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!
Ah…next time I shall have to hang out near the bridge for a bit and hope for some Pelican pictures. 🙂
That can be a good spot. And on the beach. And the boat ramps. And – just about anywhere within the marsh!
A wonderful day out, Wally. A fine group of birds by any standard. Northern Flickers should be arriving here any day now and they will vying with resident woodpeckers for prime breeding snags. Last year I watched a male diligently excavate a hole, taking several days to complete but then it was abandoned and not even taken over by a starling. Strange huh? The lone Canada Goose must be a snowbird who has forgotten the way home! Take good care and keep on enjoying nature.
Good morning, David!
It seems many species of woodpecker excavate a nest hole only to abandon it. I read a paper many years ago which theorized something such as insect infestation or poor drainage may be the cause of the behavior. My own learned theory, based upon 53 years of marriage, has to do with a dissatisfied mate. No other reason needed. Go find another spot!
The Canada Goose simply wanted to linger in our Florida sunshine and enjoy the lushness of our salt marsh vegetarian platters just a bit longer.
We hope all is well with you and Miriam!
I like the idea of the traffic lights at the entrance to Black Point Wildlife Drive. I wonder if the birds and the alligators know of the system?
“Come on guys, rise and shine. Get those feathers preened and looking their best. And you, Fat Al – Get puffed up, bare your teeth and look really mean and scary. There’s a gang of tourists coming today and we need to make sure they tell their friends over in England how this is more exciting than Disney.”
A seven mile drive with lots of stop-offs sounds just the job for me and Sue. I could bird and she could get out a sun lounger from the boot (not trunk) that has her built in drinks tray to pass the time of day.
I’m sure you’re correct about the sentinel gulls and their relationship with the skimmers. Birds are a lot smarter than we mostly give them credit.
Those other skimmers and forktails relly impress me with their colours. Mind you, a little sunshine makes a big difference. If Only!
Friday evening and an early start tomorrow. Andy is insisting we meet up for more ringing. 5am alarm.
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Don’t give “managers” any ideas with that traffic light suggestion! They will figure out a way to implement it!
It’s an interesting time to be out and about. Spring migration occurring in stages. The same story for nesting. A lot of activity!
Hope your early start pays dividends and you run out of rings.
Vernal equinox this weekend is bound to produce some feathered rarity! Or at least some bugs to pester. (Rather than vice versa.)
Take care, stay safe, wear at least four masks and take plenty of shots – of something or other.
Your post has raised my spirits, thank you Wally – I was in need of that!
For me, the avian star of the piece was that wonderful Northern Flicker excavating the nest hole.
The real treat, however, was the Odonata which featured at the end. The Rambur’s Forktail has similarities, including colour morphs, with our Blue-tailed Damselfly which, I guess, I shouldn’t be surprised by as they are both Ischnura. I’d love to see a Common Green Darner and there are occasional records of this species arriving in UK – thought to be brought eastward by hurricanes. This part of your post has filled me with hope for the emergence of damsels and dragons here – probably in a couple of months time when, hopefully, I will not have ‘gators to worry about!
My very best wishes to you and Gini – – – Richard
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Thank you so much, Richard! Just the thought of you feeling even a little better has made my day.
Yes, I was so excited to see the flurry of damsels and dragons, I literally jumped out of the car and began snapping photos! Hopefully, you will have the same experience in a few weeks!
New adventures await!
What an absolutely BLISSFUL day. Thank you for sharing the magic.
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It was pretty terrific, EC! Wish you had been there.
Salt and sun have healing powers!
(That’s our story and we’re sticking with it.)
Yesterday, I saw my first damselfly of the spring. One step at a time.
I can’t believe the numbers of birds you see. I wonder if our freeze has scattered ours. At the refuges last weekend, the bird count was roughly a half-dozen Sandpipers (or something), one White Egret, a few Northern Shovelers, and one Herring Gull. Last year at this time, the birds were thick. It’s a good thing I have your photos to enjoy!
I’d forgotten the green herons, it’s been so long since I’ve seen one. They ought to be showing up soon, to replace some of those that are winging northward!
I really was intrigued by your photo of the Flicker. I’ve been hearing a woodpecker of some sort on one of our palm trees. I didn’t realize they would work palms, but apparently they do. I need to walk down and give the tree a better look. I’d assumed it was looking for insects, but there might be home-building going on.
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As we gained birding experience, we learned where and when to go to see large numbers. We typically visit small venues or just ride through a section of woods or swamp and will see only a few birds.
For us, the adventure nature provides is the motivation. If we see birds, bugs and blooms – well, that’s just icing on our cake!
Most species of woodpecker found in Florida will nest in a dead palm tree. As with other trees, old nests provide great places for other critters, such as Screech Owls or ‘Possums.
Here’s hoping your birds show up in big numbers soon!
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Of course, for numbers, we do have the alligators — every size, and every age!