Tuesday, December 11: CREW Bird Rookery Swamp

The morning began a bit on the windy and chilly side, but with everything calm and quiet, some of the reflections on open water were beautiful. The scene above is the pond by the parking lot just as the first rays of the sun climb over the trees and reach the pond. Southwest Florida does have some nice fall/winter foliage.

Because the weather was ideal for walking, and because I didn't want to return through some rough patches along the trail I had already passed through, I would up walking the entire area. It was a great decision because lots of wildlife was in the northern portion of the area that would not normally have been seen.

One pleasant spotting was the young Crested Caracara at the left. It was just before the 8-mile post.

Another especially nice sighting was the Bobcat at the right. Lighting was less than wonderful, but it did stop long enough and look back and at least its head was in the sun.

Other mammals in addition to Gray Squirrels and Raccoons were three River Otters.

One pair was just past Ida's Pond early in the morning. The otter at the right was by itself between the 8-mile and 9-mile posts. It was the more curious of the three and stopped to see what was going on up on the trail. The two seen earlier were totally focused on finding breakfast and other than a little nervous huffing really didn't care what was happening elsewhere.

Other pleasing observations included three Wood Ducks although none stayed long enough for a good photo. One male was just before Ida's Pond, and a male-female pair was in the water much later in the day. All immediately flew off at the first sound.

With the cool temperatures and steady wind, butterflies and dragonflies were few. Only nine species of butterflies were seen, and other than White Peacocks, Barred Yellows, and Tropical Checkers, numbers for each species were in the single digits. Dragonflies were even harder to find. There were just four species, and the composite sum of individuals was only seven.

Birding was much better, and individual numbers were high.

Of the 45 species identified, the most common were 77 Black Vultures, 52 Black-crowned Night Herons, 47 Great Egrets, and 46 Anhingas.

In addition to the Crested Caracara and Wood Ducks, unexpected sightings included the Black-throated Green Warbler at the left, and a pair of Yellow-crowned Night Herons.

Of the smaller birds, most often seen were 45 Red-bellied Woodpeckers, 40 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, 35 Gray Catbirds, 17 Belted Kingfishers, 17 Tree Swallows, and 16 Eastern Phoebes.

Usually the majority of gators seen are young and juveniles, but today was different, possibly because of the lower temperatures. All of the gators were large ones. One or two were spotted in the water early in the day before the sun's warmth made its way to the trail.

Then, gators came up to try and warm up, most of the time in the trail. All were really large and only two of the two dozen seen slipped into the water at my approach. The rest were too content in the sun to worry about anything else and let me walk right past them.

The only other herps were a Black Racer coiled in the sun, a Florida Chicken Turtle on a sunny log, and some Brown Anoles that scampered out of the way.

Thursday, December 13: Caracara Prairie Preserve

On the way to Caracara Prairie Preserve, a large mass of white birds could be seen through the roadside trees by Imperial Marsh. A quick stop at the parking lot showed that they were all Wood Storks, over 180 of them. They were spread out too wide to get into one photograph and they all took to the air before the count could be finished, flying further into the preserve. A few Great Egrets were mixed in with them.

As soon as they all left, the Bald Eagle at the left dropped down and landed where some of the storks had been. It was more of a casual landing than a "grab prey" landing. It looked around for a short while and then it, too, flew north further into the preserve.

Mockingbirds, Eastern Phoebes, Blue Jays, and one Red-shouldered Hawk comprised the greeting committee at Caracara Prairie Preserve. Rather than walk the trails, I roamed through some of the fields, stands of Cabbage Palm and Live Oak, and around the edges of two of the seasonal marshes.

The pair of Sandhill Cranes at the right began at one of the marshes, walked through a pasture, and were in the next marsh to the north the last time they were seen. They were remarkably quiet the whole time.

The only excitement came when I was standing in the shade of a Cabbage Palm and a Red-shouldered Hawk took off from its perch in a pine and started to fly across the adjacent field. Suddenly, an American Kestrel appeared out of no where and dive bombed the hawk from above. The hawk yielded and returned to its pine.

While I was standing still and watching that, the Savannah Sparrow above flew in and landed on a fence post about 10 feet behind me. When I turned, it just looked at me but didn't fly away.

I only stayed about three hours and just in that one area, but during that time, 27 species of birds appeared. The most common by far were Turkey Vultures which were in the air the entire time. After the vultures, the next most often seen were Killdeer, Wood Storks, and Wild Turkeys. None of the other species had individual numbers in double digits.

The Greater Yellowlegs below were one of the species in the larger of the two marshes. Others were Great Blue Herons, Anhingas, Great Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Cattle Egrets, one Green Heron, White Ibis, Common Gallinules, and one American Coot. Two gators were in the deepest part of the marsh, and the larger of the two swam over and watched an Anhinga that was perched out of reach but close to the water. The Anhinga watched the gator closely and eventually flew off to a safer spot.

Other days

Monday was spent mist netting and banding Grasshopper and Savannah Sparrows in the SFWMD's Gargiulo Tract, and Friday was spent walking Jones Grade in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park helping with the Christmas Bird Count. Both days were productive in terms of collecting data, but neither day was a camera-oriented trip.

since August 31, 2018

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