Bird Island bird spies


Ahoy, Bird Island!

Four of us old friends, aboard a 21-foot Hurricane deck boat nicknamed “Little Tanny” for the color of its canopy, went exploring yesterday.


We stayed outside these signs that mark the boundary of the rookery/ bird sanctuary on an island in the Indian River Lagoon just to the east of Sewall’s Point, FL.


Arrow points to the location of the little island full of birds.


Roseate Spoonbills caught our attention with their bright pink wings.


According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology…

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.


Brown Pelican and spoonbill.

  • Roseate Spoonbills get their pink coloration from the foods they eat. Crustaceans and other aquatic invertebrates contain pigments called carotenoids that help turn their feathers pink.


Bird Island is a special place… for birds with preposterous bills.


Roseate Spoonbills nest in colonies with egrets, ibises, and herons, typically on islands or over standing water. They nest in mangroves, Brazilian pepperbush, willows, sea myrtle, and other shrubs near the water. They tend to put their nests in the shadiest part of the tree or shrub, up to 16 feet high.

They lay 1 to 5 eggs, incubate them for 22 days, and the chicks stay in the nest for 35 to 42 days. There are just a few spoonbills on Bird Island right now.


A mild chaos of comings and goings. Wood storks are nesting in greatest numbers.


Yesterday morning, on a walk before boating, I got lots of photos (like this one) of Wood Storks that had flown the short hop from Bird Island to Sewall’s Point to break off branches for nesting material. (I will post those photos later.)


Wood Stork in flight.


Wood Storks showing off their best side.


Next: a very exciting find, spotted by Lisa, a Reddish Egret, a first for me!

A medium to large heron of shallow salt water, the Reddish Egret comes in a dark and a white form. It is a very active forager, often seen running, jumping, and spinning in its pursuit of fish.


There is little information on Reddish Egret population trends or numbers, but the species appears to be declining. The North American Waterbird Conservation Plan estimates a continental population of 6,000-10,000 breeding birds, rates the species about a 15 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, and lists it as a Species of Moderate Concern. Reddish Egret is on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List, which lists bird species that are at risk of becoming threatened or endangered without conservation action.


John maneuvered the boat around to the northwest side of the island and we spotted a few Magnificent Frigatebirds, usually seen soaring high over the beach or ocean.


This appears to be a nesting pair.

Males have a bright red pouch on the throat, which they inflate like a balloon to attract females. Females unlike most other seabirds look different than males with their white chest.


The frigate bird with a white head is a juvenile.


Frigatebirds, wood storks, cormorants… this mangrove tree has it all going on.


  • The breeding period of the Magnificent Frigatebird is exceptionally long. Males and females incubate the eggs for around 56 days, and once hatched, chicks don’t leave the nest until they are about 167 days old. Even after they leave the nest, females continue to feed them until they are one year old.

Each pair only lays one egg.

Not sure if this is a male or female. Maybe it is incubating an egg and the mate is away feeding.


Magnificent Frigatebirds eat primarily flying fish, tuna, herring, and squid, which they grab from the surface of the water without getting wet. They also eat plankton, crabs, jellyfish, and other items on the surface of the water including discarded fish from fishing boats.


The young ‘un.


Frigatebirds soar effortlessly over the ocean rarely flapping their long, pterodactyl-like wings and using the long tail to steer. Though they are frequently seen soaring, they are masters of pursuit. They chase other birds including frigatebirds, forcing them to regurgitate their recent meal, which they scoop up before it hits the water. Their gracefulness ends as soon as they head towards land, where they awkwardly perch in low shrubs and trees. Their strong toes help them hold onto branches, posts, and boat masts, but their small feet in combination with their short legs makes it nearly impossible for them to walk on land. On land, males often flutter the balloonlike throat sac (or “gular pouch”) to cool off. Males and females also regulate their body temperature by holding up their wings up to sun themselves. To get airborne, they flap a few times and use the wind to help lift them into the air.


Meanwhile, a few branches away, Wood Storks are cuddling.


They almost make this Great Blue Heron look small.


Wood Storks and Magnificent Frigatebirds.


We watched these birds for a while then traveled south to Peck Lake and the Hobe Sound Wildlife Refuge and later up the St. Lucie River to downtown Stuart. Lots of boat traffic but it was still a nice way to spend a day on the water.


Last bird I photographed on Bird Island: an Anhinga.


Bird Island from a boat


Roseate Spoonbill on Bird Island yesterday.


