Striking it Ritch in Viera

The bird population at the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands continues to change and grow as winter sets in. I identified almost 50 different bird species on Sunday, plus a handful of ambiguous sightings. More duck populations are arriving, with Lesser Scaups, Ring-necked Ducks, Blue-winged Teals, Canvasbacks, Redheads, and a Hooded Merganser all present.

It was cloudy most of the morning with a few breaks of sunshine which transformed the Wetlands from looking like this:

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To this:

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There were several species of terns flying and diving for fish. I didn’t see any Least Terns, but in addition to the larger Caspian and Royal Terns there were several Forster’s Terns making circuits over the water. The terns were using the stiff northerly breeze to help them hover over a promising spot before diving in. Then they turned and used the tail-wind to speed around for another pass. Forster’s terns come to the Wetlands every winter and are among the most active feeders.

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In the summer Forster’s Terns have entirely black caps, but here you can see the extended black “ear patch” of its winter plumage.

There have been Northern Harriers patrolling the Wetlands for the past two visits. This harrier was resting after cruising the marshes and stirring up trouble, scattering coots and ducks everywhere.

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Male Northern Harriers are gray and the females brown. Have a look at those talons.

Most visits to the Wetlands include a Crested Caracara sighting. Longer-time followers of the blog know that I don’t manage to get many photographs of them, for some reason. This time there were two in flight a bit of distance away.

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Even from this distance, the Crested Caracaras’ distinctive field marks are obvious.

Living in Florida, it is easy to overlook the White Ibis. Here they often descend on lawns and golf courses in small flocks. Ibises use their long curved bills to probe deep in the mud and soil for insects, crustaceans and small invertebrates.

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Ibises look kind of like Gonzo, from The Muppets. Also, I never realized they had blue eyes!

There were plenty of Palm Warblers and some Yellow-rumped Warblers along the edge of the outer driving loop. I saw a few Eastern Phoebes and a pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Woodpeckers will often hide behind tree trunks, alternating between sidling up the tree, out of view, and popping out to have a look at where the potential predator is (that would be me, from a woodpecker’s perspective).

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“Hey, are you still here?”

Roseate Spoonbills don’t often come down to feed at the Wetlands, but this one obliged and let observers come within 10 feet or so before briskly walking away until it felt a bit safer. Spoonbills use their unusually shaped bills to sense for small prey items in the mud and water.

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The head makings make it look like this bird has headphones on.

Spoonbills are pink because they often eat prey that are high in pigments called carotenoids. This is the same reason why flamingos are pink.

I was pleasantly surprised by a grouping of mixed ducks. There were Ring-necked Ducks (male and female) and a male Redhead with a couple of females. Also present were two female Canvasbacks. I had to double check that the male Redhead was not a Canvasback, as the species do look similar.

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A duck social mixer.

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Female Canvasback on the left, female Redhead on the right. It’s a little hard to see because of the viewing angles, but the Canvasback has a longer, straighter bill that starts at her forehead.

The American Coots continue to gather in larger groups, or “rafts.” When a harrier or other bird of prey flew by (not always making a hunting run), the entire raft scrambles. Coots are poor flyers and generally make a loud, splashing ruckus as they skitter along.

Panic At The Disco. You can see a Blue-winged Teal on the left about 15 seconds in.

Here is a list of the identified species from the day, roughly in the order I saw them:

  • Cattle Egret
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Forster’s Tern
  • Great Egret
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Northern Harrier
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • American Coot
  • Common Gallinule
  • Palm Warbler
  • Wilson’s Snipe
  • White Ibis
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Limpkin
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Eastern Meadowlark (♫)
  • Black-crowned Night Heron
  • Anhinga
  • Turkey Vulture
  • American Kestrel
  • Fish Crow
  • Eurasian Collared Dove
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Snowy Egret
  • Crested Caracara
  • Tri-colored Heron
  • Glossy Ibis
  • Black Vulture
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Royal Tern
  • Caspian Tern
  • Roseate Spoonbill
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Green Heron
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Osprey
  • Lesser Scaup
  • Redhead
  • Canvasback
  • Hooded Merganser
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Loggerhead Shrike

I believe this was the single “biggest” day in terms of species count since the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival for me. I don’t normally focus on that, but given the level of activity I felt it was noteworthy. The 2015 SCBWF registration should open soon, and I am really looking forward to that.

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