Monday, February 15: CREW Trust Cypress Dome & Caracara Prairie Preserve

With the first Swallow-tailed Kite sighting last week at the CREW Trust Marsh Trails, it was time to check some of the previous seasons' nest sites in Cypress Dome and Caracara Prairie Preserve and refresh some of the nest site landmarks and memories.

No kites were present, but the remnants of previous nests were still there and would only need a little updating to be usable again. All of the trails and some of the service roads had been recently mowed, so walking was fairly easy. There were still some spots with water and mud, but nothing was impassable. Let the kites begin!

The morning was really humid and the grasses were still wet with dew.

The Red-shouldered Hawk at the near right found a sunny spot to spread its wings and dry out a little before beginning its day.

Thirty-one species of birds were seen, but nothing was outstanding. The best were two pairs of Sandhill Cranes that were really vocalizing, and five adult Black-crowned Night Herons.

The most often seen birds were almost five dozen Cattle Egrets that followed a small herd of cattle through one pasture. Other frequently seen or heard birds were 28 Gray Catbirds, 28 Mourning Doves, and 22 Red-bellied Woodpeckers. The Red-shouldered Hawk was one of 12 seen.

Insects were a little more interesting. The pair of Gulf Fritillaries at the upper right were truly engaged. White Peacocks were the most common and Monarchs and one Julia were the best sightings.

Dragonflies were by far the most common of all of the wildlife. The tall, wet prairie and marsh grasses were full of them. Number-wise, 144 Eastern Pondhawks were counted and 100 Blue Dashers. At first, individuals were counted, but as their numbers increased, it was easier to make a mark for every 10, and even that wasn't enough.

Good individual sightings were the Eastern Amberwing in the middle photo and five Carolina Saddlebags including the one in the bottom photo.

A few plants had nice blooms, but the showiest didn't really attract very many butterfly pollinators. The Pine Lily above was one of the prettiest along with a few Pawpaw and Bay Lobelia. It is a little late in the season for Pine Lilies, but this one was fresh and healthy.

The only herps were the pair of gators that inhabit the pond in the northwest portion of Caracara Prairie Preserve -- the one at the top of the page was sunning on the bank while its mate was in the water beside it -- plus Oak Toads, and Brown Anoles. Florida Cricket Frogs called from one of the dense marshes in southern Cypress Dome, but that was it.

Wednesday, February 17: 6-mile Cypress North

The morning wasn't very promising at the start as we encountered rain on the way to 6-mile Cypress North Preserve. And when we arrived at Sheila's Gate where we planned to enter, the rain was steady. But radar indicated it would soon move out, so we waited in the car.

The rain did end, and the rest of the day was outstanding with 51 species of birds identified.

Tops among those were raptors: five Snail Kites, three Bald Eagles of different ages, an Osprey, a Red-tailed Hawk, and several Red-shouldered Hawks.

The female and male Snail Kites at the right were actually quite cooperative and let us take their photographs. At one time later in the morning, three of the Snail Kites all flew to an island of Coastal Plain Willow, so they might be nesting in there.

Water levels were just right in the marsh for swimming birds but The most common of the swimmers were 43 American Coots, 34 Blue-winged Teal, 27 Ring-necked Ducks, seven Hooded Mergansers, seven Mottled Ducks, and six Common Gallinules. There were also Double-crested Cormorants and Anhingas.

Waders included ten Limpkins, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Tricolored Herons, White Ibis, Glossy Ibis, one Sandhill Crane, and one Green Heron. Shorebirds were Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, and one Solitary Sandpiper.

The most often seen of all of the birds were Common Grackles. Huge flocks would occasionally rise from the emergent grasses and settle in a different patch. By the end of the morning, we had counted 159 individuals, and that was probably a radical under count. We also added 49 Boat-tailed Grackles.

Of all of the blackbirds and other birds, the male Red-winged Blackbird at the right was the most photogenic. It perched near the trail where it displayed and called. The departing rain clouds in the distance made quite a backdrop.

The only other wildlife of any note were Florida Cricket Frogs which called off and on throughout our morning walk.

Part of the area we wanted to hike along the eastern border of the marsh was still too wet and muddy, but barring any significant rain, the conditions should be decent in another two weeks and allow us to get to parts of the marsh we couldn't access today.