On the way out to the wetlands adjacent to our south Florida home, at about 6:30 AM (15 minutes before sunrise) I saw a Cooper's Hawk fly from one tree to another along the path. It was too dark for photos. I recognized the species by its overall size and shape. A member of the genus Accipiter or "true" hawks, it has a cylindrical body with a long tail and rather short wings, adaptations for pursuing small to medium-sized birds. About the size of a crow, it is bigger and a bit bulkier than the similar Sharp-shinned Hawk.
The skies brightened, and altocumulus clouds marched above the lake like a flock of sheep:
On the way back about 1 1/2 hour later, I heard Blue Jays mobbing up ahead. I finally saw not one, but two immature Cooper's Hawks almost hidden in the dense foliage of a Locust tree. (Look closely to see them both):
I put the camera in AI (Automatic Intelligence) Servo mode, hoping for a flight shot. Sure enough, both hawks emerged and flew to a palm along the road:
When I approached they flew again,with the jays still pestering them every time they landed. They separated and I found one perched high in a tree.
This time it flew far down the path behind me, out of sight:
The next morning, at almost the same spot along the road, a Red-shouldered Hawk was roosting in its usual spot atop an abandoned utility pole. Its broad wings and short tail identify it as a smaller member of the Buteo or buzzard family. As often happens, Blue Jays and mockingbirds were harassing it. The hawk decided to relocate and flew over my head to a power line on the other side of the gravel path.
A Northern Mockingbird kept making passes at it and a Loggerhead Shrike was scolding it. The hawk started calling and flew right past me, back to its original roost.
While the Red-shouldered Hawk preys mostly on snakes and small mammals, the Cooper's Hawks could have easily dispatched the Blue Jays that were harassing them. Indeed, smaller birds usually fall silent when there is a Cooper's Hawk in the vicinity. These encounters brought to mind the time when, in New Mexico, I observed a Merlin being mobbed by a mixed flock which included Mountain Chickadees, nuthatches, Scrub Jays and Clark's Nutcrackers. They must derive some safety in numbers.
Two days later, we once again got out before sunrise. Saharan dust blowing across the Atlantic from Africa added orange and then pink to the predawn sky. Color tones changed from minute to minute as the sun reached the upper cloud layers:
A slight rustling in the grass along the path alerted me to the presence of a Florida Box Turtle, which cautiously thrust out its head for my only macro photo of the day:
As I was photographing the turtle, a family of Raccoons scampered across the gravel road. The protective mother waited, watching me until her five youngsters disappeared safely into the roadside brush:
Turning my attention back to the lake, I watched as herons were enjoying a feast. Decreasing water levels had trapped fish in a pond along the lake margin. A Great Egret saw a disturbance on the surface of the water and hurried over:
It flew past another egret and a smaller white immature Little Blue Heron:
The egret's activism paid off, and it captured a medium-sized exotic Mayan Cichlid:
A Great Blue Heron joined the competition:
A Pileated Woodpecker made an unexpected appearance. They are generally confined to the wooded north end of the patch. This female followed the power distribution poles nearly a mile south down the gravel road to the edge of the populated area:
It then flew to the abandoned power pole, the customary roost of the Red-shouldered Hawk, ascending to within a few feet of the raptor, which looked down at it, inquisitively:
For the better part of a half hour, the woodpecker foraged all around the pole but never got any closer to the hawk. I tired of watching and resumed walking home.
The "civilized" side of the canal, bordered by the standard fences required by our homeowners association, seemed to hold a flock of ducks and geese, but the only living critter was an Anhinga:
Look more closely, as the rest are decoys which function as floats for the intakes of yard irrigation systems:
The Anhinga flew over to a small tree on the "wild" side of the canal, which defines the eastern border of the Water Conservation Area that we call our birding patch: