Short And Sweet

Header Image: Sandhill Crane On Nest

(Whoa! Lower your expectations. This will not be a post about my favorite person. And, please, don’t tell her the title of today’s entry. She fully agrees with the latter description but takes great umbrage with the first. My physical safety is at stake here, so, thank you in advance.)

I was born in a small village in southeastern Florida long ago before the age of flying cars. Oh, wait, that hasn’t quite happened yet, despite the promises of “The Jetsons”. It was so long ago (how long ago was it?), that our main entertainment on television was the “Honeymooner’s” with Jackie Gleason, the Ed Sullivan Show and Sunday afternoon baseball. After church on Sundays during the baseball off-season, a late-afternoon treat would be the “Sunday Drive“.

We got pretty excited at that prospect (we being the children in the group), because we knew the ride usually ended in a stop at Drexel’s Dairy. For city kids (or, more precisely, suburban kids), petting a baby calf or feeding horses a carrot was a special experience. Not to mention the lasting effects (some of it on our shoes) of enjoying the fresh aroma of a working dairy. The highlight, however, was the marketing geniuses at Drexel’s knew a free cone filled with fresh ice cream would ultimately result in dairy items being ordered for delivery the following week.

That small village where I was raised grew a bit over the years. It has been several decades since I have returned to Miami and still can’t think of a reason why I would.

Solidifying the theory that Gini and I have always been soulmates is the discovery that she, too, had a similar “Sunday Drive” experience as a mere child. (Through some time-warp trick of the universe, she was a child only a couple of years ago.) Dairies and ice cream also rest within her memory of those days.

Lately, when we bring up the subject of “going for a ride”, regardless of the day of the week, it automatically triggers the loading of optical equipment, survival snacks and tumblers of water into our trusty vehicle. While none of those items may actually be used, one can never be certain when they may be needed. Cows and ice cream may not (necessarily) be our end reward, but any day spent with Gini has its own very unique and indescribable bonus, just for me. (I’m selfish that way.)

On this day’s drive, we visited a commercial sod farm. Many former citrus growers have been affected by past downturns in their industry due to economic times, natural attacks on groves and pressure from foreign competition. The demand for lush green grass from homeowners, businesses and civic developers convinced many to convert the beautiful bright green and gold landscape of citrus groves into flat squares of turf as far the eye can see.

Benefactors of this evolution, besides tireless marketing consultants telling us we must have green lawns or face excommunication, include several different species of birds, especially shorebirds, which love the constantly dampened soil (AKA: mud) which makes it easy to probe and locate all manner of protein-rich insects. The prospect of finding a sizable number of shorebirds so far from the shore makes these farms a magnet for scope-toting birders all across the land. Especially during migration.

Even better news. Getting to and from the aforementioned lawn-spawning nirvana requires a drive through some very nice birding territory!

Our actual “Sunday Drive” was fairly short as birding outings go, but it had a few sweet rewards to make for a lovely day.

About half a mile in the distance, the spotting scope revealed several hundred shorebirds feeding in the freshly watered turf. Identification was reduced to educated speculation (based on historical data) that the majority of the birds were Least Sandpipers. A small cloud of feathery visitors descended about 200 yards from us and we could identify a couple of dozen Least Sandpipers, a few Semipalmated Plovers and our first look this season of a dozen American Pipit. (Apologies for the blurry images.)

Least Sandpiper
American Pipit

The sod field is bordered by a canal which helps with irrigation. Wading birds line the banks in search of frogs, snakes and fish. A Great Blue Heron proudly displays a catch larger than would be expected from such a small canal.

Not far from the green fields we found a small pond in a large pasture where four Mottled Ducks plied the weed-filled water for their daily salad.

In this same pond, a pair of Sandhill Cranes set up house-keeping on a small island of mud and weeds. Although we are still seeing large groups of migratory Greater Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis tabida), Florida has a resident population (Grus canadensis pratensis) which breeds here. Eggs will be incubated for about four weeks.

A rather uncommon sighting was a very pale version of the Red-tailed Hawk, sometimes designated “Krider’s” Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis kriderii). Speak to a dozen taxonomists and you will find a difference of opinion on whether this is actually a sub-species. This appears to be an immature bird based on breast markings and tail pattern. Beautiful and unique, no matter what you call it!

