1. Limpkins are named after the way they walk and sound. These leggy birds seem to limp as they walk across uneven wetland surfaces — hence the name limpkins.
2. Florida is the northern edge of their range. Limpkins live in wetlands in a great deal of Central and South America east of the Andes, the Caribbean, and parts of Mexico and Florida.
They are mostly year-round residents, with local movements but no long migrations. They have been reported recently in Georgia and Louisiana, indicating their range may be expanding.
I spotted the Limpkin on top of the cypress from the berm along the wetlands.
Wonderful to see the cypress greening again, and the wetlands recharging with water as we have been getting our first real rain in a long time. Huge crashing purple-and-green thunderstorm the other evening around dinnertime kinda freaked us all out, as it’s been months since we had one.
Spring and early summer is my favorite season in Florida, as the human world calms down and the plant and animal world comes alive.
iPhone photo of a gator at Green River a few days before.
Apparently alligators are a bit dormant in cooler winter and really like when the temps are consistently back in the 82 to 92 degree range. Mating season begins soon.
Limpkins are also thriving in Florida, and their population increasing. It’s an unusual twist on what normally happens to animal “specialists” who eat mostly one thing, as Limpkins eat apple snails.
Their apple-snail diet is a major factor that determines where limpkins live, which could explain the recent increase of populations in some areas of Florida. There’s a new invasive snail moving into Florida, Pomacea maculata, the island apple snail. They are abundant and a popular meal for limpkins. More food means more birds.
I got a good look at a Limpkin this morning while walking the dogs at Green River.
They are medium-sized wading birds found in Florida wetlands. They eat big snails and that’s pretty much it. One-of-a-kind birds. They are the only member of the taxonomic family Aramidae.
We walked north along the berm, next to the biggest, deepest retention pond. The grass is pretty crispy in the end-of-dry-season drought conditions. Lots of ant mounds too, so take my advice and never stand still for very long in one spot.
There is almost always a medium-large alligator in that pond and I got a good zoom shot of him this morning. I also spotted a large gator in the pond just beyond this one, to the west.
Lately I’ve been feeling pretty wary about the unpredictability of alligator behavior and I don’t linger near them. Too many stories in the news.
Limpkin floofing. Maybe enjoying the morning sun?
Temperature was 72 degrees with a gentle east wind, extremely pleasant.
Any snails down there?
The gangly, brown-and-white Limpkin looks a bit like a giant rail or perhaps a young night-heron. Its long bill is bent and twisted at the tip, an adaptation for removing snails from the shell. They specialize in eating apple snails, which they hunt both day and night, and they often leave telltale piles of snail shells at the edges of freshwater wetlands where hunting is good. This bird’s haunting cries, heard mostly at night, are otherworldly and unforgettable.
In the U.S., Limpkins are found only in Florida and southern Georgia. Their range includes the Caribbean, and parts of Central and South America too.
I see them almost every time I visit Green River.
So bring your northern friends to walk the berms by the ponds at Green River water management area to show them odd birds and prehistoric reptiles… welcome to Florida!
There’s a small parking area on the west side of Green River Parkway where Martin County ends and St. Lucie County begins.
Constant companions on our walk yesterday, Boat-tailed Grackles are the noisy ambassadors of the Pine Glades Natural Area in northern Palm Beach County.
They love Florida wetlands.
Pine Glades is 6,651 acres of freshwater marshes and ponds, wet prairie and pine flatwoods west of Jupiter, Florida.
A family fishing from this platform reported they had caught a few gar. At a covered fishing platform nearby, another family reported crappie and bass were lured by their minnow bait.
There is also a canoe and kayak launch near the small parking area.
We were there for the birds though, and a walk in sunshine.
My husband was excited to see his first Eastern Meadowlark.
I have only seen one before, myself, on a trip to Lakeside STA , a manmade wetland area in western Martin County near Lake Okeechobee.
This bird was singing prettily.
