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.

Birds at Lakeside Ranch STA

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Good morning, Lakeside Ranch STA (Stormwater Treatment Area).

I signed in at the gate with the president of Audubon of Martin County bright and early yesterday morning and joined a few other cars driving around here and there on the narrow roads on top of the dikes in the 2600 acres under the care of the South Florida Water Management District.

Lakeside Ranch STA is located on the northeast side of Lake Okeechobee, about 50 minutes from my home in Sewall’s Point.

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Great Blue Heron in the misty morn.

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Peaceful and pretty. Temps around 57 when I arrived at 7 a.m., climbing to 75 or so by the time I left at 10:30.

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Sandhill Crane flyby.

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Another birdwatcher.

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Great Egret and Great Blue Heron.

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Anhinga keeping an eye on me.

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Tri-colored Heron hunting for breakfast.

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Snowy Egret and  juvenile night heron.

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Little Blue Heron and Tricolored Heron.

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Rotten photo but I’ve been seeing these birds in Florida and didn’t know what they were. Audubon president helped me ID it as a Palm Warbler. “Yellow butt? Brown capped head? Wagging tail?”

The rusty-capped Palm Warbler can be most easily recognized by the tail-wagging habit that shows off its yellow undertail. It breeds in bogs and winters primarily in the southern United States and Caribbean.

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Voguing grackles. Or maybe males having a sing off? I am pretty sure these are Boat-tailed Grackles.

Boat-tailed Grackles are large, lanky songbirds with rounded crowns, long legs, and fairly long, pointed bills. Males have very long tails that make up almost half their body length and that they typically hold folded in a V-shape, like the keel of a boat.

Males are glossy black all over. Females are dark brown above and russet below, with a subtle face pattern made up of a pale eyebrow, dark cheek, and pale “mustache” stripe.

These scrappy blackbirds are supreme omnivores, feeding on everything from seeds and human food scraps to crustaceans scavenged from the shoreline.

Boat-tailed Grackles are a strictly coastal species through most of their range; however, they live across much of the Florida peninsula, often well away from the immediate coast.

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Is it a duck?

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Or a wading bird? Neither… it’s a Common Gallinule!

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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Red-winged Blackbird.

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Killdeer.

A shorebird you can see without going to the beach, Killdeer are graceful plovers common to lawns, golf courses, athletic fields, and parking lots. These tawny birds run across the ground in spurts, stopping with a jolt every so often to check their progress, or to see if they’ve startled up any insect prey. Their voice, a far-carrying, excited kill-deer, is a common sound even after dark, often given in flight as the bird circles overhead on slender wings.

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Let these dead trees be decorated with Anhingas!

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Aw, sweet. Two Great Blue Herons starting a nest in a cabbage palm.

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My first Eastern Meadowlark!

The sweet, lazy whistles of Eastern Meadowlarks waft over summer grasslands and farms in eastern North America. The birds themselves sing from fenceposts and telephone lines or stalk through the grasses, probing the ground for insects with their long, sharp bills. On the ground, their brown-and-black dappled upperparts camouflage the birds among dirt clods and dry grasses. But up on perches, they reveal bright-yellow underparts and a striking black chevron across the chest.

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Juvenile White Ibis strikes a pose.

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Cattle Egret, that chunky little white egret found near or away from water. Often seen (by me) on top of shrubs planted in medians.

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Anhinga draws attention to an important road sign.

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Great Blue Heron pose.

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Alligator smile.

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There were five gators in this one spot.

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View across a small canal to another birdwatcher’s car.

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Blackbird (grackle?) draws attention to this important sign.

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Cattle and cattle egrets, just past the edge of the STA.

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Sandhill Crane, maybe on top of the beginnings of a nest.

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Glossy Ibis.

A dark wading bird with a long, down-curved bill. Although the Glossy Ibis in North America lives primarily along the Atlantic Coast, it also can be found in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia.

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Blurry pic because it was far away, but with important identifying features. I described this bird to the Audubon president when I got back to the gate and he said it was a Loggerhead Shrike. Another new bird!

The Loggerhead Shrike is a songbird with a raptor’s habits. A denizen of grasslands and other open habitats throughout much of North America, this masked black, white, and gray predator hunts from utility poles, fence posts and other conspicuous perches, preying on insects, birds, lizards, and small mammals. Lacking a raptor’s talons, Loggerhead Shrikes skewer their kills on thorns or barbed wire or wedge them into tight places for easy eating. Their numbers have dropped sharply in the last half-century.

At the end of January, I attended a couple of days of a local Audubon Field Academy. I am signed up next to do a day with raptors at a local wildlife rehab center, then a unit on migration at the end of March. More field trips are on the calendar too.

Meanwhile, back to fixing up this little old Florida concrete-block-and-stucco house. I am painting the last of the three bedrooms today before the wood floor installation guys arrive tomorrow.

Tricolored heron

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Tricolored Heron in a pond by the golf course.

Audubon Field Guide…

On the southeastern coastal plain, the Tricolored Heron is a characteristic bird of quiet shallow waters. Strikingly slender, with long bill, neck, and legs, it is often seen wading belly-deep in coastal lagoons. Although it is solitary in its feeding, it is sociable in nesting, often in very large colonies with various other herons and egrets. Formerly known as Louisiana Heron.