Must look good for breeding season.


Great Blue Heron.


Big feet on that bird.


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.


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


The Snowy Egrets are in breeding plumage and acting flirty.


Showing off.


I have never seen them like this.


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


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


Incoming Wood Stork.


A rather skull-like head.


Wood Stork with wings up.


Roseate Spoonbill again.


Lots of Brown Pelicans on the island now too.

Birds in a dog park


Shrike a pose.


Loggerhead Shrike at a dog park in Gulf Shores, Alabama yesterday morning, before our nine-hour drive back home.

American Bird Conservancy…

The husky, predatory Loggerhead Shrike is nicknamed “butcherbird” for its habit of skewering prey on thorns or barbed wire. “Loggerhead” refers to the large size of this bird’s head in relation to its body.

This shrike’s song is a bit like a mockingbird’s, featuring a series of raspy, buzzy notes and trills. Along with the bird, that song has become much less common. According to Breeding Bird Survey data, populations have declined by almost 80 percent since 1966. This trend coincides with the introduction of chemical pesticides in the United States.


Great Blue Heron on the shores of Shelby Lake which bounds one edge of the dog park in Gulf State Park.


Consider me aware.

jump dog

Radar had fun, before the long ride.


LBH lift-off.


Relocating a few yards away.

Shorebirds along the shore


This may be the first time I’ve seen this shorebird, the Killdeer, actually along the shore. It’s usually golf courses or parking lots or road medians.


We arrived late this afternoon at our beach rental in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Little Lagoon behind, Gulf beach across the street in front, and quite close to Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. I ran right out to the lagoon to take a few photos before dark.


It’s not breeding season but these two Killdeer were very flirty with each other.

A shorebird you can see without going to the beach, Killdeer are graceful plovers common to lawns, golf courses, athletic fields, and parking lots. These tawny birds run across the ground in spurts, stopping with a jolt every so often to check their progress, or to see if they’ve startled up any insect prey. Their voice, a far-carrying, excited kill-deer, is a common sound even after dark, often given in flight as the bird circles overhead on slender wings.


Great Blue Heron was chilling out.


Speaking of chilling, there were some dead fish (mullet?) on the beach. I think it is because there was a hard freeze here last night. The weather has been unusually cold all over the east coast.



They were chasing each other constantly.


Often seen in dry, flat landscapes, running and halting on the ground in search of insects and earthworms. Although the Killdeer is common around human habitation it is often shy, at first running away rather than flying. When a Killdeer stops to look at an intruder, it has a habit of bobbing up and down almost as if it had hiccupped. Near the nest, Killdeer distract predators by calling loudly, bobbing, and running away. Killdeer are some of the best-known practitioners of the broken-wing display, an attempt to lure predators away from a nest by feigning injury. Pairs of Killdeer tend to stay together for one to a few years.


Killdeer have the characteristic large, round head, large eye, and short bill of all plovers. They are especially slender and lanky, with a long, pointed tail and long wings.

Brownish-tan on top and white below. The white chest is barred with two black bands, and the brown face is marked with black and white patches.


They are members of the Plover and Lapwing family, Charadriidae.


Cold fish.


Lagoon view.


Double band on the chest is distinctive, almost distinguished… if they weren’t so busy robbing and running and calling kill-deer, kill-deer!


John James Audubon…

The Kildeer is by most people called a “noisy bird and restless.” Now to me it is any thing but this, unless indeed when it is disturbed by the approach or appearance of its enemies, more particularly man, of whom indeed few wild birds are fond. Watch them from under some cover that completely conceals you, and you will see them peaceably and silently follow their avocations for hours. In this respect the Kildeer resembles the Lapwing of Europe, which is also called a restless and noisy bird, because men and dogs are ever in pursuit of the poor thing, which after all its vigilance often falls a prey to the sportsman, who condemns it merely because it endeavours to draw him from its nest or young.

Strike a pose


Great Blue Heron is a big bird, from three-and-a-half to almost five feet tall, with a six-foot wingspan. They hold still for photos too.

The feathery “ruff” around this one’s neck indicates it’s an adult.


I saw the GBH today at the little pond across the street from the Sewall’s Point town hall. The Indian River Lagoon is just beyond those mangroves.

Cool, rainy and windy weather… with a cold snap to follow.

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A beak that stabs like a dagger. En garde, fishes and amphibians!


Also by the pond, a lone Palm Warbler.

Boating near Bird Island


Ahoy, a Magnificent Frigatebird. My husband loves these birds.

