Port Canaveral Birding – Avocet Lagoon and Lori Wilson Park

Last week I happened to be in Cape Canaveral, watching behemoth cruise ships lumber in and out of port. I find birds to be more fun than boats, though, so I was soon watching the much smaller residents of the East Coast at Lori Wilson Park instead.
IMG_0615-1 IMG_0628-1 IMG_0740-1 Not all birds are as obliging as these small Sanderlings, though – some are much more secretive.
IMG_0430 Do you ever feel like you’re being watched? Despite being a non-native species, the Ring-necked Dove blends perfectly with this palm.IMG_0494 IMG_0569 IMG_0565 IMG_0397-1 IMG_0514-1 IMG_0568-1 Best of the day was a pass that this Black Skimmer made down the beach, running from a flock of Laughing Gulls with his catch snugly tucked in his underbite.IMG_0729-1


Nesting Osprey in Sanford, Florida

Sometimes I hate living in Florida. Like when it’s May and 92 degrees outside, with 100% humidity. Other times, it doesn’t seem so bad.


This time of year, it seems like every light pole, pillar, or 30′ tree has an Osprey nest in it. Not that I’m complaining. I love their gangly little chicks.


I used to wonder how their nestlings ever survived to adulthood – nesting in the direct sun on a utility pole in an asphalt parking lot in Florida seems like a good way to grill chicken, not raise young.


What seems to keep them alive is that chicks spend most of their time in the shade of one of the parents – under their wings, their body, their tail. In most places parent birds have to use their bodies to keep their nestlings warm. In Florida, they use their bodies to keep them from baking.



And it’s not like they’re still not hot. See how the chicks mouth is hanging open in every picture? It’s panting like crazy because it’s bloody hot out here! But the shade from its parent must to keep it alive to adulthood, because there are Ospreys everywhere. (Drive the 417 bridge over Lake Jesup sometime – you’ll find an Osprey perched on a giant fish on every other light pole.)


And when just standing there isn’t enough, the parent will start dancing around, flapping their huge wings, cooling both themselves and the nestling with the breeze.


Other times, when it’s just too hot, they ditch their chick and take to the air to feel the cool rushing breeze on their skin.



But despite the heat, they always come back.


Birding Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge – Black Point Wildlife Drive

It was storming when I turned onto the packed dirt road of Merritt Island’s Black Point Wildlife Drive. The weather almost sent me home, but I was in the area already, and hoped that the rain wouldn’t bother the wading birds who spend most of their time in water anyway.

As I pushed my $5 into the honor box (I learned later that I could have gotten in with my  Duck Stamp!), the rain suddenly stopped, in the way that it sometimes does in Florida, and although thick bands of grey clouds continued to move overhead, I had the whole place to myself. Almost.


The birds certainly had no problems with the weather, and I had plenty of time to watch as Sandpipers, Herons, Egrets, and Stilts foraged, fought, and flew over the shallow pools. One look at eBirds Hotspot data page for Black Point should tell you just how many birds make this refuge their home.

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There were plenty of peeps and plovers, poking about the muck, undisturbed by a slow moving car.

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In a single morning, one could easily see almost every wading bird in Florida – from Snowy Egrets with their dainty yellow socks, to Glossy Ibis, Tricolored Herons, both Little and Great Blues, Roseate Spoonbills, Reddish Egrets, and Great Egrets in breeding plumage, all as White Ibis fly in flocks across the sky.

IMG_1745IMG_1762IMG_1772IMG_1705 The earlier rain did seem to drive the songbirds into hiding, but a few Red-winged Blackbirds came out to sing their rattly trill in the lull between storms.

My favorite find of the day were a pair of perfectly balanced American Avocets, long curled beaks nestled in their back feathers, snoozing. As a flock of Ibis flew overhead, they briefly opened their eyes, looked right at me, then went back to sleep.


Bald Eagle Check-in: Success!

Today I went to check on the eaglet that we had re-nested on Monday. I wanted to make sure that he was doing well, the parents were taking care of him, and that he hadn’t fallen back out of the nest again.

This was what I saw when I arrived at the nest tree.

IMG_8207Hmm, what is that?


It was our eaglet! And by the looks of it, he was hunched over, chowing down on something tasty.

IMG_8231At this point, I was satisfied, because he looked healthy, alert, and content, sitting in his nest. And if he was eating, the parents must be bringing food. I could have left, but I wanted to stick around and see if I could spot any adults.

After a bit of waiting and looking around, I realized that I was being stared down from a nearby tree!

IMG_8228The parent must have been there the whole time, keeping a watchful eye on the nest, and making sure that I didn’t get too close.

After a bit more peering around, I spotted another eagle perched in a tree right next to the nest.

IMG_8230-1What a handsome bird!

Reassured that the eaglet was under the watchful eye of his parents, and clearly well cared for, I said goodbye and let them be. It was good to see the eaglet contentedly sitting in his nest, where he belonged. Hopefully the rest of his childhood is less eventful than the last week.

