The daily ibis

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White Ibis are brown when young.

Does a day go by that I do NOT see these birds?

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A distinctive bill!

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Good for probing.

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And picking.

White Ibises probe for insects and crustaceans beneath the surface of wetlands. They insert their bill into soft muddy bottoms and feel for prey. When they feel something, they pinch it like a tweezer, pulling out crayfish, earthworms, marine worms, and crabs. They also stab or pinch fish, frogs, lizards, snails, and newts. Many of their prey are swallowed on the spot, but for really muddy items they carry them away to wash the mud off before eating. They break harder crustaceans with their bills and remove claws from crabs and crayfish before eating them.

Birds and a turtle and an otter, oh my

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I spied on half the gallinule family and a terrapin on Saturday morning. They were in the reeds at freshwater pond at Indian RiverSide Park, Jensen Beach.

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I think this turtle is a Red-eared Slider, a member of the pond turtle/ marsh turtle family.

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The gallinule chicks are growing up fast.

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Beaks and legs are very different from the adult.

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Much time was spent preening the feathers.

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Was this vocalization directed towards the turtle?

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All birds looking up (in that one-eyed way I remember from my backyard hens), while the turtle continues to watch the gallinules.

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Amazing red and yellow color match between the turtle’s face and tail and adult gallinule’s beak and legs.

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Birds of all species hang close together at this pond, but do the birds and reptiles hang close together too?

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Speaking of coexisting with reptiles, I wondered if this White Ibis lost a leg to an alligator.

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One more photo of the gallinules. What spectacular toes!

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Nearby, Little Blue Heron gets its stalk on.

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A woodpecker flew onto this old tree. I’m guessing it’s a juvenile Red-bellied Woodpecker. It will grow a lovely scarlet cap soon!

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Anhinga perched on one pathetic little tree branch, or root. The park people need to leave more dead wood around the pond.

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This Anhinga is a female, with the light brown neck.

I also walked the boardwalk into the mangrove swamp. It was a breezeless 90 degrees and it felt like 100 in the humidity…

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But I saw an otter! The River Otter, Contra canadensis, lives in and near fresh water in a large part of North America, including throughout Florida except the Keys.

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This looks like a yawn but it may have been a crunch. I could hear it eating something, fish or crab?

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Sharp little teeth, cat-like whiskers, elf ears and a body like an aquatic dachshund… what a strange and wonderful animal.

Also, don’t mess with them… they bite! River otters in Florida got into multiple fights with kayakers last winter.

Just looking

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Just thinking.

We took a boat out on Monday, from our boat club in Port Salerno. I brought my camera and the best photos were these, of a heron at the dock before we even left.

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A Little Blue Heron. They are common around here.

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This one let me walk right up to him and take his picture.

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blue crane or heron

Blue Crane, or Heron – John James Audubon

There, and at this season, reader, you may see this graceful Heron, quietly and in silence walking along the margins of the water, with an elegance and grace which can never fail to please you.

Sunday morning pond loop

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I looped the pond at Indian RiverSide Park on Sunday morning and kept track of the birds I saw for an eBird checklist: LINK.

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White Ibis, ten of them, preening mostly.

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Ibises plus an Anhinga drying his wings in the sun.

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The morning light was lovely. Birds are a great way to start the day!

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White Ibis close up.

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Paying attention to feathers.

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Florida Mottled Ducks, I believe.

There were 14 of them.  But I marked them on the checklist as Mallard/ Mottled because I was not 100 percent sure that there were not a few hybrids mixed in.

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The Wood Ducks were still there from the day before.

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The Mottled Ducks were parading past the Wood Ducks.

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Four Wood Ducks, all young/ non-breeding males?

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The duck scene got even busier when a couple of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks flew in.

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Duck city.

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The handsome and interesting Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.

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Side-by-side duck comparison.

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Then the little not-duck, a Common Gallinule, came across the pond.

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It checked in on my side of the pond then paddled back to the reeds on the other side.

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When I walked to that side of the pond I witnessed a charming parent-child moment, as the adult and chick shared a nibble of a little green plant.

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Common Gallinule chick.

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There were four chicks and two adults in the reeds.

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Audubon: Common Gallinule

Adaptable and successful, this bird is common in the marshes of North and South America. It was formerly considered to belong to the same species as the Common Moorhen, widespread in the Old World. The gallinule swims buoyantly, bobbing its head; it also walks and runs on open ground near water, and clambers about through reeds and cattails above the water. Related to the American Coot and often found with it, but not so bold, spending more time hiding in the marsh.

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Funny, fluffy little creatures.

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This is their part of the pond.

Streamlined water bird

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Stop me if I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m completely fascinated by the fact that… Anhingas don’t have nostrils!

They do not have external nares (nostrils) and breathe solely through their epiglottis.

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I photographed this fine fellow yesterday morning at the Indian RiverSide Park pond.

