Troutbirder II

Troutbirder II
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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sanibel Island

Sanibel Island is an island located on the Gulf coast of Florida, just offshore of Fort Myers. Sanibel is a barrier island – a collection of sand on the leeward side of the Gulf Stream from the more solid coral-rock of Pine Island.
The city of Sanibel incorporates the entire island, with most of the city proper at the east end of the island. After the Sanibel causeway was built to replace the ferry in May, 1963, the residents fought back against overdevelopment by establishing the Sanibel Comprehensive Land Use Plan in 1974 helping to maintain a balance between development and preservation of the island's ecology. Sanibel is rapidly becoming a popular tourist destination known for its beaches, shelling, and wildlife refuges. More than half of the island is made up of wildlife refuges; the largest one is the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. It was to that refuge that we headed on our first full day in Florida

The day began somewhat inauspiciously, for there was a heavy drizzle as we left Fort Myers for the island. Upon arriving in the refuge my three eager companions jumped out of the car, cameras and binoculars in hand. More cautious, I took a few pictures after rolling down the car window. I noted a white ibis, but the bird on the left eluded my ability to identify it. If the sun didn't come out, this was going to be a long day.

The silhouette was my only clue as a little grebe paddled by...

We progressed down the refuge road a bit, with the rain gradually letting up a little. With the help of another birder along the road, we were able to identify a willet. Another one of the many "lifers" I was to see over the next few days. We saw many snowy egrets all along the road that day.
As few minutes later, as the sun finally came out, Mrs. T spotted a Great White Egret hidding in heavy cover along the ditch. Hurrying over to investigage, I realized there were hundreds of Egrets and Herons well hidden in the same ditch. An amazing sight!

A flight of white pelicans lands on a sandbar, while several roseate spoonbills soared overhead. There were hundreds of small shorebirds on every sandspit, but distance and inexperience on my part made identification impossible.

Naturally the big birds, like this brown pelican were a lot easier.

My 1965 Peterson field guide showed this bird as a likely Louisiana Heron. It was way out of range, however, and it wasn't till I got home and looked at my big Sibley that I realized the range had expanded to Florida and the name had been changed to Tri-Colored Heron.
New birds were appearing everywhere. Some really hard to identifiy. The curved beaked White Ibis was a favorite.
One bird was running crazily thru the water stirring things up. It wasn't till I read that the Reddish Egret often moves "drunkenly" across the water that I pinned it down.
A Little Blue Heron stood stock still in the marsh

A Black Crowned Night Heron hiding very cleverly in a thick shrub along the road.

A Great White Egret standing proudly along the shore.
It took us all of the morning and part of the afternoon with countless stops to cover the refuge road. Exhilerated but also exhausted we stopped at the famous Island Cow restaurant on Sanibel for a late lunch. What a day it had been!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Six Mile Slough

The genesis of the idea began in February. We had taken a brief trip into the forests of northern Minnesota in search of owls and other boreal visitors from Canada. Our long time friends and new found birders, Gary and Rosie, joined us. We had a great time.
Somewhere on that outing the idea of a venture to warmer climes emerged. Going to watch the Twins during spring training seemed like a good idea. We agreed to think about it. The clincher was when Tina at Tina's Bird Yarns noted that there was some great birding in the Fort Myers area. Later, she provided some detailed directions and helpful information about Sanibel Islands "Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge," and the Audubon Societies "Corkscrew Swamp Refuge." We were on our way!

With Gary driving the rented car at speed down the four lane from the airport and me in the passenger seat, we all spotted a number unknown waders in the ditch. Given the fact of heavy traffic and not much of a shoulder no one yelled STOP! Still things looked good right from the beginning.
After lunch and checking in to our motel, we opted to visit a refuge right in the city called "Six Mile Slough." It had a boardwalk and lots of birds.

Everything was free except for a minimal $1 parking fee. We headed down the boardwalk anxious to see what we could find.

As we approached Gator Lake, sure enough Mrs. T yelled, "I see one!"
And there it was lying on a tiny island. The first "wild" alligator any of us had ever seen. And it was a "biggie."
Along the shore of the the pond were strange looking white ibises with pink legs and curved orange bills. There were many of these beautiful birds where ever we went in Florida. Later, that evening, as we returned to the same spot, after completing the boardwalk "loop" we saw hundreds of large waders. There were ibises, herons & anhingas coming in to roost in the trees across the pond.

As I started down the path, I noticed Gary, with another birder, excitedly waving me on and pointing into the bushes. I saw lots of movement and began clicking my camera. It was a small flock of what turned out to be Northern Parulas.
The stranger commented that this was only the second time in some thirty years of wintering in Florida that he had seen this beautiful warbler. "How long you folks been here?" he added. "About three hours," I replied. When he looked stunned, I threw in "BEGINNERS LUCK, NO DOUBT." We were to have a lot of that over the next 7 days!
Rosie and Mrs T hurry down the boardwalk to catch up.

