Tag Archives: Great Egret

Grassy Waters Preserve

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Common Gallinule at Grassy Waters Everglades Preserve, in West Palm Beach.

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John looks out.

On Sunday my husband and I drove 45 minutes south of our Stuart home to the monthly Cars & Coffee event at Palm Beach Outlets to look at cool vintage and custom cars. Afterwards, we went to a place that is the opposite of crowds, cars, noise and sunbaked parking lots.

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“Moorhen.” An old guy with a big camera and a practical wide-brimmed hat pointed to the gallinule and called it the old-timey-birdwatcher name.

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Mostly we had the place to ourselves. Thank you, whoever built this boardwalk. It’s the only way I’m ever going to travel through such wet woods and fields, in Florida, in August.

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We skipped the nature center in favor of getting right out in nature.

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I think this is a Common Arrowhead flower, Sagittaria latifolia, aka duck potato.

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Lovely pond cypress trees, rooted in a few inches of water and a lot of inches of the finest Florida muck. Air plants grow on them quite decoratively.

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Dahoon holly bore fruit abundantly.

Here is a helpful post on the Florida Native Plant Society blog, for those of us who know more about birds than plants: Discovering Grassy Waters Preserve.

This wetland is an example of doing the right thing to build a sustainable urban environment. The naturally clean waters of the preserve are supplying the drinking water for West Palm Beach and helping keep the aquifer healthy. At the same time, all these wetland plant and wildlife species have a place to thrive and townsfolk have easy access to this beautiful place.

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Walking out into the “grassy waters” you can see how this was (is?) part of the original northern Everglades. From the Grassy Waters Conservancy

Historically, the Grassy Waters area was part of the northern Everglades watershed and headwaters of the Loxahatchee River. In the 1890’s, approximately 100 square miles was purchased by Henry Flagler to supply water to West Palm Beach and Palm Beach. In 1955, the City of West Palm Beach purchased what remained of that system. In 1964, the Florida Legislature recognized the area’s uniqueness and importance, and created the Water Catchment Area affording 19 square miles special protection. The U.S. EPA has identified portions of Grassy Waters as an Aquatic Resource of National Importance.Today the Water Catchment Area along with other adjacent lands make up Grassy Waters Preserve, an approximately 24 square mile natural area located in and owned by the City of West Palm Beach. It remains the principle source of the water for West Palm Beach, Palm Beach and South Palm Beach, and is unique in that it is a surface water supply.

The Preserve is almost 50 percent of the land area of the City and contains miles of hiking and biking trails, a boardwalk, and a nature center which is currently being expanded, where the City provides environmental education programs.

The Preserve remains a pristine remnant of the original Everglades ecosystem and critical component in maintaining water levels for environmentally sensitive areas. In addition to its historical significance and key role in the regional water supply, it is one of the largest areas of undisturbed wetlands in Palm Beach County, allowing it to be a refuge for many threatened and endangered species including the Bald Eagle, Wood Stork, and Everglades Snail Kite.

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Peace of the Everglades.

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View over grassy waters.

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Zoom to: Great Egret.

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I’ve been seeing these swallows for about a week now, over parking lots, airports, open fields. I’ve gotten a good look at them, but not a good photo – they are too fast! I’m pretty sure they are Barn Swallows, migrating through.

Glistening cobalt blue above and tawny below, Barn Swallows dart gracefully over fields, barnyards, and open water in search of flying insect prey. Look for the long, deeply forked tail that streams out behind this agile flyer and sets it apart from all other North American swallows. Barn Swallows often cruise low, flying just a few inches above the ground or water.

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American waterlily.

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Yet another crappy bird photo. Endure.

Cool story at Audubon: Ken Kaufman’s Notebook: The Barn Swallow Is Slowly Conquering the World.

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This bigass grasshopper is actually a fine fat example of an Eastern Lubber Grasshopper.

The Eastern lubber grasshopper (Romalea microptera (Beauvois)) is a large colorful flightless grasshopper that often comes to the attention of Florida homeowners.

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Shrubbery along the boardwalk: I noticed cocoplum and wax myrtle, both of which I admire. We planted some cocoplum in our backyard last year. I just bought a couple of wax myrtles for the front yard (and the birds) a couple of days ago.

