Robin’s Have Invaded Green Cay

March 19, 2013 at 12:43 pm | Posted in The Wild Side | Leave a comment
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It was another beautiful day in South Florida.  Not to be wasted, my son and I wen’t for a quick walk at Green Cay to enjoy the cool air.  Turns out we weren’t the only ones loving the beautiful South Florida weather this day, but we’ll get back to that later…

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Most of the usual suspects were out and about today.  There seemed to be a larger than normal number of Blue Winged Teals and they were rather rowdy, making all kinds of noise and flying about.  Perhaps they were displeased with the Red Shoulder Hawk that had perched itself upon a Wood Duck nesting box.  I don’t entirely blame them in that case, that seems like cheating to me.  All of the usual (but no less beautiful) Heron’s were out and about looking for breakfast too.

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Toward the front was The Breakfast Club, the usual group of birds that always seem to be hanging out and feeding together consisting of White and Glossy Ibis, Wood Storks, different kinds of Egret, and the sometimes a couple of Tri-Colored Herons. (On lucky days this group will even have Spoonbills hanging with them, no such luck today.)  They all wade together, sifting through the water looking for that lucky catch…

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One lone Ibis seemed to have hit the jackpot.  Biting off more than it could chew didn’t seem to have this bird down and it played with the large frog it had captured trying to figure out a way to eat it without choking.  How does one eat food larger than it’s head anyway?  By the time we continued walking on, it was still trying to figure out how to deal with its super sized meal.

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Now about that enjoyable South Florida weather I spoke of earlier…

While I enjoy seeing all of the usual birds and animals I see at places I always love to see new and different things.  This day there were what had to be hundreds of Robins in the parking lot of Green Cay.  While this area of Florida is technically part of their range we very rarely see a Robin in our parts, they usually stick to more Northern parts of the state.  Luckily for those of us who don’t usually get to see them a cold front had moved through North of us, seemingly pushing flocks of Robins down into warmer weather.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw one fly in front of me at my car!  I though for sure I was seeing things.  I heard other photographers along the boardwalk talking about the robins so I didn’t feel quite as crazy.  I consulted with a fellow Bird Nerd via text messaging and she told me she too had seen one at her bird feeder and she too thought she was seeing things.  We got into the car and drove around to the back side of the parking lot where the Robin I saw was headed.  It was back there that I was in the middle of what I’m sure was a few hundred birds.  They were everywhere – flying back and forth, perched in trees, foraging along the floor… literally everywhere.  They were a very pleasant surprise, they reminded me of my home town of Chicago.  I do hope that next winter they remember how lovely it was here and decide to return.

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Pic of the Week – 1/19/13

January 24, 2013 at 3:44 pm | Posted in Pic of the Week | Leave a comment
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If there’s one thing you’ll come to find I absolutely love, it’s babies!  Even newly hatched baby birds, ugly as they may be, to me are are so ugly that they’re actually cute!  While this isn’t a newly hatched baby, I still love this shot.  This picture is from a recent trip to Green Cay Wetlands in Boynton Beach.  It’s not often that I see a Black Crowned Night Heron, in fact I only saw my first one last year, and can count how many I’ve seen collectively on my fingers.  I saw this funny looking guy sitting in the tree and was trying my best to figure out exactly what it was.  You can imagine my bird-nerd excitement when I saw momma bird sitting in the background, a Black Crowned Night Heron.  As soon as I saw her, I could immediately see the family resemblance (ok, species resemblance, but you get what I mean.)  They’re one of my favorite birds, and this weeks pic of the week.

Sanibel Snowbirds

November 25, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Posted in For the Family, The Wild Side | Leave a comment
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After an early dinner on Thanksgiving, my family and I decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather on the West Coast of Florida and head over to Sanibel Island for the afternoon.  I had read that the White Pelicans were in town for the winter and was dying to see them for myself.

Our first stop on the island was to Blind Pass Beach, an old favorite of mine.  We stopped to take pictures of the kids at the beach but we also had quite a show from feeding birds.  Out over the water, Brown Pelicans were diving left and right while Gulls circles frantically and Osprey hovered nearby.  It was a Thanksgiving feast for all the birds!  After watching the birds for a while, we “convinced” the kids to load into the car and head over to Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge to see who was wintering in town.

If there is one thing Ding never lacks, it’s shore birds.  We saw tons of Gulls, Sand Pipers, and Plovers at just about every body of water.  Even with these more common residents, I could see a big increase in population from our last visit back in May.  This was already good news to me, the cooler weather really does bring the birds into the park.

