Masters of the wind, Magnificent Frigatebirds SOAR. I rarely see them flap their wings.
With a lightly built, 3-foot-long body and a wingspan of up to 8 feet, they have the largest wing area to body weight ratio of ANY bird.
The forked tail is one of the ways to ID this bird. (The swallow-tailed kite is the other large bird with a forked tail we see around here, but generally over land rather than water.)
This one has a white head and is therefore a juvenile. Adult females also have a white breast and belly but a black head. Adult males are all brownish-black, with an inflatable red throat patch for looking sexy during mating season.
They nab fish off the surface of the ocean with their long, hooked bills. They will also harass other seabirds until they drop their food, then catch it in mid-air.
They do not, and cannot, land on the ocean. (They aren’t able to take flight from the water’s surface.) They can spend days and nights in flight.
We spotted this bird from a friend’s boat late Sunday afternoon. We have lived in Florida for six and a half years but my husband and I still say, “Look, a frigatebird!” when we see one.
We also say, “Must be an east wind.” And, “Frigatebirds are so cool.” And, “Look at him soar! Never a flap.”
Wouldn’t the best design for a kite be the shape of a frigatebird?
I got a good look at a Limpkin this morning while walking the dogs at Green River.
They are medium-sized wading birds found in Florida wetlands. They eat big snails and that’s pretty much it. One-of-a-kind birds. They are the only member of the taxonomic family Aramidae.
We walked north along the berm, next to the biggest, deepest retention pond. The grass is pretty crispy in the end-of-dry-season drought conditions. Lots of ant mounds too, so take my advice and never stand still for very long in one spot.
There is almost always a medium-large alligator in that pond and I got a good zoom shot of him this morning. I also spotted a large gator in the pond just beyond this one, to the west.
Lately I’ve been feeling pretty wary about the unpredictability of alligator behavior and I don’t linger near them. Too many stories in the news.
Limpkin floofing. Maybe enjoying the morning sun?
Temperature was 72 degrees with a gentle east wind, extremely pleasant.
Any snails down there?
The gangly, brown-and-white Limpkin looks a bit like a giant rail or perhaps a young night-heron. Its long bill is bent and twisted at the tip, an adaptation for removing snails from the shell. They specialize in eating apple snails, which they hunt both day and night, and they often leave telltale piles of snail shells at the edges of freshwater wetlands where hunting is good. This bird’s haunting cries, heard mostly at night, are otherworldly and unforgettable.
In the U.S., Limpkins are found only in Florida and southern Georgia. Their range includes the Caribbean, and parts of Central and South America too.
I see them almost every time I visit Green River.
So bring your northern friends to walk the berms by the ponds at Green River water management area to show them odd birds and prehistoric reptiles… welcome to Florida!
There’s a small parking area on the west side of Green River Parkway where Martin County ends and St. Lucie County begins.
The markings of the male wood duck include red eyes and a red bill with a yellow patch at the base. The top of the bird’s head and crest are a metallic purplish-green. The sides of the face are black, and a white stripe runs along the neck. A small white stripe also extends up each cheek. The chest and the rump are dark red, and the sides are a drab yellow with black and white stripes at the edges. The wood duck’s belly is white, its tail and back are black, and its wings are black and blue.
The males do not have the decorative markings all year-round. They use the colorful markings to attract females during the breeding season, which runs from autumn until the early summer. In the late summer, they grow gray feathers with blue markings on the wings and white markings on the face and neck. You can still recognize the bird as a wood duck by its red eyes and bill.
Constant companions on our walk yesterday, Boat-tailed Grackles are the noisy ambassadors of the Pine Glades Natural Area in northern Palm Beach County.
They love Florida wetlands.
Pine Glades is 6,651 acres of freshwater marshes and ponds, wet prairie and pine flatwoods west of Jupiter, Florida.