This one is immature, according to the ID photos on Cornell’s All About Birds.


A Brown Pelican!

Boy, you don’t see many of those around here.  😉


We borrowed a 21-foot center console fishing boat from our boat club down in Port Salerno. Radar our 20-month-old German Shepherd Dog came with us.

After trying a few fishing spots unsuccessfully, we pulled up on on a deserted island, swam the dog (he loves to fetch a ball), then we motored past Bird Island to see the sights.


The sights included Roseate Spoonbills and I finally got a few photos.


Pretty in pink! Here’s one with a Great Blue Heron. I spotted a total of three.


Bird Island is a spoil island in the Indian River Lagoon, created years ago (1950s? 1960s?) from dredging the Intracoastal Waterway. Mangroves grew on it and birds began nesting here.


A bizarre wading bird of the southern coasts, the Roseate Spoonbill uses its odd bill to strain small food items out of the water. Its bright pink coloring leads many Florida tourists to think they have seen a flamingo.

The spoonbill is Florida bird #53 for me.

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But the coolest thing was seeing baby Wood Storks!


Just across the channel is the town of Sewall’s Point, Florida. This house is closest to Bird Island. If I lived there I’d be out on one of the balconies every day with binoculars… or maybe I’d even invest in a scope.


Do not pester the birds. We didn’t.


Radar was bird watching too.


According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife North Florida Ecological Office…

The wood stork is a highly colonial species usually nesting in large rookeries and feeding in flocks.  Age at first breeding is 3 years but typically do so at 4.  Nesting periods vary geographically.  In South Florida, wood storks lay eggs as early as October and fledge in February or March.  However, in north and central Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, storks lay eggs from March to late May, with fledging occurring in July and August.  Nests are frequently located in the upper branches of large cypress trees or in mangroves on islands.  Several nests are usually located in each tree.  Wood storks have also nested in man-made structures.  Storks lay two to five eggs, and average two young fledged per successful nest under good conditions.

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Small fish from 1 to 6 inches long, especially topminnows and sunfish, provide this bird’s primary diet.  Wood storks capture their prey by a specialized technique known as grope-feeding or tacto-location. Feeding often occurs in water 6 to 10 inches deep, where a stork probes with the bill partly open.  When a fish touches the bill it quickly snaps shut.  The average response time of this reflex is 25 milliseconds, making it one of the fastest reflexes known in vertebrates.  Wood storks use thermals to soar as far as 80 miles from nesting to feeding areas.  Since thermals do not form in early morning, wood storks may arrive at feeding areas later than other wading bird species such as herons.  Energy requirements for a pair of nesting wood storks and their young is estimated at 443 pounds of fish for the breeding season (based on an average production of 2.25 fledglings per nest).


A birdy place.


A Wood Stork, Mycteria americana.

Birdwatching with my niece


Birds are nesting on Bird Island, in the Indian River Lagoon, a few blocks and an open channel away from my home.


My seven-year-old niece was visiting with her parents and little sister and one afternoon last week we went birding.


She was into it.


She liked the binoculars and learned to use them quickly.


We could see Wood Storks with nesting material.


So many large birds perching and nesting on top of the mangove trees.


Pelicans, cormorants and egrets are there now too, with a few vultures waiting for an opportunity to dine.


Clean up crew.


Birds everywhere!


Next we went to Sandsprit Park looking for parrots but didn’t find any. We did spot a big bird “fishing”.


This Great Blue Heron was quite comfortable around a fisherman at the end of a dock.


My niece was thrilled at the bird’s size and beauty.


A Great Blue Heron is not something she sees often in her Philadelphia suburb.


“He’s so pretty!”


GBH: Largest of the North American herons with long legs, a sinuous neck, and thick, daggerlike bill. Head, chest, and wing plumes give a shaggy appearance.


Big feet!


We saw other birds in the park too, including this clever crow taking bags out of the trash and rolling them around to see if there was any food left in them.


In Manatee Pocket, a pelican caught a fish.


We drove to a neighborhood in Port Salerno near Pirate’s Cove where I had seen parrots a few times before and… bingo! Quaker Parrots, aka Monk Parakeets.


“My goal is to see parrots this vacation,” my niece had told me a couple of days before. We high-fived each other.


It may come as a surprise to see noisy, green-and-gray parrots racing through cities in the U.S. But Monk Parakeets, native to South America but long popular in the pet trade, established wild populations here in the 1960s. They are the only parrots to nest communally; dozens live together year-round in large, multifamily stick nests built in trees and on power poles.