The male Eastern Meadowlark’s primary song consists of 3 to 5 (sometimes up to 8) pure and plaintive flutelike whistles all slurred together and gradually dropping in pitch, up to 2 seconds long. Male have a repertoire of songs, singing one song repeatedly for a time and then switching to a different version. They typically sing from an exposed perch, but occasionally sing in flight as well.
This bird was perched in one of the few remaining melaleuca trees.
Removing invasive melaleucas was one part of the Pine Glades restoration work that began in 2008. It included installing culverts, removing berms and asphalt roads, land grading, and prescribed burns to reduce invasive species and stimulate native vegetation to seed itself. The project was finished in 2013.
When I asked my husband later what his favorite bird moment of the day was, he said, “When I saw the Wheels Up King Air that had just taken off from North Palm Beach Airport.” (That’s his new job and new plane.)
“No,” said I, “BIRD moment.”
“Oh then the meadowlark, for sure.”
He had also never seen a Loggerhead Shrike.
I got to explain how they were basically bloodthirsty songbirds who like to impale their prey (lizards, insects, small birds and mammals) on thorns or barbed wire for later eating. Seriously.
After we walked the short, paved trails to the two observation/ fishing platforms, we returned to the parking lot where there was the beginning of the longer hiking trails.
The Quail Trail is packed sand, shells and gravel. It’s open, high and dry, and has good views of the wetlands.
First wading bird we got a good look at was a Limpkin. Not sure why it was hanging its wings like that… maybe hiding a nest? sunning?
There was a sort of canal/ lake and the path would turn just past here to travel south alongside it.
Great Egret on the hunt.
Snowy Egret. I think of them more as coastal birds but this one proved they visit inland wetlands too.
A view back toward the small parking area.
My highlight bird of the day was this Pie-billed Grebe. I’ve seen them a couple of times before, but never gotten a decent photo.
It was alone on this body of water, diving occasionally, keeping an eye on us.
Grebes are little diving birds more closely related to flamingos than ducks, loons or coots. Their awesome nicknames include dabchick, dive-dapper, hell diver and water witch.
Their bills are “pied,” or two-colored, in breeding season, not now.
Across the water we spotted a small group of Roseate Spoonbills.
Pretty in pink.
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.
As we headed south on the trail, wetlands were to our right and grassy, open pine flatwoods on our left.
It’s the dry season and the drier areas are more brown than green. I miss the big fat wet-season clouds too. These little winter clouds just can’t compare.
An easy walking surface, for sure. Probably should have brought some water. The sun was hot though the air temp was probably only about 80 and not too humid.
I’ve been trying to get rid of a lingering cough and I feel sure the sunshine and birds helped!
The Quail Trail bent around and headed west, connecting to other longer trails we will explore another day.
Right here we actually heard the call of a Northern Bob-white quail. I didn’t know they lived in Florida. (The trail name might have tipped me off, ha!) Seems we are at the southern end of their range.
We spotted an Eastern Phoebe, a petite flycatcher that visits Florida in winter. Not enough bugs up north? Come to Florida, little friend. (Actually, we forgot to wear bug spray and had no trouble with mosquitos.)
A Red-shouldered Hawk circled overhead, calling and calling.
Pine Glades is a quiet place (except for the grackles) and a good place to stretch your legs and rest your eyes on some natural beauty.
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?
Aramus guarana is the only species in its genus and family, a member of the Gruiformes order of cranes, crakes and rails.
The weather was dark last Saturday, like my mood a month into the coronavirus shutdown. I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself, more like sorry and a bit angry for everything and everyone on earth. And I wanted to get out of the house.
I brought my camera as an excuse why I was leaving loved ones at home and stalking off alone. I expected the photos would not be great with the washed-out early afternoon overcast sky, forecasting the coming rainy season. And sure enough, none of them were great.
But I did like this picture of the limpkin. Just one bird standing still in the middle of a field, balanced between indecision and resignation, and keeping an eye on things.
In the field I also found some nice little Florida wildflowers, easily overlooked, growing and blooming whether or not anyone notices.
This Roseate Spoonbill was on its way to a roadside culvert along Green River Parkway yesterday.
