A Census For The Senses

“For Better Or Worse.” She had no idea.

From braving blizzards, sleeping on rocky ground, suffering heat exhaustion on a small boat 30 miles from land, being lost in the forests of Germany, dodging hailstones in the desert – to being my constant companion no matter the adventure – to raising two perfect children – my wife has no equal. Her positive spirit continued to manifest itself when our bird watching hobby was elevated to a new level recently.

The second Florida Breeding Bird Atlas project began in 2011 and will continue through 2016. When completed, scientists will have data on which species of birds breed within Florida and can compare trends with the first atlas from 25 years ago. Volunteer birders have spent countless hours attempting to sample portions of every county in the state. An ambitious undertaking. As a fellow birder put it, it’s “birding with a purpose”.

A couple of things have happened along the way as I’ve tried to contribute to the atlas effort. I have become a better birder. Although I had an awareness of which birds are residents, this has really fine-tuned my sense of the rhythm of the seasons. My knowledge of the natural history of birds has increased substantially. In addition to just trying to identify a bird, I’ve learned to actually “observe” birds – are they carrying nesting material, where do they nest, when do they breed, how long does it take a chick to fledge, will they have a second (or third) brood during the year – all fascinating stuff! Habitat is everything for attracting birds and I’ve learned about trees, flowers, grasses and unique ecosystems.

The best part has been more of what made it so easy to start this avocation in the first place. We are outside a lot and have enjoyed spectacular sunrises and sunsets, explored new natural areas, marveled at how many stars are packed in a pre-dawn sky, seen a triple rainbow, watched bobcats, coyotes, deer and discovered hosts of flora, fauna and natural happenings we never could have imagined. Oh, and we saw a few birds along the way, too.

We’re looking forward to the final year of the atlas coming up but the experience has added a new dimension to our bird-watching adventures. All of our senses are more alive and each trip is a new learning experience.

The following images are from a couple of trips specifically intended to locate breeding birds in specific areas to add to the atlas data bank. As usual, I can’t resist including some “non-birding” material as well.

 

We live within a few minutes’ drive of the Green Swamp, the second-largest swamp in Florida after the Everglades. Encompassing over 870 square miles (2253 sq km) the swamp includes headwaters of four major rivers and is a vital source of filtering water which eventually enters Florida’s underground aquifer system. This field of recently rolled hay is on the edge of the swamp and is seen here just at dawn with a bit of typical fog lingering.

Morning Hay

Morning Hay

 

What the atlas is all about: babies! A Sandhill Crane chick can walk and swim within eight hours of hatching. This youngster will lose its buffy plumage and look more like Mom and Dad by the end of the summer.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

 

Black-necked Stilts find plenty of shallow water in our area for hunting and use the plentiful mud shorelines to nest.ย Below you can see the size of the stilt relative to a Sandhill Crane and a Glossy Ibis.

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt

 

Black-necked Stilt, Sandhill Crane

Black-necked Stilt, Sandhill Crane

Black-necked Stilt, Glossy Ibis

Black-necked Stilt, Glossy Ibis

 

Mottled Ducks may be in danger of disappearing due to extensive inter-breeding with Mallards. These two appear to be “actual” Mottled Ducks as they don’t seem to show any Mallard traits but it is becoming increasingly difficult to be certain.

Mottled Duck

Mottled Duck

 

A small island in a pond in a pasture provides a protected rookery for a couple hundred Cattle Egrets. Also present were a few Anhingas, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons and Snowy Egrets. Most of these birds were sitting on nests and several had young in the nest.

Rookery

Rookery

 

Many Bald Eagle nests are monitored by different groups in the state, but this one had not yet been recorded when we found it late last year. Bald Eagles in Florida usually breed from November through May. We continued to drive by the newly built nest periodically and finally spotted this young eagle, almost ready to fledge. One of the parents flew in with a fish, deposited it in the nest and kept an eye on junior from a nearby branch.

Bald Eagle - Juvenile

Bald Eagle – Juvenile

 

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

 

A pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers had young in this cavity and the adults constantly flew back and forth providing food delivery for the kids. Here, the female had to lean to one side as the male exploded out of the cavity. Sorry for the blurry photo, it’s the birds’ fault.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

 

This Brown Anole had a close encounter of the predator kind not too long ago. Fortunately, they are designed with a “break-away” tail which allows them to escape such attacks. The replacement may not be an exact match but it sure beats the alternative! This male is displaying a throat fan, or dew lap, which is used to attract attention during courtship and for territorial defense.

