Posts Tagged With: peninsula cooter

Open To The Public

Not too long ago, a friend asked about a visit to a local area where I reported observing American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts and over 3,000 American White Pelicans. I confirmed those species and proudly talked about other unique birds I had seen during the same outing. He was quite excited as there were three species he had been striving to find in Florida and had been unsuccessful. I felt like a cad. Now I had to break it to him that this was a trip on land not open to the public. At the time, I felt  privileged to be asked to assist in a survey of bird life within this newly developed wetland. Little did I realize how bad I would later feel telling people they couldn’t visit the area.

Karma.

About a month after the above trip, I noted a report of several Burrowing Owls not too far away. My inquiry was met with, “Sorry, they were all on private land.”

Gini and I have been very fortunate to have traveled a modest amount during our time together. The nice thing about having a partner who is happy and positive all the time (yes, she wakes up smiling), is you just know something good is close by almost all the time. When we moved to a new area, we learned to explore close to home first and gradually expand our adventures. What a happy surprise to discover there are usually wonderful things within a stone’s throw of your front door.

Birding has been like that. It’s really exciting to visit a well-known “hotspot” and it’s not hard to figure out why these places are so popular. Plenty of birds! Also, plenty of birders! So we have tried to remember our early experiences and we seek out local parks to see what they have to offer. What we have found is that there are many birding “warmspots” that are all too easy to drive by as one speeds to the well-advertised “hotspots”! These local parks have something else that is missing from the more popular venues. A slower pace. I’m not worried about rushing to the “third tree on the left under the boat dock crouched under a lily pad” bird and getting in a line of sort-of birders who are more akin to contact sport athletes. Instead, I can leisurely walk around on a nicely constructed pathway, say “Good Morning” to a Mom pushing a stroller, admire the fortitude of runners perspiring profusely, take in the aroma of a grilled picnic lunch and still compile a respectable list of birds and perhaps even take a photograph or two.

Two days last month were spent visiting three such public parks. Relaxing, exciting and fun. What more could a very casual bird-watcher want?

 

Athletic fields have very tall poles atop which are mounted lights atop which are often found raptors searching for a meal. This American Kestrel has a great view from up there!

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

 

A large oak tree branch displayed the remains of what I think was a White Ibis. The lunch buffet was very fresh and a look around revealed a Bald Eagle skulking within the framework of tall utility line support structure. I’m not saying he was guilty, but he WAS near the scene of the dine……..

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

 

Anhingas are common in our area and they use any available perch that’s open to the sun and wind to dry their feathers. Unlike other waterfowl, they secrete no oils to help them remain water-proof and could drown if unable to keep their feathers dry.

Patterson Park

 

A Double-crested Cormorant and Peninsula Cooter appear to be exchanging opinions as they share a convenient log.

Patterson Park

 

An important pollinator in our ecosystem, the Sweat Bee is so named for its attraction to the salt in human perspiration. Only the females sting and it hurts less than a Honeybee. There are over 49 species of Sweat Bee, including the one below, a Green Sweat Bee.

Patterson Park

 

For some reason, city planners feel the need to “enhance” local park lakes with exotic waterfowl, often with unfortunate results for native species. Some common city critters encountered are swans of all types. I guess, to a bureaucrat, bigger is better. This is a Black Swan, a native of Australia. The male Black Swan’s red eyes turn white during breeding season.

Lake Morton

 

Mute Swans originated in Europe and Asia and are the most common captive swans in North America.

Lake Morton

 

The Black-necked Swan is from South America and cannot survive very cold weather. They are more likely than other swan species to carry young on their backs.

Lake Morton

 

Widely held to be the ancestor of all domestic geese in North America, the Graylag Goose (Anser anser) is a large bulky bird and it is common to encounter a variety of plumages from all white to mostly gray. Hybrids are frequent. In many areas of the United States it is simply referred to as a “Barnyard Goose”.

Lake Morton

 

Ruddy Ducks visit our area only during migration but can sometimes be seen in fair numbers on larger bodies of water. Occasionally, we’ll see the male still in his breeding plumage of chestnut, white face and blue bill. (Below is a female.)

Lake Morton

 

Larger than the small Ruddy Duck, Ring-necked Ducks also appear in the fall and many remain through the winter. In good light, the male’s head and neck appear iridescent.

Lake Morton

 

For sheer gaudiness, nothing compares to our native Wood Duck! Looks like an artist’s palette gone wild. Okay, gaudy but beautiful.

Lake Morton

 

At the other extreme of the color spectrum is the plain brown Limpkin. Plenty of apple snails in most public lakes attract these ancient-looking waders into the city.

Lake Morton

 

Good looking in its own right, the Common Gallinule is still confused as to why the “experts” changed his name (again) from Moorhen. Me, too.

Lake Morton

 

If you get a chance to look for rare birds on private land, go for it! Visit a popular birding “hotspot” whenever you can. For a relaxing day walking among familiar birds in a comfortable setting, check out the city park. You might be surprised at what you can find.

 

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

 

(Hah! You thought you were rid of me, didn’t you? Not yet.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: