In the pink

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We went for walk Saturday morning and I found a pink feather in the wrack line at Bathtub Reef Beach.

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The mystery feather had a likely source: Roseate Spoonbill.

We spotted this spoonbill overhead just across the street from Bathtub, along the boardwalk that passes through mangroves to small pier looking out over Sailfish Flats and the Indian River Lagoon.

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Wading bird in a tree? Well, they do roost at night and it was first thing in the morning.

The bird seemed just as surprised to see us.

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Great view of the bill that gives the spoonbill its name.

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Cool fact from All About Birds:

    Roseate Spoonbill chicks don’t have a spoon-shaped bill immediately after hatching. When they are 9 days old the bill starts to flatten, by 16 days it starts to look a bit more spoonlike, and by 39 days it is nearly full size.

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In keeping with their overall color scheme, their eyes are reddish pink too.

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Pink bird in morning sun.

The color comes from the foods they eat as they sweep their bills from side to side and sift for invertebrates, especially crustaceans like shrimp whose shells containing carotenoids that turn the spoonbill’s feathers pink.

Carotenoids, also called tetraterpenoids, are yellow, orange, and red organic pigments that are produced by plants and algae, as well as several bacteria and fungi. Carotenoids give the characteristic color to pumpkins, carrots, corn, tomatoes, canaries, flamingos, and daffodils.

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I have a spoonbill on my Florida license plate, like the sample above. It’s a specialty plate that donates to the Everglades Trust. The money is used for “conservation and protection of the natural resources and abatement of water pollution in the Everglades.”

More here: Florida Specialty Plate Everglades River of Grass.

Not the hammock you swing in, plus bird #216

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Hey, let’s go for a walk!

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Pet leashed, we set off into the Captain Forster Hammock Preserve, reached via the dirt road Jungle Trail along the Indian River Lagoon in Vero Beach.

If you move to Florida and you like venturing into the outdoors beyond your pool, patio and probably-tiny backyard, you quickly learn that “hammock” isn’t just that nice thing to laze around in…

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(The Dream, 1844, by Gustave Courbet, from Wikipedia hammock)

A hammock is also a term for a landscape feature. Think “hummock” but bigger.

 Hammock is a term used in the southeastern United States for stands of trees, usually hardwood, that form an ecological island in a contrasting ecosystem. Hammocks grow on elevated areas, often just a few inches high, surrounded by wetlands that are too wet to support them.

It can be a nice place for a walk too, if there are trails.

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In this hammock the first living creature we got a good look at was this Zebra Longwing.

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They are notable for their long life (compared to other butterflies) and their consumption not just of nectar but of protein-packed pollen too… and the two things seem to be connected.

Zebra Longwings live an unusually long life, and can survive more than a month as adults rather than the typical 1–2 weeks as most butterflies. This is partly because they ingest pollen as well as nectar, giving the Longwings an extra source of protein.

(Inspired, I added whey powder to my breakfast smoothie while writing this blog post.)

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This 110-acre preserve is owned by Indian River County.

The Preserve contains one of the largest remaining coastal maritime hammocks on Orchid Island. The site was home to Captain Frank Forster, one of the first Orchid Island residents who homesteaded on the barrier island growing winter vegetables and fishing along the Indian River Lagoon.

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Water and dry land were close together in the preserve, as is true in most of Florida… especially in the wet season.

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The ubiquitous saw palmetto, Serenoa repens, with its fan-shaped fronds.

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I almost didn’t post about this walk because this is a bird blog and we didn’t really see many birds that day, despite what we were promised. 153 species have been sighted at this eBird hotspot… by others.

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But I decided to share the photos anyway because of the unique habitat. We found great examples of native plants that are recommended for planting in your Florida yard to support birds, like the beautiful American Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana.