A family fishing from this platform reported they had caught a few gar. At a covered fishing platform nearby, another family reported crappie and bass were lured by their minnow bait.
There is also a canoe and kayak launch near the small parking area.
We were there for the birds though, and a walk in sunshine.
My husband was excited to see his first Eastern Meadowlark.
I have only seen one before, myself, on a trip to Lakeside STA , a manmade wetland area in western Martin County near Lake Okeechobee.
This bird was singing prettily.
The male Eastern Meadowlark’s primary song consists of 3 to 5 (sometimes up to 8) pure and plaintive flutelike whistles all slurred together and gradually dropping in pitch, up to 2 seconds long. Male have a repertoire of songs, singing one song repeatedly for a time and then switching to a different version. They typically sing from an exposed perch, but occasionally sing in flight as well.
This bird was perched in one of the few remaining melaleuca trees.
Removing invasive melaleucas was one part of the Pine Glades restoration work that began in 2008. It included installing culverts, removing berms and asphalt roads, land grading, and prescribed burns to reduce invasive species and stimulate native vegetation to seed itself. The project was finished in 2013.
When I asked my husband later what his favorite bird moment of the day was, he said, “When I saw the Wheels Up King Air that had just taken off from North Palm Beach Airport.” (That’s his new job and new plane.)
“No,” said I, “BIRD moment.”
“Oh then the meadowlark, for sure.”
He had also never seen a Loggerhead Shrike.
I got to explain how they were basically bloodthirsty songbirds who like to impale their prey (lizards, insects, small birds and mammals) on thorns or barbed wire for later eating. Seriously.
After we walked the short, paved trails to the two observation/ fishing platforms, we returned to the parking lot where there was the beginning of the longer hiking trails.
The Quail Trail is packed sand, shells and gravel. It’s open, high and dry, and has good views of the wetlands.
First wading bird we got a good look at was a Limpkin. Not sure why it was hanging its wings like that… maybe hiding a nest? sunning?
There was a sort of canal/ lake and the path would turn just past here to travel south alongside it.
Great Egret on the hunt.
Snowy Egret. I think of them more as coastal birds but this one proved they visit inland wetlands too.
A view back toward the small parking area.
My highlight bird of the day was this Pie-billed Grebe. I’ve seen them a couple of times before, but never gotten a decent photo.
It was alone on this body of water, diving occasionally, keeping an eye on us.
Grebes are little diving birds more closely related to flamingos than ducks, loons or coots. Their awesome nicknames include dabchick, dive-dapper, hell diver and water witch.
Their bills are “pied,” or two-colored, in breeding season, not now.
Across the water we spotted a small group of Roseate Spoonbills.
Pretty in pink.
The flamboyant Roseate Spoonbill looks like it came straight out of a Dr. Seuss book with its bright pink feathers, red eye staring out from a partly bald head, and giant spoon-shaped bill. Groups sweep their spoonbills through shallow fresh or salt waters snapping up crustaceans and fish.
As we headed south on the trail, wetlands were to our right and grassy, open pine flatwoods on our left.
It’s the dry season and the drier areas are more brown than green. I miss the big fat wet-season clouds too. These little winter clouds just can’t compare.
An easy walking surface, for sure. Probably should have brought some water. The sun was hot though the air temp was probably only about 80 and not too humid.
I’ve been trying to get rid of a lingering cough and I feel sure the sunshine and birds helped!
The Quail Trail bent around and headed west, connecting to other longer trails we will explore another day.
Right here we actually heard the call of a Northern Bob-white quail. I didn’t know they lived in Florida. (The trail name might have tipped me off, ha!) Seems we are at the southern end of their range.
We spotted an Eastern Phoebe, a petite flycatcher that visits Florida in winter. Not enough bugs up north? Come to Florida, little friend. (Actually, we forgot to wear bug spray and had no trouble with mosquitos.)
A Red-shouldered Hawk circled overhead, calling and calling.
