Monday, January 25, 2010

The Space Coast Birding Festival--Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands

This morning a storm system moved through central Florida, giving me a little down time to write a quick post. The past couple of days have been busy with orientation to Brevard County, FL, as I visit Florida's wintering birds and attend the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival.

Marge, of Space Coast Beach Buzz and FloridaBeachBasics, has been my gracious hostess, both making my visit here possible and especially enjoyable.

Yesterday I visited the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands at Viera with photographer and Master Naturalist, Charlie Corbeil. Charlie is pictured below (courtesy of Marge). Charlie's beautiful photo decorates the wetland's welcome sign. And here is a glimpse of just a few of the birds (and critters) we enjoyed at the wetlands. Above a Wood stork pauses before rejoining his flock mates. This was undoubtedly the closest I have ever been to one of these birds. I loved seeing all the details in the image. It will be fun to sketch this curious face! (Click on the images to enlarge.)

Below, a baby alligator rests on a pond lily.A Pied-billed Grebe, just up from a dive, feeds in the water along with thousands of other waterfowl. Beautiful American Anhingas, some nesting and posturing, others resting and preening, were perched or flying around--lots of them! A male is pictured below. Enlarge to get a better look at the green markings around his eyes.There were many other beautiful birds at the wetlands that I will show you a bit later. On Wednesday, the 27th, the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival will launch its activities full swing, bringing thousands of bird and nature lovers to Brevard County.

If you are attending the festival, visit Space Coast Eco for informative descriptions of key natural areas that are included in field trips, as well as directions and description of facilities. And to find reports on festival events, don't miss David's special Space Coast Festival Blog the Beach reports, including local weather conditions, event reports and all kinds of interesting festival news.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Phoebe Allens--Incubating now!

Phoebe Allens is a female Allen's Hummingbird who lives in the Channel Islands, in Orange County, California. Her nest is located in a rose bush right next to a house and she is incubating two eggs that are expected to hatch any time now. You can see it happening right on your computer screen!Yesterday I was so taken with her--watching her wiggle to settle on the eggs, hearing her zip off for a few minutes at a time, seeing her constant vigilance, even her eye blink--that I sketched her while I watched. And I couldn't help but marvel at her life. I've known for a while that hummingbird females are the sole nest builder, incubator and caregiver of the young, but the impact of that knowledge is even greater when you see such a tiny bird actually in the midst of these labors. Yesterday I saw her bring materials to add to her nest on one of those quick flights away. And if the cam should be down, there are wonderful clips to watch, like Phoebe harrassing her juveniles of a previous year, trying to entice them to fledge. And another one that shows her laying an egg!
Phoebe's eggs are due to hatch anytime now. Historically they have begun hatching at day 17 and this is day 14. Don't miss seeing her upclose at:
She is a real treat!
Jan 20th update: Both of Phoebe's eggs hatched January 19th, one before daylight, the other later during a very stormy day. When you view the cam now, you get the added treat of seeing tiny newly hatched nestlings during the brief times she leaves the nest!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Winter's Simple Pleasures

Despite the aggrevation of snow and ice, especially the ice part, winter's bleak neutrals can produce incredibly beautiful backdrops for wintering birds.These Dark-eyed Juncos (also known as "slate-colored juncos") with their snowy white belly feathers puffed up for warmth, are one example of how all those elements come together to create breath-taking beauty. Quiet, simple, beauty.
The kind that requires being still to enjoy. The kind that makes winter magical.I recall thinking last year, I'll never get a good photo of a Dark-eyed Junco. They forage in groups and fly at the least provocation. But this winter has been different (and maybe I'm different, too.) Rather than being covered with an influx of finches, my feeder area is frequented by small, quiet, wintering flocks of juncos and white-throated sparrows, giving me the fun opportunity to observe different birds and their behavior at close range.
On several very cold, snow-covered days last week, I enjoyed these shy, ground-foraging birds, their beauty and softness lighting up the bare winter grays. If I stood very still, they seemed to forget I was there, landing nearby, kicking up snow, pausing to break open sunflower shells. Likewise, I forgot about the cold.
Winter's simple pleasures.

Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #73 at to promote the conservation of our world's birds.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Whooping Crane Activity Book Gets Great Review!

Marcia Davis, bird enthusiast and Birdlife columnist for the Knoxville News Sentinel, featured Operation Migration's Whooping Crane Activity Book in her column on Sunday. The article reviews the contents of the book, describes why the ultralight-led Whooping crane migration is an "against-all-odds" feat and explains why, as author and illustrator, I believe this story is a great way to inspire young minds to use their imaginations to help wildlife.

The activity book is being distributed free to classroom educators (plus $10.00 shipping) or can be ordered individually for a cost of $3.00 plus shipping. To order, visit Operation Migration's merchandise page.

And while you're there, visit the Operation Migration field journal to see the latest developments in the migration. The Whooping Crane Class of 2009 arrived in Florida today! If the weather cooperates, half of the class will arrive at their destination in St. Marks tomorrow and the other half will continue on to Chassahowitzka NWR.
Soon these twenty young Whooping Cranes will add their numbers to the wild migrating population of Whooping cranes in the east. What a great way to celebrate the power of imagination!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Berry Dining--Sapsucker Style

It was his soft mewy call that caught my attention, that distinctive low whine that sounds a bit like a cat's mew--the wintering call of a Yellow-bellied sapsucker.
Besides dining on sap and insects, these woodpeckers also happen to like holly berries. And since there is a holly within view of my window, its handy to look out from time to time to see whose come to dine.
Some of the sapsuckers that visit the yard have come down from the higher elevations in the nearby Smoky Mountains. Others have traveled to winter here from more northern breeding grounds. November to late March is the time of year we get to enjoy their visits in the lower elevations of the Tennessee Valley.
Watching this male forage on berries not only provided enjoyment, it raised many questions as well. Like, do birds actually loose their balance and misjudge their footing? Maybe that seems obvious, but it's not something we often see or consider. It certainly seemed to be the case with this sapsucker. In the image below you'll see one foot dangling while he appears to have caught himself with his chin. (Click the image to enlarge.)
But he recovered quickly and moved right on to pluck another berry.
And then eyed another one.

And as he plucks this berry, take a look at the image below. It appears he's holding one, maybe two, berries in his gullet while adding another one. Just how does that work? How long will he hold them there? And how many can he collect there at one time?
I don't know the answers, so if anyone one else happens to know or knows an expert who knows, or can recommend a resource, that would be great.

While browsing the subject of sapsucker dining, I did learn another new tidbit about their habits. Sapsuckers lap the sap from their excavated tree wells in much the same way as hummingbirds lap nectar from flowers or feeders. But unlike hummers, the Yellow-bellied sapsucker has hairs on his tongue that help facilitate the lapping of sap. To see an image of a sapsucker's tongue, click this link to Hilton Pond Center.
Above, is another image of the same sapsucker perched on the tree stump in front of the holly. Though Yellow-bellied sapsuckers can sometimes look drab because of their blended plumage, this backlit male was striking with his crimson throat and cap, the sharp contrast between black and white areas of plumage, and that golden glow on his belly

Besides being my first bird photographs for 2010, he earned the honor of becoming my first bird sketch of the new year, too. And I can say I am happy to hear their soft mewy calls mixed in with the other woodpecker calls in the area.

Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #72 at to promote the conservation of our world's birds.
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For the Love of It...

...the sage sees heaven reflected in Nature as in a mirror, and he pursues this Art, not for the sake of gold or silver, but for the love of the knowledge which it reveals.
Sendivogius (1750)

Your Uncapped Creativity...

Your Uncapped Creativity...
"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action; and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. You must keep that channel open. It is not for you to determine how good it is, nor how valuable. Nor how it compares with other expressions. It is for you to keep it yours, clearly and directly." ----the great dancer, Martha Graham