Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Paradise of the Birds

            You know the kind of birds you don't see much of in New England or the Northeast -- pelicans, storks, ibis, spoonbills, anhinga? We found them in Florida. You could hardly miss them.

            Given there size, I wouldn't want to see the birds we saw in Delray Beach, on the Atlantic coast side of the Florida peninsula, up here in the North. I'd hate to see them trying to get around in all this snow.

            These water-loving birds belong down there. Big and boldly marked, beautifully plumed and designed avian models built to last, revealing their reptilian roots in their long, sinuous necks; living by and in and off the water. Nesting. Poking around in the twig and branch furnishings of their recently constructed domiciles; feeding their young, stalking the shallows for prey, diving like ducks. And keeping up a three-note querulous squawk when the alligator, fat and sleek and silent, floated ominously over to a prime wetlands nesting site, the busy, multi-species, densely populated, cypress island I deemed "the Paradise of the Birds."[Top photo]

            This breeding spot was a mere dozen feet from the promontory of the pedestrian boardwalk, roofed as a viewing stand. Someone should have been selling scorecards.

            The tiny island was filled with infants in nests, already well hatched, constantly hungry, some adults walking among them. Other adults just -- big white, fluffy storks with dark, mottled-necks and heads the proportion of not so fat erasers on long pencils -- just hanging out, it appeared, taking up valuable space on the cypress tree-island, maybe waiting to see if they were needed. Perhaps to make a delivery?

            Babies on the way? Go get the stork. Here's a question: Who brings the stork's babies?

            The last of these bird names cited, 'anhinga,' is a word I could not pronounce. Surely I'd seen the name on paper, but never the bird in the flesh. Florida took care of that.

            According an the source online anhinga "sometimes called snakebird, darter, American darter, or water turkey, is a water bird of the warmer parts of the Americas." The name comes from the Brazilian Tupi language and means devil bird or snake bird.

            Stay with me as I try to match up photos of the birds we saw in the "bird paradise" of the Delray Beach water division recharge area (in an area called The Wakodahatchee Wetlands) and in a federal conservation area described as the northern border of the Everglades (called the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge) with the identifications I found one place or another, the signboards down there or the internet back home.

            We saw the the anhinga in various states of plumage, including the tan serpentine neck on the dark body.[second photo]

            We see great egrets -- sleek, white, long-legged wading birds -- up north, mostly in summer. In the Delray Beach wetlands we found a number of big white birds looking like great egrets but with a green coloring on their heads near the beak. [third photo] Certainly not a marking on the great white egrets I have regularly spied on and tried to photograph in the salt marshes of Quincy.

            Here's the answer: During breeding season for great egrets, "lores" (the area from the bill to the eyes) turn lime green.  In other seasons these spots are "primarily a dirty yellow." So, what we have are great egrets dressed for a season we never see up north.

            The roseate spoonbill: We saw it in the distance, the reddish coloring glimpses as it opened wings to fly and glide down to a perch at the edge of something. We have never seen a white bird of such size with red on its wings. It took finding a picture of it on a signboard for me to figure out what it was. [fourth down, internet photo]

             The white ibis, its beak curved downward, a gentle scimitar. [fifth down, internet photo]

            And ruling over the cypress island nesting areas, the wood storks. I could see why it was believed to be good luck to have a stork nest on your roof, something shining and bright to look at through the dark months of early winter.

            Cormorants, nesting in those same cypress trees, we do see up in our parts [sixth down].
            Many great blue herons stalked and flew in these wetlands as well[seventh down]. We do see these where they live, wetlands, ponds, rivers. Some of the largest, most spectacular wild birds we see, during migratory season, or summer or when the water stays open. Not, I think, this winter.


            And though we never see them up north, we somehow no difficulty at  identifying the alligators. [71]

            The birds hooted a three-note rhythm, again and again, keeping up the warning siren for as long as the alligator lurked in the water below the island. Mr. Gator was not in a hurry to vacate the premises. We could hear the continuously repeated warning cry even as we finished our loop of the boardwalk built for land-locked creatures and headed to the parking lot.

            'Later,' I thought.