Posts Tagged With: roseate spoonbill

Balancing Act

Watching birds has the potential to generate human interest along many different planes. On a very basic level, the sheer beauty of a bird can cause us to sigh in appreciation, or is it jealousy? Some of us have a more scientific curiosity about how flight is possible or how can a duck float or why does a hummingbird seem to change colors. Birding can be a good fit for other outdoor pursuits such as camping, hiking, fishing, boating or photography. At the extreme edge of watching birds is competition. Back in the days of no computers or cell phones and precious little printed instruction, I would make a pencil mark beside birds I had observed in a pocket version of Roger Tory Peterson’s “Field Guide To The Birds”. I was happy. Then I agreed to participate in my first Audubon annual Christmas Bird Count. The fellow who was our team leader was unlike any “bird-watcher” I had ever encountered. Let’s just say he could have been a very effective sports coach – or military drill sergeant.

The ensuing years have seen the evolution of a relaxing pastime into a competitive obsession for some. With the advent of computer-maintained lists, rare bird alerts, hotlines, locally maintained listservs, guide businesses (with rare bird “guarantees”) – this ain’t Hank Thoreau’s hobby no more!

Of course, chasing birds to add to a “life list”, especially uncommon species, can be expensive (and not just monetarily). Some have spent life savings on optical equipment, travel expenses and specialty gear to add a rarity to their list. Others have done all that and missed a child’s graduation, a daughter’s wedding, sacrificed a marriage. That’s extreme!

Naturally, I have achieved a balance between enjoying bird-watching and keeping track of the species I’ve observed over the years. It’s tempting sometimes to drive six hours in the hope a seldom seen bird will wait for me to arrive, but common sense prevails. Nothing is worth going THAT crazy about chasing!

(UPDATE: I stand corrected. I just wandered by the living room and glimpsed Gini on the love seat. I would eagerly circumnavigate the world and beyond just to smooch the firmament upon which she stands.)

Zero-four-thirty. That’s early. And it’s really dark, too. The email said let’s go see if the Smooth-billed Ani is still at Viera Wetlands. It’s only a two-hour drive. I have never seen a Smooth-billed Ani. Besides, that’s a nice area to go birding even without seeing a Smooth-billed Ani. Gini says, go, have fun. She’ll sleep in. Common sense personified.

Anis are fairly common in the Caribbean and there used to be a small breeding population in South Florida. Burgeoning human development and the accompanying habitat destruction has drastically reduced the species’ numbers, if not extirpated it completely from the state. The ani is in the same family as cuckoos and consumes mostly insects but won’t turn down ripe fruit.

Close examination of the target field yielded no rare bird. No worries, Viera Wetlands is a wonderful place to leisurely drive and walk and find lots of birds! A couple of hours yielded 60 species which included a Limpkin with a young chick, a large flock of American White Pelicans, tons of water birds and as a bonus a Great Horned Owl. As we pulled out of the wetlands, a dozen birders lined the field where the ani had been spotted in previous days. Alas, they reported no sighting this morning. We birded a spot a few miles away and returned about an hour later. The group of birders had grown to at least 30 and they were all standing and pointing to a clump of Brazilian Pepper. There it was! My first Smooth-billed Ani! If only I could wedge myself between the guy with the $10,000 spotting scope and the guy with $20,000 worth of camera stuff. No use. These guys were pros and knew they were in the best spot. I slunk down the road, found a spot to sit in the grass and hoped my puny lens would focus today. Then bird karma intervened. The Smooth-billed Ani fluttered onto a slender limb nearby and spent the next ten minutes preening and watching the watchers. Adrenalin can make your shutter finger shake.

After a lunch of fresh seafood, we wandered around a few nearby parks and found some good birds to round out a special day of birding. A missed turn took us down a road which yielded another rare bird, a Short-tailed Hawk! It’s estimated there are less than 250 breeding pairs of this magnificent raptor remaining in Florida. Talk about icing on the bird-watcher’s cake!

Without further ado, the Smooth-billed Ani (and a few of his closest friends):

 

The Smooth-billed Ani was a very cooperative subject for the dozens of paparazzi on hand. It would occasionally disappear into the dense ground cover to forage but always returned to the only clump of vegetation in the field. Pretty convenient for birders. Judging by the appearance of the tail, I suspect this individual is molting and may be the reason it hasn’t flown away yet.

Viera Wetlands

vIERA wETLANDS

 

The first rays of sun and a lingering ground fog combined to give this female Common Yellowthroat a sort of ethereal look.

Viera Wetlands

 

It’s hard not to gawk at the shocking pink of a Roseate Spoonbill. Of course, be prepared to be gawked right back!

Viera Wetlands

 

Lots of Ring-necked Ducks were enjoying the wetlands and have apparently become accustomed to the busy human presence.

Viera Wetlands

 

A Limpkin keeps a watchful eye on its chick as the youngster learns to find and extract yummy Apple Snails from their not so protective shells.

Viera Wetlands

 

Great Blue Herons flock (pun intended) to this place for breeding as the numerous palm trees make perfect nesting sites.

Viera Wetlands

 

A male Hooded Merganser is really showy with that white hood and bright golden eye. He and his mate spent more time with their heads under water than above.

Viera Wetlands

Viera Wetlands

 

It’s becoming more difficult to find a Mottled Duck which does not have some characteristics of a Mallard. The inter-breeding may eventually wipe out the wild Mottled Duck altogether.

Viera Wetlands

 

I’m used to seeing large numbers of Lesser Scaup in the winter on our larger lakes but in the quiet waters of these small ponds this single bird was content to hang with the above Mottled Duck.