We all had the sensation of being in, for us, a truly exotic environment. Trees were beginning to leaf out everywhere and strange sounds emanated from all around us. I expected to see "The Creature From The Black Lagoon" at any moment.

I wished I had brought tree and flower field guides as many unusual plants were seen everywhere.

Six Mile Slough proved to be a great introduction to the wonders of Florida's natural world. We were all excited and ready to head off the next morning to the world famous "Ding Darling" Natural Wildlife Reserve on Sanibel Island.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Coming Attractions!

As soon as I get my act together on our vaction to Fabulous Florida, birding on Sanibel Island

and the Audubon Sanctuary at Corkscrew Swamp,
along with an updated baseball scouting report from the Twins spring training facility at Fort Myers.

Friday, March 12, 2010


Although it may be just a tad early to draw any final conclusions, I do believe we've turned the corner towards spring. Several days of Seattle type weather with rain, forty degree termperatures and fog have reduced the four foot snow piles to remnants. My concrete driveway has appeared from underneath the ice for the first time in months. Yes, I do believe the snowblower here may have completed its last clearing operation on my driveway for this winter. :)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


When I was a fledgling birder two years ago, I was a little puzzled when a more experienced birder used the term LBJ's. Being a retired history teacher I immediately thought of the former President. The term didn't fit the conversation we had been having about though about birds. Lady Bird Johnson I'm thinking. Not. Not her either. It was Little Brown Jobs. Like sparrows it turned out.

When Mr Chipping Sparrow arrived in my yard in late March that year, it was a first for me. By that I mean my first conscious effort to identify a sparrow as something beyond my previous notion that sparrows were brown little non-descript birds hardly worthy of notice. I noticed him, realized how striking he was and looked forward to the spring migration where I could identify as many sparrows types as possible.

By May he was Chipping around with a friend. Mr. Indigo Bunting

Later, Mr Science (Gary), introduced me to Fox Sparrows. Bold and Bright, they were everywhere in his farmyard.

We hiked down the trail below his house and soon spotted White-Throated Sparrows, then Tree, Field and Song Sparrows.

White Throated Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Tree Sparrow and a Junco hanging out below my platform feeder

Harris Sparrow

Henslow Sparrow

There are at least 35 bird species of sparrows in North America. Species of these birds can generally be located in five areas of North America. There are 15 species of sparrows, that can be found in most areas of North America, some more abundant and widespread than others. These are the American Tree Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Clay-colored Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Harris's Sparrow, Le Conte's Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow and the House Sparrow, which is now a common bird, first introduced to a New York City Central Park around 1850.

What an interesting and colorfull collection they make. Coming in a variety of shades and colors they can be found in many differents habitats. A world of birds unto their own. I can see I have my work cut out for me!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Running Water

Yesterday we had no running water. It's funny how for granted we take our modern conveniences. And upsetting how it can be when they don't work. Although our well is less than ten years old we've had several malfunctions. Two years ago the pump died and the shaft and pump had to be pulled at the cost of several thousand dollars. Fortunately, this time, it was "just" a frozen control valve. Whew!
This is all a somewhat roundabout way of getting to the fact that I love the sight and sound of running water. And not just for shaving. Here are some samples from southeastern Minnesota.
The streams almost seem asleep as they run silent and crystal clear through the long winter.
In the spring, the melting snow begins to pour down the hillsides. Naturally, Baron has to investigate.
We had hiked up a long ravine that day looking for early signs of skunk cabbage. Time to take a break by the "falls."
No Baron, the skunk cabbage doesn't grow under water. Big help he is!
Water pours, cold and clear, from deep underground out of a cave entrance to create Forestville Creek, one of my favorite trout streams.
A cave at Big Springs, friend Rick, and the origin of another trout stream, this one named Canfield Creek.
By May and early summer the woods along the streams have turned lush with green. With my new artificial knee I have been able to return to hiking for miles seeking the elusive brown trout. Now though, their is something new as well. Binoculars in hand and dog leading the way, I tramp the same trails looking for birds.
Camping is another favorite activity. Here is Beaver Creek in the State Park near Caledonia.
A newly constructed bridge over Spring Valley Creek. Now finished the bike trail parallels much of the stream. The trail begins about a block from our home.
When the water is high in spring and early summer it's also time for canoeing. Here it's also coffee time as former teaching partner Fran and I lead a flotilla of 8th graders on the annual spring outing.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that running water is not always such a joy. Here the South Branch of the Root River is in flood. Several years after this picture was taken, 17 inches of rain one night lead to the destruction of over 500 homes in the small town of Rushford. The fall season promises the arrival of thousands of waterfowl. Although I no longer hunt with a gun, my camera is always at the ready.
Fall geese along the new bike trail. Mrs T also loves bird photography. Her favorite venue is The Father Of Waters, the mighty Mississippi, where in the fall thousands of tundra swans stop to refresh on their was to Chesapeake Bay,

Running water. The lifeblood of Bluff Country.