Rocky Point Road

Snowed Over at T.M. Goodwin

December 30, 2017

Hey there, readers! I squeezed in one last grand adventure for 2017 this week with a visit to the T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area [map] this past Thursday, with my friends Sarah and Bella. They have not had the opportunity to drive into the area, which is only open to vehicle traffic on Thursdays.

As a waterfowl management area, one would assume to find ducks in abundance. With so many ducks being seen earlier in the Fall at Merritt Island, and even more phenomenal numbers from the Alafia Banks Christmas Bird Count, you’d be forgiven if you’d assume there would be ducks galore! But you know what is said about assuming, right?

In fact, we had just two identifiable ducks (a male and a female Hooded Merganser) and distant looks at “probably Mottled Ducks, maybe”, and that was it! But it was a wonderfully birdy day, nonetheless! The morning air was a little crisp, but when the sun finally came out, it warmed nicely into a gorgeous day.

Along the “original” or southern unit, we very quickly got life birds for both Sarah and Bella: Swamp Sparrows! These birds are common enough, if you know where to look, but like most “LBJs” (Little Brown Jobs) can be frustratingly difficult to ID if you don’t get a good look. With a little patience, we coaxed a few into the open, but I hope this shot establishes how, even when out on a perch, these birds can manage to blend in.

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A Swamp Sparrow checking us out.

Along with regular visits from Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers, we had some good looks at Belted Kingfishers, like a male who what just tried to catch breakfast and a slightly chilly looking Red-bellied Woodpecker.

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A male Belted Kingfisher with a surprisingly neat crest.

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This male Red-bellied Woodpecker was a little ruffled looking. Birds will “poof out” and look a bit rounded as they fluff their feathers out for warmth on colder days. Even in Florida.

We drove out to the observation tower that overlooks “Lake Goodwin”, but the tower has fallen again into disrepair and had a small apiary sitting on the bottom step. We decided to walk along the road south of the tower where we had seen some flocks of white egret species and Glossy Ibises flying around (the roads south and west of the tower are closed to vehicular traffic). We had to be careful, though, because the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (which manages the area) is doing some work in some of the marsh areas, with heavy equipment. Large dump trucks were speeding in and out of the area along the publicly accessible roads (so if you venture out to the area, be mindful).

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Overlooking some of the marsh and open water area.

There were several large flocks of (mostly) white wading birds which can look fairly homogenous from a distance.

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It was easy to see where the food concentrations were. 

On closer inspection, we could see that besides the obvious pink of the Roseate Spoonbills, there were American White Pelicans, immature Little Blue Herons, and Glossy Ibises among the Great and Snowy Egrets and White Ibises.

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Foraging flock of waders looking more diverse, on closer inspection. The wide variety of feeding styles and bill shapes and sizes show that there must be a wide array of food items available in these areas.

Both species of yellowlegs were also present, along with possibly the most Killdeers I’ve ever seen in one place. We also had some good looks at Least Sandpipers, another life bird species for both Sarah and Bella.

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This is the second recent photograph of a Greater Yellowlegs with its eyes partially closed. I like these photos because it gives the impression that the birds are introspective and content.

While scanning around for more shorebirds and perhaps some ducks hiding among the waders, Bella let out a small gasp and started to get excited about a couple of birds flying toward us. I swung my binoculars up to see something unexpected: two Snow Geese! And not only two, but one of each color morph: blue and white. They flew in a circle before settling down some distance away with some egrets and herons, behind a screen of vegetation.

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Snow Geese are rare but regular visitors to central Florida. These two represented my life birds for the species.

These birds were lifers for all three of us, and as rarities, we wanted to get good looks at them, and try to document the sighting with photographs. The distance and vegetation made that a little challenging, but here are the best ones I pulled from my camera.

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It was hard to let go any chance of seeing the geese closer up, but they stayed down in the vegetation and eventually we decided to make our way back toward the car. Meanwhile, Sarah got a good look at her fourth lifer species of the day (and three in just minutes) with a small flock of Black-bellied Plovers. A stubborn Eastern Meadowlark  would not turn to face us, but even without the bright yellow front and bold “V” mark, these birds are handsome and striking.

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Eastern Meadowlarks (and their Western cousins) are members of the blackbird family, or icterids, not “true” larks. But they sure sing sweetly.

As we drove out to the main road again, we continued on to the “Broadmoor” or northern unit of the management area. This part has larger areas of open water, but still no ducks. There were some large assemblages of American Coots, as expected, and some additional raptors (including a nice little Sharp-shinned Hawk).

We looped around the Broadmoor Unit stopping at a couple of places, hoping again for ducks (to no avail) but got to admire more of the beautiful landscape.

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I’ll probably always have misgivings about hunting, but as a waterfowl management area, T.M. Goodwin is a beautiful place.

On the way back through the original unit, on the way out, we got a quick look at a Grey-headed (a.k.a. Purple) Swamphen, another life bird for the Muros, and a county bird for me!

A Red-shouldered Hawk let us watch it eat lunch, too. If you’re a little faint of heart, you might want to scroll past these next images. I did feel bad for the poor Garter Snake, but if you’ve seen The Lion King or Madagascar, you know the drill.

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We also managed to encounter this frightening apparatus, used by the state to keep some of the waterways navigable for management (I’m guessing). This contraption appears to be a small boat with a pilot house on top and some jerry-rigged mounted whirl of menacing blades. It was slinging mud and roots into the air. Behind it, large groups of egrets were gathered, looking for whatever prey items (or parts thereof) it was stirring up. Sarah dubbed it… The Disturber.

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The Disturber!

Our next move was to try and visit the southeastern portion of St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park [map], one of the two quadrants in Indian River County. Whether time of day, time or year, or just luck of the draw, it was extremely quiet along the Tree Frog Trail, with most of the action being along the road leading to the trailhead, with Killdeers and European Starlings (a dozen or so each).

From there we ended our day with a walk along part of Rocky Point Road, in Malabar. There are a series of boat/fishing piers along the waterfront in the Indian River Lagoon that often host large groups of pelicans, cormorants, and various shorebirds. It’s been the only place so far this Fall and Winter that I’ve had reliable looks at Horned Grebes.  It took some searching in the late afternoon light to finally get two grebes between the piers and one of the spoil islands in the lagoon.

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Two Horned Grebes on closest approach…the birds have been reliable here, but not much closer than this to the shore.

By the way, those Horned Grebes were also life birds for Sarah and Bella. If you’ve been keeping count, that’s a six-lifer day for Bella and a five-lifer day for Sarah! Here are the eBird lists for the day, in case you’re interested in more.

T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area – Original Unit:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S41383320

T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area – Broadmoor Unit:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S41388308

St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park, Southeast:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S41423583

Rocky Point Road, Malabar:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S41388492

A nice way to end the year, I think. Ducks have been around, and more seem to have flown in with a shot of cooler weather this weekend – including T.M. Goodwin! Wintering shorebirds have been giving a good showing, too. This should bode well for some of the upcoming field trips for the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival next month. Stay tuned.