In order to dive and search for underwater prey, including fish and amphibians, the anhinga does not have waterproof feathers, (unlike ducks, which coat their feathers with oil from their uropygial gland). Because the anhinga is thus barely buoyant, it can stay below the surface more easily and for longer periods of time.

If it attempts to fly while its wings are wet, the anhinga has difficulty, flapping vigorously while “running” on the water. As do cormorants when drying their feathers, the anhinga will stand with wings spread and feathers fanned open in a semicircular shape, resembling a male meleagrine, which led to the anhinga being referred to colloquially as the “water turkey” or “swamp turkey.”

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I used to think Anhingas were ugly, or at least funny looking. I’m beginning to think they are beautiful, actually, in their own strange way.

Wood Ducks!

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I visited my most productive little birding pond, at Indian Riverside Park, late this morning and got a new bird for the blog, the sweet little Wood Duck.

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This is not the full-on iridescent patterned breeding male but a young and/or non-breeding male, according to my online research. Cornell Lab: Wood Duck overview.

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There were four Wood Ducks together on the pond. I think they are all non-breeding males, with the red eyes.

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One seemed to be preening another.

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Audubon.org: Wood Duck

Beautiful and unique, this duck of woodland ponds and river swamps has no close relatives, except for the Mandarin Duck of eastern Asia. Abundant in eastern North America in Audubon’s time, the Wood Duck population declined seriously during the late 19th century because of hunting and loss of nesting sites. Its recovery to healthy numbers was an early triumph of wildlife management.

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The map on the site shows they are common in all seasons in this area.

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Wood Ducks! Bird 183 on the blog life list.

Willets on Sanibel

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I collected some Willets for the blog a week and a half ago on Sanibel.

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We were at Lighthouse Beach on the south end of the island.

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A flock of Willets flew from somewhere over the Gulf and landed on the beach.

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The beach is famously made of lots of shells, especially in some spots. (I highly recommend the Shell Museum if you visit the island.)

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Also washed up on the beach: lots empty tubes of marine parchment worms.

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This was the first time I’ve seen a flock of Willets. On our beaches I see them in ones and twos.

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This one found a tiny crab.

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According to Cornell Lab…

Willets and other shorebirds were once a popular food. In his famous Birds of America accounts, John James Audubon wrote that Willet eggs were tasty and the young “grow rapidly, become fat and juicy, and by the time they are able to fly, afford excellent food.” By the early 1900s, Willets had almost vanished north of Virginia. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 banned market hunting and marked the start of the Willet’s comeback.

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These Willets came in two different colors: grayish brown with few markings and grayish brown with more brown mottling and markings.

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The more mottled plumage is a breeding adult, according to Cornell, vs the smoother non-breeding adult.

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There. Now we’ve had a good look at Willets.

Florida Scrub-Jays at last

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Ta da! Camera in one hand and Florida Scrub-Jay in the other.

But let me start at the beginning…

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Indrio Savannahs is a 297-acre preserve with 3 miles of trails just off Route 1 in St. Lucie County north of the city of Fort Pierce, Florida. I took a walk there a couple of mornings ago.

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A pretty 35-acre lake is right near the parking area. Fishing is allowed but catch-and-release only, said the sign.

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First bird was a Northern Mockingbird on the trail ahead of me, doing a wing display dance… maybe to flush tasty insects from their hiding places?

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I also spotted a Brown Thrasher, a new bird for me!

To find Brown Thrashers, keep your eyes and ears alert around tangled thickets, hedgerows or forest edges in central and eastern North America. Brown Thrashers are secretive, and hard to spot in their favorite spots under dense vegetation, but they can make a lot of noise as they rummage through the leaf litter.

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Thanks for popping out into the open, Brown Thrasher.

They are in the Mimidae family, along with Northern Mockingbirds and Gray Catbirds.

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Brown Thrashers spend most of their time near or on the ground, walking, running, or hopping. When disturbed at the nest, they drop to the ground and dart into dense cover. They feed by sweeping their long bills through leaf litter to uncover insects and other invertebrates. They are slow, short-distance fliers with a distinctive jerky, fluttering flight style.

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Next along the trail, the bird I was looking for!

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A Florida Scrub-Jay (juveniles have brown heads) flew onto a fence post and posed.

The round-headed, blue and gray Florida Scrub-Jay is the only bird species that lives exclusively in Florida, where it occurs in patches of low-growing scrub oak in sandy soils. It perches tall with its long tail hanging down or boldly hops on the ground burying acorns.

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I’ve been keeping an eye out for Scrub-Jays and I specifically chose Indrio Savannahs because I heard and read there were some families living there.

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This social bird forms extended family groups: the young from previous years help their parents at subsequent nests until they can get a territory of their own. Extensive development and habitat fragmentation in Florida threaten this bird’s already small population, placing it on the federal endangered species list.

