Where Did I Go?

I had a fun and interesting time this Sunday in Fellsmere. I had heard from a co-worker that there was some good wildlife viewing where he had ridden his bicycle, west of the St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park. I’m not particularly familiar with that area, but I know the “Stick Marsh” is often mentioned in that area, and there’s usually a field trip out that way during the Florida Birding and Wildlife Festival. In any case, trying to find “Stick Marsh” on Google Maps just showed an erstwhile bait and tackle shop where there’s a boat ramp. I’ve also seen it referred to as “Blue Cypress Lake.”

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Part of the Stick Marsh at dawn.

In any case, off the “main” road, one traverses a couple of miles on an dirt road with occasional metal catwalk overlooks of some marsh vegetation along some drainage canals. Unfortunately, any “parking” areas near these overlooks have stern signage saying “NO PARKING HERE.”

I got to the parking area, which had a lot of truck and boat trailer parking, but a few “normal” parking areas too. “Heres the Stick Marsh” I said to myself and was promptly greeted by a bunch of vultures, welcoming me to…wait, what?

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A couple of locals formed a welcoming committee.

There were also signs for “Blue Cypress Lake” and “Three Forks Conservation Area”…

I was pleasantly surprised at the large number of Limpkins around the boat ramp and the adjacent waters. They were quite conspicuous, both visually and vocally. Incidentally, this is the first visual ID of Limpkins I’ve had this year. I’ve heard them before now, the first time at the Birding Festival’s Marl Bed Flats field trip.

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One of many Limpkins.

In the smaller overflow ponds there were numerous Common Gallinules, both adults and juveniles. The chicks were about as big as the adults, but still quite gray in color and without the prominent red forehead shields.

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Hey baby, what’s up?

Shrikes were also common. I saw about half a dozen individuals, most catching lizards in the tree tops and whacking them on branches or utility wires before eating them. 

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Superficially similar to mockingbirds, shrikes are far more sleek and lethal.

The trees across from the boat ramp were full of both Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures. While waiting for the morning to warm up and for thermals to develop, many of the the vultures had their wings spread, back to the sun, warming up and getting ready to start their day.

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Sun worshippers.

Within five minutes of that photo being taken, the vulture began to take to the sky en masse. Within a couple of minutes they had already formed 2 large circling groups, or “kettles” as they soared higher on rising thermals.

photo kettle.jpg
Morning commute for vultures.

The only duck species I encountered were numerous mated pairs of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. I’d tell you how I knew they were mated pairs, but this is generally a family friendly blog ;-). Unlike many ducks, Black-bellieds like to perch up on trees and stumps. Many pairs were high on the tops of palm trees near the water’s edge. This pair was a bit closer to the surface of the pond, maybe about 10 to 15 feet up. I wonder when their chicks normally fledge, because I saw no baby or juvenile-appearing ducks, only adult pairs (and some singles).

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Black-bellied whistling duck pair.

There were large alligators as well. I estimated that two of the bigger ones I saw were definitely over 10 feet long. The gallinules and Limpkins squawked out their alarm calls whenever one cruised by.

I skulked around some of the narrow penisulas between Blue Cypress Lake and the adjacent pond, where I saw this Osprey, which had just landed a fish, and several Spotted Sandpipers, as well as Red-bellied Woodpeckers. I flushed even more Limpkins and Common Gallinules as well.

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Breakfast, interrupted…

From there I crossed over some drainage canals into an area marked as the T. M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area. This is a series of levees and flooded areas, laid out in long grids.

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Not a lot of waterfowl to manage today.

My goal was to reach what was marked on the trailhead map as Lake Goodwin, but my water began to run out, it was getting very hot and humid, and I was being assaulted by really big horse flies! On my way out and back through this area, I saw Red-winged Blackbirds, more Common Gallinules, a couple of distant Common Yellowthroats, and even a few Swallow-tailed Kites!

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In keeping with my confusion over the name of where I was, Common Yellowthroats’ songs can be written as, “Which is it, which is it, which is it? Which?”

Despite some early confusion, it ended up being a nice 1/2 day excursion. Here’s the species list in approximate order of first identification:

  • Turkey Vulture
  • Black Vulture
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Cattle Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • White Ibis
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Limpkin
  • Common Gallinule
  • Green Heron
  • Tri-colored Heron
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Spotted Sandpiper
  • Osprey
  • Black-bellied Whistling Duck
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Anhinga
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Great Egret
  • Carolina Wren (♫)
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Swallow-tailed Kite
  • Mourning Dove
  • Northern Mockingbird

There were some tantalizing clues that some rails were lurking in some of the marsh vegetation, but I could never be sure the calls I was hearing were not Common Gallinules. I tried comparing what I was hearing to some recordings I had on my iBird Pro app, but it just confused me more. I hope to get out even earlier next time out to this place in hopes of catching some more definitive proof.

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