Spring Comes Early To The Marsh

Snow is beautiful.

Having lived for a time in upstate New York and Europe, we came to appreciate the soft flakes falling on our upturned faces, the very special stillness of a forest blanketed in snow and the breathtaking scenery of a mountain top capped in pure white.  Our romantic notion of snow may have been influenced by the fact that we knew our association with it would be temporary.  We are both natives of Florida and it is within our DNA to require frequent infusions of “S3″ (sun-sand-salt).  Our return to the state of our birth was celebrated by disposing of all footwear and the trimming of long pants to create a wardrobe of only shorts and T-shirts.

Yesterday morning began with a light fog and when I eased onto the trail leading to the marsh before sunrise the air temperature was 65 F (18.3 C).  Three hours later it was 80 F (26.7 C).  This is the way February should be.  I no longer reminisce about snow.

I have written about the Circle B Bar Reserve before and shall do so again.  It is near the house and is an absolute wonderland for nature lovers.  We hope those who may be wishing for warmer times will take heart at viewing some of our wildlife preparing for spring.

Good numbers of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks have spent the winter here and this flock heads across the marsh in the morning fog.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

All sorts of wildlife enjoy the nutrient rich waters and surrounding environment of the marsh.  A family of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks dine while an adult is on constant watch.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

As the dawn sky begins to brighten, the fog lifts and the local residents set about the never-ending task of surviving another day.  A secretive Sora furtively searches for seeds and small water animals.  These birds are more often heard than seen.

Sora

Sora

The Green Heron is a master hunter and can uncoil his long neck to snag unsuspecting fish and insects.

Green Heron

Green Heron

A Tricolored Heron appears to enjoy a moment of morning sunlight before beginning his hunt for groceries.

Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron

Snowy Egrets are in breeding plumage and seem to know how handsome they look.

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

Larger cousins of the Snowy, the Great Egret is also in full breeding plumage.  The bright green lores and long plumes are hard to miss on this large wading bird.

Great Egret

Great Egret

On the opposite end of beautiful (to which I can relate) is the Wood Stork.  They are equal opportunity diners and don’t mind trying anything they can get into that long beak.  It’s good to see them breeding here as they remain a threatened species in Florida.  Their traditional nesting areas in the Everglades, further south, have not been productive in recent years.

Wood Stork

Wood Stork

A young Limpkin is almost hidden in the tall weeds along the lake shore as he prepares to enjoy escargot for breakfast.  The Apple Snail is plentiful here and there is a large Limpkin population as a result.

Limpkin

Limpkin

Think Pink!  The marsh was full of Roseate Spoonbills.  These birds are beautiful and odd at the same time.  It’s hard not to marvel at their fantastic colors, but the head with no feathers and the large spatulate bill cause us to look twice.  They use their unique bills to sweep back and forth through shallow water for fish, crustaceans and insects.  Special nerve endings in the bill sense when they locate something and cause the bill to snap shut.

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Ospreys are nesting just about anywhere in central Florida that is near water.  This one is out early scouting for a fish lounging too near the water’s surface.

Osprey

Osprey

A female Red-winged Blackbird perches behind a spider web curtain.  Moments later, she sprang to the ground and clamped her beak around a large dragonfly.  She was soon harassed by other birds and she escaped to some dense underbrush to consume her prize in private.

Red-winged Blackbird (Female)

Red-winged Blackbird (Female)

Red-winged Blackbird (Female)

Red-winged Blackbird (Female)

Springtime in Florida signals the start of Alligator courting rituals.  The males swim out into open water and raise their heads and tails above the surface.  They then vibrate their backs which often causes the surface of the water to ripple.  All of this is accompanied by the ‘gator sounding off with a deep bellowing which is supposed to be attractive to any female in hearing distance. (A lake full of bellowing alligators at night can be a very interesting experience!)

American Alligator

American Alligator

American Alligator

American Alligator

Although they are gorgeous, even Roseate Spoonbills have the occasional tiff.  It seems the one flying in objected to another occupying a particular feeding spot.  The interloper was loud and showy, but was driven off when the other bird snapped at his behind and used that long bill to push the bully out of there!

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Once the sun was up higher, turtles occupied every snag in the place to work on their tans.  Their backs are covered in the green Duckweed which is so prevalent throughout the marsh.

Turtle (Cooter?)

Turtle (Cooter?)

Turtle (Cooter?)

Turtle (Cooter?)

The particular trail I started down is named “Marsh Rabbit Run”.  This is the first time I have seen an actual Marsh Rabbit on this trail!  (At his feet are empty Apple Snail shells which the Limpkins like so much.)

Marsh Rabbit

Marsh Rabbit

Pink birds notwithstanding, the Purple Gallinule knows he is also good looking, but finds it hard to be inconspicuous in a marsh full of brown reeds.

Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

With such an abundance of creatures in this environment, conflict is inevitable.  Here, a Crow and a White Ibis dispute who can occupy this prime piece of real estate.

American Crow, White Ibis

American Crow, White Ibis

The following is a series showing how the Roseate Spoonbills use that bill to sift through the water and yell at each other.  It’s also a chance to highlight their brilliant plumage which really brightens up a marsh.

