Papa Osprey’s Photo Shoot. And an Illicit Visitor at the Salt Marsh.

The sun was barely up on my first day home after the trip when I stepped out in the garden. Without even a cup of coffee. I just had to go see my feathered friends before starting a busy day. And he was right there. The Little Blue Heron, in a shady spot under the palm trees.

little blue heron in our garden ud21It was wonderful to be welcomed home by one of my friends from the salt marsh. The beach was quiet. And the rainwater “lake” was gone.

sunrise beach ud21The salt marsh looked fresh and misty. And I saw the water levels were almost back to normal. Little islets stuck up from the water, just as they used to.

sunrise at salt marsh ud21Most birds were still in their sleeping quarters, but Mama Sandy was already having her breakfast at the nest. She had a nasty wound on her left leg, but looked okay otherwise.

mama osprey with a fish ud21When I came closer, she greeted me in her typical straight forward, but friendly manner. I thought she even smiled.

mama osprey at the nest UD21I found the young Great Blue Heron (GBH) close to the osprey nest, as often is the case. He didn’t bother to look at me. He might be familiar with my view on his attacks on the nest earlier this year.

young blue heronThe Tri-colored Heron, who had temporarily moved elsewhere during the floods, was back home. She was happily hunting for her breakfast in the shallow waters.

tricolored heron ud21And just when I was about to leave, Rosa, the Roseate Spoonbill flew in. It’s always nice to see her. And it looks like she might think the same about me :)

roseate spoonbill landing ud21roseate spoonbill Rosa ud21I continued my walk to the bay side, and marveled at the European Starlings greeting the sun on a lamp-post next to the park.

starling family at sunrise ud21I decided to check if Papa Stanley would be at his resort. He was at home. Still sleeping when I arrived.

papa osprey sleeping ud21He soon discovered me and decided to pose for a photo shoot. A rare treat, and so very kind of him.

papa ospey says hi ud21papa osprey in his resort ud21papa osprey portraIT 2 UD21papa osprey portrait ud21I thought he was quite handsome. That was a great home-coming.

I got another opportunity to get out for a quick walk this morning. I discovered that the “beach lake” had reemerged after yesterday’s short, but intense storm. Many birds were enjoying rainwater baths and the special menu the fresh waters had to offer.

more rainwater and birds on the beach ud21snowy egret 2 ud21theyoung great blue heron ud21black skimmer drinking fresh water ud21juvenile black skimmer sleeping ud21And some, like this juvenile Black Skimmer, were just plain tired of all the excitement.

While the young GBH was frolicking at the “beach lake”, the older one, the Mayor, was back in charge at the salt marsh.

mayor great blue heronI bet he was not happy to see this illicit fisherman trying to capture the fish that belongs to the residents. I was not happy either.

fisherman at salt marsh ud21I wished Sandy had been at the nest and given him a small lesson. But luckily, as soon as I started walking towards the park HQ, he packed his gear and left. Once he was gone, I came back to greet the Great and Snowy Egrets who were enjoying the sunshine in large numbers, and then walked back home.

great egret on the top ud21So much excitement, as always, at the salt marsh. Thank you for coming along. We all wish you a wonderful weekend!

A Short Hike along St. John’s River

Just a brief post to say hi. I’m back home and trying to catch up on all the wonderful posts you, my friends, have produced while I was away. I had a whirlwind trip, but managed to get in a couple of hours of hiking on Saturday in the Timucuan Ecological & Historical Preserve along the St. John’s River in North Florida.

preserve jungle jaxThis huge and very interesting preserve represents one of the last unspoiled coastal wetlands on the Atlantic Coast. It would have required at least a full day or two to properly experience the beauty of its salt marshes, coastal dunes, and hardwood hammocks.

drift wood on the beach in jax

And to explore 6000 years of human history within it boundaries.  This preserve  marks the place where one of the Timucuan tribes met the first French explorers in 1562.  Sadly, this meeting, and the French and Spanish settlers that soon followed, represented the beginning of the end of the longstanding Timucuan culture.

native american hut jax

The preserve also houses an exhibit of Fort Carolina originally built by the first French settlers on the river bank.

fort in jax

We didn’t have the time to reach the wetlands where I could have found birds to “shoot”, but I could hear them everywhere in the jungle-like forest.

ecological preserve jax

The only bird I managed to capture on this short hike was a Turkey Vulture who enjoyed the winds above the river.

turkey vulture 2 jax

Stopping along the river we spotted several schools of dolphins, most of them too far out for me to get a picture.

dolphins in st johns river jax

The preserve also has ongoing ecological research projects in the many different types of habitats it houses. We stumbled upon one of the vegetation projects on our hike through the maritime hammock.

ecological project jax

It was a compact hike, but gave me a taste of what this preserve has to offer. I hope to return one day with better time to explore the beauty of its habitats, and its birds, properly.

st johns river 4 jax

I hope your week is going great. Get out and enjoy nature! Tiny – here leaning on a “twin” tree in the hardwood hammock.

