2nd annual Nature Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival

Make plans to celebrate the rush of migrating wings north along the Atlantic flyway over Citrus, Hernando and Pasco counties during the 2nd annual Nature Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. This four day event will feature a variety of programs, activities and field trips highlighting the special birds and wildlife along Florida’s Nature Coast.

Superstar birder Greg Miller will be our guest and headlines a list of some of Florida’s most experienced field guides. Join our field guides and enjoy Florida Scrub-Jays, Burrowing Owls, Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Bachman’s Sparrows, Wood Storks, Limpkins, Swallow-tailed Kites, Black Rails and much, much more.

Famous Florida author Jeff Klinkenberg will also be delivering an entertaining keynote speech and our own Mark Kiser will be offering a program all about bats, which ends with a spectacular display of Free-tailed Bats at Chinsegut.

On Saturday March 22, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will host a wide variety of educational programs at Chinsegut Conservation Center in Hernando County; fun for all the family.

Registration is now open for the festival…book your place now!

http://www.cvent.com/d/x4q0bg

 

For festival updates, information and more…visit the festival Facebook page.

https://www.facebook.com/NatureCoastBirdingandWildlifeFestival

NatureCoastFestival2014_Postcard12frAddType

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County Focus: Palm Beach (Part 1)

This week’s county focus heads to Palm Beach County in South Florida, one of the sunshine state’s largest counties. There are 19 Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail sites in Palm Beach County, providing residents and visitors with many great birding and wildlife viewing opportunities. We will feature Palm Beach County in two parts due to the number of trail sites. Look for part two after the holiday season.

Let’s take a closer look using our Trip Planning Wizard. Type Palm Beach into the search GFBT sites field and the following map will appear on your screen.

each blue feather represents a birding trail site

each blue feather represents a birding trail site

Zoom in and click on a blue feather for more information on each site. A pop-up window will appear like the one shown below.

You can find out more about each trail site by clicking on the blue feathers

You can find out more about each trail site by clicking on the blue feathers

So, let’s take a closer look at each of these trail sites by visiting their individual sites pages on the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail website.

Site No. 54John G. and Susan H. DuPuis, Jr. Wildlife and Environmental Area

This vast property is shared by Palm Beach and Martin County covering over 21,000 acres of beautiful habitat that is home to a plethora of native Florida species. Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Mottled Ducks and Wood Storks frequent the ponds and cypress domes. The “Osceola” subspecies of Wild Turkey (endemic to Florida) can be found year round and Swallow-tailed Kites are quite common during the summer. Other Florida specialties to look for include Limpkin, Florida Sandhill Crane, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Crested Caracara, Bachman’s Sparrow and Painted Bunting.

35 miles of hiking trails offering a great experience for viewing birds and other wildlife

35 miles of hiking trails offering a great experience for viewing birds and other wildlife

Site No. 52J. W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area

This rugged 60,000 acre conservation area provides the intrepid birder and wildlife viewer with excellent birding and wildlife viewing opportunities throughout the year. Florida’s most south-eastern population of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers can be found here as well as Snail Kites and Florida Sandhill Cranes. Don’t overlook this site during spring and fall migration as over 20 species of wood-warbler have been recorded (check out the Hungryland Boardwalk) including scarce species such as Golden-winged Warbler. Major rarities such as Western Spindalis (2007) have been spotted here as well. Other wildlife you may encounter includes the endangered Eastern Indigo Snake, Bobcast and Gopher Tortoise.

Snail Kite

Snail Kite

Site No. 51Sweetbay Natural Area

This site is definitely worth a visit between February and April to listen for the elusive Bachman’s Sparrow. Sweetbay is a very reliable site to see this species during the nesting season. Be sure to look for wetland species such as Wood Stork and Tricolored Heron and Swallow-tailed Kite can be seen during the summer months. The Sweetbay observation deck provides visitors a great place for relaxing and enjoying the sun setting after a long day; maybe you’ll see or hear a Common Nighthawk too!

