Punked by a Great Horned Owl

I have been birding for almost a year now and have seen many examples of wonderful birds, but a few types have eluded me thus far.  One of those is the owl.  Over the last few weeks I have read several different local birding reports from birders who have spotted owls.  Burrowing Owls have been seen at local airfields, a Great Horned Owl was seen at a nearby park and another at the Dump Marsh close to my home.  During the last few weeks I have driven from one side of the county to the other just hoping to get a glimpse of an owl, but I have come up empty.  So you can imagine my excitement when I over heard some coworkers yesterday talking about an owl they had seen in the tree behind our office.  I grabbed my camera and raced out to see if it was still there.  To my great exhilaration and surprise, there he was.  The first thing I noticed was the prominent ear tufts, telling me it was a Great Horned Owl.  The downy feathers around the neck and smallish size suggested that it was a juvenile.  Here are some photos.

Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)
The downy feathers around the head indicate this is still a juvenile.
There was a lot of down, but if you look closely you can see a big red watchful eye.

After spotting the owl I went to lunch with my brother, who had stopped by my office just as all the commotion was beginning.  He seemed a little perplexed about all the fuss about the bird, and I was hoping that he didn’t think that taking bird pictures was all I did at work.  I took a longer than normal break and occasionally during our lunchtime discussion I allowed my mind to wander back to the owl.  I can add this to my life list AND my year list…  When I got back to the office I’ll quickly go online to positively ID it before continuing to edit that stupid report… I wonder how my photos turned out…  This is going to be a great blog entry….

I returned to office and one of my coworkers asked me if I was going to blog about the owl and suggested that I might want to wait a day or two.  Huh?  Another one looked away quickly when I mentioned that I was going out to see if he was still there.  Then my boss mentioned to me that a great amount of work went in to that joke.  Joke?  Yep. It turns out that the owl was a hoax.  My good friend CJ had climbed high up into the tree the previous evening to plant it there.

At first I was pretty mad, but when I thought of CJ twenty feet up a tree branch planting the owl, I couldn’t help but laugh.  I got punked!  Everyone at the office played it off perfectly and I never suspected a thing.  Here are some more photos of the juvenile Great Horned Owl and a video of the most gullible birder in the world.

Me and the Juvenile Great Horned Owl
The owl now lives atop the monitor in my office.

Cardinalis Cardinalis

Cardinalis cardinalis.  That’s the fancy-scientific name for the Northern Cardinal, which is one of my favorite passerines.   (Passerine is fancy-scientific for perching bird.)  Northern Cardinals are very common in South Florida.  I see them all the time.  But unlike some of our other abundant avian residents, the Northern Cardinal never seems commonplace.  Their bright red feathers and prominent crest makes standout from their surroundings and they have a beautiful song.  They are always entertaining. They are also very skittish and usually seek shelter deep in the branches of the nearest tree or bush, especially when my camera and I begin to show an interest.  This weekend I heard one singing in a clump of trees alongside the Black Creek Trail in Cutler Bay.  It took me a few minutes to spot him, and when I did, I was fortunate to get a few photos before he darted away.

Northern Cardinal peeking out  from the branches.

Keeping a wary eye on the bumbling photographer down below.

“Get a few more shots of my good side, then I’m out of here!”

Common Nightwawks

Common Nighthawks are cool birds.  In fact they are so cool that their eyes look like they’re sporting shades.  They are very good at camouflaging to their surroundings, but if you happen to spot one they are fascinating to look at.  They are also very entertaining when they take to the air, flying in erratic zigzags and then diving to within a couple feet of the ground before soaring back upward.

Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) 

Common Nighthawks are distinguished in flight by the white “half-moon” markings on their broad wings and their erratic flight pattern, which, as you can see,  makes them very difficult to capture in a photo.

This Common Nighthawk was spotted on the corner of SW 238 St and SW 118 PL.

Purple Martins at Robert is Here

This afternoon we took some friends down to Robert is Here, a popular fruit stand and farm that has been a South Florida landmark since 1960.  The word “landmark” is especially appropriate in this case, because “ROBERT IS HERE” appears in large block lettering atop the roof, so that even those passing by in airplanes can plainly see just where Robert is.  As we parked I noticed some birdhouses at the side of the property and a sign underneath them that boasted, “Southern Most Purple Martin House in the Continental USA.”  At first I saw nothing more than a couple of House Sparrows playing on the birdhouse but soon a male Purple Martin landed on one of the pegs.  Then a female joined him and some juveniles poked their heads out of some of the holes. Purple Martins, the largest of the North American Swallows, are completely dependent on artificial houses and next boxes.

Purple Martin (Progne subis) at the “Southern Most Purple Martin House in the Continental USA.”

Purple Martin (Male and Female)

A juvenile Purple Martin pokes his head out of the bird house at the Robert is Here fruit stand in Florida City, FL.

Here is a shot of the male Purple Martin in front of a sky filled with smoke from the brush fires currently burning in the Florida Everglades.

The Purple Martin Conservation Association
Wikipedia Entry for Purple Martin
All About Birds Entry for Purple Martin
Visit Robert is Here

The Backyard Bird Feeder Finally Gets a Hit

Last Fall my daughter and I hung a bird feeder from the low branches of the tree in our back yard. We were excited about attracting migrant songbirds and for the next few weeks we watched through the rear sliding glass door. But nothing came. I tried changing the type of birdseed and scattered some extra seed around the yard, but nothing seemed to work. The seed would gradually disappear, but I figured it was just the wind blowing it away. Despite our bad luck we would keep refilling the seed when it ran out. A couple of times my daughter claimed that she had seen a bird on the feeder, but I wasn’t sure. Sometimes a six-year-old can mix up what they are hoping will happen with what really does. So today when she called me to the window and nonchalantly said, “There is a bird on the the bird feeder,” I figured she was probably mistaken. But when I peered out the window, there he was – A Red-winged blackbird – my first backyard bird feeder sighting and my daughter’s third.

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

Checking out what’s inside.

Yep, that looks good.

And it tastes good too!

I think I’ll have seconds.