Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Dunlin Murmuration, Jones Beach, 1/26/2019

Taking a quick break from Florida posts because a couple of Sebago's birders led a hike at Jones Beach on Saturday, the highlight of which I can share without much writing (in best Barbie voice: "Writing is hard!")(well, not that hard, it just takes me way longer than I ever think it's going to) -

As we were approaching the jetty at the end of the point where we've gotten a pretty good view of seals in the inlet in the past, one of our sharp-eyed aviphiles noticed that the curious conglomeration of small, round, grayish-brown stones on the beach beside the jetty weren't actually stones - they were a huge flock of the medium-sized sandpipers called dunlins. They were all tucked up against the wind with their feathers fluffed and their heads beneath their wings. We watched them from a distance for a while, amazed at their numbers, and then skirted the flock to go to the jetty and look for seals and eiders and whatever else might present itself. 
I'd just switched my lenses from the smaller lens I used for the photo at the top of the post back to my zoom lens when I saw motion out of the corner of my eye and turned to see the entire flock swirling into the air. We'd stayed far enough from the dunlins to not frighten them but there were suddenly a lot of people around, and then I'm told another beachwalker approached from the other direction, maybe didn't spot them in time, and up they went - and the ensuing murmuration (that's what it's called when you have a large enough flock of birds flying close enough together to look like a shifting speeding color-changing cloud - the most famous ones with the viral-est videos are starling flocks, but this was the same thing) was simply magical. Everyone on the point was just standing all going Ooooh and Aaaah exactly as though we were watching the best 4th of July fireworks ever.

With my camera already in hand, I got some lovely photos as the flock circled around before settling on the jetty - and better still, Chris Bickford, another club member who enjoys taking pictures, got an absolutely beautiful video. Click here to view, and do make sure you click on the video to expand it to full-screen! For the photos here, as usual, clikc on any one for a slideshow view. Enjoy!  

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Frogma Goes to Florida Day 2 - Visiting Friends on Anna Maria Island

After an excellent Sunday arriving in Florida and celebrating my mom's 80th (my folks' old friends who live down there know all kinds of great places and took us to Farlows on the Water where they had great food, and it was such a treat to eat outside in January - not enough light for my Optio WP and I don't like the flash much, so no pix, but it was really, really nice), on the 14th I picked up a rental car and ran off for a fun little day trip of my own.

I'm a member of a kayaking group on FB called the Church of the Double-Bladed Paddle, which has over 27K members all over the world at this point, making it a fantastic resource for paddling suggestions when you're travelling. I wasn't sure how much time there would be for paddling fun on a family trip like this, but once I had the details I went ahead and posted on the group asking for recommendations.

Fortunately a couple of my NYC paddling friends who have a place down there saw the post - I did know that they spent some of the winter in Florida but I didn't know where and it didn't occur to me that they might be nearby. Well, they were only about an hour north, and when they invited me up for a paddle on what turned out to be an unplanned day for my family, I was delighted to take them up on it.

I had a fine drive up to Anna Maria Island, although I got there a little later than I'd planned because the GPS thought there was an exit where there was just a construction site, so I got sent on the scenic route, crossing the Manatee River twice, and that put me on the bridge to the island right at drawbridge opening time, but I did finally make it. Their place is great, it's in a waterside apartment complex; you go down the stairs from their apartment and walk through the building and there's a little bay in the back with
kayak storage in a sheltered area under the building nearby. I think Peter said it was originally bikes, but it was right by the bay and there was enough interest in hand-launched boats among the residents that the bikes (or whatever it was) got moved and a boat rack was put in. Peter and Valerie are both enthusiatic kayakers, so they love this arrangement. 

It was a bit on the breezy side, and Valerie had some work to do, so she let me use her boat, and Peter took me out for my first paddle of the year. It's so funny, I was so happy about getting to visit them down there, and so blown away by the area, and how great their setup was, and the amazing bird dramas (keep reading!) out there that the fact that this was my first paddle of 2019 didn't even occur to me until I was back in NYC. Usually I would've kicked things off on January 1st at Sebago, but TQ and I called off the New Year's Day paddle due to winds higher than we thought it would be wise to tackle in the wintertime. I do have to admit that it was really nice to start of the paddling year in a shorty wetsuit instead of a drysuit. 

