Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Evening on the Black Pond Wildlife Drive

Florida 2013 continued

We left the Visitor Center and headed back out to the Black Pond Wildlife Drive around 4pm. I could not believe the change in the weather. Cold, 20 mph north winds had calmed to nearly nothing, and the air had warmed and softened. The light was amazing and the park nearly deserted. I think next time around I will either spend two days at the Merritt Island NWR, one at the Visitor Center and one along the drive, or do the center in the morning and the drive in the afternoon, as the light is so much better.

At any rate, we saw all sorts of birds, whose energy seemed a bit lower--the morning scramble for food was over and the birds were a bit more laid back, like these dowitchers.

Dowitchers--short or long billed, I have no idea--relaxing in the evening sun.

There was a large flock of lesser scaups in the pond where we'd seen the reddish egret earlier. I like this image, showing two females and a male.

Lesser scaup

We parked again at the Ducks Unlimited lot, where we had seen the shrike and sora earlier, and strolled down the path towards the far observation tower. There were quite a few birds in the pond along the trail, including a pair of napping blue-winged teal and these pied-billed grebes.

Pied-billed grebes. Such sweet faces!

 I was excited to see the mottled ducks were still there. Earlier they had been hanging out here with the teals but the light was behind them and so the photos were poor. I got lucky and caught this one very close to shore and right in the sun.  It was wary, though, and watched me carefully as it swam away to my left.

Mottled duck. This is a VAST improvement on the images I had of this duck.

I read somewhere recently that mottled ducks were not common so I looked them up on the Cornell site. According to Cornell they are the only duck adapted to breeding in southern marshes, so their range is limited to Florida and the Gulf coast. They are listed as a species of least concern, but they face the usual threats of habitat loss. They also breed with introduced mallards (who apparently are not native to the south?) so they could possibly be faced with being bread out of existence.

American coots are abundant at MINWR, and we saw several flocks that had to contain at least 500 birds each in several locations. This one was alone, though, and very close to the path.

American coot. Love the red knob that matches its eyes.

An anhinga swam by, looking all mysterious and snake-like.

Once at the platform we watched a number of birds, including this preening snowy egret.

Fun pose of a snowy egret.

Later, leaving the observation tower and getting back on the drive, we saw a pair of American wigeons. These are by far the best images I have gotten of these cute little ducks.

Female American wigeon.

Male American wigeon, perhaps my favorite duck.

As we approached the turn out for the bathrooms and the Cruickshank trail head we saw a large flock of Northern pintails.

Northern pintails.

 Most of them were at quite a distance but a small group was napping on a tiny island near shore. Another favorite, such gorgeous, stately birds.

We are not quite done with Florida. There will be at least one more post, perhaps two, where we'll go back in time just a bit and back to the observation tower and trail where we had two close encounters with two more birds.  Then we will be back to real time, as spring has finally sprung here in Southeast Michigan, and we will be looking to do some birding in our own neck of the woods.

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