November 30-December 6

Tuesday, December 3: Caracara Prairie Preserve

Although waiting to start until after 8 o'clock when the sun was well up, it was still a tad on the chilly side with the temperature only up to 48º. And there was a steady 7-12 mph north wind all morning.

Wildlife was also aware of the coolness. The Cattle Egrets at the left found a sunny, sheltered spot on the south side of a berm and fluffed up to try and stay warm. Although only six are in the photo, there were 21 of them in that one spot, plus a Little Blue Heron.

Cattle Egrets were the most often seen species followed by Mourning Doves. One large flock of over 32 doves was accidentally flushed from a sunny spot below some Cabbage Palms where they had settled to stay warm.

Once the morning warmed, other birds became active but still stayed low in sheltered areas. Palm Warblers were the third most commonly seen, and they foraged in low, sunny, grassy areas. The only other warblers seen were Yellow-rumps.

The last time I had been in Caracara Prairie Preserve was in September, and much had changed. Mostly it was the dry-down. The only water was in the pond near the north end. All of the marsh areas were dry although it was a little muddy in the deepest areas there.

Consequently, there weren't a whole lot of wading birds, just the Little Blue Heron, a pair of Great Blue Herons, some White Ibis, and a couple of Great Egrets.

They were in the marsh bordering the pond.

The nicest sightings of the day were the Crested Caracara in the photo and a group of seven Wild Turkeys in a thicket of pines and palmettos. The Caracara was riding the wind high in the sky. The only other raptors observed were nine Red-shouldered Hawks.

Hawk mating season is upon us. Two pairs were cementing their relationships, one at the top of a pine and the other at the top of a cypress. The pine pair was along the border between Caracara Prairie Preserve and Cypress Dome, so they are probably using one of several nearby existing nests in the south end of Cypress Dome.

Insects were scarce in the cool and windy conditions. Only two butterfly species, White Peacock and Phaon Crescent, and two dragonfly species, Eastern Pondhawk and Needham's Skimmer, were seen. There weren't any herps and the only mammal was a lone Cottontail Rabbit.

Thursday, December 5: Flint Pen Strand

Today was a good raptor day. Observations in addition to the Peregrine Falcon at the left were three American Kestrels, two Bald Eagles, seven Osprey, five Red-shouldered Hawks, and one Northern Harrier.

The two eagles, an adult and a juvenile, were not having a good day. A Northern Mockingbird seemed to resent their presence and it took off after them. The eagles flew back and forth, but the mockingbird stayed right with them, attacking from above and behind. Mostly it would dive at them and then pull up at the last minute, but one time it actually hit the juvenile eagle in the back before flying up. The eagle rolled in the air but the mocking bird stayed right with it. Eventually, the mockingbird chased both eagles away and then it returned, perched, and calmed down.

Early in the morning there was a lot of smoke hanging low to the ground from a prescribed burn to the north on the previous day. Not much was in the air until the smoke cleared and the sun came out.

Birds that were active early were Pine Warblers foraging in the tops of pines where it wasn't as smoky, Catbirds, and Blue Jays. The male Common Yellowthroat in the photo was in reeds by a small pond on the yellow trail. A female was a little deeper in the vegetation but didn't want to come out into the open.

Once the smoke was gone, things got active.

The most commonly seen of the 49 species were Tree Swallows with about 330 estimated in several flocks. One group was over the dry pine flatwood and the others were over the marsh and lakes.

Some were really low, and one actually dipped into the water at one of the lakes. After the swallows, numbers for individual species really tapered. Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Palm Warblers, and Double-crested Cormorants were the next most often observed.

All of the cormorants were along the Kehl canal along the northern edge of the yellow trail.

There were also quite a few Blue-winged Teal in the marsh area. Three Green-winged Teal, a male and two females, have been regulars the past two weeks, but today only the two female Green-winged Teal were still there.

The marsh area had dried considerably from last week. Almost all of the shorebirds that were there last week were gone except for the yellowlegs and Killdeer. Two Wilson's Snipes were actually seen, but that was it.

All of the regular herons and egrets were present, plus one Wood Stork and several White Ibis and Glossy Ibis.

Almost all of the woodpecker species were present as well. Only the Pileated Woodpecker was a no show. The Red-headed, Red-bellied, and Downy were easy to spot. Five Red-headed Woodpeckers were seen, all adults.

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at the near right was a lot harder. It was calling, but even so, it took a little while to actually find it because it's so well camouflaged against the pine bark. Two Northern Flickers called, but they were not spotted.

Friday, December 6: Corkscrew

As the sun warmed things up, herps appeared, much to the delight of visitors looking for them.

The big gator across from the first water gauge swam into position shortly after 8 o'clock and stayed there for the rest of the day. Mother gator crawled up on the island and her offspring began to emerge from the hole in the island directly below her. Three of them are in the bottom photo at the right. More were behind the cypress knees at the far right bottom of the photo. That hole is a great place for them to spend the night, safe from predators, and they don't have to come out until the sun hits the entrance.

The Water Moccasin at the right was back in the same spot it's been visiting for the last week, in the Pond Cypress along the exit trail a little past the intersection with the CLASS boardwalk.

Repair work on the boardwalk from the north lake to Nancy's Wood Stork bench is done and ought to be opened as soon as the old section of that boardwalk from Nancy's bench to the CLASS boardwalk is pressure washed.

Even though the water levels continue to drop, there are still very few wading birds. A Little Blue Heron was foraging on top of the Water Lettuce at the north lake, and a Great Egret was hunting behind the Marinelli rain shelter. Anhingas were also in the water behind the Marinelli shelter, hopping up on low branches to beat fish that they had caught. We saw Great Blue Herons flying over, but none were in the water on a regular basis.

One of the young Purple Gallinules was picking its way among Alligator Flag stems in the marsh a little past the first water gauge, but we didn't see or hear the other two.

We did hear Sandhill Cranes in the distance and a pair of Barred Owls calling deep in the cypress near Sign 10. They sounded as though they must have been close to the central marsh.

The only warblers today were Palm, Pine, Yellow-rumped, Black-and-white, and Common Yellowthroats. Most of the little birds were spread out with very few pockets of mixed species. Only Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were in sizable groups. Painted Buntings were at both the Blair Center and Bunting House feeders.