Tag Archives: Florida birds

What’s cool about a Magnificent Frigatebird

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?

Odd bird, the limpkin

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.

Pine Glades

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.

Pine Glades is an eBird hotspot, with 163 species sighted as of this posting.

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.


More info on Pine Glades at Wild South Florida.

Ospreys nesting on light poles at the skate park and ballfields

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.

Messy nesty.

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!

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?


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