Best Places for Birdwatching in Tokyo

Common Birds on Mt. Takao

Common Birds on Mt. Takao

I recently found myself in Tokyo for a week, and unlike my previous visits to the city, I spent a lot of time looking at birds. I’m a much bigger bird nerd than I used to be. Before, I only really noticed Tokyo birds enough to note that the crows were huge (truth) and the sparrows were pretty cute (they still are) as I doled out extra rice from my lunch.

Before arriving, I googled around for birdwatching places in Tokyo, and couldn’t find very many sites in English, although there were a lot of helpful forum posts. As it turned out, almost any green space in Tokyo was host to many varieties of birds, and since there’s no shortage of public parks in the city, I saw new birds almost everywhere I went.

I didn’t bring my DSLR on the trip (je regrette) as I was trying to keep luggage light, so the pictures are a little lacking, but I still have memories! And eBird. Even though I was abroad, my OCD habits of list-keeping forced me to drag my travel-weary body home and enter a full list of birds seen into my laptop at the end of each day. So I have a good written record of my trip, if it’s somewhat lacking in visual aids.

So, after a week beating street in Tokyo and surrounds, here are a few of my favorite spots for birdwatching.


Ueno Park – Central to Tokyo, and accessible by the Ueno subway station, this is a good option if you only have an hour or two to spare. I stopped here after arriving on the train from Narita, and quickly picked up Japanese White-eye, Japanese Tit, Oriental Turtle-dove, Large-billed Crow (the aforementioned massive corvid), and the Brown-eared Bulbul, which I would soon tire of, as they were in virtually every tree, screaming their heads off.

Around Shinobazu Lake, on the south end of the park, I found both Great and Japanese Cormorants, as well as a man feeding a huge mass of Eurasian Tree Sparrows and ducks, mostly Mallards, Northern Pintail, and Eastern Spot-billed Ducks. Hiding in the reeds were some Northern Shovelers, Common Pochards, and Eurasian Coots.

There were also a bunch of Tufted Ducks snoozing in the lake with some Black-headed Gulls, bobbing about like corks in the lake, and a Little Egret hunting on the shore. Not bad for a single afternoon.


Yoyogi Park – Since most Tokyo apartments are fairly small, and there are neighbors on all sides, when people want to get noisy, they have to go somewhere else. Yoyogi Park, near the Harajuku, or Meiji-jingu Mae stations, is a great place to see people getting down on the weekend – besides the birds, on one visit, I saw a girl group practicing their dance moves, a yoga class, and a bunch of pompadour rockstars jamming out on their boom box.

Despite all the activity, there’s no shortage of birds. The usual suspects are present all over the park – Tree Sparrows, Large-billed Crows, Brown-eared Bulbuls, and Rock Doves, and Eurasian Spot-billed Ducks in the pond.

Usual Suspects in Yoyogi-Koen

Usual Suspects in Yoyogi-Koen

But the real gem of Yoyogi-Koen is the large fenced in Bird Sanctuary on the eastern corner. While people can’t enter the sanctuary, you can look over the short fence into the trees, where a myriad of smaller birds live. In a short visit, I saw several Japanese White-eyes, Varied & Japanese Tits, a Dusky Thrush, both Grey & White Wagtails, a Pygmy Woodpecker, and several colorful Bramblings.

You probably won’t have the place to yourself though – at any one time, there were roughly 7-10 Japanese birders with their spotting scopes and massive lenses, all good-naturedly jostling for the best views of the sanctuaries avian inhabitants. They also seem to have trained a few Varied Tits to take seeds out of your hands, some of the more daring ones were darting from person to person, collecting treats. No idea what kind of seeds though – I tried to give one a sesame seed and it wasn’t interested.


Shinjuku Park National Garden – I was unfortunate to visit this park in Shinjuku on a day that turned into a rainy mess, but the Japanese Tits and Eurasian Tree Sparrows were out in force – as well as a bunch of Tufted & Eastern Spot-billed Ducks, and a few Common Pochards, among the more common domestic Mallards. I also found a Common Kingfisher hunting in the rain, near the Japanese garden, and a Little Grebe hunting nearby.


Hibiya Park – While it’s not the best birding ever, Hibiya-koen is as central to Tokyo as you can get. A quick walk through this small park near the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Station yielded Mallards, Tufted & Eastern Spot-billed Ducks, White Wagtails, a plethora of Brown-eared Bulbuls, Rock Doves, Large-billed Crows and Tree Sparrows everywhere you look.


Mt. Takao – About 45 minutes outside Tokyo, a short hike up this mountain from the Takao-san Guchi train station makes a good day trip, if you’re itching to get out of the city and into some real woods. I say hike, but it’s really a stroll up an inclined paved path, and you can take a tram half-way up, so it’s not exactly strenuous. It did snow at the top though, so dress warmly in the winter, even if it’s mild at the bottom.