Hiking in North FL

After the Big Rains. Long Lineup to the Smorgasbord.

Okay. The relentless storms are over. But I don’t even know how to begin to tell the story of the delightful bird invasion we’ve had around here this past week. The fresh water pooled up on the beach during the rains has been like a magnet for the shorebirds, particularly Black Skimmers and terns, among them many juveniles. They’ve been foraging in whatever little is left of the “beach lake”. (Click on the pictures for larger versions)

Terns and black skimmers Sand Key beach, Clearwater, FloridaMany Black Skimmer parents have been encouraging their teenagers to start flying. That’s been quite amusing to watch. Like this mom and her baby. Mom nudged the baby asking her to practice flying. But she’d only flex her wings halfheartedly. While her pop, a few feet away, would dig in the sand impatiently, and “bark” at her to go up in the air already.

black skimmer mom and baby Sand Key beach, Clearwater, Floridablack skimmer Sand Key beach, Clearwater, Florida

And the beach has been swarming with Royal Terns, Sandwich Terns and gulls. Some practicing synchronized preening. Others fishing. And yet others arguing with their parents.

terns Sand Key beach, Clearwater, Floridaroyal terns preening Sand Key beach, Clearwater, FloridaRoyal Tern diving Sand Key beach, Clearwater, Floridaroyal tern divig Sand Key beach, Clearwater, Floridaroyal tern caught a fish Sand Key beach, Clearwater, Floridaroyal tern mom and juvenile Sand Key beach, Clearwater, FloridaAnd the tiny Sanderlings have brought their whole extended family to enjoy the beach.

sanderlings Sand Key beach, Clearwater, FloridaWhere they were mixing with Willets and American Oystercathers. So many birds!

young willet Sand Key beach, Clearwater, FloridaAmerican oystercatcher Sand Key beach, Clearwater, FloridaAnd for the first time ever, I’ve spotted a baby Ruddy Turnstone. She was tentatively examining the beach with her mom fairly close by.

juvenile Ruddy Turnstone Sand Key beach, Clearwater, FloridaThe same has been true for the park next to the salt marsh. Long lines to the smorgasbord at shallow ditches still filled with fresh rainwater. Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Spoonbills, Ibis, Night Herons, you name it. All sharing the rare treat of fresh water.

egrets foraging in flood waters Sand Key Park, Clearwater, Floridasnowy egret and roseate spoonbill Sand Key Park, Clearwater, Floridajuvenile white ibis Sand Key Park, Clearwater, FloridaAt the salt marsh, Mama Sandy has taken charge. I guess the Mayor is on vacation as I haven’t seen him since last week.

female osprey Sand Key Park, Clearwater, FloridaSandy has been sitting at the front edge of the nest following the developments with a keen eye. For the most part things have been going smoothly, but I noticed some competition about great scanning posts among the many egrets. At least forty of them.

salt marsh birds Sand Key Park, Clearwater, FloridaSandy also kept an eye on the skies. And when I followed her line of sight, I saw a Red-shouldered Hawk flying high above the marsh.

redshouldered hawk Sand Key Park, Clearwater, FloridaI was hoping the hawk didn’t spot the ducklings performing synchronized diving in the deep waters.

mottled ducklings diving Sand Key Park, Clearwater, FloridaRosa, the resident Roseate Spoonbill, had not cared to venture out of the marsh to see her cousins feeding in the remaining floodwaters elsewhere in the park. She was at home, in the shade under the osprey nest as usual.

roseate spoonbill Sand Key Park, Clearwater, FloridaI hope you enjoyed the many birds saying hello to us here on the beach and at the salt marsh. I’m flying away too for a few days (this is a scheduled post). I’ll try to stay in touch on my mobile devices. In any case I’ll catch up early next week.

terns on the beach Sand Key, Clearwater, FloridaI wish you all a wonderful weekend. Remember to enjoy what nature has to offer. Fly high!

