Saturday, March 30, 2013

Birding Rookery Bay and Fakahatchee Strand

While we were staying on Marco Island we briefly visited Shell Island Road in Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. The former site of Briggs Nature Center has been closed and converted into an office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and houses law-enforcement personnel. However, there was a volunteer interpreter available at the overlook at the far end of the 0.5 mile boardwalk loop. Controlled burns were going on and this limited our exploration of the area.

Along the road we saw this Red-shouldered Hawk.

Red-shouldered Hawk 20130311
An endangered Gopher Tortoise was crossing Shell Island Road in front of our car. An oncoming vehicle had already stopped. The tortoise wasted no time moving off the roadway and disappeared in the roadside brush.
Gopher Tortoise in road 20130311

Gopher Tortoise 20130311

We walked a short nature trail at the far end of Shell Road and saw several Hermit Thrushes.
Hermit Thrush 2-20130311
There was also a poorly-maintained Catclaw Trail that yielded this close view of a Little Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron 20130311
On our way back home we stopped at Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, an elongated strip of Bald Cypress forest about 20 miles long and five miles wide which is dotted by many lakes. Fakahatchee (which means "dark water") is the ancient name that was used by the indiginous people for the extensive swamp along the western border of the Everglades in southwestern Florida. "Strand" is defined as a beach, or the land bordering a body of water. Big Cypress National Preserve occupies over 1,100 square miles to the east of Fakahatchee Strand.

"Beneath a protective canopy of bald cypress trees is a slow-moving slough that shields the forest interior from extreme cold temperatures, and this fosters a high level of rare and endangered tropical plant species. The Strand is the only place in the world where bald cypress and royal palm trees share the forest canopy, and it also contains 44 native orchids and 14 native bromeliad species. It's a haven for wildlife as well, and Florida panthers, Florida black bears, Eastern indigo snakes, Everglades minks, and diamondback terrapins can still be found here. The migratory bird life is quite spectacular as well." Reference:

On our last visit to Big Cypress Bend we encountered a Black Bear which ran ahead of Mary Lou on the boardwalk before jumping off and hiding in the brush only several yards away. We did not see any bears this time. Spring migration had not yet picked up, and there were remarkably few birds.

The boardwalk traverses a cypress forest with some trees that are over 1,000 years old.

Big Cypress HDR 20130312
This old bald cypress had an interesting bark pattern.
Old Bald Cypress HDR 20130312
A Bald Eagle nest has been active every year since 1991. This year a single eaglet was reared. It was almost ready to fly, and roosted nearly out of sight on a branch in the nest tree. Here is the huge nest.
Bald Eagle nest at Big Cypress Bend 20130312
We saw colorful Northern Cardinals...
Northern Cardinal 20130312
...Great Crested Flycatchers...
Great Crested Flycatcher 20130312
...a Black-and-White Warbler...
Black-andWhite Warbler 20130312
...and a pair of Carolina Wrens that provided me with some of the best photos I have ever obtained of this species. They were courting, singing a duet and seemed to ignore our presence.
Carolina Wren 2-20130312

Carolina Wren 3-20130312

Back home, our local Bald Eagle youngster was preparing for free flight. Here she exercises her wings and is able to rise a few inches above the nest platform.
Bald Eaglet 2-20130317On March 26, multiple observers reported that the eaglet was not seen at the nest. The next morning we arrived there around 9:30 AM and found the nest empty with no eagles in sight. At 9:50 an adult suddenly appeared on the nest, having flown into the wind from behind. It immediately began eating what looked like very fresh bloody prey. It was possibly the male adult, judging by the low forehead (little angle between beak and forehead). This is the expected behavior of the adults after the eaglet leaves the nest. Hunger will normally drive the youngster to return to the nest to be fed within 2-3 days-- at least that has been our experience. We heard no vocalizations to suggest the presence of the eaglet. 
Bald Eagle adult at nest 6-20130327

Bald Eagle adult at nest 4-20130327
At about 85 days of age, this eaglet was well prepared for flight, even though she did not appear to be as active and did not climb up on branches for 2-3 days before fledging, as we have seen in the past. Normally the newly fledged eaglet will climb up to the upper branches of one of the trees in the local wooded area, then travel back to the nest by taking short flights from one treetop to another.

