Monday, April 16: Corkscrew
Although the official north end bird count wasn't for another two weeks, we decided to head that direction and explore part of the area that wasn't on the bird count route. We were rewarded for the effort.
The best sighting was the Bobcat at the left. It was casually walking in front of us approaching Washout Road. It stopped momentarily to look back at us and then it ambled into the underbrush. We had seen Bobcat tracks on the sandy trail, so it was really nice to see the actual animal.
It wasn't the only large four-legged animal that we saw. Three young stags with velvet antlers were resting in a dried out marsh. All were about the same size and stayed together as a group; no does were present.
When we first headed out, the three were resting. On our way back, they had traveled to the road where they were grazing on the grasses beside the road. All three eventually bounded off toward the fish farm and disappeared.
The third large mammal was a boar that was in a grassy prairie. It looked at us for a second or two and then ran across the road and disappeared in another prairie.
The other good sighting off of the main route was an adult Barred Owl that flew in front of and landed just to our left. It perched and watched us, posing nicely for a few photographs. A second owl called, but it was further into the oaks and palms and wasn't visible.
Wildlife along Washout Road to the tower was what would be expected. With water levels receding, gators were more concentrated and more common while wading birds, while present, weren't as numerous as previous months. Maybe with the exception of immature Black-crowned Night Herons! There were lots of them.
There were also quite a few Wood Stork fledglings with their almost whitish bills and fuzzy heads. That was a contrast to the scene at the lakes by the boardwalk where all of the storks were adults. We did do a short walk on the boardwalk when we got back, checking the two lakes.
The huge weekend feeding frenzy of storks at the south lake was over. There were very few ripples in the water, suggesting that the storks had pretty well fished out the place. Anhingas and Great Egrets were still there, but in fewer numbers. Even the two dozen or so spoonbills were gone although we did see several fly over.
Many of the wading birds had moved to the north lake. Snowy Egrets and Tri-colored Herons were foot-dragging across the surface catching small fish, Little Blue Herons, a stork or two, more Great Egrets and Anhingas, and a few ibis and immature night herons were there as well. Most of the concentrated action was happening behind the island, but enough birds were near the boardwalk that visitors got their money's worth.
Tuesday, April 17: CREW Bird Rookery Swamp
The temperature at 6:45 in the morning was just 46º, which was a little brisk for the middle of April. Consequently, there was very little insect or herp activity until later morning although the weather was great for walking. Birds made up for the lack of other activity. It did warm up to the upper 70s by mid afternoon.
Swallow-tailed Kites and Red-shouldered Hawks were active at the parking lot and the shell path just before dawn. Five kites were foraging, and the prey at that time of day seemed to be exclusively Brown Anoles. White-eyed Vireos, Cardinals, and Carolina Wrens began calling shortly before sunrise as well.
Multitudes of Great Egrets and White Ibis were feeding in the shallows around Ida's pond and were joined by smaller numbers of Tri-colored Herons, Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Green Herons, and Black-crowned Night Herons. Aside from two dragonfly species and gators, the ibis and Great Egrets were the most often seen species during the day.
Twenty-six Red-shouldered Hawks were counted too. All of the nests seemed to have fledged the chicks, so juveniles like the one at the right accounted for almost half of the Red-shouldered Hawk population. The one in this photo was one of two from the nest just past Ida's pond.
In all, 38 species of birds were identified, but some small ones in the tops of cypress were too fast and too distant for positive ID, so there were probably more. Nine of the species were herons, egrets and night herons (both Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned) and five species were warblers.
But the best sighting came at a check of the Red-tailed Hawk nest. It involved a lengthy hike down one of the service roads, but it was worth it. Both chicks were peering over the edge of the nest, and one adult was standing on a branch beside the nest when I arrived. The adult quickly flew off and was joined by the second parent. Both circled high over the nest tree and called constantly. I thought that if I chose a shady spot under a palm tree and a short distance from the nest, one of the adults might return to the nest. I was wrong. They continued to circle, so I sat down and waited.
The small Katydid above kept me company while I sat, while White-eyed Vireos and Cardinals called and Black and Turkey Vultures and Wood Storks rode thermals high above.
After 10-15 minutes, the two adults could no longer be seen or heard, so I got up and started back. The moment I stood up, both adults were in the air over the nest and calling again. They had apparently been spying on me and were immediately up as soon as I was.
One of the adults is at the far left, and was keeping an eye on me, while one of the chicks at the near left was doing the same from the nest.
I left them in peace and headed back toward the trails.
Dragonflies and butterflies were much more active in the early afternoon on the way back to the parking lot.
