I had a very nice outing at Orlando Wetlands Park [map] yesterday. The park has normally been closed from November to February, which meant missing the bulk of the ducks that arrive there in the fall. I’ve been anticipating getting back to the park before the real heat of summer sets in.
There is some good news, though. This past year, the City of Orlando bought the hunting rights from the former land-owners and from now on, the park will be open all year! This will be good news for the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival in the years ahead, as the park normally opened the week immediately after the festival ended.
It had been several weeks since I’ve not birded by myself (some adventures not recounted here), and Camille has been wanting to check out the park now that it reopened, so we once again paired up for the day.
The morning was surprisingly cool, with some light fog. Some birds were still catching the first rays of sun to help warm up for the day.
We were hoping to catch the Vermilion Flycatcher that had been reported all winter. If you recall from last year, an adult male Vermilion has been visiting the park for several years. This past fall, however, an immature male came in and has been regularly, but intermittently, spotted. We had no luck relocating either bird, but it’s possible one or both have left the area now that spring has arrived.
There was also not much in the way of duck diversity. By far the species of duck with the highest numbers was the Blue-winged Teal. They were mingling with American Coots, the males calling with high-pitched squeaks while the females quacked.
The first group of ducks we saw had a single male Green-winged Teal swimming with them. Although both species are called “teals,” I learned from the Waterfowl 101 field trip at the festival that they are actually not closely related. Genetically and structurally, Blue-winged Teals are more closely related to shovelers, while Green-winged Teals are related to Mallards. In truth, the genetic relationships of teals (like most ducks) is complicated and not well understood.
As we continued our search for the Vermilion Flycatcher, we met Richard Hattaway, who was taking photos. We walked together for a while, sharing some advice, experiences, and tips.
Both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs were present, and at times in close proximity, which allowed for some good direct comparisons (they did not get quite close enough for a mutual photo-op). Although similar in appearance, size and slight morphological (fancy term for “shape”) differences allow each species to exploit slightly different habitats and prey.
Tree Swallows were widespread throughout the park, though not in any large vortexes. At any given time, smaller groups would rest on cypress trees before heading off at once, while other groups landed to take their turn to rest.
Breeding season in well under way for heron species. Some of the chicks are large enough now that both parents are out getting food for them. This bird was carefully walking the berm road, too busy keeping an eye on us to be hunting for food.
We said good-bye to Richard at this point, having no luck with the Vermilion Flycatcher (we checked two locations the birds were known to perch and hunt from).
At long intervals along the berm roads, just at the water’s edge, were large purple flowers. I noticed them the last two times I visited the park. Camille says they are an iris of some sort. I’m still not that familiar with plants (thought I am learning), so I leave it up to my readers to identify. If you know what this flower is, please feel free to leave a comment.
Just prior to leaving the open acres of berm roads and wetland cells for the wooded “hiking trail,” we caught sight of another rare bird visitor to the area. People had been reporting a Short-tailed Hawk associating with Black Vultures. We kept an eye to the sky for the entire morning, in case we caught glimpse of it as well. The bird was “kiting” with a group of circling vultures, occasionally dipping down out of sight. Birds kite or are kiting when they use airflow over their wings to stay aloft while not moving in relation to the ground or water beneath them. This typically requires a steady and stiff breeze. Kiting differs from hovering, which is when a bird uses rapid wingbeats to stay aloft (like a kingfisher ready to dive for fish, or a hummingbird at a flower).
This wooded section of the park [trail map] is a palm-dominated hardwood hammock with a fairly open understory. We heard Northern Parulas singing all around, and encountered Blue-headed Vireos, Tufted Titmouses, Black-and-white Warblers, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. This section of the park is comparatively primitive, but the trails are flat, open, and well-marked, with a few wooden foot bridges to cross the wetter areas.
As we got deeper into the woods, more hardwoods (like oaks and maples) mixed with the palms, with Resurrection Ferns, vigorous airplant growth, Spanish Moss, and other epiphytes.
The end of the trail we emerged from connected back to the berm road about a mile from the parking area (via another wooded trail). After a full morning of walking, this last stretch became formidable, and by the end my feet and hips were really feeling the strain. In total we walked about 4 miles, but it felt like more! I think I must have gotten considerably out of shape over the winter.
By the end of the walk, we identified 67 species with one rarity (the Short-tailed Hawk).
eBird list from Orlando Wetlands Park:
April is fast approaching, and with it the FOS meeting and that much-hoped-for trip to Fort De Soto. Next up, though, is a south Florida day-trip. Stay tuned for that next week!