Sandhill Cranes at Green River

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A pair of Sandhill Cranes walked up onto the dike in front of us yesterday morning as we were looping back from a nice bird walk (see egret pics too).

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My husband John and I were walking where the retention ponds are located just off Green River Parkway in Jensen Beach. We’ve been going there a lot lately.

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Whether stepping singly across a wet meadow or filling the sky by the hundreds and thousands, Sandhill Cranes have an elegance that draws attention. These tall, gray-bodied, crimson-capped birds breed in open wetlands, fields, and prairies across North America.

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We see cranes often in this area of Jensen Beach, with a section of the Savannas Preserve just across the parkway. They also like to visit bird feeders in people’s yards around here, or walk along roadsides.

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They are so big, which such magnificent wings.

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They mate for life.

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When we arrived at Green River I told John, “I’ll be happy if I get a good photo or two of a Sandhill Crane today.”

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Never fail to notice when your wishes come true!

Pretty (weird) in pink

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Roseate Spoonbills and Snowy Egrets were wading in a shallow pond at Kiplinger Nature Preserve off Kanner Highway in Stuart the other day.

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It’s 157 acres of pine and scrub flatwoods, plus freshwater and mangrove swamp at the edge of the South Fork of the St. Lucie River. You can hear traffic noise in most parts of the preserve, otherwise it seems quite remote and natural.

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The spoonbills were blasé as the snowies trooped and fussed past.

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Two species of wading bird that seem to have no need of camouflage. They were easy to spot through the woods from the trail.

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I was using my new Christmas camera, a Nikon D850 with a 28-300mm lens. I have a lot to learn, but I’m excited!

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From All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology…

The flamboyant Roseate Spoonbill looks like it came straight out of a Dr. Seuss book with its bright pink feathers, red eye staring out from a partly bald head, and giant spoon-shaped bill. Groups sweep their spoonbills through shallow fresh or salt waters snapping up crustaceans and fish.

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The Roseate Spoonbill is the only one of the six spoonbill species found in the Americas.

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Roseate Spoonbills get their pink coloration from the foods they eat. Crustaceans and other aquatic invertebrates contain pigments called carotenoids that help turn their feathers pink.

Location…

Mergansers in town

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Welcome, winter visitors.

I saw a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers late this afternoon just off the West Causeway park under the Sewall’s Point-to-Hutchinson-Island bridge.

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Male merganser.

Red-breasted Mergansers breed in the boreal forest on fresh, brackish, and saltwater wetlands, typically close to the coast. During migration and on the wintering grounds, they use oceans, lakes, and rivers. They tend to use saltwater, including estuaries and bays, more often than Common Merganser.

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Female.

Red-breasted Mergansers primarily eat small fish (4–6 inches long), but also crustaceans, insects, and tadpoles on occasion. In the summer, they forage in shallow waters with submerged vegetation and plentiful fish. In the winter they forage in shallow marine waters. Red-breasted Mergansers dive underwater or swim with their eyes just below the surface as if they were snorkeling to look for prey. Lines of mergansers also herd minnows into restricted areas, allowing easy capture. The serrations on the bill help them keep hold of slippery fish.

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Year of the Hawk

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First bird of the New Year, a gorgeous Red-tailed Hawk!

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This fine, fierce-looking raptor was in the Norfolk Island pine in our front yard. I walked out on the front porch in my jammies with my camera, to see what I could see. What auguries and portents for 2019. Lazy-birding at its best.

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I actually had ID help from What’s This Bird on Facebook. Speaking of lazy.

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John James Audubon

Its flight is firm, protracted, and at times performed at a great height. It sails across the whole of a large plantation, on a level with the tops of the forest trees which surround it, without a single flap of its wings, and is then seen moving its head sidewise to inspect the objects below. This flight is generally accompanied by a prolonged mournful cry, which may be heard at a considerable distance, and consists of a single sound resembling the monosyllable Kae, several times repeated, for three or four minutes, without any apparent inflection or difference of intensity. It would seem as if uttered for the purpose of giving notice to the living objects below that he is passing, and of thus inducing them to bestir themselves and retreat to a hiding-place, before they attain which he may have an opportunity of pouncing upon one of them. When he spies an animal, while he is thus sailing over a field, I have observed him give a slight check to his flight, as if to mark a certain spot with accuracy, and immediately afterwards alight on the nearest tree. He would then instantly face about, look intently on the object that had attracted his attention, soon after descend towards it with wings almost close to his body, and dart upon it with such accuracy and rapidity as seldom to fail in securing it.