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Site No. 48Stormwater Treatment Area 1 West

This site is an integral part of the water-moving network from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades and is located at the northern tip of Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. This amazing area has become a refuge for thousands of birds including both species of whistling-duck, Least Bittern, Roseate Spoonbill, White-tailed Kite, Bald Eagle, King Rail, Purple Gallinule, Purple Swamphen (exotic), Barn Owl, and Indigo Bunting. A 200 foot viewing platform mnakes for a great place to observe some of these birds although we recommend that you bring along a spotting scope. There is also a 3-mile hiking trail along the levee. This site is closed on Saturdays and Sundays between November 23rd and January 26th for waterfowl hunting.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Site No. 49Royal Palm Beach Pines Natural Area

Despite its small size (773 acres) this well managed property provides refuge for a nice variety of birds and wildlife. Hairy Woodpecker has been recorded on the property and raptors such as Bald Eagle and Great Horned Owl are often encountered. So far this eBird hotspot has had very few checklists submitted, so, head on over there and contribute your sightings to this beautiful properties checklist.

rpbppublicuse

Site No. 50Grassy Waters Preserve

Head here for a great opportunity to watch one of Florida’s most endangered and special species, the Snail Kite! Walk the Cypress Boardwalk trail where this beautiful raptor is often seen hunting for its favorite food, the Florida Apple Snail. Bald Eagles also nest on the property and wading birds are in abundance. Other species to look for include the Limpkin another apple snail specialist, and be sure to hike the Hog Hammock Trail during spring and fall for migrant wood-warblers such as Black-throated Blue and Ovenbird. Visit the preserve’s excellent website for details on education programs and events.

50. Grassy Waters

Site No. 67John D. MacArthur Beach State Park

For songbirds visit this state park during spring and fall migration particularly the Satin Leaf Trail at the northernmost end of the park; 22 species of wood-warbler have been recorded at this eBird hotspot including Cape May, Blackpoll and Blue-winged Warbler. The tidal lagoon has plenty of birds throughout the year; Roseate Spoonbills, Reddish Egret and Yellow-crowned Night Herons are often encountered at low tide. Check the beach for gulls, particularly during the winter and shorebird diversity is noteworthy. Rarities such as Shiny Cowbird, Upland Sandpiper and Brown Booby have been recorded in recent years. As well as being an excellent site for birding this beautiful park is one of Florida’s premier sea turtle nesting refuges. Large numbers of Green, Loggerhead and Leatherback Turtles nest on the parks beach. The park has an excellent schedule of programs throughout the year so be sure to check it out and join in the fun.

check out the tidal lagoon at low tide

check out the tidal lagoon at low tide

Site No. 65Frenchman’s Forest Natural Area

This lovely site in busy Palm Beach Gardens is filled with big old live oaks and sabal palms, traversed by an old-growth cypress strand. This mosaic of habitats is excellent not only for migratory songbirds but also for resident species such as Mottled Duck and Pileated Woodpecker. Rarities such as Western Spindalis (2004) have been recorded and summer residents include Gray Kingbird. Butterfly enthusiasts will enjoy this site as well with over 30 species recorded at the site including the beautiful Ruddy Daggerwing.

Ruddy Daggerwing

Ruddy Daggerwing

Site No. 66Juno Dunes Natural Area

This property has two tracts – the Oceanfron and West; the latter is the most rewarding for birds. The oceanfront tract has a wheelchair accessible boardwalk which leads to an observation deck with a view of the ocean and over a mile of trails on the West Tract leads visitors to a restored wetland and scubby flatwoods, which are home to the rare Hammock Skipper and Giant Land Crab. Sea Turtles nest on the beach and look for songbird migrants in the oaks during spring and fall migration.

River Otter

River Otter

Site No. 64Jupiter Ridge Natural Area

Florida Scrub-Jays are the main highlight at this small but beautiful property but many other species will draw your attention too. A White-tailed Kite was recorded here in 2010 and a Black-faced Grassquite was present in 2004. Search the oaks along the paved trail for songbird migrants and the beach provides haven for a plethora of shorebirds and gulls such as Least Tern (summer) and Lesser Black-backed Gull (winter). Many other cool critters call the dunes their home including Mangrove Skipper and Scrub Lizard.

Made in Florida!

Made in Florida!

We sure hope this week’s installment of county focus will encourage you to go visit these 10 great birding trail sites in Palm Beach County. Next time on County Focus we’ll feature 9 more birding trail sites from this fantastic county.

 

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County Focus: Sumter

This week’s county focus heads to Sumter County in the west section of the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail. The county was named after General Sumter, a hero of the revolutionary war!

First of all we’re going to use our Trip Planning Wizard to find out where Sumter county is and how many birding trail sites the county supports.

As you can see from the map there are 4 birding trail sites in Sumter County

As you can see from the map there are 4 birding trail sites in Sumter County

You can learn more about each site by clicking on each of the blue feathers.

A pop-up windwo will display with detailed information about amenities, top 40 species, external website link etc.

A pop-up window will display with detailed information about amenities, top 40 species, external website link etc.

So, let’s focus on each of the four sites and whet your appetite for a Sumter County birding & wildlife viewing experience.

