Can I See Your ID, Please? Mysteries at Salt Marsh Holiday Gathering.

Yesterday afternoon I finally got to visit our feathered friends at the salt marsh. And walked right into a Holiday gathering! Or more precisely, to the nap sequence of the party. You see, in the avian world napping after a festive meal is allowed, even encouraged. It is totally okay for the guests to doze off for a while. No eyebrows raised.

roseate spoonbill snowy egret tri-colored heron Sand Key, Clearwater, Floridawood stork Sand Key, Clearwater, Florida three wood storks Sand Key, Clearwater, Floridayellow-crowned Night Heron Sand Key, Clearwater, FloridaEven Mama Sandy was nodding off at the nest with a half eaten fish in her talons.

mama osprey is sleeping Sand Key, Clearwater, FloridaSome of the birds soon woke up, maybe sensing a paparazzo lurking around in the bushes.

four wood storks Sand Key, Clearwater, Floridatri-colored heron Sand Key, Clearwater, FloridaOr to listen to the Great Egret’s Christmas address on peace for humanity. He didn’t need any loudspeakers delivering his compassionate message. I guess he was acting for the older Blue Heron, the Mayor, who was absent. Maybe visiting relatives for the Holidays.

great egret Sand Key, Clearwater, Floridagreat egret Sand Key, Clearwater, FloridaRosa opened one eye to check on me. And Sandy woke up to attend to her fish, and to say hi.

roseate spoonbill Sand Key, Clearwater, Floridafemale osprey at the nest with a fish Sand Key, Clearwater, FloridaWhile large families of Wood Storks, egrets, and herons gathered in the west wing of the marsh, the waters of the east wing were reserved for the duckies. The young Muscovy Duck, in his holiday outfit,  was mingling with his friends, the Moorhens. And the little Pied-billed Grebe didn’t seem to be bothered by the crowds.

muscovy duck Sand Key, Clearwater, Floridajuvenile moorhen Sand Key, Clearwater, Floridapied billed grebe Sand Key, Clearwater, FloridaJust when I was leaving to look for Papa Stanley, I discovered the Loggerhead Shrike,  the only song bird that also is a raptor, and is commonly known as the “butcher bird”. He was having a party of his own. Struggling with his pray high up in a palm tree.

butcher bird loggerhead shrike with a frog Sand Key, Clearwater, Florida

But that was only the beginning. I left the holiday decorated salt marsh. And was in for a mystery or two of my own.

salt marsh Sand Key, Clearwater, FloridaI walked over to Papa Stanley’s favorite perch. He was not there. But I saw two Osprey’s perched on lamp-posts on the bridge leading to the next barrier island. I decided I needed extra exercise and started walking onto the bridge.

The first Osprey was a young female. She also had a fish. To see her ID, which is the “necklace” on her breast, I had to shoot almost against the sun.

another female osprey Sand Key, Clearwater, Florida

Seeing the almost diamond-shaped markings on her breast, I remembered the only chick Sandy and Stanley had two years ago. I used to call her Diamond, just because of the shape of her markings. Could it be that she had returned to the place of her birth? This beautiful lady wouldn’t tell, but it’s a distinct possibility.

Now, the next Osprey, almost at the top of the long bridge, must be Stanley, right?

young female ospreySand Key, Clearwater, Florida

Wrong. It was a beautiful, young female. Her eyes were not yet pale yellow, and there were a few white spots at the edge of her wing feathers.  Who was she? I asked kindly, but she wouldn’t show me her ID. Just because her position was such that taking a picture of her breast, standing between the railings on the narrow walkway on the bridge, would’ve been right against the gassing sun. I couldn’t see anything through the viewfinder. But she looked at me like she knew me.

 female osprey Sand Key, Clearwater, Florida

Could it be Aspire, the middle chick from the last nesting season? I thought her face reminded me of Aspire’s.  A little on the round side. Here are a couple of pictures of Aspire from April and May this year. What do you think?

portrait of an osprey chick Sand Key, Clearwater, Floridaosprey chick female 2015 Sand Key, Clearwater, FloridaI can not be sure of the identities of these young ladies, but it’s possible that they are Sandy’s and Stanley’s two daughters who came home for the Holidays. Pondering this mystery, I walked down from the bridge. I spotted many more birds on the bay side, Brown Pelicans, Cormorants, Anhingas, gulls and terns, and  the young Blue Heron. Remembering he was sent home from the migration conference earlier in the fall, he had probably decided it was safer to stay away from the gathering at the salt marsh.

young great blue heron Sand Key, Clearwater, FloridaPassing Stanley’s resort again, I noticed he’d just returned from a fishing trip. He was eating Red Snapper. Not bad for a holiday meal.

Male osprey eats fish Sand Key, Clearwater, Floridamale osprey eats fish Sand Key, Clearwater, FloridaWhat a walk this was, almost 3 miles in two hours, over 40 birds of 19 different species. Talk about a Holiday gathering. We all wish you all Peace, Joy and Love this Holiday Season.

You can find more gatherings here.