The next day only the female parent was visible, roosting on a snag near the nest.
Bald Eagle roosting 5-20130328
Just as expected, after three days of anxious waiting on the part of the eagle watchers, the eaglet returned to the nest. 
Eaglet 20130402
We generally expect her to return there to be fed for another 4 to six weeks as she gains hunting skills and independence.  The female parent was standing guard nearby.
Bald Eagle adult female 20130402
She flew out in front of the nest and provided a great photo opportunity
Bald Eagle female in flight 20130402
Bald Eagle female in flight 3-20130402

Follow events and photos on my Bald Eagles of Broward County FORUM


  1. Great shots, Ken! The Big Cypress looks great, I am going to try and stop there during my upcoming vacation. I loved your collection of birds and photos. Great post. And your header shot is awesome! Happy Easter!

  2. the eagles are just spectacular!

    love the cute carolina!

    really cool tortoise!

  3. Wow...the eagles, they're magnificent, royal creatures, aren't they? And that eaglet...precious.

    I so envy y'all who are able to capture the smaller birds. I have the most difficult time. They flit around so quickly before I can use my zoom lens.

    You have posted a great post this weekend. I so enjoyed all the wildlife and the scenery.

    Hope your Easter is blessed.

    Anni, at Hootin' Anni's AND I'd Rather B Birdin'

  4. Considering there were not too many birds about I reckon you had some good sighting and took some super shots there Ken. Cracking shots of the flycatcheer and the heron in particular, and B&W is one of my favourite North American birds. Wonderful shots of the eagles too and your usual informative and interesting narrative.

  5. A marvelous series of photos and I hope to visit this area one day. It sounds like a really neat place to visit. Thank you :)

  6. Great bird photos, lovely post!
    Happy WBW to you!

  7. A great series of photos and the eagles are magnificent.

  8. We loved Big Cypress and Fakahatchee last season.. had hope to go back this year, but I don't think we'll make it until next year ...wonderful birding -- your pictures are amazing as always. "Our" two eagles are still returning every so often to the nest for food .

  9. Hi Ken...Stunning photo's of the Eagles, wouldn't I love that opportunity!!
    The others are wonderful also, love the Wren..will be so glad to have them back if we ever get some warmer weather!!
    Thank you so much for commenting on my Eagle post : )!

  10. What a terrific series! Love the hawk and the eagle!

  11. Nice series of eagle shots in additon to the other wildlife ones as well. The eagles just always seem to trump the others. :

  12. Really enjoyed your close up shots. The eagle is so powerful to see but the hawk still makes me cringe since the day a young one swooped down about 5 ft from my puppy! So lucky for the puppy I was right there!

  13. Fantastic eagle photos! I'm quite envious! I wish they were more common here. Love the heron and Black and White Warbler, too! These are all beautiful photos!

  14. Wow what great places to visit. Fantastic photos, thanks for sharing.

  15. I was just at Rookery Bay. A new place for us this year was the Marsh islands trail. Near Fac. Great photos!

  16. Wow! What wonderful photos!
    They are all great, but I love the one of the wren with its face turned to the side :)

  17. Wonderful set of pictures - I think the "poorly maintained" is always an open invitation to go and investigate!

    Cheers and thanks for linking to WBW- Stewart M - Melbourne

  18. A wonderful post about a wonderful place!
    Superb photographs, Ken!
    We hope to be down that way within the next few weeks and hope to see some of the same sights.

  19. gorgeous shots and birds. Love them all. You are so lucky to know where to find them :)


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