Upper Withlacoochee River

This beautiful stretch of river has two meanings in the Native American language; “Crooked River” and “Little Big Water.” Once you visit the river you’ll appreciate why it was given these names. Wildlife, beautiful scenery and serenity are in abundance here. Limpkins, Black-crowned Night Herons, Swallow-tailed Kites, American Alligators, Banded Water Snakes and much more are waiting to show off for you. Take a kayak or canoe and paddle quietly down the river to view these animals. If you don’t own your own kayak or canoe you can join up with Captain Mike Tracy for a Lazy River Cruise.

Taking a Lazy River Cruise

Taking a Lazy River Cruise – picture by Andy Wraithmell

Lake Panasoffkee Wildlife Management Area

18 miles of multi-use trails await the intrepid birder and wildlife viewer at this Sumter County gem. Florida specialties such as Bachman’s Sparrow, Limpkin, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Short-tailed Hawk, Roseate Spoonbill and Purple Gallinule. The spur to Little Jones Creek can be good for migrating wood-warblers and the open loop trail lends opportunity to view Eastern Meadowlarks and Southeastern American Kestrels.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck by Andy Wraithmell

Marsh Bend “Outlet” Park

This small park provides birders and wildlife viewers great opportunity to see one of Florida’s most unique breeding birds; the Limpkin! The park also affords access to a tributary of Lake Panasoffkee by way of a boat ramp so take your kayak or canoe and go explore the floodplain forest for night-herons, Barred Owls, Belted Kingfishers and more. This park is also worth visiting during spring and fall migrations as it often provides refuge for tired and hungry neotropical songbirds heading north or south to or from their wintering grounds.

Limpkin

Limpkin by Meaghan Manning

Florida Bass Conservation Center

This state-of-the-art fisheries center is tucked away in the Green Swamp area of Sumter County. The sites 60+ ponds provide refuge for a plethora of species including Tricolored Herons, Sandhill Cranes, Wood Stork and migrant shorebirds such as Solitary Sandpiper and Long-billed Dowitcher. Limpkins are also found here occassionally and keep an eye out for the Osceola subspecies of Wild Turkey, which is endemic to Florida.

Wood Stork by Larry Lynch

Wood Stork by Larry Lynch

We hope you have enjoyed this week’s county focus and that we have encouraged you to head to one of our lesser known counties. Sumter County is one of many best kept off the beaten track secrets that the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail is renowned for. Next time you visit Sumter County please share your experience with us.

Next week we head south to another gem, Palm Beach County.

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The Secret to Great Bird Photography

We are very fortunate and grateful to be able to share with you some excellent photography tips and a quite beautiful video by nature photographers Elam and Nic Stoltzfus of Live Oak Productions. Enjoy!

Here is the link to the video produced by Elam Stoltzfus.

http://vimeo.com/user15709098/review/70820809/00bb93b160

Elam writes,

“I love filming birds; seeing large flocks of birds fly in unison across the marshes of south Florida is a sight and a sound to behold. Just as spectacular is watching a solitary eagle soaring overhead.

One of my favorite species to document is the American bald eagle. The symbolic image of the eagle is one of power and majesty. The lone raptor flying high, the mother protecting her chicks, and an eagle diving towards its prey are all iconic images.

Another favorite is the Roseate Spoonbill. Akin to a flamingo, but stouter and with a unique spatula-shaped bill, the Roseate Spoonbill gains its rosy pink color from carotenoid-rich organisms in its diet (such as shrimp). They are fascinating birds to observe, especially during low tides while feeding in the mud flats. It constantly moves its head back and forth to find food in the low tide areas.

Some of my favorite places to film eagles, spoonbills, and other birds include Big Cypress National Preserve, Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park and Aududon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.

So, you may know what bird you want to photograph and where to go…but what is the secret to photographing birds well?

Ted Below, a former warden and biologist with National Audubon taught me the three-step method to capture images of birds.

1) Move towards the bird as slowly and silently as possible, being careful to not flush or frighten it.

2) Locate the distance that you can take the first image without disrupting the bird, set up your camera tripod, and capture your first image.

3) Pick up the tripod and slowly move in three to five steps closer to the bird and capture another image.

Repeat this method until you capture a close-up image of the bird. If the bird flies away, at least you have several images, even if it is not as close as you desired. Of course, having a long lens (such as a 300mm or 400mm) allows you to snap a close-up without disrupting the bird.

To get wonderful shots of large flocks of birds, set up close by a bird rookery before dusk and wait for the birds to fly in to roost as the day ends. Arrive early in the morning and you will see birds leaving their resting area.

