Fall In The Outfall

Once more I swiped the lenses of my binoculars in a futile attempt to dry the moisture of our early morning humidity. They immediately fogged up again. I was scanning the marsh before dawn hoping to spot a light-colored shape coasting just above the reeds. Two years ago a Barn Owl had materialized from a fog bank and just as quickly disappeared. To say they are uncommon in this area is a gross understatement.

Our last visit to Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands was in mid-September (Doldrums) and it was hot and humid. There was an abundance of mosquitoes. Now it’s late fall, winter is almost here. It’s hot and humid. There is an abundance of mosquitoes.

Although the weather was very similar, the birding was quite different. In September our total species tally was 40 and this time it increased to 56. Much of the difference was due to fall migration. Ducks, raptors and warblers really like the marsh habitat. I didn’t see the Barn Owl this morning, but was amply rewarded with six duck species, stilts, avocets, harriers, eagles, warblers, sparrows and a speedy falcon.

Enjoy the marsh.


Even the Black-necked Stilts had a hard time opening their little red eyes this morning. That blanket of warm fog was really comfortable.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Black-necked Stilt


Nothing like having unexpected guests for breakfast. This poor stilt had Long-billed Dowitchers drop in – literally – to his dining room.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Black-necked Stilt, Long-billed Dowitcher


The dour dowitchers paddled around noisily and stabbed at the water a bit and flapped off into the marsh. They didn’t even offer to wash the dishes.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Long-billed Dowitchers


A dainty American Avocet is either wading up to her waist or floating or swimming in water deeper than that to which she is accustomed.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

American Avocet


I didn’t do very well at photographing a Peregrine Falcon cruising the shore for bagels and ducks. Any hints on how to slow these bullets down a bit for a portrait?

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Peregrine Falcon


This is not the only bare tree in the whole marsh, but it sure has something attractive to Anhingas and Double-crested Cormorants. I had the impression this might be Mother Nature’s version of a Christmas Tree.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Anhinga, Double-crested Cormorant


Open water areas of the wetlands were filled with ducks today. Well represented were Northern Shovelers. This female trio kept a nervous eye on the skies. A good idea, what with falcons and eagles darting about.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Northern Shoveler


American White Pelicans gather on and around Lake Hancock during the winter and some years can number in the thousands. I counted about 80 this morning as they flew in small groups from their roost within the wetlands to the lake for a day of fishing.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

American White Pelican


It seems everywhere we go this year, we see high numbers of Eastern Phoebes. It’s warmer than normal so far this fall so many may be lingering here instead of continuing on to South America. Hope they don’t get caught in a sudden freeze.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Eastern Phoebe


Large size and bright red bill are diagnostic for the Caspian Tern, largest tern in North America.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Caspian Tern


A bit of shade is provided to a Black-necked Stilt by a Great Egret. He isn’t called “Great” for no reason!

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Black-necked Stilt, Great Egret


One of the only moths in Florida to be active throughout daylight hours is the brightly colored Bella. It’s a challenge to find one perched in the open.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Bella Moth (Utetheisa ornatrix)


Another fall visitor is the Northern Harrier. Their characteristic low flight over the marsh and lazy wing flap, along with an owl-like face, make them easy to identify. This female headed straight for me as I lay in the grass.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Northern Harrier – Female


Mottled Ducks have interbred so widely with Mallards that it’s difficult to identify a truly wild one. Most will show some mallard trait. This one flew by too fast for close examination so we’ll just call it a probably, possibly, maybe actual Mottled Duck. And that’s final!

20151206 Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands 00232.jpg


A pair of Blue-winged Teal abruptly lift off the surface as a Bald Eagle passed overhead. Hundreds of ducks in the adjacent pond followed suit.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Blue-winged Teal


The hunters. An immature and an adult Bald Eagle. It takes an eagle about four years to achieve totally white feathers on its head and tail.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Bald Eagle – Immature

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Bald Eagle


Palm Warblers do not breed in central Florida but they certainly do like to spend the winter here! Every yard, field and tree is covered with the little bug eaters. This one has claimed a rock for his throne.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Palm Warbler


The Hooded Merganser is a really good looking tourist which loves our quiet ponds. The male with his large white crest usually gets the attention, but the female exudes her own special beauty.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Hooded Merganser – Female

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Hooded Merganser – Male


A pair of Great Blue Herons have selected a nesting site among the colorful (but invasive) Brazilian Pepper bushes along the lake shore.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Great Blue Heron


It’s good to see sparrows return for the fall. This Savannah Sparrow blends in quite well with the brown reeds of the wetlands.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Savannah sparrow


The Double-crested Cormorant doesn’t usually get mentioned in a discussion of beautiful birds. Until you get to those eyes. Wow.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Double-crested Cormorant



No Barn Owl. Humidity at 100%. Temperature 92 F (33.3 C) at noon. Mosquitoes. It’s fall in the Outfall! It just doesn’t get any better than this. (Until winter.)

