Still on the theme of South Florida birds… last month when I visited Wakodahatchee Wetlands I noticed that a formerly common bird was missing.
I used to see loggerhead shrikes out there, but this year I didn’t see any. As I drove around the area I could see why.
On my first visit to Wakodahatchee in December 1996 the site had been newly transformed from an open sewage treatment facility to a man-made wetland complete with boardwalk. Back then the site was still embedded in farmland, Jog Road was only two lanes wide, and the road grid from Delray ended nearby.
Since then Wakodahatchee’s habitat proved its worth for birds and made the area more appealing to people by removing the sewage smell. Now, 17 years later, the farmland is gone and the wetland is surrounded by housing developments, shops, parking lots, and a widened road grid. The last bit of open habitat, Green Cay Wetlands, was preserved by Ted and Trudy Winsberg when they sold their farm to Palm Beach County Water Utility.
The suburbanization of western Palm Beach County eliminated the open habitat required by loggerhead shrikes and probably reduced the insect and rodent population they feed on. When their habitat disappeared, the shrikes moved elsewhere. Unfortunately, both the loggerhead shrike and their favored habitat are becoming scarce.
And so, this year I didn’t see any loggerhead shrikes at Wakodahatchee. I am not surprised but I’m not pleased.
As Joni Mitchell sings in Big Yellow Taxi, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. ”
As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been to Wakodahatchee Wetlands so often in late December that it’s pretty hard for me to see a Life Bird(*) there, but bad weather did me a favor.
Our Florida vacation was supposed to end on the day after Christmas but if you remember the weather on December 26 a winter storm was wreaking havoc on everyone’s travel plans in Pittsburgh. Our flight was canceled. We were forced to stay in Florida one more day.
Over the Christmas holiday my family had a mini reunion in Boca Raton, Florida. Between bouts of happy socializing and overeating I went birding at one of my favorite places, Wakodahatchee Wetlands.
On December 23 I spent five hours there and didn’t even notice a very special bird. Perhaps that’s because he was trying to fit in and, to my untrained eye, he succeeded.
The next day I read the Florida “Birdbrains” bird reports and found out I’d missed a neotropic cormorant hanging out on the double-crested cormorants’ nesting island. He’d been there a while, had a predictable perch, and was easy to see. I just hadn’t noticed him.
What a disappointment! He would have been a Life Bird (a species I’d never seen before). I went back to Wakodahatchee at my next opportunity and this time I knew what to look for.
Neotropic cormorants (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) range from South America to Texas and Louisiana but are rare in Florida. They’re very similar to double-crested cormorants except they’re slightly smaller, sometimes paler, and have a white line where the lower beak meets the chin. You can see this in Dan Irizarry’s photo above (double-crested on left, neotropic on right) but it’s not particularly noticeable when he’s one bird preening on a crowded island of similar birds.
On my next visit I found him. He was blending in with the larger birds and able to regain his favorite perch even when a double-crested cormorant used it in his absence.
As a bird out of place, he was trying to fit in. In my opinion he did a pretty good job of it.
(photo of double-crested and neotropic cormorants at Apopka, Florida by Dan Irizarry)
Nature observers and webcam lovers! Here’s an opportunity to go on a virtual safari and contribute to science from the comfort of your home.
The University of Minnesota has been studying lions in Africa’s Serengeti for over 45 years. Several years ago, in an effort to determine the population of other species in lion country, they installed 225 motion-detection cameras to record all the animals, both day and night, that pass by the study sites.
They now have thousands and thousands of photographs that contain an animal of interest … but which animal? And how many? And what are they doing? Are there Wildebeest? Zebras? Serval cats? Eland? Guinea fowl? Grant’s gazelles (above)?
The task of identifying and counting the animals in so many photos was too huge for just a few people so they teemed up with Zooniverse to launch the Snapshot Serengeti website. It’s a citizen science project and you can help.
Visit snapshotserengeti.org to see the photos. Try the tutorial. Learn how to identify the animals and how to use the clues for animals you’ve never seen before. Then checkmark three items: what species, how many, what they’re doing. Click Finish and you’re onto the next photo.
Of the two Zooniverse projects I’ve tried so far I like this the best. At first I wasn’t very good at wildebeest vs. eland vs. buffalo but I quickly got better. I could really tell I’m a “bird person” when I was excited to see two guinea fowl, and then a secretary bird!
Pictured above, European turtle doves (Streptopelia turtur) resemble North America’s mourning doves but are more slender and colorful. They breed in Europe and western Asia, spend the winter in sub-Saharan Africa (see map).
Turtle doves used to be very plentiful but are now in serious decline in Europe. As of 2007, their population had decreased 62% since the early 1980′s. Scientists attribute this to changes in farm practices that eliminated the weeds and seeds these doves depend on for food, and the over-hunting of turtle doves in Mediterranean countries as the birds pass through on migration.
The decline in Europe is so severe that birders fear they are headed for extinction on the continent that immortalized them in a Christmas song.
Fortunately, turtle doves are not declining in western Asia so they won’t go extinct worldwide.
In the future turtle doves may be as mysterious a gift in Europe as they are to us.
(photo by Yuvalr via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)