Posts Tagged With: american avocet

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

At The Edge Of The Final Frontier

The transition from night into day is a subtle process. Our eyes perceive only that which artificial illumination permits. Beyond the edge of the bright headlamps of the car is – nothing. Just a few minutes ago, there were things familiar to us bathed in the glow of their own artificial lighting. Traffic lights, a gas station, hotel, shopping center, airplanes on approach to a multicolored-lit runway. As we zipped eastward to embrace the dawn, we traversed a vast marsh. Peering through the side window revealed – the bottom of an inkwell. Soon, shadows took shape on all sides. In front of us was a barely perceptible line of dark blue. Another mile and below the dark blue was a lighter shade of blue with a very pale pink border. An orange glow began to consume the center of our field of forward vision and almost immediately we could see that sliver of star which warms our planet to a perfectly habitable degree.

Today we were exploring the northern reaches of the Indian River. (See the previous post, Learning Something New, for what we found to the south.) The primary target of our adventure is the vast Merritt Island National Wildlife Reserve and neighboring Canaveral National Seashore. Encompassing over 140,000 acres (56,656 ha.), the area has a tremendous diversity of habitat and wildlife. Click on the link under Additional Information below to get a small idea of the possibilities.

Some of this region’s first human inhabitants were the Ais Indians. Primarily hunter/gatherers, the Ais likely had their first encounter with westerners during the 16th century as the Spanish explored and mapped the area. Indeed, the Spanish noted on their maps the Rio de Ais, which probably became River of the Indians and was eventually shortened to Indian River. These native Floridians inhabited the peninsula along with at least five other major Indian nations until contact with westerners brought disease and slavery to the territory. This and continued warring with neighboring tribes contributed to the Ais’ demise and the last record of them was in the early 1700’s.

Fast forward two-hundred years. After the end of World War II, America was developing long-range missiles and needed a place larger than White Sands, New Mexico for testing. The Atlantic Ocean is pretty big. At the time, not much of anyone was interested in living along the mosquito-infested upper reaches of the Indian River. Thus, in the area of an old light house at Cape Canaveral, a space program was born.

As we gazed in awe at yet another spectacular sunrise, it was stirring to think about a young Ais armed with his spear tipped with a hook carved from a deer hoof, pulling a fat mullet from the water just as the same orange ball broke this same horizon. The bright orb matches the color of the powerful rocket thrusters which carried the first humans to our moon, launched from this spot. Thinking of both events makes me feel humble.

The sun was up. There were birds to be seen. Fortified with one of Florida’s juiciest oranges and a swig of hot coffee, we saw birds. Lots of birds. Alongside the Atlantic Ocean, Merritt Island Refuge is dotted with marshes, ponds, stands of hardwood and pine, hammocks and beaches. Paradise for migrating as well as resident birds. Paradise for birders, too!

In a place such as this, a single day cannot possibly do justice to all that can be seen here. I guess we’ll just have to keep returning. A few of the highlights: 72 total species observed, 40+ Blue-winged Teal, 60+ Northern Shoveler, 300+ Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Mottled Duck, American Wigeon, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Hooded Merganser, 250+ Snowy Egret, 300+ White Ibis, 40+ Roseate Spoonbill, 3000+ American Coot, 70+ American Avocet, 50+ Yellowlegs, 100+ Dunlin, 50+ Long-billed Dowitcher, 500+ Tree Swallow and 4 Reddish Egret. An embarrassment of birding riches.

Yeah. We’ll be back.

 

Even in non-breeding plumage, American Avocet are simply beautiful. They will sometimes hold just the tip of their bill in the water and filter small morsels, or probe deeper along the bottom as they sweep their bills back and forth.

American Avocet

American Avocet

American Avocet

American Avocet

 

It is estimated there are fewer than 2,000 pairs of Reddish Egrets remaining in the U.S. This large egret has both a dark (reddish) and white form. No matter what color it is, it’s feeding behavior is quite distinct. The bird will run through shallow water hoping to scare a fish, walk slowly and reach out with one foot and “stir” the mud, stand still with wings outstretched to provide shade for fish, spin around in one spot to try and scare up a meal or hop up out of the water entirely and splash back down. These guys are a lot of fun to watch.

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

 

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

 

The Snowy Egret may not go through quite as many antics as her big red brother, but even on a bad hair day she gets the job done.

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

 

Some of our winter visitors, the Hooded Merganser and family, enjoy the warm shallow waters of the Sunshine State.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

 

A pair of Lesser Yellowlegs surprised me by jumping up from the mangroves and I was only able to snap a quick shot of their departure.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

 

Not a clear photograph, but I’m happy to get any shot of a Northern Harrier during the short time they visit us in the winter. This one has what appears to be a shorebird leg in his beak.

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

 

Sunlight reveals a whole spectrum of colors on the Northern Shoveler. Another migrant, it’s hard to miss this bird’s unique silhouette.

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

 

This Forster’s Tern objected, loudly, to me standing along the shoreline snapping photographs. I finally took one of HIM and he left me alone.

Forster's Tern

Forster’s Tern

 

The large Royal Tern can be identified from the similar Caspian Tern by an orangish (instead of deep red) bill and a mostly clear (instead of black) forehead.

Royal Tern

Royal Tern

 

Even in winter, butterflies abound. This Great Southern White will only live five or six days. There were so many in some areas it looked like snow falling.

Great Southern White  (Ascia monuste monuste)

Great Southern White (Ascia monuste monuste)

 

American White Pelicans exhibit “cooperative feeding”. They work together to “herd” a school of fish to a certain area and almost in unison plunge down to fill their large pouches. It all resembles a choreographed ballet. Minus the swans.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

 

Roseate Spoonbills are pretty at any time of year. However, as breeding season nears all their colors become deeper and their head and breasts take on additional markings.

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

 

Banded Water Snake is on the lunch menu for this Great Blue Heron. The big bird tries to kill the snake by bashing it on the ground before swallowing it whole.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

In the middle of a construction equipment storage yard, we spotted a Great Horned Owl sitting on a nest atop a utility pole. Soon there will be the pitter-pat of little talons.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

 

We apparently found a favorite wintering spot for the Northern Pintail. Over 300 birds were busily feeding in the late afternoon in a large open water area. A very handsome bird.

Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail

 

Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail

 

A Ring-necked Duck, riding low in the water, doesn’t see what’s so special about these Pintails.

Northern Pintail, Ring-necked Duck

Northern Pintail, Ring-necked Duck

 

As we reluctantly headed home at the end of the day, a wintering Horned Grebe popped up from a small bay to say good-bye.

Horned Grebe

Horned Grebe

 

The last rays of the sun warmed a group of Black Skimmers on the beach all huddled together for the night. Sounds like a good idea.

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

 

We hope to return soon for another overdose of birding! Whether you are interested in history, enjoy birding or are fascinated with space exploration, visit Merritt Island if you possibly can!

(Huh? I don’t know. Soon. — Gini is punching me in the side wanting to know when we can go again. Sigh.)

 

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

 

Additional Information

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

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