Some Florida Target Birds

One of the reasons we are traveling to Florida is to see some birds which I’ve never seen; many of the birds we’ll encounter are those that also frequent the Southwest but there are some that are more unique to Florida. Here are a few of my top ones (photos are by an excellent photographer, Mark Vance, who has a gallery on Flickr here.

A large, white, bald-headed wading bird of the southeastern swamps, the Wood Stork is the only stork breeding in the United States. Its late winter breeding season is timed to the Florida dry season when its fish prey become concentrated in shrinking pools.photo by Mark Vance

A large, white, bald-headed wading bird of the southeastern swamps, the Wood Stork is the only stork breeding in the United States. Its late winter breeding season is timed to the Florida dry season when its fish prey become concentrated in shrinking pools.  Photo by Mark Vance

An unusual bird of southern swamps and marshes, the Limpkin reaches the northern limits of its breeding range in Florida. There, it feeds almost exclusively on apple snails, which it extracts from their shells with its long bill. Its screaming cry is unmistakable and evocative.

An unusual bird of southern swamps and marshes, the Limpkin reaches the northern limits of its breeding range in Florida. There, it feeds almost exclusively on apple snails, which it extracts from their shells with its long bill. Its screaming cry is unmistakable and evocative. Photo by Mark Vance

A strikingly marked raptor of wetlands in the southeastern United States, the Swallow-tailed Kite captures flying insects or plucks insects and lizards from the tops of trees.

A strikingly marked raptor of wetlands in the southeastern United States, the Swallow-tailed Kite captures flying insects or plucks insects and lizards from the tops of trees. Photo by Mark Vance

A bold and curious bird, the Florida Scrub-Jay can become hand-tame in areas where it comes in contact with people. Unfortunately, it is restricted to the rare oak scrub community of Florida, a habitat under constant threat of development, and is classified as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

A bold and curious bird, the Florida Scrub-Jay can become hand-tame in areas where it comes in contact with people. Unfortunately, it is restricted to the rare oak scrub community of Florida, a habitat under constant threat of development, and is classified as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Photo by Mark Vance

Caption text is from Cornell University “All About Birds
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Florida Plans

I’ve mapped out a three month trip to Florida. It was much tougher than planning to go to the Southwest because Florida state parks fill up fast — often I grabbed the last site available — and the state wants all the money up front. So I’m sitting with over a thousand dollars on my AMEX card so I guess we’d better go.

I got some advice from my brother and sister-in-law, some birding friends, and used two birding guide books: Birding Florida by Brian Rapoza and the slightly-dated A Birder’s Guide to Florida by Bill Pranty.

Right now, we are planning to head out right after New Year’s, subject to weather forecasts.  We take the Airstream to Georgia and then down to a big birding festival in Titusville in January.

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We then hit some good birding spots in southern Florida for February.  (The Keys were out of the question since everything there is tied up 10 months ahead of time.)

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In March, we work ourselves up the western side of Florida, hoping to hook up with some old friends from Central New York who winter there. We end up in the Pensacola area as we think about heading home in mid-April.

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One of the nice things about hauling your own lodging is that you are flexible. If we find Florida to crowded, too wet, to0 Republican (just kidding!), we can head back to our old haunts along the Gulf Coast, and just eat some of the deposits. The long-range forecast (30% cooler and wetter down south and 30% warmer up here) adds another element but we’ve done the rainy slushy winter and Florida’s got to be better.  In my next post, I’m going to pick a few target birds for the trip.

Posted in Florida, Florida birds, Georgia birding, Trip Planning, winter travel, Winter2015 Trip | Leave a comment

Power Drain Fixed

I replaced the dead refrigerator in our Airstream in May. The new unit cooled like a charm but turned out to be an energy hog. So this post is about the problem and the fix: if you are more into birding than Airstream repair, go ahead and move on. The post after this will outline our Florida birding plans.

We camped this summer at Stillwater State Park, which has no electricity, and later at our daughter’s which is in the woods in Massachusetts. I noticed that the battery was being drained rather fast in both places but with no solar recharge at Jen’s due to the trees, it was very noticeable. I would use the generator and get everything charge but only using LED lights, noticed that the voltage went from 12.5 or so to 11.8 each night.

It took me a while to sort it out — I read the manuals, visited a number of forums, and finally determined that the Dometic folks, for some reason, omitted a critical climate control switch on many of their new models, like ours. In high temps and humidity, the climate control evaporates water droplets that form and draws 12 VDC power continuously. Since we no longer can turn it off, what now?

