Field trip to Platt’s Creek

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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.

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Incoming ducks.

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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.

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A couple of males were fighting for a few minutes.

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A male and a female watched.

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

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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.

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This is a Blue-headed Vireo, a new bird to me that is a “common and vocal bird of Northeastern forests.” Our expert birders identified it by its song. Maybe someday I will be able to do that too.

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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!

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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.

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

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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.

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Common Gallinule keeping an eye on us.

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

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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!

Park birds, pond

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We went to Indian Riverside Park yesterday in the late afternoon. But why did I take so many pictures of birds! Oh well, because I love them. Here they are…

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Woot! it’s a Coot!

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I have never photographed and IDed an American Coot, until now!

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Duck, Mottled.

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Little Blue Heron, a grownup in its inky dark plumage.

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Snowy Egret.

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Standing still.

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That ol’ coot.

You’ll find coots eating aquatic plants on almost any body of water. When swimming they look like small ducks (and often dive), but on land they look more chickenlike, walking rather than waddling.

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The pond in the park was clearly the avian place to be.

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White Ibises, a coot and a Little Blue Heron.

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Also a few Cattle Egrets.

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A brief kerfuffle among the Mottled Ducks.

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Then all was well again.

Compared to other species of ducks, pair formation occurs early, with nearly 80% of all individuals paired by November. Breeding starts in January, continuing through to July and usually peaking in March and April.

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The male has a yellow bill, the female orange.

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Coots are tough, adaptable waterbirds. Although they are related to the secretive rails, they swim in the open like ducks and walk about on shore, making themselves at home on golf courses and city park ponds.

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Worth a read from Audubon.org The Sketch… The American Coot: A Tough-Love Parent.

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Bills can be swords, reminds the Cattle Egret.

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Cattle Egrets have broad, adaptable diets: primarily insects, plus other invertebrates, fish, frogs, mammals, and birds. They feed voraciously alone or in loose flocks of up to hundreds. Foraging mostly on insects disturbed by grazing cattle or other livestock, they also glean prey from wetlands or the edges of fields that have been disturbed by fire, tractors, or mowing machinery. Grasshoppers and crickets are the biggest item on their menu, which also includes horse flies, owlet moths and their larvae, cicadas, wolf spiders, ticks, earthworms, crayfish, millipedes, centipedes, fish, frogs, mice, songbirds, eggs, and nestlings.

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Another place birds find food in the park is from people. I was across the pond and couldn’t see what she was feeding them. The dogs were doing an amazing job of ignoring the birds… for treats?

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Another member of the Rallidae family (Rails, Galllinules and Coots): the Common Gallinule.

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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.

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Whoa, those toes!

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A couple of nonnatives, Egyptian Geese, were enjoying the feeding from the ladies with the dogs.

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Ibis, ibis, goose.

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There are some feral populations of Egyptian geese in the area. They are probably more closely related to shelducks than geese. They were sacred to the ancient Egyptians.

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Facsimile Painting of Geese, Tomb of Nefermaat and Itat, ca. 2575-2551 from The Met.

Birds at the golf course

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Loggerhead Shrike.

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I took a walk past the Ocean Club Golf Course at the Hutchinson Island Marriott yesterday morning. Photos could be better, since most of the birds were on the wrong side of the light and far away.

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This is the most interesting bird. These shrikes don’t live in NH, where I started watching birds, and I’ve only seen a couple them in Florida.

Audubon Field Guide: Loggerhead Shrike

In open terrain, this predatory songbird watches from a wire or other high perch, then pounces on its prey: often a large insect, sometimes a small bird or a rodent. The Loggerhead is gradually disappearing from many areas, for reasons that are poorly understood.

Forages mostly by watching from an exposed perch, then swooping down to take prey on or near ground or from low vegetation. Kills its prey using its hooked bill. Often stores uneaten prey by impaling it on thorn or barbed wire, returning to eat it later.

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Wikipedia: Shrike…

Shrikes (/ʃraɪk/) are carnivorous passerine birds of the family Laniidae. The family is composed of thirty-one species in four genera. They are fairly closely related to the bush-shrike family Malaconotidae.

The family name, and that of the largest genus, Lanius, is derived from the Latin word for “butcher”, and some shrikes are also known as butcherbirds because of their feeding habits. The common English name shrikeis from Old English scrīc, alluding to the shrike’s shriek-like call.

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In a tree near the pond, an Osprey was dining on a freshly caught and still wriggling fish.

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So many Ospreys around here. I like to watch these big, beautiful fish hawks.

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Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottus, is the only mockingbird commonly found in North America.

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Wikipedia: Northern Mockingbird

The northern mockingbird is known for its intelligence. A 2009 study showed that the bird was able to recognize individual humans, particularly noting those who had previously been intruders or threats. Also birds recognize their breeding spots and return to areas in which they had greatest success in previous years. Urban birds are more likely to demonstrate this behavior. Finally, the mockingbird is influential in United States culture, being the state bird of five states, appearing in book titles, songs and lullabies, and making other appearances in popular culture.

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I spotted a pair of Mottled Ducks. This one with a yellow bill is the male. Female has an orange bill.

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Palm Warbler, I do believe. They never seem to be in palm trees.

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Snowy Egret.

