Grassy Waters Preserve

IMG_7639-2

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

IMG_7640-2

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.

IMG_7642-2

“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.

IMG_7643-2

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.

IMG_7644-2

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

IMG_7646-2

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

IMG_7647-2

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.

IMG_7650-2

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.

IMG_7653-2

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.

IMG_7654-2

Peace of the Everglades.

IMG_7658-2

View over grassy waters.

IMG_7659-2

Zoom to: Great Egret.

IMG_7661-2

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.

IMG_7671-2

American waterlily.

IMG_7676-2

Yet another crappy bird photo. Endure.

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

IMG_7678-2

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.

IMG_7681-2

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.

IMG_7682-2

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).

IMG_7683-2

“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.)

Around and around the pond we go,/ what birds we’ll see, we never know

Pond at Indian RiverSide Park, Jensen Beach yesterday around 1 p.m.

I submitted an eBird checklist for this visit: HERE it is.

Little Blue Heron grabbed a Big Brown Bug from the grass, dropped it in the water for a second, then swallowed it whole.

What does that feel like, I wonder.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were on hand, two by two.

This Green Heron is a juvenile.

Mottled Ducks were chasing each other all over the pond, in a minor commotion I thought might be due to some new arrivals sorting out the pecking order. Except this one duck was alone in the reeds.

Green Heron. Fluffy neck feathers.

I haven’t seen a Green Heron here before. This one was pretty shy so I didn’t go too close or stay too long in that spot.

Raised crest, seems a bit alarmed. Okay, I’m moving on!

The Tricolored Heron would dance around in front of me all day and never mind.

And Egyptian Geese walk right up to you to see if you have food. (A guy stopped by and fed them peanuts while I was there.)

The other pair of Whistling Ducks, on the other side of the pond, was near the Common Gallinule family.

Flyover of about 40 pigeons while I was there, but only one scruffy bird bothered to land… on a trashcan.

Adult gallinule.

The young ‘uns.

Three chicks, one adult in this pic. The whole family I’ve been seeing consistently,  of 2 parents and 4 chicks, was present.

Egyptian Geese and gallinule chicks.

Wood Ducks made an appearance.. Looks like a couple of non-breeding/ juvenile males and a female.

Mottled Duck and Wood Ducks.

Pond scene.

I was driving off but had to roll down my window and zoom in on this charming sight: a White Ibis sunning itself like my chickens used to do.

You’re adorable!

Why Do Birds Sunbathe?

Many birds are observed sunning even on the hottest days, however, and it is believed that sunning can fulfill purposes other than just temperature regulation. Sunning can help birds convert compounds in their preening oil – secreted from a gland at the base of the tail – into vitamin D, which is essential for good health. If the birds have been in a bird bath or swimming, sunning can help their feathers dry more quickly so they can fly easier, without being weighed down by excess water. It is even believed that some birds sun themselves for pure enjoyment and relaxation, much the same way humans will sunbathe.

The most important reason for sunning, however, is to maintain feather health. Sunning can dislodge feather parasites because the excess heat will encourage insects to move to other places in a bird’s plumage. This will give the bird easier access to get rid of those parasites when preening, and birds are frequently seen preening immediately after sunning. It is essential to get rid of these parasites – the tiny insects that infect feathers can cause problems for a bird’s flight, insulation and appearance, all of which can impact its survival.

Bird Island is for the birds

IMG_7369-2

Bird Island sign, in the Indian River Lagoon just off Sewall’s Point, Florida.

IMG_7370-2

Double-crested Cormorant on top. Probably a juvenile, with the buff-colored breast and neck.

IMG_7374-2

The gangly Double-crested Cormorant is a prehistoric-looking, matte-black fishing bird with yellow-orange facial skin. Though they look like a combination of a goose and a loon, they are relatives of frigatebirds and boobies and are a common sight around fresh and salt water across North America—perhaps attracting the most attention when they stand on docks, rocky islands, and channel markers, their wings spread out to dry. These solid, heavy-boned birds are experts at diving to catch small fish.

IMG_7375-2

A sleek, aquadynamic shape.

Vitamin blue

IMG_7407-2

I like where I live!

IMG_7408-2

In the 8 o’clock hour, this morning at the beach, I wasn’t the only one appreciating.

IMG_7413-2

Sanderlings are back in town!

