Stick Marsh/Goodwin Lake – August 31, 2014

Four weeks have passed since my prior visit to the Stick Marsh/Fellsmere Grade Recreation Area/T. M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area/etc. I returned there yesterday with two hopes. First, I wanted to get there early enough to have a better chance at identifying some rails (either visually or by voice). Second, I wanted to ascend the observation tower at “Goodwin Lake.”

You’ve heard what’s been said about the best laid plans.

I arrived later than I intended, and then helped some gentlemen that were stuck on the access road with a flat boat trailer tire. I rolled into the parking lot well after sun-up. I noticed right away that everything seemed much quieter than the last time. Most notably absent were the Common Gallinules. There were none to be seen nor heard anywhere near the boat ramp or nearby areas. The heron/ibis rookery was still a bit noisy, but there were not as many wading birds around either. Both species of vultures were present, but not in as great numbers as last time.

Also, instead of many pairs of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, there were mainly solitary ducks, each staking out a tree-top or stump. I recall seeing only two or three pairs the entire morning.

photo bbwd-display.jpg
Black-bellied Whistling Duck in territorial display. They stretch their necks out and down like this to warn off other ducks.

For this visit I walked along the artificial lake southward. To my left were the extensive marshy areas, and in there were Roseate Spoonbills, some ibises and various herons and egrets. Along the lake side of the path, in rows of trees growing out of the water, there were Anhingas, which were there last time, and cormorants.

photo cormorant.jpg
Double Crested Cormorant. Cormorant is derived from old French (via Latin) meaning “sea raven”. Sounds portentous!

photo anhinga.jpg

As the breeding and fledging season ends, birds are molting prior to autumn, which left a good deal of birds with unusual and missing plumage. Some birds had a patchwork of juvenile and adult plumage.

photo grackle-molt.jpg
This was the most this shy grackle would allow me to see of him. Note the black vest or jacket of adult feathers.

Many of the other blackbirds had missing tail feathers, which made for adventurous flights over the marsh as the birds tried to fly without the stability the tail helps provide.

photo tailless.jpg
One of many tailless blackbirds.

I turned around about half-way along the lake’s length and walked back to the parking lot. Along the way there were Barn Swallows and at least one Caspian Tern. While unusual, this last species is not unprecedented in the area in late summer but is a first of the year bird for me.

A Yellow-crowned Night Heron also flew overhead, which was also a  first of the year for me.

My bicycle was in the back seat of the car, so I took that opportunity to ride it with my gear over to the observation tower overlooking Goodwin Lake. It’s almost 4.5 km (2.75 miles) from the parking lot to the observation tower, and it was already getting quite hot. The roadside was populated by vultures and Cattle Egrets, with an occasional shrike and mockingbird. I could hear Common Gallinules and other marsh birds in the thick vegetation, but nothing that let itself be seen.

As I approached the observation tower, I could see the nearby picnic area was too overgrown to make any use of. As I got off my bicycle I was disheartened to say the least.

Overgrowth, a bee hive and a large spider web (complete with resident spider) kept me from ascending the observation tower by Goodwin Lake.

The tower was overgrown, and bees had taken up residence under the first step. If that wasn’t reason enough to forgo any ascent up the tower, a Corn Spider (or Black-and-yellow Argiope) had woven a 5 foot by 2 foot oval web across the first stairwell. There was little choice but to cycle my way back. The heat was really building, and the morning about over. It took a lot out of me to get back to the car, but luckily I had packed some reserve water to drink in case my CamelBak ran dry (it did).

My species list includes:

  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Cattle Egret
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Limpkin (♫)
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Black-bellied Whistling Duck
  • Anhinga
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Least Sandpiper
  • Osprey
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Roseate Spoonbill
  • Great Egret
  • White Ibis
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Tri-colored Heron
  • Green Heron
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Barn Swallow
  • Yellow-crowned Night Heron (FOY)
  • Caspian Tern (FOY)
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Common Gallinule (♫)

I am more curious now than ever about what the field trip to this area are like during the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival.

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