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Identifying some of our local bird species

July 12, 2011
Your Yak or Mine By Mel the Guide


Well, welcome to my part of the world, were I would love to tell you about some of my great adventures we have had at Gulf Coast Kayak in sunny downtown Matlacha and Pine Island these past few months.

Nevertheless, I am sorry that I can’t tell you any new adventures. I, unfortunately, have been laid up for the past few weeks, as I had to go in for rotor cuff surgery. It started to be a problem around Christmas and I asked the doc if I could get by till the end of the season. He thought I was talking about the holiday season. However, I was talking about the kayaking season. So we toughed it out until May. All went well with the operation. But this sling has put a damper on the paddling. On the bright side, it’s only about three more months till we can paddle.

Most times I am out on the water four times a week, and in season some times twice a day. Well, can’t do that now. So, what to write about that you may find interesting? One of the things that come to mind is birds, of which I will be the first to tell you, I am no expert. Oh sure, I see lots of them, but do you know there names? What they do, what they eat, where they came from? When they mate? When will they be back, and when will they go, and were do they go to?

We in Florida are so blessed to have so many different kinds and species. Moreover, that’s not counting the ones that migrate here. So were to start? Well how about big birds? They are easy to spot and you can sure see a lot of them on the water, in the sky and the roadsides.

The one that I see a lot is the sandhill crane.

The adults are gray with a red forehead, white cheeks and a long pointed bill. When he flies, it is easy to spot, because of his size and his legs that are straight out. The male and the female look the same.

Now when they mate, they give off a calling in unison. However — who would have guessed — it the female shouts two calls for every one that the male shouts out. The female is more vocal. Almost like the human spices. Oh, come on girls, I had to take the cheap shot. (Forgive me — it was just too easy.)

The crane has a 6- to 8-foot wingspan when he is fully grown. They like to hang out at grasslands, meadows and wetlands. The Florida sandhill crane is less common, with only some 5,000 individuals remaining. The thing that is causing its drop in numbers is the loss of habitat. In addition, in some states they are hunted for sport.

On a lighter note, in front of the Wal-mart on Taylor Road in Punta Gorda there is a small spill pond that is fenced in. It has lily pods, and all kinds of water plants, and large grasses growing.

Well, if you have a chance stop at the end of the parking lot, and walk on over to the fence, you will get a welcome surprise. Yep, it’s a family of Florida sandhill cranes. I have been watching them these past few months) as the wife goes shoppin’). They have one little guy who seems quite at home there. They fly about midday over the fence and walk along the drainage ditch pecking at whatever moves (frogs, bugs and lizards)

I have seen this little one with his pink skin and sparse pinfeathers grow into a handsome young bird.

His mom and dad are not too far away as he runs up and down the side of the road. I hope nothing happens to him, as it sure has been a treat to see him grow into the good looking bird he is now.

Another bird you may see there and in the mangroves is the great blue heron. He is the largest and most widespread heron in North America. You can find them along the ocean shore, the small ponds and inland lakes, and back bays. There is also a white form of great white heron found right here in Southwest Florida. Yet still, there is another form of heron and that’s the Wurdemann’s heron. So if you’re into herons, the great blue are blue (gray), the great white heron is white and the Wurdemann’s has a body of the great blue (gray) and the head of the great white heron. Nobody said identifying birds is easy. Keep in mind that most of the birds have about four different looks in their life span — just as humans. They start as newborns, then teens, then adults, then the mating season look, and last, just tough old birds. In addition, if that is not frustrating enough for you, there are many sub species of just herons and cranes.

This next guy I am sure you have seen on the roadside and drain ditches. He’s the stork or wood stork. He is a large white bird with a bald head. They breed when Florida is having its dry season. That’s because the ditches and ponds dry up and force the fish and frogs into concentrated, shrinking ponds where they are easy prey. The wood stork is the only stork that breeds in North America. Long ago he was known as the wood ibis. He appears all white on the ground; with black, gray legs and pink feet. In flight he is also easy to spot with his under wings edged in black and his large bald head and down-curved bill. He is sometimes called old tin head.

Since we are talking about the old wood Ibis, how about the ibis that is not quite as big as the wood stork? We see them almost every day in the mangroves when out paddling. The ones we see a lot are the white ibis, the ones with the orange, long, down-turned beak. We see them in the mud or at water’s edge and sometimes on the lawn in front of homes pecking at the ground for bugs.

There are many kinds of ibis and they come in different colors. The scarlet ibis have inter-bred with the white ones so they are white and brown, and you will see it with the rest of the family, or other mature birds.

As it gets older and ready to mate, its orange beak and legs turn a bright red.

Still another big bird I am sure you have all seen is the American brown pelican. You will see him flying in a straight line of five or six, low on the water’s surface, and then dive for some fish. Now a lot of folks who come to Florida think we have many kinds of pelicans. We only have two. Moreover, one is a visitor. The brown one has about four different looks as he matures. First he is all fluffy brown; the juvenile, who is also very clumsy; then, and the teen with his white head and a brown belly. Then, a yellow crown on top of its head. Then when mating season comes around, he gets a large brown stripe down the back of its neck, and a touch of red on the tip of its beak.

The brown pelican is a diving bird; he has a pouch that can hold eight gallons of water. He dives with his wings held back and hits the water with such force he is spun around upside down with the water gushing out of its bill and saving the fish inside.

Just one larger pelican is the white one. They migrate here from the north and it is three times larger than our brown pelican. He is white with a large orange beak, and when it is mating season, he gets a horn-like growth on the top of his beak. Yet when the season is over, the horn drops off and won’t grow back till next season.

The white pelican is not a diving bird. Instead the lead alpha bird will spot a school of fish then fly out to within a few feet of the school with the flock behind him. They make a large circle as they swim and follow one another. This drives the fish crazy. Think about it — you’re a fish and you look up and see white bottoms and orange feet kicking around, you must swim up to the surface to see what’s going on? That’s when the birds swim to the center of the circle and just ladle the fish up in their beaks.

Now these are only a few of the large birds we see kayaking in Matlacha and Pine island, there are many, many more. And that’s not counting the ones that migrate here all year. Maybe next time you are out there you will spot some of them. If you see a bird and you don’t know what it is, try to remember its size, shape, the type of beak or bill, how long its legs are and what were its colors. If you can get a shot, take a picture. This will all help to ID the bird once you get home and can check out a bird book or on the Internet.

Start a log of the birds you see, I see new ones all the time. We are so blessed to live here in Southwest Florida among so many different birds.

Well, it’s hard typing with just one hand, and the sling should come off next week. Maybe next time I will cover some more birds.

Hope you found this interesting and thanks for paddling with Mel the Guide. Tours will be soon (if all goes well) and we do have other guides filling in so we can get you out on the water. Call 941-661-8229.
 
 

 

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