I peeked between some pine trees yesterday and saw a Great Egret.
A slow flap of large white wings.
About five egrets passed by, one after another.
I enjoyed the flyby.
White Ibis too.
The white 4Runner is mine. I had just gotten out of the car and was standing under the pines when the white birds starting flying south along the canal that runs on the east side of Green River Parkway, at the Martin County/ St. Lucie County border.
Then came the pink bird. This Roseate Spoonbill was heading north.
I was heading south along the bike trail for a culvert where I usually see a variety of wading birds.
But for some reason they were all in the sky yesterday around noon.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Roseate Spoonbill chicks don’t have a spoon-shaped bill immediately after hatching. When they are 9 days old the bill starts to flatten, by 16 days it starts to look a bit more spoonlike, and by 39 days it is nearly full size.
In keeping with their overall color scheme, their eyes are reddish pink too.
Pink bird in morning sun.
The color comes from the foods they eat as they sweep their bills from side to side and sift for invertebrates, especially crustaceans like shrimp whose shells containing carotenoids that turn the spoonbill’s feathers pink.
Carotenoids, also called tetraterpenoids, are yellow, orange, and red organic pigments that are produced by plants and algae, as well as several bacteria and fungi. Carotenoids give the characteristic color to pumpkins, carrots, corn, tomatoes, canaries, flamingos, and daffodils.
I have a spoonbill on my Florida license plate, like the sample above. It’s a specialty plate that donates to the Everglades Trust. The money is used for “conservation and protection of the natural resources and abatement of water pollution in the Everglades.”
Very common in parts of the southeast until the 1860s, spoonbills were virtually eliminated from the United States as a side-effect of the destruction of wader colonies by plume hunters. Began to re-colonize Texas and Florida early in 20th century. Still uncommon and local, vulnerable to degradation of feeding and nesting habitats.
They have a darker pink sort of epaulet on their shoulders.
View from the top of the mangroves, with Brown Pelicans too.
Juvenile Magnificent Frigatebirds and one male off to the left.
Spoonbill on Bird Island beach.
Brown Pelican with fuzzy chicks.
Frigatebirds and a couple of cormorants. The northwest corner of the island is their territory.
Roseate Spoonbills and Snowy Egrets were wading in a shallow pond at Kiplinger Nature Preserve off Kanner Highway in Stuart the other day.
It’s 157 acres of pine and scrub flatwoods, plus freshwater and mangrove swamp at the edge of the South Fork of the St. Lucie River. You can hear traffic noise in most parts of the preserve, otherwise it seems quite remote and natural.
The spoonbills were blasé as the snowies trooped and fussed past.
Two species of wading bird that seem to have no need of camouflage. They were easy to spot through the woods from the trail.
I was using my new Christmas camera, a Nikon D850 with a 28-300mm lens. I have a lot to learn, but I’m excited!
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.
The Roseate Spoonbill is the only one of the six spoonbill species found in the Americas.
Roseate Spoonbills get their pink coloration from the foods they eat. Crustaceans and other aquatic invertebrates contain pigments called carotenoids that help turn their feathers pink.
This is a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, first thing in the morning when it was still kind of dark for my camera.
Looking into the mangroves at a Roseate Spoonbill.
Spoonbill with its cousin the White Ibis.
On Saturday morning I was invited to join three more experienced birders for a walk in a bird-friendly spot between wetlands and the Indian River Lagoon on Hutchinson Island. So helpful to have them notice birds by sight and sound and explain how they could identify them.
Morning light in a spider web.
Yellow-crowned Night Heron.
This was identified as a Tennessee Warbler. Not a great photo, but a new bird for me so here it is!
A dainty warbler of the Canadian boreal forest, the Tennessee Warbler specializes in eating the spruce budworm. Consequently its population goes up and down with fluctuations in the populations of the budworm.
Black-crowned Night Heron.
Night herons have such big eyes.
Palm Warblers are back in town.
We see lots of these in Sewall’s Point in winter, hopping around on the ground, wagging their tails up and down.
We were surprised and happy to spot a Painted Bunting. Well, I did not notice it – I had help from the other birders! How could I miss such a bright bird?
This is a new bird for me, #192 on the sidebar blog list.
It really let us get a good look (if not a very good photo).
With their vivid fusion of blue, green, yellow, and red, male Painted Buntings seem to have flown straight out of a child’s coloring book. Females and immatures are a distinctive bright green with a pale eyering. These fairly common finches breed in the coastal Southeast and in the south-central U.S., where they often come to feeders. They are often caught and sold illegally as cage birds, particularly in Mexico and the Caribbean, a practice that puts pressure on their breeding populations.
Cattle Egrets perched up high.
White bird, blue sky.
A bit further down the path, a green (female or immature) Painted Bunting was scuffing around in leaves and grass.
In migration and winter, search for Painted Buntings by targeting sources of seeds such as weedy fields or bird feeders. In the summer, cruise through secondary growth or edge habitats with dense understory and listen for the species’ metallic chip call or the sweet, rambling song of a male. Painted Buntings spend a lot of time hidden in dense habitat so patience might be necessary; however, the wait will be worth it when you finally spot this gem, surely one of North America’s finest songbirds.
Such a pretty green color.
Very exciting for me to see these buntings for the first time!
Great Crested Flycatcher poses nicely in the morning sun.
A conspicuously long-legged, long-necked wader of coastal regions, more tied to salt water than any of our other herons or egrets. Often draws attention by its feeding behavior: running through shallows with long strides, staggering sideways, leaping in air, raising one or both wings, and abruptly stabbing at fish.
I really got into the Reddish Egrets on this trip. They are the rarest herons in North America and Sanibel is one place you can see them.
Along for the ride again, the dawg.
Incidentally, here is one of the dog-friendly things we liked about Sanibel. And it was so hot the whole time that we all needed to drink a lot of water and stay hydrated.
Reddish Egret looks a little funny head-on.
Families were also visiting the refuge in the evening, in search of snook. These folks were also watching a manatee.
We spotted three Reddish Egrets in three different locations, all looking for dinner. All were pretty far away so the photos aren’t great, just good enough.
Really unique coloring.
Feathers on the head and neck look sort of shaggy at times.