Thursday, November 28, 2019

A Bitter(n) lesson in the birding patch

An advantage of walking in the same old patch, day after day, is that you get to know so many features of the landscape-- the clump of leaves which resemble a roosting hawk, the shaggy stump which can be mistaken for a deer, the old woodpecker holes... You notice when there is something new-- a discarded soft drink can, a broken tree limb, fresh tracks or scat... 

One morning I saw the unmistakable form of an American Bittern hiding in the sedges of the wet prairie:

American Bittern 20180104

The next day, to my surprise, it was still hiding in nearly the same spot:

Fake Bittern 20180112

Not wishing to disturb it, I casually took its picture and walked on. However, an hour later the bittern was there again! Now look at the second photo more closely. This little clump of reeds  will not fool me again!

Another day a small mammal (or maybe an owl?), was out in the open, watching me. It looked exotic, resembling a cross between a fox and a squirrel:

Foxy Squirell NOT 20190930

I cautiously crept closer, and this is what I saw, a coconut!:

 Foxy Squirell NOT 2-20190930

You are sensitive to changes in the soundscape-- the order in which various birds first call or sing in the morning and the seasonal variations in the mix and character of their sounds, the roar of flies crowded on the carcass of a dead animal or fresh scat, the hum of a swarm of bees:

Honeybee swarm 20140325

Your nose detects the opening of the flowers-- the sweet honeysuckle scent of Ligustrum, the strong camphor smell of Melaleuca flowers, the turpentine-like odor when you brush against the  Brazilian Pepper shrubs, the citrus smell of Lantana flowers which seems to be somewhat more or less pleasant depending upon their color...  As a kid I could detect the musky odor when the Garter Snakes emerged from their dens in early spring to gather in squirming copulatory masses, and the lemony sweetness of a colony of yellow Citronella ants in mid-summer (they smelled so good that I even tasted one-- to my surprise it was disgustingly bitter!).   

Honeybees and ants on fresh Ligustrum flowers:

Honeybees and ants on Ligustrum 20190814

Northern Harriers use their acute vision and hearing to pinpoint prey hidden in the grass. They sweep back and forth over a grassy area almost as if they are following a planned GPS grid. They have been said to notice even minor changes in the areas they scan, implying they have excellent spatial memory. 

This reminds me of digital subtraction technology which superimposes two images separated by a time interval and subtracts all the identical overlapping background areas to display only objects which are new, moved or have changed. It is useful in aerial photography to allow the tax assessor to easily find alterations in structures which may modify their size or shape, in astronomy to detect new or moving heavenly bodies, for armed forces to discover recently placed weapons or fortifications, and in medicine, when using the same technique, serial digital X-rays or scans may track changes in blood vessels, the progression of tumors or healing of fractures. 

Northern Harrier:

Northern Harrier 5-20131210

Is the harrier's small brain capable of such a feat? In a certain sense, walking a patch resembles this phenomenon. Humans have the power to ignore the familiar-- the cracks in the sidewalk, cooking and tobacco odors at home, even the voice of a spouse! While I plead no contest to the latter, one winter morning I was guilty of not hearing the distinct calls of an American Robin in our local south Florida wetlands. Since it is a bird which I heard so often back in Illinois, my brain was slow to alert me to the fact that the bird was misplaced, as robins are infrequent and unpredictable visitors. Luckily I became aware and I even obtained photos.   

American Robin:

American Robin 02-10280217

Some of the changes in the landscape are unwelcome. These are often noted on Monday morning, after weekend trespassers on "wreckreational " vehicles (ATVs, ORVs, mud bikes, swamp buggies and jeeps) have violated the pristine areas of the preserve:

ATV damage to wet prairie 20180708

This is all that was left of my dark and shady sit-spot under the canopy of the "Fake Hammock" after trees were cut and bonfires roared, thanks to the ATV crowd. Since this photo was taken back in 2013, tall Phragmites grass has completely  invaded the sun-drenched spot:

Remains of fake hammock 2-200130329

Destruction in Fake Hammock 3-20120424

Sometimes ugly spots can be beautified, as when Painted Buntings bathe in fresh Mud Buggy tracks:

Painted Bunting bathing 2-20131222

Painted Bunting 2-20131222

A Killdeer forages at a muddy rut:

Killdeer 20111122

The antics of the partying off-road drivers can actually be welcomed when they practice doing "donuts" in the marsh. They create artificial "alligator holes" which retain water and attract wildlife, such as this Northern Waterthrush which is following a venomous Water Moccasin along the "shore" of just such a depression (Ophidiophobia warning):

Northern Waterthrush 20131008

Northern Waterthrush with Cottonmouth 06-20131008
Northern Waterthrush with Cottonmouth 09-20131008

Hurricane Irma struck in October, 2017. It decimated flowering plants and killed almost an entire generation of local butterflies, adults, larvae and eggs. Before the storm they flocked to the Lantana patch. At times one could not distinguish between flowers and butterflies:

Lakeside Lantana HDR 20150821

The Lantanas recovered slowly and some bloomed about  six months later, but  few butterflies visited. This past summer I could go a week without seeing more than one or two Gulf Fritillaries...

