Sunday, February 15, 2015
Liam didn't really remember meeting Corey Finger of 10,000 Birds Blog at Midwest Birding Symposium a few years back. So he was wondering what it would be like to go birding with him in Florida.
I told him, "Corey's one of my favorite people. He's cool, he's funny, he has a sweet son named Desi, and the best thing about him is he gets as excited about seeing birds as I do. You'll like him."
They were thick as thieves within a few minutes.
Plus, we got to wear shorts in January. That worked for us.
Liam discovered that he and Corey shared a mutual love of boat-tailed grackles. Which appear to be eating some kind of breakfast cereal here. Saw a woman feeding disgusting sugary breakfast cereal to the gulls on Daytona Beach, too. What's with that? I don't believe in feeding wild birds food I wouldn't eat myself, with the possible exception of suet...I'd eat Zick Dough in a pinch.
We went to see the pack of black skimmers that hang out by a causeway near Historic Titusville.
I loves me some skimmers. Their weird asymmetrical bills are used as fish lures. The skimmer beats low over quiet waters, raking the surface with the tip of the mandible, its bill open wide. Fish rise to the line cut in the water. When the mandible hits a fish, the maxilla(upper bill) snaps downward, trapping the fish in a millisecond. The bird's head bends under and it comes up with a fish, which it often swallows in flight. I really don't understand how they do it, or how in the heck you catch a slippery little fish with two knives on edge, but they've got it down. It must work pretty well.
There always seems to be such a range of bill and body sizes in any skimmer flock. Males are about 1/4 bigger than females, and young skimmers take awhile to attain full size.
They're among the most graceful fliers of all. I love to watch them slice the air and water.
Black skimmers have spread up the East Coast, nesting in New York and Massachusetts now. Huzzah! I love it when cool birds expand their range.
I also love seeing that incredible bill head-on. Get a load of the left top male.
Well, that helps explain how he cuts the water without dragging himself under.
It's pretty unusual to see a black skimmer's eyes, so well-concealed they are in the black cap. I'm thinking the black cap functions to cut glare in the brilliant sun-on-water conditions the skimmer lives in, much like the black stuff football players wipe under their eyes.
I remember looking at a beautiful skimmer painting the terrific artist Don Eckelberry showed to a little group of us bird artists at his house on Long Island back in the 1980's. He hadn't painted their eyes. "Have you ever seen a black skimmer's eyes?" he asked. Nope. We hadn't. So Don didn't paint them in. And the skimmers looked fine.
I also remember his saying, "If a bird is black, get out your tube of black paint and paint it BLACK. Don't paint it blue or brown or anything else. Just paint it BLACK."
I love the breathless moment when they lift off. Oh, to fly with them.
We saw a handful of brown pelicans, and some white ones, too, flapping slowly over Canaveral Seashore. Birds a-poppin'.