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Wax myrtle and saw palmetto, among other lush green things. Not to bitch (and we’re as guilty as the next Florida homeowner) but it’s really nice to take a break from the flat-topped hedges, emerald lawns, tropical ornamentals and constant grinding whine of landscaping machines and see how native, wild Florida plants arrange themselves and grow (so quietly).

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“Ah, you may sit under them, yes. They cast a good shadow, cold as well-water; but that’s the trouble, they tempt you to sleep. And you must never, for any reason, sleep beneath a cypress.’ He paused, stroked his moustache, waited for me to ask why, and then went on: ‘Why? Why? Because if you did you would be changed when you woke. Yes, the black cypresses, they are dangerous. While you sleep, their roots grow into your brains and steal them, and when you wake up you are mad, head as empty as a whistle.’ I asked whether it was only the cypress that could do that or did it apply to other trees. ‘No, only the cypress,’ said the old man, peering up fiercely at the trees above me as though to see whether they were listening; ‘only the cypress is the thief of intelligence. So be warned, little lord, and don’t sleep here.”  – Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals (A favorite book! It’s set in Greece. I first read it when I was 12 or 13 and I love it still.)

Birds at Sanibel pier

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A sign near the Sanibel City Pier.

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Wonder if the Osprey is eating one of the Frequently Caught.

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Birds were standing around on the beach, waiting for people to catch fish.

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Not this bird, though.

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In a tree near the pier, a couple of egrets arranged themselves for comparison, Great and Snowy.

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In another branch, a juvenile Reddish Egret!

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Perched on a railing right next to me, a young Snowy Egret.

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Egret and husband on the city pier, yesterday.

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Great Egret in a tree.

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The Reddish Egret at surf’s edge with a Snowy.

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The Snowy on the railing had funny legs, black in front, yellow in back. I guess it is changing from young to adult.

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Birds looking for bait.

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Snowy Egret is letting me stand next to it.

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Close up.

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See what I mean about the legs.

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Here’s the Snowy Egret legs I’m used to.

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Side by side comparison.

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Great Egret still in the tree, looking sort of slinky yet majestic.

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Osprey still working on that fish.

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Love this shot, and that sea eagle’s eye!

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Birds of the refuge, Sanibel

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This morning around 8 a.m. we drove the one-way road through J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge here on Sanibel Island, where we are staying for a few days.

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We saw this Yellow-crowned Night Heron in mangroves near a short boardwalk.

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Look at that red eye.

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It was overcast and the light wasn’t great, especially looking up, but heck! here’s a Red-bellied Woodpecker anyway.

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Lots of nonchalant rabbits, munching here and there.

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Dogs are allowed in the refuge, in cars or on leashes, so we brought ours.  He’s cool with birds but the rabbits were torture.

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Spotted Sandpiper, my second I’ve ever IDed. The first was two days ago.

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John spotted it from pretty far off.

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A flock of Roseate Spoonbills and one cormorant looked like they were just waking up.

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The refuge is home for over 245 species of birds, according the the Ding Darling website. The Roseate Spoonbills are one of the Big 5 that attract birders to the refuge. We saw some birders with scopes set up, watching this flock.

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One by one, some of the spoonbills took off and flew away. We were watching them from the observation tower.

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Bird coming towards us over the water.

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Green Heron perched just below the tower. You can really see some green in this one.

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Another colored heron, the Little Blue, was waiting just at the bottom of the tower.

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There is something a tiny bit comical about this bird. It seems poised between different feelings, stuck in indecision.

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Hey, bird.

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A decent look at the spoonbill’s bill.

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On the side of the road in the mangroves, a Snowy Egret was standing on one leg as birds are sometimes wont to do. Love the bright yellow feet.

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Not many cars on a July morning. That one ahead was driving slowly past a white bird.

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It was a Great Egret stalking along in the grass.

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When the car drove on, it walked towards us.

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And past.

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The egret was keeping an eye out for lizards and other delicacies.

Birds were my tasty breakfast delicacies! Figuratively, of course.

A few more birds from the causeway park

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One of the fishing piers at the west causeway under Jensen Beach bridge, looking north at the Indian River Lagoon. Guys were netting fish. A couple of members of the heron family were lurking nearby.

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Little Blue Heron on a light post.

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LBH.

