Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands – February 16, 2014

Yesterday saw me at the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands at Viera again.

Heron activity was more restricted to the reeds, compared to last week, and there were fewer Wood Storks. I noted at least one Sandhill Crane nest mound being constructed and several species gathering nest material.

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Sandhill Crane pair getting their nest in order.

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Great Blue Heron gathering sticks.

I watched a Wilson’s Snipe forage through the reeds and water lettuce for a while. It’s usually pretty easy to flush this species out before you even see one, so it was a treat to get to watch this one for several minutes.

There were at least a few dozen American White Pelicans on the ponds. On one pond, each bird was swimming more or less alone. Some are beginning to grow “horns” or “mortarboards” on their bills – a sign the breeding season is near.

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American White Pelican, gearing up for spring.

On another pond, there was a close group swimming together. I caught them on video as they surged into the center of the pond to gobble up some fish that had evidently schooled there.

American White Pelicans at Ritch Grissom Wetlands at Viera from CJSF on Vimeo.

There were even fewer ducks than last week. The most numerous are now the Ring-necked Ducks, who were swimming more in their own groups rather than mingling with the American Coots (which were still there in the hundreds).

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Some Ring-necked Ducks and Blue-winged Teals.

More evidence of Florida Spring would be found in the territorial calls and displays of the male blackbirds. Both the Red-winged Blackbirds and the Boat-tailed Grackles were calling out, chasing other males away and displaying their plumage to its best effect.

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Red-winged Blackbirds show off their brilliant red epaulets to attract mates and impress rivals.

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Boat-tailed Grackles rely on their irridescent feathers and loud calls and bill-snapping to stand out.

Here are the species I saw (* denotes species gathering nest material):

  • American Robin
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • White Pelican
  • Great Blue Heron *
  • Snowy Egret
  • Cattle Egret
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Tri-colored Heron
  • Green Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Palm Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Grey Catbird
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • American Coot
  • Common Gallinule
  • White Ibis
  • Glossy Ibis *
  • Forster’s Tern
  • Bonaparte’s Gull
  • Osprey
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Black Vulture
  • Crested Caracara *
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Blue Jay
  • Fish Crow
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Wilson’s Snipe
  • Mottled Duck
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Common Tern
  • Hooded Merganser
  • Red-winged Blackbird *
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Tree Swallow
  • Killdeer
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • Wood Stork
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker

I’ll post some more photos later this week.

Return to Moccasin Island (and Viera Wetlands)

It’s about 10 months since I last visited the Moccasin Island Tract, so I thought it was a good place to resume my post-festival birdwatching. It also gave me another opportunity to check out the “Dan Click ponds” adjacent to the Viera Wetlands property.

By far the most numerous bird species on the ponds were Green-winged Teals. There were also many Blue-winged Teals, and a smattering of dowitchers, American Avocets, White Pelicans, and some other shore birds and gulls.

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Green-winged Teals (with some Blue-winged Teals nearby).

Both yesterday and a previous “drive by” of the ponds were curious to me in that the “first” pond (the southernmost one) was devoid of any visible bird life, while the “second” pond seemed almost overcrowded (especially when I drove by them a couple of weeks ago).

The Click ponds are a great place to see wintering shorebirds and ducks, but since I hadn’t made time to stop there this winter, I know I missed some rarer sightings.

The drive to the Moccasin Island Tract is on a 3 mile dirt road along ranch land and through some wooded areas. This afforded some diverse species to see in a short time-frame.

First, over the roadway and some adjacent fields a trio of immature Bald Eagles were playing and squabbling in the air. They even knocked each other out of the sky a couple of times.

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“Hey! No fair knocking me down! MOM!”

There were quite a few Sandhill Cranes, too. Mostly in pairs (more on that later). These cranes are so habituated to humans in this area now that it’s possible to get amazingly close. Large birds like cranes can really reinforce the notion that we are in fact living with dinosaurs.

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Welcome to Quaternary Park!

