Posts Tagged With: american bittern

Sunday Drive

Once upon a time, there were two families. They lived almost 300 miles from each other. One family had six children, the other had four. Once a week, on Sunday, their routines were remarkably similar. The day began early with lots of bustling about, having a quick breakfast together, checking skirts, shirts and ties. Church was a big deal. Although a pew was not reserved, each of these families always seemed to occupy the same respective one every week. Trying to keep that many young children attentive during a long sermon must have been a challenge. A “shushhh” from Mother or a loud “Hallelujah!” from the minister was usually enough to keep us all in line. The ultimate silencer, though, would be “The Look” from Dad. None would dare make a peep or continue to fidget after THAT!

Back home, the first priority was to get out of those Sunday clothes! The two Mothers performed their ritual weekly magic and a huge lunch always appeared on the large family dining table. A roast beef and mashed potatoes, a baked ham with apple sauce or mounds of spaghetti. After such a feast, a short nap was in order. Well, our duty as kids was to fight taking naps with a vengeance, so we usually found something to keep us busy while the old folks snoozed. (Funny how now that WE are the old folks, we would love to have a nap!)

About mid-afternoon, both families would pile into the car again for “The Sunday Drive”. There was usually no actual destination for these drives but they usually involved getting “out in the country”. About the time the kids started becoming obnoxious (“She’s TOUCHING me!!”), Dad would say something like “Who wants ice cream?”. Riot control extraordinaire.

Gini and I have often marveled how similar our childhood memories are.

A couple of weeks ago, we went on a Sunday Drive.

We visited Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive. Visit the link below for information on exploring Lake Apopka. The 11 mile wildlife drive always seems to offer something wonderful. Today was no exception.

 

It’s fall and migration is in progress. A flock of Fulvous Whistling-Ducks soars over the marsh in search of a protective spot to rest.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Palm Warblers are among the first wood warblers to arrive each season and we saw well over three dozen of the active little birds during the day.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Squawking his displeasure at us interrupting his hunting, a Great Egret flapped to another area where he hopes for more privacy.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

This immature Red-shouldered Hawk paid no attention to us at all as his gaze was fixed on a water snake for breakfast. He grabbed the snake and flew directly into the bright sun, so no photo of him with his prize.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Autumn means the return of one of our favorite raptors, the Northern Harrier. The owl-like face, long tail and checkered wing pattern combined with a low, lilting flight just above the marsh make this hunter a joy to watch.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Rich colors of the Green Heron help it to blend with the surrounding vegetation as it patiently stalks prey such as small fish, frogs, lizards and snakes.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Watching a Great Egret preen, we are reminded how hunters almost decimated the species as they harvested the beautiful long feathers (aigrettes) for ladies’ hats.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Blooms of the water lily decorated a few spaces of open water.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

A pair of Blue-winged Teal are likely migrants as the species typically does not spend the whole year in central Florida.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

This Fulvous Whistling-Duck appears to be peeved that I’m taking his portrait.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

A large lake bordered by a vast expanse of marsh interspersed with canals makes excellent habitat for the American Alligator. We observed many dozens. They, in turn, observed us.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Several species of freshwater turtles call this area home. Here, a Peninsula Turtle lounges on a limb and soaks up a little sunshine.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

When bees are covered in pollen identification (for me) becomes difficult.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Gaining altitude over the wetlands, an immature Bald Eagle almost looks “dirty”. This is probably a third-year bird and this time next year she should be decked out in fresh white and black plumage.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

There are many variations of the Stink Bug and I think this one is a Brown Stink Bug (Euschistus sp.). Most members of this insect family can damage a wide variety of crops.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Don’t tell this Common Gallinule he’s common. I did and he took offense.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

The bill of this small diving bird provides a clue to how it got its name, Pied-billed Grebe. (Gini calls them “fuzzy butts”. Call the ornithological union.)

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Throughout the marsh there are plenty of snags from which hunters such as the Little Blue Heron can perch and scan below for a meal.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

One of the largest and most efficient of hunters, the Great Blue Heron, is not only magnificent to look at but is also amazing to observe as it hunts a huge variety of prey.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Another early migrant, the American Bittern, specializes in camouflage. When it stands motionless in front of reeds and holds its head toward the sky, it can become almost invisible.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Florida residents. Paper wasps are common and if you don’t provide the respect they deserve you will receive a painful reminder to keep your distance!

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

We thoroughly enjoyed our Sunday Drive. Just as I started to get a bit fidgety, Gini said there was ice cream ahead! Turned out to be grilled German sausage and apple pie. Just as good!

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

Additional Information:

Lake Apopka North Shore

 

Postscript

On the way home from our Sunday Drive, we received a phone call. Help was needed. We went home, packed and headed north.

On October 10th, Hurricane Michael made landfall as a Category 4 storm very near my brother’s home. As the storm churned northeastward, it passed directly over the homes of two of Gini’s brothers. Thankfully, all three families had evacuated and received no injuries. Property damage was extensive, unfortunately, and it will be awhile before things return to normal.

We helped in our small way by providing some food and cleaning up a seemingly infinite number of downed tree limbs. Other family members pitched in with financial aid and helped as they were able.

Safely back home, we are thankful for all we have and, for awhile, will try not to take what we have for granted.

Life is good. Enjoy it!

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Follow Your Nose

In order to improve as a birder, it’s important to develop a keen awareness of all our natural senses. Sight is quite helpful in spotting large and small bundles of feathers and matching them to their portraits in a convenient field guide (or in today’s modern world, an application on a “smart” phone if you can pass the IQ test which I haven’t yet mastered). Hearing a bird’s song may be one of the greater joys in life and has inspired poets for ages. Simply knowing the calls and songs of a particular species is sufficient to identify which bird is producing the sound. Touch comes into play a bit more subtly as most birders don’t actually handle the objects of their affection (hey! we’re still talking about birds here!). The notable exception being banders (ringers) or scientists. One must hone their sense of touch to quickly and accurately focus binoculars and scopes or to change camera settings without removing one’s eye from the viewfinder. As to the sense of taste, I shall not take the easy route and make some joke about “tastes like chicken” or recount the tall tale of a tour guide who had candy in his hand and pretended to pick up an owl pellet and placed it in his mouth to the horror of the group and announced: “Yep, that owl was here an hour ago.” No, I won’t stoop to that level. Let’s just agree that by going birding we have all proven we have good taste.

This brings us to the sense of smell. You haven’t achieved birding nirvana until you’ve stood in a seabird rookery or walked along a shoreline used the previous evening as a roost by several thousand pelicans. Yes, on those occasions you’ll be thankful for that keen sense of smell of which you’re so proud. You’ll also be wishing for a breeze to hit you in the face to clear away the tears.

In recent years, many communities have adopted innovative methods for handling malodorous human waste. One such method involves combining chemical treatment with natural filtration and many man-made wetlands have resulted. Basically, after waste is chemically treated it is pumped into a holding “cell”, a pond which has been planted with vegetation which helps filter impurities from the water. This water is then pumped into another “cell” where the filtration process is repeated. There may be several “cells” involved and the end product is much cleaner water being returned into the watershed. The good news for birders is these “cells” are magnets for all sorts of birds. The better news is many water treatment facilities have opened these wetland areas to the public and some have become birding “hotspots”.

How does one locate these areas? When I was very young and we visited my grandparents who lived “out in the country” the only bathroom they had was an “outhouse”. No indoor plumbing. When I asked Grandpa how I could find the outhouse if I had to go when it was dark, he replied: “Go out the back door and just follow your nose.” Thank goodness we have evolved from those days.

As I exited the port-o-potty, the sound of Sandhill Cranes filled the morning air as they moved to the nearby sod fields to forage. We were visiting Viera Wetlands (officially known as the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands, named for a county worker killed in a traffic accident). The wetlands are on the east coast of Florida near the town of Cocoa Beach and are very easy to find. (See the links below for maps and wetlands descriptions.) The wetlands consists of four “cells” of about 35 acres each and a central lake. The berms around the lake can be driven, biked or walked and total about four miles. The cells were dug to varying depths to attract a greater diversity of water birds and each cell was planted with a different mix of vegetation to assist filtration, erosion prevention and wildlife attraction. Surrounding the wetlands is a mix of deciduous and hardwood trees and a very large commercial sod farm. The area is only a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean and, in the other direction it’s just a few miles to the Indian River.