And the area and the birds, as I said, were lovely. You leave the bay through a little mangrove-lined channel under a bridge, with a completely fearless great blue heron standing guard (they're pretty skittish when you see them in Jamaica Bay and when TQ and I did that canal trip in a Nimble Nomad year before last, my attempts to get the perfect heron shot got to be a bit of a running joke between us) and then all the sudden the water just opens out ahead of you and there was a whole flock of ibises along the shoreline. Valerie walked out onto the pier that residents can use to get out to see the bay to see us off. It wasn't the longest paddle, 3 miles if that, but it was so nice to be out on blue water in the sun and I did get a nice look at the area -- we headed east first, crossing the channel a little ways south of the bridge I'd used to get to the island, then we turned and headed northwest back across the channel, into the wind, and then just about the same time I was thinking it might be getting time that we should turn south to get back to Valerie and see about some lunch (I was working up a pretty good appetite paddling into the wind) Peter suggested the same thing, so we did.

The birds continued to be amazing - sorry I wasn't able to get any good photos but I do have to talk about 'em a little bit. I always look forward to seeing the ospreys return to Jamaica Bay in the spring, but there were plenty here and they looked like they were thoroughly enjoying their southern sojourn. Oh, except for maybe the pelicans! There were plenty of fish around and we watched two ospreys catch fish, one right after the other, then a couple of white pelicans came flying in. I thought they'd seen the ospreys catching fish and were coming to come catch some of their own, pelicans being master fishermen themselves, but oh, no, that wasn't their plan at all - their idea was that they were going to let the osprey do the work and then hassle the smaller bird into dropping its catch! I had no idea pelicans did that and it was fascinating to watch. We watched two attempts. The ospreys hover above the water for a moment when they spot a fish, then dive on it, going in feet-first with enough force to disappear from view.

When they surface, there's a pause, then they flap very hard to lift themself and their fish (and I think on this paddle, every time an osprey stooped, it came up with a fish). When they first get airborne, the fish was held sideways, at right angles to the osprey's flight path, and then the osprey shifts the fish around so that it's facing forward so that there's less wind resistance during the flight back to the perch. Well, the pelicans were just waiting for that moment when the osprey was coming up from the water, getting airborne, and sorting out the direction of the fish - the osprey would be momentarily slow and unwieldy for those moments and the much larger pelican would just fly right up to them. Even with all of this going on, the osprey can still turn faster than the pelican, but the minute they both straighten out from the turn, the pelican can catch up again in an instant. One of the two ospreys managed to get its fish turned around and into the proper carry for flying and then was able to pick up enough speed to pull away - the other one, the pelicans were harassing it from the instant it was airborne again, and after a couple of evasion attempts, the osprey fumbled the fish and the pelicans went right down after it.

Bummer for the osprey but absolutely fascinating to watch!

We also saw a young bald eagle - the photo below that looks like a photo of phone poles below is actually of the eagle, perched on the pole on the right of the picture (as usual, clicking on a picture gives a better view).

Peter mentioned that there would usually be dolphins, but there'd been some cold weather and they had places they liked to go when it got chilly. No manatees either, even though this was Manatee County and I'd crossed the Manatee River twice and then followed Manatee Avenue to Anna Maria Island, but I did enjoy seeing "SLOW SPEED MANATEE ZONE" signs out on the water!

Peter was an excellent tour guide, with lots of good stories and information, and Valerie joined in with more when we got back to their place to clean up and change. Catching up continued over lunch at the Drydock Restaurant. It was a little too breezy for outdoor seating to be appealing, but they had a beautiful collection of small wooden boats hanging from the entryway ceiling, a dining room with an amazing view, more pelicans hanging out on the dock outside, and really yummy grouper tacos.

Great catching up with them and seeing how nice wintering in Florida can be!
All pix after this - click for a slideshow view (especially for the eagle). 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Frogma Goes to Florida - Day 1


And birds are smart enough to stay there for a while instead of just a week. Who's the birdbrain? 

January 13th, I got up at 4, had my local car service send a car for me at 5 am. Walked out into a leetle tiny bit of snow. Snow picked up as we drove to the airport (flying to Sarasota on JetBlue, so got to fly out of JFK, which is SO much easier than LGA or Newark), and kept going as the plane boarded. They were actually de-icing planes before they left, so that was a little bit of a holdup, but an interesting one, I'd never actually seen that before and it was really kind of fun seeing (and hearing) them hose down the plane twice, the second time in neon green! Sorry no pix, didn't have a window seat so hadn't bothered to bring my camera to my seat.

