Posts Tagged With: black-necked stilt

TEXAS ! – Too.

Driving south from Houston, one encounters extensive agricultural production. Corn, cotton, grain sorghum, rice and local seasonal vegetables. Don’t forget about cattle! Texas leads the nation in production of cattle, sheep and goats. After about half an hour, traffic began to thin (most was heading north to jobs in the city) and the sunrise revealed a landscape familiar to these two Florida natives – really flat.

Our destination was the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge. Established in 1969 specifically to provide shelter for migrating songbirds, it sounded like our kind of place. Bordered on the south by the Gulf of Mexico, the refuge consists of vast salt marshes, two rivers feed freshwater marshes, man-made impoundments provide protected spots for tens of thousands of waterfowl and there is even a section of old-growth hardwood forest to explore.

We typically spend our driving time talking to each other. (I know, right? But it’s only been 51 years so we may run out of things to say some day. Not.) Today’s topic centered on our son and his family. Their daughter is ten and we really enjoyed seeing her perform in a school play. Her brother is eight and full of mischief, exactly as a boy of eight should be. We couldn’t believe how much they had grown physically and socially since our last visit. It was a lot of fun watching the two of them interact with friends after the play had ended. We normally only see them in a home setting and this was different! They were both so full of energy and you could tell they are – happy. So were we.

Alas, we missed songbird migration by a week or so. Fortunately, we had a thoroughly enjoyable day poking around the refuge. We knew it would be a good day when we stopped at the entrance kiosk for a brochure and a Carolina Wren flew out of one of the empty map boxes where we found a perfectly formed nest. We retreated and hoped the wren would return.

A few images below may indicate the diversity to be found at this refuge. They are still in a bit of a re-building mode due to significant damage as a result of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. We look forward to a return visit and will try to adjust our timing a bit so we can see trees full of colorful warblers and thousands of ducks!

 

Entering the refuge.

San Bernard NWR

 

In Florida, it is uncommon to spot a White-faced Ibis but Glossy Ibis are extremely common. This situation is reversed at San Bernard NWR. In breeding plumage, the White-faced Ibis has a white border around a reddish face, a gray bill, red legs and a red iris. The Glossy has pale lines around a dark face, the bill is more brownish and the eyes dark. (The image of the Glossy Ibis is from Florida.)

San Bernard NWR

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Black-necked Stilts nest in the refuge and we spotted more than a dozen during the day.

San Bernard NWR

 

A lone tree in the salt marsh is the only notable break in the grass between us and the Gulf of Mexico.

San Bernard NWR

 

Stand silently and observe the marsh for a few minutes and an incredible array of life becomes evident. Here, a flock of Snowy Egrets moves from one spot of open water to another.

San Bernard NWR

 

We are always amazed at the size of the Purple Gallinule’s feet! Very helpful when walking atop aquatic plants.

San Bernard NWR

 

This immature White Ibis will gradually molt into the all-white plumage of an adult.

San Bernard NWR

 

Crested Caracara won’t hesitate to prey on waterfowl (or anything else that moves) but is equally happy to feed upon carrion.

San Bernard NWR

 

Darting among reeds along a pond shoreline, the Common Yellowthroat male is not exactly camouflaged. During breeding season the male sings for what seems to be 24 hours a day.

San Bernard NWR

San Bernard NWR

 

It’s a bit unusual to catch a Sora fully exposed, as they tend to skulk further back in the weeds. I lay on my stomach and inched close enough for a few shots.

San Bernard NWR

 

While laying in the grass taking photos of the Sora, I counted ten very young (12-18 inches) alligators run into the water ahead of me. Number 11 remained behind and let me know he was unafraid. I began to wonder where Mama was. Seemed like a good time to return to the path. Quickly. Looking over my shoulder.

San Bernard NWR

 

On one of the impoundments constructed for wintering waterfowl, a Pied-billed Grebe paused for a candid portrait before returning to his fishing.

San Bernard NWR

 

During breeding season, the Little Blue Heron’s eyes and legs turn black and the base of the bill becomes bright blue.

San Bernard NWR

 

Flocks of Fulvous Whistling-Ducks could be seen all across the impoundments as they moved from one open water area to another. (Two immature Little Blue Herons are in the foreground.)

San Bernard NWR

 

A pair of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks watched their fulvous cousins from atop a nearby berm.

San Bernard NWR

 

We even found a few flowers in bloom. A showy orange Lantana and bright red Tropical Sage.

San Bernard NWR

San Bernard NWR

 

In a muddy area, we were tempted to follow this alligator track to see where it went. Okay, Gini wasn’t thrilled with the idea. Okay, we both jumped in the car and locked the doors and sped away. There, satisfied?

San Bernard NWR

 

Birds aren’t the only migrants which take advantage of the refuge. A Monarch butterfly almost blends in with the wildflowers.

San Bernard NWR

 

One Black-bellied Whistling-Duck stands watch while its mate feeds. The mate is appreciative.

San Bernard NWR

San Bernard NWR

 

One Fulvous Whistling-Duck stands watch while its mate bathes. The mate is appreciative.

San Bernard NWR

San Bernard NWR

 

Along a canal in the marsh, we came upon two very mature American Alligators announcing their territory. They were about 20 yards apart and quite loud. The water droplets “dance” above the alligator’s back due to sub-audible vibrations which precede the audible bellowing. Recent research indicates an alligator’s size can be determined by its bellowing characteristics. This allows a potential adversary to determine if a fight for territory or a mate is feasible.  (Alligator’s Bellow Communicates Size.)

Listen: Alligator Bellowing

San Bernard NWR

San Bernard NWR

 

Despite all that bellowing not far away, this Black-necked Stilt just had to get a little power nap.

San Bernard NWR

 

Speaking of naps, it was time for us to head to Houston. After a satisfying bit of Texas Bar-B-Que, we made it back and began packing for our return to Florida. It was a great visit!

If you get a chance to go coastal in Texas, drop by San Bernard NWR. Watch out for the wren’s nest at the entrance and respect the alligator’s territory – or test your own bellowing and see if you measure up.

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

 

Additional Information

San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge

Categories: Birds, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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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