Another sure sighting in Ding Darling is the good ol Osprey.  At my last visit, we were there just after nesting season, when the young were getting ready to fledge.  This time, the posts with platforms that are set up for the Osprey to nest on were all empty, but the Osprey were still out and about.  I had heard that Bald Eagles were in town for the winter and quite often a cruising Osprey managed to psyche me out with my hopes of seeing one here. (We did, for the record, but we were driving outside of the park and it flew overhead. I cursed myself for the rest of the day, until we happened upon a pair when we were 5 minutes from where we were staying… another story to be posted over the course of the next few days.)

Of course, no trip to Ding would be complete without the plethora of Herons and Egrets.  Even the usually shy Little Blue Herons were making appearances today.  What I love about this place is that I always see at least one Reddish Egret, something I rarely see back home on the East Coast of Florida.

Despite the effort to come at the best possible time to Ding Darling (later in the day, at low tide) we didn’t see the massive flocks of Roseate Spoonbills that can be seen here at times.  I was still pleasantly surprised to see the two we did see, I always love seeing them.  We saw one wading out with other birds near a sand bar and another gracefully flying by as we got out of the car to admire something else.

Ah, the White Pelicans.  Winter residents to the refuge.  THIS was who I had come to see!  I had just missed them last spring so I wasn’t about to miss them this season.  They certainly didn’t disappoint.  There were several groupe hanging out together as more flew in for the evening doing everything a snowbird does – sleeping, eating, preening, and driving horribly… oh, wait, that’s the other kind of snowbird.  They were a beautiful sight to see!  I am grateful to have family on the West Coast now, I know I’ll be back to see them before they head back North for the summer.

Who Comes Out To Play On A Cool Day – Green Cay Wetlands, Boynton Beach, FL

November 7, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Posted in Endangered Encounters, The Wild Side | Leave a comment
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It was a chilly week here in South Florida last week!  And by chilly, I mean it was in the 60’s.  But it’s a nice change of pace for those of us here who crave cooler weather.  With the cooler weather comes more activity with wildlife, so it seemed like a good time to head out to Green Cay and see who else was out and about enjoying the beautiful day.

My first thought about the cooler weather was that surely the alligators would be out sunning themselves, keeping their cold blood warm.  Boy was I right!  There was a gator right by the boardwalk right at the first bend and their presence didn’t stop there.  All together, 7 alligators made an appearance that day.  There was one that was easily 7 feet long basking on an island as well, one swimming toward what could have potentially become a meal (we’ll get to that later), and the remaining 4 babies that hatched last year and still stick together close to their nest.

There were also several Raptors out today too.  A Red Shouldered Hawk sat perched upon a barren tree trunk, seemingly uninterested in hunting.  There was also an American Kestrel perched by the sparrow houses as if it was a birdy drive-thru.  I can’t decide if him waiting for a sparrow to come out was just unfair or incredibly genius… it seems it was a bit of both.

Also making a big appearance today were many different types of Herons.  We saw nearly all of the Heron species that call Florida home, the only one missing was the Yellow Crowned Night Heron.  The normally shy Green Herons were all over and quite active.  There were a few Little Blue Herons out as well, which are usually hit or miss here.  The always popular Great Blue Heron and Tri-Colored Herons were everywhere, as usual.  On the way out, much to my excitement, I even spotted a Black Crowned Night Heron!  This was the first time I have seen this bashful Heron, it was just calmly and quietly roosting next to the Nature Center. (Side note, I can update my Heron post now that I have photos of all Florida Heron species! Woohoo!)  To my luck, as I was driving away, I saw my second Black Crowned Night Heron… flying… almost into my windshield, but luckily we avoided a car/bird meet.

Just as numerous as the Herons were the number of Egrets.  Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and Cattle Egrets seemed to be at nearly every waters edge.  While the Great Egrets were loners and doing their own thing, the Snowy and Cattle Egrets joined the flocks of Ibis who were in feeding frenzies.

The White Ibis are always very popular at Green Cay.  They’re always there and they’re usually everywhere.  So it was nice to see the Glossy Ibis thrown into the mix with them.  Of course there were nowhere near as many as the whites, but there were quite a few here.

Amongst every group of Ibis and Egrets was usually a Wood Stork.  This goofy looking bird feeds by opening its mouth in the water and waiting for prey to swim into its beak, sometimes kicking to scare small fish in that direction. (You can see this in the top picture above.)  It’s always nice to see the Wood Stork when it makes its way down for the winter.  Walking through Green Cay and seeing them nearly everywhere, it’s hard to believe this bird is federally protected as an Endangered Species.

