Posts Tagged With: northern pintail

Bosque del Apache – 2

“Look, I understand it isn’t your fault. The company should just make “options” which are truly “optional”. This providing “option packages” makes me pay for things I’ll never, ever use. That just isn’t fair. I mean, come on, I live in Florida!” –  Me, talking to automobile salesperson one year ago.

Fast forward. January 2018.

“I don’t know how much you paid extra, but these heated seats are worth every penny!” My son, after standing on the shore of a pond for a couple of hours with temperatures ranging from 14 to 20 F (-10 to -7 C), was enjoying the option I complained so bitterly about. Truth be told, I was enjoying it, too. My humble apologies to the salesperson to whom I so unfairly grumbled.

The Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes had disappeared from the South Crane Pool where they had staged for over an hour after sunrise. (See our previous post for details.) As feeling returned to our frozen limbs, we entered the “North Loop” of Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. (See Additional Information.) The drive winds through the refuge passing ponds, canals, woods, fields and a myriad of other habitats. A glance in any direction provides spectacular views of open expanses, mountains and wildlife. I saw birds which were new for me, familiar birds in unfamiliar settings, new mammals, different flora and shared it all with my son. Turns out, he’s a veritable “nature whisperer”, finding animals long before I spotted them.

Shortly after noon, we motored north of the refuge a couple of miles to the bustling metropolis of San Antonio, New Mexico. Chile peppers are an institution in New Mexico. Individual growers compete annually for bragging rights as to who has the best peppers in a given year. In most restaurants throughout the state, the only question your server has is: “Red or Green Sauce?”. We dined at The Owl Bar and Cafe. Great burger (yes, with chiles), great service. (See Additional Information.)

Fortified, we returned to the refuge and began a tour of the south loop. Lots to see but it was getting late and we wanted to try to catch geese and cranes settling in for the night. We found one pond already filled with Snow Geese and back at the South Crane Pool at sunset, a few Sandhill Cranes and ducks had plenty of space to stretch. Where the majority of cranes spent each night is a mystery.

The sun dropped behind the Chupadera Mountains and the temperature plunged rapidly. We headed for the hotel and located a very nice place to eat. After a review of the days images, a hot shower, a call to my sweetheart – I don’t remember actually laying down.

“Ready?”

My son heard his alarm before I heard mine. The “clock” whisperer. A new day awaits.

The fact that most of my images are of birds should not be surprising. The real surprise is that I have photographs of things OTHER than birds! (Okay, not very many. But I tried.)

 

In the world beyond the refuge, I could only dream of getting this close to so much wildlife. Case in point, a cooperative American Wigeon. Who knew they were so colorful?

Bosque Del Apache

 

A diminutive Ruby-crowned Kinglet displays his namesake. This is only the second time I’ve seen the red crown atop this quick little bird. Yes, the white stuff on the reeds is frost.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Well over 100 White-crowned Sparrows spread out across the refuge and flashed their bright heads from every bush in some areas.

Bosque Del Apache

 

A familiar bird, this Eastern Phoebe was “fluffed up” due to the cold. Strong early morning light on only one side of the bird gave it an ethereal look.

Bosque Del Apache

 

The Song Sparrow is not a common visitor in Florida, and only in the winter. It’s not very common here, either. This one had buried itself in a bush full of high-protein seeds.

Bosque Del Apache

 

See, no birds! I need more practice with this landscape stuff. Pictures don’t do justice to the beauty of actually being there.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Okay, I TRIED not to include a bird in this one. To be fair, I didn’t know that Mallard was even in the picture until I returned home and processed it. Photobombed by a duck.

Bosque Del Apache

 

There are several sub-species of the Dark-eyed Junco, varying in appearance by region. I think this one is in the “Oregon” group.

Bosque Del Apache

 

My son was alerted by a junco who made a strange leap backward. He soon saw the reason. A Long-tailed Weasel  (Mustela frenata) had popped his head from his den. These small mammals don’t normally eat birds (tell that to the Junco) but are known for their ferocity. Hmmm, the guide says nothing about them not considering a snack of two-legged mammals …..

