Bird of the Day

 

Equipped and ready to Bird
Equipped and ready to Bird

I belong to a bird club.  This is not news, lots of people enjoy birding with others because, as my friend France says, “more eyes=more birds.” (See her blog at Bird Tweets at http://birdstring.blogspot.com/ )

The Caloosa Bird Club was founded a long time ago (1958) in Lee County, Florida. Every Monday morning members meet at a pre-arranged spot.  High on caffeine, many of us have been up before dawn.   We quietly creep out of our homes loaded down with binos, scopes, water, sunscreen, hats, notebooks and iphones (with birding apps).  Anticipation is in the air.  It keeps us going–who knows what we might see and hear?  For a birder, that’s key–we live now but there’s always tomorrow.

Vince McGrath, lifetime member of the Caloosa Bird Club
Vince McGrath and Georgia Nef, lifetime members of the Caloosa Bird Club

This particular Monday in November one of our leaders was Vince McGrath, one of the best birders in Southwest Florida.  Vince is a master naturalist and has been watching birds since he was 12.  He’s now in his 50s and has not slowed down or lost his enthusiasm. He  can whistle many bird songs and recognizes chips and churps that the rest of us ignore.  He keeps one eye on the trees, another on the beach and a third on the sky. And he walks fast, sometimes urging folks to keep quiet and walk faster. This trip there are 25 of us.

Birding the Beach
Birding the Beach at Little Estero

We looked for birds in an area called Little Estero Lagoon on Ft. Myers Beach, and  headed for lunch around 11:30. We picnicked under a huge strangler oak at the Mound House, a historical site on the Bay Side of the island. The oak is majestic, the shade welcome and there were enough tables for the whole group, plus restrooms.  (Such amenities, my friends, are birding heaven.)

Mound House Tree
Mound House Tree

As is the club’s custom, we eat and then complete the bird list.  Many of us also list individually on ebird, but the club list is kept internally. Each of us has a sheet to check off the birds we’ve all seen. And so we began: “mottled duck, wood stork, magnificent frigatebird…”finishing with the warblers, which are always last.  Today, we log mostly shore birds, 52 species  overall.

A Semi-palmated Plover
We found lots of Semi-palmated Plovers

Last, we vote on the Bird of the Day.  Vince announces that we “have not yet seen the Bird of the Day. ” In fact, those of us with cell phones have just received texts about a Franklin’s gull on a beach to the south of us , and we speculate that we might be going there, which would be a deviation from club protocol, but possibly worth it. “Yes,” he said, pointing up, “it’s in this very tree…a great horned owl.”

“No,” you’re joking with us,” a member responded, joined by others, who, to our amazement, find we have been sitting directly under the owl.  The owl was content to watch with all-knowing eyes, swiveling his head and then taking a snooze. He was big and brown and high in the tree–to a casual observer, just a bunch of leaves or a squirrel nest.  But not to Vince, who discovered the owl while he was eating and kept quiet for 15 minutes.  Many who know Vince were also amazed that he could keep quiet about a bird for that long!

A great-horned owl at the beach?  That was our Bird of the Day.  Who knows what we’ll see next? That’s the fun of birding.  Our motto:  Keep Looking Up

Owl at Mound House
Owl in the Tree

(To watch a video of Vince in action: http://archive.news-press.com/VideoNetwork/1340962393001/Follow-birder-Vince-McGrath-on-the-Christmas-Bird-Count)

 

 

Otter Morning

Otter Morning

Last Sunday was special.  We didn’t go to church so I rode my bike for eight miles.  Came in sweaty and tired.  Looked out the back of the house and screamed at my husband,  “John, get your camera.”  He looked quizzical.  “Don’t stop. Just do it…there are four otters on our dock.”

We bolted into the bedroom, which has a window that faces the dock.  Lake Iona was sparkling and the otters were lolling about.  John tried a few shots through the glass but there was glare.  “I’m going out the front and try to sneak around the side,”  he said, tiptoeing out the door.

Meanwhile, I watched the river otters, who seemed not quite full-grown–teenagers, perhaps–cavort on the deck.  The scratched on the floor boards, rolled around and commenced to groom as if they were dogs or cats, scratching behind their ears.  They even groomed each other.  At this point I presumed these otters were more than just friends.

But I had friends, mostly neighbors who needed to see this! I calling around and soon there was a small crowd of seven — representing three generations — in the bedroom.  (I told everyone to come to the front door, and then I just herded them in.)

You have to picture this–John creeping around from tree to tree in the backyard with his camera, and meanwhile, in the master suite, an unmade bed and darkness.

Everyone likes to look out the back window
Everyone likes to look out the back

Only one window was open to the sunlight so we could see what was going on outside. Various gasps and giggles could be heard, since the otters were nothing if not entertaining.  Tales began to be told–one of the neighbors said he was just leaving the house, his family was already in the car when he heard the tail/tale end of my message (sorry about the pun).  “Something about otters and a dock, ”  he told his family. His wife knew instantly what the message was about, ” Oh, we must go to the Swanks,” she said,  and in they hurried to see our show.

I also told the story of a previous otter visit when an otter swam by our house and picked up a dead fish, killed during a cold snap.  The otter grabbed it, took it out into the lake and then changed his mind.  He swam back to the same spot and REPLACED THE FISH WHERE IT HAD BEEN! John and I stood there with our mouths open in disbelief.

Back in the bedroom, I heard one of our newish neighbors introduce himself.  I assumed everyone knew everyone else, but I was wrong, and glad to provide a venue for neighborly introductions. At that point I turned on a light and everyone could actually see everyone else. Apologies all around and then back to otter viewing.

Our otters stayed for about 40 minutes and did not spook even when John came fairly close.  They were just chillin. The humans, on the other hand, had a rare otter morning. Here’s John’s video.  It will make you smile.

(John’s blog, which contains many other photos of Florida is at http://www.johnswankphotoblog.wordpress.com