We saw 8 or 10 flying around and they appeared to be nesting in a cabbage palm covered in viney vegetation.


Monk Parakeets are very social, spending their whole lives living in bustling colonies of dozens of individuals. Every morning they leave their nests to forage, spending the day climbing through trees (sometimes using their beaks as a climbing aid) or dropping to the ground in search of food. At dusk they all gather back at the nests to roost, both during the breeding season and after it is over.


Monk Parakeets were introduced to the U.S. in the 1960s via the release or escape of pet birds. Since then their numbers have grown and they now occur in several cities including San Diego, Phoenix, Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, New Orleans, Chicago, New York, Providence, Miami, and St. Petersburg. They are also numerous in their native South America. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 20 million, with 3% of these in the U.S. and none in Canada or Mexico. The species rates a 6 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Monk Parakeet is not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. Historically, most management efforts toward Monk Parakeets, both in the U.S. and in South America, have been directed at curbing their populations because of their reputation as an agricultural pest. As it turns out, their populations have persisted but have not spread, and in the U.S. there are no longer active programs to control their numbers.

I guess we have learned to live with these noisy, pretty little green birds.

Birds at Lakeside Ranch STA


Good morning, Lakeside Ranch STA (Stormwater Treatment Area).

I signed in at the gate with the president of Audubon of Martin County bright and early yesterday morning and joined a few other cars driving around here and there on the narrow roads on top of the dikes in the 2600 acres under the care of the South Florida Water Management District.

Lakeside Ranch STA is located on the northeast side of Lake Okeechobee, about 50 minutes from my home in Sewall’s Point.


Great Blue Heron in the misty morn.


Peaceful and pretty. Temps around 57 when I arrived at 7 a.m., climbing to 75 or so by the time I left at 10:30.


Sandhill Crane flyby.


Another birdwatcher.


Great Egret and Great Blue Heron.


Anhinga keeping an eye on me.


Tri-colored Heron hunting for breakfast.


Snowy Egret and  juvenile night heron.


Little Blue Heron and Tricolored Heron.


Rotten photo but I’ve been seeing these birds in Florida and didn’t know what they were. Audubon president helped me ID it as a Palm Warbler. “Yellow butt? Brown capped head? Wagging tail?”

The rusty-capped Palm Warbler can be most easily recognized by the tail-wagging habit that shows off its yellow undertail. It breeds in bogs and winters primarily in the southern United States and Caribbean.


Voguing grackles. Or maybe males having a sing off? I am pretty sure these are Boat-tailed Grackles.

Boat-tailed Grackles are large, lanky songbirds with rounded crowns, long legs, and fairly long, pointed bills. Males have very long tails that make up almost half their body length and that they typically hold folded in a V-shape, like the keel of a boat.

Males are glossy black all over. Females are dark brown above and russet below, with a subtle face pattern made up of a pale eyebrow, dark cheek, and pale “mustache” stripe.

These scrappy blackbirds are supreme omnivores, feeding on everything from seeds and human food scraps to crustaceans scavenged from the shoreline.

Boat-tailed Grackles are a strictly coastal species through most of their range; however, they live across much of the Florida peninsula, often well away from the immediate coast.


Is it a duck?


Or a wading bird? Neither… it’s a Common Gallinule!

The Common Gallinule inhabits marshes and ponds from Canada to Chile. Vocal and boldly marked with a brilliant red shield over the bill, the species can be quite conspicuous. It sometimes uses its long toes to walk atop floating vegetation. This species was formerly called the Common Moorhen and is closely related to moorhen species in the Old World.


Red-winged Blackbird.



A shorebird you can see without going to the beach, Killdeer are graceful plovers common to lawns, golf courses, athletic fields, and parking lots. These tawny birds run across the ground in spurts, stopping with a jolt every so often to check their progress, or to see if they’ve startled up any insect prey. Their voice, a far-carrying, excited kill-deer, is a common sound even after dark, often given in flight as the bird circles overhead on slender wings.


Let these dead trees be decorated with Anhingas!


Aw, sweet. Two Great Blue Herons starting a nest in a cabbage palm.


My first Eastern Meadowlark!