Flooding. Deserted Salt Marsh. And the Mayor’s Speech.

After 21 straight days of storms that dumped over 20 inches of rain on us, I’m happy to report we’re seeing the sun again here on the west coast of the “sunshine state”. When the rain finally stopped on Monday afternoon, I went to check out the flooding. And to see if I could spot any of my feathered friends.

beach and park flooding after the storms sand key clearwater florida

The beach and all the trails to the park were flooded. The new “Beach Lake” was even bigger than last week. As the rain had stopped, some boys tried to play ball at the shallow end of it. Lots of splashing.

playing ball on the flooded beach sand key clearwater florida

It was still gloomy, but the sun tried to show its face from under a hefty cloud cover. I didn’t want to repeat my wading exercise from last week, so I walked to the salt marsh on the street and the partly flooded walkways. The only bird I found on the usually lively bay shore was this Willet bathing in the floodwaters.

a willet bathing in flood water bay side sand key clearwater florida

And I spotted Papa Osprey. He was perched on a lamp-post far away, shaking his feathers and looking quite disheveled.

male osprey on a lamp post sand key clearwater florida

Entering the park, I saw flooding everywhere. All low-lying areas were under water, and the doggy park just north of the salt marsh had become a water feature for the birds.

flooding in the park sand key clearwater floridadoggy park under water sand key clearwater florida

Otherwise the salt marsh was deserted.  I walked around looking for my friends, water sloshing around my boots. The only birds I could find, in addition to those at the doggy park, were the young Great Blue Heron and Mama Sandy.  The heron was walking in the high grass, and Sandy was roosting at the nest. She was clearly tired of the rains. Just like me.great blue heron inspects the marsh sand key clearwater floridafemale osprey perching at her nest Sand Key park Clearwater FloridaThe water level in the marsh was too high for many of the birds to hunt there…and still rising. So they had evacuated.

salt marsh under water Sand Key park Clearwater Florida

Yesterday afternoon, after three days of sunshine, I went back there to check how things were progressing. The flood waters in the park had receded considerably, but the marsh was brimming with water, and the beach was still flooded.

To my delight, I found that many residents had returned. The old Great Blue Heron, the Mayor, was surveying his little village at the west end of the marsh. He was addressing the community. Saying it was safe to return, I gathered.

great blue heron inspects the marsh Sand Key park Clearwater Florida

I had to laugh when I saw the crowd on the fence of the doggy park. They were listening to the Mayor while trying to dry up in the sun. The park was too soggy for the dogs to come back, so it was a safe place to roost.

egrets and ibis perching on the fence in the dog park Sand Key park Clearwater Florida

Egrets and Ibis were perching on trees and bushes in big numbers. Like white dots sprinkled all over the marsh. And the Roseate Spoonbill was enjoying some shade at her usual spot below the osprey nest. She kindly agreed to a photo shoot.

birds in the salt marsh after the storms Sand Key park Clearwater Floridaa roseate spoonbill Sand Key park Clearwater Florida

The young Night Heron was back too, drying his feathers next to the deep water. It looks like he’s become a permanent resident. Decided the salt marsh was a safe place to grow up.

juvenile night heronSand Key park Clearwater Florida

The tiny Tricolored Heron surveyed the water levels at the east end of the marsh, looking a bit anxious. She probably understood it’d be some time before she could go hunting there again. The grassy little pools where she’d normally go fishing were now part of the “lake”. Full of big, scary fish.

tricolored heron on a stormy day Sand Key park Clearwater Floridafish in the salt marsh Sand Key park Clearwater Florida

The Mottled Ducks were happily cruising the waters, and so were the Moorhen families. With kids of all ages.

moorhen chick Sand Key park Clearwater Florida

moorhen chick Sand Key park Clearwater Floridamoorhen chick and a juvenile moorhen Sand Key park Clearwater Florida

And Mama Sandy was perched in her “watch tower”, monitoring the busy air traffic between the bay and the beach. I saw the young Great Blue Heron fly over the nest, and heard Sandy give a stiff warning. She has no tolerance for fools who’ve attacked her nest.

female osprey Sand Key park Clearwater Florida

Before going home, I had to check on Papa Stanley too. He was back in his resort, looking much more put together. And really paying attention to me. I felt tiny under such scrutiny.

male osprey Sand Key park Clearwater Florida

Life at the salt marsh is slowly returning to normal.  We all wish you a wonderful weekend and thank you for coming to see us. Much appreciated. Just like the sunshine.

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