These practices have been helpful to me; I hope these ideas works for you, as well.”

Excellent tips from Elam. To see more of Elam and Nic Stoltzfus’s great photography visit their blog and website.

http://stoltzfusmedia.wordpress.com/

http://liveoakproductiongroup.com/

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Guest Post of the Week: Hammock Park Highlights

Here are a few photos of birds viewed recently by Jack Wickel at Hammock Park in Dunedin, FL. Jack sees Red Shouldered Hawks frequently as well as Anhinga, Little Blue Heron, Green Heron, Great Egret, White Ibis, Moorhen, Cardinal, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Kestrel, and Osprey. Jack observed 12 Wood Storks and 6 Roseate Spoonbills in October. Besides the Northern Flicker, other recent visitors are Pileated Woodpecker, Yellow-throated Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, Painted Bunting and more. There have been a pair of eagles hanging around a cell tower at the NE border of the park.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Roseate Spoonbills

Roseate Spoonbills

Roseate Spoonbill and Wood Stork

Roseate Spoonbill and Wood Stork

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

Thanks to Jack Wickel for sharing his photographs and experience from Pinellas County.

If you would like to be featured in Guest Post of the Week email 2-6 pictures of native Florida wildlife too wildlifeviewing@myfwc.com please include your name, where the pictures were taken and a short account of your experience (100 – 250 words).

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County Focus: Jackson

This week’s county focus heads to the panhandle and Jackson County. Jackson County shares its eastern and northern borders with Georgia and Alabama. Birding in the county is excellent particularly during the winter months.

First of all we’ll use our Trip Planning Wizard to see what and how many birding trail sites lie within Jackson County‘s borders.

There arre 7 Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail sites in Jackson County - each one is indicated by a blue feather

There are 7 Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail sites in Jackson County – each one is indicated by a blue feather

click on each blue feather to find out more about each site

click on each blue feather to find out more about each site

So, let us take a close look at each site and whet your appetite.

Upper Chipola River Water Management Area

This rustic trail site offers great adventure for the intrepid explorer. Dust off your canoe or kayak and go for a paddle on this beautiful stretch of river. There is a great deal to see and/or hear throughout the year. In winter listen for Winter Wrens and, in summer the beautiful fluting song of the secretive Wood Thrush. Prothonotary Warblers and Swainson’s Warblers both breed, and in some years you may be lucky and discover a nesting Kentucky Warbler or Louisiana Waterthrush.

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Florida Caverns State Park

One of Florida’s most popular parks, the caverns are steeped in history. Although the caves attract most visitors’ attention, the trails provide birders and wildlife viewers with excellent opportunities to see a lot of fascinating species. In the winter months, species such as Winter Wren and Brown Creeper can be quite easy to find. Hairy Woodpeckers are present year round. In spring and summer listen for singing warblers such as Hooded and Northern Parula. Both Mississippi and Swallow-tailed Kites are often encountered too. Butterfly enthusiasts and botanists won’t be disappointed here either. Butterfly viewing is best in late summer and fall, and botanists will marvel at the trilium and orchids during the spring. Don’t forget to take a cave tour as some of the parks rarest and most difficult-to-see creatures live within the caverns’ confines. Cave Salamander and Cave Cricket are often encountered on the interpretive cave tours…the cave formations are quite spectacular too!

31. FLCavernsSP

Chipola River Greenway: Butler Tract

Located in county capital Marianna, this new birding trail site is definitely worth a visit when you are in the area. Spring and summer is the best time of year to go here. Listen for singing Swainson’s Warblers and Summer Tanagers; Swallow-tailed Kites are often encountered too.

Chipola River Greenway: Hinson Conservation Area

This hidden gem will soon be on every birders’ Jackson County agenda once the secret is out. Winter Wrens and Brown Creeper are regularly encountered during the winter months. The former is quite common at times. In spring, listen carefully for Kentucky, Swainson’s and Hooded Warblers, and scan the banks of the Chipola River for Louisiana Waterthrushes. Plant life along the river trail is both diverse and spectacular during the spring, the wild azaleas are a sight to behold. Butterfly enthusiasts won’t be disappointed with this new birding trail site; summer and fall have great potential.

Swainson's Warbler

Swainson’s Warbler

Apalachee Wildlife Management Area

This beautifully managed property is yet another best-kept secret of Jackson County. The best time to visit here is between April and July when you will often find you’ve got this spectacular property to yourself. Bachman’s Sparrows, Eastern Wood-peewee, Acadian Flycatchers, Wood Thrush, Hairy Woodpecker, Red-headed Woodpecker, Northern Bobwhite and Purple Gallinule all breed. Butterflying is excellent during the late summer and in winter be sure to keep an eye out for wintering sparrows and ducks. One of the most commonly encountered animals on the trails is the Fox Squirrel!

