Posts Tagged With: greater yellowlegs

Big Water = Big Attraction

My birth place was a small village in southeastern Florida called Miami.  Well, it was a small village long, long ago when I was born.  Okay, okay, even then it was a huge megalopolis and the premier destination for tourists longing to escape snow, ice and each other.  Dad was a carpenter and built homes for the tourists who couldn’t find a good reason to return to the snow and ice.  He also was an addict.  The addiction gene was passed along to yours truly and I became a fishing junkie through no actual fault of my own.

A quirk in his DNA gave him a preference for freshwater fishing.  So, although we lived ten minutes from the finest saltwater fishing on the planet, we would spend a couple of hours on the road to head north to Lake Okeechobee where we would hope to bring home largemouth bass, bluegill, shellcracker or speckled perch (“crappie” to those not from here).  He was a very good fisherman and we enjoyed many traditional (that means “full of fat stuff” in modern-speak) Southern fish dinners.  Sigh.  I can smell the hushpuppies even now…….but I digest……err…..digress.

Okeechobee translates to Big Water in the Seminole Indian language.  Lake Okeechobee is, indeed, big.  It’s the second largest freshwater lake in the lower 48 states in America and consists of 730 square miles (1891 square kilometers).  Water from this huge lake directly impacts the vast Everglades ecosystem.

I readily accepted an invitation to go birding in this area.  It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen Lake Okeechobee and I was excited to be anywhere near the waters that produced so many wonderful memories for me.  Our target area was Glades County on the western side of the big lake.  Our ambitious itinerary included:  Harney Pond Canal Recreation Area (on Lake Okeechobee), Curry Island, Lake Okeechobee Rim Canal, Alvin L. Ward Senior Park (in Moore Haven), Fisheating Creek Wildlife Management Area (several trails) and Rainey Slough.  I highly recommend any of these spots for excellent birding and just plain enjoyment of nature.

Glades County was founded in 1921, encompasses just under 1,000 square miles and in 2010 had a population of about 13,000.  It’s known for tourism, cattle, fishing, sugar cane, produce and citrus industries.  There is lots of open space to explore and enjoy here!

By the end of the day, our party of two logged 95 species of birds.  I added a life bird, the Purple Swamp Hen, which has gained a foothold in Florida after several of these non-native birds escaped a display several decades ago.  Along the edge of the Big Water, we observed endangered Snail Kites as they went about the business of hunting for their main source of food, the Apple Snail.  Other highlights for me were the early morning encounter of almost 200 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks in a cattle pond, a Clay-colored Sparrow, Indigo and Painted Buntings, nearly 100 Northern Rough-winged Swallows, two American Bittern and finding nine Black-crowned Night Herons (adults and juveniles) in a single location.  What a great day!

Most of the day was quite overcast, cool and very windy.  Photographs were a bit limited but here are a few that will give you a flavor of our experience.

 

This is a view of a very small bay on Lake Okeechobee.  Even though the lake is huge, it’s average depth is only nine feet (2.7 meters).

Lake Okeechobee

Lake Okeechobee

 

A highly cropped image of two Purple Swam Hens.  We didn’t find any close enough for good photos but I was quite happy to see them at all!

Purple Swamp Hen

Purple Swamp Hen

 

This is a fairly large alligator which I estimate at about 10 feet.

American Alligator

American Alligator

 

Frogs are plentiful throughout the area, a fact which is appreciated by this Red-shouldered Hawk.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

 

During the winter, in our local area, we see mainly Tree Swallows.  It was nice to run across a large flock of Northern Rough-winged Swallows.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

 

A Greater Yellowlegs poses nicely along a canal leading to Lake Okeechobee.

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

 

This Brown Pelican found a comfortable spot on a channel marker where he was protected from the cold wind.

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican

 

Young White Ibises are brown or mottled until about their second fall when they will attain the pure white plumage of adults.

White Ibis (Immature)

White Ibis (Immature)

 

We played hide-and-seek with this Spotted Sandpiper for awhile and I had to settle for a distant flight shot since he refused to hold still on shore.

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

 

A young Limpkin has not yet realized that Apple Snails are usually closer to the water.

Limpkin

Limpkin

 

Florida’s tropical climate is favorable for some unique plant life such as this epiphyte, or air plant.  This class of plant depends on a host (e.g., tree branch) for physical support but is not parasitic and takes its moisture and nutrients from the air.

Epiphyte

Epiphyte

 

The bases of Cypress trees often grow into unusual shapes and my sharp-eyed companion spotted this artistic form.

Cypress Tree

Cypress Tree

 

Crested Caracara are somewhat common in this area and love the open spaces.

Crested Caracara

Crested Caracara

 

A creek and vast adjacent wetlands create the perfect environment for water birds such as these Black-crowned Night Herons.

Black-crowned Night Heron (Immature)

Black-crowned Night Heron (Immature)

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

 

A Green Heron extends its neck to get a better view of its potential supper.

Green Heron

Green Heron

 

As you explore any wild area, it’s good to keep in mind that we are merely visitors and need to respect the residents.  This particular resident commands more respect than most! 

American Alligator

American Alligator

(I often mention alligators in my posts but have taken for granted that everyone is familiar with our official Florida State Reptile.  I apologize.  A few facts.  The American Alligator is North America’s largest reptile, growing to over 15 feet (4.6 meters) in length and weighing up to 1,000 pounds (453 kilograms).  The species is over 150 million years old and can live an average of 35-50 years in the wild.  Numbers of alligators in Florida are estimated between 1.5-2 million.  They primarily feed on fish, turtles, snakes, small mammals and slow-moving birders.  Petting them is not recommended.)

