Sunday, October 13, 2013

Birds, high water and Trema trees

This year's wet season, which began in Mid-May, has had record rainfall. July 2013 was the wettest in 45 years. Normally, Fort Lauderdale gets only 66.5 inches the entire year, but experienced 15.49 inches of rain in July, the most recorded since 1913. Lake Okeechobee and the Everglade marshes reached record high water levels.

Our first couple of weeks since returning to Florida from Illinois were unusually wet, with rain every day and in a rather unpredictable pattern. One morning the radar looked better for a change, and we hurried out to our local wetlands birding patch a few minutes before sunrise.

As usual, we set a fairly brisk pace along the mile-long gravel road that leads through the heart of the wet prairies and lakes that occupy the water conservation area. Mary Lou was a few paces ahead of me until I stopped to get a shot of a Great Egret flying over. The subject was too dark, as the egret was not high enough to be in sunlight, but I hated to discard the photo after I brightened it and saw the soft colors.

Great Egret at sunrise 20131003

Mary Lou had covered almost a quarter of a mile while I tarried. She is that little white spot.

Gathering storm looking NW COREL 20131003

The skies looked rather clear, but I failed to look behind me towards the ocean before continuing out the road. I could not catch up with Mary Lou so I decided to walk about half way in and meet her as she returned. Then I turned around and saw that the sun was hiding behind this gathering storm cloud. At that point I should have called her and warned that we needed to head back.

Storm HDR 20131003

The storm hit much sooner than I thought it would. Luckily there was no lightning. Suffice it to say that we both got very wet. I always carry a garbage bag in my pack, and that kept the camera dry.

The high water levels in the Everglades as well as our local wetlands patch have dispersed aquatic prey, so the herons and egrets must range far and wide to find food sources. Wood Storks, which are tactile hunters, have a doubly difficult time. Not only is the biologic "soup" they feed upon much more dilute, but the high water levels interfere with their normal foraging habits. The storks require water that is no more than about 7-9 inches deep, which permits their bills to reach the bottom but keeps their eyes above the surface.

This photo was taken in January, when the water depth at the edge of our back yard lake was just about as high as the storks can tolerate.

Wood Stork 3-20120102

White-tailed Deer inhabit the wetlands, but we normally see them only occasionally. The high water has driven them up to find food on dry land. One morning we encountered five. This is another poor shot, taken around sunrise, showing a doe with three yearling fawns at the side of the gravel road. I loved their alert stares and the way they were arranged just before they bolted off

Four White-tailed Deer 1-20130930

Since the beginning of October, water levels have diminished somewhat. Mudflats should soon be appearing around the Harbour Lakes impoundment, and we hope to see a greater variety of herons and sandpipers. One morning a Little Blue Heron posed on the abandoned dock.

Little Blue Heron DPP 20131012

Florida Trema, also known as Nettletree (Trema micranthum), native to Florida and the West Indies, produces fruit at irregular intervals throughout the cooler part of the year. Their berries are very attractive to wildlife, and one tree along the west side of the road is fruiting abundantly. I like to watch it as the sun comes up behind me. The early light imparts a warm glow to the birds' plumage as they visit the "cafeteria."

A female Northern Cardinal enjoys breakfast.

Northern Cardinal female eating Trema berries 2-20131011

Note that the berries are produced along the sides of the smallest twigs, and new green ones appear at the tips, assuring a steady supply as they ripen over time.

Northern Cardinal female eating Trema berries 20131011

Mockingbirds, catbirds and Blue Jays are the most abundant visitors to the Trema.

Northern Mockingbird:

Northern Mockingbird eating Trema 20130920

Gray Catbird:

Gray Catbird in Trema tree 20131008

Blue Jay:

Blue Jay 20121224

Common Yellowthroats move furtively through the lower branches, more interested in the insects that are attracted to the fruit. This is a female:

Common Yellowthroat in Trema 20131011

I waited patiently for her to come out into the open.

Common Yellowthroat female 20131011

Nearby, a male Common Yellowthroat:

Common Yellowthroat male 20131009

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers also forage here for insects:

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 20131011

Common Ground-Doves relish the fruit.

Common Ground-Doves 20131004

A Palm Warbler, recently arrived from the north, hunts in the Trema.

Palm Warbler western 20130928

Black-throated Blue Warblers eat the fruit as well as insect prey.

Black-throated Blue Warbler in Trema 20111020

Black-throated Blue Warbler 2-20110414

Black-throated Blue Warbler male 7-20121009

Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warblers arrive a bit later in the fall, but there are still lots of berries for them.

Yellow-rumped Warbler 20101221

Late into winter the dried berries attract scale insects and aphids that in turn are eaten by birds such as this Prairie Warbler, photographed in February. Note the powdery mildew on its bill.

Prairie Warbler 5-20110204

The Trema recently hosted this female Blue Grosbeak, the first I've seen in the patch since I started walking it in 2004.

Blue Grosbeak cooler 4300K 20131011

Blue Grosbeak cooler 4300K plus 2 stops 20131011


  1. just packed full, once again. love all the warblers you see. the looming cloud was awesome! but the little blue photo just made me stop and say 'wow'. the subtle colors, the feather detail... just wow. it made me want to attempt to draw it, but i'd never be able to keep that level of detail with so much 'charcoal' color. :)

  2. Beautiful birds, ken! Wonderful sightings and I love the dramatic sky shot!

  3. The light in some of these shots is great - like a kind of gold!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne.

  4. A wonderful post Ken and the images of your beautiful birds are fantastic.

  5. Very interesting to read about the extra heavy rainfall and the resulting higher water in the lakes. Your photos are always beautiful and that one of the looming storm cloud is especially good. I like the variety of birds that come to feed on that Trema and the berries.

  6. Lovely birds and the deer are beautiful animals.

  7. Wow, some really fine images, lovely lighting on some. The Yellow throat is my fav.... however the gathering storm clouds is a super image

  8. Wow, amazing shots! That sky is just marvellous. Gorgeous bird photos! The egret and heron shots look like paintings...wonderful!

  9. Beautiful birds photos!
    Greetings, RW & SK

  10. So many beautiful birds here, but the little Gnatcatcher is extra cute! Great shot of the gathering storm clouds.

  11. The birds are wonderful, the sky is magic...I am so glad to be getting closer to our Florida winter home!


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