Several folks reported that there are two wires, one to the refrigerator light and one to the climate control.  “Just cut the climate control wire” said one guy, “but make sure you get the right one.”  In another post, someone noted that it was the fatter wire.

If I cut the correct wire, the light will still work.

If I cut the correct wire, the light will still work.

Well, as you can see below, I cut the heavier wire (and the light still worked.

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I then put a couple of disconnect terminals on the line and now can connect it when we have power and leave it open when we are boondocking.

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Here’s the final result — a relatively easy job after a lot of searching for answers.

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Posted in Airstream, boondocking, equipment_issues, refrigerator, repairs | Leave a comment

More iPhone Practice

I went up to Lamoille County yesterday to see if any waterfowl had shown up. Nothing new but a nice assortment of birds, many of which I couldn’t catch in the scope. Best birds were a Sharp-shinned Hawk right overhead and several handsome White-Crowned Sparrows. The lighting was not great but I did some more shooting with the scope and iPhone. (I’m not going to put every practice session up – this is it except for special birds or great shots.)

A Great Blue Heron hunting while a Mallard cruises by in poor early light.

A Great Blue Heron hunting while a Mallard cruises by in poor early light.

A White-Crowned Sparrow moving through the shrubbery.

A White-Crowned Sparrow feeding on the shrubbery.

There were dozens of sparrows moving here and there. Can you find the three in this bush?

There were dozens of sparrows moving here and there. Can you find the three in this bush?

When we returned home, I set up in the back yard for a while to get some feeder birds.

This Blue Jay, one of the eight or ten who hang out here, is giving me and my scope the hairy eyeball.

This Blue Jay, one of the eight or ten who hang out here, is giving me and my scope the hairy eyeball.

What's not to love about White-breasted Nuthatches?

What’s not to love about White-breasted Nuthatches?

And through it all, the Viszla was in stealth mode, watching the parade of birds as well as a foraging chipmunk. If her nose looks a little browner than usual, it’s the result of some major Fall excavation projects she has underway.

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Posted in Digiscoping, iPhone, Penny, Photography, Yard birds | Leave a comment

Some great customer service

I’ve had two situations this summer that sort of restored my faith in the integrity of RV equipment manufacturers.

The first involved the replacement of my trailer hitch. I have been using the ball and hitch that the previous owner used and I knew that the trailer was riding a bit nose high but there was no way to adjust things.  So I did some searching and purchased an adjustable hitch (Eaz-lift Bolt-Together Ball Mount Kit 48110) from a vendor (Makarios) to replace a fixed hitch.  The product I received looked fine and went together ok.

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I was planning to use the weight bars (1000 pound) from my original unit were about 15 years old but in good shape.  As soon as I tried to hitch up the bars — even though the shaft opening looked the same size, the depth apparently wass not and the clips would not settle into the grooves of the bar. The bars just fell to the ground.

Screen Shot 2014-10-11 at 10.23.19 AMAfter some study, I figured that the depth of that opening had been shortened just a bit (probably a quarter-inch or less) with the new unit — so it looked like I was facing an additional $150 or so for a pair of bars.

I wrote to the folks at Makarios, who were great, and they had me email the manufacturer, Camco.  Within a couple of days, I got a call from Mike at Camco saying that he would ship a couple of new bars that would work.  Sure enough, within a week or two, the bars arrived and I put the chains on them, tried them out, and everything worked fine. I know Camco is an immense operation but this attention to detail really made me a fan of their products and their customer service.

My second experience involved the tongue jack whose difficult installation I chronicled last year. It worked fine, when it worked, but almost from the start, it would quit for a bit, and then decide to operate again. We took it across country to California last winter but it was always a little tense to see whether we’d have issues. Most of the time it was great but more than once, I had the truck and trailer jacked way up to install the bars and it died. A little rap on the head seemed to get it back running.

I had talked to Steve at Vintage Trailer Supply who sold me the unit — he talked to the company and told me that there was a two year warrantee. Well, I kept putting it off until a few months ago when it seemed to act up even more.  I called Ultra-Fab, explained the situation, and they said that they would send out a new one with return postage for the old one. Again, the new unit came shortly thereafter and the replacement was a snap (since I had done all the grunt work with rusty bolts last year.)

TJack

The new jack is great and has operated without incident.  It’s great not to have to hassle folks in situations like this — and I highly recommend the product (Ulta 3502 Electric Tongue Jack) and the company.

