I wasn’t happy with any of my bird photos yesterday, but I did get a couple of small American alligators.
This one had a neat spiral pattern on its back leg.
We had been out at Kitching Creek Preserve in Hobe Sound and then decided to explore a road that dead-ended at the northern side of Jonathan Dickinson State Park. The gate was closed but I hopped out of the truck with my camera because I saw a Swallow-tailed Kite. The kite whirled out of sight but I glanced down at a roadside ditch and saw first one, then another gator.
They were about 30 feet apart from each other, both holding completely still like statues in that reptilian alligator way.
I thought, if I can see two alligators right here then how many more are in the 10,000-acre state park and nature preserve just in front of me?
A quick online search reveals there are roughly 1.3 million alligators in Florida.
This is a post about getting close to Wood Storks. But not too close. It’s the beginning of nesting season and we don’t want to pester them too much.
We borrowed a small boat from our boat club and heading out of Manatee Pocket towards the Five Corners then into the Indian River Lagoon.
On the way out of the Pocket, we saw dolphins. You can just see a fin in the center of the above photo.
The water in the Indian River Lagoon was clean and clear and beautiful! We liked the name of this trawler, heading north on the Intracoastal Waterway… “Quite Nice.”
Just east of Sewall’s Point, there is a small island popular with roosting and nesting water birds and wading birds.
Nesting season has begun for the Wood Storks and this is a favorite spot for them in the region.
Wood Storks occur only in a few areas in the United States, so to get a look at one, head to a wetland preserve or wildlife area along the coast in Florida, South Carolina, or Georgia.
Boats are supposed to stay outside these signs, and we did. So bring your binoculars and telephoto lens.
Other birds that like Bird Island include the Brown Pelican and the Roseate Spoonbill.
Wood Storks are gangly – a little over three feet tall with a wing span of five feet. They drop their legs and feet forward like this as they near a landing spot.
A Wood Stork turning for Bird Island, with the bridge between Sewall’s Point and Hutchinson Island beyond.
Roseate Spoonbills are in the air too.
I could loiter in this spot for hours… although an east wind can bring a strong scent of bird poop.
Great Blue Heron on the sandy beach.
“Look out below. Here I come, everybody!”
Wood Storks nest in trees above standing water. They build nests in cypress swamps, in oaks in flooded impoundments, in mangroves, and in flooded areas with black gum and Australian pine. Almost any tree or shrub will do as long as standing water is present.
The habit of nesting in groups is believed to provide better survival against predators in several ways. Many colonies are situated in locations that are naturally free of predators. In other cases, the presence of many birds means there are more individuals available for defense. Also, synchronized breeding leads to such an abundance of offspring as to satiate predators.
For seabirds, colonies on islands have an obvious advantage over mainland colonies when it comes to protection from terrestrial predators. Other situations can also be found where bird colonies avoid predation.
I think the majority of the nesting Wood Storks in Florida are found in freshwater habitats like cypress swamps and in the Everglades. We are lucky to have a colony here on our coast.
Despite the myth that Wood Storks mate for life, pairs form at the breeding colony and stay together only for a single breeding season. Males initially are hostile to the female, but once he accepts her into the territory he starts preening her and offering her sticks.
I have never noticed Wood Storks feeding in the waters immediately around Bird Island, but I have seen them many times at freshwater ponds and marshes further inland, or in ditches along roadsides.
Some days they soar overhead on thermals like vultures or raptors.
This stork is carrying a stick back to the island. I’ve seen them “perched” awkwardly in treetops in south Sewall’s Point, noisily breaking off branches.
Males and females gather sticks from the surrounding areas. Together they build a large, bulky stick nest 3–5 feet wide. They line the nest with greenery that eventually gets covered in guano, which helps hold the nest together. Nest building typically takes 2–3 days, but the pair continues to make improvements throughout the nesting period.
We were birdwatching, but then we got a chance to do some fishwatching!
I think a tarpon was chasing these mullet. I saw a big one near our boat right before this.
