Evening At The Rookery

Procrastination is the root of all evil. You can quote me.

“Snail Kite!” Sure enough, the cinnamon-colored female was at the end of a fishing pier extracting a morsel from a large Apple Snail. Gini said I should come back and walk along this area in hopes of getting some good photos.

“Look at all those egrets!” Gini pointed to a clump of reeds along the shore which were anchored by a stand of willows and a couple of tall cypress trees. This is a spot which has, for the past few years, hosted a small rookery and is quite accessible from the sidewalk running parallel to the lake frontage.

This two-mile stretch of road along the lake is a main connector to a major thoroughfare on the northern city limits. As such, it is heavily traveled. The low speed limit is helpful for spotting birds along the shore and out into the lake, but it’s best to leave such activity to the passenger for safety’s sake.

The above sightings were almost two months ago. Last week I finally visited the area with the camera. Most of the nests were empty. No chicks were visible. A few young birds were hanging about, mostly to mock me for being so late.

It was about two hours before sunset, but in an hour the sun’s rays would be blocked by buildings on the west side of the road so I only had about an hour of good light left. The gang of youngsters was raucous and began pushing and shoving to claim the best spot to roost for the night. A few adults made an appearance but could not calm the unruly kids.

Next year. Yeah. Next year I’ll get here in time for nesting and eggs and babies. Honest.

 

The ubiquitous Cattle Egret is usually taken for granted. We ignore them in our rush to find something “less common”. In breeding plumage, we realize how handsome they can be.

West Lake Parker Drive

 

A young Tricolored Heron has learned patience from his parents and was eventually rewarded with a small fish. His sister wants to know if you like her hair styling.

West Lake Parker Drive

West Lake Parker Drive

 

For a brief time during breeding, adult Little Blue Herons display darker blue bills, black eyes and black legs.

West Lake Parker Drive

 

Immature Little Blue Herons will remain white for most of their first year and will have mottled blue and white plumage for almost another year before displaying the complete blue of an adult.

West Lake Parker Drive

 

Juvenile Anhingas are also white (mostly) at birth and begin to show light brown within their first few weeks. These are still on the nest but will soon be capable of independent flight. Interestingly, they can swim (if they have to) within several days of hatching.

West Lake Parker Drive

 

The sun was about to drop out of sight and a mass of American Lotus lit up with the final light of the day.

West Lake Parker Drive

 

As you pass that spot which beckons you to grab your camera, do it. Don’t put it off. I don’t want you to miss the joy of this year’s baby egrets, the heron hiding her chick with a wing, the breeding plumage only visible for a few days. Carpe Diem.

 

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

Categories: Birds, Florida, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 10 Comments

TEXAS ! – Too.

Driving south from Houston, one encounters extensive agricultural production. Corn, cotton, grain sorghum, rice and local seasonal vegetables. Don’t forget about cattle! Texas leads the nation in production of cattle, sheep and goats. After about half an hour, traffic began to thin (most was heading north to jobs in the city) and the sunrise revealed a landscape familiar to these two Florida natives – really flat.

Our destination was the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge. Established in 1969 specifically to provide shelter for migrating songbirds, it sounded like our kind of place. Bordered on the south by the Gulf of Mexico, the refuge consists of vast salt marshes, two rivers feed freshwater marshes, man-made impoundments provide protected spots for tens of thousands of waterfowl and there is even a section of old-growth hardwood forest to explore.

We typically spend our driving time talking to each other. (I know, right? But it’s only been 51 years so we may run out of things to say some day. Not.) Today’s topic centered on our son and his family. Their daughter is ten and we really enjoyed seeing her perform in a school play. Her brother is eight and full of mischief, exactly as a boy of eight should be. We couldn’t believe how much they had grown physically and socially since our last visit. It was a lot of fun watching the two of them interact with friends after the play had ended. We normally only see them in a home setting and this was different! They were both so full of energy and you could tell they are – happy. So were we.

Alas, we missed songbird migration by a week or so. Fortunately, we had a thoroughly enjoyable day poking around the refuge. We knew it would be a good day when we stopped at the entrance kiosk for a brochure and a Carolina Wren flew out of one of the empty map boxes where we found a perfectly formed nest. We retreated and hoped the wren would return.

A few images below may indicate the diversity to be found at this refuge. They are still in a bit of a re-building mode due to significant damage as a result of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. We look forward to a return visit and will try to adjust our timing a bit so we can see trees full of colorful warblers and thousands of ducks!

