Sunday, October 20, 2013

Slow and Steady with Surprises

The day began with a flurry before getting quiet for a couple of hours then ramped up again shortly before we left. It was overcast and we were hoping for a larger total but we will take surprises over large quantities anytime. One of those surprises was a species we have never banded before at Lake Lotus. More on that ahead.

Just after setting nets, Alease came quickly up the net lane telling Andrew that her mom, Lynn, was reporting an owl in a net closer to the table. We hurried back wondering if one of our Barred Owls would be waiting but instead found an Eastern Screech Owl. We have only caught two other Eastern Screech Owls here and this was our third, a Grey-morph.

Eastern Screech Owl

Our previous owl captures have all involved surprisingly calm birds. This little bird was quite feisty and was nipping and clawing the whole time. We got the band on its leg (having to remember how to seal lock-on bands) and it flew off into the woods quickly. You don't need coffee to wake up after you wrangle an owl for a few minutes.

Eastern Screech Owl

The count for Common Yellowthroats is down even further now but we still got a couple early in the day and even managed to get some House Wrens, too.

Common Yellowthroat

Still surprised we are not seeing more Indigo Buntings in the nets but we are hearing them up and down the river, even before dawn. Perhaps next week but we are hearing from other banders along the East Coast that report numbers are down across the board. Most likely this is because the weather was very favorable for migration and birds were able to move quickly to their Wintering grounds instead of stopping.

Indigo Bunting

We are amazed that we still catch new Northern Cardinals. Thought we should have banded all of them in the area by now but maybe the breeding is still going strong and adding new birds to the population. Another male was added to the list this morning.

Northern Cardinal

A little earlier in the morning we did catch a female Northern Cardinal that we had previously banded.

Northern Cardinal

We are sure we don't need to tell it again but Northern Cardinals bite. Hard. Their bills are made for crushing. To avoid loosing skin and blood, we often employ a simple method to keep those jaws occupied as is shown here with yet another new male. You can also see a clothes pin with a number in this photo. We have pins on all net poles so we can track which nets are the most productive.

Our netting site is within a relatively small area (about 6 square acres) and the habitat includes several zones from Pine woods changing to oaks and scrub and then willows and marsh as you near the mouth of the river leading into Lake Lotus. This bird was caught in Net 21 which is closest to the lake.

Northern Cardinal

Gray Catbirds are all over the area now but not flying a lot. We only captured one today.

Gray Catbird

Nature break! As mentioned in the opening paragraph things got quiet after our rush of birds and lasted for nearly two hours. This gave Lynn time to get photos of other flora and fauna like this mushroom.


More fungus are all over in the shady areas of our site and are quite diverse.


Among the grasses a juvenile Grasshopper rests before moving along.


In another location, a Clouded Skipper (Lerema accius) gets a photo op. This is a new species to our insect list.

Clouded Skipper

Time for the Bird of the Day. When we had the original banding station at Wekiwa Springs Eastern Towhees were ever-present. All morning long you would hear them calling and scratching in the underbrush. We banded a lot of them. Here at Lake Lotus, mere miles to the South, Towhees are very rare. We have only heard a couple calling over the years and never saw one. Today we caught our first at this location.

Eastern Towhee

This Eastern Towhee was a juvenile female. Note the remaining gape at the base of the bill. This hardens as the bird ages. Males show a black head instead of brown.

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhees (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) are actually a large sparrow. Most of our birds in Central Florida are a distinct species, (Pipilo e. alleni), and have straw-colored eyes. All other Towhee species sport red eyes. However, most juveniles have dark eyes at first so we are not completely sure if this is a local or migrant. The richer colors of the feathers, though, suggest that this could be a migrant but it is a young bird so it could be a local.

We won't know for sure unless we recapture it later. Beautiful, nonetheless.

Eastern Towhee

As the morning came to a close we headed out to do one last check and close nets and found a female Painted Bunting down in Net 13.

Painted Bunting

Susan was getting to Net 4 to close it up and found a waiting aptly named White-eyed Vireo to round out our day.

White-eyed Vireo

Forecast for the next banding session in looks fabulous. Two fronts are due to push through and will bring cooler, dry air with lows nearing the 50s and highs barely out of the 70s. We look forward to a nice morning and will watch for the Winter birds like Yellow-rumped Warblers now making their way into the state.
Next (planned) Banding Day: Sunday, October 27th.
All nets will be opened by 7:00 A.M.

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