Morning Buffet

Header Image: American Kestrel (Female)

The sun had been up for half an hour as we made our way along the crushed shell road. Summer. We miss the numbers of migrating birds which spend winter with us but relish the sights and sounds of our local avian residents as they go about the routine of courtship, mating, nest building and rearing a family. Northern Cardinals seem to be everywhere! Florida’s long warm season encourages them to have two or three broods each year. Eastern Towhees sing from the tall grass: “Drink-Your-Teeeeeeea“. An Osprey swoops low overhead with a fresh fish clutched in his talons and lands on a huge nest where he is greeted by Mom and Junior with open beaks. Spider webs spun during the night glisten in the morning sunshine as they have captured thousands of jewel-like dew drops. Raucous Blue Jays and Fish Crows try to chase a Red-shouldered Hawk out of the neighborhood.

A new day is underway.

One of my favorite memories from childhood is a Sunday-after-church visit to a local cafeteria style restaurant. Moving along the buffet line, I was mesmerized by the choices in front of me. I can still smell the roast beef and gravy! Unfortunately, my Mother would always insist my plate included “green stuff” or boiled carrots. Yuk. At the end of the line, the sheer volume of desserts available was almost too much for my undeveloped senses to handle. Cake? Pie? Pudding? Ice cream? Mother again: “Only one.” Sigh.

Today, Gini and I experience that sort of feeling each time we venture into Florida’s natural world. An additional benefit is Mother Nature allows us to enjoy as much as we can stand! No limits. We are so fortunate!

Highlights of our morning were a new family of Swallow-tailed Kites, a pair of unafraid Black-bellied Whistling-ducks, our largest hawk and our smallest falcon. Bonus: damsels, dragons and butterflies. (Oh, my!)

Grab a tray and go through the buffet line with us.

It is a joy to watch these graceful raptors hunt and often munch on their prey as they continue to fly. Habitat destruction has greatly reduced the Swallow-tailed Kites’ numbers over the years. We are very thankful they spend the summer with us.

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks are, like most wild things, skittish and take flight when we get close. This pair remained on their log and permitted a few photographs. It occurred to me they may have a nest nearby, so I backed off and thanked them for the opportunity.

An emerald green female Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) contemplates whether to fly or attack. She remained for a moment.

Down the road, a slate blue male Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) lies in wait for breakfast.

A young Osprey has fully fledged and we watched as he practiced his flight training for awhile. Mom was perched nearby clucking her approval.

It may be one of our more common butterflies, but the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) is like a flying bundle of sunshine. Bright and beautiful!

Yet another new family. Biologists have concluded American Kestrels which breed in Florida are a sub-species (Southeastern American Kestrel – Falco sparverius paulus) of the northern species Falco sparverius sparverius. We were quite fortunate to find an adult male and female with two immature birds hunting insects in a large field. North America’s smallest falcons – it was a fascinating treat to watch them work!

American Kestrel – Female
American Kestrel – Male

At the other end of the field where we found the Kestrels, Florida’s largest resident hawk, the Red-tailed Hawk, kept watch atop a utility pole. Once we arrived, she didn’t hang around and went in search of a hunting spot without humans pointing and gawking.

A pair of Brown Thrashers were busy flying back and forth to and from a particular tree. We suspect nest-building was in progress but didn’t actually see them carrying construction material. Perhaps they were just shopping for a good location.

For me, more feared than toothy alligators are some of our large wasps. Painful memories! These are Ringed Paper Wasps (Polistes annularis).

Once in awhile, my photographic motto (“Better Lucky Than Good”) actually works. Today I found an Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera) and a Rambur’s Forktail (Ischnura ramburii) sharing the same reed.

Our dessert today came in the form of a Cicada exuvia. A few years ago, a female Cicada laid eggs at this location. The eggs hatched and the ant-sized nymphs fell and burrowed into the ground. They found a root of grass or tree to feed upon and remained underground for several years, undergoing a series of molts. The final molt causes the nymph to exit from the ground, climb a tree or weed and fasten itself securely. The adult Cicada emerges, sings its summer buzzy song, eats, mates and dies within a few weeks. The cycle begins again.

Our morning buffet was truly outstanding! Nature has a similar offering for you not too far away.