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Great Egret near the boat ramp.

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Both heron and egret appear to have breeding plumage still.

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Looking toward the mainland, I spotted an Anhinga drying its feathers, its back to the sun, in classic Anhinga pose.

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Feathers and palm fronds.

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An Osprey was fishing the Indian River Lagoon. That’s the Florida Power & Light nuke plant in the distance.

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Osprey, boat traffic on the Intracoastal, and Nettles Island.

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Anhinga was not happy with the dog and me being so close. We gave it some room to keep sunning.

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You can almost count its feathers from this angle!

Lazybirding at the local pond

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I guess I’ll just change the name of this blog to the Indian RiverSide Park Pond Blog.

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But you can see why I go there: I watched all these birds while sitting cross-legged in one little spot on an ant-free patch of grass, with my German Shepherd in a down-stay beside me.

A birdy place in the not very birdy season of Florida summer. And within my 5-mile radius.

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This photo is like a natural history museum diorama of wetland bird life!

Left to right: juvenile White Ibis; Black-bellied Whistling Duck; Tricolored Heron; Mottled Ducks.

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They had no problem sharing space. I took these photos Friday around 7 p.m. The park was busy, including a softball semi-final game with extra cars and people.

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A male Mottled Duck, Anas fulvigula, with a bit of blue secondary feathers (wing patch, speculum) showing on the wing.

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The ibis was the busiest, probing here and there, and the duck the least busy, standing with zen-like calm.

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The ibis was carrying a little minnow around for a while.

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Such a diversity of water loving birds here in wet Florida.

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The Black-bellied is quite a different looking duck from the mallards and mallard-like Mottleds I see regularly. And funny that it is standing in the water.

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Two very different bird beaks.

The beak, bill, or rostrum is an external anatomical structure of birds that is used for eating and for preening, manipulating objects, killing prey, fighting, probing for food, courtship and feeding young.

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Neat illustration on Wikimedia Commons.

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The Tricolored Heron is a sleek and slender heron adorned in blue-gray, lavender, and white. The white stripe down the middle of its sinuous neck and its white belly set it apart from other dark herons. This fairly small heron wades through coastal waters in search of small fish, often running and stopping with quick turns and starts, as if dancing in a ballet.

And stabbing them with its beak, en garde! A little fencing heron.

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You can see the tip of the Black-bellied Whistling Duck’s beak turns down a bit at the end. That part is called the nail…

All birds of the family Anatidae (ducks, geese, and swans) have a nail, a plate of hard horny tissue at the tip of the beak. This shield-shaped structure, which sometimes spans the entire width of the beak, is often bent at the tip to form a hook. It serves different purposes depending on the bird’s primary food source. Most species use their nails to dig seeds out of mud or vegetation, while diving ducks use theirs to pry molluscs from rocks. There is evidence that the nail may help a bird to grasp things; species which use strong grasping motions to secure their food (such as when catching and holding onto a large squirming frog) have very wide nails.

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An ibis beak has a special addition.

The bill tip organ is a region found near the tip of the bill in several types of birds that forage particularly by probing. The region has a high density of nerve endings known as the corpuscles of Herbst. This consists of pits in the bill surface which in the living bird is occupied by cells that sense pressure changes. The assumption is that this allows the bird to perform ‘remote touch’, which means that it can detect movements of animals which the bird does not directly touch. Bird species known to have a ‘bill-tip organ’ includes members of ibisis, shorebirds of the family Scolopacidae, and kiwis.

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This young ibis was carrying this little fish around a for a while.

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Not sure what it was waiting for to gobble it up.

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The colors of the juvenile White Ibis are a nice gray brown.

When baby White Ibises hatch their bills are straight. Their bills don’t start to curve downward until they are 14 days old.

Wow! Maybe so they can break out of the shell?

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New vocabulary word…

The speculum is a patch of often iridescent color on the secondary feathers of most duck species. It is often seen as a bright patch of color on the rear of the wing when the wing is spread during flight or when the bird is stretching, preening, or landing. The color of the speculum will vary by species, as will its width and any non-iridescent borders.

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The other duck’s wing patch is off-white and looks like a stripe when the wings are at rest.

