A bird true to its name and the semi-secret side door into the Savannas

Pine Warbler on a pine tree.

There is a dirt pullout on the east side of Green River Parkway at the Martin/ St. Lucie county line with room for 5 or 6 cars to park. It is right here: LINK to Google map. Most people park there to go for a walk or bike ride on the paved walkway that runs for a few miles along the parkway. But it’s also right near a “secret back way” into the Savannas.

Look carefully after crossing the walkway bridge over the drainage ditch and you will find a gated entrance to a sometimes-overgrown trail that leads to other little-used trails in the southern (Jensen Beach) section of Savannas Preserve State Park. (That section is more easily accessed from Jensen Beach Boulevard, which I recommend for first time visitors or those who want tidier trails.)

You may or may not want to take these trails less traveled, depending on the time of year and your exploring mood. Squish, squish. My progress was slow and careful, but that was fine since I was trying to sneak up on birds.

Pro tip: when you stop and stand still, first look down to make sure you are not standing in an ant mound or close to a snake. Then look around and up.

I was there a few bright December mornings ago and I found some birds like this Red-bellied Woodpecker feasting on holly berries.

Woodpeckers help “plant” holly bushes by spreading the seeds in their droppings. That’s one way to deck the halls.

My trail that morning was next to a wetland. I tuned in to the sounds around me and felt the warmth of the sun in the cool fresh air. This is medicine.

Wild things were near. I’ve always loved the feeling of being surrounded by secret life. What we perceive of it is the tip of the iceberg. See my About page for that poem I love, “Sojourns in the Parallel World.”

I tracked a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher for a while, as he went hunting for small insects and spiders. Catching gnats, another well-named bird.

A tiny, long-tailed bird of broadleaf forests and scrublands, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher makes itself known by its soft but insistent calls and its constant motion. It hops and sidles in dense outer foliage, foraging for insects and spiders. As it moves, this steely blue-gray bird conspicuously flicks its white-edged tail from side to side, scaring up insects and chasing after them.

The white eye ring is helpful in identifying these little gray birds, along with the busy tail motion.

Another Pine Warbler in a pine tree, where they like to be.

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.

I notice these birds much more in winter, because there are many more of them … as the northern Pine Warblers migrate south and join the resident Pine Warblers in larger foraging flocks. Favorite food? Pine seeds!

I think the most important quality in a birdwatcher is a willingness to stand quietly and see what comes. Our everyday lives obscure a truth about existence – that at the heart of everything there lies a stillness and a light.
― Lynn Thomson

I brought you a gift, my love

This male Boat-tailed Grackle nabbed a bait fish from a fisherman’s net at the Jensen Beach bridge causeway and flew over to the shrubbery where he ate about half of it then dropped it near a female grackle.

She picked it up then ate the rest, and possibly fell in love with a handsome thief.

Ovenbird in mangroves

An Ovenbird perches on a mangrove root, yesterday morning at Ocean Bay Riverside on the shores of the Indian River Lagoon on Hutchinson Island in St. Lucie County.

I followed a couple of these charming little birds for a while, trying to get a few good shots in the dim light of a foggy early morning.

According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

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.

A tiny chicken, I love it. But why is it called an OVENBIRD?

Its nest, a leaf-covered dome resembling an old-fashioned outdoor oven, gives the Ovenbird its name.

I have seen and photographed an Ovenbird just once before, on North Hutchinson Island (also known as Orchid Island) in Vero Beach, at Captain Forster Hammock Preserve, in September 2019, posted here: Not the hammock you swing in. But that photo was not really in focus, so let me add this focused Ovenbird to my collection.

Ovenbirds winter in Florida, Central America, the Caribbean, and northern South America. At Ocean Bay they are seen mid-April through mid-May, then again late September through October.

Seiurus aurocapilla is in its own genus, genetically distinct from the rest of Parulidae, the New World warblers.

Wood Stork nesting season begins at Bird Island

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.

Bird Island.

Birds ahead!

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.

Wood Storks are colonial nesters, like many other bird species.

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.

The Army Corps of Engineers is rewriting their regulation schedule that determines when discharges will occur. Our local Congressman Brian Mast shares more information HERE (Army Corps Must Seize Once In A Decade Opportunity To Stop Discharges), including a link to the Army Corps email where you can share your views on this topic. I will be writing to them!

Birds in motion and birds at rest at Indian Riverside Park

This Snowy Egret was dancing across the water at Indian Riverside Park in Jensen Beach.

Black legs contrast with the snowy’s bright yellow feet, which are nicknamed “golden slippers.”

Those feet seem to play a role in stirring up or herding small aquatic animals as the egret forages.

In contrast, this juvenile White Ibis was perfectly still and perfectly balanced on one leg along the shore.

This cormorant surfaced after searching for fish under water.

Muscovy Ducks were loafing near a place where people bring bread and even popcorn to feed the birds.

Also happy to chow down some popcorn, a pair of Egyptian Geese can often be seen around the edges of this popular pond.

The Egyptian Goose in Florida

Gallinules among the lilies

I love this photo, I love this bird.

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.

A few more birds from the causeway park

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One of the fishing piers at the west causeway under Jensen Beach bridge, looking north at the Indian River Lagoon. Guys were netting fish. A couple of members of the heron family were lurking nearby.

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Little Blue Heron on a light post.

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LBH.

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Great Egret near the boat ramp.

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Both heron and egret appear to have breeding plumage still.

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Looking toward the mainland, I spotted an Anhinga drying its feathers, its back to the sun, in classic Anhinga pose.

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Feathers and palm fronds.

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An Osprey was fishing the Indian River Lagoon. That’s the Florida Power & Light nuke plant in the distance.

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Osprey, boat traffic on the Intracoastal, and Nettles Island.

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Anhinga was not happy with the dog and me being so close. We gave it some room to keep sunning.

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You can almost count its feathers from this angle!

Bird Island from a boat

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Roseate Spoonbill on Bird Island yesterday.

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Must look good for breeding season.

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Great Blue Heron.

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Big feet on that bird.

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We borrowed a boat from our boat club in Manatee Pocket yesterday and took a ride up the Indian River Lagoon to the rookery just off Sewall’s Point known as Bird Island.

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It is Wood Stork nesting season. They appear to still be building nests. I have not seen chicks yet.

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The Snowy Egrets are in breeding plumage and acting flirty.

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Showing off.

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I have never seen them like this.

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Always surprising the variety of breeds sharing space on this island.

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My sister and brother-in-law were in town and we all watched birds from the boat.

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Incoming Wood Stork.

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A rather skull-like head.

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Wood Stork with wings up.

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Roseate Spoonbill again.

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Lots of Brown Pelicans on the island now too.