Saturday, June 15: CREW Bird Rookery Swamp

We set out early to reach the Swallow-tailed Kite roost before people started showing up and startling the birds. We were almost successful, but not quite. As we approached the site of the roost, the Gulf Coast High School cross country team caught up with us and ran on by. So when we actually reached the roost trees, the kites were gone.

Coming on a week day instead of a weekend would have a much greater chance of finding the kites.

However, it wasn't a total loss. Two Crested Caracara were perched at the top of one of the snags and they stayed put long enough for us to get some good looks at them. It was a life bird for one of the group. Eventually, the pair took off, flying to the south.

On our way back to the parking lot, another visitor just coming in asked if we had seen the bear. We hadn't, but he said it had crossed the trail just behind us. Another "almost but not quite sighting!"

On my way home, I stopped at a different kite roost that was adjacent to Bird Rookery Swamp but not actually in it, and there were some kites in the trees there. One first time sighting for the pre-migration kite roosts was the pair bonding in the top of a cypress in the photo at the left. Once the kites begin nesting and have eggs in the nests in late February and early March, that behavior usually stops. So I don't know what this pair was thinking of.


Thursday, June 20: CREW Bird Rookery Swamp

Heat and humidity made today's 9-mile walk feel more like a marathon. The morning began at a comfortable but humid 74º, but at the end, the thermometer read 96º, and that was in the shade. The priorities once home were to leave the sweaty clothes in the garage, take a cold shower, and take a short nap.

Much of the wildlife was affected by the heat, too. Gators were basking, but of they were in the sun, they were in the water, or if they had any shade, they were only half out of the water resting on a submerged log.

Warm-blooded critters still needed to eat, so everything from small dragonflies to kites, herons, egrets, and hawks were busy looking for prey.

The Red-shouldered Hawk at the left caught and was eating what appears to be the remains of a Green Heron. A juvenile hawk was in a nearby tree, but the adult showed no inclination to share the meal, at least while I was watching.

The Palamedes Swallowtail at the right, one of six seen, was gleaning minerals from Raccoon scat.

General observations were decent for a hot, almost summer day with 27 species of birds observed. Dragonflies and butterflies were much less common. Only White Peacock sightings were common, and there were only three dozen of them seen.

However, nine species of herps were seen or heard.

Most were gators (51 individuals) and Pig Frogs (48 individuals counted) plus a minimum of 23 Green Treefrogs. Early in the morning, choruses of the treefrogs were calling and it wasn't possible to identify individuals.

Although all of the gators today were in the water, they had been on the trail, possibly at night, because there were stretches of the trail near water with reasonably fresh gator scat in the way. That stuff really stinks, and once it's in the tread of a shoe, the aroma lingers and is almost impossible to get out. Looking down and stepping carefully was definitely a must.

Other herps were Southern Leopard Frogs, Greenhouse Frogs, Squirrel Treefrogs, Brown Anoles, one Narrowmouth Toad, and Red-bellied Turtles. Surprisingly, no snakes were seen.

The most often seen of any species were Black Vultures with 131 individuals counted. Many of those had to be counted looking at enlarged photos on the computer. Of that number, all but 14 were gathered around a very large and very dead gator a little past TM4. The carcass was beginning to be ripe enough that the vultures were able to penetrate the hide and get to the good stuff inside.

Mammals were just Cottontail Rabbits, Marsh Rabbits, a White-tailed Deer, and Gray Squirrels. In addition to the Raccoon scat, there were multiple samples of very fresh Bobcat scat along the trail, but no cat was seen or heard


Friday, June 21: Corkscrew

The heat and humidity came close to being overbearing, and not much was moving. Highlights of the morning were three Barred Owls. Two were just beyond the north lake and the third was a little before the Royal Palm bench.

The owl at the left was foraging on the ground by a very shallow puddle along the bypass trail. It would hop from one fallen log to the next, watching to see if anything were moving in the water beside it. It did catch one Crayfish and then flew up higher into the cypress to dine.

Carolina Wrens and Red-bellied Woodpeckers were the other active hunters. Other birds were as vocal but not as focused on their next meals. We only spotted 18 species of birds during the morning.

Snowy Egrets were still at the south lake, but not as many as last week. The two that were most active continued to foot drag across the water's surface to scare up prey. One Little Blue Heron and several Anhingas were the only other birds foraging there.

Almost everything else was taking it easy in the heat. Only five baby gators were up on Water Lettuce and the log at the north lake, and no adult gators were spotted near them. The only mammals were a few Gray Squirrels and one Raccoon, and butterflies were just a Gulf Fritillary and a Brazilian Skipper.

Northern Parulas called but weren't seen; even Mourning Doves were few and far between. Pig Frogs and Green Treefrogs called but were equally hard to spot.

The most active and vocal of all species were Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. Multiple flights of from three to six ducks flew overhead throughout the morning, the majority over the central marsh.

One Thursday visitor reported on eBird that he had seen 40 Wood Ducks in Corkscrew, but that was highly improbable -- Wood Ducks are not one of those flocking ducks. More than likely, he saw the Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and didn't have a clue what they were.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks are tree ducks just as are Wood Ducks, and the whistling ducks were in the trees today.

One particular group of the whistling ducks were near the Alligator Den rain shelter. One of the ducks flew to the top of a cypress, looked around a little, and then disappeared into a hole in the tree. We didn't see it come out again, but three other ducks were flying and perching in the branches around the tree. The duck may have just been exploring the cavity rather than checking out a possible nest site. The hole was high and there was a lot of vegetation and branches below it, so it would have been a difficult nesting site because the ducklings, when they fledged, would have had to bounce off of multiple limbs and branches when they left the nest, and there wasn't much water at the base of the cypress.

The duck is in the two photos below, first looking around and then entering the hole.