The Black-bellied Whistling-Duck is a boisterous duck with a brilliant pink bill and an unusual, long-legged silhouette. In places like Texas and Louisiana, watch for noisy flocks of these gaudy ducks dropping into fields to forage on seeds, or loafing on golf course ponds. Listen for them, too—these ducks really do have a whistle for their call. Common south of the U.S., Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks occur in several southern states and are expanding northward.

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The Tricolored Heron is petite compared to the big ones I photograph all the time.

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Like this Great Egret a short distance away, owning its spot by the pond.

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What our juvenile White Ibis will look like when he’s all grown up.

They look like a flock of bird ghosts, spooky and cute.

White feathers

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Great Egret yesterday morning at Indian RiverSide Park in Jensen Beach, Florida.

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Preening feathers.

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Every single feather on a Great Egret is white.

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From All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology…

The elegant Great Egret is a dazzling sight in many a North American wetland. Slightly smaller and more svelte than a Great Blue Heron, these are still large birds with impressive wingspans. They hunt in classic heron fashion, standing immobile or wading through wetlands to capture fish with a deadly jab of their yellow bill. Great Egrets were hunted nearly to extinction for their plumes in the late nineteenth century, sparking conservation movements and some of the first laws to protect birds.

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Morning light is just right for egret photos.

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I positioned myself to get the light on the bird and a nice background too. I was sitting in the grass, and hoping I chose a fire-ant-free spot.

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What a beauty.

This pond at the park a couple of miles from home is a great spot for birds, especially this stump. It should have a wildlife live-cam focused on it to keep track of the birds that use it!

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Great Egrets are fairly common around here, but I’m glad I took some time again to really look and appreciate this magnificent white bird.

Birds, the Beast and Blue Cypress

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Our sweet ride awaits, the bug-eye green boat that is the Marsh Beast. Birdwatching by airboat, oh yeah! We did that yesterday morning.

Audubon of Martin County organized the trip with Captain Kenny Elkins of Marsh Beast Airboat Tours.

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Our trip was in Blue Cypress Conservation Area, west of Vero Beach, an hour north of home. INFO and MAP

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We could get a really nice view of some birds from the boat, like this Anhinga at rest.

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Guys fishing and an osprey nest.

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Two juveniles and one adult in this photo.

Captain Kenny said this is one of the few nests with juveniles still in it.

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Another airboat coming in for a look.

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We saw lots of Ospreys during our trip.

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Ma or Pa Osprey.

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The Osprey kids’ brown feathers have more white on them than the adult.

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That’s a fine young bird!

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Osprey at rest. Big wings like a cloak.

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Osprey in motion…almost a great photo!

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We came upon some small black fuzzy creatures in the floating vegetation.

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They are seemingly running on top of the water.

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They were Purple Gallinule chicks, we were told.

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Long legs and long toes make them look funny if you are more used to hen chicks than swamphen chicks.

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Looks like a little wetland roadrunner.

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There’s an adult.

A beautifully colored bird of southern and tropical wetlands, the Purple Gallinule can be see walking on top of floating vegetation or clambering through dense shrubs. Its extremely long toes help it walk on lily pads without sinking.

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On the move.

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Iridescent.

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More chicks.

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Adult coming in for a landing.

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Purple Gallinule chicks.

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Coming up on an alligator.

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Alligator spotting is an important part of any airboat trip in Florida, right?

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A Least Bittern!.. a new bird for me.

A tiny heron, furtive and surpassingly well camouflaged, the Least Bittern is one of the most difficult North American marsh birds to spot.

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What a beauty!

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Thanks to its habit of straddling reeds, the Least Bittern can feed in water that would be too deep for the wading strategy of other herons.

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I think this is a male, because its back and crown are almost black. Females’ crown and back are brown, according to Cornell.

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A short flying hop to some new reeds.

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Shake it off.

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Thank you for posing, little bittern.

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Common Gallinule.

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We watched one big gator for a while.

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And he watched us.

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Scenery.

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Great Blue Heron in a mat of water hyacinth.

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We investigated an area I’ll called Egret Town.

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Great Egret.

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Three Greats.

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Big wings, big feathers.

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Great Egret wingspan is four-and-a-half to five-and-a-half feet.

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Another Common Gallinule.

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It was nice to have a breeze when we were on the move on a typically warm Florida summer morning.