Beyond is a house in the Sewall’s Point neighborhood called The Archipelago.
There are usually fish here in this little corner close to shore, but this is the first time I’ve seen a show like this.
The Great Egret was flying near the island. Note how they fold up their necks in flight, unlike Wood Storks that fly with their necks extended.
White Ibis passed the island in a V formation (necks extended).
This Brown Pelican (neck folded) passed close to our boat. Wingspan of these birds range from 6.5 to 7.5 feet!
The water was so clear, we could see underwater creatures moving here and there. This was one of two pair of Spotted Eagle Rays cruising around together, over a shallow sandy bottom.
After Bird Island, we wanted to go ashore on one of the other mangrove islands in the lagoon. We passed this one, that we have nicknamed Hot Dog Island for a couple of picnics we’ve had there.
We went ashore on Boy Scout Island (it’s real name, locally) and spent an hour swimming, exploring, idly casting a line without catching anything except rays – the kind from the sun.
The water is so clean and beautiful now, since we haven’t had any polluted and algae-laden discharges from Lake Okeechobee in a while.
This is a restored wetland in the east section of Haney Creek Preserve. (I’m usually in the north section, where there’s a dog park and a nice 1-mile trail through sand scrub and pine flatwoods.)
How did this lovely place come to be? According to this 2017 article “Stuart Completes Wetlands Restoration Project”…
Work on the entire property began in 1999, when the city received grants from Florida Communities Trust to purchase the land. Additional grant money from the St. Lucie River Issues Team and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection augmented the work, which included removal of exotic plants and an engineered wetlands area for natural water filtration.
Yesterday and the day before I visited the newer East Trail, in the section outlined in yellow on the kiosk map at the entrance, off Dixie Highway. (There is no real parking here, but I have been told that the nearby TC3 Church allows use of their large parking lot.)
Haney Creek itself flows south into the St. Lucie River. The restoration of the wetlands, with improved stormwater management, will help protect and improve the health of the estuary. Good job, City of Stuart and Martin County!
It looks like Pond Apple trees were planted at the water’s edge as part of the restoration. It’s a Florida native commonly found in the Everglades. It likes its feet wet, as they say.
As they get bigger, pond apples provide good nesting and roosting places for birds.
Fresh water flows under the bridge and joins brackish water on the west side of the preserve, which eventually flows into the St. Lucie River.
There are mangrove trees growing along the banks of the brackish tidal creek.
Pickerel weed, a native aquatic plant, helps stabilize the banks of the freshwater pond.
I’ve been mostly ignoring vultures because they are so common here in winter, but I decided to immortalize this one.
The large shrubs are Carolina willows growing along the berm that was built up for the pond’s edge. The trail is just grass here, before it gets to boardwalk over a marshy area.
In the shade of the willows, I spotted pretty red flowers on a plant that looks like a member of the hibiscus family.
On the north side of the pond, there is a broad creek that flows into it. It is so peaceful here, even though the preserve is along Dixie Highway and busy Route 1 is not far away.
I found laurel oak growing in cool wet woods. We have laurel oaks in our (dryish) front yard and I think they would be happier here.
You can make the trail a loop if you come back along the sidewalk, just outside the fence. I think this “east area” of Haney Creek will connect to more sections and trails in the future.
I thought I would see more birds… ducks, gallinules, wading birds? But this was a degraded wet area that has only recently been restored so maybe… if you build it they will come?
In the photo above you can barely see two birds that were getting on with typical bird behavior – a couple of male Boat-tailed Grackles were having a singing and perching contest.
“I’m the man!”
“Nope, sorry. I’m on the highest spot and therefore I’M THE MAN.”
Hey birds, maybe it’s this guy who’s the man. Jeffrey Krauskopf served as a city and county commissioner for a total of 30 years. His efforts led to the purchase of the land for this preserve. Save the land, save the river.
A pink hibiscus and a green orchid bee, how lovely!