Posted in equipment_issues, repairs, rig maintenance | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Digiscoping Practice Session

I have been dabbling with digiscoping — shooting photos through my telescope — for a number of years.  I’ve used several good SLR cameras, a good digital point-and-shoot, and most recently, my iPhone. Once I bought the Canon SX-50 I gave up trying to digiscope since that camera works so well for me. I sold my good camera and the adapters that were needed to connect it to the scope.

As I watch the improvement in iPhone cameras, I’ve started to revisit that option of photography since I’m really looking for help with bird identification and for shots to illustrate this blog. I’m a birder, not a bird photographer.

As I plan our upcoming trip, I realize that I’ll be looking at a lot of waterfowl and shorebirds and be lugging my scope everywhere.  The Canon SX-50 is good but one more piece of gear to carry and I always have my iPhone in my pocket — so why not use it? I have an adapter from PhoneSkope for my iPhone 5 so yesterday, I took the rig out and did some practice shooting.

A couple of Killdeer were foraging along the Winooski River.

A couple of Killdeer were foraging along the Winooski River.

I spent a little time at Wrightsville Reservoir where an American Crow ignored me as I got out of the truck and let the dog run.

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There were a number of sparrows moving in and out of the brush, providing a pretty good challenge to getting them in the scope and shooting before they flitted on. There’s quite a crop of White-throated Sparrows this year.

WTSP2WThere were about eight or ten Northern Flickers feeding and flying off as we moved along. They must be gathering for their winter trip down south, although a few may stick around. They were less than cooperative but here are two shots:

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Penny, who is camera-shy, could not figure out what I was doing as she watched from afar.

Penny, who is camera-shy, could not figure out what I was doing as she watched from afar. Not the image of the left ear – the wind was moving it up and down and the iPhone camera speed did not stop it.

Later, we went for a walk in our woods where I grabbed this shot of one of her “friends” who sat, seemingly out of sight, but not for the telescope.

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So, it was a good outing and even though some of the photos are unclear and I missed many shots due to “always moving” birds (a winter wren taunted me as it bounced further and further into the underbrush), I am going to keep practicing.  Many birders across the country are quite adept and the newer 5S and iPhone 6 cameras have even more capability. I’ll still use my SX-50 for a lot of shooting but if I’m going to lug the scope, the iPhone is likely the way to go. Stay tuned.

 

Posted in Digiscoping, iPhone, Photography | 1 Comment

South or Southwest

Autumn is here, the leaves are starting to change rapidly, and we’ve had several frosty mornings to remind us what is up ahead. While some folks plan their winter travel all summer, it takes a few wakeup calls, like the need for a wood fire, to focus my attention on where we’ll go this winter with the Airstream. Which has resulted in a “Florida vs Texas” question — we’ve always gone to Texas and last year to Arizona, New Mexico, and California — we’ve never gone to Florida. My brother and sister-in-law, who travel widely with their restored Airstream, like the Florida state parks a lot. So, I’m leaning in that direction but also finding that many others are — and have tied up good parks half-a-year ago.

The Airstream is parked on the back lawn for repairs before the next big trip. Trees are just showing color but are vivid on the mountains.

The Airstream is parked on the back lawn for repairs before the next big trip. Trees are just showing color but are vivid on the mountains.

I have started by thinking about attending part of the Space Coast Birding Fest in Titusville, Florida and have reserved a spot at a local KOA.  We try to avoid commercial parks but there are times where the “cheek by jowl” spacing has to be endured.  Other than that, I’m thinking of probably not going to southern Florida because those parks are all full. Right now, the agenda is wide open so if you have a favorite spot, let me know.

There are lots of Florida birds I’ve never seen — Wood Stork is a good example — so I’m looking to adding to my life list. We also wouldn’t mind avoiding the long drives we made last year. We are looking forward to visiting Pensacola again where back in the dark ages, I was a budding naval aviator. It will be fun to revisit the Cubi Point Officer’s Club which is part of the Naval Air Museum but reportedly, much tamer than when I was there. (Their chocolate milk shakes were to die for!) Well, not exactly.

So, with mixed feelings, we are planning to skip the places we’ve come to really like over the last four trips — Goose Island State Park, Falcon State Park, Lost Maples State Park, and Patagonia State Park to name just a few. If we don’t like Florida, we can always jump on I-10 and head west for a couple of months.  That’s the joy of flexible schedules and dragging your home behind you.