IMG_7415-2

They nest in the tundra of the High Arctic and spend the rest of the year all over the place, mostly on sandy beaches, from Nova Scotia to South America. I see plenty around here in fall and winter.

IMG_7423-2

Hard-packed sand here today, good for walking and running, with lots of whole shells washed up too.

IMG_7425-2

(Taller buildings start at the border of the next county north, St. Lucie.)

Birds and fisherfolk are excited about the run of the baitfish. I confirmed at the Snook Nook bait and tackle shop yesterday that they ARE anchovies, also known around here as glass minnows.

Glass minnows and silversides are anchovies. Yes, the same anchovy that you eat on pizza or in Caesar dressing. The bay anchovy is Anchoa mitchilli for those of you that hope to catch me in my identification mistakes. They range from Maine through the Gulf of Mexico in great abundance. They are easily recognized by the fact that they are transparent with a broad silver stripe down the side and are seldom over three inches long.

IMG_7426-2

Sanderlings feeding.

According to Wikipedia (citing the Oxford English Dictionary), the name derives from Old English sand-yrðling, “sand-ploughman.”

IMG_7431-2

Pelicans passing by, with some typically awesome summer clouds.

IMG_7437-2

It is very good for you to stare out at blue ocean and sky, did you know?

The color blue has been found by an overwhelming amount of people to be associated with feelings of calm and peace,” says Shuster. “Staring at the ocean actually changes our brain waves’ frequency and puts us into a mild meditative state.”

IMG_7441-2

Just don’t look directly at the sun. Oops.

IMG_7442-2

Birds and shells galore. And the typical beachfront condos of the Martin County part of the Treasure Coast. Our county has a building height restriction of four stories.

IMG_7445-2

Radar had a good workout.

IMG_7446-2

I call that ear position “Naughty Rabbit.”

IMG_7452-2

Just offshore, the Sunday morning tarpon seekers.

IMG_7453-2

Water temps today are 81 degrees F. The air was a couple of degrees warmer than the ocean this morning, but going up to 90 today (as usual).

IMG_7454-2

Surf-forecast.com

Stuart Public Beach sea temperatures peak in the range 29 to 30°C (84 to 86°F) on around the 10th of August and are at their lowest on about the 11th of February, in the range 21 to 24°C (70 to 75°F).

Actual sea surface water temperatures close to shore at Stuart Public Beach can vary by several degrees compared with these open water averages. This is especially true after heavy rain, close to river mouths or after long periods of strong offshore winds. Offshore winds cause colder deep water to replace surface water that has been warmed by the sun.

IMG_7460-2

Sanderlings feed by running down the beach after a receding wave to pick up stranded invertebrates or probe for prey hidden in the wet sand. Diet includes small crabs, amphipods and other small crustaceans, polychaete worms, mollusks, and horseshoe crab eggs.

IMG_7462-2

My husband said he noticed a big hatch-out of tiny, new mole crabs (aka sand crabs, sand fleas) the other day. I wonder if that food resource is one reason the Sanderlings are here now.

IMG_7463-2

In winter I don’t always see this many together. I’ll bet these Sanderlings are in the middle of a bigger trip south.

IMG_7464-2

The Sanderling is one of the world’s most widespread shorebirds. Though they nest only in the High Arctic, in fall and winter you can find them on nearly all temperate and tropical sandy beaches throughout the world. The Ruddy Turnstone and the Whimbrel are the only other shorebirds that rival its worldwide distribution.

IMG_7465-2

“You care about birds and blue horizon brain waves, but I only care about the ball. C’mon, throw it.”

IMG_7466-2

Lonely beach toy.

IMG_7468-2

A few Ruddy Turnstones with the Sanderling flock.

IMG_7444-2.jpg

The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of outer ocean on a beach. – Henry Beston

Bait run plus terns

IMG_7218-2

This was the scene at Bob Graham Beach, Hutchinson Island last Tuesday: a thick black line of bait fish in the blue-green ocean.

IMG_7200-2

A fisherman told me the bait fish running at this time of year are called “anchovies.” The big and famous mullet run comes a few weeks later.

IMG_7201-2

I love when the wind and surf are calm enough to see into the water like this. It’s like the Caribbean then, instead of the often-windy Shipwreck, I mean Treasure Coast.

IMG_7203-2

Tarpon were cruising along right offshore beyond the bait line, occasionally swirling on the surface as they fed on little fish.

