Friday, April 25, 2014

Birding Florida, part 2

A Tricolored Heron wades in the shallows at Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Palm Beach County, Florida. Image Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2014.

One of the most beautiful and productive spots I've ever been birding has to be the Wakodahatchee Wetlands, a gorgeous and easily accessible park with a long, winding boardwalk that takes visitors over and through a remarkable mix of marsh, pond and edge habitat filled with a wide range of avian and reptilian life. We were very lucky to get there on a bright, beautiful morning, before the park got too crowded and I was struck right away by the abundance of birds everywhere, from Tricolored Herons to Common Gallinule and Anhinga.

The boardwalk at Wakodahatchee Wetlands offers prime viewing of an amazing range of birds and other wildlife, including alligators. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2014.

I was particularly excited to see the Tricolored Herons, a new life bird and one that I was able to see up close from the boardwalk. The air above the boardwalk was alive with the flapping wings and awkward flight of Anhinga moving from one tree to another, and in the vegetation there were plenty of Little Blue Hersons, Green Herons and Blac-Crowned Night Herons on the lookout for their aquatic prey. We were also lucky enough to get a really good look at a pair of Blue-Winged Teal, a bird I had only previously observed at a distance.

An Anhinga in a tree gathers vegetation, presumably for a nest. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2014.
Overall this was one of the best places I have ever been birding and would highly recommend it to both beginning and advanced birders -  the opportunity to see a range of wading species, ducks and other birds up close which are normally difficult to spot is not only a lot of fun, but also affords the chance to sharpen ID skills and observe a range of behaviors, from feeding to nesting. I know I can't wait to get back.

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2014.

Unexpected Owls

Now that the snow is gone, the ice has melted and the trees are once again bursting forth with buds, leaves and birds, I find myself itching to get back out into the woods and onto the water. Just this past week I spent some time birding at Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary in Sharon, MA, where I was delighted to see early returning migrants, including metallic-blue Tree Swallows hunting in swooping arcs over meadows, their liquid chirps filling the air. The Eastern Phoebes were also around, perched conspicuously on still-bare branches at the edge of a field, tails bobbing.

Along the boardwalk the skunk cabbage was starting to emerge from its long slumber beneath the frozen mud and as I walked along I suddenly heard, very distinctly, the sound of a Barred Owl calling in the distance to my left. I paused, listened again, and there it was  - repeating - at first I thought perhaps someone was playing a recording of a Barred Owl, but then I heard another one calling from the other side of the boardwalk. I have heard these birds many times at night, and their distinctive "Who cooks, who cooks for you ?" call is one of the easiest for me to remember. Beginning birders are often told that if they hear hooting or cooing during the day, its most likely a dove or pigeon, but this was definitely two Barred Owls making their presence known, in broad daylight.

After a little research I learned that it is actually not uncommon for these highly territorial, non-migratory birds to call during the day. I was positively delighted to learn this new fact about Barred Owl behavior, something I wouldn't have known if I hadn't had the strange experience of standing on a boardwalk in a wetland in the middle of the day and been taken by surprise by the calls of a bird I know well in another context. This is what I love about birding and outdoor exportation in general - there is always something new to discover and explore, and one never knows when one of these moments will occur.

Thanks for reading.

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2014.