Posts Tagged With: dorantes longtail

Learning Something New

—  Not far below New Smyrna is the north end of the Indian River, and the distance to Jupiter Inlet, its other end, is one hundred and-forty miles. The most interesting fact about this river is that it is not a river at all, but a salt-water sound.

It is a delight merely to view the river from the shore. As you look off across the blue water from the mainland you see the islands dim in dreamy haze on the other side. Schools of fishes flash their silvery sides to the sun in the shallows; farther out frolicsome mullet leap high into the air and fall back with a resounding splash; herons large and small stand and meditate in or near the water; and cormorants, black and ungainly, sit on piles of abandoned docks for hours motionless, or, if one makes a plunge for a fish, he promptly flops back to his perch. During the winter the river is a resort for innumerable ducks. In places the surface is fairly covered by them, and a boat voyaging on the river will make flocks rise from the water every few hundred yards to travel off and settle down elsewhere. —

“The East Coast and the Indian River” Highways and Byways of Florida, 1918

 

“What are you reading, Aunt Et?” Although not actually my aunt, she was called “Aunt Et” by everyone remotely related in our very large family tree. “War and Peace”, she replied. “For the fourth time. Seems like I learn something new each time.” Aunt Et had been a school teacher for most of her life and had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. At the age of 98, she was sharp and full of life. She didn’t hesitate to call members of the local school board to let them know whenever they made another bone-headed decision. She and her husband settled in this area early in the 20th century, raised a large family and did well in the state’s citrus industry. Along with wonderful memories of a fascinating lady, we returned to our home on the Gulf coast with a treasure trove of citrus and a few bags of “sand pears”, not great for eating but they made superb preserves.

That was over 50 years ago.

Mention the Indian River to most Floridians and many will immediately think of high quality oranges, grapefruits and tangerines. Fishermen will begin dreaming of the huge snook and tarpon which inhabit Ponce Inlet or tackle-smashing redfish cruising Mosquito Lagoon. Birders – well, their eyes just roll back in their heads trying to comprehend thousands of waterfowl, 100+ daily species lists and lifers just waiting to be spotted. There are many premier birding “hotspots” all along the Indian River of Florida’s east coast.

On this day, I was with one of Florida’s best birders and enjoyed a day-long tutorial on locating, seeing and hearing birds, many of which I very likely would not have observed on my own. We were exploring the Indian River watershed along the southern portion of its range and at day’s end had tallied over 90 species of birds. We began the day well before dawn, counting seven calling Barred Owls and snapping a quick photo of one just outside the car window. To finish the day, on the way home just before leaving Indian River County, an endangered Snail Kite coasted across the busy highway resulting in some exciting braking, swerving, U-turning and other normal birding procedures. In between these two extremes were Sandhill Cranes with young, Crested Caracara building a nest, wintering warblers, Northern Gannets plunging into the Atlantic Ocean, oil-covered snow birds, wild pigs, damselflies in distress, a commotion of coots, cute furry mammals and a turtle called a cooter all covered in duckweed.

(See “Additional Information” below for links to two of the areas we visited. Much of this was new territory for me and I look forward to discovering more of what this area has to offer.)

 

This Barred Owl was so intent on his potential prey that he didn’t budge when the car stopped alongside. He was less than 15 feet away and I couldn’t fit him within the frame of the lens I had on the camera. As soon as the camera shutter clicked he was gone.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

 

Sunrise appears to have come a bit too soon for this sleepy-looking Turkey Vulture. Their large talons aren’t built to grasp small diameter items such as a utility line so they have to balance carefully.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

 

A very young raccoon was quite curious about us and kept a watchful eye from his palm tree perch.

Raccoon

Raccoon

 

This Sandhill Crane family was foraging along a berm which we were traversing between two ponds. They politely moved around us as we passed them and all was well. Thank goodness. Those beaks could do some damage.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

 

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

 

The day was warm and insects were plentiful. A Rambur’s Forktail provided some color among the pond weeds.

