birding to infinity – and beyond (II)
It was getting warm. Comfortable. Not hot. Blue skies, salt water and the constant sounds of birds enveloped us in a cocoon of contentment.
We exited East Gator Creek Road after thoroughly enjoying the performance of the Reddish Egret and drove out of the refuge to Parrish Park. The park is just outside the refuge at the beginning of the bridge over the Indian River to the town of Titusville. It’s a small park with a few covered picnic tables, fishing piers and boat docks. There are beach areas adjacent to and across the street from the park.
Parrish Park can be a good place to spot all sorts of birds with the combination of sandy beach, deep water under the bridge, shallow water areas, pier pilings which attract fish and crustaceans and, of course, that reliable source of free food – human beings. If one plans ahead, the park is also a good place from which to view rocket launches as Cape Canaveral is only a couple of miles away.
Today, we saw several dozen Black Skimmers napping in the parking lot and Ruddy Turnstones doing the same thing at the end of a pier. A multitude of gulls were screeching overhead, wood storks and pelicans were harassing fishermen and osprey were crashing into the water all around.
We returned to the refuge and turned onto Pump House Road. The road stops after about 50 yards and you must park and walk in order to explore this area. Hiking around here takes one along levees between vast shallow water tidal pools. I only walked about a mile and encountered a wonderful variety of water fowl. In the distance, I could see thousands of ducks massed on the surface of these impoundments. Alongside the path, I found two large groups of several hundred American Coot. Among the mass of coots were a few surprises!
As we turned back onto the main refuge road, Gini suggested (she is, you will recall, the smart one) we drive by the Black Point Wildlife Drive, in spite of the sign at the refuge entrance still flashing that it was closed. Lo and behold, it was just opening! Timing (and the right partner) is everything.
The wildlife drive is about seven miles long with occasional pull-off areas and a few spots for hiking. We found tons of birds. Ducks, waders, raptors, shorebirds.
Our next stop was Biolab Road. We had started our day at the Biolab boat ramp where we took sunrise photos. Now we drove the length of the road which travels along the western shore of Mosquito Lagoon. A nice surprise was finding evidence that spring is fast approaching – dragonflies and damselflies. Also, a woodpecker excavating a nest and alligators acting territorial confirmed that Mother Nature may not read a calendar but sure knows when the time is right for a renewal of life.
Time for lunch. Scenic spots everywhere. Oh, great! Now what? Take a bite of chicken, grab the binoculars. Take a bite of chicken, grab the camera. Life is tough for birders in paradise.
At Parrish Park, we found Black Skimmers dozing in the parking lot. Interestingly, Ring-billed Gulls were standing around the perimeter of the sleeping birds. As a car approached too close, the gulls would fly up noisily and the skimmers would look up. Avian alarm system?
Ruddy Turnstones seem to like the ends of piers. We often see them resting in such locations.
The impoundments at Pump House Road contained several large groups of American Coots. The poor Coot is often disparaged as not very photogenic. I happen to think they’re quite handsome with those red eyes, white bills, black feathers and those feet!
Hiding among the coots were several other species of water fowl. Here, a Lesser Scaup shows its iridescent head. (Sorry for the poor quality. Distant shot, highly cropped.)
American Wigeon were numerous at most stops we made and they seemed to enjoy the company of coots just fine.
I couldn’t manage a good photograph of a Redhead, but several were busily feeding along with their fowl friends.
“One of these things is not like the others.” A lone Canada Goose does its best to appear coot-like.
A short walk around the levee provided looks at a lot of birds! We found more American Avocets, some taking advantage of the protected area to snooze under the warm Florida sun.
American White Pelicans are a common sight here and large numbers are often seen along the Atlantic Ocean beach nearby.
The happy occasion of Black Point Wildlife Drive being open found us stopping often to gawk at stupendous numbers of birds. Spring is surely not far away as territorial squabbles were breaking out all around. Male Blue-winged Teal were busy biting and trying to drown each other as innocent-looking females floated nearby.
A Green Heron knows the water flowing through a culvert is quite likely to eventually deliver a meal to its waiting beak.
Shallow salt water studded with mangrove trees is a perfect place for waders such as a Tricolored Heron to hunt.
This group of three adult and two juvenile Little Blue Herons were across the street from the above Tricolored Heron. In a couple of months, the young herons will begin to become mottled blue/white/gray and they will attain their adult plumage by this time next year.
We came across a couple of palm trees with interesting fungus growing on the trunks. Looks like something melted.
Biolab Road also had its share of interesting life for us to enjoy. Here, a Northern Flicker excavates a nest cavity in a palm tree. (You can see a chunk of wood flying through the air behind her.)
More signs of spring! A collection of Rambur’s Forktail in several forms kept us busy for quite awhile. We counted at least a dozen individuals of this beautiful damselfly in less than ten square feet.
One of the larger members of the dragonfly family, a Common Green Darner (Anax junius), was kind enough to pose for a few minutes. We normally only see these big insects in flight.
A NEW Odanata species for us! An Ornate Pennant (Celithemis ornata) landed in view for a millisecond before heading for the salt marsh.
We were having so much fun with birds and bugs that we almost forgot to acknowledge who owns this part of the marsh. Good afternoon, Ms. Gator!
The middle of the day had been filled with Florida residents (such as alligators and coots), winter tourists (ducks and a goose), a surprise opening of the wildlife drive and even strong hints of impending Spring (damsels, dragons and fighting teal).
Next – creatures with ancestors over 400 million years old, a plethora of peeps and the end of the day.
Enjoy your search for natural place and come back for a visit!