Snow is beautiful.
Having lived for a time in upstate New York and Europe, we came to appreciate the soft flakes falling on our upturned faces, the very special stillness of a forest blanketed in snow and the breathtaking scenery of a mountain top capped in pure white. Our romantic notion of snow may have been influenced by the fact that we knew our association with it would be temporary. We are both natives of Florida and it is within our DNA to require frequent infusions of “S3″ (sun-sand-salt). Our return to the state of our birth was celebrated by disposing of all footwear and the trimming of long pants to create a wardrobe of only shorts and T-shirts.
Yesterday morning began with a light fog and when I eased onto the trail leading to the marsh before sunrise the air temperature was 65 F (18.3 C). Three hours later it was 80 F (26.7 C). This is the way February should be. I no longer reminisce about snow.
I have written about the Circle B Bar Reserve before and shall do so again. It is near the house and is an absolute wonderland for nature lovers. We hope those who may be wishing for warmer times will take heart at viewing some of our wildlife preparing for spring.
Good numbers of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks have spent the winter here and this flock heads across the marsh in the morning fog.
All sorts of wildlife enjoy the nutrient rich waters and surrounding environment of the marsh. A family of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks dine while an adult is on constant watch.
As the dawn sky begins to brighten, the fog lifts and the local residents set about the never-ending task of surviving another day. A secretive Sora furtively searches for seeds and small water animals. These birds are more often heard than seen.
The Green Heron is a master hunter and can uncoil his long neck to snag unsuspecting fish and insects.
A Tricolored Heron appears to enjoy a moment of morning sunlight before beginning his hunt for groceries.
Snowy Egrets are in breeding plumage and seem to know how handsome they look.
Larger cousins of the Snowy, the Great Egret is also in full breeding plumage. The bright green lores and long plumes are hard to miss on this large wading bird.
On the opposite end of beautiful (to which I can relate) is the Wood Stork. They are equal opportunity diners and don’t mind trying anything they can get into that long beak. It’s good to see them breeding here as they remain a threatened species in Florida. Their traditional nesting areas in the Everglades, further south, have not been productive in recent years.
A young Limpkin is almost hidden in the tall weeds along the lake shore as he prepares to enjoy escargot for breakfast. The Apple Snail is plentiful here and there is a large Limpkin population as a result.
Think Pink! The marsh was full of Roseate Spoonbills. These birds are beautiful and odd at the same time. It’s hard not to marvel at their fantastic colors, but the head with no feathers and the large spatulate bill cause us to look twice. They use their unique bills to sweep back and forth through shallow water for fish, crustaceans and insects. Special nerve endings in the bill sense when they locate something and cause the bill to snap shut.
Ospreys are nesting just about anywhere in central Florida that is near water. This one is out early scouting for a fish lounging too near the water’s surface.
A female Red-winged Blackbird perches behind a spider web curtain. Moments later, she sprang to the ground and clamped her beak around a large dragonfly. She was soon harassed by other birds and she escaped to some dense underbrush to consume her prize in private.
Springtime in Florida signals the start of Alligator courting rituals. The males swim out into open water and raise their heads and tails above the surface. They then vibrate their backs which often causes the surface of the water to ripple. All of this is accompanied by the ‘gator sounding off with a deep bellowing which is supposed to be attractive to any female in hearing distance. (A lake full of bellowing alligators at night can be a very interesting experience!)
Although they are gorgeous, even Roseate Spoonbills have the occasional tiff. It seems the one flying in objected to another occupying a particular feeding spot. The interloper was loud and showy, but was driven off when the other bird snapped at his behind and used that long bill to push the bully out of there!
Once the sun was up higher, turtles occupied every snag in the place to work on their tans. Their backs are covered in the green Duckweed which is so prevalent throughout the marsh.
The particular trail I started down is named “Marsh Rabbit Run”. This is the first time I have seen an actual Marsh Rabbit on this trail! (At his feet are empty Apple Snail shells which the Limpkins like so much.)
Pink birds notwithstanding, the Purple Gallinule knows he is also good looking, but finds it hard to be inconspicuous in a marsh full of brown reeds.
With such an abundance of creatures in this environment, conflict is inevitable. Here, a Crow and a White Ibis dispute who can occupy this prime piece of real estate.
The following is a series showing how the Roseate Spoonbills use that bill to sift through the water and yell at each other. It’s also a chance to highlight their brilliant plumage which really brightens up a marsh.
It was time to go home and get some breakfast of my own. As I headed to the truck, a mixed flock of Roseate Spoonbills, White Ibis, Glossy Ibis and Snowy Egrets took off in the distance.
Nope. I don’t miss snow at all. Not even a little bit.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!