Tag Archives: Limpkin

Birds and beyond

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?

Just another bird

A limpkin alone.

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.

Culvert birding near Green River

Pink bird, gray wall.

This Roseate Spoonbill was on its way to a roadside culvert along Green River Parkway yesterday.

Spoonbills incoming.

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.

And this Tricolored Heron.

I passed one of the side entrances to the southern section of Savannas Preserve State Park.

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.

Great Egret.

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.

The kite is blog bird #224.

Field trip to Platt’s Creek

IMG_1791-2

Pie-billed Grebe… “part bird, part submarine.”

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.

IMG_1799-2

Incoming ducks.

IMG_1800-2

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.

IMG_1811-2

A couple of males were fighting for a few minutes.

IMG_1813-2

A male and a female watched.

IMG_1825-2

Boat-tailed Grackles were everywhere, and the males were noisy, bold and impossible to ignore.

IMG_1826-2

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.

IMG_1845-2

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!

IMG_1862-2

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.

IMG_1869-2

Also soaring around up in the sky, a couple of Swallow-tailed Kites. This one was eating a lizard while flying, nice trick.

IMG_1870-2

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.

IMG_1872-2

Common Gallinule keeping an eye on us.

IMG_1881-2

Sandhill Crane in someone’s backyard. Some birds are easier to spot than others.

IMG_1883-2

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!

Stilts and limpkins

IMG_7614-2

We took a drive all the way around Lake Okeechobee yesterday. On one little walk we spotted this wild animal!

IMG_7615-2

Just kidding. It’s Radar, our goofy German Shepherd.

IMG_7628-2

On another stop we spotted the aptly named “Stilt” bird… the Black-necked Stilt.

IMG_7629-2

We were at the Harney Pond Canal Recreation area on the west side of the lake, near the little town of Lakeport.

IMG_7632-2

There is a strange rickety bridge/ boardwalk over to an island.

IMG_7633-2

Nice views of what, from this Army Corps of Engineers map, appears to be Fisheating Bay.

IMG_7634-2

Incoming stilt.

IMG_7636-2

On the little island is another boardwalk with a view, going up to a little observation spot. Hundreds of dragonflies everywhere!

IMG_7638-2

Here are a few.

IMG_7640-2

It was very windy, with an east wind, and some dragonflies were clinging to branches, windblown.

IMG_7641-2

Looking back at the recreation area across the bridge.

IMG_7643-2

Looking out into the bay and marshes.

IMG_7647-2

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.

IMG_7651-2

Thirsty Turkey Vulture.

IMG_7656-2

Black Vulture soaring over us.

IMG_7659-2

Limpkins and maybe some kind of gallinule?

IMG_7662-2

A nice watery, marshy spot.

IMG_7664-2

View from the rickety bridge.

IMG_7665-2

Black-necked Stilt.

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.

And…

They have the second-longest legs in proportion to their bodies of any bird, exceeded only by flamingos.