It’s fairly routine to spot 40-50 species of birds here without leaving the comfort of your vehicle. With more effort lists of 60-70 are feasible. On this day, we listed 52 species without trying too hard. Some of the highlights included the sights and sounds of Great Blue Herons courting and building nests, finding a Wilson’s Snipe hiding in the grass, watching a Limpkin enjoy escargot and spotting two wintering American Bitterns. All of that and lunch with Gini by the gazebo as we watched sparrows, ducks, cranes, grebes and alligators under a cloudless deep blue sky – who could wish for more?

 

Some of this stuff made it through the rigorous photo editing process.

 

Pied-billed Grebes breed in central Florida but during the winter migrants swell the population throughout the state. At Viera Wetlands it’s not unusual to find several dozen of these little cuties, sometimes floating in large groups for better protection from predators.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

 

This female Belted Kingfisher had a favorite palm tree stump from which she launched aquatic attacks and returned with her prize to devour before repeating the process. This time she grabbed a little salad along with her seafood entree.

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

 

One of our winter visitors to the wetlands is the American Bittern. Standing over two feet tall and with a wingspan of over three feet, it seems they would be easy to spot. However, their cryptic plumage and habit of “freezing” with bill pointed upward makes them almost invisible among grass and reeds. We were fortunate to find two today.

American Bittern

American Bittern

 

American Bittern

American Bittern

 

Even on our coldest days here in central Florida we can usually find a butterfly. I love it here. Apparently, so does this Fiery Skipper.

Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phylus)

Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phylus)

 

Savannah Sparrows also migrate here for the winter. Their beautiful shades of brown and rust blend in well with low ground cover. When annoyed, such as when someone’s trying to take your picture, they raise the crest on their head and give you “that look”.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

 

Water plus mud equals turtles. Florida Redbelly Cooters and Peninsula Cooters have different appearing shells and head patterns. We caught one Redbelly practicing its ballet movements. (The green on its shell is algae.)

Peninsula Cooter  (Pseudemys peninsularis)

Peninsula Cooter (Pseudemys peninsularis)

 

Florida Redbelly Cooter  (Pseudemys nelsoni)

Florida Redbelly Cooter (Pseudemys nelsoni)

Florida Redbelly Cooter  (Pseudemys nelsoni)

Florida Redbelly Cooter (Pseudemys nelson)

 

Great Blue Herons are quite noisy when trying to attract a mate. The males clap their beaks and flap their wings and hop and jump around and bring gifts (a stick) to their lady. You know, just like human guys. The prospective couple then picks out a palm tree and begins nest construction.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

Similar to the American Bittern above, the plumage of a Wilson’s Snipe blends perfectly with the grass and mud of a pond shoreline. They rely on this camouflage for protection and will often wait until you almost step on them before flushing.

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson’s Snipe

 

Terns are among the most graceful of birds in flight and this Forster’s Tern looks pretty good while resting, too.

Forster's Tern

Forster’s Tern

Forster's Tern

Forster’s Tern

 

Once the Blue-winged Teal finishes preening, he (and his reflection) look quite nice.

Blue-winged Teal

Blue-winged Teal

 

Blue-winged Teal

Blue-winged Teal

 

It’s hard to mistake the profile of the Northern Shoveler. This male’s green head, white breast and brown sides will become more solidly colored by breeding season.

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

 

The small Green Heron is a year-round resident and always fun to watch as it patiently stalks its prey.

Green Heron

Green Heron

 

More tourists. Ring-necked Ducks are often mistakenly, but understandably, called “Ring-billed” Ducks. No matter what you call them, they are a handsome species.

Ring-necked Duck

Ring-necked Duck

 

Taxonomically unique, the Limpkin’s closest relatives are rails and cranes. Apple Snails are this bird’s preferred meal and it’s specialized bill has evolved to allow easy extraction of the snail from its shell.

Limpkin

Limpkin

 

 

Gini and I had another wonderful day together in Florida’s natural wonderland. Just remember, to locate a birding bonanza in your neighborhood, simply “follow your nose”!

(Or – you could just click on the links below for an actual map.)

 

We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

 

Additional Information

Viera Wetlands (Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands)

Domestic Wastewater To Wetlands Program

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

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