Tag Archives: Florida birds

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

I find grackles and crows

This grackle is like a centerpiece in a cabbage palm bouquet.

Blue-black with a tinge of green, I love the iridescence of a male grackle’s feathers.

Female grackles are dark brown and smaller than the males. They go about their business, foraging with focus, while the males flash around, calling, and stirring up trouble.

This male grackle is pestering a crow who is working to get a peanut out of its shell.

I find grackles and crows under in the east causeway park, under the Ernest P. Lyons Bridge between Sewall’s Point and Hutchinson Island. I was there yesterday. It’s close to home and I wanted to grab a few bird photos before the front passed through.

Looking north into a coming storm. It’s a busy park on weekends, in good weather. People fish here, have picnics, launch boats at the ramp, or go kitesurfing off the narrow beach.

Chubby gull.

The black band on its yellow bill identifies this as a Ring-billed Gull. There are more of them here in winter. They breed elsewhere, in summer.

A study in coastal grays. (That’s the Jensen Beach Bridge, further north in the Indian River Lagoon.)

Adults are clean gray above, with a white head, body and tail; their black wingtips are spotted with white. They have yellow legs and a yellow bill with a black band around it. Nonbreeding adults have brown-streaked heads. 

Why do I think these are Boat-tailed Grackles? The other two species in North America are Common Grackles and Great-tailed Grackles.

Great-tailed and Boat-tailed have long tails like the bird above, but Great-tailed are not found in Florida. Common Grackles are smaller, with shorter tails, and they favor open fields, lawns, towns, but not marsh or saltwater areas.

When you smell saltwater on the East Coast, it’s time to look out for Boat-tailed Grackles. The glossy blue-black males are hard to miss as they haul their ridiculously long tails around or display from marsh grasses or telephone wires. The rich, dark-brown females are half the size of males and look almost like a different species. Boat-tailed Grackles take advantage of human activity along our increasingly developed coast, scavenging trash and hanging out in busy urban areas away from predators.

Of course crows also take advantage of human activity, like this one that has scavenged a peanut. The male Boat-tailed Grackle is on the left and Fish Crow is on the right. Crows are a bit larger than grackles, with a thicker bill and duller black feathers.

I know it’s a Fish Crow rather than an American Crow mostly because I learned a general rule from local birders that all crows east of Route 1 in this area are Fish Crows and I heard this one’s nasal call and saw it fluff its neck feathers like a raven.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology: How do you tell a Fish Crow from an American Crow?

All my Fish Crows. All my Boat-tailed Grackles.

eBird: Grackles – Are you getting them right?

Birds and beyond

This Limpkin was taking a break from being a wading bird poking around in the mud for apple snails to get a different perspective on the world.

I was taking a break from social media and blogging but now I am back to blogging.

I’ve been visiting parts of the Savannas Preserve a lot lately, where I’ve started to wonder about and photograph things besides just birds.

This shrub is common along the trail that runs north off Jensen Beach Boulevard. It has flowers that remind me of the wild blueberry plants in our old New Hampshire backyard, but pink instead of white.

I signed up for iNaturalist in early January, where I can upload photos and get suggestions and help identifying any living thing.

I learned this is Lyonia lucida, also known as fetterbush lyonia, hurrahbush and staggerbush. It’s found in shrubby bogs, savannas and swamps of the coastal plain of the southeastern U.S. They are members of the Ericaceae family, the heath or heather family that includes blueberry, cranberry, rhododendron and more.

It’s called fetterbush because it grows thick and tangly and can restrict or fetter the passage of humans and animals. Saw palmetto does a good job fettering passage as well.

Here’s another plant that likes moist, acidic soil: the pink sundew, Drosera capillaris. So strange, and beautiful, and … carnivorous!

Sundews lure, capture and digest insects using the sticky, gluey substance mucilage that looks like dew.

Here’s gallberry, Ilex glabra, with fruits and flowers located helpfully close together for the amateur i-naturalist seeking to identify this species of holly.

It’s a coastal plain plant also known as inkberry, found in sandy soil around edges of swamps and bogs. In late fall when it was very rainy, this whole area of the Savannas Preserve was underwater for weeks. Now we are in the dry season, though shallow ponds and boggy spots remain.