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

It was time to go home and get some breakfast of my own.  As I headed to the truck, a mixed flock of Roseate Spoonbills, White Ibis, Glossy Ibis and Snowy Egrets took off in the distance.

Mixed Flock

Mixed Flock

Nope.  I don’t miss snow at all.  Not even a little bit.

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

Additional Resources:

Circle B Bar Reserve

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

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31 thoughts on “Spring Comes Early To The Marsh

  1. I love bunnies, too, glad to see one made the list. 🙂 Gorgeous birds, and such a wide variety. Great photo of the soaring osprey, too.

  2. The gators haven’t started showing off here yet. They are crawling over the trails, though. I almost stumbled into a 12-footer this weekend. Yikes!

  3. Your images & narration brightened my gloomy, snowy day Wally! Love these images.

  4. What a feast of great shots….the spoonbills are so pretty, I would go nuts if I saw birds like the shots here….we had a sora here but she was so shy, and she was impossible to photo for me…well done Wally!!! True about snow….don’t miss it.

  5. What a FABULOUS collection… I honestly don’t know who do love more! I recently got a bunch of shots of our shy Soras — so very sweet. And what wonderful shots of the courting gator. And those beautiful Spoonbills and adorable swamp bunnies — what a lovely marsh series!!

  6. This is just wonderful…the pictures are all .beyond-beautiful. The Circle B is on our list for this season, with any luck at all. But if we get to go, I think I’ll just post a link to this post instead of using my pictures ;>)! Yours are so good, really I’d be tempted.

    • Again, we really appreciate your very kind remarks! Just remember, it’s not the photographs that matter, it’s the memories of our experiences.

  7. So many awesome shots it’s hard to know where to begin. I must say I was smitten with the Sora Rail and his bright yellow beak. Excellent assortment of wildlife here. I’m looking forward to the roseate spoonbill breeding season here.

    • Thank you so much, Gail. The Sora is one of my favorites, too, because although I hear them all the time at this location I seldom get a chance to photograph one. Hope your swamp skies are soon filled with pink!

  8. Hard to pick a favorite here, but if forced to choose, I think it would be your “Think Pink” straight-on shot of the roseate spoonbill. Most photos I’ve seen before show their super-model gorgeous plumage, but here, I see and fall in love with their slightly goofy face. Gives me an entirely different perspective. Second choice is the duckweed-covered cooter Also the irrationally exuberant male gator. Thanks for contributing to my coffee-drinking pleasure on a crisp sunny Florida panhandle morning!

    • Good Morning, Sister! Great coffee-drinking minds are in synch today. The good news: you don’t have to pick a favorite!
      Hope your day is filled with Good Things!

      -Love ya!

  9. Great post with lots of beautiful birds…and a cute rabbit!

  10. I am always in awe of your incredible shots Wally. You must have the patience of a saint or lucky to capture such stunning photos. I thank you for sharing the info and the beauty of nature you encounter.
    Welcome home, enjoy our southern warmth- I feel the same way about snow ~:)

    • Pam, it’s that “or lucky” thing! I’ve actually been home for a lot of years now but the memory of digging cars out of snow banks is still fresh!

  11. Just a great series of shots with your customary entertaining and informative commentary Wally. I particulalrly liked the Roseate Spoonbill pictures, but it’s hard to pick any one or two favourites. The alligators and the turtles too – great to see them in thier habitat if not to actually join in.Had to laugh about your tailoring task – here I’m putting extra layers on at the moment as we are in a cold spell. I think I agree with you about the RWB too – super birds which I remember from banding and watching in Ontario some years ago.

  12. Great set of pictures – and the rabbit eye/sky post is a good idea.

    Glad you like my other blog – I wish it got the same level of traffic as my photo-blog does! I’ll put a date on the my other blog tab to alert you to a new posts!

    Stewart M – Melbourne

    • Thank you, Stewart!

      I’ll definitely be checking your other blog frequently. The passage in the most recent post about feeling a fish on the end of the line really hit home for me!

      Hope your weekend has been great!

      Cheers – Wally

  13. For real, these are Nat Geo level photos!! I particularly love the way you caught the Sora Rail and Tricolored Heron. Truly spectacular

    • I was happy to find a Sora that didn’t mind me snapping its picture! They usually run! Thanks so much for visiting and for making such nice remarks!

  14. jimbey

    …. Absolutely outstanding (as usual), Wally. And maybe I have some good news … I went out to one of the major Wood Stork nesting areas today. Although the rookery itself is off limits this time of year, the activity in the wetlands surrounding the rookery seems to indicate a good nesting season is underway. I saw maybe 100 WStorks actively feeding, then flying back to the nesting area. I also saw a number of storks flying back with nesting repair materials in beak. All the activity easily eclipses what I’ve seen the last few years. Keep your fingers crossed!

  15. TexWisGirl

    glad you showed us the whole marsh rabbit! 🙂 loved the rail, the egret in breeding plumage, always happy to see the bbwds (big flock arrived here this week, too), gorgeous spoonbills, COOL alligators, wood stork, etc, etc, etc… 🙂

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