Gallinules own the pond

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Common Gallinule, juvenile, gets its greens.

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I stopped by the pond at Indian RiverSide Park the other day and spied on the gallinules, since nothing else was around except some bold beggar squirrels.

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The fluffy white undertail looks like a bunny rabbit butt.

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Nearby, an adult…

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…was preening.

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Looking good, little gallinule.

Pigeon toes and the feral rock doves that live at the pier

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Are pigeons pigeon-toed?

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I suppose by definition, yes?

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Geek out to the variety of toe arrangements (dactyly) in birds. Pigeons are anisodactyl, like most “perching” birds aka passerines.

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Here’s an interesting pigeon toe. It’s got a white nail.

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And one white nail on the other foot too.

Does this bird have an all-white great-grandparent? A ceremonial release dove or homing/ racing pigeon that did not go home?

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Many pigeons I see regularly on the pier at Indian RiverSide Park have some color variations beyond the blue barred pattern of plain old Columba livia, the rock dove (rock pigeon, common pigeon). Maybe they are descendants of some escaped or released domestic birds?

Hm, technically all pigeons in North America are feral…

The pigeons or rock doves (Columba livia) found in North America are the feral offspring of pigeons brought to this continent by European immigrants. Pigeons are domesticated animals raised for sport racing, show and for food (squab). The ancestors of the pigeons we see in our cities and on our farms escaped from captivity and found a favorable environment living with humans. Feral pigeons now have a cosmopolitan distribution, having become established every place humans have built cities.

The feral pigeons found in Florida and North America are extremely variable in coloration. They exhibit the full range of coloration that domestication and selective breeding have produced. All pigeons that were developed from rock doves (Figure 1) have a white rump, usually a white diamond-shaped patch just above the tail feathers. In white birds the white rump blends with the general body color. Many pigeons have retained the ancestral rock dove coloration: gray body, darker gray head and neck, white rump, dark band on the end of the tail, dark wing tips, and two black stripes running along the back edge of each wing.

Snook Nook look

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The fishing pier, little beach and waters of the Indian River Lagoon behind the Snook Nook bait and tackle shop is an eBird hotspot that also falls within my 5-mile radius. After breakfast at the delicious Mary’s Gourmet Kitchen yesterday (open at 7 a.m. for early birds) we traveled a short distance north for a look-see at the ‘Nook.

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Osprey on sea grapes at the edge of the lagoon, making some noise.

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I’m pretty sure this is a Reddish Egret, on a quick fly by. The current U.S. population, located on the Atlantic coast in Florida and all around the Gulf Coast, is roughly 2,000 pairs, according to Audubon.

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On the dock, just one bird. So much for Hotspot!

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It looks like a “second winter” Laughing Gull. Photo at Cornell.

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Laughing Gulls are year-round residents here. I remember when I was a kid visiting my grandparents at the Jersey Shore we would only see these gulls in summertime. Their distinctive laughing call is a soundtrack to happy childhood beach and boardwalk memories.

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Next a small, spotted wading bird flew into the scene.

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Definitely a rare Dalmatian Heron, right?

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Just kidding. It’s a young Blue Heron growing up and molting from white to “blue.”

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Little Blue Herons may gain a survival advantage by wearing white during their first year of life. Immature birds are likelier than their blue elders to be tolerated by Snowy Egrets—and in the egrets’ company, they catch more fish. Mingling in mixed-species flocks of white herons, immature Little Blue Herons probably also acquire extra protection against predators.

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With their patchy white-and-blue appearance, Little Blue Herons in transition from the white first-year stage to blue adult plumage are often referred to as “Calico,” “Pied,” or “Piebald.”

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When I was a young girl going through my horse phase I remember learning the odd words “pied” and “piebald” for that particular black-and-white horse color.

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The famous Pied Piper from the Middle Ages tale is “pied” because of his multicolored clothing.

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This pied dog is a Dalmatian, of course.

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Pied little blue in the IRL.

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Wonderful photos and description at Mia McPherson’s On The Wing: Age Related Color Morphs of Little Blue Herons

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Wading bird wading, with the causeway to the bridge from the Jensen Beach mainland to Hutchinson Island beyond. Layers of moody tropically-moist storm clouds tell the story: rainy season has begun.

What’s black and white and red and blue?

