East Coast Redux

(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.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

A male Blue Dasher was one of many dragonflies beginning to become active as the sun dried the dew from the plants.

Blue Dasher  (Pachydiplax longipennis) - Male

Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) – Male

Although greenish when young, male Eastern Pondhawks eventually turn powder-blue (the females remain bright green).

Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis)

Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis)

The sun-warmed gravel path made a good spot for this Variegated Fritillary to dry its wings.

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

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.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Mourning Dove have really subtle colors which the sunlight enhances.

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

A pair of Dowitchers take off from the mud to go in search of — more mud.

Short-billed Dowitcher

Short-billed Dowitcher

Shorebirds were constantly moving from one mudflat to another.  These are mostly Least Sandpipers.

Shorebirds In Flight

Shorebirds In Flight

A Lesser Yellowlegs leaves his tracks as he chases his breakfast.  “Lesser Mudlegs” would be more apt.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

Averaging about six inches (15.24 cm) long, a Least Sandpiper probes the soft mud for a meal.

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

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.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

One of our winter visitors, the Northern Harrier, makes little (and even big) shorebirds VERY jumpy!

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

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.

Americn White Pelican

Americn White Pelican

Pink and White.  Roseate Spoonbills among the Pelicans.

American White Pelican, Roseate Spoonbill

American White Pelican, Roseate Spoonbill

Pink and Black.  Roseate Spoonbills among the Glossy Ibis (and ducks and shorebirds).

Water Birds

Water Birds

Florida state law requires posting of at least one American Alligator picture per blog entry.

American Alligator

American Alligator

A Queen Butterfly approaches a Palm Warbler.  (Neither one ate the other.  A happy ending.)

Queen (Danaus gilippus), Palm Warbler

Queen (Danaus gilippus), Palm Warbler

Sandhill Cranes take a work break in the sod field before returning to their arduous task of insect eradication.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

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.

Crested Caracara (Immature)

Crested Caracara (Immature)

Crested Caracara (Immature)

Crested Caracara (Immature)

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.

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

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!

American Kestrel (Female)

American Kestrel (Female)

Her profile leaves no doubt this raptor is all business, all the time.

American Kestrel (Female)

American Kestrel (Female)

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!

Additional Resources

Rich Grissom Memorial Wetlands (Viera Wetlands)

Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail

See more birds at:   Paying Ready Attention   (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 33 Comments

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33 thoughts on “East Coast Redux

  1. Wow. that Kestrel shot is fantastic. The young Crested Caracaras are spectacular. I’m noticing, too, that you are building quite a wonderful collection of dragonfly photos.

  2. I think I missed this one Wally, but I’m catching up now. I guess an hour and a half is nothing on Florida’s roads, a journey which would turn into a nightmare on UK roads.You got some great birds again and I noticed how you caught up with AK and my favourite Caracara again.

    • No worries, Phil! I’ve been unable to keep up with responding to your daily entries and the blogs of all the other wonderful folks who respond here and have fallen hopelessly behind in my replies. 😦

      I think the Caracaras are following us …

  3. I ALWAYS enjoy your posts, Wally and I especially love your narratives. I chuckled several times with this one – “Pelican Lake” brought an enjoyable giggle (knowing how these birds feed in unison)and your mention of the “perfume spraying lady” was perfect for us. Mia in particular reacts negatively to that situation but so do I. Mia is sensitive to smells – she won’t even eat her chocolate donut as we’re on our way to the island until we pass the refineries on I-15 because of the smell. The wing and tail spread on that female kestrel is as good as it gets!

    • Ron, thank you for your kind observations! As long as we remember to have fun while we’re exploring, I reckon we’ll just keep doing it.

  4. Florida! I love it…and we’ll get out there and see some of it soon. Meanwhile thank you for your inspiring pictures. They make me happy! I always love seeing two different birds together for some reason and the roseates in with the white pelicans are wonderful.

  5. Your dragonfly photos always amaze me.

  6. Wow, really enjoying a look at Florida now that winter’s come to upstate NY. Love that Kestrel and the mandatory gator!

  7. I’m a little late in reading your post this week – but always worth reading! I wish I could see those shorebirds that don’t come down this way! All great photos (of course!) but the one of the Kestrel with wings spread is extra special!

  8. Wonderful photos, I really enjoyed the macro shots…Great work.

  9. tingsgrove

    All of these are wonderful and yet I am always partial to Raptors and you certainly got some great images of quite a few different species…beautiful post~

  10. What a gorgeous series of photos. That Kestrel with its spread wings – oh my!

  11. Hi Wally!
    Well you don’t waist time on your outings!
    What great and interesting photos here again!
    I don’t have the time to comment on each one, but the Blue Dasher, the fritillary, the kestrel… Oh no, finally I can’t really choose!! 😉
    Cheers, keep well!

    • No worries, Noushka, choosing isn’t required! 🙂

      Thank you for visiting and commenting. I’m trying to send everyone to your wonderful web sites so they can enjoy your photographic art of birds, insects, wildlife and more. Simply superb imagery!

  12. just a wonderful set, again. loved the kestrel’s feather spread. the caracara portrait is awesome! beautiful shorebirds in a wonderful area.

  13. Man! You see it all! Thank you for helping me with an ID on the least sandpiper, though you didn’t know it. The least sandpiper was mixed in with the spotted sandpipers along the shore, and I just couldn’t get the ID right. Beautiful shots, all, but especially of the kestrel with wings spread. They are very difficult birds to shoot!

  14. Florida has such amazing natural beauty and resources! I’m so happy I moved here, and can’t believe i didn’t do it sooner….
    Although difficult to choose a fave photo, I’m leaning toward your shot of the least sandpiper; love how you caught that dainty stance, and knowing how FAST they move, it couldn’t have been easy!
    Viera/Grissom is on my list of “must visit” places, for sure!!
    ps. the pic of the immature crested caracara is my second fave!

    • Karen, we’re certainly glad you’re here! As natives, we tend to take our paradise for granted. Hope you’re able to visit that area soon, it’s pretty neat!

  15. A very enjoyable and entertaining read, also very informative. I’m not going to try and pick any one photo from the set as they are all very good.
    All the best Gordon.
    PS. Having trouble posting to your blog, I keep getting a message saying, “I am commenting too fast” then no comment is left.

    • Gordon, thank you for your really nice comments. Not sure why you might be having a problem as we’ve had no one else mention it. Could your local internet service folks help perhaps?

      Hope your weekend is full of birds!

  16. Awesome collection of birds and photos! You live in a great area, so much to see and do! Have a happy weekend!

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