The cloud cover was less than complete, and we felt reasonably sure that we'd be able to get some quality birding in. It didn't hurt when, right off the bat, we saw an adult Crested Caracara land in a distant pine alongside a juvenile.
|Viera Wetlands at dawn|
Driving slowly up the dirt road, and carefully scanning every which way, I excitedly called out "Eastern Screech Owl!" We both whipped our binoculars out and stretched through the car windows for a better look at the object resting on a wood post up ahead. But, embarrassingly, what I had seen had actually been the post itself, the top of which had big chunks missing out of it, and making it look vaguely like a screech owl. Sadly, this wasn't the first time my enthusiasm has created birding-induced paradolia, and I'm sure it won't be the last.
Fortunately, there was no mistaking the two Sandhill Cranes that flew beside us. Looking over into the fields beyond the fences lining the perimeter of the wetlands, we found about a dozen more standing around.
Although the waterfowl were much more abundant at Viera than at any other location during our trip, we didn't find any great diversity of species. The Ring-necked Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, and Northern Shovelers were some of the highlights. These are all very beautiful birds, of course, but I think I was most thankful that they broke up the monotony of the many thousands of American Coots out in front of us.
|Northern Shovelers and American Coots|
In the reeds along the banks, we found a secretive little thing flitting about, down where it was difficult to make make out any features. The call, however, was that of a Marsh Wren. Our only previous look at a Marsh Wren was disappointingly brief, and so we decided that we would stick it out until he gave us the looks we wanted. Little did we realize how obliging he'd be! Jumping up to the very tops of the reeds, he grabbed hold of a reed in each foot and spread his legs far apart. Over the course of several minutes, he repeated this display a couple of different times. We also discovered a handful more Marsh Wrens as we continued around the trails.
Seeing as how difficult to find one American Bittern, we were shocked to be able to see two in one morning. The first one flushed as soon as we spotted it, but the other, farther down along the road, laid low for as long as we remained watching.
While we were out to look at this second bittern, an alligator made an unsuccessful attempt at taking a coot, out in the water. The immediate response of every bird in the immediate and not-so-immediate vicinities was to get the hell out of the there as quickly as possible. Below, you can see a number of coots lined up along the banks, alongside several Blue-winged Teal. It my not be evident in the picture, but those birds weren't prepared to return to the water any time soon.
|Trying not to get eaten|
Of course, seeing a Bald Eagle is always a highlight of any outing, and is an experience, that, I hope, never gets old. A single adult perched atop the tall stump of a Cabbage Palm and posed for several minutes before finding another, closer perch, and finally flying nearly right over us.
By this point, the storm was just about upon us, and the rain began to fall. By the end of our three days, we wound up with 106 species, meeting and exceeding our fanciful hope of hitting triple digits. If you ever have the opportunity to visit Central Florida, you MUST visit these places: Viera Wetlands, Merritt Island NWR, and Canaveral National Seashore. If you need an excuse, there's always next year's Space Coast Birding Festival!
|Great Blue Herons before the storm|
|This was more interesting than whatever was off to the right|