Monday, January 27, 2014

The Hunt of a Harrier

Northern Harriers, also know as "Marsh Hawks", are winter visitors to the Central Florida area. These harriers are prominent around the local wetlands and surrounding areas. I have encountered one or more on each of my recent visits. 

I am usually alerted to the harrier's presence by the sudden onset of panic that ensues among the waterfowl as the hunting harrier makes a low flyby over the area. I've observed harriers for many winters but last weekend marked a first...watching a harrier capture its prey. From my arrival, I had seen the harrier zig zagging over the shallow ponds of the wetlands.

As I was stopped alongside of a pond to checking some waders, I saw the harrier drop down into the water, shoving a coot below the surface of the water. The harrier flapped its wings during the initial struggle then sat still for quite some time. 

It was at least 5 minutes before the harrier attempted to relocate the coot to an area where it could consume it.

The harrier's first attempt to lift the coot was unsuccessful.

It landed on a near by bush to dry off and rest a bit. 

The harrier was finally able to move the coot into the reeds and began eating!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Jetty Park 1/20/14

I headed out to Jetty Park on Monday morning, hoping to find the Purple Sandpiper that has been hanging out on the rock jetty the past few weeks. This Little Blue Heron was on the rocks near a group of people fishing.

This immature Brown Pelican was resting on the rocks.

Along the fishing pier we saw two Green Turtles foraging along the rocks.

As we made our way down the pier we saw one adult and one juvenile Great Black-backed Gull. There were numerous Ruddy Turnstones looking for scraps. We reached the end of the pier with out any sign of the sandpiper. As we made our way back, I saw the Purple Sandpiper emerging from behind a large rock along the south side of the rock jetty that runs parallel to the pier.

We found the sandpiper just in time...just as my son's patience were being to expire as he really wanted to get to the beach and play in the sand.

There was one large group of gulls and terns on the beach. The gulls were limited to small mix of Ring-billed and Laughing gulls. I counted 80 Royal Terns and only 5 Black Skimmers.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Weekend Happenings around the Viera Wetlands

While there haven't been any unusual sighings lately at the wetlands, we still have been enjoying spending time with the regulars. Just after sunrise on a cold, windy morning, many of the birds were eager to soak up the warmth of the rising sun.

And of course, once things heat up, they really heat up:)

Raptors have been plentiful on the past few visits. This Bald Eagle was scoping things out from a palm near the edge of the road. There was also a juvenile circling the ponds. Near by was a Northern Harrier having breakfast (my next post) and the eagle seemed to have an eye on them. The eagle made a few passes over the Harrier and its prey (a Coot) and I wondered if it was going to try and steal a meal but it didn't.

Another raptor that regularly passes by the wetlands is the Crested Caracara. This Caracara was snacking on a dead fish along 4-mile road (the road that leads to Moccasin Island Tract).

Lots of vocal Red-shouldered Hawks populate the area.

Green Herons are one of the many heron species seen regularly.

Several pairs of Hooded Mergansers are currently be-bopping around the wetlands.

There has been an enormous group of Green-winged Teals at the ponds for the past few weeks along with several shore birds- Long and Short-billed Dowitchers, Yellowlegs, Dunlin, and Sandpipers. This week the water levels in the ponds are rising and the group seemed a bit smaller. I wish they weren't so far off...I would love to get a close up of one!

There's no missing a Meadowlark!

Seeing this gator hanging out in the waterfall made me laugh!

My birding partner has stepped up his independence!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Busy Great Blues

The Viera Wetlands is the place to be right now if you enjoy watching Great Blues carrying out mating rituals! There are nests atop palms scattered throughout the wetlands. The most popular area has a cluster of 8 palms with four of them currently under construction with nests.

The Great Blues come and go frequently. They take off to near by berms to search for just the right stick for their partner. Mates can be eagerly waiting for the arrival of a "gift", usually a stick or twig.

Some pairs were repeating the gift giving over and over...

Some pairs seemed to be just adjusting to the awkwardness of sharing such close quarters with another heron. 

And for this pair, the bonding seemed to be off to a rough start.

A nosy neighbor checks in on the squabbling pair.

Some pairs already appear to be incubating eggs. With the incubation period being 25-30 days, maybe we will see some offspring soon!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Viera Wetlands & Click Ponds

I spend a few hours exploring the Viera Wetlands and adjacent ponds this past weekend. It was fun to see such a great variety of species!

This Red-bellied Woodpecker was hanging around the entrance of the ponds. It made its way up a Sabal Palmetto palm to snack on the small black berries produced by the tree.

If you look carefully you can see the (usually difficult to see) red patch on this male's lower belly.

Across the way from the way from the WP, this Mockingbird was enjoying some berries from the invasive Brazilian Pepper trees.

Palm Warbler were everywhere.

This Swamp Sparrow was hanging in the reeds near the water.

I saw at least 10 Eastern Phoebes, such cute little fellas!

This shrike was resting on a post near the road and didn't seem to mind the passing traffic.

There were a TON of ducks hanging out in the low waters of the ponds. Green-winged Teals were by far the largest group, but there were also Northern Shovelers, Lesser Scaups, Blue-winged Teals, a Canvasback, and I'm sure a few other species I missed.

The quiet, calm scene quickly changed to this...

...when this Northern Harrier made a pass over head.

A group of 10 American Avocets came in for a landing.

This American Bittern was on the move. It was nice to have a different view of one as I usually just see them hiding in the reeds.