Annoying bird friend

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Birds and people at Chastain Beach a few mornings ago.

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White Ibis seems interested in this Willet.

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Willet seems a bit annoyed by White Ibis.

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Hey, wait for me!

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What does White Ibis want?

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Willet wants to be left alone.

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The following persisted right around me and into the rocks looking toward Bathtub Reef Beach.

Tern time

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A committee of terns on a dock, Indian River Lagoon, Hutchinson Island side. That’s the bridge between Hutchinson Island and Sewall’s Point in the distance.

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The Royal Terns look a lot bigger than the Sandwich Terns, when they are right next to each other.

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It was around 8:30 a.m. I wonder if they spent the night “roosting” on this tern-popular dock.

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One or two would fly off south now and then.

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I think that’s a juvenile Laughing Gull. The Royal Tern looks pretty big next to a gull too.

Gulls and terns (and skimmers) are in the same family, Laridae.

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Laridae is a family of seabirds in the order Charadriiformes that includes the gulls, terns and skimmers. It includes around 100 species arranged into 22 genera. They are an adaptable group of mostly aerial birds found worldwide.

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Royal Terns and Sandwich Terns in this pic, both in the genus Thalasseus… from the Greek Thalassa, meaning “sea.”

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The big Royal Terns are Thalasseus maximus and the smaller Sandwich Terns are Thalasseus sandvicensis.

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Thalasseus terns feed by plunge-diving for fish, almost invariably from the sea. They usually dive directly, and not from the “stepped-hover” favoured by, for example, the Arctic tern. The offering of fish by the male to the female is part of the courtship display.

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These species have long thin sharp bills, usually a shade of yellow or orange except in the Sandwich tern and Cabot’s tern where the bills are black with yellow tips in most subspecies. All species have a shaggy crest. In winter, the Thalasseus terns’ foreheads become white.

 

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“Sandwich” refers to Sandwich, Kent, England where they were first described and classified by ornithologist John Latham in 1787.

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Collective nouns for our fine feathered Thalasseus friends?

thespruce.com: A cotillion of terns.

nzbirds.com: A highness of Royal Terns and a hogey of Sandwich Terns!

Country Life: a committee of terns.

As author Chloe Rhodes explains in An Unkindness of Ravens: A Book of Collective Nouns, unlike proverbs, rhymes or homilies, many of these words endure because they were recorded and published in Books of Courtesy handbooks designed to educate the nobility. ‘They were created and perpetuated as a means of marking out the aristocracy from the less well-bred masses,’ she writes.

Reddish Egret at Bathtub Reef

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Looking south to Bathtub Reef Beach, south end of Hutchinson Island, Stuart, Florida this morning.

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A heron appeared.

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And posed.

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The blue-gray feathers were ever so slightly pinkish in the morning light and I wondered, is this a young Reddish Egret?

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The pale eye caught my eye.

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It was uncharacteristically mellow for a Reddish Egret. Maybe it had eaten breakfast already. Or it was wary of me and a few other people around. I did not go too close.

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I even moved further out into the water and reef rocks to get the light on the feathers.

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I wasn’t sure what it was, but knew I could check when I got home. So I just took a bunch of photos and enjoyed the morning sunshine, sparkling water and bird life.

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Reddish Egrets are uncommon in this area. And they are the rarest egret species in North America.

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They are a state-designated Threatened species.

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Audubon.org

Reportedly not seen in Florida between 1927 and 1937, but numbers have gradually increased under complete protection. Current United States population roughly 2000 pairs.

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Reddish Egret Working Group: Distribution

The Reddish Egret is the rarest and least known of the egrets and herons of North America. The species occurs within a narrow latitudinal range extending east from the Baja California peninsula, including the Gulf of California, the Yucatan Peninsula, the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico to peninsular Florida and islands in the Caribbean basin, namely Bahamas and Cuba. The global population is estimated to be 7,000-9,000 individuals, with 3,500 to 4,250 breeding pairs. The Reddish Egret represents an international resource, with Mexico and the U.S. supporting equally the bulk of the global breeding population, complemented by a number of Central American and Caribbean nations. Despite its broad range, the Reddish Egret occupies a restricted belt of coastal habitat, is patchily distributed and has a relatively small and declining global population. Accordingly there is broad international consensus that the Reddish Egret is in need of active conservation attention.

