The heron rookery in our local south Florida "Wounded Wetlands" is now smaller than ever. In May, 2011 a neighbor wrote to me while we were in Illinois, reporting that he found a nesting colony of 5-6 pairs of Yellow-crowned Night-Herons in "our" local birding patch. They were in a corner I never had investigated.
Without his help I would not have found them, as they were very well concealed in trees along a storm-water canal. Two of the nests had adults incubating eggs or brooding small chicks. We also found three immature Green Herons with their parents near another nest. Over the years we have seen the nests of up to 8 pairs of Yellow-crowned Night-Herons and 3-5 pairs of Green Herons. A pair of Black-crowned Night Herons raised at least one chick but concealed their nest very effectively. Hurricane Irma struck on September 7, 2017, and drastically changed the little rookery. Although the storm hit after breeding season, it pushed many of the nest trees and shrubs into the canal. Last spring I found only one Yellow-crowned Night-Heron nest. The regional authority which maintains the drainage canals periodically treats the stream-side vegetation with herbicides, but more had to be done to keep the waterway open. I learned of their plans and alerted them to the existence of the rookery.
They came in with chainsaws and cleaned out fallen trees and shrubs which amounted to about one third of the rookery, but did leave more than half of the vegetation undisturbed. However, they cut down several of the larger trees which extended over the water and clear-cut one large area of thick brush, sites of nests during previous years. This winter up to 6 Yellow-crowned Night-Herons have visited, but only five were present this week, three males, one female, and a probable first year immature bird in drab plumage. Adults' plumage brightens up and their legs change color from black to yellow and then to bright red as breeding season advances. Both sexes grow head (occipital) and upper back (scapular) plumes, and their crowns turn from streaky white to clear yellow. The plumes of the males are noticeably longer. On February 25 I arrived at the rookery about 20 minutes before sunrise. There was light fog and it was still too dark for photos, but I observed a pair engaged in a courtship ritual. I obtained this image at about 15 minutes before sunrise. The male is on the left. Note his longer head plumes: This sequence shows his display, which takes place in less than a second. He stands up very straight, bill raised: He extends his scapular plumes: Wings are pointed up and he bows deeply: Suddenly, he reacts to the presence of the second male as it flies by. Now the display is intended as a threat: The next morning the pair was actively engaged in building a nest. There was a bit of ceremony each time the male brought in a stick. The female grasped and seemed to inspect each offering before the male placed it on the nest platform: The male almost ignored my presence and flew across the canal to pick up a stick. He was so close to me that I could not fit all of him in my viewfinder: Here the male displays as he arrives with a stick: Video slide show of display:
These photos document the changes in the rookery-- View to north end on April 22, 2012: Rookery on March 21, 2014: View to south after Hurricane Irma, October 26, 2017: After about a third of the rookery was clear-cut, November 27, 2018: The waning crescent Snow Moon had a rendezvous with the Planet Jupiter on the morning of February 27. Jupiter and some of its moons may be visible at the bottom of this frame: Full Snow Moon setting just before sunrise on February 20:
One of my favorite winter birds here in south Florida is the Yellow-throated Warbler. Their breeding range has expanded from the southeastern US into the northeast and north central states. I have seen and photographed them in NE Illinois.
Although they nest down into central Florida, they are rarely seen south of Lake Okeechobee during spring and early summer. They winter in Florida, the Caribbean and along the Gulf of Mexico coast down into Central America
Their foraging habits make Yellow-throated Warblers difficult to observe and photograph, as they creep along the outer limbs in the treetops. On February 17 I followed two of these beautiful birds as they moved along three Live Oak trees. I took over a hundred photos, nearly all of which provided partial views, poorly exposed against the bright sky. In a stroke of good luck, one of them decided to forage for a few seconds in full sun on the near side of the third tree.
On the morning of February 17, an unusual cloud formation reflected on the still surface of the lake, providing a sort of shadow box picture frame for this view of the opposite shore:
Later that morning, as I was walking home, I saw the same effect over the canal which separates our subdivision from the wetlands preserve:
The full Snow Moon was setting as we entered the Wounded Wetlands, nearly an hour before sunrise on February 18:
Our local pair of Bald Eagles have two eaglets, now just over 5 weeks old. They provided me with my first photo of the entire family together on the nest. Mom and Dad (Pride and Jewel) and P Piney 21 and 22:
After their chicks hatch, the eagles often add to the soft lining of the nest. They bring in fresh grass and leaves. Some say this helps deter parasites. Indeed, they carried in some pods from the Flamboyant tree (AKA Royal Poinciana) which, like many other legumes (such as Lima Beans which are poisonous if not cooked) contain toxic substances and cyanide. I think they are also covering up some of the debris in the nest, "sweeping the dirt under the rug."
We observed a rather humorous interaction. Pride was rearranging some nest lining materials and the younger eaglet, perhaps thinking it was a tasty morsel, grasped a clump of sod from his beak.
Pride watched as the eaglet carried it away to the left side of the nest.
Pride tugged on the sod and retrieved it and finally replaced it on the floor of the nest.
He then turned towards the eaglet as if to admonish it:
Ever alert, Pride flew up above the nest to drive off an intruding eagle. We could hear it in the trees behind and to the right but never saw it. Perhaps it was one of their progeny from a previous season, or a wandering adult:
We are seeing dreadfully few Monarch butterflies this winter. Most of the south Florida population is non-migratory. This one is sipping nectar from Bidens Alba:
For the third year in a row, a large flock of Wood Storks has settled in a rookery at a small city park in Weston, not far from our home. I reported their first appearance back in 2017. Read more about their disappearance and recovery: Wood Storks return south to breed Since the rookery is located on our way to shopping and medical care, Mary Lou and I had stopped there several times in hopes of timing their arrival. As has happened in previous years, they waited until February to arrive. They are starting to build their nests, which can be very close to each other. We can expect nest construction to be followed by egg-laying in early March. Most of the young will fledge during June. Double-crested Cormorants and Anhingas are nesting among the storks, which are gathered into several groups: We counted 80 storks (75-83 in several hand counts of those in the rookery plus others in surrounding grounds), 45 cormorants and 7 Anhingas in the rookery. Many more herons will also begin nesting there in coming weeks. The storks are graceful in the air:
Although the cormorants are often derided as ugly pests, I find that their plumage has an almost sculptural quality. This one is coming in for a landing: We found only three Tricolored Herons, but expect to see many more during their nesting season: The rookery and surrounding park is home to a multitude of Green Iguanas. They are vegetarians and appear not to be a direct threat to the birds except that they compete for space in the rookery. In breeding condition they develop an orange color, as in this huge specimen, fully 5 feet long: Oddly, a Purple Gallinule, its extremely long toes adapted to walking on lily pads, was perched in a tree across the lake: It flew down to forage in a more familiar setting: Some of our early morning walks in the local Wounded Wetlands have been cut short by the threat of rain: On February 11, our back yard lake was clear and still just before sunrise: Also on the home front, one clear morning I added a new (dwarf) planet to my "life list." The planets were spaced equally, aligned (from lower left to upper right)-- Saturn, barely visible in the glow of the rising Sun, very bright Venus, then Jupiter... and following the same line, a very faint Dwarf Planet Ceres. The star Antares is also visible just below a line halfway between Jupiter and Ceres. (Click on image to enlarge, and then squint to see them!). Taken with my pocket camera, hand-held: This is a chart of the sky on the same day (February 7) and time from about the same point of view: