Mar 032014
 

A few Sunday’s back I was able to spend a day at Loxahatchee NWR, and I had a wonderful time. It is a lovely place, and has some great wildlife.

Loxahatchee Boardwalk

Loxahatchee Boardwalk

I met a local who informed me that since the drought of 2011 that prey species, and hence “production”, was low … meaning less critter action. Still, for me it was wonderfully new, and engaging, so I wasn’t deterred. I found new (to me) birds, and other new and interesting species…

I started by walking the boardwalk. I couldn’t do it once only, I had to go around again. I found an Apple Snail shell, large, green and round … I see where the name comes from. I enjoyed the birds (Carolina Wren, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Cat birds and other LBJs) and loved the Lichens (Baton Rouge, Old Man’s Beard) but what really stopped me was a Spiny Orb-weaver (see photo.) As I left a Zebra Longwing Butterfly fluttered by with slow methodical wingbeats, quite eye-catching.

Before I visited the marshes I quickly went along to the boat ramp, access to some open water. A medium sized alligator was across the waterway, but most amusing was a huge alligator waiting patiently underneath the wooden dock, right below unsuspecting Fishermen; a savvy gator.

Once I started walking to walk around the marshes I immediately came upon a Limpkin, a mottled brown waterbird. A life-bird for me, this was an exciting start to a walk. Amongst other things, Limpkin feed on Apple Snails.

As I walked slowly around the park I found some quiet areas away from the other visitors. Wet dark turtle shells would surface in the weeds, snakes could be seen slipping through the water, dragonflies sunning on reeds and gators on the banks; there was life all around. Having spent the last few days in the bustle that is Florida it was good to slow down to the pace of these

One amazing treat was as I came around one of the far corners a couple of Snail Kites were hunting. Sitting on the bushes I initially wondered if they were Northern Harriers, but they didn’t have that wind dancer hunting style. Their facial features had a bit of a look of an Osprey, but were they seemed smaller, and were lighter and mottled. Despite binoculars I didn’t get a good look at a hooked beak, but the identification “felt” right to me (and so distinct from the lovely red-shoulder pair nesting nearby.) Snail Kites eat Apple Snails.

Probably the most interesting part of the whole trip was this final discovery. I’d never seen something like this in the field. Bright pink, large, and clearly eggs. Turns out they are Apple Snail eggs. What a wonderful thread to this whole day; the Apple Snail…

 

Apple Snail Eggs on a Stick

Aug 052013
 

15 years or more ago I was out in the Colorado woods when I stumbled upon a Nighthawk. Normally I see these birds flying high overhead, doing us all a favor by clearing the skies of bugs. This bird was down, in amongst the trees, and was feinting a broken wing … along one log, up into on a tree branch. Quite fascinating. Moments later my attention was drawn away from the bird (and it’s impressively pathetic progress from tree to tree) by a chick at my feet. This chick was slowly walking away, hoping to go unnoticed. I’ve never forgotten that brief but enjoyable encounter.

Broken Wing Feint

Mother Nighthawk feinting a broken wing to distract from her nest / chicks.

More recently, when bat monitoring by a nearby pond down on the flatlands, I get a treat as large numbers of these birds fly overhead. Sitting quietly next to the water’s edge I not only get to enjoy the birds flying low over the water, but they casually breeze mere feet over my head. Most people I try describing this to don’t even know what a Nighthawk is, and I feel very lucky to have this uncommon experience.

So when in the woods recently and a large bird flew up from the ground I knew to stop dead. Nighthawk? Chick? I looked down, and for a while I saw nothing. Eventually my eyes came to this nest, right below me. I call it a nest, but really it’s nothing more than a scrape, a clearing in the duff.

Nighthawk Nest with Eggs

Nighthawk Nest with Eggs. Nothing more than a scrape.

I didn’t want to cause the mother stress, so I left as soon as I’d taken the photo. She was coming back around, and trying to distract me with her broken wing feint (above). I wanted her to beleive she’d succeeded, so I followed her away & left.

A week or so later I went back to the site. What a pleasure to see these two little fur-balls within a foot of the original scrape. As I’ve watched them I’ve enjoyed the striking difference in their color. I don’t know if they are different sexes, or if the color is something else.

Young Chicks

Furballs aka Nighthawk Chicks

Yet another week or few, and look what a difference! Now feathered, and looking less like fur-balls and more like small Nighthawks. See the color difference? Size difference? I think they are in the same position as the photo above.  These guys are starting to show that wide bug-swallowing mouth:

Nighthawk Chicks

Nighthawk Chicks starting to look like small Nighthawks…

Another week, and they were gone. That said, they could’ve been feet away and maybe I wouldn’t have been able to see them.

What an experience to treasure. Fascinating birds, wonderful behavior.