Sunday, July 22, 2007

Birdwatching at St. Mark's NWR

Today was a great day of paddling and "birding." Early this morning I met a very knowledgeable and generous gentleman named Harry Hooper, our guide, and three others to paddle around the East River Pool at the St. Mark's National Wildlife Refuge and look for birds. A front passed through last night so it was markedly cooler than it has been (75 as opposed to 100+ Friday). It looked and felt like an early Fall morning.
We saw plenty of 'gators, of course, and lots of birds, some of which were very well camouflaged in their native habitat. For instance, I swear there is a Least Bittern in the grass here somewhere. I saw it!

I think I can finally now tell you the difference between a Snowy Egret and a Great Egret and an immature Blue Heron. But, just to make things interesting, a lot of birds are "in transition" and they are really hard to discern because they have bits that are characteristic of one kind of bird and parts that are specific to another. Below is a Great Egret on the left, and there are a lot of other things in there, but my lens isn't good enough to show them all. Other wading birds we saw were a Kill Deer and a Semipalmated Plover, and I think I can actually tell them apart too. (The Kill Deer has two black rings on his neck, the Semi only one.)

Yet another Great Egret with a Snowy in the background. The Snowies have "golden slippers." When you see them you'll know why they are called that.

One very cool bird we saw was a Stilt -- they have wonderful pink legs. They are also very protective of their young. One of them gave me a fit and we weren't sure why he was being so unpleasant (he barely knew me!) until we saw a chick nearby. Below is a Forster's Tern. I put him in for Ellen because Lance was in a band called the Terns.

We also so a lot of flying birds -- Ospreys and a Swallow-Tailed Kite -- but the best show was the White Pelicans. When we first saw them, about 50 Pelicans and a couple of Glossy Ibises were swooping around way overhead in an updraft. Suddenly they started to cut back and forth and come down lower and lower until they landed. It was like an old movie when the planes come down and land on the beach. Here are some of them splashing and playing in the pool.

The most exciting thing for me today was to see a Roseate Spoonbill finally. I have been looking for one since I was a very young girl and today we paddled around a small clump of grass and there they were. Pretty cool, huh?

We spent almost five hours paddling and peering through binoculars and I thought twice about staying longer but it was starting to get hot and I had other things to do. So I will end with a pond lily.