Joining one of the flocks of feeding birds on the back side of the wetlands was a small group of Roseate Spoonbills.  All the comotion of whatever was so great to eat must have attracted some of them close to the boardwalk where we were all able to get a great view.  Dare I say it, Spoonbill sightings seem to be becoming reliable at Green Cay.  Usually, I see one flying overhead or napping somewhere far away where it’s almost difficult to recognize them, but their beautiful pink plumage gives them away every time.  This was a lucky day for me that they were so close by as the Spoonbills are probably my favorite birds to see here.  Not because of their pretty pink feathers, though that certainly does make them popular with everyone who sees them, but it’s that odd spoon shaped beak that does it for me, I can’t help but love their faces!

Also becoming an oddly reliable sighting is the family of Black Bellied Whisteling Ducks that has taken up residence here.  I always spot them on the North side of the park, usually at a distance, but every so often you get lucky and one might be literally sitting on the boardwalk waiting for you.  I will never forget the first time I saw them there – I heard their odd whisteling noise coming from one of the islands and there they were, chasing galinules all over the place.

As we were admiring the sleeping Whisteling Ducks, an Anhinga surfaced in the water next to us.  We had seen ripples in the water where it had been swimming quickly below the surface chasing a fish,  When it popped up, it had captured its lunch, and it was stuck to its beak!  After struggling for just a few seconds, the bird flipped the fish off its beak and town its throat.  The photo above with the fish mid air was a lucky catch on my part!

Luck was certainly on my side today.  Toward the back side of the park was an American Bittern out walking around.  This was another first for me, I had never seen one before.  From speaking with someone else there, they’re apparently very shy birds and don’t tend to come out into the open much, particularly around people, and usually feed by standing within the reeds with their heads up and beaks open, ready to catch their next meal.  But here he was, out for a stroll and hunting.

Winning the “Awwww” award for the day was the family of raccoons we encountered on toward the end of the walk.  A mother was out with her 3 babies and they were just as adorable as can be!  We watched them wrestle each other, pick food off of plants, and chase birds while their mother would peek out of the plants and closely watch the approaching allogator who was inching nearer and nearer.  Of course, I wasn’t about to stick around and see just how close the alligator got.  That’s something I would imagine my 2 year old son might find a little horrifying.

And so it was another beautiful day to be outside enjoying nature.  South Florida, we have some more cool weather headed our way!  Get out and enjoy it!

Herons in Florida

October 8, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Posted in Creature Feature, The Wild Side | Leave a comment
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Florida is home to a ton of different wildlife.  A good majority of that wildlife is made up of different birds, from the tiny hummingbird to the much larger great egret.  Herons are quite popular throughout all areas of the state, usually found near any type of water body including canals, lakes, marshes, and the coast.  Here is a crash course in Florida’s Herons…

With a wing span that can stretch over 6 feet wide and standing up to 54 inches high, the Great Blue Heron is the largest heron in North America.  They typicalls feed on fish and aquatic invertebrates but can also be seen grabbing small mammals, small of baby birds, and even the occasional baby allgator if they’re brave enough to face momma gator.  They nest in the winter time with huge nests that look like giant stick piles in trees or anywhere up high.  There is also a white color morph, which looks nearly identical to the Great Egret, except that the Heron has light colored legs.

The Tricolor Heron is also a very common heron here in Florida.  Standing at around 26 inches and with a wingspan of about 36 inches, this little guy is much smaller than his Great Blue cousin.  Once known as the Lousiana Heron, the Tricolor is often confused with the Little Blue Heron.

The Little Blue Heron is a tad bit bigger than the Tricolor Heron, up to 30 inches tall and up to a 40 inch wingspan.  They are still often confused with one another.  The little blue is a solid deep blue looking color with a dark beak, while the Tricolor often has white on its chest and wings and a lighter colored beak.  The exception to the Little Blue’s color is in its younger days, it is solid white and grows into its dark color, with a white/gray pied look when it’s a juvenile.

The Green Heron is a cute little bird.  At only 19 inches high with a 26 inch wingspan, this year round resident is the smallest of our herons.  They are typically rather shy around humans and tend to keep a good distance.  The Green Heron has a unique behavior – it is actually known to “fish” by using a small insect of twig to skim the surface of water to attract a fish.

There are two types of Night Heron here in Florida.  The Yellow-Crowned Night Heron (pictured above) and the Black-Crowned Night Heron.  The Yellow-Crowned is much taller and more common that the Black-Crowned, who is a short, squaty little bird and a somewhat rare sight. (Which is why I only have a photo of the Yellow-Crowned to share with you.)

*UPDATE*  Look what I FINALLY found!  A Black Crowned Night Heron.  I actually saw two on this particular day.  This one was resting in the trees as I left a park, then a second one attempted a game of chicken with the windshield of my car.  No worries, no animals are ever harmed in the making of this blog.

Photos taken with my Nikon D3100

And there you have it!  Your quick guide to impressing friends with your Heron knowledge… or making them think you’re a total weird-o for all of a sudden becoming a wildlife pro.

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