“May I Take Your Order?”

When I was a teenager, you knew you had achieved a true milestone in life when you got your first car. It might not have actually been “yours” since your parents likely sent the bank a monthly sum for the privilege of letting you drive the thing. And it probably wasn’t exactly fresh out of the factory either. Which is why there was a class in high school called “auto shop”. Way back then cars were still mechanically simple enough that a few hand tools and enough oil could nurse most vehicles through a couple of years. Prior to this significant event, you were relegated to riding with someone who did have a car (immediately elevating them to the status of “best friend”) or suffering the ultimate ignominy – gulp – riding your bicycle. Once you achieved “car owner” status, one of the requirements was to be seen in the new machine on Friday nights after the football game at the Drive-In. Hamburgers, French fries, a frosted mug of root beer – all brought right to your car and affixed to the window of YOUR CAR on a tray – life was good.

Then came the Drive-Thru. Our planet’s quality of life has declined ever since.

At first, it was a wonderful experience. Drive up, tell the speaker what you want, pick up your food and go – where? Home. Open the bag. Eat your food. Throw away the bag. No one saw you in your cool car. You didn’t visit with your friends. You became surly if the “fast food” wasn’t ready fast enough. As a culture, we became impatient with everything. Quick service replaced quality service in every facet of our lives. The trend continues.

So it was with a huge dose of skepticism and trepidation that I first visited a location touted as a “drive-thru nature experience”. Yikes! Will there be a clown taking my order for which birds I want to see?

I have written a few times here about the truly wonderful Viera Wetlands (officially known as the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands) located near Florida’s east coast in Brevard County. It takes us about an hour-and-a-half to get there but it’s worth it to be able to experience the diversity of life in the area. Part of Brevard County’s water treatment efforts, the wetlands consists of 200 acres and includes four “cells” of about 35 acres each and a central lake. The cells are of differing depths to attract a variety of wildlife including thousands of migrating waterfowl each winter. There are berms around the facility which can be driven, biked or hiked. (See the link below for a number to call and check the condition of the roads as they are often closed during the rainy season. They can be accessed by foot almost any time.) More and more communities are beginning to follow this model for water treatment facilities and we hope it will be as successful as this one. What a wonderful boon to those who are not physically capable of hiking who can now enjoy nature just outside the car window!

Gini and I visited the wetlands this spring and were treated to a very healthy dose of pure Nature. Although our species list of birds (40) was less than prior trips we had some pretty neat highlights: two dozen Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, over a dozen Anhinga and Great Blue Herons (most nesting and/or with juveniles), almost 250 American Coot, several migratory Marsh Wrens, Savannah Sparrows and Swamp Sparrows, a couple of calling King Rails and a half dozen Least Bitterns.

Following our picnic lunch, we paid a visit to Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area, near Christmas, Florida. This is a huge area (almost 31,000 acres) bordered by the Indian River and has over 60 miles of trails to explore. It was late in the day and we didn’t get to do a lot of birding but sure found a host of beautiful blooms!

Photographs can’t really do justice to the experience of all we found, so, you’ll just have to go and see for yourself!

 

Old palm tree stumps make good potential nesting sites for Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

 

Many of the palm trees in the wetlands were in use as nesting platforms by Great Blue Herons. This parent was very attentive to its chick and when Junior raised his head for a better look at this grand-paparazzo, Mama placed a foot on his head and gently persuaded him to keep a lower profile.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron - Juvenile

Great Blue Heron – Juvenile

 

Great Blue Heron - Juvenile

Great Blue Heron – Juvenile

 

Nest building and decoration were the order of the day. Here, an Anhinga moves a newly harvested green twig for better Feng shui. Below, four young Anhinga juveniles impatiently await someone to bring fish for breakfast. (Did you know young Anhinga were almost all white?)

Anhinga

Anhinga

Anhinga

Anhinga

 

For me, Least Bitterns are usually heard but seldom seen. I felt fortunate to actually spot three different individuals today.