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.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 44 Comments

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44 thoughts on “Fall In The Outfall

  1. Every picture is a gem — just beautiful. The eye on that cormorant is amazing. The picture of the stilt beside the great egret is great, as it shows so well the sizes, something I have problems with.

    • sorry — I realize now that I had commented before; but your post certainly deserves multiple visits. I have a new computer and thought maybe I’d lost the first comment as I was trying to get used to it.

    • Hi, Sallie! Cormorants are so common around here it’s easy to overlook their beauty. I love it when different species pose close together so it’s easy to compare size.

  2. I’m always amazed by the variety of birds you get down there, Wally. This time I especially enjoyed the image of the phoebe and the one comparing the size of the egret and the stilt – very dramatic. My lenses fog up here too but usually it’s due to the cold…

    • Thank you, Ron! The difference is, when your lens clears up you produce the most spectacular photographs of birds and nature ever observed in the history of photography. When my lens clears up, I still produce foggy, hazy images! – 🙂

      Stay warm.

      (In case there is still anyone on the planet who hasn’t visited Ron’s fabulous blog with stunning bird images, do yourself a favor and go there — now: http://www.featheredphotography.com/blog/)

  3. I can’t even fmuster an iota of sympathy for you not seeing the barn owl — and I can’t even feel sorry about your mosquito bites (which I hope are all healed by now). Because you got some fabulous birds here — just absolutely wonderful. A bit envious, but so grateful for your shares and for what I learn here.

    • Of course, you are right not to feel sorry for me. I take all this abundance way too much for granted. We’re truly blessed, so I’ll try not to complain too much.

  4. Wow, Wally– it would be impossible for me to pick a favoriteout of all these splendid birds and images! I’ve gotten those foggy lenses too many times to mention, My mistake is forgetting to put the camera out in the garage to keep it out of the air conditioning. Gotten some artsy abstract photos full of halos and dewdrops, too.

    • Thank you, Ken. I am very familiar with those “artsy” photos! We should start a new genre and go on a world tour. (Except that I’m afraid our subject material would not be very unique.)

  5. Hi Wally happy new year to you and Gini. I am nearly home now, waiting at Heathrow for my flight this afternoon but thanks for leaving me all the comments when I was away. These photographs are brilliant. Great to see the blue on the flight shots of the Blue winged Teal. The green eye of the Cormorant is brilliant. I think I have to do a lot of catching up! May take a while!

    • Welcome Home (almost), Margaret! We have certainly enjoyed sharing your holiday with your family in Malawi and are so very happy to hear they are recovering! Once the jet lag wears off and you have a bit of a rest and some strong Irish tea, get out there and get busy blogging! (Just kidding. But we do enjoy your posts!)

  6. Ooooh. And ahhh.
    Feathered enchantment without the heat, the humidity and the ‘squitoes.

  7. Hey Wally, thank you so much for dropping by. You have presented us with a truly wonderful set of images to start off the New Year. That shot of the Dowager plumage in flight is particularly stunning and the eagles. Thank you for sharing your gift and Happy New Year to you and yours.

  8. wow, that´s an amazing collection of birds. Many of them are my favorites but there are also a few I have not seen 🙂

  9. You got some great stuff on this trip! Isn’t this the area that is restricted to special access only? I just signed up for a tour with Cole in early January. I’m hoping he still has spots open.

    • We hope your New Year is off to a wonderful beginning, Dina! Yes, the wetlands should be open to the public this year (maybe!). In the meantime, there should be a lot of wintering birds there this month. Enjoy your tour!

  10. AMAZING shots! Sorry you were fighting moisture, but you persevered! 🙂 Great photos. I know you wish you could see that barn owl…I’d love to myself.

    • Happy New Year, Marie! I never fight our humidity, I just let it soak in! Thank you for visiting and for your kind remarks.

  11. Hi Wally,
    Many thanks for your sweet comment, but I will take it as if you were joking! LOL!
    Your photography is fantastic, I told you this already, and sharpness comes mainly with enough proximity as you well know 🙂
    And it is often lucky to manage to get close 🙂
    Your flying duck is superb so is the cormorant portrait, sparrow and….. well, all of the pictures 😉
    The Anhinga one shows the great distance your were from the birds but also it gives an idea of the surroundings and their numbers.
    A lovely post 🙂
    Enjoy the new year, I’ll get into it before you 😉
    Hugs to the both of you

    • Merci, Noushka! We really enjoyed your hugs, as well as a few of our own! I really appreciate your encouragement and kind remarks. Here’s wishing us all a Peaceful New Year filled with the beauty of our planet’s Nature.

