Author Archives: Amy

Little birds with yellow throats

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A bright yellow throat in morning sun.

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I saw this Yellow-throated Vireo yesterday morning at the edge of the mangroves in Indian Riverside Park, Jensen Beach.

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Such a pure, delicious yellow.

A bird of open deciduous forests and edges, the Yellow-throated Vireo is one of the most colorful member of its family. Not only does this bird have a bright yellow throat, it looks as if it’s wearing bright yellow spectacles.

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Eye rings, wing bars and songs… How to Tell Vireos From Warblers, Flycatchers, and Kinglets

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Another “yellow-throat” was nearby – the Yellow-throated Warbler.

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It’s migration season and I’m heading out the door again soon this morning!

Blue-eyed bird

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White Ibis are easy to watch, especially at Indian Riverside Park where people have fed them.

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Audubon.org: 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. When groups wade through shallows, probing with their long bills, other wading birds such as egrets may follow them to catch prey stirred up by the ibises.

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In this photo, the eye is briefly covered by the nictitating membrane or third eyelid.

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Now back to the pretty blue eye.

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The squirrels are even tamer at this park. Once, I had come right up to me and stand on my foot.

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Mucking about, but they seem to stay so clean and white.

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Mangroves in the morning

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I walked into the mangroves behind the Henry Sewall house this morning.

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A boardwalk begins in back of the historic home which was formerly located near the the southern end of Sewall’s Point and is now at the edge of brackish wetlands in Indian Riverside Park in Jensen Beach.

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As I walked past, I peaked into the screened porch and imagined the days before air conditioning.

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Humid and warm, it’s still the wet season here in South Florida. You will perspire walking even slowly through the breezeless mangroves.

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But if you are stealthy and lucky you may sneak up on a few creatures, like this Tricolored Heron.

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There is a sign back there that explains the origin of these particular mangroves.

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Formerly fresh, now salt, but still a quiet place for birds, fish and animals near a busy road and in a busy park .

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I spy with my little eye…

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Something with a big eye… a Black-crowned Night Heron in a patch of sunlight.

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All About Birds…

Black-crowned Night-Herons are common in wetlands across North America—you just may have to look a little harder than you do for most herons. True to their name, these birds do most of their feeding at night and spend much of the day hunched among leaves and branches at the water’s edge. Evening and dusk are good times to look for these rather stout, short-necked herons flying out to foraging grounds.

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Sunday morning is for loafing.

 

Jay walking

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Florida Scrub-jays cooperated with our plan to watch them this morning on a guided Scrub Jay Walk at Jonathan Dickinson State Park.

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Mostly cloudy conditions, and the birds came out nice and BLUE in my photos.

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When they are banded, Scrub-jays usually get four bands, said Jim Howe, a state park volunteer who leads these walks a couple times a month (except for the hottest months of the year).

But they do sometimes figure out how to remove some of the bands, being the smart little corvids they are.

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These Scrub-jays are a federally-designated threatened species. They live only in Florida, have specific habitat needs, and their habitats are shrinking.

They live in the “scrub,” a high-and-dry type of landscape on sandy soil which is desirable for building in this populous state, especially compared to much of low-and-wet Florida.

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They are curious and not very afraid of people. We watched five or six in this one area, quite close, hopping on the ground, perched as lookouts in trees, or flying from shrub to shrub.

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Jay with tiny acorn.

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They gather acorns from the several varieties of low-growing oaks in the scrub. They cache them to eat in winter when there are fewer insects, said our guide.

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Hide now and seek later.

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There.

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A group project, I guess.

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I can’t tell if this bird has three or four bands.

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Plenty of dead trees around in this landscape that is regularly burned to maintain it as scrub.

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The Red-bellied Woodpecker is a common bird here at Jonathan Dickinson.

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Berries on the saw palmetto are favored by raccoons, said Jim.

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We walked out on this old Army road, leftover from the time Camp Murphy and its top-secret signal corps was based here in World War II. (That’s my husband John in one of his favorite geek t-shirts.)

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A short, slow, flat walk… birding doesn’t get much easier.

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At first I thought this was a small bird of prey.

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I moved to the left and saw it was that small but fierce predatory songbird, the Loggerhead Shrike, that kills its prey with hooked beak, or impales it on thorns or even barbed wire for later eating.

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Also known as the butcherbird. Also not too concerned with the small band of birdwatchers.

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The park has lots of “love vine” in some areas.

Cassytha filliformas is a parasitic native plant. It just looks invasive in the places where it’s all over everything. Wild South Florida says it’s the plant world’s version of a vampire bat, sucking the life out of its host. Halloween is coming in South Florida.

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Scrub view with a small lake beyond.

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Scrub view.

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Last bird of our one hour walk, a Northern Mockingbird, perched in a ray of sunshine.

I found out about this walk through the Happenings page of Audubon of Martin County’s website: HERE.

Be a bird geek and read more about this threatened species and the recovery plan HERE (U.S. Fish and Wildlife).

Get involved: Florida Audubon Jay Watch

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.

More pics from Wakodahatchee

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Great Egret at Wakodahatchee.

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Looking down from the boardwalk we could see a Purple Gallinule.

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Lurking in the marshes of the extreme southeastern U.S. lives one of the most vividly colored birds in all of North America. Purple Gallinules combine cherry red, sky blue, moss green, aquamarine, indigo, violet, and school-bus yellow, a color palette that blends surprisingly well with tropical and subtropical wetlands. Watch for these long-legged, long-toed birds stepping gingerly across water lilies and other floating vegetation as they hunt frogs and invertebrates or pick at tubers.

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Blue frontal shield with a yellow-tipped red bill, very colorful!

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Look for Purple Gallinules in dense freshwater wetlands in the extreme southeastern U.S. and farther south—sites that have both emergent and submerged vegetation such as water lilies, lotus, water hyacinth, and hydrilla. They can be fairly easy to spot as they walk on floating vegetation.

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Wood Stork on a nest.

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Nice view of nesting birds from this gazebo.

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