[Note: With the loss of my PC, I’ll be authoring and uploading photos through my tablet. This means most of my upcoming posts may be brief and with fewer and/or smaller photos]
Another Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival is in the proverbial rear view mirror, as the region turns to Spring.
I scaled back my activities this year, but the two main field trips were new for me. They also had the bonus of being led by Mitchell Harris, one of the most proficient birders in the area.
But first, on Thursday, Camille and I did an “unofficial” field trip to the T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area. In our quest for ducks and perhaps a Snail Kite, we ran into one of the largest gatherings of shorebirds I’ve seen in recent years. Besides the ones recorded in our lists, there were thousands of shorebirds in flocks too distant to identify. There were also hundreds of Glossy Ibises and many herons and egrets.
Here are a few photos from that trip.
This adventure set us up for “official” trips over the next two days, with more “unofficial” stops along the way. This Festival was strange for me, not only due to my scaling back – which included not scheduling the pelagic boat trip for the first time in years – but also not seeing many of the friends I know from around the state, as many of them were on day-long trips every day.
Here is the eBird list for T.M. Goodwin plus a couple from a side excursion along Buffer Preserve Road, at the St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park.
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.
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.
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).
There were several large flocks of (mostly) white wading birds which can look fairly homogenous from a distance.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve just come back from my final birding adventure of 2015. I’ve been thinking a lot, these past weeks, about how much birding I have done this year. I took on a novice birder for much of the year and have seen her skills improve (as she has helped sharpen mine). I’ve read and listened with joy at her own solo adventures around Florida and in Europe.
It ended up being a big birding year for me. Now, it hasn’t exactly been a “Big Year” (like the book or film). It ended up as more of a Medium Year. I covered most of Central Florida in one way or another, travelled to Minnesota for Superb Owl Weekend, had a spectacular trip to Churchill to see Polar Bears and so much more.
I ended the year closer to home. Camille and I went to the T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area (map). This particular area is only open to general traffic on Thursdays, so it’s been a challenge to figure out when to visit with work schedules and such. Since we were both on vacation this week, it made a lot of sense to head on in and see what was hanging around.
One species of interest is the Gray-headed Swamphen (a.k.a. Purple Swamphen). This bird has recently been breeding in south Florida and working its way north. There were verified reports in last week, so we were hoping to see it. Unfortunately, the swamphens did not cooperate. But we had a good day of it. I recorded my first Brevard County Fulvous Whistling Ducks and Snail Kites. There were some of both typical and pale Florida-form Red-shouldered Hawks, too.
As with much of central Florida, the most abundant birds on the water were American Coots and Common Gallinules. We counted nearly 1000 in just a couple of areas.
At one point a very patient and cooperative Black Vulture posed for some photos.
“Is this my best side?”
“How about this?”
There was a disappointingly low number of ducks, which has been the case for a lot of places so far this fall/winter. We did see several Northern Pintails, some Blue-winged Teals, and a solitary Ring-necked Duck. The diversity that had been reported last week seemed to be gone.
I had a fun and interesting time this Sunday in Fellsmere. I had heard from a co-worker that there was some good wildlife viewing where he had ridden his bicycle, west of the St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park. I’m not particularly familiar with that area, but I know the “Stick Marsh” is often mentioned in that area, and there’s usually a field trip out that way during the Florida Birding and Wildlife Festival. In any case, trying to find “Stick Marsh” on Google Maps just showed an erstwhile bait and tackle shop where there’s a boat ramp. I’ve also seen it referred to as “Blue Cypress Lake.”
Part of the Stick Marsh at dawn.
In any case, off the “main” road, one traverses a couple of miles on an dirt road with occasional metal catwalk overlooks of some marsh vegetation along some drainage canals. Unfortunately, any “parking” areas near these overlooks have stern signage saying “NO PARKING HERE.”
I got to the parking area, which had a lot of truck and boat trailer parking, but a few “normal” parking areas too. “Heres the Stick Marsh” I said to myself and was promptly greeted by a bunch of vultures, welcoming me to…wait, what?
A couple of locals formed a welcoming committee.
There were also signs for “Blue Cypress Lake” and “Three Forks Conservation Area”…
I was pleasantly surprised at the large number of Limpkins around the boat ramp and the adjacent waters. They were quite conspicuous, both visually and vocally. Incidentally, this is the first visual ID of Limpkins I’ve had this year. I’ve heard them before now, the first time at the Birding Festival’s Marl Bed Flats field trip.
One of many Limpkins.
In the smaller overflow ponds there were numerous Common Gallinules, both adults and juveniles. The chicks were about as big as the adults, but still quite gray in color and without the prominent red forehead shields.
Hey baby, what’s up?
Shrikes were also common. I saw about half a dozen individuals, most catching lizards in the tree tops and whacking them on branches or utility wires before eating them.
Superficially similar to mockingbirds, shrikes are far more sleek and lethal.
The trees across from the boat ramp were full of both Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures. While waiting for the morning to warm up and for thermals to develop, many of the the vultures had their wings spread, back to the sun, warming up and getting ready to start their day.
Within five minutes of that photo being taken, the vulture began to take to the sky en masse. Within a couple of minutes they had already formed 2 large circling groups, or “kettles” as they soared higher on rising thermals.
Morning commute for vultures.
The only duck species I encountered were numerous mated pairs of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. I’d tell you how I knew they were mated pairs, but this is generally a family friendly blog ;-). Unlike many ducks, Black-bellieds like to perch up on trees and stumps. Many pairs were high on the tops of palm trees near the water’s edge. This pair was a bit closer to the surface of the pond, maybe about 10 to 15 feet up. I wonder when their chicks normally fledge, because I saw no baby or juvenile-appearing ducks, only adult pairs (and some singles).
Black-bellied whistling duck pair.
There were large alligators as well. I estimated that two of the bigger ones I saw were definitely over 10 feet long. The gallinules and Limpkins squawked out their alarm calls whenever one cruised by.
I skulked around some of the narrow penisulas between Blue Cypress Lake and the adjacent pond, where I saw this Osprey, which had just landed a fish, and several Spotted Sandpipers, as well as Red-bellied Woodpeckers. I flushed even more Limpkins and Common Gallinules as well.
From there I crossed over some drainage canals into an area marked as the T. M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area. This is a series of levees and flooded areas, laid out in long grids.
Not a lot of waterfowl to manage today.
My goal was to reach what was marked on the trailhead map as Lake Goodwin, but my water began to run out, it was getting very hot and humid, and I was being assaulted by really big horse flies! On my way out and back through this area, I saw Red-winged Blackbirds, more Common Gallinules, a couple of distant Common Yellowthroats, and even a few Swallow-tailed Kites!
In keeping with my confusion over the name of where I was, Common Yellowthroats’ songs can be written as, “Which is it, which is it, which is it? Which?”
Despite some early confusion, it ended up being a nice 1/2 day excursion. Here’s the species list in approximate order of first identification:
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Black-bellied Whistling Duck
Carolina Wren (♫)
There were some tantalizing clues that some rails were lurking in some of the marsh vegetation, but I could never be sure the calls I was hearing were not Common Gallinules. I tried comparing what I was hearing to some recordings I had on my iBird Pro app, but it just confused me more. I hope to get out even earlier next time out to this place in hopes of catching some more definitive proof.