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I feel lucky to have seen this bird today!

Learned a new tern

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Tern at Blowing Rocks Preserve yesterday.

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I think this is an immature Sandwich Tern.

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A view north along the beach with calm, receding waves. The woman on her knees was digging up lots and lots of one particular kind of shell.

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This helo flies, but not like a bird. It’s only got one “wing” and that wing spins around overhead, how strange.

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It was a lovely day to just sit and watch the waves. And we did.

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Kapow!

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I watched this little bird for a bit and realized I didn’t know what it was, so I snapped a few photos. I was sort of tern-like, but smaller and chubbier than the other terns. Also, it was skimming fish off the surface, not diving.

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I posted a couple of pics to What’s This Bird and got the answer: it was a young Black Tern!

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Audubon.org

Forages in flight, dipping to surface of water or shore to pick up items, sometimes pursuing flying insects in the air, seldom plunging into water after prey.

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In breeding season it is a beautiful charcoal gray with a black head and white butt (see pic here).

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A small, graceful marsh tern, black and silver in breeding plumage. In its choice of surroundings, it leads a double life: in North America in summer it is a typical bird of freshwater marshes, but in winter it becomes a seabird along tropical coasts.

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Bird #186 has been added to my collection.

Sula leucogaster in Florida

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At Blowing Rocks Preserve on Jupiter Island today I saw my first…

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Brown Booby!

A widespread seabird of tropical waters, the Brown Booby ranges as far north as the Gulf of California, and rarely to both coasts of the United States. Like other boobies, it feeds with spectacular plunges into the sea.

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This is a young Sula Leucogaster.  There were two others nearby. All three were plunge-diving for fish.

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I guessed by its shape and behavior that it was a member of the booby/ gannet family. I have seen Northern Gannets off the Florida coast. I googled for photos and info. Oddly enough, the image search for “boobies in Florida” didn’t turn up many birds. Finally I posted a photo to What’s This Bird on Facebook and got the Brown Booby confirmation.

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It’s blogged bird #185 for me, woot!

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Audubon

Tropical seas around the world are home to this large, long-winged, strong-flying seabird. In North America it is seen most often near the Dry Tortugas, Florida, where it perches in trees or on navigational markers. It may have nested on the Florida Keys in the past, but the only United States nesting sites today are in Hawaii.

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Look at those long, strong wings.

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Lots of weed in the surf today. And fish too. A guy fishing down the beach said there were lots of “glass minnows” and tarpon were hitting them.

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Among the terns and gulls, the boobies were a special sight today.

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At high tide when the surf is a bit stirred up it can look very dramatic at Blowing Rocks, thanks to the shelf of Anastasia limestone (aka coquina) along the beach.

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Blowing Rocks Preserve is an environmental preserve on Jupiter Island in Hobe Sound, Martin County, Florida, USA. It is owned by The Nature Conservancy. It contains the largest Anastasia limestone outcropping on the state’s east coast. Breaking waves spray plumes of water through erosion holes; the spray can reach heights of 50 feet (15 m). This distinctive spectacle thus earned the limestone outcrop’s name. The limestone outcropping also encompasses coquina shells, crustaceans, and sand.

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A Coast Guard boat passed just offshore.

Location…

Pelican twins

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A couple of big Brown Pelican chicks at Bird Island the other day, with an adult nearby.

Brown Pelican chicks remain in the nest for 77-84 days. I’m guessing these two are near the end of that time.

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I saw two sets of twins that day.

Bird Island can be very busy during the nesting season of Wood Storks and other birds, late winter through spring. It’s quiet now and a nice place to raise the next generation of Pelicanus occidentalis.

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Pelicans, Bird Island, the fishy waters of the Indian River Lagoon, and September’s towering cu.

Ruddy turnstone at Tiger Shores

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My unscientific observation of this chubby sandpiper, the Ruddy Turnstone, is that it is ADORABLE.

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This observation was made yesterday afternoon while sitting in a beach chair on Tiger Shores Beach on Hutchinson Island. No hardship was experienced in the taking of these photos.

