Tricolored heron

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Tricolored Heron in a pond by the golf course.

Audubon Field Guide…

On the southeastern coastal plain, the Tricolored Heron is a characteristic bird of quiet shallow waters. Strikingly slender, with long bill, neck, and legs, it is often seen wading belly-deep in coastal lagoons. Although it is solitary in its feeding, it is sociable in nesting, often in very large colonies with various other herons and egrets. Formerly known as Louisiana Heron.

Egyptian geese on the golf course

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Egyptian geese are native to Africa and were sacred to the ancient Egyptians.

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Here they are on the Ocean Club Golf Course at the Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort.

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According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Egyptian geese have been seen in Florida since the 1960s.

Species are present but not confirmed to be breeding. Population persists only with repeated introductions and/or escapes of individuals.

Native to North Africa and Syria. This is probably the most commonly seen exotic goose species in the wild in Florida, but it rarely breeds successfully (Florida BBA). The sightings in Florida represent escapees.

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Pretty colors. I saw five of these geese while I was out on a “bird walk” yesterday in the late morning. I have seen them on or at the edge of the golf course nearly every time I have driven past too. I guess they live there.

High wire ibis

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You usually find White Ibis poking their beaks around in the dirt of a front lawn or golf course, or wading in shallow water. But sometimes they perch on wires like perching birds instead of wading birds.

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I saw this flock along A1A near the entrance to Stuart Beach today while out for a bird walk.

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Audubon Field Guide: White Ibis 

One of the most numerous wading birds in Florida, and common elsewhere in the southeast. Highly sociable at all seasons, roosting and feeding in flocks, nesting in large colonies.

Bridge walk and diving duck

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Osprey on a light pole, Ernest Lyons Bridge.

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Daughter Laura and I walked across the bridge and back around noon today, about 2 and a half miles altogether.

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Nice views of the Indian River Lagoon from the bridge.

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And soaring ospreys.

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And a dolphin.

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Ring-billed gull loafing on a light pole.

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Laura spotted a diving duck and I zoomed in.

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Looks like a female Red-breasted Merganser.

A large diving duck with a long thin bill, the Red-breasted Merganser is found in large lakes, rivers and the ocean. It prefers salt water more than the other two species of merganser.

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The Red-breasted Merganser breeds farther north and winters farther south than the other American mergansers.

Good eyes, Laura!

A Christmas visitor

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Crappy photo but a cool thing that happened this Christmas morning. A Great Egret landed in our little backyard, who knows why.

It also happens to be my first truly backyard bird since we moved to Florida. And what a bird!

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It flew off when I tried to get a pic outside of the screened porch.

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The elegant Great Egret is a dazzling sight in many a North American wetland. Slightly smaller and more svelte than a Great Blue Heron, these are still large birds with impressive wingspans. They hunt in classic heron fashion, standing immobile or wading through wetlands to capture fish with a deadly jab of their yellow bill. Great Egrets were hunted nearly to extinction for their plumes in the late nineteenth century, sparking conservation movements and some of the first laws to protect birds.

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Here is a better picture of a Great Egret I spotted this morning while walking over the bridge to Hutchinson Island.

Now the bird part of my day is done. Husband, daughters and I just opened gifts and we are getting ready for a trip to the beach, then a dinner of ham, baked macaroni and cheese, spaghetti squash, and a delightful Bahamian rum drink called a Goombay Smash.

Merry Christmas!

The bird’s in the tree again

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There is a kestrel in our Norfolk Island pine right now.

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I guess you can pretty much see everything from up there, my little falcon friend, since it’s the tallest tree around.

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The tree top sways in the breeze and the kestrel balances.

‘Tis the season for sanderlings

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Sanderling corps de ballet rehearses for The Crabcracker.

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Lots of sanderlings just south of Jensen Beach the other day.

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Getting organized.

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Here we go.

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Wikipedia:

The sanderling (Calidris alba) is a small wading bird. The name derives from Old English sand-yrðling, “sand-ploughman”. The genus name is from Ancient Greek kalidris or skalidris, a term used by Aristotle for some grey-coloured waterside birds. The specific alba is Latin for “white”.

