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.
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.
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?)
For me, Least Bitterns are usually heard but seldom seen. I felt fortunate to actually spot three different individuals today.
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.
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.)
Only seen here during migration, a Savannah Sparrow forages for seeds and insects.
Yes, it’s one more picture of an American Alligator. This one shows off the results of excellent dental hygiene.
At Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area, we found Ying and Yang the twin turtles (Florida Peninsula Cooter).
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.
In a more prairie-like area we found the showy Largeflower Rosegentian.
Near the ground peeking out from leaves of larger plants was the very small but bright Narrowleaf Blue-eyed Grass.
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.
Almost anywhere there was standing water we saw the beautiful Prairie Iris, also called Dixie Iris.
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.
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!
Linking to Stewart’s “Wild Bird Wednesday”. See more birds from around the world at Paying ReadyAttention for