Tag Archives: Indian River Lagoon

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!

Catch of the day: oystercatchers

Oystercatchers! Go back!” My husband turned the car around and pulled into a parking spot at the Snook Nook.

We were headed north for a walk in the scrub yesterday afternoon, but made a quick detour for a special bird.

Next to the Snook Nook is Fredgie’s World Famous Hot Dogs. The roadside stand lures lots of people to stop for a quick lunch in fresh air at the edge of the Indian River Lagoon in Jensen Beach.

They are famous for the “fredgie” which is a hot dog on a bun topped with chili… and peanut butter. Really.

On the left side of the photo, you can see the dock with the oystercatchers. I spotted them from the road on the right, Indian River Drive.

It was a very windy day, and the surface of the lagoon was pretty rough. The docks and narrow beach here are a popular “hotspot” for birdwatchers to see a variety of gulls and terns.

According to eBird, 78 different species of birds have been spotted at the Snook Nook.

I think this Fredgie’s gull is a juvenile Laughing Gull in the first winter of its life, and already a fearless scavenger of French fries.

The Snook Nook sells everything you need for catching this region’s most popular sport fish, the snook, and more.

I have only seen oystercatchers a couple of times in Martin County, and only photographed one once in May of 2018, at the causeway park under the bridge between Sewall’s Point and Hutchinson Island.

“Bait” for oystercatchers is oysters.

American Oystercatchers dine almost solely on saltwater bivalve mollusks, including many species of clams and several oysters and mussels, and to a lesser degree limpets, jellyfish, starfish, sea urchins, marine worms, and crustaceans such as lady crabs and speckled crabs. Oystercatchers walk slowly through oyster reefs until they see one that is slightly open; they quickly jab the bill inside the shell to snip the strong adductor muscle that closes the two halves of the shell. 

Maybe if we had more healthy oyster beds in this area, as in days of old, we would see more oystercatchers. A wonderful local organization, Florida Oceanographic Society, is working on oyster reef restoration.

Do your part by eating oysters from local restaurants listed at the link!.. FLOOR. Or volunteer to bag oysters and help construct reefs.

More on Martin County’s Oyster Reef Restoration Program, including a reef location map.

Boating near Bird Island

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

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

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A Brown Pelican!

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Do not pester the birds. We didn’t.

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Radar was bird watching too.

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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).

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A birdy place.

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A Wood Stork, Mycteria americana.

Fishing bird

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Kingfisher silhouetted against the Indian River Lagoon, with Sewall’s Point beyond.

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A kingfisher always has his fishing gear with him. This one is also having a cool hair day.

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Humans need rods and lines and hooks and bait.

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East Island Access Bridge is a popular fishing spot for people and birds.

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Little Blue Heron and Snowy Egret share a tree.

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Pretty close to the same size, they are both in the Ardeidae (Heron) family.

The herons are the long-legged freshwater and coastal birds in the family Ardeidae, with 64 recognised species, some of which are referred to as “egrets” or “bitterns” rather than herons.

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It’s almost like the egret’s shadow is sitting next to him.