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.
“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.
…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.
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.
At a busy park this morning there was a bird who doesn’t like to be seen, a Green Heron.
There were pigeons, ibises, cormorants and a variety of ducks in and around the large pond at Indian Riverside Park, and many people walking or sitting. But this Green Heron was not into the park scene.
He flew to a smaller pond away from the people and other birds. I followed.
From a distance, the Green Heron is a dark, stocky bird hunched on slender yellow legs at the water’s edge, often hidden behind a tangle of leaves. Seen up close, it is a striking bird with a velvet-green back, rich chestnut body, and a dark cap often raised into a short crest.
Green Herons usually hunt by wading in shallow water, but occasionally they dive for deep-water prey and need to swim back to shore—probably with help from the webs between their middle and outer toes.
Green Herons are common and widespread, but they can be hard to see at first. Whereas larger herons tend to stand prominently in open parts of wetlands, Green Herons tend to be at the edges, in shallow water, or concealed in vegetation. Visit a wetland and carefully scan the banks looking for a small, hunch-backed bird with a long, straight bill staring intently at the water.
And nearby, look for a medium-sized woman hunched over her camera staring intently at a wading bird.
There, it raised its crest briefly.
Green Herons also have much longer necks than you realize when you look at them in the typical “hunched” position. See the photo at the top of this post for the neck-extended view. Up periscope!
I peeked between some pine trees yesterday and saw a Great Egret.
A slow flap of large white wings.
About five egrets passed by, one after another.
I enjoyed the flyby.
White Ibis too.
The white 4Runner is mine. I had just gotten out of the car and was standing under the pines when the white birds starting flying south along the canal that runs on the east side of Green River Parkway, at the Martin County/ St. Lucie County border.
Then came the pink bird. This Roseate Spoonbill was heading north.
I was heading south along the bike trail for a culvert where I usually see a variety of wading birds.
But for some reason they were all in the sky yesterday around noon.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
… 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.
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!
Wood Stork coming in for a landing.
“Honey, I’m home!”
“Great to see you, gimme a smooch!”
I’m looking forward to getting out to Bird Island again later in the season, when the chicks pop up.