.February 15-21

Monday, February 17: CREW Cypress Dome

Swallow-tailed Kites are returning for their nesting season in CREW's Cypress Dome area. Their numbers are still small, but more are arriving each day.

This morning only three kites were found still perched in trees. One glided in from the north and landed near the west end of the Wild Coffee Trail.

The two at the left were in a snag further to the south near the edge of a small marsh.

The marsh was still rather wet. Much of it was grass, but there was some open water and one cluster of willows.

The female Red-winged Blackbird at the upper right was one of seven females in the willows. The females are very attractive birds in their own right.

Black-crowned Night Herons, Great Blue Herons, and Great Egrets were in the marsh while Belted Kingfishers, White Ibis, and five Black-bellied Whistling Ducks flew over.

Black Vultures, more Black-crowned Night Herons, and Blue Jays perched in trees along the edges.

Butterflies in the marsh included the Fiery Skipper in the photo, White Peacocks, one Gulf Fritillary, and several Great Southern Whites. As that marsh dries down, the wildlife will hopefully stay in the general area and just relocate to more suitable habitat.

Later in the morning near the western border with Caracara Prairie Preserve, both Black and Turkey Vultures circled overhead looking for thermals. They were joined by three Red-shouldered Hawks and one white phase Short-tailed Hawk. The Red-shouldered Hawks eventually descended and flew into the trees while the Short-tailed Hawk continue to climb and soar toward the east until it was out of sight. Two Sandhill Cranes foraged nearby.

Along some of the back service roads where the grasses were still very high, multitudes of female Eastern Pondhawks darted about. The only other dragonflies were Blue Dashers, Needham's Skimmers, and one Band-winged Dragonlet.

Wednesday, February 19: Gargiulo grasslands preserve

The start of the morning just before sunrise was an ideal time to continue mist netting and banding migrating sparrows. It was light enough for us to see, but still dim enough and foggy enough for the birds to not see the net. So our early runs were successful. Later, as the sun came out and the fog burned off to the point where the birds could see the nets, captures were not nearly as plentiful.

Nevertheless, it was still a good morning to be out. We netted 16 Grasshopper Sparrows, 2 Savannah Sparrows, 1 Common Yellowthroat, 3 Palm Warblers, 1 Sedge Wren, and 1 Eastern Meadowlark. All but two of the 18 sparrows were recaptures, some who were first banded here three years ago.

The migrating Sedge Wren at the left was the first of its species in the field since the research project began four years ago.

Other birds that we saw were Sandhill Cranes, Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, Pileated Woodpecker, American Robins. Lots more meadowlarks were in the field singing, but all save that one flew over or around the nets. Once it was light out, a lot of sparrows avoided the nets as well.

Thursday, February 20: Corkscrew north end

Normally, we do the monthly north end bird census on the last Thursday of the month, but it had to be moved up a week because next week there's some sort of project going on trying to catch and tag Bobcats that are in the north end during the last week.

The north end bird census went reasonably well, but numbers for a lot of the individual birds were down, perhaps because there was a swamp buggy tour ahead of us and that scared a lot of the wading birds away before we got there.

For example, last month we saw over 150 Black-crowned Night Herons; today the number was in the 30s; and we only saw two Green Herons when usually their numbers are ten to twenty times higher.

But we did find some good birds. Included were two White Pelicans that flew over, two Limpkins, two large flocks of Cedar Waxwings with approximately 50 individuals total, an American Bittern, 15 Swallow-tailed Kites and a Northern Harrier that were in the air, and two nice little pockets of warblers.

Those included several Northern Parulas, Yellow-throated Warblers, Black-and-white Warblers, Palm Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Pine Warblers. Common Yellowthroats were elsewhere along our path.

Mixed in with the warblers were some Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Tufted Titmice, and Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers.

More good sightings were a Barred Owl near the start that perched in the open for everyone to see, a young Cooper's Hawk near the fish farm, and Brown-headed Nuthatches. The owl and the hawk are in the photos below.

We had some interesting non-bird sightings, too.

A family of River Otters was in one flooded area beside the road. All half dozen of them were adult size or close to it. The one in the photo at the upper left seemed to be acting as the sentinel, watching us and huffing while the others swam and foraged behind it.

Other mammals included White-tailed Deer and of course Gray Squirrels.

Herps included lots of gators. None were in the trail, again possibly because of the swamp buggy preceding us. There were some big ones in the water beside the trail. We also saw several Red-bellied Turtles and lots of Brown Anoles.

Some slightly different sightings in one of the deeper pools beside the road were some large Florida Gar and a school of Oscars. One of the Oscars is in the photo at the left. It wasn't as brilliantly colored to our eyes, but a polarizing filter made the colors really stand out.

Friday, February 21: Corkscrew boardwalk

The weather took a turn toward the cool, cloudy, and windy side. The warmest temperature of the day was at the start of the morning, and then temperatures dropped. Some of the students in my 2nd grade group were prepared with hoodie sweatshirts while others in shorts and tee shirts were shivering by the end of the walk. They were a good group, well prepared, and ready to try almost anything.

Before the bus came, there was time for a quick trip around the short loop. Great-crested Flycatchers were calling the entire time as were Carolina Wrens.

The wren at the right was one of three near the shortcut trail bench that called back and forth.

The Limpkin at the left was foraging in front of the Box 5 bench at the north lake. A Black-crowned Night Heron, Great Egret, and Little Blue Heron were on top of the Water Lettuce in the lake section behind the Stevens gauge. Anhingas were in the trees, but their bills were tucked into their feathers.

The two stops that the students said they enjoyed the most were the one where they got to wear the compound eye goggles and at the dip netting station where Debbie brought out the baby gator and the Red Rat Snake for them to touch. Before the bus arrived, we dip netted ourselves so there would be aquatic life in the aquariums and containers by the library that the students could see and study.

Highlights of what we caught were a Banded Water Snake, Jewelfish, Gambusia, Fresh Water Shrimp, dragonfly naiads, and some little things that none of us could identify. The photo below shows our Friday Insect Adventure gang capturing the aquatic life, identifying what we could, and getting it all ready for the students to inspect.