 

It was simply wonderful to explore the land of the Big Water and I can’t wait to return!  If you find yourself in south Florida, consider investigating all that Glades County has to offer.  There are some true gems here just waiting to be discovered!

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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 48 Comments

Random Acts of Birding

Many of us did not set out to become “birders”.  We typically absorbed the avocation gradually, often following an encounter with a friend or relative who seemed enthusiastic about their experiences.  Sometimes there is an epiphany.  Such was the case with my wonderful wife, Gini.  She became an addict….ummm, avid observer….while we were driving along a highway in west Texas.  She abruptly screamed:  “Stop!  Turn around!”.  Assuming I had just run over a small child, I slammed on the brakes and executed a quick U-turn.  She pointed breathlessly to a Mesquite tree in the median of the road and whispered:  “Look!”.  The sighting of her first male Bullock’s Oriole shall remain one of birding history’s most dramatic moments.

Once “hooked”, birding becomes as natural a process as breathing.  You go to the grocery and scan the parking lot and light poles for gulls.  A stop at the gas station involves inspecting the eaves of the roof for Sparrows and the utility lines for Grackles or Starlings.  Visits to a relative’s house mean dawdling in the driveway to check the front yard trees for passerines.  There are no more picnics, only birding trips with food involved.

Although we usually have a specific destination when we go on an “actual” birding trip, we just naturally observe our surroundings as we travel to and from such places.  Sometimes we even see a few birds along the way.

The following images are of “incidental” sightings we made while heading somewhere else.  Some of these were taken during scouting trips made in preparation for the recent Audubon annual Christmas Bird Count.  Others were taken during one of those “non-picnics” mentioned above.  Still others were made for such reasons as:  “I wonder what might be in that retention pond behind the church/factory/store/mall?”.

You get the idea.

 

The Osprey is abundant in Florida and I certainly seem to take a lot of pictures of them.  This one was just finishing a snack near the coast as we were on the way to dinner.  I think I like them so much because we’re so much alike.  We both love seafood and are incredibly good-looking.

Osprey

Osprey

 

A Florida Red-bellied Turtle was still shimmering with water as he crossed a path in front of me.  He was about 24 inches (610 mm) long and simply beautiful.

Florida Red-bellied Turtle

Florida Red-bellied Turtle

 

Purple Gallinules brighten up the marsh with their iridescent plumage.

Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

 

During breeding season, the adult Ring-billed Gull’s head will become pure white.

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

 

We found a stream flowing from a marsh into a larger creek which provided a nice feeding area for a group of Least Sandpiper and Greater Yellowlegs.  The small sandpipers blended in very well with the rocks.  The Yellowlegs flew a short distance upstream when we first approached and the calls helped confirm them as Greater.

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

 

Hooded Mergansers winter in our area and often seem to prefer small retention ponds for feeding during the day.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

 

A Forster’s Tern dives headlong into a local lake to snag a small fish.  Seems like they need helmets!

Forster's Tern

Forster’s Tern

 

This Great Egret has captured an Armored Catfish for lunch.  This species of catfish may be the Vermiculated Sailfin Catfish (Pterygoplichthys disjunctivus), a non-native species probably introduced accidentally during the past several decades by aquarium owners and/or the pet trade.  I could find no evidence this fish is harmful except for possibly causing erosion of banks due to their habit of digging out holes for nesting.

Great Egret

Great Egret

 

Strong morning light made a detailed photograph of this Eastern Bluebird impossible but I liked the way he was looking back at us.  He was up early in a local cemetery we were scouting for the Christmas Bird Count.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

 

Also in the cemetery was a female Downy Woodpecker cleaning out an old nest cavity.  She was hauling out sawdust and expelling it.  I think she intended to use the hole as a warm resting spot as the weather had turned quite cold.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

 

A Blue-headed Vireo posed very briefly and took off when the camera clicked.

Blue-headed Vireo

Blue-headed Vireo

 

Yes, I know, a face only a mother could love.  But there’s a beauty in the vulture that just can’t be ignored.  To see this creature up close is to marvel at its flight feathers and unique head design, knowing how effective it is for its intended purpose.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

 

The event was a water-side supper while enjoying the sunset.  The reality was another one of those birding trips involving food.  I just “had” to peek down the shoreline and this is what I saw.  Mostly Least Sandpipers.  The more you look, the more you’ll see.  It resembled “moving rocks”.

Shorebirds

Shorebirds

 

The Ring-billed Gull towers over a group of feeding Dunlin.

Dunlin, Ring-billed Gull

Dunlin, Ring-billed Gull

 

A Dunlin in non-breeding plumage.

Dunlin

Dunlin

 

Comparing sizes of Dunlin, Long-billed Dowitcher and Black-bellied Plover.  Shhh!

Black-bellied Plover, Dowitcher, Dunlin

Black-bellied Plover, Dowitcher, Dunlin

 

A meeting of the local Storks Club.  This was during another pre-Christmas Bird Count scouting foray.  A small cattle pond hosted over 80 Wood Storks.

Wood Stork

Wood Stork

 

Again while scouting a potential spot for Sparrows a few days ahead of the Christmas count, a pair of Red-tailed Hawks appeared directly overhead doing a little scouting of their own.  I think this is a juvenile as it lacks a strong dark trailing edge to the wings which is characteristic in adults.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

 

If you have any interest in observing birds, you will understand the process of continually being in “birding” mode.  If you do not yet consider yourself a birding enthusiast, beware!  Just by looking at this blog you are in danger of becoming one of us!  Then you, too, will be committing random acts of bird watching – just because you can.

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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 48 Comments

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