Brown Anole

Brown Anole

 

We spotted a Wild Turkey hen with 12 chicks. She stood watch as all the youngsters struggled to cross a fallen log.

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

 

Great Blue Skimmers love our wooded swampy areas. They are one of our larger dragonflies and are distinguished by a white face. The males are powdery blue and the females, as seen here, are brownish/orange.

Great Blue Skimmer - Female  (Libellula vibrans)

Great Blue Skimmer – Female (Libellula vibrans)

 

Many homeowners erect elaborate houses and gourd complexes in the hope of attracting Purple Martins each year. In the event of a housing shortage, no worries, the resourceful birds will find shelter. In this case, the end supports of utility line structures are hollow and make a fine place to raise little martins.

Purple Martin

Purple Martin

 

Whether we’re bird-watching, birding, atlasing or just out for a drive, Gini and I continue to be truly blessed to be able to enjoy what Nature has to offer – together. When you have a chance, take your own census of your senses and know that Life Is Good.

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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16 thoughts on “A Census For The Senses

  1. so much to see and enjoy in your post ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Just catching up after nearly a month off the scene, Wally. As usual, you’ve delivered the complete package – writing that is entertaining, heart-warming, informative, and inspiring – and all this accompanied by great photography!

    It’s easy to forget, sometimes, that ‘seeing’ is not everything – ‘observation’ is the real deal. Seeing is for box-tickers. Observation is the mark of a true nature-lover. Thank you for reminding us of this.

    Best wishes from England – – – – Richard

    • Thank you for sticking with us, Richard, despite our unreliable schedule! I would like to think that even without bins or camera I would still enjoy just being out and experiencing nature. Hope your week is going well!

  3. A triple rainbow?! I’d love to see that.

    Once again your images and words have inspired me. The photo of the stilt is so perfectly mirrored in the water. How awesome that you have such a devoted partner to bird with.

    Looking forward to your next post!!

  4. What heartfelt words of tribute to your wife. The two of you have had many birding adventures together. Beautiful photos, as usual.

  5. I wish my own hubby could write like this about me!!!! LOL!!
    Thing is he never writes at all!!!
    That first photo really brings out the ambiance of the mornings early hours, it is very beautiful.
    I can’t comment each picture, but all have a story to tell ๐Ÿ™‚
    You dragonfly is magnificently caught, with its wings held high enough to give a clear view on the body.
    The Brown Anole with its throat fan displayed is gorgeous too, he just regrew his tail!
    Lovely post again, Wally ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Merci, Noushka! Of course, each time I view your website I feel like I need to attend photography school – so it really means a lot to me when you like my images!
      Have a wonderful week!

  6. Great photos – as always! I especially like the waders with their reflections and the ones where you show two species and the comparison in size. Thanks for sharing and I hope you both continue to enjoy these things together.

    • Hey, Mick! Hope all is well down under as you start a new week. Thanks for the great comments. No problem about us continuing to enjoy stuff together – it’s what we do!

  7. my stupid connection wouldn’t let me load any of your photos today, but i got the love of your wife loud and clear. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. I love when you write about Gina in those glowing terms adn yes you sre truelt blessed to have her not only as your wife but that she takes such an interest in the same hobby as yourself. Now that first shot has beautiful morning light on it. it is wonderul to see the young of those species and then to see the size different between different species with very good shots of them all, not to mention the marvelloous reflections in the water in particularly of the Black-neced Stilt. I loved seeing the young Turkeys and the second shot of the mother is saying to you, “See, I told you they would all get over”! Oh ya! So it was the birds’ fault is 10th shot. You wil have to be quicker! that is a fabulous shotsof the Great Blue Skimmer and it was great to be able to see the dewlap of the Brown Anioe. Hope you both continue to live life to the full for many more years.

    • I hope your Sunday has been as glorious as ours, Margaret! It’s easy to write about Gini in glowing terms because she’s that kind of person. Thank you so much for your always kind remarks! We certainly appreciate it!

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