This is the trail that runs north from the small parking area off Jensen Beach Boulevard and was mostly underwater. It’s a soothing vista, just walk along the wide footpath in warm sunshine.

All photos are from this trail except for the limpkin, which was near the side entrance to the Savannas off Green River Parkway.

Striped and fuzzy.

In my pre-amateur naturalist phase (a few weeks ago) I would have glanced at this insect, maybe photographed it, and said, “A bee, cute.” But I wanted to know what kind of bee it was so I posted it to iNaturalist.

It was quickly identified as a Northern Plushback FLY, Palpada vinetorum. I guess it does have eyes and wings more like a fly, now that I really look at it.

Here I have been all this time crashing through the natural world like a dumb, half-blind giant, thinking I’m looking at “bees” when some are really flies and even a child knows they are different creatures. I am surrounded by a multitude of species I never knew existed.

This is a Sensitive Plant, Mimosa pudica, in the pea/ legume family. The leaves close up when you touch them, and at night. The flowers are like little pink fireworks.

Of course I also think of the flower in Dr. Seuss’s book Horton Hears a Who. On the flower is a tiny speck of dust, which is also an entire planet for the small (but loud) creatures called Whos.

What a pretty fungus this is, growing on the burnt trunk of a saw palmetto after a controlled burn a few years ago… beauty among the ruins.

It’s in the genus Trametes, in the Bracket fungi family, not sure the species. But it would be terrible to know everything, right?

Almost-spring on Bird Island

Come fly with me…

… to a strange and wonderful place known as Bird Island. It’s very close to home.

This Magnificent Frigatebird knows the way.

Black frigatebirds on lower branches, white Wood Storks above.

The storks are the most numerous nesting birds at this time of year on this small mangrove island in the Indian River Lagoon that’s just off our peninsular town of Sewall’s Point.

Frigatebirds don’t nest here, they just roost, I’ve been told. But I’m keeping an eye on that situation!

We took a boat out on Tuesday, March 17, late afternoon with the newest member of the family, Ruby the 10-week-old German shepherd. It was her first boat ride and she was great! (We are members of a boat club in Manatee Pocket, about a 20 minute ride to Bird Island.)

Brown Pelicans had reserved their own roosting and nesting spots in one section of the canopy.

Big wings, big bill.

Wood Storks flew close to the boat.

Very common sight in Sewall’s Point at this time of year, as they fly over on their way to Bird Island, sometimes even stopping in our trees to break beaches for nesting material.

Peachy pink feet visible in this photo, as well as some color under the wings.

Speaking of color, the White Ibis have more intensely colored bills and feet in breeding season.

I am so glad this island was designated a wildlife area.

A Great Blue Heron among the Wood Storks. Looks like a Little Blue Heron mixed in there too.

Birds everywhere.

Ruby was watching them too.

White Ibis flying over. They don’t stop on this island – they have their own on the other side of the Intracoastal Waterway.

White Ibis zoomed in.

My husband’s favorite bird was this Fish Crow perched on the sign, as if to draw attention to its important information!

Great Egret.

Wood Stork coming in for a landing.

“Honey, I’m home!”

“Great to see you, gimme a smooch!”

Smooch!

I’m looking forward to getting out to Bird Island again later in the season, when the chicks pop up.

Here are some photos of young Wood Storks from a trip to Bird Island May 2018.

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.

Up on the roof

When this old world starts a getting me down
And people are just too much for me to face
I’ll climb way up to the top of the stairs
And all my cares just drift right into space

On the roof, it’s peaceful as can be
And there the world below don’t bother me
No, no

So when I come home feeling tired and beat
I go up where the air is fresh and sweet
I get far away from the hustling crowd
And all that rat race noise down in the street

On the roof, that’s the only place I know
Look at the city, baby
Where you just have to wish to make it so
Let’s go up on the roof

And at night the stars, they put on a show for free
And darling, you can share it all with me
That’s what I say, keep on telling you The right smack dab in the middle of town
I’ve found a paradise that’s trouble proof
And if this old world starts a getting you down
There’s room enough for two

Up on the roof, up on the roof, up on the roof oh now
Everything is all right, everything is all right
Come on

Put down what you’re doing tonight and climb up the stairs with me and see
We got the stars up above us and the city lights below, oh
Up on my roof now

The pelican scoop

Florida, starring Brown Pelicans!

