Winter turns to spring at Green River

Little Blue Herons are little white herons when they’re young.

They turn “blue” as adults.

These two birds were wading and fishing near each other at Green River in Jensen Beach, Martin County, Florida yesterday.

I saw my second Swallow-tailed Kite of the year there. The first was a couple of miles south at Haney Creek the day before. They are coming back from winter in South America.

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.

I spotted an American coot. They are winter birds at Green River, so I guess it’s still “winter” for coots.

We spooked some Cattle Egrets who were plucking insects from the grass on the berm where we were walking.

My dogs were off leash there and the older wiser one was being obedient but the younger one was distracted by all the moving living things and her own zippy energy, so she had to be re-leashed.

Common Gallinules look a bit like coots, but they live and breed in these ponds year round.

White Ibis flyover.

The weather has been beautiful – that’s March for ya.

Just a few pond shots

This Green Heron found an underwater perch for a fishing platform, at Indian Riverside Park in Jensen Beach.

Is something amazing, White Ibis?

White Ibis at Indian Riverside Park, one of my favorite spots to get close to birds.

This male Florida Mottled Duck was in a hurry and making a duck wake in the pond.

Some of the ducks were chasing each other around. Spring is coming!

The perfect tool for crustacean extraction

Winter solstice today at 10:59 a.m. EST, shortest day of the year as we curve around from fall to winter and days begin slowly to lengthen again.

I like this photo for getting a good look at the orangey-pink bill of a White Ibis. This one is an adult. The juveniles are mostly brown, with white underbellies. As they mature, they get mottled with more white feathers until they are snowy white all over.

This bird was walking near the edge of the pond at Indian Riverside Park the other day, keeping an eye on me in case I was one of the humans that brings bread or popcorn to feed the birds.

The proper food for getting your ibises to glow with good health is mostly a variety of insects and crustaceans found in mud in shallow water. The ibis’s long, curved, sensitive bill is made to find and grasp its food.

White Ibises probe for insects and crustaceans beneath the surface of wetlands. They insert their bill into soft muddy bottoms and feel for prey. When they feel something, they pinch it like a tweezer, pulling out crayfish, earthworms, marine worms, and crabs. They also stab or pinch fish, frogs, lizards, snails, and newts. Many of their prey are swallowed on the spot, but for really muddy items they carry them away to wash the mud off before eating. They break harder crustaceans with their bills and remove claws from crabs and crayfish before eating them.

Best way to “feed” these birds? Preserve shallow wetlands and other natural habitats. (They will also probe for insects like beetle larvae on suburban lawns!)

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: To Feed or Not to Feed Wild Birds

Decorating the wild blue

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.

Birds in motion and birds at rest at Indian Riverside Park

This Snowy Egret was dancing across the water at Indian Riverside Park in Jensen Beach.

Black legs contrast with the snowy’s bright yellow feet, which are nicknamed “golden slippers.”

Those feet seem to play a role in stirring up or herding small aquatic animals as the egret forages.

In contrast, this juvenile White Ibis was perfectly still and perfectly balanced on one leg along the shore.

This cormorant surfaced after searching for fish under water.

Muscovy Ducks were loafing near a place where people bring bread and even popcorn to feed the birds.

Also happy to chow down some popcorn, a pair of Egyptian Geese can often be seen around the edges of this popular pond.

The Egyptian Goose in Florida

White ibis on high

The ibises got to the tree first. The egret was late to the game.

Something disturbed these wading birds in the shallow waters where they were feeding on Monday at Savannas Preserve State Park. It may have been me, though I wasn’t very near them. I zoomed in to get these photos.

This is what it looked like when they all took off. I was the only person out there. It would be odd if I had spooked them, when ibises especially don’t seem to mind people.

There was a prescribed burn in this part of the Savannas recently.

White Ibises on a burnt tree trunk, the lone perching spot at the edge of wetlands. Their curved pink bills are distinctive.

The Great Egret gave up and flew on.

White Ibis are…

One of the most numerous wading birds in Florida, and common elsewhere in the southeast. Highly sociable at all seasons, roosting and feeding in flocks, nesting in large colonies. When groups wade through shallows, probing with their long bills, other wading birds such as egrets may follow them to catch prey stirred up by the ibises.

From this high spot they got a good look at things and soon decided to go back to the shallow waters.

The last bird was joined for a few moments by a Boat-tailed Grackle.

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.

Almost-spring on Bird Island

Come fly with me…

… to a strange and wonderful place known as Bird Island. It’s very close to home.

This Magnificent Frigatebird knows the way.

Black frigatebirds on lower branches, white Wood Storks above.

The storks are the most numerous nesting birds at this time of year on this small mangrove island in the Indian River Lagoon that’s just off our peninsular town of Sewall’s Point.

Frigatebirds don’t nest here, they just roost, I’ve been told. But I’m keeping an eye on that situation!

We took a boat out on Tuesday, March 17, late afternoon with the newest member of the family, Ruby the 10-week-old German shepherd. It was her first boat ride and she was great! (We are members of a boat club in Manatee Pocket, about a 20 minute ride to Bird Island.)

Brown Pelicans had reserved their own roosting and nesting spots in one section of the canopy.

Big wings, big bill.

Wood Storks flew close to the boat.

Very common sight in Sewall’s Point at this time of year, as they fly over on their way to Bird Island, sometimes even stopping in our trees to break beaches for nesting material.

Peachy pink feet visible in this photo, as well as some color under the wings.

Speaking of color, the White Ibis have more intensely colored bills and feet in breeding season.

I am so glad this island was designated a wildlife area.

A Great Blue Heron among the Wood Storks. Looks like a Little Blue Heron mixed in there too.

Birds everywhere.

Ruby was watching them too.

White Ibis flying over. They don’t stop on this island – they have their own on the other side of the Intracoastal Waterway.

White Ibis zoomed in.

My husband’s favorite bird was this Fish Crow perched on the sign, as if to draw attention to its important information!

Great Egret.

Wood Stork coming in for a landing.

“Honey, I’m home!”

“Great to see you, gimme a smooch!”

Smooch!

I’m looking forward to getting out to Bird Island again later in the season, when the chicks pop up.

Here are some photos of young Wood Storks from a trip to Bird Island May 2018.

Heron the hermit

Here’s a young White Ibis losing its brown feathers and growing its adult plumage.

Walking around the pond at Indian Riverside Park, most of the birds are like the ibis, tolerating humans at close range.

Out in the middle of the pond, I zoom in to see the Green Heron keeping to himself.

This small heron is solitary at most seasons and often somewhat secretive, living around small bodies of water or densely vegetated areas.https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/green-heron

The checkered ibis

From brown to white, this immature White Ibis is patchy with new feathers.

Reminds me a bit of the diamond patchwork of a harlequin.

Adult and not-yet.

A watched a flock of White Ibis at Indian Riverside Park a couple of days ago. I focused on the young birds, with their more varied coloring.

Some were less patchy and more brown.

Side by side.

White Ibises probe for insects and crustaceans beneath the surface of wetlands. They insert their bill into soft muddy bottoms and feel for prey. When they feel something, they pinch it like a tweezer, pulling out crayfish, earthworms, marine worms, and crabs. They also stab or pinch fish, frogs, lizards, snails, and newts. Many of their prey are swallowed on the spot, but for really muddy items they carry them away to wash the mud off before eating.https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/White_Ibis/lifehistory

These birds didn’t care I was crouched down right near them.

Nice to get such a good look at these common Florida birds in their less commonly observed plumage.