Bosque Del Apache

Bosque Del Apache

 

We see Northern Harriers in Florida during migration. Watching their owl-like head turn from side to side while flying over a marsh is special, no matter where one sees them.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Even in the middle of the day, large groups of Snow Geese filled the skies as they moved from one field to another.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Duck on ice. Sounds more like a menu selection than a caption for a photograph. A Northern Pintail seemed to have no problem getting around on the frozen surface.

Bosque Del Apache

 

The zoom lenses of an American Kestrel are superior to what I was using. A handsome male soon found another perch, away from nosy tourists.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Where we live in central Florida, one of the most numerous raptors is the Red-shouldered Hawk. Here in this southwestern locale, the larger Red-tailed Hawk seemed ubiquitous. Magnificent birds.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Much smaller than a Red-tailed Hawk, the slim Sharp-shinned Hawk speeds through the woods with abandon as he chases small songbirds. I rarely get to see one perched for very long.

Bosque Del Apache

 

One of North America’s smallest ducks, the male Bufflehead makes up in beauty what he lacks in size.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Snow Geese found their way to a pond we drove by and the setting was pretty spectacular to this flatlander.Bosque Del Apache

 

Darkness happens quickly in the mountains. The South Crane Pool only had a few cranes and ducks as the clouds reflected the last light of the sun for this day. This very special day.

Bosque del Apache

 

Desert, mountain, extreme cold, new birds, a surprise weasel, massive views, spicy food, someone to share it with – exhaustion. What will tomorrow offer?

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

 

Additional Information

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

The Owl Bar and Cafe

 

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

At The Edge Of The Final Frontier

The transition from night into day is a subtle process. Our eyes perceive only that which artificial illumination permits. Beyond the edge of the bright headlamps of the car is – nothing. Just a few minutes ago, there were things familiar to us bathed in the glow of their own artificial lighting. Traffic lights, a gas station, hotel, shopping center, airplanes on approach to a multicolored-lit runway. As we zipped eastward to embrace the dawn, we traversed a vast marsh. Peering through the side window revealed – the bottom of an inkwell. Soon, shadows took shape on all sides. In front of us was a barely perceptible line of dark blue. Another mile and below the dark blue was a lighter shade of blue with a very pale pink border. An orange glow began to consume the center of our field of forward vision and almost immediately we could see that sliver of star which warms our planet to a perfectly habitable degree.

Today we were exploring the northern reaches of the Indian River. (See the previous post, Learning Something New, for what we found to the south.) The primary target of our adventure is the vast Merritt Island National Wildlife Reserve and neighboring Canaveral National Seashore. Encompassing over 140,000 acres (56,656 ha.), the area has a tremendous diversity of habitat and wildlife. Click on the link under Additional Information below to get a small idea of the possibilities.

Some of this region’s first human inhabitants were the Ais Indians. Primarily hunter/gatherers, the Ais likely had their first encounter with westerners during the 16th century as the Spanish explored and mapped the area. Indeed, the Spanish noted on their maps the Rio de Ais, which probably became River of the Indians and was eventually shortened to Indian River. These native Floridians inhabited the peninsula along with at least five other major Indian nations until contact with westerners brought disease and slavery to the territory. This and continued warring with neighboring tribes contributed to the Ais’ demise and the last record of them was in the early 1700’s.

Fast forward two-hundred years. After the end of World War II, America was developing long-range missiles and needed a place larger than White Sands, New Mexico for testing. The Atlantic Ocean is pretty big. At the time, not much of anyone was interested in living along the mosquito-infested upper reaches of the Indian River. Thus, in the area of an old light house at Cape Canaveral, a space program was born.

As we gazed in awe at yet another spectacular sunrise, it was stirring to think about a young Ais armed with his spear tipped with a hook carved from a deer hoof, pulling a fat mullet from the water just as the same orange ball broke this same horizon. The bright orb matches the color of the powerful rocket thrusters which carried the first humans to our moon, launched from this spot. Thinking of both events makes me feel humble.

The sun was up. There were birds to be seen. Fortified with one of Florida’s juiciest oranges and a swig of hot coffee, we saw birds. Lots of birds. Alongside the Atlantic Ocean, Merritt Island Refuge is dotted with marshes, ponds, stands of hardwood and pine, hammocks and beaches. Paradise for migrating as well as resident birds. Paradise for birders, too!

