Author Archives: Amy

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.

Just looking

IMG_6741-2

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.

IMG_6745-2

A Little Blue Heron. They are common around here.

IMG_6749-2

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

IMG_6751-2

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

IMG_6589-2

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

IMG_6595-2

White Ibis, ten of them, preening mostly.

IMG_6598-2

Ibises plus an Anhinga drying his wings in the sun.

IMG_6601-2

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

IMG_6618-2

White Ibis close up.

IMG_6620-2

Paying attention to feathers.

IMG_6627-2

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.

IMG_6644-2

The Wood Ducks were still there from the day before.

IMG_6648-2

The Mottled Ducks were parading past the Wood Ducks.

4woodducks

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

IMG_6655-2

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

IMG_6656-2

Duck city.

bbwducks

The handsome and interesting Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.

IMG_6659-2

Side-by-side duck comparison.

IMG_6665-2

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

IMG_6678-2

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

IMG_6701-2

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.

IMG_6703-2

Common Gallinule chick.

IMG_6710-2IMG_6715-2

There were four chicks and two adults in the reeds.

IMG_6719-2

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.

IMG_6725-2

Funny, fluffy little creatures.

IMG_6726-2

This is their part of the pond.

Streamlined water bird

IMG_6613-2

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.

IMG_6635-2

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.”

IMG_6614-2

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!

IMG_6555-2

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.

IMG_6560-2

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.

IMG_6569-2

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

IMG_6571-2

One seemed to be preening another.

IMG_6573-2

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.

IMG_6575-2

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

IMG_6576-2

Wood Ducks! Bird 183 on the blog life list.

Willets on Sanibel

IMG_6116-2

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

IMG_6118-2

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

IMG_6120-2

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

IMG_6121-2

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

IMG_6124-2

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

IMG_6128-2

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

IMG_6131-2

This one found a tiny crab.

IMG_6132-2

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.

IMG_6133-2

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

IMG_6138-2

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

IMG_6139-2IMG_6141-2IMG_6142-2IMG_6146-2

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