Monday, December 3, 2012

Pelicans and spoonbills!

On Saturday morning, November 24 we departed Chicago Midway Airport where the temperature was 20 degrees (F), and at noon we were treated to a balmy 74 degrees at Fort Lauderdale Airport. Put away the fleece and back into T-shirts and shorts! Now is when I love living in Florida!

South Florida enjoys two seasons: Hot and wet from June through September, and mild and dry from October through May. We had departed for our second home in Illinois in late October, after a period of abnormally abundant precipitation. Our lake was filled to brimming. Birding had been slow in our local birding patch next to our subdivision because because fish and other aquatic prey were diluted in the high water, dispersing the long-legged waders throughout the Everglades. Hurricane Sandy brushed by just after we departed Florida, delivering high winds and beach erosion but little moisture. After that, temperatures moderated and rainfall was scant.

Our lake has receded about two feet since our trip north, and now its margin no longer reaches up to cover part of our back lawn.

Our back yard 20121126

We slept with open windows, and early the next morning wasted no time getting back out on the gravel road that extends a mile from the entrance of our subdivision into the water conservation area. As usual, we started out walking briskly, Mary Lou in the lead, while I lugged my binoculars and camera gear a few paces behind her. She pointed out a nice Northern Cardinal along the path. Of course I stopped to take his picture, then struggled to keep up, feeling like a toy poodle on a jogger's leash.

Northern Cardinal 20121125

Ahead, we beheld an unusual and welcome sight as we approached the Harbour Lakes mitigation impoundment (a fancy name for land set aside by the developer to compensate, rather symbolically, for the damage caused by draining and filling the historic Everglades to build our homes). The white forms of  scores of ibises, egrets and (Holy Cow!) American White Pelicans circled over the lake.

White Pelicans in flight 2-20121125

Since moving here in 2004, despite our nearly daily walks, we had never encountered pelicans on our birding patch.

The pelicans fed cooperatively, driving a school of fish in front of them as they advanced in a line. Lower lake levels had concentrated their prey into a nutritious "soup."

Pelicans feeding cooperatively 20121125

I counted 23 pelicans. They approached closely, following the frightened fish up to the shoreline.

White Pelicans 20121125

This brief film clip demonstrates the pelicans' cooperative fishing technique (I didn't realize that I still have a New Jersey accent after being away 50 years!)

[Trouble viewing? Go to VIMEO at this link]

Masters of flight, some of the pelicans wheeled overhead.

White Pelican HDR 20121127

Wood Storks joined them.

Wood Stork in flight 20121125

By now I had fallen far behind Mary Lou. I barely heard her shout: "Spoonbills!" Yes! Three Roseate Spoonbills dabbled with the storks, ibises and egrets, up close and personal. (Two days later on November 27, a fourth spoonbill was present).

Roseate Spoonbill 4-20121125

Stork with spoonbills 20121125

Roseate Spoonbills 2-20121125

This video clip shows the spoonbills' feeding technique.

[Trouble viewing? Go to VIMEO at this link]

A Great Egret flew in to join an immature Great Blue Heron (note its darker plumage and black cap) that was feeding with the spoonbills and pelicans.

Great Egret with Imm Great Blue and pelicans 20121125

Like storks, spoonbills are tactile feeders-- they sweep their specialized bills and clamp down when they detect their prey, which consist mostly of fishes and other aquatic animals. The water is just the right depth to keep their eyes from being submerged. This immature Little Blue Heron is a sight feeder. It adapts the typical posture of its species while stalking for fishes, the tip of its bill just above the surface of the water.

Little Blue Heron and spoonbill 20121125

The waders included several adult Little Blue Herons...

Little Blue Heron 20121125

...and Snowy Egrets.

Snowy Egret 20121125

In this interesting shot, both a spoonbill and a pelican are demonstrating how they use their bills as strainers.

Pelican and spoonbill feeding 20121125

A Bald Eagle flew over and at least a hundred egrets, herons, ibises and spoonbills took flight. The pelicans seemed not to be disturbed by the predator.

White Ibises 20121125

Roseate Spoonbill in flight 20121125

Three drab Double-crested Cormorants watched a colorful spoonbill fly by. I call this photo "feather envy."

Feather envy 20121125

We logged 45 bird species, among them a Caspian Tern...

Caspian Tern 20121125

...a lone Mottled Duck...

Mottled Duck 20121126

...a belted Kingfisher...

Belted Kingfisher 2-20121126

...and four distant Red-breasted Mergansers.

Distant Red-breasted Merganser 2-20121127

On our second walk, clouds gathered over the impoundment. Note the grove of exotic Melaleuca trees to the right. They were treated with herbicide a couple of months ago. Two years ago, a pair of Ospreys nested  there. Soon they will be cleared to make way for the highway extension that will also result in the paving of our beloved gravel road. Progress!