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Poof!

I’d guess this is a juvenile starting to molt into adult plumage.

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You can see new little pin feathers sprouting on its head.

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It flew to the grassy path and poked around.

Florida Scrub-Jays hop along the ground between shrubs looking for insects, acorns, berries, and small vertebrates such as snakes, mice, and lizards. Florida Scrub-Jays also eat peanuts provided by people. They eat small insects and berries whole, but carry larger prey in their bill to a perch where they proceed to pick it apart.

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They hold acorns in their feet, hammering them apart with their chisel-like bill. When they’ve had their fill of acorns, they hammer them into the sandy soil or stuff them into palm fronds or moss to eat later in the year. They often place a leaf or twig over the area, perhaps to help them remember where they buried it. Throughout the year, they also dig up and recache the acorns perhaps to check on the condition of the acorn or to help them remember the location. A single Florida Scrub-Jay may cache between 6,500 and 8,000 acorns each fall.

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Florida Scrub-Jays are restricted to low-growing (less than 6.5 feet tall) oak scrub and scrubby flatwoods found in sand ridges only in Florida. Within these patches of oak scrub, they frequent relatively open areas and bare sandy patches. Species within this community include myrtle oak, Archbold oak, sand live oak, Chapman oak, runner oak, rusty lyonia, Florida rosemary, and at least 18 endangered or threatened plants. When the oak scrub becomes too dense or tall as a result of fire suppression, Florida Scrub-Jays no longer use the area.

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Nearby, a Red-bellied Woodpecker flew into view.

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I came to a bridge with a sign about the jays.

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And suddenly they materialized.

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I would have been happy to get one photo of one jay.

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The Red-bellied flew onto the scene too. I’m guessing someone has fed these birds at this spot.

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Couple of juveniles with their brown heads in the front. Maybe adults in the background? Looking a little scruffy from the molt?

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This was just incredible and I wished I had someone with me to enjoy the amazing scene. But I knew I got some photos I could share later.

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Young birds stay with their parents until they can obtain a territory of their own. Until then, they help their parents feed their siblings, keep watch for predators, and defend the territory year-round. These family groups are generally composed of adults and up to 6 offspring. Within each family group one individual acts as a sentinel, looking out for predators.

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I guess they don’t consider humans predators, which maybe is unfortunate.

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They are really different looking if you are used to looking at Blue Jays.

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According to Florida Fish & Wildlife…

The Florida scrub-jay is a blue and gray bird that reaches lengths of 12 inches (30.5 centimeters) with a wing span of 13.5 inches (34.3 centimeters) (The Cornell Lab of Ornithology 2011).  A blue-colored necklace surrounds their neck, separating their whiter throat from their grayish breast.  Florida scrub-jays also have a gray back and underparts, along with a blue head, tail, and wings.

floridascrub-jay-map

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On a whim, I put out my hand. Almost immediately this bird flew onto my fingers and perched, looking for a handout I’ll bet!

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Sorry, no food. Do not feed the Scrub-Jays, I know that’s the rule.

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The touch of those lightweight picky little bird feet will stick with me as a special moment.

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Yeah, Florida Scrub-Jay!

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I continued my morning bird-and-camera walk along some trails and over little bridges in the preserve.

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Very quiet, overcast morning, not too hot for summer and without many bugs at all.

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A Mourning Dove perched near the trail.

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Tiny flower on the path.

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Another creature with wings.

Evening at Ding Darling

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I do love the summer clouds of Florida.

During our trip to Sanibel Island last week, we also drove through J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge one evening, to compare it with our morning sightings.

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The Roseate Spoonbills were actively feeding.

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Spoonbills feed in shallow waters, walking forward slowly while they swing their heads from side to side, sifting the muck with their wide flat bills.

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Also actively feeding: a Reddish Egret!

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Audubon, Reddish Egret

A conspicuously long-legged, long-necked wader of coastal regions, more tied to salt water than any of our other herons or egrets. Often draws attention by its feeding behavior: running through shallows with long strides, staggering sideways, leaping in air, raising one or both wings, and abruptly stabbing at fish.

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I really got into the Reddish Egrets on this trip. They are the rarest herons in North America and Sanibel is one place you can see them.

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Along for the ride again, the dawg.

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Incidentally, here is one of the dog-friendly things we liked about Sanibel. And it was so hot the whole time that we all needed to drink a lot of water and stay hydrated.

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Reddish Egret looks a little funny head-on.

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Families were also visiting the refuge in the evening, in search of snook. These folks were also watching a manatee.

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We spotted three Reddish Egrets in three different locations, all looking for dinner. All were pretty far away so the photos aren’t great, just good enough.

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Really unique coloring.

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One wing.

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Feathers on the head and neck look sort of shaggy at times.

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Common Grackle nomming the tree berries.

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Yellow-crowned Night Heron.

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