Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Bulletin #7 - South Florida #2

David McDonald Photography
Friendswood Texas

Bulletin #7 – South Florida – part 2

Hello friends,

I have had the opportunity to visit Florida twice in the first half of 2007.

My first visit was to Sanibel Island in February. Last month, I had a business trip to Miami for a weekend and managed to spend about 2 full days birding with a great guide Paul Bithorn (305.431.5908 or email

I took pictures of several raptors. The endangered Snail Kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis) lives along waterways in Florida from about Kissimmee south. It eats apple snails, a large fresh water species. The kite picks the snails off the weeds in the water.

Here is the bird. Notice the bright red legs and the very curved bill. This bill enables the bird to neatly extract the snail from its shell!

And here is the same bird eating a snail.

Florida is home to the largest population of Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in the lower 48 states. On a previous trip to Naples Florida, I was able to show my daughter her first eagle. As I needed a photo of this bird, I went to the previous location, but none were to be found. Several days later, I went to Punta Gorda to see some other birds, and as I was driving back through town on the main street, there was an eagle in a dead tree beside the road. I also saw the nest in another tree further away, with his mate on the nest. I was only about 100 feet from the bird! This photo is on the Houston Audubon web site in the Bird Gallery.

The Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) is a common bird in Florida, but the bird is much lighter coloration than birds elsewhere in the USA. This adult was in Ding Darling NWR on Sanibel Island. The first photo is the Florida bird and the second is from Texas for comparison. click 'next' once

Here are the same Red-shouldered Hawks in juvenile plumage, with the lighter Florida bird first and my backyard Texas ‘baby’ second. click'next' once

Notice in the photos above how both the Florida birds are standing on 1 foot and the other is partially or mostly hidden in the feathers of the abdomen!

The last raptor is the Osprey (Pandion haliaetus). They are everywhere on the Florida gulf coast. I saw many nests on Sanibel Island. I was able to get rather close to the birds for the photos, because they must be used to people as this is a very popular tourist destination. Thus, the birds seem to have become used to humans at close range.

The first photo is of a huge nest on a nesting platform at the beach on Sanibel Is. The second photo is a close up of the same nest another day. click 'next' once

Here is another nest on the top of a Norfolk Island pine with the pair of ospreys on the nest. I took this photo off the balcony of our condo.

An unusual aspect of raptor behavior that I have observed since starting to do photography is how close one can approach when the bird is feeding. Of course, I start taking photos graphs far away, and then walk a few steps closer, take more photos and then continue the cycle. One morning I found an osprey eating a fish on top of a palm tree stump about 15’ high. This first photo is full frame.

After I took several photos, I continued to approach slowly until I was about 20’ from the base of the stump and he was only about 10’ over my head. I took several more extreme close-up photos and then slowly walked away. He didn’t move, but just kept on eating. Notice the huge powerful legs on the bird.

Florida is a great location to see Burrowing Owls (Speotyto cunicularia). I went to Punta Gorda and found several exactly where the guide book said they would be. The Florida owls are much darker than owls from elsewhere. The first photo is one standing on his burrow. In the second photo, you can see a different pair of owls. The last photo is an owl from Texas to show the color variation. The Texas owl photo is also on the Houston Audubon web site. click 'next' twice

The Miami guide (Paul Bithorn) I used, was extremely knowledgeable, especially for the mangrove species and exotics. Many of the exotics occur in specific neighborhoods in the Miami area, and a casual birder would have a difficult time locating them. To contact Paul, call him at (305) 431-5908 or email him at

All comments and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated. If replying to this email, please delete the photos, as it takes a long time to download. Thanks.

Happy Birding,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2007 David McDonald

Note – photos with the name preceded by an asterisk were updated for this blog and the text was edited accordingly

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