Least Bittern

Least Bittern

 

Least Bittern

Least Bittern

Least Bittern

Least Bittern

 

A Great Blue Heron is called a wading bird for a reason. This one didn’t get the memo and attempts to swim after a meal. He soon realized those long legs weren’t long enough and when he regained solid footing took off for the shallow end of the pool.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

Pacing like an expectant father in a maternity ward, a Crested Caracara waits for a Softshell Turtle to finish laying eggs. The turtle nest was adjacent to the road and passing traffic flushed the hungry Caracara. We don’t know if he returned. (This bird has appeared in our blog previously. See: East Coast Adventure and Crested Caracara – An Update. We found out this guy was originally banded/ringed here at Viera Wetlands on October 16, 2006 and was estimated to be two years old at that time. He’s still here which underscores one of the traits of this species which is being very site faithful.)

Crested Caracara, Softshell Turtle

Crested Caracara, Softshell Turtle

 

Only seen here during migration, a Savannah Sparrow forages for seeds and insects.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

 

Yes, it’s one more picture of an American Alligator. This one shows off the results of excellent dental hygiene.

American Alligator

American Alligator

 

At Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area, we found Ying and Yang the twin turtles (Florida Peninsula Cooter).

Florida Peninsula Cooter (Pseudemys floridana peninsularis)

Florida Peninsula Cooter (Pseudemys floridana peninsularis)

 

As we drove toward the Indian River along a very dusty dirt road, it seemed every few feet displayed a different type flower. In a wet section shaded by oak and bay trees was a large section of Lizard’s Tail.

Lizard's Tail (Saururus cernuus)

Lizard’s Tail (Saururus cernuus)

 

In a more prairie-like area we found the showy Largeflower Rosegentian.

Largeflower Rosegentian (Sabatia grandiflora)

Largeflower Rosegentian (Sabatia grandiflora)

 

Near the ground peeking out from leaves of larger plants was the very small but bright Narrowleaf Blue-eyed Grass.

Narrowleaf Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium)

Narrowleaf Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium)

 

Eastern False Dragonhead is also known as Obedient Flower, due to the fact a flower can be turned to face a different direction and it will stay there instead of returning to its original position.

Eastern False Dragonhead (Physostegia purpurea)

Eastern False Dragonhead (Physostegia purpurea)

 

Almost anywhere there was standing water we saw the beautiful Prairie Iris, also called Dixie Iris.

Prairie Iris (Iris hexagona)

Prairie Iris (Iris hexagona)

 

In water that was shallow and not moving, a blanket of yellow signified the presence of carnivorous Bladderwort. The damselfly on this bloom is probably too large to worry about being devoured.

Damselfly On Floating Bladderwort

Damselfly On Floating Bladderwort

 

We had a fantastic day with birds, babies and blooms and we didn’t even have to get out of the car. Don’t be afraid to explore your local drive-thru nature center and maybe order up a Crested Cararcara with a side of Least Bittern!

 

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

 

Additional Information

Viera Wetlands

Tosohatchee WMA

 

Linking to Stewart’s “Wild Bird Wednesday”.  See more birds from around the world at Paying ReadyAttention for

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

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37 thoughts on ““May I Take Your Order?”

  1. I loved this post from the beginning (which brought up many delightful memories needless to say) to the end. This place is so on our list for next season!!! And I have to add that the drive-through aspect means that the two of us can enjoy the whole experience together. Bill often must wait in the car or on a bench somewhere while I finish a walk.

    • Hi, Sallie! Hope you’re able to make it out to Viera, it’s pretty special. Pack a picnic. They have a gazebo perfect for lunch.

  2. Viera Wetlands is one place I must visit. All your photos are wonderful, but that of the caracara patiently awaiting its lunch is priceless!

    • Thank you, Ken! Not sure how much of a drive that is for you, but would be worth it. Be sure to check out a few other hotspots near there.

  3. I’ll be chuckling all day over that Blue Heron mama. The baby looked totally busted and chagrined. (p.s. I’m sorta back at it again . . . wanted to wait to share with you until I had archives properly assembled, categories and tags organized, etc., but I now realize that will takes years, if ever! :))
    Love you!

