Posts Tagged With: roseate spoonbill

A Comfortable Contrarian

It was good to be back. I couldn’t believe it had been eight months since my last visit. Some things in life maintain a “comfort level” which never fades. When living in Germany, I purchased a light jacket with leather panels on the front and loosely knit wool in the back. It was perfect for hiking the steep trails through dark forests of fir where the leather buffered the chilly wind and wool at the back allowed fresh air to circulate. Comfortable. Two pairs of walking shoes in the closet are almost identical in design and appearance yet one is used much more often. They’re just more – comfortable. Most mornings I reach in the cabinet and pull down the same cup which for years has held the juice from freshly roasted and ground coffee beans. It holds the same amount as other cups and even looks similar to many. But there is something about its weight, the way my hand fits through the handle, the Meerschaum quality of the coffee-stained china. Comfortable.

I drove through the entrance gates of the Circle B Bar Reserve on the north shore of Lake Hancock, parked at the first picnic table, slung the camera over my shoulder and hung binoculars around my neck. After walking 50 yards, I stopped and turned 360 degrees. There! That’s the feeling! Spanish moss hanging almost to the ground was parted slightly by the wind’s unseen hand revealing huge hundred-year old oak trees, Northern Cardinals leaped through the underbrush, dragonflies shimmered in the sunlight on tall weeds along the path and ahead the walkway met the bright blue sky which beckoned one to discover something wondrous. An involuntary deep sigh caught me by surprise. I was – comfortable. It was good to be back.

Years ago, upon first discovering the Circle B, I tried to visit often. It’s a former cattle ranch which has been developed into a marsh and has restored the flow of Saddle Creek into Lake Hancock. The result is one of the most spectacular birding venues in Florida. A diverse habitat attracts a huge number of birds throughout the year. The day before my visit, a friend (and one of the state’s best birders) sent an email that he spotted a Ruff on the mud flats which have been exposed due to our recent very dry weather. I don’t usually “chase” rarities, but I’ve never seen a Ruff and Circle B is only 30 minutes away…..

Being the experienced and veteran birder and photographer which I so clearly am, I know that one must arrive to a potential birding spot early in the day in order to take advantage of the “golden hours” for best photographic light and maximum bird activity. Not to mention it is much cooler early in the morning.  Armed with this knowledge, I arrived on site promptly at – 3:00 in the afternoon. Not a cloud in the sky so the light was wonderfully harsh. Not a sound to be heard except cicadas buzzing so all the birds were likely sleeping. And the temperature was a balmy 95 F, perfect for hiking out to the marsh without a bit of shade along the way. (There were appointments in the morning, you see, and I was afraid to wait until the next morning as the Ruff would surely leave on its northward journey, and besides I may not be as much of an expert as has been advertised.)

Gini says I am a natural contrarian but adds sweetly:  “But you’re MY contrarian!”. She’s so diplomatic.

The good news is, even under less than ideal circumstances, the Circle B is a veritable paradise for nature lovers. I found a couple hundred shorebirds on the mud flats, and there may well have been a Ruff (or a dozen) amongst the crowd of sandpipers, plovers, skimmers and others. Unfortunately, they were about 500 miles away and even when I enlarged the many photographs I attempted, it just appeared to be a mass of mottled brown with nothing in focus at all. Sigh.

So, I wandered around and discovered not ALL of the wildlife was taking a nap. Overhead were Bald Eagles, a Red-shouldered Hawk, vultures, Wood Storks and a pair of Swallow-tailed Kites. Not to mention water birds of all types flying from one spot of water to another. I even found a flock of Bobolinks filling up on grass seed before resuming their migration. It was even comforting to see so many alligators still here, right where I left them so many months ago.

Despite the lousy light, heat, limited activity and no rare bird, I still (although reluctantly) took a few pictures. Just for you.

 

All decked out in breeding plumage, a Tricolored Heron runs toward a potential meal.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A Snowy Egret already has his meal, well, maybe more like a snack. Another Snowy glides overhead, looking almost like an x-ray against the bright sky.

 

Circle B Bar Reserve

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

The Great Blue Heron is a large bird, standing almost four feet tall. This young alligator was not impressed. He swam back and forth in front of the heron and twice made a sudden lunge in its direction. The heron was likewise not impressed and never flinched.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A female Bobolink loads up on seeds. She was part of a flock of about two dozen. They are not residents here and we only see them during migration.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

This male Black-necked Stilt was busy feeding and there were reports of an occupied nest in this area. I’ll have to return soon to try and find it. Maybe I can get lucky and discover young ones.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks are normally seen in groups. This one evidently found a spot in the mud he liked as I couldn’t see others anywhere.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A resting Roseate Spoonbill keeps one eye on its surroundings. Good idea. Lots of ‘gators wandering by. Not to mention two-legged critters making clicking noises. A little further down the path and I found another spoonbill soaring overhead.

Circle B Bar Reserve

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A Florida Red-bellied Turtle leaves a wide path as it scoots along in the soft mud of the marsh. Another one suns itself on a log. The weeds and algae on their shells hide a really pretty reddish-orange pattern.

Circle B Bar Reserve

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

I startled an adult Black-crowned Night Heron and he hurried out of sight.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A bit later, an immature night heron hid behind some moss. This is likely a second-year bird as first-year night herons are mottled brown but this one doesn’t have the contrasting black and gray of a full adult (see the one above). Plus its eyes are not quite as red as an adult’s.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A large female Florida Softshell Turtle throws sand and gravel in the air as she tries to dig a nest along the hard-packed side of the trail. She’ll need to find some softer sand or mud before she can deposit her 10-30 eggs.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

This is a common pose for the Great Blue Heron and may be used to warm the inside of the wings enough to drive out small biting bugs such as mites.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

As the sun began to set, a Nine-banded Armadillo foraged in the dry leaves of the oak woods looking for insects. These fascinating animals remind me of Winnie The Pooh’s friend, Piglet.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

 

No Ruff today. Despite my contrariness, I found some wonderful birds, several interesting animals and had an exhilarating outdoor experience. Back at the car, I turned back for one more look at where I had been. There was that sigh again. I felt – comfortable.

 

We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

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