Tag Archives: Florida birds

Valentine birds

Sandhill Cranes are going two-by-two.

I spotted these two at a local elementary school as kids were getting out in the afternoon. They don’t care about people being near.

Sandhill cranes are almost four feet tall – taller than many children.

They have a distinctive red patch of bare skin on top of their heads, feathers of a soft gray color, and pretty red-gold eyes.

Two subspecies of sandhill crane occur in Florida.  The Florida sandhill crane (G. c. pratensis), numbering 4,000 to 5,000, is a non-migratory year-round breeding resident.  They are joined every winter by 25,000 migratory greater sandhill cranes (G. c. tabida), the larger of the two subspecies. The greater sandhill crane winters in Florida but nests in the Great Lakes region. 

There is a small wetland adjacent to this school. It may be home for these two. I think they are resident birds. In this area north of the St. Lucie River and near the Savannas, In Stuart, Jensen Beach and Port St. Lucie, I see Sandhill Cranes all year, with chicks following them around in spring.

Sandhill Cranes mate for life.

Sandhill Cranes are omnivorous, eating insects and larvae, snails, amphibians and reptiles, small mammals, seeds, berries and tubers.

Fishing and sunning, what a life

Double-crested Cormorant at Indian Riverside Park. This one is a juvenile – its feathers are lighter in color than an all-black adult.

Note the little “fishing hook” at the end of its bill.

Time to dry the feathers!

Double-crested cormorants are gregarious birds that are almost always near water. Their main two activities are fishing and resting, with more than half their day spent on the latter. When at rest, a cormorant will choose an exposed spot on a bare branch or a windblown rock, and often spread its wings out, which is thought to be a means of drying their feathers after fishing. (Cormorants have less preen oil than other birds, so their feathers can get soaked rather than shedding water like a duck’s. Though this sounds like a liability, this is thought to be an adaptation that helps cormorants hunt underwater more effectively.)

Ahoy, bird!

Bold duck

Not your average duck face.

Muscovy ducks have taken up residence at the pond at Indian Riverside Park. This male was bold… in coloring and behavior. He came right up to me for his close-up.

Muscovy ducks have been introduced into urban and suburban areas in Florida where they often occur in high densities. These birds were illegally released primarily by private individuals for ornamental purposes or as pets. Muscovy ducks can be extremely prolific and local populations can increase dramatically in a short time. As a result, controversies frequently arise between residents who enjoy the birds and residents who consider them a nuisance.

A common creature tale in South Florida.

Catch of the day

Nice to come home from an idle wander with a crazy shot like this.

This Anhinga speared a relatively massive Mayan cichlid in the pond at Indian Riverside Park. I couldn’t imagine how this was going to work out. So I had to keep watching.

It started just as I was getting ready to leave after an hour of walking around the park on a beautiful Florida-winter morning and spotted the anhinga rising from the deep with a fresh catch.

There was some maneuvering and the anhinga dropped the fish once or twice.

It worked to get the fish into the right position for what was to come.

It’s going to figure out that this fish is too big to swallow, I thought.

It can’t possibly.

How is this happening?

What??

I am learning something about anhinga throats right now.

Geez, there’s a whole fish in that bird’s neck!

The fattened bird toddled off to the edge of the pond and sipped some water…

…then slid away, well fed.

I believe this is the same bird, a bit earlier in my walk. It’s a female or immature male, by the color of the neck. Males’ necks are black.

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

Compare: Little Blue Heron and Snowy Egret

At first glance, these two birds belong in the “white heron/egret” category of wading birds found at water’s edge. Snowy Egret, I thought, before I took a good look.

Jensen bridge.

We were doing that fun John-and-Amy thing where we drive around in our old Jeep with a fishing rod in back. We stop now and then, here and there, for John to cast a few and me to snap a few.

Birds on the seawall and down on the rocks were watching bait fish move in with the tide.

Not the same bird.

These two were close together on the wall.

I got a good look at the legs and feet, bills and lores, and realized one was a Snowy Egret (left) and the other a Little Blue Heron (right), a species that is white as a juvenile.

Snowies have black bills with a yellow patch, or lore, between their beaks and eyes, and yellow feet with black legs (mostly all black, but sometimes just black on the front of their legs!) Young Little Blues have gray-green legs, darker gray-to-black bills that are slightly thicker.