    • If we all waited until we’re organized to do anything we’d still be in those caves! I look forward to catching up.
      Talk to you soon!

      Love you!

      • oops – forgot to tell you (I don’t make anything simple) — there’s a new address. The blog is called Longleaf Stories and it’s at http://longleafstories.com.

        p.s. The Crested Caracara and Softshell Turtle look like they’re exchanging some juicy gossip . . .

      • Well, no wonder I can’t find it!

        Yeah, the Caracara was telling the turtle about the last turtle who made him wait for dinner and how his nickname is now “Roadkill”.

  4. Oh, wow! Another amazing set of interesting flora and fauna. The Anhinga’s decorating style is close to mine. Gotta have green somewhere in the room. 🙂 The shot of the fluffed out GBH is sensational. I need to put this place on my bucket list.

    And I totally agree that ever since fast food arrived, our civilization has declined! 🙂

    • Thanks so much for all the compliments, Gail! Sure appreciate it! Gini and I recently visited your home state and had a blast! Crawfish, plantations, bayous and a ghost – fun stuff!!

  5. My heartfelt thanks for this post, Wally. It’s encouraging to know that, with places like this, there’s hope yet for an ageing wildlife enthusiast to be able to still enjoy nature as his faculties continue to decline! ;-}

    As always, I’ve really enjoyed your narrative and your wonderful images – thank you!

    With my very best wishes – – – – – Richard

    • Hi, Richard! I know I’m headed downhill fast, but you didn’t need to point out how my faculties are continuing to decline! — 😦
      Thank goodness we are members of the birders’/photographers’ mutual admiration society and can still compliment each other on how brilliant we are!
      Have really enjoyed your adventures with your recent Canadian visitors! Now, THAT’S the way to vacation!

      Gini and I hope you find a few special moments to go birding this week. All the best.

  6. wow. so many interesting birds and great photography 🙂

  7. “Photographs can’t really do justice to the experience of all we found”
    Sure, they never do but you have a few very beautiful pics, especially the heron and the Anhinga on their nest.
    And your whole post is very interesting with quite a few different species.
    Great flowers too with the damselfly sitting on the lovely yellow one 🙂
    All the best and keep well, Wally!

    • Merci! It’s a wonderful place and we always find something unusual when we visit, which I hope will be soon!
      All the best, Noushka!

  8. Nice post. I can still recall how strange it felt to be in a car on my own, with no instructor, after I got my license. It did feel like some form of graduation day. Same thing with a pay packet and a credit card!

    Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne

  9. Hello, great post the Whistler is one of my favorites and I love the Least Bittern. Great birds and photos. I enjoyed my visit to the Viera Wetlands, it is a great spot for birding.

    • Thank you, Eileen! Viera is terrific any time but it sure is nice in the winter with all the migrants. Not to mention a little cooler weather!

  10. Fantastic series of photos. The heron with its wings spread out is amazing. The Whistling duck is a fascinating bird, can’t say if they are in my area of the world or not. Will have to check them out.

    • Thanks for dropping by, Linda! The Black-bellied Whistling-Duck has been seen in Canada only casually from what I understand and they don’t breed there. Hope you have a good weekend!

  11. Yet another interesting post, Wally. I especially enjoyed the swimming heron and the Obedient Flower – that curious plant was especially interesting.

    • Hi, Ron! The Dragonhead was apparently named due to the similarity of the flower to a Snapdragon, but the plant is actually in the mint family. Pretty cool behavior for a flower! I think my lovely bride mentioned something like, “now, if I could only get you to be like that……”. It’s possible I misunderstood her, though. – 🙂

  12. Very interesting post and great photos. I just wish that our councils out here would build in wetlands instead of just ponds suitable for their water treatment plants but unsuitable for birds. I loved the photos of the young birds but especially the anhingas. The wildflowers are beautiful and I know ours must be flowering now but haven’t been able to get out and see them unfortunately. btw I really like Phil’s idea of a mobility scooter in camouflage paint!!