In a place such as this, a single day cannot possibly do justice to all that can be seen here. I guess we’ll just have to keep returning. A few of the highlights: 72 total species observed, 40+ Blue-winged Teal, 60+ Northern Shoveler, 300+ Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Mottled Duck, American Wigeon, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Hooded Merganser, 250+ Snowy Egret, 300+ White Ibis, 40+ Roseate Spoonbill, 3000+ American Coot, 70+ American Avocet, 50+ Yellowlegs, 100+ Dunlin, 50+ Long-billed Dowitcher, 500+ Tree Swallow and 4 Reddish Egret. An embarrassment of birding riches.

Yeah. We’ll be back.

 

Even in non-breeding plumage, American Avocet are simply beautiful. They will sometimes hold just the tip of their bill in the water and filter small morsels, or probe deeper along the bottom as they sweep their bills back and forth.

American Avocet

American Avocet

American Avocet

American Avocet

 

It is estimated there are fewer than 2,000 pairs of Reddish Egrets remaining in the U.S. This large egret has both a dark (reddish) and white form. No matter what color it is, it’s feeding behavior is quite distinct. The bird will run through shallow water hoping to scare a fish, walk slowly and reach out with one foot and “stir” the mud, stand still with wings outstretched to provide shade for fish, spin around in one spot to try and scare up a meal or hop up out of the water entirely and splash back down. These guys are a lot of fun to watch.

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

 

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

 

The Snowy Egret may not go through quite as many antics as her big red brother, but even on a bad hair day she gets the job done.

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

 

Some of our winter visitors, the Hooded Merganser and family, enjoy the warm shallow waters of the Sunshine State.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

 

A pair of Lesser Yellowlegs surprised me by jumping up from the mangroves and I was only able to snap a quick shot of their departure.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

 

Not a clear photograph, but I’m happy to get any shot of a Northern Harrier during the short time they visit us in the winter. This one has what appears to be a shorebird leg in his beak.

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

 

Sunlight reveals a whole spectrum of colors on the Northern Shoveler. Another migrant, it’s hard to miss this bird’s unique silhouette.

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

 

This Forster’s Tern objected, loudly, to me standing along the shoreline snapping photographs. I finally took one of HIM and he left me alone.

Forster's Tern

Forster’s Tern

 

The large Royal Tern can be identified from the similar Caspian Tern by an orangish (instead of deep red) bill and a mostly clear (instead of black) forehead.

Royal Tern

Royal Tern

 

Even in winter, butterflies abound. This Great Southern White will only live five or six days. There were so many in some areas it looked like snow falling.

Great Southern White  (Ascia monuste monuste)

Great Southern White (Ascia monuste monuste)

 

American White Pelicans exhibit “cooperative feeding”. They work together to “herd” a school of fish to a certain area and almost in unison plunge down to fill their large pouches. It all resembles a choreographed ballet. Minus the swans.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

 

Roseate Spoonbills are pretty at any time of year. However, as breeding season nears all their colors become deeper and their head and breasts take on additional markings.

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

 

Banded Water Snake is on the lunch menu for this Great Blue Heron. The big bird tries to kill the snake by bashing it on the ground before swallowing it whole.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

In the middle of a construction equipment storage yard, we spotted a Great Horned Owl sitting on a nest atop a utility pole. Soon there will be the pitter-pat of little talons.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

 

We apparently found a favorite wintering spot for the Northern Pintail. Over 300 birds were busily feeding in the late afternoon in a large open water area. A very handsome bird.

Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail

 

Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail

 

A Ring-necked Duck, riding low in the water, doesn’t see what’s so special about these Pintails.

Northern Pintail, Ring-necked Duck

Northern Pintail, Ring-necked Duck

 

As we reluctantly headed home at the end of the day, a wintering Horned Grebe popped up from a small bay to say good-bye.

Horned Grebe

Horned Grebe

 

The last rays of the sun warmed a group of Black Skimmers on the beach all huddled together for the night. Sounds like a good idea.

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

 

We hope to return soon for another overdose of birding! Whether you are interested in history, enjoy birding or are fascinated with space exploration, visit Merritt Island if you possibly can!

(Huh? I don’t know. Soon. — Gini is punching me in the side wanting to know when we can go again. Sigh.)

 

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

 

Additional Information

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

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