Both are in the Ardeidae family (herons, egrets, bitterns) and the Egretta genus of medium herons mostly breeding in warm climates.

Egretta thula

Looks like somebody was drawing with chalk where this Snowy Egret is standing! I like the yellow feet with the yellow flower.

Egretta caerulea

Little Blue Heron, not a Snowy Egret! Someday this bird will be a lovely, moody blue-gray-purple color, but not yet.

Here’s an adult Little Blue Heron, from photos I took last March.

Is the beach big enough for these two sanderlings?

The blog had a sleepy summer, but now it’s fall and we are on the move again.

My husband and I were driving around in the Jeep yesterday. He brought a lightweight fishing rod and I brought my camera. On Hutchinson Island, we parked at Beachwalk Pasley and went over the small dune to visit the beach before the storm.

No fish for my husband but I observed something I’ve never seen before, a short battle between two initially-peaceful Sanderlings who seemed suddenly to decide the beach was not big enough for both of them. It was like a cockfight in miniature, between a couple of birds weighing about 2 ounces each.

The battle suddenly resolved in a truce and the warriors resumed their rest.

Or are they lovers rather than fighters? Could it be a dance of a mated pair? So hard to tell!

We left as a storm was moving in from the south.

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.

The swamphens, mudhens and moorhens of Green Cay

“Welcome to Green Cay!” announces the Red-winged Blackbird, the unofficial mascot of the reconstructed wetlands habitat in western Boynton Beach that is managed by Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation.

Link: Green Cay Nature Center and Wetlands.

A one-and-a-half-mile long boardwalk traverses 100 acres of wetland habitat with SO MANY BIRDS to see! And other creatures too.

Porphyrio poliocephalus is preposterous and pretty.

The Gray-headed Swamphen…

is related to Florida’s native Common Gallinule, Purple Gallinule, and American Coot, the bigger, bulkier Swamphen looks superficially like a Purple Gallinule on massive doses of steroids. The Swamphen is an Old World species and is a relatively recent newcomer to Florida’s wetlands, being first recorded in Pembroke Pines, Florida in 1996, having likely escaped or been released from a private bird collection.

The Common Gallinule is the most common of the rail family in Florida, and possibly North America. Old timers call them moorhens.

Green Cay is a great place to see moorhens, swamphens, mudhens – all strange, long-legged denizens of freshwater marshes and members of the Rail family, Raillidae.

“Rail” is the anglicized respelling of the French râle, from Old French rasle. It is named from its harsh cry, in Vulgar Latin rascula, from Latin rādere (“to scrape”).

You would not think the striking colors of a Purple Gallinule provide camouflage… until you see these birds among blossoming pickerel weed.

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.

Another purple flower in the swamp: alligator flag.

Large leaves of the alligator flag, a native Florida wetlands plant.

Looking down from my dry perch on the boardwalk, I spied a Common Gallinule with a mostly-bald chick.

The chicks are precocial, leaving the nest one day after hatching. Parents feed them for about three weeks.

Not something you see every day! And one of many good reasons to get to Green Cay in spring.

An American Coot makes an appearance.

The waterborne American Coot is one good reminder that not everything that floats is a duck. A close look at a coot—that small head, those scrawny legs—reveals a different kind of bird entirely. Their dark bodies and white faces are common sights in nearly any open water across the continent, and they often mix with ducks. But they’re closer relatives of the gangly Sandhill Crane and the nearly invisible rails than of Mallards or teal.

The American Coot is also known as a mudhen.

I’ve only seen these birds a few times. I could hear a couple of old guys nearby talking about what they were seeing and I could tell they knew their birds so I doublechecked and asked, “Can you tell me, is that an American Coot?”

One of them said, “Yes, that’s an American Coot… and we’re Old Coots.”

These old coots know their coots and rails.

Another one of the preposterous swamphens (Gray-headed) snacking on roots and shoots.

More on this non-native bird from the first time I saw one, in October 2017: Escaped swamphens thrive in Florida wetlands.

If you crossed a small purple dinosaur with a backyard hen you would get the Gray-headed Swamphen. They do run around (seemingly on top of the water) like sleeker, more athletic chickens. Their feather colors are beautiful.

The mascots of Green Cay are also the guardians of Green Cay. These Red-winged Blackbirds said, “Not in my backyard!” to this Red-shouldered Hawk.