Feathers of Florida: Part Two

Posted by ardeidae on April 15, 2007

In the fall of 2006, I assigned myself the task of photographing all the birds in the heron family, over 60 species of birds. I look forward to the travels in the coming years to achieve my goal. I chose southern Florida as my first stop since it is home to about a dozen species of herons, and they're pretty accessible. Plus, southern Florida boasts two morphs of the Great Blue Heron known as the Great White Heron and Wurdemann's Heron.

(...continued from Part One.)

After a night's rest, Carol and I were once again ready for some birds. We'd allowed ourselves to sleep in a little, so we hit the road around 9am, heading down the 75 toward Naples and Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Mini forests lined the sides of the highway. It was great to see all the trees, but the "For Sale" signs in front of them indicated that they may be replaced by a shopping center or housing development next time I come through. Traffic wasn't too bad between Fort Myers and Naples, and Great Egrets often enjoyed the same corridor, parallelling the highway to get to their destinations.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
Birds
this way!
We exited Immokalee Road and headed east toward Corkscrew. After a few miles, Immokalee curved north. Along the side of the road were egrets just wandering around. In the sky were a few vultures. And then we caught sight something extra special: a Swallow-tailed Kite. I'd read a bit about these birds in "Tracking Desire: A Journey After Swallow-Tailed Kites" by Susan Cerulean. In this book, Cerulean explains her infatuation with the bird, documents the years of research she performed on the raptor, and laments the destruction of its habitat due to development. I enjoyed the book, as did Carol, so it had extra meaning to finally see a Swallow-tailed Kite. It circled a few times and continued on.

When we arrived at the Blair Audubon Center at Corkscrew around 10am, it was partly cloudy, around 70 degrees, and calm. We paid our admission fee and continued on to the boardwalk and into pine flatwood habitat, where we watched as a Downy Woodpecker flew in. It knocked on a tree for a few minutes and took off. A Red-shouldered Hawk flew in and stopped for a brief moment on a dead tree before taking back to the air.

Wet Prairie
Wet Prairie
We continued on to wet prairie habitat. Well, it wasn't really wet at this time of year, but it must be quite a sight when it is.
Sleepy Squirrel
Sleepy
Squirrel
This is an interesting patch on the boardwalk, with pine flatwood on one side, and pond cypress on the other. We stopped briefly at Sawgrass Pond. A few people were looking intently toward one side of the walk. A docent explained that Painted Buntings often stop by a feeder there. After 30 minutes we'd managed to see some Yellow-rumped Warblers, White-eyed Vireos, and a resting Eastern Gray Squirrel, but no Painted Bunting. We advanced up the path, where we saw a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher flittering around. Shortly thereafter, we came to a sign. One way pointed to a marsh overlook, the other to lettuce lakes. Hmmm...which way? Someone walking by helped make the decision by mentioning the herons and storks at the lettuce lakes. And what a choice it was!

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron

Black-crowned Night-Heron
Black-crowned
Night-Heron


Tricolored Heron
Tricolored Heron

Since it's been so dry, much of the water is concentrated in a few small areas. This makes it a little easier to find the birds since they congregate where their food is...in the water.
Anhinga
Anhinga

White Ibis
White Ibis
(juvenile)


Wood Stork
Wood Stork
(juvenile)


Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned
Night-Heron


Belted Kingfisher
Belted
Kingfisher
Photo | Video
I was awed at the sight of arriving at the lettuce lakes. There were birds everywhere, and all within 20-30 feet of me! There must have been about 30 Wood Storks roosting in the trees and feeding, White Ibises poked around in the water, and Anhingas sunned themselves. I was especially elated to see all the herons. There were Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, and Black-crowned Night-Heron. I noted the absence of the Snowy Egret to a docent, and he mentioned that they don't usually come around. He also mentioned that there are usually Yellow-crowned Night-Herons there, but since it was nesting season for them, they were hiding away on nests. The Great Egret and Great Blue Heron were pretty much solitary feeders, standing still while waiting for something to swim by. Tricolored Herons waded around a little. The Little Blue Herons made boisterous entrances and exits. Black-crowned Night-Herons stayed mostly perched, some on lower branches near the water. The method of feeding for the Wood Stork was interesting; with their beaks half submerged in the water, they take a slow step forward and stir up the water with their stepping foot. Some times they'll quickly stretch out a wing. And an amazing part of this was that there was an American Alligator slowly moseying around, occasionally coming up with a turtle or some similar food. The birds kept a little distance from the alligator, but they weren't too concerned as the alligator was more focused on finding an easier meal on the bottom of the pond.

Carol decided to check out the outlook at the marsh to see if she could spot another Swallow-tailed Kite. I was so intent on all the birds at the lettuce lakes, I completely lost track of time. It wasn't until she caught back up with me at 1:30, that I realized I was getting hungry. We started back toward the nature center, but ran into another slightly larger lake. Here, a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron sat perched and allowed me to get some shots. A young alligator sat on a little log sunning itself. A female Belted Kingfisher alerted us to her presence as she landed in a tree about 20 yards away. We noticed that she was holding a fish in her beak. The fish was a little too big swallow, so she kept beating the fish on the branch. Birds will do this to catfish to break off the bony spikes, but this was no catfish, it was just too big to handle. I got some shots and managed to get some video through my digiscoping setup. The video is a little jiggly because of the people walking by, but still fun to watch. To watch it, you must have QuickTime installed.

After about a half hour, we decided to continue on. My stomach was really starting to growl at me. Forget hunger though, shortly up the path, a docent pointed out a Barred Owl that sat perched about 20 yards through the trees. It was slightly blocked by some branches, but I took some shots anyway.

Barred Owl
Barred Owl
As I left the pond cypress and entered into the wet prairie clearing, looked up and saw Black Vultures, Turkey Vultures, and another Swallow-tailed Kite. The kite made a quick circle and headed back behind the tree line. As we approached the nature center, we caught sight of Northern Cardinal, Common Grackle, and Boat-tailed Grackle.

As Carol and I picked something out at the nature center's food counter, the attendant described a little grey bird with a black cap that keeps visiting the patio. As I opened my field guide to show her a likely picture, a Grey Catbird landed on the outside railing. Sure enough, she had been making friends with a Gray Catbird. The sanctuary closed at 4:30, and by the time we finished eating, it was too late to go back out. It had been an awesome visit and I was thrilled at all the birds I'd seen!

On our way back to Fort Myers, we decided to take the part of the Tamiami Trail that we had passed up the day before in favor of the quicker 75 route. About 15 minutes before our motel, we passed by a Famous Dave's restaurant. I'd eaten at the one in Lincoln, Nebraska a few times and found it to have excellent barbecue. After dropping our stuff off at the motel, we headed back to Dave's. What a satisfying way to end such an exciting day!

(Continue to Part Three)

Your photos are remarkable, Jason. Spotting all those egrets and herons is always exciting, but when they’re in breeding plumage, the views are astounding!

Posted by Mike  on  04/19  at  09:32 AM

Thanks Mike! I was hoping to catch them in breeding plumage, and things turned out quite well. There are plenty more photos to come. Be sure to check out my Florida photo set on Flickr.

Posted by Jason  on  04/21  at  11:04 PM

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