Transitions, Part II: Viera Wetlands

[For part I, from the Moccasin Island tract, click here.]

The Viera Wetlands (officially the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands at Viera) are an important wintering area for many birds. Ducks, coots and gallinules  gather in large floating groups, called rafts, to feed and provide common defense. Mergansers and grebes mingle with them in pairs or small groups, and we even had Mute Swans this past year.

It’s a little early in the wintering season, but I thought it would be good to see how the Wetlands transition from summer to winter. The American Coots were already starting to gather in groups but other species, like this Pied-billed Grebe, were enjoying the larger stretches of still empty water before things get noisy and crowded.

Lone grebe as a picture of solitude.

The lake at the center of the Wetlands is a favorite place for gulls, terns and Ospreys to dive for fish. Normally when an Osprey goes after a fish, it strikes the water feet first and uses them to grab its prey and immediately flies back into the air. Osprey have special barbs, called spicules, on the underside of their feet that aid it in grasping fish and manipulating to to face head-first. This makes transporting the fish to either a nest of an eating perch more aerodynamic and therefore more energy efficient. What happens when an Osprey dives a little too hard and misses its meal?

A dejected and wet Osprey drips dry after diving in a little to hard for a meal.

Heron and egret activity was much reduced. I saw no Cattle Egrets and the rookery trees were empty. There were a few Green Herons across the lake from me, and I saw just one each Great Blue Heron and Great Egret. Now that breeding and nesting season is over, the males have molted and lost their plumes and lancet feathers, but still retain a simple beauty and grace.

A Snowy Egret standing patiently. Normally this species is an active feeder, using its bright golden-colored feet to stir up fish, crustaceans and frogs.

Herons sometimes amaze me with the focus and patience they have when stalking the edge of a pond or standing, head poised for a quick strike to grab a fish or a frog. There was a Little Blue Heron that was so intent on its foraging activities that it gave me almost no mind as I got within a couple of feet.

This Little Blue Heron was so focused, I could almost see laser beams coming out of its eyes.

Its nonchalance seemed to attract a Glossy Ibis and Common Gallinule; the normally more skittish birds hung close to it and only glanced at me once or twice before I moved on.

When you hear a Common Gallinule’s calls, you realize why this species used to be called the Common Moorhen (hen as in chicken).

Other birds have finished their end of summer molting as well. The small flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds and Boat-tailed Grackles are generally quieter now that the chaos of summer is over. The birds making the loudest ruckus were the Gray Catbirds in the trees and brush along the outside of the outer road.

This female Boat-tailed Grackles feathers looked almost like a burnished metal in the sun.

I walked back to my car and drove a partial loop to get to the exit, covering some of the same ground I did on foot. Not much had changed in the short time, except more Osprey were diving for food, and I hope this one wound up more successful, or at least less wet, than the first one I saw.

Best of luck and farewell.

Here is the complete species list, including my adventures at the Moccasin Island Tract. You can read about it in part 1.

  • American White Pelican
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Mourning Dove
  • Common Grackle
  • Tree Swallow
  • Purple Martin
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Great Blue Heron
  • American Crow
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • Bobolink
  • Wilson’s Snipe
  • Tri-colored Heron
  • Great Egret
  • White Ibis
  • Glossy Ibis
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Roseate Spoonbill
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • House Wren
  • Northern Cardinal
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • Grey Catbird
  • Common Ground Dove
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Blue Jay
  • Green Heron
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Osprey
  • Anhinga
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • American Coot
  • Common Gallinule
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Snowy Egret
  • American Kestrel
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Wood Stork

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