This mucky spot has been attracting a lot of birds lately. “Something hatched,” my husband theorized. He’s been biking past this spot and telling me, almost daily, that there’s a nice concentration of photogenic birds there.
The pipes pass under Green River Parkway to a series of freshwater ponds in the fenced-in area known as Green River.
Limpkin and chick, looking for lunch.
The gangly, brown-and-white Limpkin looks a bit like a giant rail or perhaps a young night-heron. Its long bill is bent and twisted at the tip, an adaptation for removing snails from the shell. Limpkins are tropical wetland birds whose range reaches into Florida.
When I approached the culvert, there were three women and three kids there already. The women were talking while two of the three kids threw rocks and snail shells in the general direction of the birds.
The spoonbills didn’t seem to mind. The boys’ aim wasn’t very good. But I still felt someone should take the birds’ side in this matter.
“Hi,” I said. “Just letting you know, I see an alligator here sometimes. Down where the boys are.”
“We’ve seen that alligator before,” said one woman. “It’s a little one.”
Forget Florida Man, there should be a Florida Mom meme!
I’d include the time I was at the beach and saw a shark in the waves and kids swimming nearby while moms were on the beach chatting and I thought, I don’t want to be annoying but they would probably want to know about a shark. I would. So I told them and one said, “We saw it. It’s a lemon shark.”
I took a few more photos while the boys tossed stones, then I tried a new angle. I said to the little girl who was not throwing stones (loud enough for the moms to hear), “Do you see the chicks? Aren’t they cute? See that one there, all little and brown and fuzzy, hiding behind its mom?”
“Aw, it’s cute!” she said. Soon the small group of humans continued on their way.
I continued north on the bike path, scanning the drainage ditch for birds like this Great Egret.
Wildlife enthusiasts and photographers will enjoy the diversity of habitats this undisturbed area has to offer.
But not right now.
State parks are closed, to prevent gatherings of more than ten people in one place.
So I kept walking north, the road and ditch on my left and the forbidden state park on my right.
Behind me, the bike trail crosses over the ditch on a small bridge, perfect for bird and alligator watching. This is near the boundary between Martin and St. Lucie counties.
Savannas Preserve to my right, so inviting.
I met a man walking south along the low dike as I walked north. He had binoculars around his neck, a good sign. We talked birds and favorite places to find birds. We lamented loss of access to a park we never see anybody else in. We agreed we don’t care if handshakes, hugs, close-talking and crowds never make a comeback. Then we each continued our own solo stalk along the margins.
Spoonbill above. I turned and retraced my steps back to the culvert.
A White Ibis had arrived while I was gone.
I watched Limpkins.
This one stayed close to the foraging adult.
Roseate Spoonbills and Limpkins.
Limpkins eat almost exclusively apple snails (genus Pomacea), plus at least three other native freshwater snail species and five species of freshwater mussels. They also eat small amounts of seeds and insects, along with lizards, frogs, insects, crustaceans such as crayfish, grasshoppers, worms, and aquatic midges. Where the water is clear, Limpkins hunt for snails and mussels by sight, walking along the water’s edge or into the shallows (rarely wading deeply) and seizing prey quickly with the bill. When waters are muddy, or have extensive vegetation, they probe into the water rapidly, rather like ibis, sometimes with the head submerged. If vegetation cover is extensive, Limpkins often walk out onto the mat of floating vegetation to hunt snails that cling to the undersides of leaves and stalks. To extract the mollusk from its shell, Limpkins place the forceps-like tip of their bill into the snail or mussel to cut the adductor muscle, using scissoring motions. They then discard the shells, often in a pile if prey is abundant in one spot.
I got a good long look at Limpkins, a bird I had never heard of before I moved to Florida a few years ago.
Getting a good start in life.
My final culvert bird was a solo Wood Stork.
Great spot, I shall return.
Before driving off, I decided to pop over to Green River for a quick look. I was thinking: I bet there’s one more special thing out there before I’m finished for the morning.
There was. Flying low over distant marsh, my first Snail Kite!