    • Good Morning, Mick! Thanks for the nice remarks. This type of wetlands construction is being implemented more frequently here and is even being used to filter water from lakes polluted from commercial farming. The results have been pretty spectacular for creating desirable habitat for a whole range of wildlife.

      I hope you’re able to get out soon! Loved seeing the Galahs in your yard!

  13. HI Wally When I see a new post in from you I always wait until I have time to spend readingover it, and usually laughing at something you have written and them seeing all your wonderful photographs. This is a wonderful place to visit and marvellous especially for those that could not walk around it. You may not have chalked up as many species as you might have lked but you certainly saw the ‘quality’. Now that first shot of the Whistler is stunning. Also it was fatastic tht you saw and photographed the Bittern and I especially like the last shot in that series of three. The flowers re gorgeous and I hope you were not too close eto the Gators although I suppose it could not do you much damage in your car. I like the book ends of the Turtles and it is greatto know thatcrested Caracara has been around for quite some time. He is certainly stepping out in style. Looks a bit like the Goose step!! I think the third shots of the Heron juv. is hilarious and like Phil I did not know tha the young of the Anhinga were white. I am learning every day and lovely it. Well, thanks for visiting my last 3 posts regarding Ailsa Craig and I urge you to keep following the series and see some of the 70,000 Gannets we saw when we finally reached the island. it was a wonderful trip and a littlle unfortunate that it was very misty although it lifted for a few hours when we were sailing round the island looking up at the majestic cliffs covered with birds. All the best to Gini and your self and thanks for this superb post.

    • Thank you once again for an overwhelmingly lovely response, Margaret! The nice thing about that wetlands is there is plenty of room to park alongside the road and get out to wander around. I took the photo of that alligator lying flat on my stomach at the edge of the water. Happily, his bigger brother didn’t sneak up behind me!

      I cannot imagine 70,000 Gannets!! I’m looking forward to that!

      We’re hoping for a break in our tropical, monsoon-like weather so we can pursue migrants heading for South/Central America. We both wish you all the best!

  14. Hi Wally. And thank you for your contribution to birder names. I knew you would come up with a few useful ideas. No one has yet suggested “Dickie Bird”!

    Drive thru birding I like – a great idea for those of us of advanced years. I take it that “mobility scooters” as we call them are allowed? I’m going to get one on order in a camouflage paint job and tinted windows for when the drive “throughs” appear in England.

    That’s an instructive shot of the heron keeping junior under wraps and I didn’t know they actually did that but it makes sense. Also never realised that young Anhingas are white beyond the downy stage, so now I have to figure out how and why that came about?

    Nice shots of the Least Bittern, the alligator lying in wait and those bugs n weeds.

    • I envision your “birding scooter” outfitted with a mounted spotting scope and trailer to carry ringing supplies and a picnic lunch! I don’t know why the juvenile Anhingas are light colored. When hatched, they have no feathers at all then the fluffy white forms and as feathers grow the body feathers remain light/buffy through at least the first winter. The wings and tail turn dark a few weeks after hatching.

      Migrants (of the avian type) are beginning to show up all over our area so we’ll hopefully be out and about a lot in the coming weeks. Hope your weekend is off to a brilliant start!

  15. Jorge H. Oliveira

    Seems to be a very interesting place to visit. Too far away though… at least for me.
    I like the photos. Great sense of opportunity (Mama Great Blue Herons)
    Thanks for sharing.

  16. florice

    I loved this series of pictures and your comments. My favorite was the simplicity of the setting of the black bellied whistling duck on the palm stump. all were good.

    • Good Mornin’, Sis! Those whistler’s are a handsome duck. They nest in tree cavities so that one may have been exploring for a home. Hope you’re both doing good today!

      Love you!

  17. enjoyed your photos (although my connection wouldn’t load some the entire way, but…)
    great way to lead off the post w/ a wonderful whistler. loved the gbh photos and the caracara.

    and i paid cash (my own hard-earned $600) for my first car. 🙂

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