Needham's Skimmers were the most often seen dragonflies with 109 individuals counted, followed by 78 Eastern Pondhawks. Good observations were three Regal Darners and one Common Green Darner, which is one of the prettiest dragonflies.
White Peacocks were the most common butterflies, followed by Viceroys, Tiger Swallowtails, Queens, and Palamedes Swallowtails.
Only 77 gators were counted and most of those were juveniles. Only a couple were up in the trail, and they were rather lethargic with the cooler temperatures and barely stirred as I walked by them.
Thursday, April 19: CREW Cypress Dome
The weekly check of Swallow-tailed Kite nests went well with nine different nests checked and 23 kites observed.
Kites were sitting in all of the nests, and at least two of the nests appeared to have chicks in them.
They would be way too small to be seen from the ground, but the adult behavior gave clues.
In one of the nests, the kite sitting was very fidgety, flicking its wings and stirring, which would indicate that something beneath it was moving around. While watching the second nest, a second adult flew in and landed on the edge of the nest. The first kite flew out, but instead of settling in, the second kite stood on the edge of the nest and just looked in.
Other than Black Vultures, the Swallow-tailed Kites were the most often seen bird species. Oddly, Double-crested Cormorants were third behind the kites, but there was very little water other than one ditch which contained a huge gator. The cormorants flew over in one group, neatly arranged in a V-shape.
Woodpeckers were a pleasant surprise with all four year-round species observed. The Pileated Woodpecker above was in its hole along the yellow trail, close to one of the vantage points where a kite nest and its inhabitant could be seen. The Hairy Woodpecker at the right was very close to the trail head. It flew across the trail a few feet in front of me, about chest high, which certainly caught my attention. Then in landed on a trunk and pulled out a small insect from a bark crevice. Hairy Woodpeckers have been seen in Cypress Dome before, but this was the first time one stayed in one spot long enough to get a photo. That was a good way to end the day's excursion.
Earlier while one Swallow-tailed Kite was in its nest, its partner was perched on an open branch two trees away preening and getting ready for a foraging foray. It seemed to be doing kite calisthenics, below, to get its day started.
Friday, April 20: Corkscrew
Things were much quieter at the south lake today although a few Great Egrets and Little Blue Herons were around the edges of the water. The piles of small one- to three-year old gators were on the banks and two adult gators were in the water but eventually found sunny spots to bask. The bird action had shifted to the north lake, which was packed with birds and people watching the birds.
Most of the wading birds were Great Egrets, followed by Snowy Egrets, but the group included Roseate Spoonbills, Wood Storks, Tri-colored Herons, Little Blue Herons, White Ibis, and Great Blue Herons. One juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron tried to fit in, but the herons and egrets kept displacing it until it finally found a a peaceful spot on a muddy bank to the east of the island. The spoonbill at the right found a low branch for an undisturbed grooming time out before rejoining the frenzy below.
Two large gators were in the center catching fish. Even when they were under water it was easy to know their location because there was an empty spot of wading birds.
Many of the fish that were caught were fairly good sized Tilapia.
The Great Egret at the left and a Tilapia were having a head-to-head meeting that did not end well for the fish.
Generally, Great Egrets were not tolerant of any other Great Egrets close by, so there was a lot of croaking, threat gestures, and short mock fights where two would jump into the air and snap at the other. If one caught a fish that was too large to immediatley swallow, it would fly to dry ground to work on it, usually followed by one or two other Great Egrets that wanted to steal the fish.
The dominant bird in the lake was a Great Blue Heron, All of the others moved out of its way, even the storks. If one didn't, the Great Blue Heron would thrust its bill towad the laggard and it hastily moved.
Storks and spoonbills generally went about their business ignoring everything else.
We wound up with 37 species of birds for the morning. Snowbirds still present were Catbirds, Northern Waterthrushes, and a few Palm Warblers, but some of the migratory birds were still passing through. Best among those were a Scarlet Tanager, Prothonotary Warblers, and Cape May Warblers. Other warblers included Northern Parula and Black-and-white.
In addition to the gators, herps were Brown Anoles, Southeastern Five-lined Skinks, Red-bellied Turtles, and lots of snakes. One young Water Moccasin was coiled on a fallen cypress trunk just before the south lake, and lots of Banded Water Snakes were in safe areas away from the birds at the lakes. The one really large Banded Water Snake was still at the north lake a little past the Marinelli rain shelter, while a pair of smaller Banded Water Snakes were mating nearby.
The scene below is at the north lake. It was like that for almost all of the morning. Some of the birds, especially the Great Egrets, were so full that when they caught fish, they would drop it. Usually another Great Egret or a White Ibis would then hustle over and pick it up.