shot of it fully breaching out of the water. 


Sunday, 9 December 2018

Florida III - Day 4

We spent the final morning back at Corkscrew Swamp as we felt we had unfinished business there, and that if we returned to Bunche that we would simply repeat what we already had. We arrived a little late but nonetheless full of optimism that it would be as excellent as the previous afternoon. It was nothing like it, large parts of the boardwalk trail were completely devoid of birds. We both managed to get a few new shots of different species, improving on the day before, but with the benefit of hindsight we should have gone back to the beach. The images would have been very similar to the previous day, but the countless and continuous opportunities could have resulted in the occasional special shot. Next time that's where we start.







All too soon it was time to head back east to Miami, but we thought we would check out a site on eBird that appeared to have loads of birds as it was on the way. Unfortunately the map I had did not mention that the road we were taking was non-metalled….. It started off OK, but soon reverted to quite deep sand, and a Chevy Camaro has very little off-road capability. I have got a car stuck in mud or sand on almost every single trip I have been on with Mick, generally losing us up to an hour of digging etc, and for a few moments it looked like this would be another one. But there was no turning back, to stop and try and turn would mean getting stuck for sure. I kept the revs up and by some miracle steered a path through the morass without getting stuck, but there were a few points where despite 5000 revs we slowed almost to a stop before thankfully picking up a bit of traction. Meanwhile the car slid all over the place and it was all I could do to stay on the road. Finally the end was in sight, one more deep bit and we were through! And sure enough there was a huge field of birds with precisely zero photo opportunities. More Glossy Ibis together than I have ever seen in one place, and heaps of egrets and peeps feeding in a partially flooded field. We had a brief look, examined the car for signs of damage, and then drove out to the I75.


And that was it! We stopped off for gas and to pack up the gear, returned the car and hit Miami airport. A few hours later I was back at work! It was an excellent trip that could have been a little better – regret not staking out the Owls properly, that’s three trips now where I have not been at Cape Coral at the correct time of day. The trouble is that there is only one dawn and only one late afternoon, and with just three and a half days you don’t want to spend one of those sessions on just one bird. On balance though short trips still work a lot better for me.

Trip List





Thursday, 6 December 2018

Florida III - Day 3

Whilst on Fort Myers beach I talked to a couple of birders who were looking at the assembled waders. They recommended Bunche beach, halfway towards Sanibel, as having a wider selection of waders and being less disturbed. So that’s where we went on the morning of our third full day, making sure to arrive early as we had also been told that parking was limited. In the dark the insects began to bite – it was Sanibel all over again! This time we were a little better prepared and so plastered ourselves with repellent, but unfortunately the mere act of getting out of the car allowed the bugs a further opportunity to riddle us with holes. Making our way to the beach we were delighted to find a massive beach with zero people on it and tons of birds as far as the eye could see. Perfect.


Waiting for the light

I hope you will forgive the photo-heavy post but there are some days where it just seems to work. The birds depicted are Grey Plover, Short-billed Dowitcher (which was an ABA tick for me - I saw it in the UK first!), Semipalmated Plover, Least Sandpiper, Dunlin, Roseate Spoonbill and Little Blue Heron.





















The next two hours were phenomenal. The tide was receding and a wide variety of waders and egrets were feeding. Needless to say almost all photography occurred at ground level using skimmer pods which proved fantastic in these conditions, and we got extremely wet, sandy, and muddy. All worth it though, or at least I think so. By about 9am the beach was a little more crowded but overall there was very little disturbance barring one photographer dressed in bright orange who really did not understand some basic rules of the road. We returned to the car filthy but happy, and after a wash in the sea and a change of clothes, headed off for another few thousand calories at Denny’s.

Getting low. And wet.

In the afternoon we headed over to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, an Audubon Society reserve on the edge of a Cypress swamp and possessed of a fantastic boardwalk. I had read a lot about it but nothing prepared me for how brilliant it was. Birds everywhere, particularly warblers and woodpeckers. We slowly picked our way around the trail stopping frequently as bird waves passed through. Photography was hard work but very rewarding, and it was good to have a different mix of birds to target after several days of the same fare. We spent the rest of the day here, and on finding that our entrance ticket allowed entry the following day, decided to come back the following day as well for our final morning before needing to return to Miami and fly home.


Prairie Warbler

Pine Warbler

Carolina Wren

Black-and-White Warbler

White-eyed Vireo

Blue-Grey Gnatcatcher
  
Red-shouldered Hawk



Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Florida III - Day 2

Fighting the time difference we got up early and trudged down Estero Boulevard in the half-light. We were rewarded by a near perfect sunrise as we headed towards some waders feeding on the shoreline. There is something so special about this early light but in Florida it is so brief, and also in my eagerness to use it I end up making all sorts of rookie mistakes. Gradually the levels increased and soon I was clipping the whites before I realised what was going on. We worked our way steadily up the beach, resisting the urge to drown shell foragers who without a care flushed our subjects repeatedly. As in walked past us knowing they would put up the birds and then blithely said "sorry about that". They could have walked around us, it would have taken mere seconds to do so. 


 



Sanderlings were probably the dominant species, but there were also Willet, Grey Plover and a Snowy Egret following the shell enthusiasts. Because of the constant disturbance and overall lack of numbers, we reached Little Estero Lagoon again quite quickly. I spend a bit of time photographing Double-crested Cormorant on some posts, and then we were rewarded by an Osprey returning to land with a fish right in front of us - clear background, decent perch, excellent!

 




After another enormous breakfast during which Mick consumed enough calories for a family of five we drove up to Cape Coral to check out Burrowing Owls. We found only one, and in a non-photographable position. We made notes on areas with lots of stakes in the ground that are used to mark the positions of borrows and decided to come back in the evening when it was cooler as possibly the birds were avoiding the heat of the day underground. 

Next on the agenda was Florida Scrub Jay, a bird I have wanted to see for ages but never found on my previous visits. I had a number of sites lined up from eBird, so we drove north to the first of these at Tucker's Grade. Unfortunately this site was hosting an annual Hog hunt and was filled with camo-clad and heavily armed people driving around on enormous swamp buggies. As an alternative we continued to Tippecanoe Environmental Park, just off the 776 at Port Charlotte. This was mercifully empty but also quite large and with a confusing maze of paths. We chose a random one and struck out. At one point Mick went off ahead of me after a Woodpecker he had seen come in to perch, whereas I got distracted by calls that turned out to be Blue Jays. I retraced my steps but could find no trace of Mick. Assuming he had been eaten by Alligators I returned to searching for the Scrub Jays and finally found a distant one. I gambled on a few paths before finding one that got me close and luckily found not one but two birds right in front of me, one of which I managed a quick record shot of. It took ages to find the car again, but once I did there was still no sign of my travelling companion. Eventually he returned having walked a massive circle whilst seeing no Scrub Jays....




Last stop of the day back at Cape Coral but by the time we found any Owls in the open we had lost the light.