“For Better Or Worse.” She had no idea.
From braving blizzards, sleeping on rocky ground, suffering heat exhaustion on a small boat 30 miles from land, being lost in the forests of Germany, dodging hailstones in the desert – to being my constant companion no matter the adventure – to raising two perfect children – my wife has no equal. Her positive spirit continued to manifest itself when our bird watching hobby was elevated to a new level recently.
The second Florida Breeding Bird Atlas project began in 2011 and will continue through 2016. When completed, scientists will have data on which species of birds breed within Florida and can compare trends with the first atlas from 25 years ago. Volunteer birders have spent countless hours attempting to sample portions of every county in the state. An ambitious undertaking. As a fellow birder put it, it’s “birding with a purpose”.
A couple of things have happened along the way as I’ve tried to contribute to the atlas effort. I have become a better birder. Although I had an awareness of which birds are residents, this has really fine-tuned my sense of the rhythm of the seasons. My knowledge of the natural history of birds has increased substantially. In addition to just trying to identify a bird, I’ve learned to actually “observe” birds – are they carrying nesting material, where do they nest, when do they breed, how long does it take a chick to fledge, will they have a second (or third) brood during the year – all fascinating stuff! Habitat is everything for attracting birds and I’ve learned about trees, flowers, grasses and unique ecosystems.
The best part has been more of what made it so easy to start this avocation in the first place. We are outside a lot and have enjoyed spectacular sunrises and sunsets, explored new natural areas, marveled at how many stars are packed in a pre-dawn sky, seen a triple rainbow, watched bobcats, coyotes, deer and discovered hosts of flora, fauna and natural happenings we never could have imagined. Oh, and we saw a few birds along the way, too.
We’re looking forward to the final year of the atlas coming up but the experience has added a new dimension to our bird-watching adventures. All of our senses are more alive and each trip is a new learning experience.
The following images are from a couple of trips specifically intended to locate breeding birds in specific areas to add to the atlas data bank. As usual, I can’t resist including some “non-birding” material as well.
We live within a few minutes’ drive of the Green Swamp, the second-largest swamp in Florida after the Everglades. Encompassing over 870 square miles (2253 sq km) the swamp includes headwaters of four major rivers and is a vital source of filtering water which eventually enters Florida’s underground aquifer system. This field of recently rolled hay is on the edge of the swamp and is seen here just at dawn with a bit of typical fog lingering.
What the atlas is all about: babies! A Sandhill Crane chick can walk and swim within eight hours of hatching. This youngster will lose its buffy plumage and look more like Mom and Dad by the end of the summer.
Black-necked Stilts find plenty of shallow water in our area for hunting and use the plentiful mud shorelines to nest. Below you can see the size of the stilt relative to a Sandhill Crane and a Glossy Ibis.
Mottled Ducks may be in danger of disappearing due to extensive inter-breeding with Mallards. These two appear to be “actual” Mottled Ducks as they don’t seem to show any Mallard traits but it is becoming increasingly difficult to be certain.
A small island in a pond in a pasture provides a protected rookery for a couple hundred Cattle Egrets. Also present were a few Anhingas, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons and Snowy Egrets. Most of these birds were sitting on nests and several had young in the nest.
Many Bald Eagle nests are monitored by different groups in the state, but this one had not yet been recorded when we found it late last year. Bald Eagles in Florida usually breed from November through May. We continued to drive by the newly built nest periodically and finally spotted this young eagle, almost ready to fledge. One of the parents flew in with a fish, deposited it in the nest and kept an eye on junior from a nearby branch.
A pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers had young in this cavity and the adults constantly flew back and forth providing food delivery for the kids. Here, the female had to lean to one side as the male exploded out of the cavity. Sorry for the blurry photo, it’s the birds’ fault.
This Brown Anole had a close encounter of the predator kind not too long ago. Fortunately, they are designed with a “break-away” tail which allows them to escape such attacks. The replacement may not be an exact match but it sure beats the alternative! This male is displaying a throat fan, or dew lap, which is used to attract attention during courtship and for territorial defense.
We spotted a Wild Turkey hen with 12 chicks. She stood watch as all the youngsters struggled to cross a fallen log.
Great Blue Skimmers love our wooded swampy areas. They are one of our larger dragonflies and are distinguished by a white face. The males are powdery blue and the females, as seen here, are brownish/orange.
Many homeowners erect elaborate houses and gourd complexes in the hope of attracting Purple Martins each year. In the event of a housing shortage, no worries, the resourceful birds will find shelter. In this case, the end supports of utility line structures are hollow and make a fine place to raise little martins.
Whether we’re bird-watching, birding, atlasing or just out for a drive, Gini and I continue to be truly blessed to be able to enjoy what Nature has to offer – together. When you have a chance, take your own census of your senses and know that Life Is Good.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!