Thursday, July 30, 2015

Loxahatchee and Green Cay

A few times a year we try to visit some of the wetlands in Palm Beach County, about an hour's drive north of our home. Before our arrival back in Florida from our second home in Illinois, we were greeted with the news that a Smooth-billed Ani had appeared in the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. Midsummer is not the best time to visit muggy and buggy wetlands Though I had seen this species in Puerto Rico I have never encountered it in the "official" American Birding Association (ABA) area. This was a good excuse to drive up to the refuge and pick up a new "lifer" as soon as our schedule permitted. We departed from home in predawn darkness and arrived there at 7:00 AM.

Smooth-billed Anis formerly bred in Loxahatchee but have been absent for about 15 years.  This pair of anis were first located about three weeks previously and their nest was subsequently discovered near the Marsh Trail observation tower in the largest of the two trees to the right of this photo (click on photos for larger size and additional images):

Marsh Trail Tower HDR 20150722

We were immediately rewarded with great views of one member of the pair. The other was sometimes visible through the foliage and is presumably incubating.

Smooth-billed Ani 2-20150722

The ani is classified as a member of the cuckoo (Cuculidae) family. Its closest relative is the Hoatzin. Like the latter, the ani is normally a cooperative breeder, with several families sharing a nest and helping raise the young. Indeed, more than one female has been known to lay eggs in a nest as it is being built. The dominant female often will bury the eggs of those deposited earlier, incorporating them into the nest structure and assuring that they will not hatch.

The ani's large bill is most interesting, as it is arched and parrot-like. Overall it looks like a large blackbird (14.5 inches/37 centimeters), about the length of our Boat-tailed Grackle. Its long tail hangs down and appears to be loosely attached and its wings are short and broad.

Smooth-billed Ani 20150722

Bill detail:

 Smooth-billed Ani detail 20150722

Residents of south Florida and the Caribbean, they were much more abundant locally about 30-40 years ago. Severe winters in the 1970s and habitat loss due to development are partly blamed for their reduced numbers. Now they are found in the USA almost exclusively in southern Florida, in scattered locations in the Florida Keys and along the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Okeechobee. They feed primarily on insects and small lizards and frogs, but also eat fruit, especially during the dry season. They typically nest at the beginning of the rainy season (summer, here in Florida) when insects are most abundant.

We did not stay very long as we had afternoon obligations, but had time to look for threatened Snail Kites, including this one with color-coded leg bands placed by researchers. This species depends heavily upon declining numbers of Apple Snails, but is adapting to another large exotic snail that is displacing the native species.

Snail Kite 2-20150722

The Snail Kit's narrow and sharply curved bill is specialized for extracting the flesh from the snails:

Snail Kite 4-20150722

This Little Blue Heron is transitioning from its first-year white to the adult plumage that gives it its name:

Little Blue Heron sub-adult 20150722

Wood Storks and a Great Blue Heron roosted in treetops along the trail. The two young storks have fuzzy heads and lighter bills than the adults:

Wood Stork immatures and adult 20150722

Great Blue Heron 20150722

Black-necked Stilts and Glossy Ibises foraged in a flooded agricultural field near the entrance of the Refuge:

Black-necked Stilt 20150722

Glossy Ibis 2-20150722

A Passion Flower attracted a Honeybee:

Bee in Passion Flower 20150722

We proceeded to Green Cay wetlands, a waste water treatment area that is a great birding "hotspot."

The 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) of boardwalk are well-maintained:

Green Cay boardwalk HDR 20150722

That's Mary Lou in the blue shirt, well in front of me (as usual):

Green Cay boardwalk2 HDR 20150722

Purple Gallinules were particularly abundant, both adults...

Purple Gallinule 2-20150722

...and immature birds:

Purple Gallinule immature 2-20150722

A Snowy Egret pranced on golden slippers in the mud flats:

Snowy Egret 20150722

Green Herons foraged patiently, ...

Green Heron 2-20150722

... and Anhingas dried their wings and preened:

Anhinga 20150722

Anhinga 2 20150722

Striking red native Swamp Hibiscus bloomed along the boardwalk, ...

Swamp Hibiscus 20150722

...contrasting with white Marsh Lilies..