I was excited to get this shot yesterday as I was prowling around the edge of a restored wetland at Haney Creek East, in Stuart.
I was just about to take a picture of this hibiscus at water’s edge when the bee flew into the picture and hovered for a few moments before disappearing into the flower.
Green orchid bees, Euglossa dilemma, are native to Central America but were found a couple of counties south of us first in 2003, probably having hitched a ride from Mexico in a nest on a wooden pallet.
Green orchid bees are a quite conspicuous and charismatic species. This is mostly due to their large size and bright metallic-green coloration. They are roughly the same size to slightly smaller than a honey bee, usually about 1.3 cm in length. The wing membranes are darkened, but transparent. Green orchid bees are very fast and agile flyers, and can be seen quickly darting from flower to flower separated by long periods of hovering.
The pink and green colors of this flower and bee remind me of a popular Florida fashion brand, Lilly Pulitzer.
My new camouflage pants for Florida nature photography?
This green fellow is a Great Pondhawk. I can almost taste this color green.
The preserve abuts the Florida East Coast Railway on the west side, which has been in use since the 1890s. Freight runs through here, but they are working on the tracks to get ready to run the passenger service Brightline all the way to Orlando from Miami.
All of Walton Scrub was a pineapple plantation beginning in the 1800s. Before the railroad came through, they would haul the pineapples down to the docks on the Indian River Lagoon.
Pineapples are gone but a few of their bromeliad relatives live here now, like this ball moss, Tillandsia recurvata.
Ball moss is an epiphyte growing in trees that likes high humidity and shady low light.
Giant airplant, Tillandsia utriculata, does look a bit like a pineapple growing up high.
A flock of birds was moving through the pine trees but I had a hard time getting photos. At last I got a dim view of a yellowish bird with two white wing bars.
I’m pretty sure these are Pine Warblers flitting through the pine trees.
A bird true to its name, the Pine Warbler is common in many eastern pine forests and is rarely seen away from pines. These yellowish warblers are hard to spot as they move along high branches to prod clumps of needles with their sturdy bills.
Pine Warblers tend to stay high in pines and can be obscured by tufts of needles, but a bit of patience is likely to be rewarded.
The Pine Warbler is the only warbler that eats large quantities of seeds, primarily those of pines. This seed-eating ability means Pine Warblers sometimes visit bird feeders, unlike almost all other warblers.
Most warblers leave the continental U.S. for winter, but the Pine Warbler stays in the Southeast and is one of the first to return northward in spring.
Here was the craziest thing we found here and there on our walk through Walton Scrub, I realized when I looked it up later. These attractive red seeds are from the Rosary Pea. From WildSouthFlorida.com…
Rosary pea, Abrus precatorius, ranks among Florida’s worst invaders, arguably among the world’s worst. It’s also, indisputably, among the deadliest.
Rosary pea is an unassumingly slender vine, with delicate-looking leaves and lovely pink to lavender flowers. However, it grows like crazy, and can smother small trees and shrubs and even challenge larger trees. And it reproduces explosively.
Thing is, the whole plant, but the seeds especially, contain a toxin called abrin, and it doesn’t take much of the stuff to kill a human being. It’s estimated that as little as 0.000015 percent of abrin in ratio to body weight is enough to cause death, whether it’s ingested, inhaled or injected. That’s one seed’s worth. Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Science ranks rosary pea with castor bean, the source of ricin, as the deadliest plant toxins.
What! Shouldn’t we all know this plant, and know to avoid it??
It was planted as an ornamental and it’s highly invasive. I feel like some people got a little carried away when they moved to Florida and realized what they could grow here.
We spotted a few more non-native ornamentals near the end of the walk. This is an Orange Trumpet, or flamevine, native to Brazil.
Kalanchoe pinnata, also known as air plant, cathedral bells, or life plant is from Madagascar.
The writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who was an amateur naturalist of some repute, was “passionately fond” of this plant and liked to give the baby plantlets as gifts to friends who visited his home. He also discussed his air plant at length in an essay titled: Geschichte meiner botanischen Studien (“History of my botanical studies”).
I imagine he would have had an interesting blog.
Surinam Cherry is also native to tropical South America.
It has a small, attractive red fruit that is edible, but I guess it’s flowering season now! Florida has strange seasons that take some getting used to.
Nature! … We obey her laws even when we rebel against them; we work with her even when we desire to work against her. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I think this Fredgie’s gull is a juvenile Laughing Gull in the first winter of its life, and already a fearless scavenger of French fries.
The Snook Nook sells everything you need for catching this region’s most popular sport fish, the snook, and more.
I have only seen oystercatchers a couple of times in Martin County, and only photographed one once in May of 2018, at the causeway park under the bridge between Sewall’s Point and Hutchinson Island.
“Bait” for oystercatchers is oysters.
American Oystercatchers dine almost solely on saltwater bivalve mollusks, including many species of clams and several oysters and mussels, and to a lesser degree limpets, jellyfish, starfish, sea urchins, marine worms, and crustaceans such as lady crabs and speckled crabs. Oystercatchers walk slowly through oyster reefs until they see one that is slightly open; they quickly jab the bill inside the shell to snip the strong adductor muscle that closes the two halves of the shell.
Maybe if we had more healthy oyster beds in this area, as in days of old, we would see more oystercatchers. A wonderful local organization, Florida Oceanographic Society, is working on oyster reef restoration.
Do your part by eating oysters from local restaurants listed at the link!.. FLOOR. Or volunteer to bag oysters and help construct reefs.
They are native to the Bahamas but were brought to Florida early in the last century to control insect pests.
We are lucky in Martin County to have a number of simple paths like this to unguarded beaches. Parking in the sandy lots is limited but free. It is one of the reasons we chose to live in this county rather than the more densely populated counties south of us.
It was a mellow beach day, not a lot going on. This Ring-billed Gull is dozing, fat and sleek facing into the southeast breeze.
Nearby, another gull keeps an eye on me.
When wind is from the east (or southeast), especially in winter, we can get Portuguese Man O’ War washed up on the beach.
We think of them as stinging jellyfish but they are actually a species of siphonore, a colony of animals related to the jellyfish. Some people call them Blue Bottles. Do NOT step on or near them!
I walked north towards Jensen Beach, a guarded beach. You can see in the distance where Martin County ends and St. Lucie County begins. Martin County has a four-story height limit on buildings.
I got a nice look at a Willet running in the surf. They are bigger and have longer legs than the other common sandpiper-type beach birds.
I was peering up into the tree shade, trying to figure out what all the little brown birds were when this one turned to flash his signature “butterbutt” in my direction: Yellow-rumped Warbler!
I did not invent the butterbutt nickname; it’s a birder thing. I was lucky enough to learn it on a field trip a couple of years ago.
You can see a bit of yellow under the wings too. These birds have more striking colors in summer breeding season, but we only see them here in winter.
They were attracted to this tree because of its ripening berries. (I’m not sure if it’s a banyan or some other type of fig, gotta work on that ID.) It stands near the freshwater pond at Indian Riverside Park
This bird has one berry in its mouth and one clutched in its right foot.
YRWs are fairly large compared to other warblers and can digest waxy fruits that other warblers can’t. This allows them to “winter” farther north than most other warblers. In summer they mainly eat insects.
Yellow-rumped Warblers flit through the canopies of coniferous trees as they forage. They cling to the bark surface to look for hidden insects more than many warblers do, but they also frequently sit on exposed branches and catch passing insects like a flycatcher does. In winter, Yellow-rumped Warblers join flocks and switch to eating berries from fruiting shrubs. Sometimes the flocks are enormous groups consisting entirely of Yellow-rumped Warblers.
I could only find Yellow-rumped Warblers in this tree, not other birds. This one came quite close and was easy to photograph.
While foraging, they were making chek calls like this.