Harbour Lake impoundment HDR 20121127

Our walk was cut short by a rain storm that came up suddenly. This is the view in front of me as we hurried home. The shower lasted only a few minutes.

 Miramar Parkway HDR 20121127


  1. marvelous photos! i like your walk area! damn the progress, though!

    gorgeous shots of the birds and the sky ending was fabulous, too.

  2. Developers have devastated so much of the old Florida that I once knew.
    I never get a chance to see most of the fantastic birds you captured here, Ken. The Spoonbills and white pelicans are lovely birds.

  3. A fantastic tale Ken - boy am I jealous of your temperatures and sunshine, not to mention all the birds you logged on that "walk". (My better half says I dont walk at all, I just move extremely slowly in between constant stops). The Pelicans look superb, always a bit more exotic than mere heron species. All that rainfall of weeks ago seems to have had a bonus with the species you saw on your return. Spot on analogy about the tree rings by the way.

  4. Ken what a post - The lighting is to die for, something we rarely get here in the UK.... I kid you not! makes photography bloomin hard!

    I had to go over this post 3 times to appreciate it all


  5. Thank you all. I'm still learning the ropes on Blogger. I unintentionally published this post three days early while it should have stayed in draft. With my old software I clicked on "Publish" and then put in the date/time for release. Anyone who revisits will see that I have added video content.
    @Phil-- that manner of locomotion fits me as well. Before I took up photography I was SO impatient with birders who lingered and held up the group. "Isn't it enough just to see the bird and move on?"

  6. Thanks for taking me on your morning walk Ken. I got a good chuckle with your comment about feeling like a "toy poodle on a jogger's leash" :-D Your photos are obviously well worth falling behind your jogging mate.

    It's great to see all of the different species foraging together (more or less) but aren't the American White Pelicans amazing? Nothing like a bit of cooperative fishing to increase your take. Great videos by the way and I loved watching the Spoonbills. Since I have never birded in the East, that would be one of the lifers you pointed out.

    The feather envy shot is perfect. Those cormorants look stunned. I must say though, that with all of these incredible bird photos, the Belted Kingfisher in flight is the most impressive to me. Not an easy bird to catch in flight and you caught a great shot! Serendipity?

  7. Thanks, Larry! That kingfisher flew back and forth, usually out of camera range. This time I heard it coming and luckily caught it in my center focus point, about 40-50 feet away-- the photo is rather heavily cropped. I was shooting in a burst (3/sec) and only 2 of the 7 or 8 shots showed any detail.

  8. Stunning images!!! I do think I see a wood stork among the one image near the top...the one with all the white pelicans?!! Or am I dreaming? Love the entire grouping of your excellent photos ----oh and the kingfisher in flight?!!!!!!!!! Simply awesome!

    Thanks for linking up this weekend.

    1. Yes, Anni, there were about a dozen Wood Storks present. They flew in and out, which may be a good sign that they are carrying food to their young. There has been massive failure to breed at the major rookery in Corkscrew Swamp, but new and smaller communities such as on in Palm Beach County to our north may be present. They could be in remote cypress stands in the Everglades.

  9. lovely shots of the pelicans and the kingfisher is amazing!!

  10. Welcome home! Fantastic post! You have quite a nice area to wander in. Loved all of the images and especially the videos. Like Larry, I'm most appreciative of the Belted Kingfisher in flight. I have gigabytes of fuzzy Kingfishers! :)


  11. I'm not sure how the comments are managed. I replied directly to Anni above, but I do not find my reply in the thread. Here is what I wrote:

    Yes, Anni, there were about a dozen Wood Storks present. They flew in and out, which may be a good sign that they are carrying food to their young. There has been massive failure to breed at the major rookery in Corkscrew Swamp, but new and smaller communities such as on in Palm Beach County to our north may be present. They could be in remote cypress stands in the Everglades.

  12. A great series of photos and very interesting to see all the birds at present round your south Florida home. The Roseate Spoonbills are very beautiful. We have Royal and Yellow Spoonbills - but nothing with that beautiful colored plumage. It's not good to see how those Melaleucas have taken over. There is quite a strong movement around here to use only local plants in gardens - and to make sure that other species stay inside your own fence.

  13. Glad you published early Ken... still a wonderful post even second time round.

  14. What a banner day you had! I love seeing all those wading birds. And the pelicans - oh,my! I love the the picture of the Kingfisher in flight. All beautifully photographed.

  15. What a really great set of images - I loved the birds (thats not really a surprise) but that last but one landscape shot is really very, very good! What a great day you must have had.

    Cheers and thanks for linking to WBW

    Stewart M - Melbourne

  16. There's a lot of bird action near your home, Ken. Beautiful shots of them all.

  17. Thanks for the tip, Ken. I thought it might be a palm warbler be I wasn't sure.


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