Fox Squirrel

Fox Squirrel

Three Rivers State Park

Winter and fall birding at this site can be excellent. Scan Lake Seminole for up to 20 species of wintering wildfowl as well as American White Pelicans and large concentrations of Pied-billed Grebes and Double-crested Cormorants. The recreation area is often a winter home for Dark-eyed Junco, Brown Creeper, Red-breasted Nuthatch and Pine Siskin. Check the ravines and slopes on the nature trail for Winter Wrens. During fall migration southbound wood-warblers stop in the park to rest and refuel. Species such as Chestnut-sided, Magnolia and Hooded are often encountered in September and October. Diamondback Rattlesnakes are a plenty so watch where you step; it’s also not unusual to see small groups of White-tailed Deer bounding through the forest. The park has an excellent campsite and youth camp.

Yellow Warblers are common in August and September

Yellow Warblers are common in August and September

Sneads Park

This small park lies on the southern shore of Lake Seminole and is worth a visit during the winter months and migration seasons. In winter, scan the lake for rafts of Canvasback, Lesser Scaup and Bufflehead. Both Horned Grebes and Common Loons are regularly encountered. During migration, check the oaks around the recreation area for songbirds such as Baltimore Oriole and Yellow Warbler. On the drive to the park along Legion Rd. be sure to search flocks of resident Canada Geese in winter; Ross’s, Snow and Greater White-fronted Geese have been recorded in recent years. 3 Western Kingbirds also wintered along Legion Rd a few years ago and there are always Loggerhead Shrikes present.

Western Kingbird

Western Kingbird

We hope that we have encouraged you to visit Jackson County. It truly is a hidden gem, and provides excellent opportunities for birders, butterfly enthusiasts, nature lovers and paddlers throughout the year. Share your Jackson County adventures and pictures with us by emailing wildlifeviewing@myfwc.com

Next week’s county focus heads to Sumter County in the West Section of the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail.

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Guest Post of the Week: Surprise, Surprise!

You never know what you’ll see when visiting the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, especially during the first few days after the season’s first cold front passed through north Florida.

Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly

Bird, wildlife and migrating Monarch butterfly sighting during the week leading up to the front were few and far between. During the early morning of Oct. 22, with a snap of a finger, Mother Nature sent the coolest weather of the season into the Panhandle.

The following day my wife, Leslie and I, eagerly headed to the coast to see what surprises had dropped into the refuge. Driving south on Lighthouse Road, we decided to stop and hike the Stoney Bayou I dike after spotting some Monarchs, sparrows and warblers flitting about.

We walked about 100 feet along the dike, when Leslie asked me what was perched atop a tree about 75 feet in front of me. “It looks to be a Northern Mockingbird,” I said. “But, it has a white head,” Leslie replied. Suddenly, the bird sallied toward the ground for an insect and its tail split like a pair of scissors…I yelled, “Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.”

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

The Oklahoma State Bird is a rare but annual visitor to north Florida and tends to wander widely on their way to wintering grounds in Central and South America. Small numbers of them winter from Orlando down to the Florida Keys.

The front also helped funnel in many Monarchs and a plethora of migrating birds such as American Avocets, Glossy and White-faced Ibis, Black-necked Stilts, Northern Harriers and Blue and Green-winged Teal. A western bird, White-faced Ibises, are annual visitors to the refuge in very small numbers and rare elsewhere in Florida, but sightings of them are becoming more frequent in the fall throughout the Panhandle. 

White-faced Ibis (back) and Glossy Ibis (front) - note the red eye of the White-faced Ibis.

White-faced Ibis (back) and Glossy Ibis (front) – note the red eye of the White-faced Ibis.

American Avocets

American Avocets

The following day, I returned to the refuge and spotted a Coyote foraging along Lighthouse Road near the Visitor’s Center. Like I said, “You never know what you’ll see when visiting the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.” The refuge is situated 25 miles south of Tallahassee along the Apalachee Bay and is a well-known oasis of natural Florida habitats for wildlife, especially birds.

1-REP_8085

Mark and Leslie Trainor are bird, nature and wildlife photographers based in Tallahassee, Florida. Their work includes photography from around Florida’s Big Bend region and beyond. Their Facebook photography page can be viewed at www.facebook.com/RogueEyePhotography.

all text and pictures by Mark A. Trainor – Rogue Eye Photography

 

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