My noisy friends, the Brown-eared Bulbuls were everywhere here too, apparently undaunted by the cold, as well as Japanese White-eyes, and Large-billed Crows. Best of all, I found four kinds of Tits here – Japanese, Varied, Coal and two Long-Tailed Tits. I also found four Pygmy Woodpeckers here, and I’m sure there were many more.

Also, Varied Tits are apparently fearless – I set my Onigiri (rice ball) lunch down on a wooden bench and one of the little devils was perched on top, digging rice out of it before I could blink.


Kasai Rinkai Park – Across the bay from Tokyo Disney, this park, half grassy woods, and half wetlands, was probably the best birding I found in Tokyo, and the one spot I wish I could have spent more time in.

It’s easily accessible from central Tokyo, Kasai-rinkai Koen is just a few stops away from Tokyo Station on the JR Keiyo line. I heard some people talking about how they got there at the crack of dawn (I admire their stamina) and saw a slew of raptors, none of which I managed to spot while I was there. Although you can’t enter the wetlands area, which is left as natural habitat, you can walk out on a long spit of land nearby, and look over with binoculars or a spotting scope.

This was the best place I’d found for the Japanese Cormorant, although Great was also present. There were probably 300 Greater Scaup rafting in the bay – I thought they were debris at first, there were so many. Closer, there were Eastern Spot-billed Ducks, Common Pochards, and Eurasian Wigeons. Around the wetlands there were Little, Eared, and Great-crested Grebes, Little Egrets, and a Grey Heron. There were also peeps along the rocky shore, including Dunlin and Common Sandpipers. I also found White-cheeked Starlings here, and a mess of Black-headed Gulls. In addition to the usual suspects – Tree Sparrows and Brown-eared Bulbuls – the Japanese Wagtails seemed to be everywhere, as well as their White Wagtail buddies.

There’s no shortage of good birding in Tokyo – most of the parks are centrally located, and easily accessible by subway. Mt. Takao and Kasai-Rinkai Koen would be better done has half-day or full day trips, but wherever you end up, you should be able to find some birds to keep you busy.

Birding at the Jones Ave Basins

Nice View

A short turn off of Jones Ave in Apopka, a road more known for its pungent fertilizer fields than birds, there’s a small swampy oasis for ducks and herons. I hadn’t been there since this summer, when it was mostly Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and their chicks, but I stopped by last night and wasn’t disappointed.


When I arrived just before sundown, the aforementioned ducks were flocking noisely overhead, wheeling in large circles before finally landing for the night. Blue Herons, a Great Egret, Anhingas, a pair of Belted Kingfisher, and a Red-bellied Woodpecker watched the water from bare snags by the road. A juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron watched me with a red eye, and an adult surprised me just across the lake.


A small flock of White and Glossy Ibis perched just around the first turn, and I surprised a few Wilson’s Snipe and Least Sandpiper from the brush. A couple of Palm Warblers chipped from the flowering trees, while Snowy Egrets hid with Little Blue Herons in the reedy swamp. There were some Red-winged Blackbirds here earlier in the year, but I didn’t find any last night.

There were three Wood Storks hunting in the muck with another Great Blue Heron in the back-most pond, while a Florida staple – a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk – watched from the old telephone pole near the access road. As I was walking back to the car, I spotted a Long-billed Dowicher, and an Eastern Phoebe twittering from the telephone line.

Back at the car, an Osprey had taken over the snag from the Anhinga, and the female Kingfisher chirruped in the dying light.

RHWP SNEG StorksHeron

Resident Raptors

One great thing about living in Florida is that in the winter, even though some summer birds migrate south to Central America, a ton of northern birds come down to escape the cold, and we get a double dose of raptors all season long. It almost makes up for all the other weird stuff that happens in the state.


This was a single Red-tailed Hawk that soared overhead for so long, I couldn’t help but snap a bunch of pictures. None of them were super great, but there were so many of them, I thought it’d be fun to splice them into a faux RTHA kettle. One can wish, right?

Bald Eagle

And the Bald Eagles have been back and forth all day, flying from one lake to another, presumably to look for Osprey to steal fish from.

RSHAfly2The interloping juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk has been all over the yard lately, eating lizards and starting fights with our resident adult Red-shoulder. I wake up almost every morning these days to a RSHA screaming match outside my window. It’d be annoying, but after spending a few years with Archer, I’m mostly immune to RSHA screaming.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Our resident adult is still hanging around, and I sort of wonder if they’ll work something out between them, or if one hawk will eventually move on. This bird moved in as a juvenile when Archer was still staying in my back yard, so I’m rooting for her. I’ve watched her turn into a beautiful adult of the Florida sub-species, and I’m hoping she’ll defend her right to live in the yard and eat lots of frogs. Right now they seem to be sharing the territory.

Red-shouldered Hawk

They’re just so much fun to watch, especially on windy days.