Shorebirds away from the shore, a crane on a nest, an abnormally pale hawk – almost as good as any ice cream reward! Another very satisfying “Sunday Drive“. Our outing may have been short but it was most assuredly very sweet. (Just like you-know-who! Shhhh.)

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

31 Comments on “Short And Sweet

  1. As usual, a joy for me to read about Gini and your adventures and to see your lovely photographs. Love the Sandhill Crane adn those shots of the Heron with his dinner are great also. Gini and you are the perfect couple and are great soul mates. Thanks for popping in and leaving comments I always appreciate them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have fond memories of Mountain Plovers on a New Mexico sod farm, and American Golden-Plovers and Buff-breasted Sandpipers on one in Illinois. Unfortunately, both subsequently became inaccessible. Fences and gates (and in one case, also a shift from using sheep to highly mechanized management which greatly degraded the habitat.)

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  3. We love taking a drive too and have been searching out some trailheads we haven’t visited before. It’s always an adventure here in Florida, especially when you find water! You know you’ll see some neat birds. I don’t think we’ve seen the Pipit and I KNOW we haven’t seen a Hawk like that! What neat sightings. We did see a Sandhill Crane sitting down this week so now I’m wondered if it was on a nest! Hmmmmm! Enjoy your week and this beautiful weather! Diane

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    • Thank you very much, Diane!

      As the migratory Sandhill Cranes depart, our resident cranes are busy with building nests and mating. If you notice a single crane foraging in a pasture, chances are the mate is on a nest as otherwise they feed as a pair or family group. Now, locating a nest is another thing!

      The weather is terrific and so is the birding!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hey Wally! Probably my favourite photo here is the nesting Sandhill Crane. Love that shot. The Sandhills do get down to Palm Beach County but not so much Broward. At least I haven’t seen any. Usually I see them when riding along the highway in the center of the state. Perhaps my next visit to Lake Apopka will have some around. Likely!

    I loved this post beyond the birds for the sweet comment on a day with Gini being a special bonus on its own. Don’t mean to be too mushy but for some reason it brought to mind something I think I remember from Tim Russert’s book on fathers. It was a scene where a son overhead a conversation between his dad and his mom. The mother had a long term illness and was apologizing to her husband for messing up their plans for adventure in retirement ,as I recall , due to the health issues. The father said something like, ‘you don’t understand, I just want to be in the same room with you.’

    Seems like you and GIni have that. Mushy yeah…oh well!! I just love seeing a great relationship like this. It is special.

    Happy Sunday Driving!!

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    • We really appreciate your thoughtful comments, Judy.

      Although Florida’s Sandhill Crane population is present throughout most of the peninsula, they are most abundant in the central part of the state, especially in the grass prairies. They typically breed from February all the way through August.

      I like your mention of the passage from Tim Russert’s book.

      Mushy is as mushy does. 🙂

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  5. Great shots of some very interesting birds! You have Sandhills – I’m envious! We (or rather, Galveston does) have them, but they are so far away – ooops, forgive a moment of Gear Fever 🙂 I think I got a Kryder’s yesterday; again, very far away. Sunday drives for us (back in the 60’s) always ended with Dairy Queen. Not top-shelf, but perfect for a large family of kids. Keep the adventures coming!

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  6. That photo of the Sandhill Crane on its nest is astonishing. I don’t know where I thought they nested, but that surely wasn’t it. I’ve never associated them with water: probably because I’ve only seen them feeding in harvested rice fields or other upland areas. The hawk is gorgeous. I’d love to be able to touch those feathers — but that beak suggests it might not be a good idea.

    I smiled at your description of the Sunday drive. That was part of our routine, too. Grandma and Grandpa lived only 30 miles away, so Sunday was worship, dinner at the grandparents’ house, and then a drive through the country: usually to see how the corn was doing. Sometimes we ended the afternoon at Hesse’s ice cream parlor, home of the best orange and lime sherbets in the world, but sometimes we’d go to the A&W for breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches and root beer floats. If I could change anything about Texas, I’d add a good pork tenderloin to someone’s menu. You just can’t get them here in beef country.

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    • It’s pretty amazing how a huge crane can become invisible among a few reeds in the water. The whole time we were watching this one (10 minutes), the mate was constantly shoring up the island by pulling up weeds by the roots and laying them all around the floating home.
      When cranes hatch, the young can walk and swim within a few hours, pretty handy when you’re on an island.

