Little Blue Heron, Egretta caerulea, yesterday at Twin Rivers Park in Rocky Point, Stuart, Florida.
A small, dark heron arrayed in moody blues and purples, the Little Blue Heron is a common but inconspicuous resident of marshes and estuaries in the Southeast. They stalk shallow waters for small fish and amphibians, adopting a quiet, methodical approach that can make these gorgeous herons surprisingly easy to overlook at first glance.
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.
It’s a short flight from flowering shrubs to telephone wire to laurel oak in the southeast corner of our backyard where I often see this female Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
She never has to go shopping: she is always dressed beautifully in a metallic green cloak that shines in the sun.
The skinny-bird look with neck extended means she knows I’m watching her.
She weighs a little less than a nickel. She can beat her wings 80 times per second. At rest, she takes 250 breaths per minute. Her heart beats over 1,000 times per minute.
During flight, hummingbird oxygen consumption per gram of muscle tissue is approximately 10 times higher than that seen for elite human athletes.
Hummingbirds’ brains are the largest relative to their size of any bird and their hearts are the largest relative to their size of any animal. And…
Muscles make up 25–30% of their body weight, and they have long, blade-like wings that, unlike the wings of other birds, connect to the body only from the shoulder joint. This adaptation allows the wing to rotate almost 180°, enabling the bird to fly not only forward but backward, and to hover in mid-air, flight capabilities that are similar to insects and unique among birds.
This Roseate Spoonbill was on its way to a roadside culvert along Green River Parkway yesterday.
This mucky spot has been attracting a lot of birds lately. “Something hatched,” my husband theorized. He’s been biking past this spot and telling me, almost daily, that there’s a nice concentration of photogenic birds there.
The pipes pass under Green River Parkway to a series of freshwater ponds in the fenced-in area known as Green River.
Limpkin and chick, looking for lunch.
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. Limpkins are tropical wetland birds whose range reaches into Florida.
When I approached the culvert, there were three women and three kids there already. The women were talking while two of the three kids threw rocks and snail shells in the general direction of the birds.
The spoonbills didn’t seem to mind. The boys’ aim wasn’t very good. But I still felt someone should take the birds’ side in this matter.
“Hi,” I said. “Just letting you know, I see an alligator here sometimes. Down where the boys are.”
“We’ve seen that alligator before,” said one woman. “It’s a little one.”
Forget Florida Man, there should be a Florida Mom meme!
I’d include the time I was at the beach and saw a shark in the waves and kids swimming nearby while moms were on the beach chatting and I thought, I don’t want to be annoying but they would probably want to know about a shark. I would. So I told them and one said, “We saw it. It’s a lemon shark.”
I took a few more photos while the boys tossed stones, then I tried a new angle. I said to the little girl who was not throwing stones (loud enough for the moms to hear), “Do you see the chicks? Aren’t they cute? See that one there, all little and brown and fuzzy, hiding behind its mom?”
“Aw, it’s cute!” she said. Soon the small group of humans continued on their way.
I continued north on the bike path, scanning the drainage ditch for birds like this Great Egret.
Wildlife enthusiasts and photographers will enjoy the diversity of habitats this undisturbed area has to offer.
But not right now.
State parks are closed, to prevent gatherings of more than ten people in one place.
So I kept walking north, the road and ditch on my left and the forbidden state park on my right.
Behind me, the bike trail crosses over the ditch on a small bridge, perfect for bird and alligator watching. This is near the boundary between Martin and St. Lucie counties.
Savannas Preserve to my right, so inviting.
I met a man walking south along the low dike as I walked north. He had binoculars around his neck, a good sign. We talked birds and favorite places to find birds. We lamented loss of access to a park we never see anybody else in. We agreed we don’t care if handshakes, hugs, close-talking and crowds never make a comeback. Then we each continued our own solo stalk along the margins.
Spoonbill above. I turned and retraced my steps back to the culvert.
A White Ibis had arrived while I was gone.
I watched Limpkins.
This one stayed close to the foraging adult.
Roseate Spoonbills and Limpkins.
Limpkins eat almost exclusively apple snails (genus Pomacea), plus at least three other native freshwater snail species and five species of freshwater mussels. They also eat small amounts of seeds and insects, along with lizards, frogs, insects, crustaceans such as crayfish, grasshoppers, worms, and aquatic midges. Where the water is clear, Limpkins hunt for snails and mussels by sight, walking along the water’s edge or into the shallows (rarely wading deeply) and seizing prey quickly with the bill. When waters are muddy, or have extensive vegetation, they probe into the water rapidly, rather like ibis, sometimes with the head submerged. If vegetation cover is extensive, Limpkins often walk out onto the mat of floating vegetation to hunt snails that cling to the undersides of leaves and stalks. To extract the mollusk from its shell, Limpkins place the forceps-like tip of their bill into the snail or mussel to cut the adductor muscle, using scissoring motions. They then discard the shells, often in a pile if prey is abundant in one spot.
I got a good long look at Limpkins, a bird I had never heard of before I moved to Florida a few years ago.
Getting a good start in life.
