My final (and most important) stop was Clay Island, an area that's been restored and has a five mile loop trail through the wetland. Herons and egrets galore.
And turtles. This basking Florida soft-shell greeted me as I entered the property.
And soon a little blue heron flew up and perched for a photo. We can see these up north but they are much more common down here. Pretty but noisy and disagreeable, that was my impression.
A row of osprey nests lined the trail. Listen to the ospreys peeping. They were not happy to see me.
Anhingas were everywhere, also making a lot of noise. (I didn't record as much as I'd like to have because it was quite windy and my recorder's batteries were nearly gone but here's a little snippet of swamp noise).
And as I was leaving this green heron flew up and perched right above me on a power line.
And to reinforce the wisdom of staying on the trail, a reptile of a different sort...
Armed with Brian Rapoza's Birding Florida, I carefully planned my route through the backroads around the lake. I had a few selected stopping points but mostly I pulled over and stopped when something caught my eye. For example, this flycatcher (great-crested, I assume, though the yellow on its belly is awfully pale). It was the kind of drive where I would deliberately slow down when I saw cattle to see if I could spot cattle egrets (yes!). Many soaring birds, mostly vultures, but some more interesting, such as the otherworldly swallow-tail kite (couldn't get a photo).
And this one was a total accident. I pulled over to take a photo of a kingbird, looked behind me, and there was a pair of Florida scrub jays--the bird you HAVE to see when you are in the area because they don't live anywhere else.
Also of interest--perching vultures. Up north we mostly see them flying. Down south, there are more opportunities for eye-level experiences.
And suddenly I'm in Florida. Ostensibly for Disney et al but with my recent interests, an opportunity for some productive excursions. My very perceptive wife knew I had to get it out of my system early, so right away I was off to nearby Lake Apopka for some Florida birding while the rest of the family soaked in the hotel pool.
Lake Apopka has a rather tragic recent history. The region's use of pesticides and other toxins has thoroughly contaminated the local soil and lake bed. Massive bird kills (especially herons) when the toxins have made their way up the food chain. Most of the area bordering the lake has been fenced off. But there are some spots where you can catch a glimpse of this magical spot (and the wildlife it supports). For example, Magnolia Park.
I was greeted by a small group of white ibises feeding on the park lawn. In New England we get all excited when we see ibises, especially this time of year. In Florida, you quickly realize that they are practically pest birds, abundant and sometimes very approachable. And they travel in huge flocks.
In New England we are also thrilled to see ospreys. In Florida they are rather common, but still cool to observe. Probably because they are the one bird of prey you can consistently see in action successfully catching something.
Sounds include a boat-tailed grackle, a pair of red-shouldered hawks calling to each other, and an unknown warbler (I'm looking it up). Marsh wrens and carolina wrens down there too. And there are lots of good reasons not to leave marked paths. Such as these eastern lubber grasshopper nymphs. The ground was literally crawling with them. (One of the reasons for the area's history of pesticides--these guys turn into extremely destructive grasshoppers).
Lots of turtles out today on the banks of the Charles, more than I've even seen. Parents and children, soaking up the sun. Scanning the opposite shore, it seemed like every available submerged tree branch or jutting rock had a painted turtle (or twelve) on it.
In other CRP news, spring is progressing.
The tree swallows are nesting. (See detail below)
Here's the female bluebird who has chosen the box near the entrance to the property.
And the great blue herons are back to stay.
(No sounds today. Earth Day also seems to produce landscaping trucks and leaf blowers.)
A magical early morning mid-April walk down Fowl Meadow. Palm warblers in mass quantities. Trilling and trilling. (The palm warbler doesn't have much of a "song" individually but put a bunch of them together and you get a sound that you can bathe your ears in).
They were down at eye level, sometimes chasing one another. Hard to miss in the gray season. And when the tail gets bobbing you know exactly what you've got.
But it's not all warblers in Fowl Meadow. For a short while the general blackbird clamor was joined by a flock of rusty blackbirds, who proceeded to blow the roof off the joint. And then a robin showed up who would not be dominated, not by blackbirds, spring peepers, or passing aircraft. (This is THE robin in the recording. I thought he deserved some recognition.)
Yet another bird that would pass unnoticed if one didn't know it existed. From a distance, checked off as a song sparrow (the chest spot). In my second year of actually paying attention, though, I'm building a better sense of how these birds behave, and the sparrows that were foraging in the bright late afternoon sun on the lawn of my daughter's elementary school were definitely not song sparrows. Look at that bright yellow brow and tell me these birds shouldn't be noticed more.
Went out early to check if the local herony was inhabited this year. Three nests, one heron at 6:30 a.m. I'm looking forward to coming back later in the season. (The site is in Sherborn on Rt 16 right after the Natick border. There was a surprising amount of traffic on that road so early in the day).
I had Broadmoor all to myself for a short time. Got some decent ambiance recordings, including this short excerpt featuring crows, frogs, and juncos palm warblers. (Frankly, the sounds from my driveway this morning were as compelling as anything else I heard---the goldfinches are singing like mad and the flickers are drumming on the sides of our houses and every once in a while you catch a hint of white-throat).
I stumbled upon this group of white-tails on the meadow. They were wary but let me pass without bounding away.
This morning I decided to head down to warblerton (AKA Chestnut Hill Reservoir) to catch some glimpses of yellow. I was not disappointed. (A flock of birders was assembled in the grove by the ice rink looking upwards, in hopes of a recently spotted Townsend's warbler. I think they were disappointed, at least during the hour or so I was in the area... They found it). But I was happy to soak up the assembled pines, palms, and yellow-rumps. And a bunch of singing ruby-crowned kinglets.
The reservoir's other treasure is a group of ruddy ducks that can be found pretty close to shore.
Two other recordings of note from earlier in the week. The first, some evening trilling frogs (I need a guide to frog songs--these aren't peepers but I don't know enough to ID them). And second, some bluebird. They are all over the CRP this spring, much better established (as far as I can tell) than last year.