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Highly trained German Shepherd no longer attempts to retrieve cast lures, as in days of old.

Breezy but not windy, with temps in the upper 80s and an occasional passing tropical shower. There will be no complaints here.

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This bird retains its beautiful breeding plumage still.

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology…

There are about 350 species of shorebirds (order Charadriiformes) in the world, but there are only 2 turnstones, the Ruddy Turnstone and the Black Turnstone, both of which occur in North America.

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Young turnstones need to grow up and learn to fly quickly. They take their first flight when they are around 19 days old and fly thousands of miles to the nonbreeding grounds 2 days later. To make things harder, their parents will have departed by this time, leaving the youngsters to make their first migration on their own.

Ruddy Turnstones need to fly fast to cover the enormous distances between their breeding and nonbreeding grounds. Flight speeds of turnstones average between 27 and 47 miles per hour.

Amazing and adorable.

Magnificence on display

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Magnificent Frigatebirds love the north end of Bird Island.

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Adult males, females and white-headed juveniles were there in large numbers last Wednesday evening when my husband, daughter and I boated out to the island.

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Fregata magnificens is the largest species of the five-member frigatebird family. Frigatebirds are found world-wide gliding above the warmer oceans.

Magnificent Frigatebird range map

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Wikipedia

Males are all-black with a scarlet throat pouch that is inflated like a balloon in the breeding season. Although the feathers are black, the scapular feathers produce a purple iridescence when they reflect sunlight, in contrast to the male great frigatebird’s green sheen. Females are black, but have a white breast and lower neck sides, a brown band on the wings, and a blue eye-ring that is diagnostic of the female of the species. Immature birds have a white head and underparts.

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When I first saw the frigatebirds on Bird Island, I thought they might be nesting like the other birds on that special mangrove island right next to our little peninsular town in the southern Treasure Coast. But there is only one confirmed nesting location for these birds in Florida.

From an article in the Orlando Sentinel, Magnificent frigatebird may face bleak future

Florida has a small population of frigate birds that nests each year; their home is a group of islands at the end of the Florida Keys called the Dry Tortugas.

Thousands more breed in South America or on Caribbean islands and come to South Florida for the winter.

And summer, I would say.

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That so many of the birds visit Florida suggests to (Florida expert Ken) Meyer that the state has enough habitat to support a second population of nesting frigate birds.

He thinks an ideal site would be among remote islands of the Florida Keys that are uninhabited and protected as sanctuaries.

Beginning last year on those islands, Meyer and staff of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been setting up frigate bird decoys and speakers that play recordings of the birds.

Customized with paint and plywood, the decoys are made from manufactured decoys of other birds.

Meyer said the decoys aren’t “fine art” but they work well, presented in a half-dozen postures.

“It’s really cool to watch; the birds come in and snuggle up next to a decoy,” he said. “It’s not like they ever catch on.”

Frigate birds do not breed until they are 5 to 10 years old, which means the efforts to lure the birds must be repeated for many years, Meyer said.

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Interesting! Maybe frigatebirds could start nesting on Bird Island too. These look mostly like males.

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FWS.gov: Luring magnificent frigatebirds back to Key West National Wildlife Refuge

Prior to each nesting season, adult males congregate at nesting locations in what is known as a lek, in an effort to attract females to the nesting site. As the nesting period draws nearer, the males will compete for their mates through an elaborate display. While female frigatebirds are soaring over the lek, the males will display from the top of the mangrove canopy by inflating their bright red throat pouch, roughly to the size of a volleyball, and flail their wings, all while tilting their bill towards the sky and calling out to the females above. Females use this display to select their mate, and will begin nest building soon after. Fledgling frigatebirds will stay in the care of their mother for six to nine months after hatching.

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While thousands of non-breeding magnificent frigatebirds can be found across the coastlines of Florida and the Caribbean during many months of the year, there is now only one known breeding frigatebird colony in North America. Historic accounts have documented breeding activities within the Key West National Wildlife Refuge on Marquesas Key from the 1960’s through the late 1980’s, when the nesting colony was abandoned. These birds were thought to have left their colony due to human disturbance, and were soon after observed nesting within Dry Tortugas National Park, 45 miles west of Marquesas Keys.

