Saturday, February 17, 2018

Great Egret

The great egret is a large white heron which can be distinguished from other white egrets by its yellow bill and black legs and feet. During breeding season it gets ornamental feathers on its back and bright green lores (the area between the eye and the upper base of the beak). 
Kind of comical looking in Merritt Island.
Merritt Island
Circle B Bar Reserve. Note the green on the face. 
Going after food in the Viera Wetlands.
Viera Wetlands
Snakelike neck - Merritt Island
Merritt Island
In flight its neck is retracted, a characteristic of herons and bitterns, which differentiates it from spoonbills, ibises, cranes and storks which extend their necks in flight. 
In flight in the Okefenokee Swamp. Note the retracted neck.
Liftoff on Merritt Island
Also on Merritt Island.
There are four subspecies: one found in Africa, one in the Americas, one in Europe and one India, Southeast Asia and Oceania. 

On my recent trip to Florida I did not see a lot of egrets, but I did spot one in the Viera Wetlands, at the Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland, several at Merritt Island and one in Southern Georgia in the Okefenokee Swamp.  

Friday, February 16, 2018

Red-Winged Blackbird

The red-winged blackbird is found throughout the United States and is a year-round resident in all but some of the northern most regions. It is also found in large portions of Canada and Mexico and small portions of Central America and the Caribbean. 
This bird also has splotches of reddish/brown on its back. 
Males are black with a red shoulder patch bordered by a yellow wingbar. It also has a black, conical bill. The female is blackish/brown and looks nothing like the male. 
The yellow shoulder band shows up clearly in this photo. 
I saw this red-winged blackbird in Florida in the Viera Wetlands, west of Merritt Island. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Peninsula Cooter

The peninsula cooter, a subspecies of the coastal plain cooter, differs from the Florida red-bellied cooter by the completely yellow color (no red) of its plastron (belly) and a lack of "u" because of a lack of cusps in the upper jaw.  

Although not without doubt, I believe one of the turtles I saw at the Circle Bar B Reserve in Lakeland was a peninsula cooter, although I did not get a good look at the plastron or front beak to confirm it.  

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Florida Red-Belled Turtle or Cooter

I have never had much contact with turtles and I find them fascinating.  So, when I do see one I get quite excited. While in Florida in January I saw turtles on two occasions. I saw several turtles in the Orlando Wetlands Park basking on logs out of the water and I saw several more at the Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland in a swamp, partially in and partially out of the water. 
I'm not certain that this is a Florida red-bellied turtle. It could possibly be a peninsula cooter. I don't have the right angle to see whether it has a notched bill. But it has red streaks in the upper carapice which may or may not be an indicator. 
This turtle, near, but different from the one above, has a reddish plastron and basks on a log. 
The Florida red-bellied cooter, or Florida red-bellied turtle, is found in Florida and southern Georgia. It is distinguished from similar turtles by its red-tinged plastron (belly) and two cusps (like teeth) on its upper beak. 
This turtle at the Circle B Bar Reserve has a "u" on its beak created by two cusps, plus it has reddish color on its plastron. 
I saw it turn itself around rather awkwardly using its feet. 

This picture from above makes it look really dull, covered in moss and muck. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


I had never seen or heard of a limpkin before my recent trip to Florida. At the Circle B Bar Reserve I spent quite a bit of time watching several limpkins and fell in love with them. 
The limpkin is dark brown with an olive luster above. The head, neck, wing coverts, and much of the back and underparts are marked with white. It has long, dark gray legs and a long neck. It has a long, yellowish, down-curved bill with a dark tip. 

It has wonderful loud vocalizations which were used for jungle effects in Tarzan films and for the hippogriff in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Listen here and here

They eat mostly apple snails. One study in Florida found the contents of one limpkin's stomach to include at least 70% apple snails. When it finds an apple snail it carries it to land or shallow water and places it in mud, facing up. It removes the lid and extracts the snail, rarely breaking the shell. I was watching a limpkin from a dike and had it happen in front of me. It grabbed a snail in the water, walked up the dike to dry ground, placed the snail on the ground and then shook the snail out of the shell, eating the snail in several motions. I was gobsmacked, it was so cool. I wasn't really sure what I was watching until it finished and I found the empty shell when it left. 
Here the limpkin is grabbing the snail out of the shell. 
The discarded shell.
The limpkin (Aramus guarauna) has four subspecies: (a) elucus in Hispaniola and Puerto Rico; (b) dolosus in southern Mexico south to western Panama; (c) pictus in Florida, Cuba and Jamaica; and (d) guarauna in South America. The differences among subspecies relate to size and plumage. I saw Aramus guarauna pictus which is found from the Okefenokee Swamp in southern Georgia down through peninsular Florida, the only place in the U.S. where it is found. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Muscovy Duck (Feral)

Wild muscovy ducks are found as far north as southern Texas and are found along the Gulf Coast of Mexico, through the Yucatan Peninsula, the mid to southern portions of the Pacific Coast of Mexico, Central America and large swaths of South America. It is blackish, with a greenish gloss in the light, with large white wing patches. The bill is black with a speckling of pink and it has a black or red knob at the base of the bill. Bare skin on the face is the same color. 

Wild and feral populations have established themselves in Florida and in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, particularly, but also other parts of the U.S. The feral ducks are mostly black and white with the black feathers iridescent and glossy in males. The bill can be yellow, pink, black, or a mixture of those colors. They have pink or red wattles around the bill. They've been bred since pre-Columbian times and are heavier than their wild cousins and are less able to fly long distances. 
Colorful pin, red and black bill.
Iridescent blackish/green back feathers.
Although Muscovy is a term associated with the area around Moscow, Russia, they did not originate there, nor were they found there before the name was given. 
Good view of skin around the eye and face.
Bill in the muck.
I've cooked Muscovy duck and so I knew what the duck was when I saw it at the Circle Bar B Reserve in Lakeland, Florida. I didn't know what the range was, so didn't realize that the duck I was seeing was feral. It was beautiful and I watched it for several minutes, thrilled to see one in the wild. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Northern Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

The black-bellied whistling duck has a long pink bill and pink legs; a black, name-sake belly, and tail, and in flight, the trailing wing edges are black; has a gray face and upper neck; has a white eye-ring and broad white wing stripe (in flight the mid-wing is white); and the body, back of the neck and head cap are a dark chestnut brown. Males and females look alike, but juveniles are more dull, have a gray bill, pale breast and mottled black belly. Its long neck and long legs give it a goose-like appearance. 

There are two subspecies. The northern black-bellied whistling duck, which I saw, is a year-round resident in Florida, southeastern Arizona, southern Texas, and coastal Georgia and South Carolina; and a summer breeding visitor to a larger portion of Texas, Louisiana and portions of Mississippi. It extends down coastal Mexico (both sides), the Yucatan Peninsula, and Central America. The southern black-bellied whistling duck is found below Panama and into large swaths of South America. It is smaller and has a gray breast and upper back. 
I saw this duck at the Circle Bar B Reserve in Lakeland, Florida.