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Nice golden slippers, Snowy Egret. Another one of those just-missed-it action photos, oh well.

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Birds and beast.

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American Coot.

Captain Kenny said they are normally here in winter, not summer.

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Coot relocating.

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Decorating the tree a bit early this year, in Egret Town.

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Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets.

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More gallinule chicks.

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An older gallinule chick among the lotus?

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These lovely lotus are native plants, we learned.

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Lotus blossom.

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Anhinga in the treetops, my last bird of the trip.

Lizards: it’s what’s for lunch

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A majestic Great Egret powers down another tiny reptile at the Lizard Raw Bar.

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I like them boiled, I like them fried,
But most of all I like them alive!

(Sorry.)

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Gulp. Pretty sure there are a few more lizards on the way down this bird’s neck.

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Going back for more?

Photos taken yesterday in Indian RiverSide Park. I was using my car as a bird blind.

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Can you imagine swallowing something and waiting for it to go down a neck like that?

Bird Island: the name says it all

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Radar spots Bird Island.

Just off the east side of Sewall’s Point, in the Indian River Lagoon, the spoil island is one of the top ten bird rookeries in Florida. We borrowed a boat from our boat club on Thursday and went to see how nesting season is coming along.

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Is this place even real?

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Of all the islands in the Indian River Lagoon in Martin County, the birds have chosen this one for nesting, feeding, roosting, loafing.

We stay outside the Critical Wildlife Area signs and use binoculars and a superzoom camera to watch but not bother.

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Roseate Spoonbills, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and Wood Storks. Oh my!

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The most Great Egrets I’ve seen in one place – they seem to prefer the solitary lifestyle outside of breeding season.

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Snowy Egrets and a Wood Stork at the top right of this photo. Is that a rare Reddish Egret on the left? Or a Tri-colored Heron? Can’t tell.

(Update: confirmed to be a Tricolored Heron – white belly – by helpful birders on Facebook’s “What’s This Bird?”)

I saw what I thought were three Reddish Egrets on a sandbar adjoining this island a couple of months ago, doing their distinctive fishing dance, but didn’t have my camera. In March, we spotted what I think was a Reddish Egret on Bird Island and I got a photo (it’s in this post). (Update: that one confirmed as a Reddish Egret, yay!)

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“Gear down,” noted my husband, the airline pilot.

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Fuzzy-headed juvenile Wood Storks. It’s been a phenomenal breeding year for these big wading birds. I see the adults flying back and forth over our house every day now. Sometimes a fish crow or two can be seen chasing a stork out of “their” suburban residential territory.

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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.

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Wood Storks are social birds that forage in groups and nest in colonies. Small groups of storks forage in wetlands, frequently following each other one by one in a line. In the late afternoon, when temperatures rise, Wood Storks often take to the sky, soaring on thermals like raptors. They nest in tight colonies with egrets and herons and generally show little aggression, but if a bird or mammal threatens them, they may pull their neck in, fluff up their feathers, and walk toward the intruder. Threats are also met with bill clattering and jabbing. Despite the myth that Wood Storks mate for life, pairs form at the breeding colony and stay together only for a single breeding season.

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Teenagers doing what they do best.

I’ve read that water levels affect their nesting rates. When levels are low, they have fewer offspring. Well, we did have a wet year last year!

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Just amazing to see (and hear and smell) this many birds in one place.

Bird Island is part of our town, Sewall’s Point. Here is a brief history of the island and a list of species observed, on the town website: Bird Island.

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Young stork, Brown Pelican and Black Vulture on the beach.

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Spoonbills and stork. I guess the juvenile storks start feeding on the island. I have not see the adults feed there – they fly off to other shallow waters, usually inland, usually fresh water.

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I was shooting into diffuse light, so these pics aren’t that great, but I wanted to show how many Magnificent Frigatebirds were in the trees on the northwest side of the island. I have been told that this is not a confirmed nesting site for frigate birds. I’m mildly skeptical… but humble about the limits of my bird knowledge.

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All together now, what a place!

More on Bird Island…

Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch: Sewall’s Point is for the Birds!

Visit Bird Island with Sunshine WildlifeTours

My blog: Bird Island Bird Spies; Bird Island from a boat; Boating near Bird Island.

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Meyer Art Originals Wood Stork print