The highly specialized Snail Kite flies on broad wings over tropical wetlands as it hunts large freshwater snails.
A week ago, on March 21st, I went on a field trip organized by the local Audubon to Platt’s Creek Preserve, a restored wetland area in St. Lucie County.
These were Mottled Ducks. We had two expert birders leading the trip, Eva Ries and David Simpson, and their identifications and commentary were so helpful and educational.
A couple of males were fighting for a few minutes.
A male and a female watched.
Boat-tailed Grackles were everywhere, and the males were noisy, bold and impossible to ignore.
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.
In our party of 10, I am the one who spotted the Bald Eagle first and I’m pretty proud of that. What a bird, look at those wings!
Northern Harrier that appears to be pursued by a Tree Swallow? This could have just been the angle of the photo, or maybe that little bird was pissed off.
We saw a couple of harriers working the boundaries of the woods and marsh area. Very cool raptors.
The Northern Harrier is distinctive from a long distance away: a slim, long-tailed hawk gliding low over a marsh or grassland, holding its wings in a V-shape and sporting a white patch at the base of its tail. Up close it has an owlish face that helps it hear mice and voles beneath the vegetation.
Also soaring around up in the sky, a couple of Swallow-tailed Kites. This one was eating a lizard while flying, nice trick.
The lilting Swallow-tailed Kite has been called “the coolest bird on the planet.” With its deeply forked tail and bold black-and-white plumage, it is unmistakable in the summer skies above swamps of the Southeast. Flying with barely a wingbeat and maneuvering with twists of its incredible tail, it chases dragonflies or plucks frogs, lizards, snakes, and nestling birds from tree branches. After rearing its young in a treetop nest, the kite migrates to wintering grounds in South America.
Common Gallinule keeping an eye on us.
Sandhill Crane in someone’s backyard. Some birds are easier to spot than others.
Limpkin stalking the pond side vegetation.
An unusual bird of southern swamps and marshes, the Limpkin reaches the northern limits of its breeding range in Florida. There, it feeds almost exclusively on apple snails, which it extracts from their shells with its long bill. Its screaming cry is unmistakable and evocative.
In all, we tallied 51 species in our 3-hour, 1.5 mile walk. David Simpson posted the checklist to eBird HERE. Very helpful photos and descriptions for us birding newbies!
We took a drive all the way around Lake Okeechobee yesterday. On one little walk we spotted this wild animal!
Just kidding. It’s Radar, our goofy German Shepherd.
On another stop we spotted the aptly named “Stilt” bird… the Black-necked Stilt.
We were at the Harney Pond Canal Recreation area on the west side of the lake, near the little town of Lakeport.
There is a strange rickety bridge/ boardwalk over to an island.
Nice views of what, from this Army Corps of Engineers map, appears to be Fisheating Bay.
On the little island is another boardwalk with a view, going up to a little observation spot. Hundreds of dragonflies everywhere!
Here are a few.
It was very windy, with an east wind, and some dragonflies were clinging to branches, windblown.
Looking back at the recreation area across the bridge.
Looking out into the bay and marshes.
Hey, what’s that bird? It’s new to me. I searched the internet later and discovered it’s a Limpkin!
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:
The limpkin is a long-legged species of waterbird that has dark brown feathers with streaks of white on the head and neck and absent on the rest of the body. Limpkins can grow up to 28 inches (71.1 centimeters) long, with a 42 inch (106.7 centimeters) wingspan, and weigh up to 46 ounces (1,304 grams) (The Cornell Lab of Ornithology 2011). White blotches and triangular marks can be found on the neck and upper body. The key physical feature of the limpkin is their down-curved bill, which is used to feed on their primary prey, apple snails.
Thirsty Turkey Vulture.
Black Vulture soaring over us.
Limpkins and maybe some kind of gallinule?
A nice watery, marshy spot.
View from the rickety bridge.
A striking black-and-white bird with very long, thin red legs, the Black-necked Stilt is found along the edges of shallow water in open country.
They have the second-longest legs in proportion to their bodies of any bird, exceeded only by flamingos.