Rambur's Forktail - Heteromorph Female  (Ischnura ramburii)

Rambur’s Forktail – Heteromorph Female (Ischnura ramburii)

 

A pair of Hooded Mergansers are visiting for the winter. Soon they’ll head back north to breed and we hope to see them again in the fall.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

 

With plenty of water and plenty of weeds there is plenty of prey for a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk to pursue.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

 

The Green Heron is not a very large bird to begin with (18 inches/46 cm long) but when he turns to face you he almost disappears. A handy trick if you’re trying to pretend you’re a reed.

Green Heron

Green Heron

 

Boat-tailed Grackles are loud, obnoxious bullies. But when the light hits them just right, beautiful is the only word to describe them.

Boat-tailed Grackle

Boat-tailed Grackle

 

This Peninsula Cooter is covered in duckweed, just like the area of the pond he frequents. He’s hoping the sun will dry some of the stuff so it will fall off his back. Then he can go get a fresh coat of green.

Peninsula Cooter

Peninsula Cooter

 

The bright reddish-orange of a Carolina Saddlebags can be seen from quite a distance. Dragonflies in the air herald Springtime around the corner.

Carolina Saddlebags - Male  (Tramea carolina)

Carolina Saddlebags – Male (Tramea Carolina)

 

Another winter visitor, a female Ruddy Duck, has long, stiff tail feathers which act as a rudder when diving for food.

Ruddy Duck - Female

Ruddy Duck – Female

 

When a Bald Eagle flies overhead, pandemonium erupts as American Coots scramble to avoid becoming breakfast.

American Coot

American Coot

 

Yet more tourists, the Redhead and Northern Shoveler try to blend in with a group of coots as they know there is safety in numbers. (They also know coots are easier for eagles to catch – see the previous photograph.)

American Coot, Northern Shoveler, Redhead

American Coot, Northern Shoveler, Redhead

 

A butterfly in the skipper family, a Dorantes Longtail finds an abundance of wildflowers blooming on this balmy Florida day.

Dorantes Longtail  (Urbanus dorantes)

Dorantes Longtail (Urbanus dorantes)

 

To paraphrase my Aunt Et, each time I go birding I seem to learn something new. We hope you do, too!

 

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

 

 

Additional Information

Lake Blue Cypress

West Regional Wastewater Treament Facility (entry from Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail map)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

A Little Seasoning Whets The Appetite

My eyes strained to make out shapes which should be familiar but no images were forming. I knew there was a line of trees to my right along a fence and there was water to the left. A splash, perhaps a frog moving from his hiding spot on the bank, confirmed I was correct about the water. I could barely discern the spot onto which I stepped. Lightning punctuated the inky blackness far to the south. We might have rain today but it likely wouldn’t form until the afternoon. The other-worldly calls of Limpkins began sounding from around the marsh. (Limpkin Call) Almost imperceptibly the sky shifted from nothingness to dark blue and blobs which I knew to be trees gradually materialized in the distance. As the curtain of the morning was slowly drawn back, large formations of Ibises and Egrets moved across the edge of the horizon from their roosts as they dispersed to feeding areas. Water birds were becoming active nearby and myriad Herons, Egrets and Ibises flapped just above the tops of the vegetation and settled into spots likely to hold abundant prey. Mosquitoes buzzed incessantly around my eyes, ears and mouth. A sliver of orange fire in the east punctured what remained of the night and our day was truly in progress.

It’s September in central Florida. Still very hot. Still very humid. Thunderstorms are scheduled every day by mid-afternoon and seldom disappoint. It has been a wetter than normal summer. We hope for cold fronts to form in Canada to energize migration. Soon. In the meantime, Nature teases us with a Yellow Warbler overhead, a chip from a Northern Waterthrush in the understory, a fleeting glimpse of a Blue-winged Teal quartet zipping across the sky. The season is changing. Even in our sub-tropical environment we can feel a difference in the air. We look forward to the surprise of discovery experienced twice each year which serves as a booster shot of excitement and insures we remain forever hooked to our sweet addiction.

As we progress through this life, we encounter “key” people. Those individuals who by position or force of personality cause things to happen and can be relied upon to “get things done”. When I was a manager, I was constantly on the lookout for this type of person because I knew they would be instrumental in the success of any venture. In birding, I have discovered it’s still important to identify and have access to “key” people. In this case, that would be the person with the key to the gate you’re trying to get beyond! I have found such a person. Shh! Don’t tell him the real reason I like his company.

