Great Florida Birding Trail

Over the past week, I’ve visited several sites on the Great Florida Birding Trail in the area… a good way to get off the boat when interior projects are going on.  It seems like just about any open space in Florida qualifies to be on the trail.   Their trip planner section on the website is very helpful in choosing locations, complete with recent “E-bird hotspot" sightings and a bird checklist to give you a hint about native populations.  Some areas are better than others and I’m sure time of year matters too.  Spring time is a good time to see breeding populations.

The first place that I visited at the Stick Marsh did not disappoint.  The bushes were of full birds nesting and presumably breeding… it is spring after all.  Although across a body of water, you could still identify plenty of different wading birds on an islet, including the roseate spoonbill.  

Roseate spoonbill

Roseate spoonbills nesting

The white birds all look alike from a distance, but are each distinctive up-close. 

Great white herons - breeding plumage

Reddish egret

Cattle egret

White ibis

The white ibis was preening for a long time while I watched...

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A few vultures surprised me with their behaviors… first a turkey vulture posed for the camera when I walked by to sun himself.  Then two black vultures started dueling by kicking each other and jumping up together.

Turkey vulture

Black vultures fighting

There were plenty of limpkins in the area with their unique evolutionary branch & wild call... and now I know why.  

I spotted these egg deposits all around the water in the hyacinths.  

The color indicated that they are channel apple snail eggs (white eggs are native), an invasive species to Florida and the main food source for limpkins using their strong beaks.


Another nearby site I visited with Leslie at the Indrio Savannahs Preserve before she returned to the Bahamas.  It is on subdivision land that was never built and went into the park system as open space.  There was very interesting bird- and wildlife here, including snakes and wild pigs that scared the heck out of us.

The observation tower was a good place to see birds in flight.  We spotted two huge wood storks and a beautiful swallow-tailed kite for the first time here.  I’ve since seen the kite a few more times, often hovering overhead this time of year.

Wood storks

Swallow-tailed kite

This preserve has a deep lake that attracts ducks and tons of tree swallows to eat up all of the insects and dusk did seem like a good time to go for bird watching.

Tree swallows

Wood duck

Two of the other places that I visited were the Pelican Island National Wildlife Reserve and the St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park south entrance.  The former was very similar to a mangrove islet loop walk that is common around here.  In contrast, the latter was a dry, open prairie of cat-face pine grounds used for turpentine production in the past.  Neither had the number of birds as the two sites above when I went mid-day.  There are always plenty of other critters to observe along these trails as well, especially butterflies, anoles, alligators and the occasional, guilty-looking raccoon.

It’s always exciting to identify a few new (to me) birds.  This northern parula was a very small bird hopping quickly from branch to branch.  It reminded me of a gnatcatcher... it turns out to be one of the smallest warblers.  So cute with its half eye ring, wing bars, yellow neck and olive back patch.

Northern parula

Northern parula

Other warblers flitting around were the familiar palm warbler and a female myrtle warbler (white throat), which is a type of yellow-rumped warbler.  There was a also a pair of cardinals in the same area.

Palm warbler

Myrtle warbler (female)

Northern cardinal (female)

A shorebird sped by with a fast, stilted gait while bobbing its rear up and down.  He was hard to catch up with, but at least I got a photo to help identify him as a spotted sandpiper.

Spotted sandpiper

One distinctive bird that I’ve been seeing in several places is the tri-colored heron.  

It resembles a little blue heron in size and color except this bird had a light, multi-colored neck and a white feather on the back of its head.  

It is lovely and very picturesque.

For some action, a yellow-bellied woodpecker landed over my head to try and grab lunch.  He was wrestling with some sort of lizard and the bird won in the end.

Red-bellied woodpecker

Two other birds were also spotted directly overhead, an anhinga that was calling to his friends with a strange, gargled sound and a boat-tailed grackle singing with gusto.


Boat-tailed grackle

Oh… and now the kicker.  After all of my research and pounding the dirt on local trails, all I had to be was an early bird (pardon the pun).  Mark gets up at dawn most days and our mooring field is in a prime birdwatching spot, so he got to see a great horned owl the other morning on a neighboring mast.  At least he grabbed the camera first instead of waking me, so he got the picture before he flew away.  I missed him completely, figures!

Great horned owl

© M&M 2016