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Pied-Billed Grebe

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The Pied-billed Grebe is a small brown bird that is part submarine. They are expert divers and use their “pied” bill to kill and eat fish, insects and frogs. Grebe means “feet at the buttocks” and their feet are near the rear of their body. They are very skillful underwater swimmers, but extremely awkward walkers. They need a very long “running and flapping” start on the water to take off in flight from the water. Pied-billed Grebes need a long runway for takeoff. I saw this Pied-billed Grebe running and flapping in Florida but have never seen one actually in flight!

Green Jay lifting off in flight

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I photographed this Green Jay lifting off in flight from a dead branch. The Green Jay’s range is from a tiny part of southern Texas to Honduras where they live year-round. The Green Jay is not migratory so you are likely to experience these vivid birds any time of the year in southernmost Texas, Mexico, and Honduras. These beautiful birds are brilliant green, yellow, and blue. They are noisy garrulous and entertaining to watch and photograph.

Northern Gannets

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The Northern Gannet is an extraordinarily large, magnificent seabird. They live at sea on the open ocean except for the breeding months. A few months out of the year they nest on cliffs in the North Atlantic or Iceland. They are graceful and unique with blue eyes and a snow-white body with a yellow head and dark wingtips. The Northern Gannet has a beak that looks as if they could use it as a bayonet. They plunge dive at high speeds into the ocean to feed on fish. The Northern Gannet is a proficient underwater swimmer, diving as deep as 72 feet. They retract their wings so they look like a v-shaped airplane as they dive. The Northern Gannets are monogamous and mate for life. Both sexes feed the young and take turns going fishing. When the pair meet or reunite, they greet each other at their nesting site. The greeting ritual is a lot of head shaking, bill clacking, and mutual preening. The Gannet form of billing and cooing, maybe? I photographed this pair of Northern Gannets in flight off the coast of Machias Seal Island from a boat.

Merlin

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I discovered this Female Merlin flying like a rocket to the top of this bare tree. She looked like a Peregrine Falcon as I watched her from a distance. I was photographing in Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge and had seen a Peregrine the preceding day and was eager to see it again. As I got closer, I realized this falcon was too small to be a Peregrine. When I got close enough to photograph her, she was scanning the area below her from the top of this tree. I learned later (after I identified it as a Female Merlin), that they can fly 30 plus mph and even faster and they eat smaller birds. They catch these small birds in midair with a high-speed attack. Even though the Merlin looks just like a miniature Peregrine, Merlins are prey for Peregrine Falcons!

Long-Billed Thrasher

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This Long-Billed Thrasher came out in front of my camera, and I took multiple photographs before I realized that it wasn’t a Brown Thrasher. I was in a bird blind in South Texas, and thankfully a Texan was with me and identified this beauty. Later, as I studied my images and had time to inspect the differences, it was obvious. The bill is darker, longer, and curved. The face of the Long-Billed Thrasher is grayer, and the breast streaks are blacker. I didn’t recognize any of that while I was eagerly taking pictures. The Long-Billed Thrasher uses its long curved bill to rummage on the ground for insects and berries. I learned that the Long-Billed Thrasher lives only in a small section of South Texas in the Rio Grande Valley and northeastern Mexico. They are year-round residents of these areas, so any time is a great time to spot one of these elegant Thrashers!