From the Florida Wildflower Foundation

American beautyberry is a woody shrub found in pinelands and hammocks throughout Florida. The plant’s foliage offers cover for small wildlife. Its flowers are a nectar source for butterflies and bees, while its dense clusters of berries provide food for birds and deer in late summer and fall.

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I also posted because of this fuzzy photo, which I would normally discard but it’s the only image of a new-to-me bird.  We spotted it oddly walking along – not hopping, like most little birds – in the leaf litter.

It’s an Ovenbird! (Confirmed on What’s This Bird, my favorite online double-check and bird identification crutch.)

The Ovenbird‘s rapid-fire teacher-teacher-teacher song rings out in summer hardwood forests from the Mid-Atlantic states to northeastern British Columbia. It’s so loud that it may come as a surprise to find this inconspicuous warbler strutting like a tiny chicken across the dim forest floor. Its olive-brown back and spotted breast are excellent disguise as it gleans invertebrates from the leaf litter. Its nest, a leaf-covered dome resembling an old-fashioned outdoor oven, gives the Ovenbird its name.

It wasn’t singing, just quietly foraging here in what may be its winter home. Are the snowbirds returning already?

The Ovenbird is species #216 for this blog.

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John goes ahead. We were the only people on the trails for an hour that morning. Good heeling, Radar.

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Another favorite bird-friendly native plant, Wild Coffee, with the somewhat disturbing Latin name Psychotria nervosa.

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Trees were mostly live oaks and cabbage palms.

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Partridge pea, a wildflower and legume that tolerates poor soil and feeds butterfly larvae. And provides pretty color along the trail, eye food for humans.

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More Beautyberry.

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Berry time for Wild Coffee. But don’t get too excited about harvesting your own morning cuppa.

Shiny-leaved wild coffee, Psychotria nervosa, is in the same plant family as the stuff you find at Starbucks, but so are at least 5,999 other plants. There are something like 103 species of coffee worldwide, but only three are used to make a cup of Joe. This is not one of the three.

You can indeed make a beverage from wild coffee berries but it A) won’t taste good, B) won’t resemble coffee and C) will lack any caffeine kick. Might even give you a headache.

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Almost the color of the wild coffee berries: a Northern Cardinal. We noticed a few males but couldn’t spot the females. Kinda the whole cardinal idea.

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We were surprised to find quite a few citrus trees in one part of the woods. Probably leftover from some old groves, maybe even old Cap’n Forster’s?

I believe the historic Jungle Trail was a dirt road originally built to connect the citrus growers in the 1920s on Orchard Island/ Vero Beach.

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John tasted one. He rated it “not that great.”

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Hello again, cardinal.

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From Wild South Florida

They’re common anywhere you might care to go, deep into the woods, around town and all points in between as long as there are bushes or thickets to provide cover. Florida even has its own subspecies, C. cardinalis ssp. floridanus, found throughout most of the state.

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Orange butterfly, maybe a Gulf Fritillary?

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We were here.

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Here’s the online version, much more readable: Special Places on the Trail & Lagoon.

An hour north of home, we will return to explore along the Jungle Trail one day again soon.

Green River grackle-watching

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We call this place Green River. It’s a series of retention ponds on the west side of Green River Parkway in Jensen Beach, just before Martin County turns into St. Lucie County. On the other side of the road is the quieter southern part of Savannas Preserve State Park.

It’s a great spot to walk the dog… now that he is trained enough not to take himself swimming with the alligators.

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Autumn color! The cypress trees are turning.

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Near the trees I spotted a grackle among the lily pads.

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A bird so shiny in the morning sun.

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I watched this bird for a little while. It’s a male Boat-tailed Grackle, confirmed on Facebook’s What’s This Bird. I don’t feel 100% confident on the difference between BTGs and Common Grackles so I doublechecked my guess.

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This fine shiny fellow was walking across the lily pads, sometimes turning them over to look underneath.

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Another grackle nearby was also inspecting the bounty of potential nourishment to be found in these freshwater wetlands.