Two birds I saw on a walk.

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A Blue Jay on the lawn.

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Pileated Woodpecker in a tree, with moss and a climbing cactus.

The Cornell Lab Bird Academy: How Birds Make Colorful Feathers

As one might expect from the amazing diversity of colors and patterns exhibited by more than 10,000 bird species found in the world, birds can see color. The colors in the feathers of a bird are formed in two different ways, from either pigments or from light refraction caused by the structure of the feather.

A woodpecker’s brilliant red cap is formed by pigmentation of the feathers, but a blue jay’s feathers look blue because of the structure of the feather and the way it scatters incoming light.

If you find the feather of a Blue Jay or Steller’s Jay you can see for yourself how this works. First, observe the feather in normal lighting conditions and you will see the expected blue color. Next, try back-lighting the feather. When light is transmitted through the feather it will look brown. The blues are lost because the light is no longer being reflected back and the brown shows up because of the melanin in the feathers.

Lizards: it’s what’s for lunch

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A majestic Great Egret powers down another tiny reptile at the Lizard Raw Bar.

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I like them boiled, I like them fried,
But most of all I like them alive!

(Sorry.)

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Gulp. Pretty sure there are a few more lizards on the way down this bird’s neck.

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Going back for more?

Photos taken yesterday in Indian RiverSide Park. I was using my car as a bird blind.

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Can you imagine swallowing something and waiting for it to go down a neck like that?

Upside-downy

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Sweet little Downy Woodpecker half hidden in the Spanish moss. Downies are the smallest woodpeckers in North America.

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I saw a pair here on busy South Sewall’s Point Road, between Palmetto and Emarita. This one’s the male, with the red patch on his head.

They were noisy and active – at a time of day (near noon) on a bright, humid day when I didn’t expect to see many, or any, birds.

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Hooray, Downy! My first Florida sighting of one of my faithful old friends from New Hampshire.

All Amy’s Bird posts tagged with Downy Woodpecker.

Bird Island: the name says it all

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Radar spots Bird Island.

Just off the east side of Sewall’s Point, in the Indian River Lagoon, the spoil island is one of the top ten bird rookeries in Florida. We borrowed a boat from our boat club on Thursday and went to see how nesting season is coming along.

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Is this place even real?

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Of all the islands in the Indian River Lagoon in Martin County, the birds have chosen this one for nesting, feeding, roosting, loafing.

We stay outside the Critical Wildlife Area signs and use binoculars and a superzoom camera to watch but not bother.

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Roseate Spoonbills, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and Wood Storks. Oh my!

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The most Great Egrets I’ve seen in one place – they seem to prefer the solitary lifestyle outside of breeding season.

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Snowy Egrets and a Wood Stork at the top right of this photo. Is that a rare Reddish Egret on the left? Or a Tri-colored Heron? Can’t tell.

(Update: confirmed to be a Tricolored Heron – white belly – by helpful birders on Facebook’s “What’s This Bird?”)

I saw what I thought were three Reddish Egrets on a sandbar adjoining this island a couple of months ago, doing their distinctive fishing dance, but didn’t have my camera. In March, we spotted what I think was a Reddish Egret on Bird Island and I got a photo (it’s in this post). (Update: that one confirmed as a Reddish Egret, yay!)

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“Gear down,” noted my husband, the airline pilot.

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Fuzzy-headed juvenile Wood Storks. It’s been a phenomenal breeding year for these big wading birds. I see the adults flying back and forth over our house every day now. Sometimes a fish crow or two can be seen chasing a stork out of “their” suburban residential territory.

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Wood Storks occur only in a few areas in the United States, so to get a look at one, head to a wetland preserve or wildlife area along the coast in Florida, South Carolina, or Georgia.

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Wood Storks are social birds that forage in groups and nest in colonies. Small groups of storks forage in wetlands, frequently following each other one by one in a line. In the late afternoon, when temperatures rise, Wood Storks often take to the sky, soaring on thermals like raptors. They nest in tight colonies with egrets and herons and generally show little aggression, but if a bird or mammal threatens them, they may pull their neck in, fluff up their feathers, and walk toward the intruder. Threats are also met with bill clattering and jabbing. Despite the myth that Wood Storks mate for life, pairs form at the breeding colony and stay together only for a single breeding season.

