This time around there were noticeably fewer waterfowl - an ominous sign that we're getting on with Spring, and about to lose our Winter visitors. All that remained of this group were a lone female Northern Shoveler, a male Ring-necked Duck, several Blue-winged Teals, and Florida's very own Mottled Ducks, which won't be going anywhere.
Right out of the car Maureen (who has more of an ear for birdsong than I do) heard an Eastern Meadowlark. Our only other Meadowlarks were during a day-trip to Galveston late last year, making this a state bird for us. It took some effort to locate where the bird was perched because of the distance their song carries. We finally picked it up as a speck across the street and in someone's private property, effectively keeping us from obtaining a better view. Once we started for the trail, though, we heard several others, which sounded like they were always just ahead of us. We were only able to locate one other, but he was pretty lively. Initially, we found him in a tree, before he flew down to the ground, walked across the path and into a clump of tall grasses (and singing the whole time).
One thing about Wellington Environmental Preserve is that they are Limpkins EVERYWHERE! Above all others, this is the bird that you know you're going to find when you come here. Apple snail shells litter the shores, and sometimes you even find yourself crunching a discarded shell underfoot on the boardwalk. There are so many Limpkins, in fact, that even the Limpkins want to see what else is around (see below).
Among the highlights of the day was when we picked a single American Avocet out of a small flock of Black-necked Stilts. It's always a pleasure to pick up a new county bird, as this was for us. Still, it's a shame that we didn't get to see it stick around, since Avocets are among my favorite shorebirds, and we only see them rarely, and usually from a great distance.
The Palm Warblers are all looking fancy in their breeding plumage, which in Florida, means that they're getting ready to leave us any day now. All throughout winter, these common birds are the classic LBJs, and now look at them! It's like watching a caterpillar become a butterfly. I wish them well on their journey back north.
When we arrived at the 6-story observation tower, we felt obligated to trudge our way up, since we had been short on time during our only other visit. It turned out to be well worth the effort. From that vantage, we were able to watch a juvenile Northern Harrier terrorize dozens of Common Moorhens and American Coots. Just a couple of minutes later, a juvenile Snail Kite flew in low from the direction that we'd just seen the Harrier disappear.
From above, a juvenile Harrier and a juvenile Snail Kite can look remarkably similar - both are brown overall, with a broad patch of white toward the base of the tail. Luckily, we were on our toes and weren't taking anything for granted, for which we were rewarded by watching the kite snatch an apple snail out of the water. Easy prey, perhaps, but still, it's pretty awesome to watch a Snail Kite do as Snail Kites do.
|Snail Kite with an apple snail|