Black and White on Blackpoint Drive

This morning, I took a drive to the Blackpoint Wildlife Drive at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge [map]. It ended up being a pretty good birding day, all things considered. It was hot early, and the Spring migration is all but over. I saw or heard about 50 different species, but the three most interesting all have something in common. In their life-cycle, each one sports black and white plumage.

First, there had been reports of a Horned Grebe along the drive, which is unusual this time of year. Normally these birds might winter over (and many did this past Winter), but for one to be hanging around in May is a bit odd. Additionally, the bird was reported to be transitioning into breeding plumage. The normal breeding range for a Horned Grebe is the western half of Canada into southeastern Alaska. Here’s my photo of an apparently injured Horned Grebe from this past winter:

horned-grebe
Injured Horned Grebe taking refuge in the Refuge. Note the primarily black and white plumage.

These grebes, and the very similar Eared Grebe, look very different during the breeding season, losing their black and white feathers in exchange for warm browns and some wild, buffy-colored head tufts!

I did not get very good photographs of the bird today, so here’s one taken from the Wikipedia entry on the Horned Grebe:

640px-horned_grebe_28229_-_28podiceps_auritus29
By Connon Mah (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/liceses.by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.
I speculate (with nothing more than circumstantial evidence) that this is the same, injured bird. It might not be, but it would be a bit improbable, in my opinion.

The next “black and white” bird I’d like to highlight from my adventure today, was a fairly accommodating Eastern Kingbird. This species has been a little harder to come by of late, at least when I’ve been out. We used to have one or two that would hang around the back yard some years ago, and I’d seem them in passing from time to time around town. The past few years it seems they’ve been more dispersed. In any case, this bird sat for a while in a nearby tree along the road and let me take a few photos before casually flying off.

eastern-kingbird
This Eastern Kingbird would have likely arrived recently from central or northern South America, where it was staying for the winter.

In addition to the striking black and white color scheme, male Eastern Kingbirds have a small patch of red (or sometimes yellow  or orange) feathers on the crown of their heads, which are almost never seen in the field, expect at close range when the bird is agitated or upset.

The final bird I’d like to focus on with black and white plumage, from today, is the Black-necked Stilt.

black-necked-stilt
Although a bit out of focus, you can see the striking black and white pattern on this Black-necked Stilt. Less than 1/2 of the bird’s right leg is showing.

Black-necked Stilts are beautiful birds, and their conspicuous, long, red legs are second only to flamingos in their relative length to their bodies. Here’s another photo I took last year, showing how long their legs are.

stilt1
A Black-necked Stilt showing off those amazing legs!

Those legs are likely an adaptation to allow stilts to wade in deeper water than other wading and shorebirds of it’s size, so it is not directly competing with them. This is sometimes referred to as “resource partitioning.”

Of course, I saw and heard other birds. If you’re interested, I’ve linked to my eBird checklist below:

eBird list for MINWR – Blackpoint Wildlife Drive:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S29835995

May is rapidly drawing to a close and the relative quiet of Florida’s Summer is almost here, but I expect I’ll have plenty more adventures throughout the next few months, including a trip or two to more temperate climes. Stay tuned!

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