Touch of Grey

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Lots of silver linings this morning.

It was a soggy start to the day today at Pine Island Conservation Area. To echo the somber mood, the birds that were visible looked suitably forlorn in the damp.

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Wet Turkey Vulture.

Believe it or not, I stayed in the car for quite a while until the conditions improved. The rain did very slowly taper off.

There were Barn Swallows zipping around, and I could hear Killdeers somewhere across the pond (though I didn’t see any until much later).

I managed to flush a pair of Bald Eagles, in adult plumage, from a nearby tree. In the mist I thought they were Black Vultures and didn’t have my camera ready. They flew across to the opposite side of the pond, where a nest was also visble.

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Eagle’s nest through the drizzle.

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Bald Eagle pair in the distance through the rain (really working at my camera’s limit here).

I could hear Common Gallinules in the marsh areas, but they stayed mostly out of sight. I did see one Loggerhead Shrike and various herons. Most of them seemed skittish, though one Great Blue Heron stuck around long enough for a photo-op.

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Great Wet Heron.

I did feel bad for the vultures. With the rain and lack of sunshine, there were no thermals for them to take advantage of, so they just sat in the trees, hunched like they were stuck in the rain waiting for the bus or a cab.

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Poor things looked so miserable.

As I said, eventually the rain began to let up, and with it my birding (and other) fortunes. Along the path running to the west of the pond I heard a “twit twit twit” call and came across my first Northern Waterthrush!

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The irony of finding a waterthrush on such a soggy day was not lost on me.

While I was watching that little one, I was paid an unexpected visit from a creature that was either really overly friendly or horribly near-sighted.

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Friendly neighborhood Nine-banded Armadillo.

I’ve had close encounters with armadillos while hiking and birding before, but I’ve never had one come up like this. It even sniffed by boot before scurrying off. I don’t think it was ill, just hungry and preoccupied (and nearly blind).

Quite a few butterflys were also around, despite the rain and drizzle. This Mangrove Buckeye was one of several.

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The spots on the wings are designed to ward of predators. If you were looking to make a meal, it looks like the butterfly has huge eyes on its wings, watching your every move. Better to go find a less alert dinner!

I usually see White Peacock Butterflys too. Today they were either trying to mate or really chasing each other around for territory (or both). Note the lower left wing is missing a piece on this individual.

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This species also has eye spots, though they are less obvious than on the buckeye species.

As a child who spent just about any available non-school hours outside catching frogs, snakes and anything else, I am quite familiar with garter snakes, but until today, I’ve never seen a BLUE one.

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Bluestripe Garter snakes are normall found in northwestern Florida. I must admit it was a bit of shock seeing an otherwise familiar animal with such bright blue.

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Close-up of the head. What a cutie!

[EDIT: Dr. Kenneth Krysko of the Florida Museum of Natural History and the University of Florida told me via e-mail that blue striped garter snakes are sighted all over the state. He also said, “Because of this, many of us suspect that this is another example of a named subspecies based on arbitrary color pattern.”]

As I began heading back toward the parking area, the sun started to break through the gloom. The first birds to perk up were the vultures. They used their broad wings as solar heaters to warm up and prepare to take advantage of the day’s first thermals.

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♫ Here comes the sun! ♪

I missed what could have been a pretty epic photograph because I was cleaning water off my camera lens. On one tree limb was a Downy Woodpecker, a Red-bellied Woodpecker and a Northern Flicker. They dispersed before I could get the camera set.

As I got closer to the car, I noticed a sparrow running through the grasses and undergrowth along the wide path and then in the parking area itself. Strangely, a mockingbird seemed to be shadowing its steps from atop the wooden railing around the parking area. It took some careful stalking, but I managed to flush it into a sapling long enough for some photos. I had to consult my Peterson field guide, and what do you know? It was a Lark Sparrow! Not impossible or unprecidented, but not common in eastern Florida, even in migration.

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Hello, what have were here? Welcome to Florida!

It’s continued to rain today, but I ended up not minding the touch of grey. I saw a life-lister, a blue snake and had a personal greeting from an armadillo.

The species list for the day, including Pine Island Road (in and out bound):

  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Common Gallinule
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Mourning Dove
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Killdeer
  • Bald Eagle
  • Black Vulture
  • Barn Swallow
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Osprey
  • Green Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Tri-colored Heron
  • Common Ground Dove
  • Northern Waterthrush
  • Anhinga
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Carolina Wren (♫)
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Lark Sparrow (*)
  • Rock Pigeon
  • European Starling

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I wonder, who’ll stop the rain?

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