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February 2010
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A Bobcat in my Birding Patch
Filed under: General, Birding & Outdoors, Florida & SE US, Birding "Patches"
Posted by: Ken @ 10:15 am

On a cool and clear morning, a view to the north on the 196th Avenue levee that borders the West Miramar Environmentally Sensitive Land (ESL), my birding “patch:” [Click on photos to select larger images]

View North on 196th Ave Levee 20100204

When walking in wild places, it is best to expect the unexpected. More often than not, whether searching for a goshawk in the mountains of New Mexico, the Red-headed Woodpecker in my favorite birding patch in Illinois, or a Cottonmouth in the wetlands next to my Florida home, my quest eludes me. Therefore, I keep an open mind and just wait for each new day’s surprise.

By South Florida standards, yesterday morning was another in a string of unusually cold days. The temperature was in the low forties, and a brisk breeze blew in from the north. Insects were inactive in the cold. Tree leaves and grasses were swaying, making it difficult to detect subtle movements that might betray small creatures hiding in the foliage. Not a good day for finding birds and butterflies.

My first stop, as usual, was a patch of mostly exotic shrubbery at the edge of our subdivision, happily left undisturbed by the landscaping contractors. It was decidedly “un-birdy.” Even the usually reliable mockingbirds and gnatcatchers seemed to have shunned it. Then I saw a flash of bright red in a weedy patch just to my left. Too small for a cardinal. It had to be a male Painted Bunting, the only other bird I could expect to see sporting that color. So far, I had never seen a male bunting here, and that would be a nice find. This turned out to be the first of two surprises.

After some searching, I located the bird, peering out at me from its hiding place. Although I have much better photos of the species, this one is special, as it captures that moment:  
Male Painted Bunting 20100217

Then, I moved to this flooded thicket nearby, where I can usually find a pair of wintering Swamp Sparrows:

Flooded thicket 20100204

This time, I caught only a fleeting glimpse of one Swamp Sparrow. A couple of weeks ago I did a little better:

Swamp Sparrow 2-20100204

As I walked south down the levee, a few Palm Warblers worked the low branches:

Palm Warbler 2-20100204

A cardinal sang as if spring had already arrived:

Northern Cardinal 20100204

A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher finally put in an appearance:

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Soft Focus 20100211

This Loggerhead Shrike, another study in shades of gray, allowed me to approach quite closely:

Loggerhead Shrike 20100211

Many robins flew overhead, northbound. What appeared to be a cloud of smoke in the distance turned out to be a huge flock of Tree Swallows, rising from an overnight roost, spinning in a vortex like a tornado:

 A Gargle of Swallows 20100217

As I scanned the open wetlands in hopes of finding raptors, I glanced up the path and was startled to see the dark shape of a Bobcat, only about 50 feet away:

Bobcat (Lynx rufus)

This was my fifth Bobcat sighting in this area, and by far the best photo opportunity. From the shape of its face and rather slender build, I believe it to be a female. Usually Bobcats are loners, but do get together during breeding season. This site is about 1/2 mile from where I saw and photographed two Bobcats just a month ago (See:

The cat sat down and just stared at me for about a minute, until I looked down to check the camera settings, when it melted into the underbrush:

Bobcat (Lynx rufus)