  12. What a nice set of photos and sightings! I love that bella moth photo. Pretty sweet.

  13. A beautiful series! I love that Eastern Phoebe, and you’ve really captured it well.

  14. Nice set of pictures – condensation on the lenses is always a pain – air-con is great for us, but bad for lens on humid days!

    Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne

    • Thanks, Stewart. Our humidity is so bad – even my eyes are fogged over all morning! Oh, wait, maybe that’s not the humidity …

  15. some marvelous sightings you get! and always wonderful photos! we get the gbhs, great egrets, phoebes here, the blue-winged, cormorants, shovelers are rarer visitors but the others have never stopped in. 😉 i LOVE the great egret and stilt image as well as the 2 gbhs together. awesome! happy 2016 to you!

    • We so much appreciate you continuing to visit with us despite the unreliable schedule I’ve fallen into! It’s just great to be able to get outside and find so many beautiful things. We hope your New Year will be filled with Peace and Joy!

      • my blogging has become less and less due to work/time constraints. i miss having more time to post and visit. but life doesn’t always let us pick and choose. 🙂

      • That durn “life” thing sure gets in the way of a lot of fun stuff …..

  16. Really liking your new blog template, Wally, and that header image makes me want to be there!

    I could get really jealous of the the fabulous array of wildlife that you have locally to your home. Your wonderful images just emphasise that feeling. Not sure when this visit you’re reporting on actually took place, but it doesn’t look like winter is going to strike any time soon.

    I’m pleased to report that our Christmas picnic lunch went even better than planned. We had an hour in a hide eating our lunch with a fabulous view and not another person seen. We then went for an hour’s walk round the reserve and didn’t see anyone else until we were all but back at our car.

    All the best to you both for 2016 – – – Richard

    • Richard, I really appreciate your kind comments! This trip was during the second week of December. We have had exactly one “cold” day this month (47 F). It sounds as if you had a wonderful picnic and Gini will be pleased to hear she isn’t the only one who enjoys sharing this sort of adventure.

      We wish you and Lindsay Peace and Love for the coming year!

  17. Stunning photo series, so much to appreciate and like…The trouble with the warmer weather is the increase in pests and mosquitoes. Have a wonderful 2016.

    • Thank you very much, Charlie! I don’t mind the skeeters as much as some of the two-legged pests scaring the birds away.
      We wish you a Happy and Peaceful New Year!

  18. An enjoyable trip to the marshes Wally. It could have been bettered by sitting at the water’s edge and sampling a slice of banana cake and a cup of coffee – but hey that’s life.

    I have to agree that snapping a speeding Peregrine is well nigh impossible. Second best is definitely to watch one in action. That Eastern Phoebe has maybe seen the sense in staying somewhere warm rather than head off into the great unknown that is migration?

    I rather like the female Hooded Merganser. Dare I say a sleek lady with a little obvious class? As for the Savannah Sparrow, that is a great shot my friend. Everything spot on and as it should be.

    Enjoy your New Year festivities my friend. And if you fancy a cooling rain shower or two I know someone who has an abundance of such things and will happily send some your way.

    • That’s the wonderful thing about Gini’s culinary specialties, they are equally delicious in the office or in the swamp. Thank you for your kind comments on the images.
      Our holiday festivities will (hopefully) be subdued and we’ll enjoy each others’ company (just as in most days!). We sincerely appreciate your willingness to share your cool, wet weather but wouldn’t want to deprive you of something so comfortably familiar. We shall continue to suffer warm temperatures and blue skies to the best of our abilities.

  19. Magnificent photos as per usual and I especially like those sleepy stilts and the beautiful eye color of the cormorant. Very nice to see a Caspian Tern – also seen frequently around here.
    Your temps right now sound very similar to ours but I suspect that your houses are built better able to manage the extremes of climate. Australians seem to have only recently discovered air conditioners (or proper heating for the winter!) and I now know that when I had this house built I should have made better provision for higher temps. I am rather relieved to hear that you do indeed have mosquitoes! ‘Paradise’ needs a few problems to make us enjoy the other parts!! Thanks for sharing your part of the world with us all!

    • Thank you, Mick! We often wonder how the early settlers managed without central air conditioning! I love the heat and humidity but it sure is nice to be able to escape into a cool house when needed! Yes, I have difficulty photographing birds as our mosquitoes are so large they often blot out the sun. 🙂

      Gini and I wish you all the best for the New Year!

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