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Sanderlings feed on invertebrate prey buried in the sand in the upper intertidal zone. In North America, this diet largely consists of the isopods Excirolana linguifrons, Excirolana kincaidii, and the mole crab, Emerita analoga. When the tide is out, these crustaceans live in burrows some way beneath the surface. When the tide comes in, they move into the upper layers of sand and feed on the plankton and detritus that washes over them with each wave. They then burrow rapidly down again as the water retreats. They leave no marks on the surface, so the sanderlings hunt for them by plunging their beaks into the sand at random, consuming whatever they find. Their bills can penetrate only 2 or 3 cm (0.79 or 1.18 in) and as the water swirls around and retreats, the sand is softer; this makes it easier for the birds’ beaks to penetrate further.

Northern Gannets

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A bit like gulls but speedier, Northern Gannets were flying out beyond the breakers near Bob Graham Beach the other day.

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In the order Suliformes, gannets are related to boobies, frigatebirds, cormorants and anhingas.

The Sulidae family are boobies and gannets, a very cool bunch. I’ve always wanted to go to the Galapagos and see Blue-footed Boobies show off their feet to each other.

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Wikipedia: Sulidae

They have long, narrow and pointed wings, and a quite long, graduated and rather lozenge-shaped tail whose outer feathers are shorter than the central ones. Their flight muscles are rather small to allow for the small cross section required for plunge-diving, and thus their wing loading is high. Consequently, they are very streamlined, reducing drag, so their bodies are “torpedo-shaped” as well as somewhat flat.

Watch gannets plunge into the sea to hunt for fish on the Smithsonian Channel. Amazing!

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The darker ones are juveniles.

In North America, the Northern Gannet breeds in only six well established colonies: three in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Quebec, and three in the North Atlantic off the coast of Newfoundland.

They winter at sea, all along the Atlantic Coast and into the Gulf of Mexico. I know they were off the NH coast, but I’ve never seen one. I’m glad they came close enough for a few photos!

Some neat pics on the Wikipedia page for Northern Gannets.

It’s winter

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Ring-billed Gull in late afternoon light, Bob Graham Beach, Hutchinson Island.

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I was walking on the beach and noticed the sun was about to drop behind the dunes – and I had not yet begun to plan dinner. The short days of December are not as short as they were in New Hampshire, but they still catch us by surprise.

But the sun has reached its southernmost position in the sky. Winter solstice was at 5:44 a.m. E.S.T. this morning.

Today the sun rises here in Stuart, FL at 7:06 a.m. and sets at 5:32 p.m. and the day is 10 hours and 25 minutes long. In our old hometown of North Hampton, NH, sunrise today is 7:11 a.m., sunset 4:12 p.m. and the day is 9 hours long.

Here’s to another hour and 25!

Going wild

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Here is a red and green bird for Christmas: a male Muscovy duck. Out on errands yesterday, we saw a flock in a retention pond next to Home Depot on Route 1 in Stuart.

These ducks are completely new to me. A passerby informed us they were Muscovies. Apparently South Florida has many of them.

Feral Muscovy ducks can breed near urban and suburban lakes and on farms, nesting in tree cavities or on the ground, under shrubs in yards, on apartment balconies, or under roof overhangs. Some feral populations, such as that in Florida, have a reputation of becoming nuisance pests on occasion.

And…

In the US, Muscovy ducks are considered an invasive species. An owner may raise them for food production only (not for hunting). Similarly, if the ducks have no owner, 50CFR Part 21 allows the removal or destruction of the Muscovy ducks, their eggs and nests anywhere in the United States outside of Hidalgo, Starr, and Zapata counties in Texas where they are considered indigenous. The population in southern Florida is considered, with a population in the several thousands, to be established enough to be considered “countable” for bird watchers.

So these ducks exist somewhere “in between.”

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Female Muscovy ducks are smaller.

From Cornell Lab of Ornithology Muscovy Duck Fun Facts:

One of the oldest domesticated fowl species in the world, the Muscovy Duck was already being kept by native people in Peru and Paraguay when the early Spanish explorers arrived. The word “Muscovy” may refer to the Muscovy Company (incorporated in London in 1555), which transported these ducks to England and France.

Aztec rulers wore cloaks made from the feathers of the Muscovy Duck, which was considered the totem animal of the Wind God, Ehecatl.