 

Entering the refuge.

San Bernard NWR

 

In Florida, it is uncommon to spot a White-faced Ibis but Glossy Ibis are extremely common. This situation is reversed at San Bernard NWR. In breeding plumage, the White-faced Ibis has a white border around a reddish face, a gray bill, red legs and a red iris. The Glossy has pale lines around a dark face, the bill is more brownish and the eyes dark. (The image of the Glossy Ibis is from Florida.)

San Bernard NWR

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Black-necked Stilts nest in the refuge and we spotted more than a dozen during the day.

San Bernard NWR

 

A lone tree in the salt marsh is the only notable break in the grass between us and the Gulf of Mexico.

San Bernard NWR

 

Stand silently and observe the marsh for a few minutes and an incredible array of life becomes evident. Here, a flock of Snowy Egrets moves from one spot of open water to another.

San Bernard NWR

 

We are always amazed at the size of the Purple Gallinule’s feet! Very helpful when walking atop aquatic plants.

San Bernard NWR

 

This immature White Ibis will gradually molt into the all-white plumage of an adult.

San Bernard NWR

 

Crested Caracara won’t hesitate to prey on waterfowl (or anything else that moves) but is equally happy to feed upon carrion.

San Bernard NWR

 

Darting among reeds along a pond shoreline, the Common Yellowthroat male is not exactly camouflaged. During breeding season the male sings for what seems to be 24 hours a day.

San Bernard NWR

San Bernard NWR

 

It’s a bit unusual to catch a Sora fully exposed, as they tend to skulk further back in the weeds. I lay on my stomach and inched close enough for a few shots.

San Bernard NWR

 

While laying in the grass taking photos of the Sora, I counted ten very young (12-18 inches) alligators run into the water ahead of me. Number 11 remained behind and let me know he was unafraid. I began to wonder where Mama was. Seemed like a good time to return to the path. Quickly. Looking over my shoulder.

San Bernard NWR

 

On one of the impoundments constructed for wintering waterfowl, a Pied-billed Grebe paused for a candid portrait before returning to his fishing.

San Bernard NWR

 

During breeding season, the Little Blue Heron’s eyes and legs turn black and the base of the bill becomes bright blue.

San Bernard NWR

 

Flocks of Fulvous Whistling-Ducks could be seen all across the impoundments as they moved from one open water area to another. (Two immature Little Blue Herons are in the foreground.)

San Bernard NWR

 

A pair of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks watched their fulvous cousins from atop a nearby berm.

San Bernard NWR

 

We even found a few flowers in bloom. A showy orange Lantana and bright red Tropical Sage.

San Bernard NWR

San Bernard NWR

 

In a muddy area, we were tempted to follow this alligator track to see where it went. Okay, Gini wasn’t thrilled with the idea. Okay, we both jumped in the car and locked the doors and sped away. There, satisfied?

San Bernard NWR

 

Birds aren’t the only migrants which take advantage of the refuge. A Monarch butterfly almost blends in with the wildflowers.

San Bernard NWR

 

One Black-bellied Whistling-Duck stands watch while its mate feeds. The mate is appreciative.

San Bernard NWR

San Bernard NWR

 

One Fulvous Whistling-Duck stands watch while its mate bathes. The mate is appreciative.

San Bernard NWR

San Bernard NWR

 

Along a canal in the marsh, we came upon two very mature American Alligators announcing their territory. They were about 20 yards apart and quite loud. The water droplets “dance” above the alligator’s back due to sub-audible vibrations which precede the audible bellowing. Recent research indicates an alligator’s size can be determined by its bellowing characteristics. This allows a potential adversary to determine if a fight for territory or a mate is feasible.  (Alligator’s Bellow Communicates Size.)

Listen: Alligator Bellowing

San Bernard NWR

San Bernard NWR

 

Despite all that bellowing not far away, this Black-necked Stilt just had to get a little power nap.

San Bernard NWR

 

Speaking of naps, it was time for us to head to Houston. After a satisfying bit of Texas Bar-B-Que, we made it back and began packing for our return to Florida. It was a great visit!

If you get a chance to go coastal in Texas, drop by San Bernard NWR. Watch out for the wren’s nest at the entrance and respect the alligator’s territory – or test your own bellowing and see if you measure up.

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

 

Additional Information

San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge

Categories: Birds, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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