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Current efforts are in place to re-establish nesting frigatebirds within select islands of Key West National Wildlife Refuge through a social attraction and monitoring study. Refuge staff members and volunteers have partnered with Avian Research and Conservation Institute personnel to place fleets of frigatebird decoys within the mangrove canopy of each study site, mimicking the stages of pre-breeding and breeding behaviors. Each artificial colony has the added realism of audio from recorded frigatebird calls projected through a broadcast caller.

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More fascinating frigatebird facts from NPR: Nonstop Flight: The Frigatebird Can Soar For Weeks Without Stopping

Frigatebirds, seagoing fliers with a 6-foot wingspan, can stay aloft for weeks at a time, a new study has found. The results paint an astonishing picture of the bird’s life, much of which is spent soaring inside the clouds.

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“It’s the only bird that is known to intentionally enter into a cloud,” Weimerskirch says. And not just any cloud — a fluffy, white cumulus cloud. Over the ocean, these clouds tend to form in places where warm air rises from the sea surface. The birds hitch a ride on the updraft, all the way up to the top of the cloud.

Frigatebirds have to find ways to stay aloft because they can’t land on the water. Since their feathers aren’t waterproof, the birds would drown in short order. They feed by harassing other birds in flight until they regurgitate whatever fish they’ve eaten and the frigatebird takes it. Or they fly over a fish-feeding frenzy on the ocean surface and scoop up small fish that leap out of the water to escape larger fish.

So in between meals, apparently, frigatebirds soar … and soar … and soar.

In one case, for two months — continuously aloft.

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(That one seems to be molting.)

New respect for these strange birds. It’s pretty special we get to see so many at rest in one place.

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One of the tagged birds soared 40 miles without a wing-flap. Several covered more than 300 miles a day on average, and flew continuously for weeks. They are blessed with an unusual body. No bird has a higher ratio of wing surface area compared with body weight — something called “wing loading.”

Writing in the journal Science, the researchers discovered that frigatebirds have also capitalized on a lucky coincidence. Winds that form these updrafts in the atmosphere also disrupt waves at the sea surface.

“We found that there’s a remarkably good correspondence between those two things,” Deutsch says. And when the regularity of waves is disrupted, deeper water rises to the surface, carrying with it things such as phytoplankton that attract small fish. The small fish attract bigger fish, which creates the feeding frenzy that frigatebirds need to dine.

So it seems the life of a frigatebird is simply hopping off at the bottom of this atmospheric roller coaster, eating and getting back on again to search for the next meal.

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A cormorant and a pelican among the frigatebirds.

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It was neat to watch them take off by just opening their huge wings and lifting up with the wind.

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We’ve had some wind lately, when Hurricane Gordon traveled north through the Gulf of Mexico on the other side of Florida. I wonder if these birds came in on the east winds and are taking a break on this sanctuary island.

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Bills of the cormorant and frigatebird are similar. The two species are related, both members of the Suliformes order.

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Seven-foot wingspan on display.

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A magnificent spot.

Grassy Waters Preserve

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Common Gallinule at Grassy Waters Everglades Preserve, in West Palm Beach.

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John looks out.

On Sunday my husband and I drove 45 minutes south of our Stuart home to the monthly Cars & Coffee event at Palm Beach Outlets to look at cool vintage and custom cars. Afterwards, we went to a place that is the opposite of crowds, cars, noise and sunbaked parking lots.

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“Moorhen.” An old guy with a big camera and a practical wide-brimmed hat pointed to the gallinule and called it the old-timey-birdwatcher name.

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Mostly we had the place to ourselves. Thank you, whoever built this boardwalk. It’s the only way I’m ever going to travel through such wet woods and fields, in Florida, in August.

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We skipped the nature center in favor of getting right out in nature.

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I think this is a Common Arrowhead flower, Sagittaria latifolia, aka duck potato.

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Lovely pond cypress trees, rooted in a few inches of water and a lot of inches of the finest Florida muck. Air plants grow on them quite decoratively.

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Dahoon holly bore fruit abundantly.

Here is a helpful post on the Florida Native Plant Society blog, for those of us who know more about birds than plants: Discovering Grassy Waters Preserve.