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Fish crows were the first bird I heard this year, and the second bird I saw and photographed. There was a noisy flock out of sight this morning when I had coffee on the porch.

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I like crows. They are clever and sassy.

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The fish crow is superficially similar to the American crow, but is smaller (36–41 cm in length) and has a silkier, smoother plumage by comparison. The upperparts have a blue or blue-green sheen, while the underparts have a more greenish tint to the black. The eyes are dark brown. The differences are often only really apparent between the two species when seen side by side or when heard calling.

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…when calling, fish crows tend to hunch and fluff their throat feathers.

The voice is the most outwardly differing characteristic for this species and other American crow species. The call of the fish crow has been described as a nasal “ark-ark-ark” or a begging “waw-waw”. Birders often distinguish the two species (in areas where their range overlaps) with the mnemonic aid “Just ask him if he is an American crow. If he says “no”, he is a fish crow.” referring to the fact that the most common call of the American crow is a distinct “caw caw”, while that of the fish crow is a nasal “nyuh unh”.

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Let’s just throw in this third bird of the year, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, male, on the neighbor’s banyan tree.

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Such a beautiful red noggin.

Last year’s first bird: vultures.

Happy 2019!

Good morning, mergansers

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Some diving-duck “snowbirds” were swimming just off the west causeway park under the Ernest Lyons Bridge, Sewall’s Point this morning.

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There were eight of these Red-breasted Mergansers. Here is a rare moment when all of them were on top of the water, not diving.

Fun fact from Cornell Lab of Ornithology…

Red-breasted Mergansers need to eat 15 to 20 fish per day, which researchers suggest means they need to dive underwater 250–300 times per day or forage for 4–5 hours to meet their energy needs.

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The Red-breasted Merganser is a shaggy-headed diving duck also known as the “sawbill”; named for its thin bill with tiny serrations on it that it uses to keep hold of slippery fish.

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Range Map from Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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The winter months are the best time to go looking for a Red-breasted Merganser, when they are fairly common along coastal waters in the United States and Mexico. Look for them in sheltered estuaries and bays swimming along in small groups or by themselves. Red-breasted Mergansers forage near the shore, so a spotting scope may not be needed to get good looks.

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Snowy Egret too, brightening this windy rainy gray day.

GBH nest

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“Honey, I’m home!”

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My husband and I watched a pair of Great Blue Herons yesterday, on a nest in a cypress tree in a man-made pond near the Green River Parkway in Jensen Beach.

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It seems a bit early for nesting season, but I suppose these birds know what they’re doing.

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Funny to see these big wading birds up in a tree. They are the largest herons in North America.

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Male Great Blue Herons collect much of the nest material, gathering sticks from the ground and nearby shrubs and trees, and from unguarded and abandoned nests, and presenting them to the female. She weaves a platform and a saucer-shaped nest cup, lining it with pine needles, moss, reeds, dry grass, mangrove leaves, or small twigs. Nest building can take from 3 days up to 2 weeks; the finished nest can range from a simple platform measuring 20 inches across to more elaborate structures used over multiple years, reaching 4 feet across and nearly 3.5 feet deep.

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Like other herons they often breed in colonies, with many other nests and pairs nearby, but these two appeared to be alone.

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Beautiful plumage.

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It was a sunny day, warming into the lower 70s. It felt good after a few cold, windy days.

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Some wings!

Peace and quiet

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White Ibis in the mangroves.

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We walked out on a new boardwalk though mangroves to the Indian River Lagoon, at the Clifton S. Perry Beach on Hutchinson Island. This park opened very recently, just south of Santa Lucea Beach and north of the House of Refuge.

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Bird on a board.

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Grubby ibis.

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I would never have seen these birds without boardwalk access to this spot that is otherwise inhospitable to humans. The birds did seem a bit surprised to see us there. They can be quite bold beggars at Indian RiverSide Park, walking right up to people and looking for a handout.

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But maybe sometimes they like a people-free place. I tried not to disturb them too much!