IMG_7205-2

I didn’t get any good tarpon shots but trust me it was an impressive show and everyone on the beach was enjoying it.

IMG_7206-2

Bait clouds.

Here’s a drone video of tarpon during the mullet run at a beach further south on the Florida coast: Florida Mullet Run & Tarpon.

IMG_7208-2

But let’s get to the birds!

Ruddy Turnstones still in breeding plumage. Must be migrating down from their northern nesting areas.

It may be 90 degrees but “bird fall” (and fish fall) has begun.

IMG_7209-2

Buddha bird.

Be the bird.

IMG_7227-2

A little further down the beach, lots of terns including this Royal.

I’ve been trying to learn our local terns!

IMG_7229-2

This one is a Sandwich Tern.

A bird of marine coasts of the southeastern United States and the Caribbean, the Sandwich Tern is readily identified by its shaggy crest and yellow-tipped black bill.

IMG_7237-2

The tern with the large orange bill is a Royal Tern. Sandwich Tern above and non-breeding Laughing Gull on the right.

IMG_7239-2

Step aside for the lone White Ibis, little Laughing Gull!

IMG_7240-2

A beach full of fat and happy birds, having recently fed on the abundant bait fish.

The terns do the work and the gulls steal their fish, often. Though I have seen the gulls skim a fish right off the surface of the water too.

IMG_7245-2

Sandwich Tern.

IMG_7246-2

Whee!

IMG_7251-2

I think the one smaller tern with the orange bill is a Common Tern. But they look like Forster’s Terns too.

IMG_7252-2IMG_7254-2

Sandwich Tern and some Laughing Gulls.

IMG_7255-2

Very distinctive bill, in color and length – I think I’ve learned this tern.

IMG_7257-2

Family dynamics of Sandwich Terns?

IMG_7258-2IMG_7259-2IMG_7260-2IMG_7263-2

These women stopped and turned around when they got to the birds. Very polite of them not to make them fly.

IMG_7264-2

IMG_7267-2IMG_7268-2IMG_7276-2

Relocating.

IMG_7278-2

Gull practicing its thievery skills.

IMG_7282-2IMG_7283-2

Two adult non-breeding and one immature Royal Tern in this pic.

IMG_7285-2

Royal family.

IMG_7286-2IMG_7292-2

Sandwich Terns with the Laughing Gulls here.

IMG_7297-2

Tern dive.

IMG_7298-2

So many fish to choose from.

IMG_7302-2IMG_7303-2

Royal Terns and Sandwich Terns.

IMG_7308-2

Away they go.

IMG_7311-2

And down the beach I find one little Piping Plover! (I checked on What’s This Bird to make sure it wasn’t a Snowy Plover, since they look alike – online – to me.)

Everyone needs a secret beach hideout. Researchers only recently discovered that more than one-third of the Piping Plover population that breeds along the Atlantic coast spends the winter in the Bahamas.

Don’t you want to be the researchers?… hey, we found the Piping Plovers… in the Bahamas!

The daily ibis

IMG_7035-2

White Ibis are brown when young.

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

IMG_7038-2

A distinctive bill!

IMG_7040-2

Good for probing.

IMG_7046-2

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

IMG_6942-2

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.

IMG_6948-2

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

IMG_6964-2

The gallinule chicks are growing up fast.

IMG_6967-2

Beaks and legs are very different from the adult.

IMG_6969-2

Much time was spent preening the feathers.

IMG_6978-2

Was this vocalization directed towards the turtle?

IMG_6979-2

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

IMG_6983-2

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

IMG_6986-2

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

IMG_6987-2

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

IMG_7002-2

One more photo of the gallinules. What spectacular toes!

IMG_7003-2

Nearby, Little Blue Heron gets its stalk on.

IMG_7014-2

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!

IMG_7022-2

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

IMG_7027-2.jpg

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…

IMG_7069-2

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.

IMG_7071-2

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

IMG_7072-2

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.

Cantina pond

IMG_6864-2

Species convergence zone.

Tri-Colored Heron, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and a White Ibis, at that pond I always go to.

IMG_6879-2

Egyptian Goose and ibis are practically cuddling.

IMG_6891-2

Cue the music from the Star Wars cantina scene.

IMG_6909 (1)-2

A couple of big beautiful birds, Alopochen aegyptiaca.

IMG_6911-2

With beautiful feathers.