I feel like I don’t take enough pictures of pelicans relative to how often I see them, which is pretty much daily because I live in Sewall’s Point, a peninsula connected by bridges to the mainland and a barrier island (Hutchinson).

So, here: a bounty of Pelicanus occidentalis.

Also known as a pod, a pouch, a scoop or a squadron of pelicans.

Audubon.org…

An unmistakable bird of coastal waters. Groups of Brown Pelicans fly low over the waves in single file, flapping and gliding in unison. Their feeding behavior is spectacular, as they plunge headlong into the water in pursuit of fish. The current abundance of this species in the United States represents a success story for conservationists, who succeeded in halting the use of DDT and other persistent pesticides here; as recently as the early 1970s, the Brown Pelican was seriously endangered.

We were stopping by the Fort Pierce Inlet at the north end of Hutchinson Island on a Sunday drive. It was too windy and rough to walk out on the jetty.

So we walked west along the south-side inlet shoreline to see what we could see.

The inlet connects the Indian River Lagoon with the Atlantic Ocean. There is no development at the ocean end of the inlet on either side. The north side is preserved as a state park.

Fishing was the main focus, of humans and birds alike.

Fish were feeding and breaking on the surface all over the place.

Here’s a Double-crested Cormorant, popping up from underwater fishing.

Royal Tern on high.

Forages mostly by hovering over water and plunging to catch prey just below surface. https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/royal-tern

Brown Pelicans go even more “all in”.

Forages by diving from the air, from as high as 60′ above water, plunging into water headfirst and coming to surface with fish in bill. Tilts bill down to drain water out of pouch, then tosses head back to swallow. Will scavenge at times and will become tame, approaching fishermen for handouts.https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/brown-pelican#

They often look like they’re crash landing face first into salt water.

This guy had a fish on his line and was steadily working it closer and ready to gaff it when a pelican tried to steal it. He waved his gaffe and the pelican backed off, but not before trying to dive underwater and grab it.

View toward the north side jetty. Lots of birds, lots of fish.

And lots of wind.

Sometimes I look at pelicans and wonder how they stay in the air. I mean, their wings are really big, but so are their heads and bills. So big.

But they are master flyers. I like when they soar down low over the water to use what human aviators (like my husband) call “ground effect” to stay effortlessly aloft.

This juvenile Brown Pelican is banded. You can just barely see the band on the near leg, which is tucked up so nice and aerodynamically.

It was a good day for fishing, even for the humans.

I think it’s a Crevalle Jack. This man kept his fish.

I have eaten this kind of jack, very, very fresh, about 20 minutes after my husband caught it from the bridge near our house. He filleted it into chunks, I marinated it for about 10 minutes in lime juice, then cooked it in a cast iron pan with butter and Cajun seasonings. Served over white rice, it was delicious. It has dark red flesh like a tuna.

Snook (a fish I had never heard of until I moved here) are one of the most beloved fish for inshore Florida fishermen. But snook are not always in season (including right now): FWC regulations.

So gaze longingly at the snook and go catch a jack.

Fort Pierce Inlet is a nice destination, easily accessible, and a great place to walk and bird-watch.

I even spent a little time with a charming pair of Eurasian-collared Doves, fishing for love.

Coo.

Little birds with yellow throats

DSC_5893

A bright yellow throat in morning sun.

DSC_5895

I saw this Yellow-throated Vireo yesterday morning at the edge of the mangroves in Indian Riverside Park, Jensen Beach.

DSC_5896

Such a pure, delicious yellow.

A bird of open deciduous forests and edges, the Yellow-throated Vireo is one of the most colorful member of its family. Not only does this bird have a bright yellow throat, it looks as if it’s wearing bright yellow spectacles.

DSC_5898

Eye rings, wing bars and songs… How to Tell Vireos From Warblers, Flycatchers, and Kinglets

DSC_5905

Another “yellow-throat” was nearby – the Yellow-throated Warbler.

DSC_5907

It’s migration season and I’m heading out the door again soon this morning!