      A&W Root Beer in a frosted mug after Friday night football!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for once again allowing us to go along on your Sunday Ride and for letting us glimpse through your car window and spotting scope. Seeing the crane on her nest makes me hope for better things to come.

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  8. As our mutual friend, David Gascoigne, will attest, Wally, I am rather partial to an ice cream, and even admitted to a nurse who recommended this afternoon that I should avoid fatty foods, that one of my vices was an almost daily ice cream! However, I think that I’d gladly exchange that pleasure for this sample of delightful birds that you are showing here.

    The shots of the Great Blue Heron capture the action in grand fashion. If I came across that Sandhill Crane on a nest, it would have totally confused me without it being on top of long legs. The Krider’s Red-tailed Hawk is a real beauty. Yep – I’d give up a month of ice cream for them! And that nurse would thank you.

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    • First, thank you for your usual very kind remarks, Richard.

      Secondly, no worries about giving up ice cream. I firmly ascribe to the “Ice Cream Diet”. The trick is to vary the flavors each day of the week. This method fools the body into not recognizing the stuff as calories. Trust me. (Also, don’t give your nurse my name.)

      Gini and I hope you and Lindsay are having a wonderful week!

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  9. Depending upon the country of our beginnings, we all have childhood memories. My own are similar to your own and to Gini’s, despite the fact that we grew up? thousands of miles apart. Our Sunday Drive consisted of an omnibus with the cheapest fare available that was away from the city landscape of Birmingham, not Alabama.

    Some of my earliest memories are of watching a 12” black & white TV screen to watch the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth in someone else’s house because our family were so poor that a TV was out of the question. As soon as we did have a TV I was hooked on b&w cowboy series from far off America, Lone Ranger, Tom Mix, Roy Rogers, or even us comedians like Bob Hope and the little guy whose name I forget. It’s good to know that the US still export their best comedians, like the one I am watching right now on GB News. What was that about fulfilled expectations?

    You will also be familiar with the UK Sunday tradition of mowing the lawn. And yes, we still do that and it’s almost my turn as the winter turns to spring and our garden is looking very green despite there being no citrus trees.

    Good News. We can go ringing again and soon we will catch Meadow Pipits if not American Pipits.

    That’s interesting about the pale hawk with name but looks all the world like an albino strain. I must investigate without asking an expert.

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    • Memories are the adhesive which binds our souls.

      Our Absolutely Perfect Daughter and Her Husband recently arranged to have someone take care of the lawn chores. What WILL we do that extra time?

      We are really happy to hear the ringing ban has been lifted! Go forth and stretch your nets!

      We seem to see one of these pale Red-tailed Hawks a couple of times a year during migration. We have resident birds that are quite pale, but still retain the namesake red tail in addition to having dark trailing wing edges and distinctive breast markings. Let us know your thoughts.

      We had a rather unusual birding trip today. Not that many birds but a plethora of alligators, which were being pursued (!) by tourists along the river bank. Try as I might, I wasn’t quick enough to snap an image of one being snapped up by our local welcoming committee. Next time.

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  10. The Krider’s Hawk is exceptionally interesting, Wally. I have only seen this very distinctive morph in the desert in Nevada, and would not have expected it in Florida. We get pale morph birds here, but nothing as “ghostly” as this individual. Your comments about taxonomists made me chuckle. I am quite convinced that if you get four of them in a room together you will get six different opinions!

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    • Around here (west Central Florida), a pale bird of that size is an attention-getter! I’ve seen several light-colored Red-tailed Hawks over the years here, but only three like this one.

      It’s continuing to be observed so will be interesting to see if it disappears (migrant?) or remains in the area.

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      • I was contemplating about making a snide remark concerning women and opinions but out of the corner of my eye saw Gini with a 10-inch cast iron pan which has been proven to be the perfect throwing size – and I thought better of it.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. That hawk is interesting, Wally. I saw a similar pair down in Big Cypress, and wondered why they looked so different. I should have done a little more research.

    And a nice photo of the crane too. I’ve always wondered how they and their young survive while nesting in the middle of a swamp. Seems like they’d be easy prey for gators.

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    • The pale hawk is quite the attention getter!

      The cranes are surprisingly effective at driving off alligators and other predators. Their young can walk and swim with a few hours of hatching.

      Like

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