Viera Wetlands

 

I seem to have a knack for photographing peek-a-boo birds. Oh, well. A peeking Marsh Wren is better than none at all.

Viera Wetlands

 

Savannah Sparrows are typically our most numerous winter sparrow. They usually have no problem posing for the patient photographer.

Viera Wetlands

 

Since beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I am the beholder here, I think this plain female Brown-headed Cowbird is beautiful. So there.

Viera Wetlands

 

Early in the morning, we spotted this Great Horned Owl trying to snooze in a palm tree. Later on, as we were ogling the ani, the owl slipped onto the top of a light pole behind the conga line of birders snapping pics of the visitor from the tropics. I wondered if the owl was also ogling the ani?

Viera Wetlands

Viera Wetlands

Viera Wetlands

 

After lunch, we visited a park on the shore of the Indian River (just a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean on Florida’s east coast) and found a manatee who refused to pose for me. I consoled myself with shots of a Great Egret looking for a handout and a very young Brown Pelican. I managed one flight shot of an adult Brown Pelican while still sulking about that manatee.

Viera Wetlands

Indian River

Indian River

 

A missed turn. A red light. A glance upward. Short-tailed Hawk! Find a place to park! Snap 20 quick images! This raptor occurs in dark and light versions. In this light individual, it looks like it’s wearing a helmet.

Brevard County

 

 

Once again I was able to maintain a perfect balance of relaxing bird-watching and common sense. Okay, okay. I went bonkers for a little while and chased a rare bird across the state, sat down on an ant mound, got so many burrs on my pants you couldn’t see the pants, got so nervous about taking a photograph my hands shook – and would do it all again tomorrow. Hopefully, you will soon have the same experience!

 

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

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

No Particular Place To Go

During our first 20 years of married life, we had the good fortune of moving to a new location about every three years. We had a chance to see several parts of the United States and Europe. Each move brought with it wonderful experiences, different environments, diverse cultures and spectacular adventures! When we settled in at a new spot, we ventured forth to explore. Sure, we sometimes sampled the tourist “hot spots”, but more often we just started driving or walking or taking the local bus or train. Wandering around aimlessly brought us into contact with a lot of wonderful people and we found some fantastic places not highlighted on any tourist map. Our relatives always asked whether we ever got lost? As one of America’s early explorers, Daniel Boone, responded to a similar question: “I have never been lost, but I will admit to be confused for several weeks.”

 That’s pretty much our approach to traveling in general and to birding, specifically. Sure, we love to visit the birding “hot spots”, but we really like taking roads less traveled and if there’s no road, so much the better. A recent trip to our south did include one small park at a large lake, but otherwise consisted of driving back roads and stopping at areas of interesting habitat. We were in Highlands County which consists of large areas of agriculture and pasture land. The Kissimmee River flows south along the county’s eastern boundary which provides another interesting element of diverse ecology. We discovered that a lot of birds like it out here even though it’s not a designated “reserve” or “management area”. It seems birds are bright enough to locate their own food and places to roost! Who knew?

The highlight of our morning was seeing baby Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks with their yellow-striped heads and staying close to Mom. The pastures held hundreds of Cattle Egrets and White Ibises along with a smattering of Little Blue Herons and Wood Storks. Raptors seemed to be everywhere – Red-shouldered Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles, American Kestrels and Crested Caracara. Each field seemed to be alive with low-flying Barn Swallows along with a few smaller Bank Swallows assaulting the insect populations. Eastern Meadowlarks were in large groups and many were singing their beautiful, clear song. Perhaps they were happy to be finished molting. On the way home, we stopped alongside a commercial sod field and spotted several hundred shorebirds busily probing the soft mud. Most were Least Sandpipers with a few Pectoral Sandpipers, Semi-palmated Plovers and Killdeer at the buffet. At the edge of a canal, a Wood Stork and Roseate Spoonbill prepared to roost for the evening. A thunderstorm was building and moved with us northward as we scurried to the house.

We enjoyed the day wandering around with no map, no agenda and no worries.

Some images follow.

 

A few decades ago, the Black-bellied Whistling-Duck was a rarity in Florida. Not anymore!

Scrubpens Road

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Scrubpens Road

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

 

Scrubpens Road

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Little Blue Heron

Scrubpens Road

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

 

An interloper. This stranger tried to join a Whistling-Duck family but the adults repeatedly attacked it. After about 15 minutes from when we first spotted them, the odd duck was able to tag along without suffering any more beatings. I don’t know domestic breeds very well, but this looks to be a hybrid Pekin/Black (or Blue?) Swedish.

CR721

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck and Hybrid

 

At Lake Istokpoga, a nice boardwalk takes one through a wetland area which can provide a great variety of fall and spring migrants.

Lake Istokpoga Park

Boardwalk

 

A curious Blue-gray Gnatcatcher wondered what I was up to.

Lake Istokpoga Park

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

 

After a bit of preening, a Roseate Spoonbill settles down for the night.

Avon Park Cut-Off Road

Roseate Spoonbill

20150927_Highlands County_00072.jpg 

 

This Wood Stork searches for a last-minute snack before bedtime.

Avon Park Cut-Off Road

Wood Stork

 

Gini suggested that standing in an open field with my face pressed against a metal pole (scope tripod) during an approaching thunderstorm might not be my best idea of the day. She is real smart like that.

Avon Park Cut-Off Road

Thunderstorm

 

 

Great scenery, great birding, great company – and we didn’t see a single birder or tourist the whole day. If you find yourself riding around with your binoculars some day with no particular place to go, you’re on the right road.

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: , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

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