2022 – Year of the Limpkin!

A visitor from the south, this Limpkin was found in early September, 2022, at the lake of the Japanese Gardens at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, MO.

Prior to 2022, the Limpkin, a bird with a normal range from Florida to the north to northern Argentina to the south, had never before been recorded in the state of Missouri. This year there have been at least 10 birds recorded in the state so far, the latest finally coming from the good part of the state! 😉 The bird featured here was found in early September by Cathy Spahn at the Japanese Garden of the Missouri Botanical Garden in downtown St. Louis City. This was extraordinary timing as the annual Japanese festival at MOBOT was going on at the time. This meant large crowds of people. Several of us arrived early on the morning of the 5th and found the bird quickly, giving us great looks and not seeming to mind the presence of people at all.

Here the Limpkin can be seen in the context of the Japanese Garden, with visitors on the zig-zag bridge, or Yatsuhashi, across the water.

The Limpkin looks like a heron in appearance, but is actually the only extant member of its own family, the Aramidae, and is actually considered most closely related to the rails. It is also unique in feeding primarily on apple snails but will feed on other types of snails, freshwater mussels and clams and small aquatic arthropods like crayfish as it forages through its preferred habitat of brushy swamps and marshes.

The crooked overlap at the tip of its bill is not an abnormality. This aids the Limpkin in removing snails, their preferred food, from their shells.

This influx of Limpkins into the Show Me State wasn’t exactly a surprise. Limpkin reports outside of Florida began around 2015, with records being found in Georgia, and other southeastern states over the following years. Birders have been waiting for them to show up in Missouri for a few years and now they finally have. The reasons for their northward spread are uncertain but are likely due to the spread of an exotic island apple snail originally from tropical and subtropical South America.

The Limpkin foraging among the lotus at the lake of the Japanese Garden.

I had thought about chasing Limpkins previously seen in the state in 2022 but couldn’t get myself talked into the roughly 600 mile round trip drive this would have taken. I’m so glad I saved the gas! This was quite the experience and I’ll be interested in seeing how long this bird stays in St. Louis. Here are a few more photos of this fantastic bird.

2021 White-tailed Rut

The upcoming rut season brings mixed feelings. I’m definitely looking forward to shooting the brutes in a couple months or so, but I also know they’ll be trying their best to rub on my establishing trees and bushes in the yard. I have most everything protected but still have some trunks that I need to cover before the first of September when they’ll begin rubbing the velvet off of their antlers. We lost a flowering dogwood to one of them last year and hope not to have that repeated.

Here are some photos that I took on an outing with Miguel last autumn. All images were taken with a 500 mm lens.

Snow Raptors

A few from a couple snow days this past January. Some of the first outings with the Canon R5. On one day, light levels were quite low and birds were at a great distance. Tried shooting with and without teleconverter to get more light. Difficult circumstances.

Short-eared Owl cruising over snow-covered grassland.
Settings: 700mm focal length, 1/2000 sec., f/5.6, ISO-3200.
Short-eared Owl shortly after leaving perch.
Settings: 700mm focal length, 1/2000 sec., f/5.6, ISO-2500.
Short-eared Owl with prey.
Settings: 500mm focal length, 1/800 sec., f/4, ISO-2000.
Male Northern Harrier
Settings: 700mm focal length, 1/2000 sec., f/5.6, ISO-2000.
Female Northern Harrier with prey.
Settings: 500mm focal length, 1/2000 sec., f/4, ISO-3200.
Northern Harrier and Short-eared Owl
Settings: 500mm focal length, 1/2000 sec., f/4, ISO-3200.
Squabbling Short-eared Owl and Northern Harrier
Settings: 500mm focal length, 1/2000 sec., f/4, ISO-3200.
Whenever a Short-eared Owl tried and missed its intended prey, it would immediately shake the snow and other materials from its talons.
Settings: 700mm focal length, 1/2500 sec., f/5.6, ISO-1000.
Short-eared Owl skimming snowy landscape.
Settings: 700mm focal length, 1/2500 sec., f/5.6, ISO-1000.
A great catch!
Settings: 700mm focal length, 1/2000 sec., f/5.6, ISO-1600.

Ozark Bill

Eastern Bluebird Nest – 2021

In the spring of 2021, I finally put up a couple of nest boxes in the yard of the new house. Both boxes were built and gifted by my father, Bart Duncan. Much appreciation! One box was designed specifically for bluebirds and a pair quickly staked their claim. They had an initial successful clutch, fledging three chicks, but on the next attempt, tragedy struck. During my monitoring visit, where there had been four half-developed chicks the day before I found not a single one. I believe the neighborhood racoons made a meal of them sometime during the night, leaving no evidence. It was early enough in the year that I wasn’t surprised that the pair tried again, but what surprised me was that they did not build a nest in the bluebird box, but used a box that was designed for Carolina Wrens that was bolted to the side of our screen porch. It made for some great photo opportunities that I am sharing here. I learned from my mistakes and have installed a baffle around the pole to the bluebird box along with a wire cage over the nest entrance. If a brood predator wants to get at them now they will really have to try hard. I am happy to say that to date, in the 2022 season, the pair successfully fledged two clutches – one of six and one of five chicks. Eleven new bluebirds this year, flooding the subdivision with bluebirds!

Here dad brings a green and juicy caterpillar for one of the four chicks in the box. I realized that this could be a great way of doing an entomological survey of the neighborhood!
Settings: 1,120 mm focal length equivalent, f/8, 1/400 sec., ISO-800.
Here dad brings what looks to be a Hemipteran bug of some kind. I supplement the adults with dried mealworms in a special feeder but the chicks need fresh grub. I am happy to live in a neighborhood that can support the nesting of these birds.
Settings: 1,120 mm focal length equivalent, f/7.1, 1/320 sec., ISO-1250.
Mom brings in a tiger moth. In my short time making observations, I found this to be the most common prey brought to the nest.
Settings: 1,120 mm focal length equivalent, f/7.1, 1/320 sec., ISO-1250.
Dad brings a tiger moth.
Settings: 1,120 mm focal length equivalent, f/7.1, 1/320 sec., ISO-1250.
Mom, looking a little well-worn. It was late into a rather busy nesting season for her.
Settings: 1,120 mm focal length equivalent, f/5.6, 1/250 sec., ISO-640.
All four chicks waiting for the next visit by a food carrying parent.
Settings: 1,120 mm focal length equivalent, f/8, 1/400 sec., ISO-700.

Ozark Bill