Pine Glades is a quiet place (except for the grackles) and a good place to stretch your legs and rest your eyes on some natural beauty.
Gray Catbird perched in the Dracaena marginata in our backyard.
Someone planted a couple of houseplants from Home Depot a number of years ago and now we have a little dragontree forest.
“Gray Catbird” was one of the voices I recorded and identified this morning using Sound ID on the Merlin Bird ID app. From about 7 to 7:30 a.m. I recorded the birds off and on and watched the different bird IDs pop up on the screen.
It highlights the bird names as it’s hearing them, in real time, which helps me learn the bird songs and calls.
Birds I heard in my backyard this morning over the course of half an hour and one cup of coffee: Northern Parula, Northern Cardinal, Pileated Woodpecker, Gray Catbird, Blue Jay, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Carolina Wren, Fish Crow, Osprey, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-shouldered Hawk and Great-crested Flycatcher.
Male Gray Catbirds sing a long, halting series of short notes collected into “phrases,” which combine to make a song. One whole song can last many minutes. Sounds include whistles, squeaks, gurgles, whines, and nasal tones. The notes often are imitations of other birds as well as of frogs and mechanical sounds. The series of sounds is random, but certain notes are often repeated. While mockingbirds tend to repeat phrases three or more times, and Brown Thrashers typically sing phrases twice before moving on, Catbirds usually don’t repeat phrases. Females sing infrequently, and when they do, their songs are sung more quietly.
The most common call is a raspy mew that sounds like a cat. Catbirds also make a loud, chattering chek-chek-chek and a quiet quirt.
I also play Wordle first thing in the morning. I can only hope that someday the word will be QUIRT.
I just missed photographing the dramatic moment yesterday morning when this crow swooped down to the road (old Dixie Highway in Rio/ Jensen Beach west of the bowling alley) in front of an oncoming car and grabbed a half-eaten slice of pizza.
He carried it in his beak to this spot along the overhead wires that was a wider place to rest the slice while he ripped off pieces.
Other crows came in to watch and wait their turn.
I would have thought pizza too heavy to carry but this was a strong crow, made strong perhaps by its skill at foraging. Brains, then brawn.
I am assuming it is a Fish Crow, as we are not far from water and their calls were nasally uh-ohs.
Not everyone realizes it, but there are two kinds of crows across much of the eastern United States. Looking almost identical to the ubiquitous American Crow, Fish Crows are tough to identify until you learn their nasal calls. Look for them around bodies of water, usually in flocks and sometimes with American Crows. They are supreme generalists, eating just about anything they can find.
The crows spread out along this road and move singly or in small groups from place to place to look for food and to people-watch.
At night in winter they fly in groups that merge to get larger and larger as hundreds more crows stream in to join, heading southeast towards their night roost somewhere across the Indian River Lagoon, maybe on a spoil island or on the northern tip of Jupiter Island that is an undeveloped state park accessible only by boat (or wing).
In spring and summer, they pair off to nest in neighborhoods. Here’s the time I watched a pair in Sewall’s Point defend their nesting territory from a hawk.
Peahen on a Rio rooftop, with her pretty green neck glinting in the sun. She’s above it all.
The females of the Indian peafowl (peahens) are dressed in simple brown and white with green at the neck. The males (peacocks) are a different story. See my photos from last week HERE.
The peahen was sitting calmly on a roof while down below a group of peacocks (known as a pride, or ostentation) was having a sort of battle on either side of this barrier.
They were running around, squawking, and popping their heads up over the fence to see the other side. Occasionally one would jump over, or go around, and join the other team. I couldn’t make sense of it.
Maybe all the fuss was because mating season is beginning. First make war, then make love.
Here’s a very different looking bird… a weird color variation?
There are some “white” peacocks in Rio – not totally white but with more white on their bodies than the others.
Adult Male: Note very thick bill with curved rather than straight-edged profile. Red on head is largely on the eyebrow and throat, with brownish cheeks. Flanks are boldly streaked.