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Read up: On the Origin of Really Shiny Species, at Nat Geo.

Shinier means healthier. This bird is eating well, I’d say.

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Read up some more: eBird Grackles – are you getting them right?

The most range-restricted of the three, Boat-tailed Grackles are very much linked to tidewater, spending their lives near coastal salt marshes; they rarely occur more than a few hundred meters from water across much of their range. The exception to this rule is Florida, where the species occurs inland throughout the peninsula, essentially side-by-side with Common Grackle in many places.

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Let’s see what’s under here.

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology…

Boat-tailed Grackles are large, lanky songbirds with rounded crowns, long legs, and fairly long, pointed bills. Males have very long tails that make up almost half their body length and that they typically hold folded in a V-shape, like the keel of a boat.

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Boat-tailed Grackles eat arthropods, crustaceans, mollusks, frogs, turtles, lizards, grain, seeds, fruit, and tubers. Inveterate scavengers and pirates, they also take food from humans, domestic animals, and other birds. They usually forage out in the open, in a wide variety of habitats that include floating mats, mudflats, beaches, roadsides, parking lots, dumps, cultivated fields, and cattle feedlots. They walk slowly over the ground or in shallow water, pecking or probing at soil, litter, or low vegetation. They often overturn debris, stones, and shells with their bills. In aquatic habitats they stand still and cock their heads to watch the water with one eye, then plunge their heads below the surface. They can pry open mussel shells and eat snails by forcing an opening between the tissue and the shell. Boat-tailed Grackles often dunk foods like bread, rice, and dog food in water before eating them.

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Audubon…

Forages mostly near water, by walking on shore or in shallow water, catching items with rapid thrusts of its bill. Sometimes steals food from larger birds. Will enter heron colonies to feed on unguarded eggs.

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The Boat-tailed Grackle is Quiscalus major.

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The avian genus Quiscalus contains six of the ten species of grackle, gregarious passerine birds in the icterid family. They are native to North and South America.

The genus was introduced by the French ornithologist Louis Jean Pierre Vieillot in 1816. The type species was subsequently designated as the common grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) by the English zoologist George Robert Gray in 1840. The genus name comes from the specific name Gracula quiscula coined by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus for the common grackle. From where Linnaeus obtained the word is uncertain but it may come from the Carib word Quisqueya meaning “mother of all lands”, for the island of Hispaniola.

(Incidentally, here are 12 English words derived from the Carib language, including cay, hammock, hurricane and savannah.)

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They are members of the Icterid or blackbird family, in the order Passeriformes or perching birds.

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He really manages to keep his big tail from dragging in the water.

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This active, searching bird, so bright in the morning sunlight, was a joy to watch.

Blue house, blue jays

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Back to the bird blog! I haven’t posted in a while; I’ve missed bird watching.

We’ve been busy remodeling a vintage 1987 house – new windows, siding, kitchen, bathrooms, floors, doors, trim, interior layout, pool, patios, landscape, paint – but now we’ve finished and moved in. (The house color is Sherwin-Williams “Cay.”)

It’s just half a mile from our old house (now sold) in the lovely peninsular town of Sewall’s Point, but bigger, on slightly larger property, and with a pool (ah!)

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Most notable bird life at our new house, at least at this time of year: Blue Jays. There seems to be an extended family in the neighborhood. They spend a lot of time in the laurel oaks in our front and side yards. I am finding half eaten acorns on the front pathway and driveway.

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They come around and watch us when we are outside, especially when I’m watering the new landscape plants in the front yard.

We planted wildlife-friendly natives on a berm under the oak trees, including wax myrtle, firebush, fakahatchee grass and one of my favorite Florida plants, saw palmetto. The backyard needs some more plants along the fence, for privacy and wildlife.

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The jays are curious about us, and like to hang around nearby, though it’s not always that easy to get a picture of them. I get the sense they are smart enough to know how visible they are to us.