So anyways, we finally got into the line for takeoff, up up and away, and a little over 3 hours later I was in Florida, hooray! My folks and Belle the dog (featured here last November as the Floof) met me outside, there were hugs and hellos all around and I wished my mom happy birthday right away - she was born on a Friday the 13th so considers that her lucky day, but Sunday the 13th was great too! That was actually the reason for the trip - she was turning 80 (and doing great) the same week as a dear friend of hers, they go all the way back to elementary school together, and the friend and her husband are now long-time friends of my parents. They have a beautiful retirement home in the area and had invited my folks down, and my dad looked into homes available for vacation rental down there and invited my sister and me to join them, which of course we were delighted to do. In fact, before my dad came up with the idea a rental for the family, I'd been figuring I would find a place nearby, because I absolutely wanted to celebrate my mom's birthday with her, so when I got an email from him asking what we thought of them maybe renting this place I was just over the moon!

I saw my first interesting bird by a drainage ditch 5 minutes outside the airport (not sure exactly what it was, I just got a glimpse of a tall white wading bird of some sort but too quick to ID). We stopped to pick up my sister at a local Whole Foods market, where she'd been picking up some provisions for the week, and an hour or so later, we got to the rental place, which was absolutely as described. Here's the backyard, with one of the 4 boats available to play with (canoe for 2 plus two Viper recreational kayaks). Totally unsolicited plug, btw, it was just the nicest place to stay.  

The canal had alligators in it, I didn't get any pictures of them because one was swimming by when I first looked out, and another was swimming by the next time I looked, so I figured they were there all the time - but  that was the last time I saw them. Did see other gators later in the trip though so the camera-shyness of these ones did not mean no alligator photos, phew! Loved seeing alligators on my first day there, though. 

My folks' friends came over a little later, we gave them the grand tour and then adjourned to Englewood Beach for sunset over the gulf. I have been known to criticize East Coast sunsets on this blog for being on the wrong side of the beach (i.e., over the parking lot instead of over the water) but technically this is a west coast, so we got some great proper sunsets here. This was far from the best, but a good start, right? 

This was a wildly popular beach for sunsets - there was a whole crew of people there drumming and hula hooping, and even a guy twirling flaming poi balls. I didn't take any pictures of the poi ball guy because I'm from NYC and if you take a picture of somebody doing something like that in a public place in NYC, they're going to expect some cash and might get mad at you if you don't give them something, and I didn't have any small bills on me, but then he just finished off and doused his poi balls and walked off without asking for anything. Definitely not in NYC any more! There are some of the hula hoopers still hoopin' it up as we left the beach and headed for  - it was a great night to be outside, and the B's (as I'll call my parents' old friends) took us to an excellent restaurant for my mom's birthday dinner, where we sat outside and they didn't even have to turn on the heat lamps. Faaaantastic - what a great break from NYC winter! 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Ducks of January

Actually, these were the ducks of April 2014, from a Sheepshead Bay duck walk photo taken in February of that year - I'm not sure I ever shared them here, though! No time for doodling right now as I'm getting ready to fly south for a week myself (can't wait) and the blog is getting neglected for the same reason, but I am taking time for a quack quick post today to to share one of the most entertaining Twitter threads I think I've ever seen.

That's not necessarily saying much as I'm not on Twitter myself and only go there occasionally when a friend shares something, but this is entirely delightful and I'm so glad Laura over at Coast of Illinois saw it and thought of my occasional obsession with (and this is the link to Twitter) artistic anatidae!

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

New Year's Day 2019 - A Weather Post

Pedro the Penguin Hat says "Happy New Year!"
We didn't get to paddle today but I still wore my New Year's regalia, of which Pedro is a key part. 

Sadly, high winds due to an incoming cold front meant another cancellation of the Sebago Canoe Club's annual New Year's Day paddle, but we still gathered for potluck and camaraderie on the shore of Canarsie's Paerdegat Basin. The same front that kept us off the water provided an amazing sky show as the remnants of the New Year's Eve rainclouds quickly gave way to a sparkling blue sky. I took these photos over a period of about an hour and 10 minutes starting shortly before noon.As usual, click one the first on for a slideshow view.