:Gulf Fririllary on Lantana 03-20191001

... or Julia heliconians. This was the first female Julia I saw in over a month (September 4, 2019):

Julia heliconian female 20190904

Julias are now becoming more common this is a male visiting the Lantanas on September 21, 2019: :

Julia heliconian male 01-20190921

As if the fury of Hurricane Irma's wind were not enough, vandals set fire to wind-felled trees (February, 2018):

Fury of wind and fire 01-20180207

Paradoxically, the fire created a new but temporary habitat. The opening in the wetlands attracted prey for a Louisiana Waterthrush which remained there last autumn for an unprecedented three month stay as it probed among charred tree trunks and branches (October, 2018):

Louisiana Waterthrush 05-20181001

Louisiana Waterthrush 02-20181005

Louisiana Waterthrush 08-20181018

The fire improved sight distance, making it easier to see and photograph wildlife, such as this Gray Squirrel...

Gray Squirrel 01-20190902

...and a  Pileated Woodpecker which  was  attracted to the dead and dying trees:

Pileated Woodpecker female 20181117

This White-tailed Deer buck failed to notice me as he entered the edge of the burned area:

White-tailed Deer buck portrait 06-20181022

The burned area is quickly recovering as invasive Melaleuca and Australian Pines sprout and flourish. Some have thrust up more than 15 feet during the two years since the  fire. This photo shows the area about one year later (August 28, 2018):

Sturgeon Moon over burn area 04-20180828

Here is the scene on October 24, 2019. Open water is already obscured by dense vegetation:

Burn area at sunrise 20191024 

= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =

Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Our World Tuesday by Lady Fi

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday) by NC Sue

Linking to ALL SEASONS by Jesh

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


  1. Interesting post and lovely photos. Diane

  2. How I would love to take a walk in Florida with you. I love this post.

  3. I know my areas very well and remember what has been seen in many areas.

  4. I agree Kenneth, keeping your eyes, ears and smell alert when you are going for a walk to see what can be uncovered is crucial. It was wonderful seeing what you can upon and as usual all your photos are amazing The Northern Harrier is my favourite

  5. Interesting post. You have sharp eyes, spotting that bittern!

  6. Wow, beautiful shot of the Killdeer and it's reflection! Wonderful how the Bittern blends in so well with its surroundings. Have a nice weekend.

  7. Hello, awesome bird sightings. Great capture of the Bittern and the Harrier. I love the Painted Buntings and beautiful butterflies. That swarm of bees would worry me, I would not get too close. Lovely sky and reflections. It is a shame about the vandals and the fires. Your post and photos are beautiful. Thank you for linking up and sharing your post. Happy Saturday, enjoy your weekend. PS, thanks for the visit and comment on my blog.

  8. Wow! Your photos are always amazing but I think you've outdone yourself this week! We are going hiking tomorrow and hope to see a Bittern...we've seen it before where we're going. I hate the snake and the fact that it's so hard to see! Every photo is special today....especially the one just above the butterflies! Happy weekend!

  9. Fascinating post and some glorious photography. Love your bird shots. Pity about the damage caused though. Lantana is an obnoxious weed in some places over here - takes over our native plants.

  10. Wonderful sightings of birds, bees, butterflies, squirrel, deer uh oh there's so many. Beautiful photographs, I liked them all. Damn fires :-(

  11. I hate the reputation all ATV riders get from the bad acts of a few. I ride in our backcountry and only use established roads and trails. I belong to an ATV Club that build and maintains trails for all to enjoy, walkers, hikers, horseback riders.

  12. Quite a varied post, Ken! Sometimes I'ld wish the ATV vehicle was never invented! You have quite an arsenal of the way you capture a bird! Love the first butterfly here - the design on the wings is quite elegant:) Many thanks for sharing your discoveries with All Seasons, and have a beuatiful December week.

  13. How I enjoyed your post! I especially enjoyed the butterflies and the bees! Have a wonderful week!

  14. Beautiful post as usual but that northern harrier is gorgeous!

  15. Hi Kenneth, I enjoyed reading this post very much. Quite informative and I had to smile as I have gotten very excited about a new bird or animal only to discover it is a bit of bush or knot in a tree. I too recognize some of the peculiarities of certain trees now. There are American Bitterns here but I have not seen one. I would love to of course.

  16. What marvelous camouflage the bittern has!
    Thanks for sharing at

  17. fascinating photos, I am thrilled what beautiful animal photos!!!


Thank you for visiting Rosyfinch Ramblings! I will enjoy a visit to your page just as soon as possible. Some anonymous comments and some containing active links may not be accepted.