Once the “key” person accomplished his vital role, we once again entered the Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands on the southeast side of Lakeland in Polk County, Florida. It may be another year before this area is open to the public. In the meantime, that feller with the key in his pocket has been gracious enough to schedule several tours for anyone interested in experiencing some the best birding in central Florida. Drop me an email if you’re interested and I’ll get some information to you.

Our day ended before noon and we had tallied just under 70 species. Highlights for me included a Short-tailed Hawk, a Willet (common along our beaches but rare at this inland area), Gull-billed Terns and over 30 Black-necked Stilts. Add to all of that patches of blooming flowers, colorful butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies, Bobcat tracks, alligators and two of the state’s most accomplished birders who see and hear subjects long before I’m aware of them – and it was a very good day indeed.

 

Sunrise. Now I could actually see how many mosquitoes were in the cloud surrounding me.

Sunrise

Sunrise

 

Here’s a view of a small portion of the wetlands area. There are three “cells” of water which have been constructed in the wetlands which covers about 1,000 acres. A pump station on the south shore of Lake Hancock will pump lake water into one of these cells where specially planted vegetation will act as natural filters to clean the water. The clean water will be pumped into another of the cells for further filtration before being released into nearby Saddle Creek which feeds the Peace River and eventually the improved water will flow into the Gulf of Mexico at Charlotte Harbor. A small effort in the grand scheme of water management, but multiplied many times around our state it can make a difference.

Northeast Cell

Northeast Cell

 

A Dorantes Longtail dries out its wings after a heavy dew.

Dorantes Longtail (Urbanus dorantes)

Dorantes Longtail (Urbanus dorantes)

 

From the top of a small tree a Northern Parula sings as if Spring was here instead of Fall.

Northern Parula

Northern Parula

 

A curious Tufted Titmouse didn’t take long to start his alarm call to let the world know where we were. “Intruder Alert!”

Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse

 

It’s hard to miss the Scarlet Skimmer. There were dozens of these gaudy dragons around the marsh.

Scarlet Skimmer (Crocothemis servilia)

Scarlet Skimmer (Crocothemis servilia)

 

The Gull-billed Tern makes you do a double-take. Nice slim body and wings of a tern, then you see that thick bill and it just looks odd.  The first image is a bird already in winter plumage and the second individual still retains the black cap from the breeding season.

Gull-billed Tern

Gull-billed Tern

Gull-billed Tern

Gull-billed Tern

 

American White Pelicans enjoy the fishing at Lake Hancock year ’round and their numbers can swell during migration to several thousand.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

 

A group of Black-necked Stilts and Lesser Yellowlegs enjoy foraging and preening in a shallow section of water.

Black-necked Stilts, Lesser Yellowlegs

Black-necked Stilts, Lesser Yellowlegs

 

Male and female Needham’s Skimmers are quite different in appearance. The male’s coloration can range from orange to almost red. Immature males are similar to the female until they become adults.

Needham's Skimmer - Male  (Libellula needhami)

Needham’s Skimmer – Male (Libellula needhami)

Needham's Skimmer - Female  (Libellula needhami)

Needham’s Skimmer – Female (Libellula needhami)

 

A Cattle Egret may not be the most beautiful of birds but doesn’t look half bad with his hair combed.

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret

 

Great Blue Herons are masterful fishermen and all the other birds are keenly aware of his prowess. A White Ibis hopes for a morsel.

Great Blue Heron, White Ibis

Great Blue Heron, White Ibis

 

The smallest butterfly in North America is the Southern Skipperling, one of the grass skippers. We’re fortunate that with Florida’s climate they remain here all year long.

Southern Skipperling (Copaeodes minima)

Southern Skipperling (Copaeodes minima)

 

 

If you hunger for a birding trip, check your seasoning and enjoy cooking up a great day outside! Don’t forget to locate a “key” person to assist you in overcoming the occasional locked gate life may place in your path.

 

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 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

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