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How to bird when you’re not birding

April 1, 2011
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New I and the Bird #147 comes home to 10,000 Birds.

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The thing about Florida is that the birding is always good.  It doesn’t matter if you’re heading out with the specific intention of turning up some birds – in which case, the birding is likely to be excellent – or just tooling around wherever you are, where you have to accept merely very good.   I didn’t have a car save for a 24 hour period mid-week (more on what I was up to during that period later), but it didn’t matter a whole lot.  The resort where we stayed abutted a series of lakes in the headwaters of Everglades.  At least that’s what the brochures said, but their pedigree isn’t really that important.  Any place where there’s water is going to be a place where there are birds.  After all, if sewage treatment plants are considered prime hot spots in our community, a real deal pond is a sort of a dream.

So I spent a good deal of time, sandwiched around familial obligations, strolling along the sidewalk that paralleled the water with my camera and binoculars taking in any opportunity that came along.  I’m still coming to terms with the weird birding/photography line you end up walking when you have a big lens, it’s definitely different than what I’m used to.  The desire to get a good photograph and the desire to see lots of birds aren’t necessarily corresponding goals, as least if you’re serious about one or the other.  There’s probably a blog post in there somewhere, but for now, let it be said that the birding aspect of this trip gave way in a large part to the photography aspect.  But fortunately, in Florida that’s not a decision you have to go all in on anyway.

So, you’ve already seen the Painted Bunting and the Anhingas, but that was only the beginning. Here are a few other notable and interesting photo subjects.

All of the wading birds were evident around the ponds at one point or another.  And as much as I wanted a shot at Tricolored Heron or Snowy Egret, the species most acclimated to the constant presence of people around here were the Little Blue Herons.  I even had one walk along the sidewalk between me and an older couple.  I would have taken photos but it was too close.  That’s a problem you really only have in Florida.

Osprey are ridiculously common too.  By mid-morning the area Vultures would be kettling up – likely birds moving northward – and there would invariably be an Osprey or two in the mix.  That’s not counting the birds on every third power pole too.  These things are thick in Florida, though the mid-March population probably consists of northern breeders as much as resident birds skewing the numbers high.

Common Moorhens are conspicuous and gregarious in every pond.  This is the species of the Americas, recently split from the Common Gallinule of the Old World.  There has been some discussion as to what to call this recent split; I personally feel that “moorhen” is a bit too evocative of the British Isles where they at least have moors and instead support the return of “Gallinule” to illustrate its neotropic familial relations.  Further, having heard these birds the length and breadth of Orange, Osceola and Brevard County over that week, Laughing Gallinule seems an entirely appropriate name.

For a long time, during all the trips my family would take to Florida when I was a young birder, I never saw a Wood Stork.  It was one of the more frustrating misses of my early birding career.  When I finally came across a Wood Stork several years later while visiting my wife’s grandmother on the Atlantic coast of Florida, it was sitting in a canal in her backyard.  I’ve seen several since, even in North Carolina where they’re localized breeders in the far south coast of the state, but I never get tired of them.  The only Wood Storks I saw on this trip were flyovers, but they’re impressive birds nonetheless.

Great Egrets abound.  This time of year, when they’re draped in plumes and set off with that aqua teal patch in front of their eye, they’re nothing short of amazing.  It’s too bad that it’s so infrequent that we see these birds this way, often the only Great Egrets I see through the year are the post-breeding birds that disperse far and wide.  They’re lovely in their stately pristine way, but it’s hardly the same as these Floridian hormonally enhanced super-egrets of early spring.  Another thing Florida has on us all.

More to come.

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3 Comments
  1. April 1, 2011 7:13 am

    Someday I will visit that sun-drenched state as a birder…

    Great shots!

  2. April 1, 2011 1:52 pm

    Beautiful shots, Nate, particularly the Great Egret! Your post reminds me so much of my vacation a little over a year ago. Re walking with a big lens, you may want to look into getting a BlackRapid strap. It keeps the camera and lens near your hip and allows you to keep both hands free. I love mine. I keep the camera slung over my shoulder and walk with the lens pointing backward.

  3. April 29, 2011 12:15 pm

    I enjoyed this post a lot ’cause it summed up a lot of my feelings and Florida experiences. I go down several times a year to visit family, and my birder friends don’t under that a lot of this time cannot be spent actively birding. Still, I see great birds in my sister’s backyard (Limpkin, White-winged Dove) and around my parent’s apartment. Someday, I’ll get away for more than a day and drive to Key West again!

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