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This Belted Kingfisher was swooping around noisily over the pond, but I captured it in a rare moment of perching.

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Back home we had some interesting “birds” overhead. A couple of F-18s were looping around over Sewall’s Point. The Stuart Airshow is this weekend!

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The McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet is a twin-engine supersonic, all-weather carrier-capable multirole combat jet, designed as both a fighter and attack aircraft (hence the F/A designation). Designed by McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) and Northrop, the F/A-18 was derived from the latter’s YF-17 in the 1970s for use by the United States Navy and Marine Corps. The Hornet is also used by the air forces of several other nations and, since 1986, by the U.S. Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels.

I had help identifying these birds from my husband, who is an airline pilot and flew a variety of fighter jets in the Marine Corps.

 

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As the F-18s took a couple of turns overhead, an Osprey was perched atop our Norfolk Island pine.

April showers bring… ducks

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It rained and rained on Sunday and the drainage swale at the end of our street was a little pond on Monday.

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A pair of Mottled Ducks was happy about that.

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Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission…

Because the plumage of male and female mottled ducks is similar, the easiest way to tell them apart is by bill color. The male mottled duck has an olive green to yellow bill whereas the female has an orange to brown bill with dark blotches or dots.

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The female is keeping an eye on the skies.

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The Florida mottled duck, often called the Florida duck or Florida mallard, is a unique subspecies found only in peninsular Florida. This nonmigratory duck spends its entire life within the state’s brackish and freshwater marshes, ponds, lakes, rivers, canals, ditches, and mosquito impoundments on the east and west coasts and inland. Approximately 40 percent of the mottled duck’s diet consists of insects, snails, mollusks, crayfish and small fish. The remainder of its diet is composed of grass seeds, stems, and roots; seeds of other marsh plants; and bayberries.

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Bonus, on the walk back up the street I got a photo of a zebra longwing, Heliconius charithonia. Did a bird take a bite of this one?

The adult butterflies are unusual in feeding on pollen as well as on nectar; the pollen enables them to synthesize cyanogenic glycosides that make their bodies toxic to potential predators. Caterpillars feed on various species of passionflower, evading the plants’ defensive trichomes by biting them off or laying silk mats over them.

They are the state butterfly of Florida.

Ducks in a ditch

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I was walking to the beach this morning and I saw this little tucked-up duck by a drainage canal along Ocean Blvd, A1A on Hutchinson Island.

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Here’ s better look. I think it’s a Blue-Winged Teal.

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Pairs and small groups of this tiny dabbling duck inhabit shallow ponds and wetlands across much of North America. Blue-winged Teal are long distance migrants, with some birds heading all the way to South America for the winter. Therefore, they take off early on spring and fall migration, leaving their breeding grounds in the United States and Canada well before other species in the fall.

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See the little patch of blue?

Size & Shape: A small dabbling duck, a Blue-winged Teal is dwarfed by a Mallard and only a touch larger than a Green-winged Teal. Head is rounded and bill is on the large side.

Color Pattern: Breeding males are brown-bodied with dark speckling on the breast, slaty-blue head with a white crescent behind the bill, and a small white flank patch in front of their black rear. Females and eclipse males are a cold, patterned brown. In flight, they reveal a bold powder-blue patch on their upperwing coverts.

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The female Blue-Winged Teal was quite close by.

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Behavior: Pairs and small groups dabble and up-end to reach submerged vegetation. You’ll often find Blue-winged Teal with other species of dabbling ducks. They are often around the edges of ponds under vegetation, choosing a concealed spot to forage or rest.

Habitat: Look for Blue-winged Teal on calm bodies of water from marshes to small lakes. The prairie-pothole region is the heart of their breeding range, where they thrive in grassy habitats intermixed with wetlands.

So I guess this pair is on its way north.

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Nearby, a pair of dabbling ducks that live year-round in Florida: Mottled Ducks.

The only duck adapted to breeding in southern marshes, the Mottled Duck is a dull relative of the Mallard. It is in danger of being displaced by introduced Mallards, primarily because of hybridization.

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Pretty feathers. And such orange feet.

Compared to other species of ducks, pair formation occurs early, with nearly 80% of all individuals paired by November. Breeding starts in January, continuing through to July and usually peaking in March and April.

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Habitat: Freshwater wetlands, ditches, wet prairies, and seasonally flooded marshes.

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Also, on Wikipedia…

The mottled duck (Anas fulvigula) or mottled mallard is a medium-sized dabbling duck. It is intermediate in appearance between the female mallard and the American black duck. It is closely related to those species, and is sometimes considered a subspecies of the former, but this is inappropriate (see systematics).

There are two distinct populations of mottled ducks. One population, A. fulvigula maculosa (mottled duck), lives on the Gulf of Mexico coast between Alabama and Tamaulipas (Mexico); outside the breeding season individual birds may venture as far south as to Veracruz. The other, A. fulvigula fulvigula (Florida duck), is resident in central and south Florida and occasionally strays north to Georgia. The same disjunct distribution pattern was also historically found in the local sandhill cranes.

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Bigger picture of where I was walking, along A1A, and the ditch next to the Hutchinson Island Marriott golf course. The water level is low now, at the end of the dry season.

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Also spotted wading in shallow water then walking off across the dry mud, a Tricolored Heron.