At first I thought the less-colorful bird on the right must be a female or immature finch, but Cornell says females and not-full-grown House Finches are all brown. So, a less colorful male? Almost looks like he has a little yellow color in addition to red.
The red of a male House Finch comes from pigments contained in its food during molt (birds can’t make bright red or yellow colors directly). So the more pigment in the food, the redder the male. This is why people sometimes see orange or yellowish male House Finches. Females prefer to mate with the reddest male they can find, perhaps raising the chances they get a capable mate who can do his part in feeding the nestlings.
I didn’t know they lived in Florida. Cornell’s map does not show their range extending to our area. They just barely edge into our area in winter on the Audubon map. Guess it’s time to update the maps for our little wanderers, who seem to be expanding their range.
One of two House Finches perched over Arch Street in Jensen Beach, Florida.
Well, hey, the map on the Wikipedia entry for House Finches does show them here, as well as everywhere else in the U.S.
Originally only a resident of Mexico and the southwestern United States, they were introduced to eastern North America in the 1940s. The birds were sold illegally in New York City as “Hollywood Finches”, a marketing artifice. To avoid prosecution under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, vendors and owners released the birds. They have since become naturalized; in largely unforested land across the eastern U.S. they have displaced the native purple finch and even the non-native house sparrow.
A pair of Ospreys has been trying to build a nest on top of this light pole at the Rio-Jensen skate park on Dixie Highway in Jensen Beach, FL… but the sticks keep falling off.
I’m keeping an eye on them to see if they figure it out.
Red dot is the location of the potential nest, zoom in for close up.
Great location, close to many fish hawk fishing spots in the Stuart/ Jensen Beach area of Martin County including the St. Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon, Atlantic Ocean, and a variety of lakes and wetland ponds.
Just beyond the skate park are the ballfields at Langford Park and these fortunate Ospreys scored the only nesting platform I could spot on one of many light poles.
They are on the furthest light pole in the center of this picture, taken early yesterday morning.
There was an Osprey perched on the pole in the middle too, maybe thinking about building a nest?
It would be nice if the county parks would put up a few more platforms here. Although maybe they don’t want Osprey poop and fishy bits on their fields and paths!
The males are growing out their lustrous long feathers for display as breeding season begins. Their piercing calls echo through that eastern part of Rio where peafowl wandered off Hollywood star Frances Langford’s jungly estate.
The estate was denuded of all vegetation and sat as golden brown dirt for a few years before a tract of new houses was built, but by then the peafowl had made their homes nearby among smaller, older houses with their older plantings of trees and shrubs.
Peacocks molt those striking, long feathers annually (in summer) and regrow new ones as mating season approaches.
They are not actually tail feathers but elongated upper tail “covert” feathers, growing out of their backs.
I spy with my little eye… something that is pretty and wants to be admired and photographed.
I was out for a stroller walk with my six-month-old grandson who lives with his parents in a peacock-rich neighborhood yesterday. He had drowsed off for his first nap of the day (he loves a nice fresh-air outdoor nap) while I deployed my Canon SX60 superzoom point-and-shoot camera that had been riding along in the bottom of the stroller.
But these peacocks are big and tame and not much zooming is necessary.
Ah, the color of those iridescent blue feathers! The feathers on his back remind me that peafowl are related to another big bird, the wild turkey.
The Phasianidae are a family of heavy, ground-living birds, which includes pheasants, partridges, junglefowl, chickens, turkeys, Old World quail, and peafowl.
They do remind me of flashy, tropical chickens too. Something about the head and curve of the beak and size of the eye.
The residents of Rio are generally fond of the birds. I wonder if these people painted their house on purpose to match the peacocks.
They leave big fat poops on driveways and walkways, they scream morning, noon and night for half the year (you mostly get used to it), but you cannot deny they are gloriously ornamental, beauty to behold.