For the past few weeks it has been relatively quiet on our local south Florida birding patch. Numbers and varieties of birds have decreased for several reasons.
The rainy season extended into November, maintaining high water levels in the wetlands. This disperses prey species. Sight feeders such as herons and egrets are not concentrated in the canals. Mudflats are not yet exposed to attract sandpipers. Tactile feeders, including Wood Storks and ibises cannot forage effectively in water that is deeper than the length of their bills.
This time of year, mud flats should be exposed along the edge of the lake. The prolonged high water levels have encouraged the accumulation of periphyton, an essential element of the food chain in the Everglades ecosystem. A complex mix of "algae, cyanobacteria, invertebrates. secretions, and detritus attached to submerged surfaces," periphyton serves as a food source for fish and invertebrates. It improves water quality by adding oxygen and recycling nutrients and nitrogen from agricultural pollutants. Read more about periphyton here.
Note the mat of periphyton floating on the surface.
The arrival of the Yellow-rumped Warblers signaled the end of warbler migration.
Sparrows, goldfinches, waxwings and flocks of robins have not yet appeared, with a few exceptions. While they overwinter in our area, their local abundance varies greatly.
Earlier this fall, we had brief visits by three sparrow species, but none chose to linger more than a day or two.
I sighted a Lincoln's Sparrow only once, on October 16.
Ten days later, two White-crowned Sparrows showed up and lingered for a week.
Another one-day wonder was this Swamp Sparrow, on December 4.
A single American Robin appeared on December 5. This is odd, as they usually arrive in large flocks more towards the middle of winter.
Disturbance of the land has increased. As related earlier, we lost our "Fake Hammock" with its five mature Florida Trema trees due to vandalism and fire caused by the gang of off-road vehicle riders. In addition, a new roadway is being pushed through adjacent to the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron rookery.
The rookery occupies the trees on the opposite side of this canal-- a peaceful enough scene, looking south, ...
...but the view from the same spot, looking north, reveals the construction.
The noise and human activitiy caused by excavation and grading, milling and paving is having its toll on the rookery. Although the herons will not be courting and building their nests until late March, I often find a few roosting there all year 'round. Since construction started, I have twice seen one Black-crowned Night-Heron at the location, but only once this lone Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. It appears to be retching, perhaps attempting to disgorge some undigestible prey remains, but nothing ever came out of its mouth..
I stopped visiting the rookery area except for weekends, when the workers and machinery are inactive.
A pair of crow-sized Pileated Woodpeckers still occupy the remnant of woodland that has not been killed by herbicides in preparation for the roadway extension.
The male sports a red "mustache."
He drummed atop a wooden utility pole, attracting the female.
They provided me with some of my few flight shots of Pileated Woodpeckers.
On these quiet days I tend to stay in one place, with the rising sun behind me, and allow the wildlife to reach a baseline state of equilibrium. A favorite spot is next to one of the few remaining fruiting Trema trees. On one occasion the loud and brief shriek of a Blue Jay broke the silence as other birds dove for cover. The cause of their distress was evident a second later as an immature Sharp-shinned Hawk flew in rapidly and perched right in front of me.
A few days later, in the same tree, a Northern Flicker provided me with a very nice photo opportunity.
A Gray Catbird perched nearby.
In an adjacent exotic Brazilian Pepper tree, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher eyed me.
An immature Red-shouldered Hawk rested on the dried-out flower of a Royal Palm.
From an upper branch, a male Boat-tailed Grackle's iridescent coat reflected all the colors of the rainbow.
Just as the birding slowed down, the butterflies increased.
I found two butterfly species that were new to my patch, the Common Buckeye...
... and a Silver-banded Hairstreak.
Monarch butterflies are declining in number due to loss of habitat containing milkweed, host for their larvae. Their winter home in Mexico is also being destroyed. I could not resist this shot of one against the sky.