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

19 Comments on “Morning Buffet

  1. The best part of this buffet is that I can partake of it all; it’s the first time everything you’ve shown here is a part of Texas life, too. Your Red-tailed Hawk looks as though she might be practicing the Hokey-Pokey, putting that right foot out and shaking it all about! I just adore the Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. There’s a group of teenagers carrying on at the Brazoria refuge now; they favor the roof of the boardwalk shelter as a place to roost and practice threatening one another. They’re so funny — and it’s even funnier that the pair I assume might be the parents keep an eye on them but from a distance. For sheer beauty, I give the Kestrel and the Gulf Fritillary pride of place; thanks for sharing them with us!

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    • You and Gini are on the same wave-length as her first response upon seeing that hawk picture was to break into song: “Put your right foot in …..”!

      The Kestrel family was very special for us as we could confirm they are breeding in that particular area. Kestrel sightings in Florida in the summer are not all that common.

      Hope the coming week is filled with good things for you! Try to stay cool!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good Morning Wally and Gini. Thank you for the invite to your breakfast buffet. Gini is quite right to limit your intake of sweet muffins, after all the idea is to leave some for the other guests.

    I’m reminded of our many visits to Hotel Sant Tomas, Menorca and the tricks of some guests. Fill the plate with all sweets, return to the table and empty your plate onto the table for later. Return to the buffet and fill a larger plate with the meat and fish courses and return to the table. In this way they ensured they had the most of the best sweets on offer and could always go back for even more. Oh the fun we had watching their manoeuvres.

    The treats that awaited me at your buffet were so awesome that I actually went along the line again to revisit the tastier morsels again to take a second helping, the majestic kite, the kestrels and that precise looking Osprey. The Florida Kestrel, a first for me and for you too. Where would we be without the experts to guide us? Enjoy your day my lovely friends.

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    • Top o’ the mornin’, Phil.

      I wish I had known your …. uhhh …. the “guests” tricks for negotiating the buffet when I was younger.

      We’ll continue to load up at Nature’s buffet and enjoy every offering!

      Gini and I truly hope your new week will be filled with birds begging to be ringed!

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  3. What a beautiful nature buffet. I have a few favorites, the Whistling Ducks, Kestrel and the Amberwing. Have a great day and a happy weekend!

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  4. Ooooh, Every photo is just beautiful, Wally! I must admit that I am especially enamored with the Swallowtail Kite and the Kestrel, in particular! What a marvelous collection!

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  5. I do enjoy buffet-style meals, and often find that I never get beyond the starters, Wally. However, If I ever had the opportunity to enjoy a buffet like that, I’d have to make my way through the whole menu – and then have a long lie-down afterwards!

    Fabulous photography and entertaing and informative words as always – thank you for lifting my evening.

    Best wishes to you both – stay safe – – – Richard

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    • It’s a good thing I have a “sweet tooth” because nature serves up scrumptious desserts every time we go out!

      Happy to hear your evening was lifted, Richard.

      Gini and I hope all is well with you and Lindsay.

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  6. It’s true, Wally, nature’s buffet has no limits and in addition to what you see right before your eyes there are other treats just hidden out of view, but turn over the corner of the tablecloth and they will be right there. Very soon we will be preparing to send replenishments your way, so the buffet will be overflowing. I am sure that you will feast on it daily.

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    • How right you are, David! Just when we think we’ve seen it all, something new and wonderful appears!

      We appreciate you sending along refills! Can’t wait.

      Even nature’s leftovers are great. Heading out now to enjoy some.

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  7. That was an outstanding morning buffet, Wally!

    And we remember and miss Picadilly Cafeteria too. I never went as a child but we used to take our kids there all the time.

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  8. Excellent menu Wally. I’ll take a large portion of the Kestrels to take away, they are gorgeous. A side order of the Swallow-tailed Kite (one was reportedly seen over here last week, make of that what you will) and for afters the Fritillary please.

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    • Happy to serve you, Brian.

      One of our Kites missed his flight to Argentina and apparently boarded the wrong follow-on flight! Or – he read the UK brochure and couldn’t resist.

      Liked by 1 person

      • More likely a case of wrong id, time will tell. There have been a couple of records from the Azores and Canary Isles so they made it across the Atlantic. It could be this springs Azores bird re-orientating or a hoax.

        Liked by 1 person

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