The fence-line between the road and the ranch lands had Eastern Phoebes spaced at regular intervals. This would seem to indicate that Eastern Phoebes are territorial outside of the breeding season.

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Eastern Phoebe, king (or queen) of all it surveys…

Driving into the Moccasin Island Tract, I was greeted by this Turkey Vulture, doing its best to emulate and old western scene. The only thing missing was the cow skull laying on the ground.

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Over here’s we have The Last Chance Saloon, and Next To The Last Chance Saloon...”

I saw a few American Kestrels, including one right by the parking area. Its presence seemed to keep the robins away (though there were dozens further inside the tract to the south).

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American Kestrel.

Just like last year the Eastern Meadowlark was the bird of the day. They could be seen and heard singing everywhere. Their song is very beautiful and flute-like, though not as ethereal as some thrushes’ songs.

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Like orioles, meadowlarks are colorful relatives of blackbirds.

There is a Bald Eagle nest on the property, though I don’t know if it is where the three juvenile eagles I saw earlier were hatched and raised. One adult eagle was nearby, watching over the fields. I like to think it was the young eagles’ mom, basically enjoying some alone time while the kids roughhoused down the road.

On the way back out of the tract I saw this Loggerhead Shrike. Right after taking this photograph, it almost succeeded in catching a Yellow-rumped Warbler. Another reminder that these handsome birds are lethal carnivores.

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Loggerhead Shrikes are sometimes called Butcherbirds.

February is springtime in Florida, and many of the overwintering birds are starting to gather and head north. We’ve had rising pollen levels for weeks now, and buds are forming on the trees (in fact, the tree in our front yard is already starting to show leaves).

As I mentioned above, the Sandhill Cranes were seen all over the area, pairing up and starting their nesting behaviors. But perhaps the best evidence for Florida Spring yesterday was at the Ritch Grissom Wetlands. There were hundreds of herons and egrets along the pond and marsh edges, many of them showing breeding plumes and lancet feathers. Some were beginning territorial squabbles, too. It was fun watching the herons jostle each other and the numerous ibises and Wood Storks that were also trying stake out areas along the water’s edge.

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This Great Blue Heron is getting ready for Valentine’s Day.

The winter resident warblers are still here, though. Here you can see why Yellow-rumped Warblers have their common name, and are nick-named Butter Butts. The Yellow-rumps outnumbered the Palm Warblers, actually.

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Some warblers have the most descriptive names…

Some of the Pied-billed Grebes were showing their breeding plumage as well. In winter the dark bill stripe (making it “pied-billed”) is obscured and their plumage tends to be browner. Here you can see a grayer, more “pied-billed” grebe.

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Pied-billed does not mean these birds eat pastries.

A great aspect of the wetlands in Viera is how close you can sometimes get to the wildlife. I was able to take this photograph of a male Blue-winged Teal just after he and his mate came up from dabbling at the edge of the pond. I love how you can see the water beading up on his feathers as it runs off his bill.

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Facing off with a Blue-winged Teal.

A large mixed flock of gulls and terns was also enjoying the day. They’d alternate between rafting together on the pond and then rising up, diving for fish. The Common Terns were the most numerous, along with a few Forster’s Terns and Bonaparte’s Gulls.

Birds seen yesterday:

  • Sandhill Crane
  • Bald Eagle
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • American Avocet
  • White Pelican
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Bonaparte’s Gull
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • American Coot
  • Common Gallinule
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Snowy Egret
  • Great Egret
  • Tri-colored Heron
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Palm Warbler
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Wood Stork
  • Anhinga
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • American Robin
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Cattle Egret
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Black Vulture
  • White Ibis
  • Glossy Ibis
  • Hooded Merganser
  • Common Tern
  • Forster’s Tern
  • Long-billed Dowitcher
  • Mute Swan
  • American Kestrel
  • Mourning Dove

All things considered, it was a lovely day in and around Viera. I expect the birding landscape will be rapidly changing over next few weeks as we head toward the spring migration in March.