SCBWF 2017 Day 3: Wet Orlando Wetlands Park and More!

The weather for my Day 3 of the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival did not hold, and we were cold and rained on all day at Orlando Wetlands Park [map].

In case you don’t know, Orlando Wetlands Park is the first large-scale created wetlands for wastewater treatment in the world. You can read about it’s history and operations at the City of Orlando’s website.

Since I (along with most others) decided to keep my camera safe from the weather, there aren’t any photos to post. Despite the rain, we had a decent showing of birdlife. The trip was a trailer tour, so we did not do much walking and were able to cover a lot of ground in just a few hours.

Highlights included several Soras, feeding out in the open in a few places, hundreds of roosting Black Vultures, and several Bald Eagles.  I saw an Orange-crowned Warbler at one stop, but it scuttled out of sight before anyone else could see it.

There were Black-crowned Night Herons roosting out in the open near the start of the tour, and a roost of Wood Storks, vultures, and Roseate Spoonbills at the Oyler Overlook. A King Rail or two called from that area as well.

This is the first year Orlando Wetlands Park was open during the Festival. Previously, the family that sold the land to the city of Orlando so the park could be developed retained hunting rights during the winter. A couple of years ago, the family sold the hunting rights off, too, so now the park is open all year.

We ended the tour a little early, as the rain intensified and spent a few minutes at the education center before heading back toward the Space Coast.

The weather started to improve a bit, and Camille and I decided to go to Merritt Island and do Black Point Wildlife Drive [map].

The weather even seemed to dampen this Reddish Egret’s spirits. Usually seen “drunkenly” lurching about to scare up prey, this bird was mostly still and made a few half-hearted attempts at spearing something.

There were pockets of active shorebirds feeding all along the drive, including Killdeers, Long-billed Dowitchers, and what turned out to be a large flock of Dunlins on the mudflats, tucked away along a long path, on the other side of Boggy Pond [map]. The Dunlins were hanging out with some Semipalmated Plovers, yellowlegs and near a large number of gulls and terns.

Some of the Dunlins foraging on the mudflats. There were many more, further away, along with American Avocets, what turned out to be Black-bellied Plovers (identified by the unique black axillaries – or “armpit” feathers).
Part of a large resting flock of Ring-billed and Laughing Gulls. A flock of Black Skimmers was nearby, although one skimmer seemed to prefer the gulls’ company.

Many of the ducks have left MINWR already, but a large flock of Northern Pintails were still there, along with a few Northern Shovelers and Blue-winged Teals. It seems to me that for the last several years the ducks have not stayed long when wintering over, even when there is still a cold-snap or two to be had to the north.

Male Northern Pintails are handsome and elegant birds, even in winter plumage. 
Female Northern Pintails have a subtle grace and beauty.
This male Blue-winged Teal had just surfaced from dabbling for food. This species will stay in Florida well into the start of spring. Some individuals will stay all summer.

Along part of the drive we came upon a very small raptor, close by the road. It took a minute to sort out what it was – at first we thought it falcon – because we had to pull forward and over to not be a bottleneck to the cars behind us. By that point, the bird flew off, giving us a good underside view and confirming it as a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

This bird’s plumage was so fresh and vibrant, it was almost confusing. Sharp-shinned Hawks are winter residents in central Florida, unlike the similar but larger Cooper’s Hawk that can be found year-round.

After leaving Black Point, we did a quick survey at Parrish Park and the Max Brewer Causeway, hoping to see Horned Grebes or Common Loons, but we did not see either species. Last year the Horned Grebes, in particular, were numerous throughout the winter. This year, however, the reported numbers are much lower and more typical.

And that, my friends, ended my 2017 Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. For the first time in several years, I did not join the offshore boating trip, though I understand the weather was cold and windy, causing the boat to stay in the lagoon most of the time.

Next year will bring another festival and more opportunities for fun and adventure. Until then, it’s back to lonely (and sometimes not-so-lonely) birding. See you around!

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