The sweet, lazy whistles of Eastern Meadowlarks waft over summer grasslands and farms in eastern North America. The birds themselves sing from fenceposts and telephone lines or stalk through the grasses, probing the ground for insects with their long, sharp bills. On the ground, their brown-and-black dappled upperparts camouflage the birds among dirt clods and dry grasses. But up on perches, they reveal bright-yellow underparts and a striking black chevron across the chest.


Juvenile White Ibis strikes a pose.


Cattle Egret, that chunky little white egret found near or away from water. Often seen (by me) on top of shrubs planted in medians.


Anhinga draws attention to an important road sign.


Great Blue Heron pose.


Alligator smile.


There were five gators in this one spot.


View across a small canal to another birdwatcher’s car.


Blackbird (grackle?) draws attention to this important sign.


Cattle and cattle egrets, just past the edge of the STA.


Sandhill Crane, maybe on top of the beginnings of a nest.


Glossy Ibis.

A dark wading bird with a long, down-curved bill. Although the Glossy Ibis in North America lives primarily along the Atlantic Coast, it also can be found in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia.


Blurry pic because it was far away, but with important identifying features. I described this bird to the Audubon president when I got back to the gate and he said it was a Loggerhead Shrike. Another new bird!

The Loggerhead Shrike is a songbird with a raptor’s habits. A denizen of grasslands and other open habitats throughout much of North America, this masked black, white, and gray predator hunts from utility poles, fence posts and other conspicuous perches, preying on insects, birds, lizards, and small mammals. Lacking a raptor’s talons, Loggerhead Shrikes skewer their kills on thorns or barbed wire or wedge them into tight places for easy eating. Their numbers have dropped sharply in the last half-century.

At the end of January, I attended a couple of days of a local Audubon Field Academy. I am signed up next to do a day with raptors at a local wildlife rehab center, then a unit on migration at the end of March. More field trips are on the calendar too.

Meanwhile, back to fixing up this little old Florida concrete-block-and-stucco house. I am painting the last of the three bedrooms today before the wood floor installation guys arrive tomorrow.



Backyard bird #60 is a Great Blue Heron! This one took off from the pond’s edge just as we walked out back.


I see them pretty often at the pond, but never have my camera with me when I do. When they take off, it looks like they might not clear the treeline.


Such a big bird. Lots of them migrating through the nearby coastal marshes now. Apparently a pond in a red maple swamp will also do for hunting up some dinner.

Whether poised at a river bend or cruising the coastline with slow, deep wingbeats, the Great Blue Heron is a majestic sight. This stately heron with its subtle blue-gray plumage often stands motionless as it scans for prey or wades belly deep with long, deliberate steps. They may move slowly, but Great Blue Herons can strike like lightning to grab a fish or snap up a gopher. In flight, look for this widespread heron’s tucked-in neck and long legs trailing out behind.


Bye, big bird.

Keeping an eye on Hampton marsh


First thing we noticed, bird-wise, on our walk in Hampton marsh yesterday was the enormous flock(s) of crows swirling around and making a ruckus. This photo captures about a quarter of the number we saw (and heard).

Why were they there? It looked like a big crow meet up.


It’s a great place for a dog walk, with the long, straight path of the old rail line cutting right through the marsh. Except Radar doesn’t like to walk across the scary old bridge so he swims and meets us on the other side.


Crows everywhere, keeping an eye on us. Keen students of human activity that they are.


We also saw several lone sandpipers… Greater Yellowlegs.


John and Radar on the path, with crows watching.


Greater Yellowlegs keeps an eye on the sky. (Later we saw two Bald Eagles a few miles away, when we stopped for lunch at Applecrest Farm in Hampton Falls.)


The two yellowlegs species are very similar. Size is marked different when they appear together and can be compared against each other. Greater Yellowlegs‘s bill appears slightly upturned and blunt-tipped, while Lesser Yellowlegs’s bill is straight and sharp-pointed. Lesser’s bill is always dark, while Greater’s bill is grayish at the base in nonbreeding season. Voice is best distinguishing character: Greater gives three or four piercing notes, Lesser two rapid, softer short whistles (sometimes or or three).

This bird was calling, and definitely with three piercing notes.


Although the Greater Yellowlegs is common and widespread, its low densities and tendency to breed in inhospitable, mosquito-ridden muskegs make it one of the least-studied shorebirds on the continent.





A very sweet looking bird, if you ask me.


Greater Yellowlegs takes off. Marsh is getting its October colors.

We saw egrets and herons from a distance, but my photos weren’t great. Here are a couple of pics from a few weeks ago in the same marsh…


Great Blue Heron.


Great Egret.