Posted in Florida, Florida birds, Trip Planning, winter travel, Winter2015 Trip | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

No Birds — Smell the flowers

Last month, while on an outing to Lamoille County, I was a little frustrated with the lack of birds until I noticed some of the plants blossoming along the roadside where the dog and I were walking. I changed gears and decided to look more closely at the flowers and shoot some photos.  Some I knew, others I looked up in my guidebook, Wildflowers of Vermont by Kate Carter (a great little guidebook.)

Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare)

Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare)

Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima)

Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima)

Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota)

Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota)

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Spotted Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum) Thank you Erin at Birds of Vermont Museum.

Fireweed  (Epilobium angustifolium)

Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium)

And lastly, a plant that I am sure is common but one that does not jump out of the book at me.  Ideas?  (See revised caption)

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My friends at Birds of Vermont Museum identified this as meadowsweet (Spirea latifolia). It was not in my book.

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Bon Voyage Hummers

This year has been one of the best for attracting hummingbirds to our feeder — we had several families nest in the area. Many feisty juveniles have delighted us with their antics over the last few weeks. They have been hitting the sugar water and more than once, I have thought: “Tank up, you’ve got a long haul ahead.”

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This past weekend, we took the Airstream over to New York state to visit some dear friends and returning Monday afternoon, I immediately noticed that the hummers seemed to have left.  A couple of days later, it’s definite.  They are on their way.

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We saw trees turning color in the higher elevations and noticed the Canada Geese moving in New York state.  Here, the goldenrod is everywhere and the bees are loving it. Soon the asters will blossom and more birds will depart.  The Common Yellowthroats are still here as are the Song Sparrows but they have their bags packed to go.

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Sitting on the back lawn with a blue sky above and northwest winds blowing the pines, I’m thinking of those hummers, wondering how far they have gone so far, and wishing them a safe passage on their long perilous journey.

See you in Florida or here in the spring.  Buen Viaje amigos.

Posted in Backyard birds, migration, Vermont Birding | 3 Comments

Camping at Stillwater State Park

Last week, we spent three nights at nearby Stillwater State Park on Lake Groton.

Stillwater State Park has 62 campsites, 17 lean-to shelters, a beach and boat launch.

Stillwater State Park has 62 campsites, 17 lean-to shelters, a beach and boat launch.

We don’t do a lot of camping in Vermont, figuring that we already live in the woods, but it’s nice to visit a few of the parks mid-week when the campgrounds aren’t quite as crazy.

The park entrance landscaping is typical of the lovely displays throughout the campground.

The park entrance landscaping is typical of the lovely displays throughout the campground.

We brought our kayaks, my bike, and our birding gear.  We also found some “summer reading” mystery books at the “take one, leave one” collection at the visitor center.

We were at site 43, probably our favorite.

We were at site 43, probably our favorite.

The area has some interesting geological features — many of them being these massive boulders – glacial erratics – which were lugged here by glacial ice.

This boulder was at the side of our campsite.  Penny is putting up with me but ready to get down.

This boulder was at the side of our campsite. Penny is putting up with me but ready to get down.

Vermont parks have no services per se and most of their sites are for tents, pop-up campers, or lean-tos so there are few sites for large RVs and not that many for our mid-sized 25 footer.  There is no cell signal for many miles but a decent wifi connection at the office.

Many families spend a week or two at the park, often reserving the same site year after year.  There are an amazing collection of tents, tarps, and lean-tos and more than not, several generations camping together.  It’s good to see kids out on their bikes or just framming around in the park – and they seem to get tired and go to bed early.

The birding was ok for late July although we missed hearing the song of the Veery which we heard last time we were there.  I did hear and see a Canada Warbler as well as some Nashville Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Blackburnian and Chestnut-sided Warblers.

We took the short hike up to Owl's Head and enjoyed some pretty views.  The water behind Mary is Kettle Pond.

We took the short hike up to Owl’s Head and enjoyed some pretty views. The water behind Mary is Kettle Pond.

One of the objectives of the trip was to test the new adjustable weight distribution trailer hitch.  Our original hitch was carrying the trailer nose too high and so, after four winter trips, I decided to get a new one.  After a lot of messing around and replacement parts, I got it hitched up and it worked great.

We read a lot, paddled a bit, hiked some, and went to bed early.  It was a wonderful stay at a pretty well-run state park.  And it was only an hour’s drive home.

Posted in Vermont Birding, Vermont State Parks | Leave a comment