Marsh Lilies 20150722

...and purple flowers of Pickerel-weed:

Pickerelweed - Pontederia cordata 20150722

A Tricolored Heron posed so nicely that I was inspired to render it in HDR images by creating and layering different exposures from single RAW photos (I used this technique for the landscapes included in this post):

Tricolored Heron HDR 20150722

Tricolored Heron preening HDR  20150722

Tricolored Heron roosting HDR3 20150722

It was only mid-morning, but thunderheads loomed to the south over the Nature Center when we departed. We arrived home in the rain:

Green Cay Nature Center HDR 20150722

= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =

Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to GOOD FENCES by Tex (Theresa). 

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to I Heart Macro by Laura


Please visit the links to all these memes to see some excellent photos on display


  1. Hello Ken, great collection of birds and images. I love the Ani and the Snail Kite. Cool birds. Your flowers and sky shots are beautiful too. Have a happy day!

  2. unique bills on those first two birds! loved all your shots. beautiful boardwalk, beautiful blooms, beautiful reflections, too. thanks for linking!

  3. Golly, I love all the photos, but I think the tricolored are my favorites!!

  4. Truly awesome photos. Those boardwalks are magnificent!

  5. I had never heard of some of these...specially that first. All so interesting. And I really love your photos.

  6. Well you certainly got the best part of the day adnit was fantastic tht you go to see the Ani and also to show us the photos. well as usual all your bird adn flowers photographs are wonderful adn that is a fabulous board walk. The last shot is idyllic with the beautiful reflections in the water.

  7. Hi Kenneth me again.
    Just to let you know that I will be on BBC Radio Ulster this Sunday 2 August between 2.00pm -3.00pm in a programme called “Time of our Lives”. I recorded it yesterday. If you miss it on Sunday, you can hear it on IPlayer Radio at

    If you wish to hear my Irish voice!

  8. What a great preserve with so many different bird species. I like your landscape shots, too.

  9. Wow, those tricolored heron shots should win you some awards!! I like that last photo of the nature center as well. Beautiful post!

  10. love your hdr images of the boardwalk and nature center.

  11. great selection of photos as usual. The reflection of the ibis is great! And the Ani is such a strange looking bird...

  12. Wonderful shots! I really like that last photo.

  13. Hello Ken, just stopping back to say thank you for linking up and sharing your post. Have a happy weekend!

  14. Wonderful sightings and stunning photos!

  15. amazing clicks... totally in love with the boardwalk and last last picture... :-)
    Cheers, Archana -

  16. Fabulous photos as usual! I love all the birds and the flowers.

  17. Wow...where do I begin. We have the 'groove billed' anis in our area. Their song is very pretty!!
    And oddly enough, just yesterday I was reading about the snail kites!! Attractive kite, which I will probably never see here in Texas.

    Awesome wetland...both in bird life AND scenery. Love the immature purple gallinules too.

    Thanks for sharing your post link today at I'd Rather B Birdin'!!

  18. Your tri-colored heron treatment came out great.

    Congrats on the Ani sighting!

  19. Amazing series of photos. I especially enjoyed the tri-colored heron. Beautiful area, too.

  20. What an excellent post here, several notches above the ordinary birding blogger. Your photos are wonderful AND made even better by the information/descriptions you provide in the commentary. So many bloggers can capture a neat picture but can’t (or don’t) provide any enlightening info to go along with. I learned quite a lot here about the Smooth-billed Ani. Just becoming aware of this bird is sort of a “lifer” for me. Anyone who leaves home in the predawn darkness to arrive at a birding location is serious indeed and it is great that you share this whole experience with us. Thank you for sharing and also for your recent kind comment on my blog.

  21. Fantastic photos - thank you for sharing all the different birds! I love seeing things that not found in my neck of the woods.

  22. Great photos. Wish we had the snail-eating bird here...

  23. So many amazing captures here...I think that the tri colored heron is my favorite but I enjoyed them all immensely! :)

  24. Some incredible looking birds. Love the Glossy Ibis and Stilt.

  25. what an excellent collection of birds - this must be a great place to explore!

  26. Birding Florida is a lot of fun but I'm not sure I'd be okay in the summer. I got a taste of the bugs in spring and suffered two months afterwards. I hope these ani s will have a successful nesting and that they are far enough away from people to successfully have fledglings. We had an issue here with our Flame-colored Tanagers. Too many people disturbing the nest lead to a failed nest:(

  27. Wonderful. Green cay sounds like our kind of place ... More for my list of to be visited!


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