This wetland is an example of doing the right thing to build a sustainable urban environment. The naturally clean waters of the preserve are supplying the drinking water for West Palm Beach and helping keep the aquifer healthy. At the same time, all these wetland plant and wildlife species have a place to thrive and townsfolk have easy access to this beautiful place.

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Walking out into the “grassy waters” you can see how this was (is?) part of the original northern Everglades. From the Grassy Waters Conservancy

Historically, the Grassy Waters area was part of the northern Everglades watershed and headwaters of the Loxahatchee River. In the 1890’s, approximately 100 square miles was purchased by Henry Flagler to supply water to West Palm Beach and Palm Beach. In 1955, the City of West Palm Beach purchased what remained of that system. In 1964, the Florida Legislature recognized the area’s uniqueness and importance, and created the Water Catchment Area affording 19 square miles special protection. The U.S. EPA has identified portions of Grassy Waters as an Aquatic Resource of National Importance.Today the Water Catchment Area along with other adjacent lands make up Grassy Waters Preserve, an approximately 24 square mile natural area located in and owned by the City of West Palm Beach. It remains the principle source of the water for West Palm Beach, Palm Beach and South Palm Beach, and is unique in that it is a surface water supply.

The Preserve is almost 50 percent of the land area of the City and contains miles of hiking and biking trails, a boardwalk, and a nature center which is currently being expanded, where the City provides environmental education programs.

The Preserve remains a pristine remnant of the original Everglades ecosystem and critical component in maintaining water levels for environmentally sensitive areas. In addition to its historical significance and key role in the regional water supply, it is one of the largest areas of undisturbed wetlands in Palm Beach County, allowing it to be a refuge for many threatened and endangered species including the Bald Eagle, Wood Stork, and Everglades Snail Kite.

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Peace of the Everglades.

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View over grassy waters.

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Zoom to: Great Egret.

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I’ve been seeing these swallows for about a week now, over parking lots, airports, open fields. I’ve gotten a good look at them, but not a good photo – they are too fast! I’m pretty sure they are Barn Swallows, migrating through.

Glistening cobalt blue above and tawny below, Barn Swallows dart gracefully over fields, barnyards, and open water in search of flying insect prey. Look for the long, deeply forked tail that streams out behind this agile flyer and sets it apart from all other North American swallows. Barn Swallows often cruise low, flying just a few inches above the ground or water.

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American waterlily.

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Yet another crappy bird photo. Endure.

Cool story at Audubon: Ken Kaufman’s Notebook: The Barn Swallow Is Slowly Conquering the World.

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This bigass grasshopper is actually a fine fat example of an Eastern Lubber Grasshopper.

The Eastern lubber grasshopper (Romalea microptera (Beauvois)) is a large colorful flightless grasshopper that often comes to the attention of Florida homeowners.

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Shrubbery along the boardwalk: I noticed cocoplum and wax myrtle, both of which I admire. We planted some cocoplum in our backyard last year. I just bought a couple of wax myrtles for the front yard (and the birds) a couple of days ago.

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Wax myrtle and saw palmetto, among other lush green things. Not to bitch (and we’re as guilty as the next Florida homeowner) but it’s really nice to take a break from the flat-topped hedges, emerald lawns, tropical ornamentals and constant grinding whine of landscaping machines and see how native, wild Florida plants arrange themselves and grow (so quietly).

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“Ah, you may sit under them, yes. They cast a good shadow, cold as well-water; but that’s the trouble, they tempt you to sleep. And you must never, for any reason, sleep beneath a cypress.’ He paused, stroked his moustache, waited for me to ask why, and then went on: ‘Why? Why? Because if you did you would be changed when you woke. Yes, the black cypresses, they are dangerous. While you sleep, their roots grow into your brains and steal them, and when you wake up you are mad, head as empty as a whistle.’ I asked whether it was only the cypress that could do that or did it apply to other trees. ‘No, only the cypress,’ said the old man, peering up fiercely at the trees above me as though to see whether they were listening; ‘only the cypress is the thief of intelligence. So be warned, little lord, and don’t sleep here.”  – Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals (A favorite book! It’s set in Greece. I first read it when I was 12 or 13 and I love it still.)