(See our previous article: East Coast Adventure.)
“That which we call a Roseate Spoonbill by any other name would smell as sweet.” (Sincerest apologies to Mr. William Shakespeare.)
We are truly blessed with a wide variety of birding areas quite close to our house. In less than an hour, we can be at the shore of a lake, in the center of a marsh, perspiring through a hardwood hammock, overlooking a dry grass prairie, slogging through the deep sand of a pine ridge or approaching a beach as gentle waves caress the sand. Why in the world, then, would we consider driving across the entire state of Florida to do pretty much the same thing? Perhaps to explore a new, wild, area? Maybe a rare species was reported and we MUST add it to our list? There is a great restaurant in the area and the birding thing is just an excuse?
Truth be told, to reach the east coast (Atlantic Ocean) from our house is not really much more than an hour and a half of easy driving. Exploring new areas is what we do. We’re not really big into chasing rare birds over long distances. Gini’s cooking is on a whole different level than the finest eating establishments. So, what is it, then??
It usually boils down to something as simple as we saw a nice picture of an area or someone mentioned a place that had good birding. In this particular case, it was pleasant memories. We visited the Viera Wetlands area earlier this year and enjoyed it immensely. (This area is also known as the Rich Grissom Memorial Wetlands. See “Additional Resources”, below for more information.)
This area was created to process wastewater and make the recycled water available primarily for irrigation. From the beginning, consideration was given to make the area suitable for a diverse wildlife population. Over 200 acres is divided into four “cells” plus a central lake, each having a different depth and varied vegetation. Across the road from the water treatment plant are two additional ponds (known as the “Click Ponds”), also used for water reclamation. There is a very large commercial sod farm adjacent to this area. The water level in both ponds was low during our visit and shorebirds were taking advantage of the exposed mud.
One little detail to keep in mind when exploring in proximity to a water treatment facility. You just might detect a bit of an odor that not everyone would agree is pleasant. If the wind shifts, this aroma can be almost as overwhelming as the perfume-spraying-lady at the fancy department store entrance. Almost.
As you exit the Click Ponds road, turn west and follow North Wickham Road to the end. Go slowly as there is good birding for several miles. At the end of the road is a grass parking area and there are trails leading into the River Lakes Conservation area. If you plan to hike, KNOW WHERE YOU’RE GOING! There is no potable water in the area and you’ll need plenty, especially in warm weather.
We had a great day making new memories. Over 50 species of birds were observed including a lot of shorebirds at the Click Ponds, hundreds of American Coots at the wetlands and a beautiful American Kestrel hunted and preened nearby during our lunch stop.
Some images may give you a small idea of why we do what we do.
At our first stop, a Common Yellowthroat assumed its normal confrontational posture and demanded to know what we were doing.
A male Blue Dasher was one of many dragonflies beginning to become active as the sun dried the dew from the plants.
Although greenish when young, male Eastern Pondhawks eventually turn powder-blue (the females remain bright green).
The sun-warmed gravel path made a good spot for this Variegated Fritillary to dry its wings.
Dozens of Great Blue Herons were going about the business of planning next year’s family. Males were squawking loudly, flapping their large wings and clapping their bills while pointing them skyward, all in the hope of attracting a girl. This girl was too busy remodeling a nest atop a palm tree to notice the loudmouths below.
Mourning Dove have really subtle colors which the sunlight enhances.
A pair of Dowitchers take off from the mud to go in search of — more mud.
Shorebirds were constantly moving from one mudflat to another. These are mostly Least Sandpipers.
A Lesser Yellowlegs leaves his tracks as he chases his breakfast. “Lesser Mudlegs” would be more apt.
Averaging about six inches (15.24 cm) long, a Least Sandpiper probes the soft mud for a meal.
Shorebirds on exposed mudflats stay nervous and move around a lot. Here’s one reason why. A Bald Eagle normally likes fish, but will readily snatch a careless shorebird for a snack.
One of our winter visitors, the Northern Harrier, makes little (and even big) shorebirds VERY jumpy!
In the deeper water, a group of American Pelicans perform their version of “Pelican Lake”, a modern aquatic ballet which does not end well for large numbers of fish.
Pink and White. Roseate Spoonbills among the Pelicans.
Pink and Black. Roseate Spoonbills among the Glossy Ibis (and ducks and shorebirds).
Florida state law requires posting of at least one American Alligator picture per blog entry.
A Queen Butterfly approaches a Palm Warbler. (Neither one ate the other. A happy ending.)
Sandhill Cranes take a work break in the sod field before returning to their arduous task of insect eradication.
This young Crested Caracara was stomping around the edge of a sod field while his (presumed) sibling climbed a nearby dirt pile to survey the area. As these birds reach their third and fourth years, the bills, facial skin and legs will darken and the facial/neck/breast feathers will become white.
A wasp of some sort flew a bit too near this Loggerhead Shrike. Normally, the “Butcher Bird” would impale the bug on the barb of the fence and pick him apart. This guy was evidently hungry and swallowed the insect whole.
We were highly entertained during lunch by this beautiful female American Kestrel. She had flown from her perch to the ground to grab a dragonfly and as she prepared to land on the snag provided us a good look at all her upper feathers. Simply gorgeous!
Her profile leaves no doubt this raptor is all business, all the time.
The drive was a bit longer than normal, the air was a bit more odiferous than normal but the day was as sweet as ever. We were drawn back here due to pleasant memories. We returned home with new pleasant memories.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!
See more birds at: Paying Ready Attention (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)