Saturday, March 28: CREW Flint Pen Strand

Although there was dense fog to start the day, the sunrise over the lakes wasn't as awesome as the last time. There were already cars in the Lakes parking lot 20 minutes before sunrise when I arrived, but people were just getting out and ready. One photographer took off early while a different car load of two couples stopped and chatted for about 15 minutes. They were knowledgeable and had been in Flint Pen Strand many times before.

It was still foggy at the Trailhead parking lot a little after 7:30. A caravan of seven pick-ups, each towing a horse trailer, arrived and began unloading. They rode the yellow equestrian trail and then over to the lakes.

We began on the red trail and first headed north so the sun would be at our backs and the fog would have burned off by the time we reached the western and southern portions of the trail where the Red-headed Woodpeckers usually hang out. Only three of the woodpeckers were there when we reached the area, and the one at the far left posed very nicely for several minutes.

Along the way, we identified 29 species of birds. Among the more entertaining were the Osprey at the near left which was across the canal from where we were and was intently staring down into the water looking for a potential meal. It occasionally looked up at us but wasn't really concerned about us. It was one of six Osprey seen during the morning.

The entire woodpecker clan was present. In addition to the Red-headed Woodpeckers, we saw or heard Downy Woodpeckers, Pileated Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and Northern Flickers. No one has seen Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers recently, so they may have already departed for their northern nesting areas.

Many of the warbler species seem to be on their way north as well. The only ones we saw or heard this morning were Common Yellowthroats.

Wading bird numbers were low, too, but more because everything is drying up. One Limpkin along the canal, several Great Blue Herons, a bunch of White Ibis flying over, and one Tricolored Heron foraging the rushes growing in a moist area of the marsh were all that we saw.

Anhingas and Double-crested Cormorants were perched in trees and swimming in the water, and the pair of Mottled Ducks at the top of the page were in a pond along the yellow trail.

Large patches of blooming Coreopsis created fields of yellow in some of the areas near the marsh while Oakleaf Fleabane and Bay Lobelia added an under story of blue and white. Passionvine grew sporadically but bloomed nicely, especially around the Pinelands parking lot. Most of the Water Lilies had finished blooming, so Floating Hearts were the most noticeable blooms in the water.

Tuesday, March 31: CREW Cypress Dome

There was a little fog and a lot of cloud cover just before sunrise, but much of it cleared by the time we got started. It was still partly cloudy all morning, but there were enough flashes of blue sky to light everything up.

The Swallow-tailed Kites were uncommonly quiet, and none were in the trees at their traditional roosts. But the active nests had kites incubating eggs. The kite at the right was in nest CD32 and has successfully raised chicks there for the past three years.

A pair of Red-shouldered Hawks called a little to the south, which didn't bother anything, but when one of them flew over and landed in a tree just across the trail from this nest, another kite suddenly appeared in the air and flew directly toward the hawk.

The hawk took of quickly and flew in a straight line north with the second kite in close pursuit and gaining. When the hawk was a suitable distance away, the second kite pulled up and returned to the nest area.

Three kite nests are in the general vicinity, all with birds in the nest incubating eggs. Five other kites were circling overhead, so it was a great spot to stop, look, and listen.

In addition to those three nests and two others I knew about, I checked two new nests for me.

Getting to one was a trek through a tangle of vegetation, notably Poison Ivy and Smilax. The Poison Ivy wasn't a bother, but by the time I got near enough to the nest to photograph the kite, the Smilax had grabbed me several times and drawn blood. I really don't like that plant. If I check that nest again, I'm taking a pruner with me and eliminating all thorny obstacles.

Not all of the plants were hazardous. Some of the prettier and harmless plants with nice blooms included the Butterflyweed at the left.

The leader of our kite survey team, an FWC biologists, had asked me to check on a potential nest that she had spotted to see if it were active.

Getting there was through dense vegetation too, but most of that was Saw Palmetto. I did reach the nest and found a vantage point where I could see into the nest, and a kite was on the nest. That's a new nest this year. On my way back to the trail, I went through a marsh which was much easier walking, and I marked the new trail so going back would be much easier.

There weren't a lot of other birds, and we only wound up with a little over 20 species. All were the regulars.

Usually when we walk the south part of the white trail, we spot one large gator in its deepened area of the ditch to the south. Today there were three of them, all big, which was a first. Two were at the same hole, but at opposite ends. The third gator was in a separate hole. The gators and Brown Anoles were expected. Unexpected herp sightings were hearing Squirrel Treefrogs calling. Mammals were just Cottontail Rabbits early in the morning.

There weren't many butterfly and dragonfly species, but thee were lots of Eastern Pondhawks, which were the most often seen wildlife.

Below is the sunrise. Clouds, far and near, high and low, made it a very dramatic sunrise.

Thursday, April 2: CREW Cypress Dome

A slightly different route brought us to nests we didn't check earlier in the week. Seven of the nests had kites visible, sitting and incubating eggs. One of the nests was new this year. The pair of kites in the lower left photo are just changing position. The kite in front is ready to leave after spending its time on the eggs and the kite behind (just a little visible over the first kite's left shoulder) is getting ready to settle down and serve its time.

Earlier we had found several kites still perched at their night time roosts. The one at the left was doing its morning stretching exercises before taking to the sky to hunt for food. Two nests were reasonably close, so this may have been one of the mates to a kite on one of those nests.

In all, we only saw 24 Swallow-tailed Kites during the morning. But that was the second highest of any bird species. Black Vultures, which have a large night time roost not far away, were the most populous with 55 individuals counted.

Those numbers were dwarfed by the number of Eastern Pondhawks. All were close to the ground in the wet grasses and all but three that we saw were the green females. An estimate of the number was just over 200, but after a while, there were so many that counting them became rather pointless. We would never have had time to do anything else. The only other dragonflies were eight Needham's Skimmers.

The winner for size was also not a contest. The gator in the photo was a monster, maybe only 13-14 feet long, but it looked to be close to that in circumference. Even its legs were huge. It was well aware of us and slipped into the water, turned, and stared at us until we left.

Another gator in the same little pond was close to 10 feet in length, but it looked puny compared to this brute.

None of the other birds that we saw were out of the ordinary, although finding one Limpkin was nice. It had been eating well because there were four native Apple Snail shells by the water that were still wet.

Two Pine Warblers, a Common Yellowthroat, one White-eyed Vireo, and House and Carolina Wrens were the only small birds. After the Black Vultures and Swallow-tailed Kites, the most frequently sighted species was the Red-shouldered Hawk.