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FLORIDABIRDS-L  September 2007, Week 3

FLORIDABIRDS-L September 2007, Week 3

Subject:

Close encounters of the bird kind

From:

"prlearybellsouth.net" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

prlearybellsouth.net

Date:

Fri, 21 Sep 2007 20:05:17 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (19 lines)

Bird Islands, Nassau Sound, Duval Co. - During a routine survey of the region, we made two successive observations of rather odd bird behavior. The first involving a raptor and a scavenger and the second a wader and a rare shorebird. 

Passing behind Big Bird Island in our vessel, we sighted a juvenile female peregrine resting high on the beach. We landed nearby to digiscope the resting raptor and noted the approach of a low flying Turkey vulture. Surprisingly, the falcon remained stationary as the TV directly approached and put down within a few meters. This unusual tolerance was further tested when the TV ambled toward the falcon. We were astonished to observe the falcon remain calm as the vulture walked right up to the falcon and, with head held low, slowly circled her (as though sizing her up for a meal). At one point the odd couple held a, point blank, staring match until the TV again circled the falcon for another inspection. This proved too much for the raptor and she leaped right out from under the "nose" of larger bird and, regardless of how far away the falcon moved, the TV ambled right back over for another close encounter. The falcon then flew off a short distance, but the persistent vulture followed suit. Eventually, the falcon had her fill of its odd tormentor and flew 100 meters down the beach to seek a solitary resting spot. Shortly thereafter, several more TV arrived to join their (apparently lonely) comrade and it gave up its infatuation with the falcon. We can only speculate that this particular TV has developed a keen insight that perched peregrines occasionally have food or prey remnants. Otherwise, who can explain such weird behavior?

Departing this odd scene, we traveled east to the far end of a large wash flat and, after landing our vessel, I scanned the water line for Piping plovers. Several hundred meters distance, I observed a Reddish Egret stabbing and tossing, what appeared to be, a small "flatfish". However, continued observation revealed the fish to be a small, struggling bird. Now much intrigued, I switched to my scope and prepped the camera to document this unusual behavior. by the time I focused the egret in the scope, it was resting with no sign of its victims and I feared it to be consumed or escaped. A short time later, I sighted a small shorebird bobbing in the shallows and I then realized it must have sought refuge there. Meanwhile the Reddish egret moved off down the shore and reverted to its more characteristic spastic foraging behavior. The water-logged victim drifted into the beach and rested at the water's edge. Sometime later, the egret reversed course and again approached its victim. Its reappearance soon stimulated another attack by the egret as it again circled and stabbed at the small, unknown quarry, but it's courageous defense apparently rebuffed its tormentor, for the egret lost interest and moved a short distance away to rest.  

Curious as to the identity of the smaller bird, I hiked down the shoreline and was astonished to find a live but, battle weary, Red-necked Phalarope! The hapless little fellow cowered with closed eyes and its life-force was rapidly waning. I collected the rare specimen for eventual deposition with the FMNH in Gainesville and alas, we'll never know the outcome since I intervened to identify the victim. The bird had no visible injuries and I suspect the Reddish Egret was simply exploiting a  weakened casualty of the recent severe coastal storm.  

How strange to witness two odd avian encounters within sight of each other and in such a short span of time. We collected digiscope images of both encounters, but I've yet to download and process the files on our PC. 

Doris and Patrick Leary, Fernandina Beach   

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