My final culvert bird was a solo Wood Stork.
Great spot, I shall return.
Before driving off, I decided to pop over to Green River for a quick look. I was thinking: I bet there’s one more special thing out there before I’m finished for the morning.
There was. Flying low over distant marsh, my first Snail Kite!
The highly specialized Snail Kite flies on broad wings over tropical wetlands as it hunts large freshwater snails.
This is a Purple Gallinule, in bright morning sun.
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.https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Purple_Gallinule/overview
We saw this bird and others at Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in southeast Florida yesterday morning. It’s a piece of the northern Everglades that has been preserved for wildlife and lovers of wild places. The main entrance is in Boynton Beach.
It’s cool how a bird this colorful can also appear camouflaged.
Also notable: the amazing feet.
Related: the Common Gallinule.
The Common Gallinule swims like a duck and walks atop floating vegetation like a rail with its long and slender toes. This boldly marked rail has a brilliant red shield over the bill and a white racing stripe down its side. It squawks and whinnies from thick cover in marshes and ponds from Canada to Chile, peeking in and out of vegetation. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Common_Gallinule/overview
This one was noisy, with its “squawks and whinnies.”
We also observed Florida’s most famous large reptile.
We stared at the alligator and he didn’t blink an eye, move, or even look back at us. “Whatever,” is the motto of the gator at rest.
First photo was taken last fall. Second photo was taken a couple of days ago at the amazing and renowned Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach. It was our first visit during nesting season and there was LOTS to see. I took a thousand photos, for real. I will be posting some of the good ones over a few days.
I had noticed a bit of buff coloring on breeding Cattle Egrets before but never have I seen the candy corn bill and purple “lores” just in front of the eyes. Eyes are a different color too!
A boardwalk through the wetlands gets you closer to the birds.
This female Anhinga is also in breeding plumage with a blue ring around her eyes and a greenish tinge to her lores. Her chin is black too.
She let me stand right next to her and take this glamour shot.
Glossy Ibis chick!
Chubby and fluffy like chick, but with a bit of ibis curve to the (striped) bill already.
Great Egret chicks watches the skies for the return of mom/ dad.
Melodious Blackbirds at the fruit feeder trees at Arenal Observatory Lodge.
The Melodious Blackbird is a rather unique and vociferous all black icterid of Mexico and Central America. It has a relatively thick and long bill, but most noticeable is that the legs and feet look a size too big on this mid-sized blackbird.
Arenal Volcano stayed hidden behind clouds during our visit.
Inside an observation tower we found a small, strikingly-colored bird resting on the floor. It may have flown in an open window and hit another window or couldn’t find its way out. It seemed fine. And what a great close up look!
Figured out later it was a Green Honeycreeper.
Very attractive small tanager of humid tropical lowlands. Found in humid evergreen forest edges, plantations, and gardens; at times with mixed-species feeding flocks of honeycreepers and euphonias. Often in pairs, feeding at all levels in fruiting trees and bushes. Note the short, curved bill. Males are a unique green-blue color with black hood and a banana yellow beak. Female resembles female Red-legged Honeycreeper but is larger, brighter, uniform green, with yellow lower bill and grayish legs.
Tiny little thing. It made it out the window and away into the tropical forest before we left.
A pair of Sandhill Cranes walked up onto the dike in front of us yesterday morning as we were looping back from a nice bird walk (see egret pics too).
My husband John and I were walking where the retention ponds are located just off Green River Parkway in Jensen Beach. We’ve been going there a lot lately.
Whether stepping singly across a wet meadow or filling the sky by the hundreds and thousands, Sandhill Cranes have an elegance that draws attention. These tall, gray-bodied, crimson-capped birds breed in open wetlands, fields, and prairies across North America.
We see cranes often in this area of Jensen Beach, with a section of the Savannas Preserve just across the parkway. They also like to visit bird feeders in people’s yards around here, or walk along roadsides.
They are so big, which such magnificent wings.
They mate for life.
When we arrived at Green River I told John, “I’ll be happy if I get a good photo or two of a Sandhill Crane today.”
A view north along the beach with calm, receding waves. The woman on her knees was digging up lots and lots of one particular kind of shell.
This helo flies, but not like a bird. It’s only got one “wing” and that wing spins around overhead, how strange.
It was a lovely day to just sit and watch the waves. And we did.
I watched this little bird for a bit and realized I didn’t know what it was, so I snapped a few photos. I was sort of tern-like, but smaller and chubbier than the other terns. Also, it was skimming fish off the surface, not diving.
I posted a couple of pics to What’s This Bird and got the answer: it was a young Black Tern!
Forages in flight, dipping to surface of water or shore to pick up items, sometimes pursuing flying insects in the air, seldom plunging into water after prey.
In breeding season it is a beautiful charcoal gray with a black head and white butt (see pic here).
A small, graceful marsh tern, black and silver in breeding plumage. In its choice of surroundings, it leads a double life: in North America in summer it is a typical bird of freshwater marshes, but in winter it becomes a seabird along tropical coasts.
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.
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.”
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.