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Teenagers doing what they do best.

I’ve read that water levels affect their nesting rates. When levels are low, they have fewer offspring. Well, we did have a wet year last year!

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Just amazing to see (and hear and smell) this many birds in one place.

Bird Island is part of our town, Sewall’s Point. Here is a brief history of the island and a list of species observed, on the town website: Bird Island.

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Young stork, Brown Pelican and Black Vulture on the beach.

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Spoonbills and stork. I guess the juvenile storks start feeding on the island. I have not see the adults feed there – they fly off to other shallow waters, usually inland, usually fresh water.

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I was shooting into diffuse light, so these pics aren’t that great, but I wanted to show how many Magnificent Frigatebirds were in the trees on the northwest side of the island. I have been told that this is not a confirmed nesting site for frigate birds. I’m mildly skeptical… but humble about the limits of my bird knowledge.

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All together now, what a place!

More on Bird Island…

Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch: Sewall’s Point is for the Birds!

Visit Bird Island with Sunshine WildlifeTours

My blog: Bird Island Bird Spies; Bird Island from a boat; Boating near Bird Island.

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Meyer Art Originals Wood Stork print

Morning at the pond in the park

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Common Gallinule this morning at Indian RiverSide Park a few miles up the road from us, in Jensen Beach.

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I saw a couple of adults and a juvenile together in this pond the other evening, but did not have my camera.

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This morning I found the “baby” off by itself, fluffy yet independent.

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Common Gallinules eat vegetation, seeds, snails, and insects. They pick sedge, grass, pondweed, duckweed, and flower seeds from the water surface or just below the surface. Gallinules flip over leaves with their feet to grab snails and insects hidden below.

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I went looking for gallinules and I also found a strange, new duck.

The Black-bellied Whistling-Duck is a boisterous duck with a brilliant pink bill and an unusual, long-legged silhouette. In places like Texas and Louisiana, watch for noisy flocks of these gaudy ducks dropping into fields to forage on seeds, or loafing on golf course ponds. Listen for them, too—these ducks really do have a whistle for their call. Common south of the U.S., Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks occur in several southern states and are expanding northward.

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Just two, together.

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Unique color pattern.

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks are dark overall: a chestnut breast and black belly are set off by a bright-pink bill and legs, grayish face, and broad white wing stripe, also visible in flight.

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Florida bird #89 for me.

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“Hey, don’t forget about me. People feed squirrels in this park, you know.”

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An Anhinga was near the ducks.

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A dark body stealthily swims through a lake with only a snakelike head poking above the surface. What may sound like the Loch Ness monster is actually an Anhinga, swimming underwater and stabbing fish with its daggerlike bill. After every dip, it strikes a regal pose on the edges of shallow lakes and ponds, with its silvery wings outstretched and head held high to dry its waterlogged feathers. Once dry, it takes to the sky, soaring high on thermals stretched out like a cross.

Whoever writes the descriptions at Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a wizard wordsmith, a pleasure to read.

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They really are strange looking birds.

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A Mottled Duck, mallard-like and common in Florida, near the two exotic-looking whistling ducks.

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Here’s the young ‘un again.

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Looks like a cross between a chick and duckling.

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At one point, an adult gallinule crossed the pond calling and calling… I would guess for its adventurous teenager.

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The juvenile ignored the calls and kept exploring and foraging.

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Walking with ibises

White Ibis out for a walk.

Getting our steps, the ibis and I.

What’s missing from the sign at the top of our street? Caution! Watch for strolling ibises.

Why is this bird smiling?

I think these are the tamest wading birds. And the wading birds least likely to be seen wading.

Treetop ibis. These birds make it easy for lazy bird-watchers to spot birds.

On the opposite end of the bird-spotting spectrum: the Yellow-billed Cuckoo!  I got another pic finally this morning. It’s a neighborhood bird I have been trying to see again since I first spotted it a week ago.

Rest stop for amazing warblers

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Blackpoll Warbler this morning, after yesterday’s rain.

Because their migration paths are different in fall and spring, we only see them here in spring, traveling from the Caribbean and South America north to the Canadian boreal forest.

National Geographic: Amazing: Tiny Birds Fly Without Landing for Three Days

Warblers that weigh about as much as a stack of 12 business cards fly thousands of miles across the Atlantic during their fall migration.