Saturday, January 21, 2017

Our Big Year's a bird thing

This week there was a video going around of a local alligator eating another local alligator and at the very beginning of it, I heard a familiar bird. I've grown up hearing this particular bird call, mostly around ponds and so I associate its call with my childhood.

When I wrote Always Magnolia, I needed to know the names of a lot of the birds I grew up with, as a lot of the story takes place in the scrub. So, I listened to bird calls on the Internet. When I came across the red-winged blackbird, I was pretty sure that was the sound of the bird I'd known as a child.

So, I posted the alligator cannibalism video on Facebook and asked if anyone knew for certain and got confirmation. I was also shown some pictures of the bird. I can't say I have ever seen it. And I wouldn't have thought that was the bird making the call. I always assumed the bird was a water bird...with a long neck. What do I know about birds, right? Nothing.

So, today, hubs and I went out on our very first birding expedition. We brought a small set of binoculars that were barely up to the task, my iPhone and his camera, and set out for the Viera Wetlands. We were not alone. There were wildlife photogs out there with enormous lenses on tripods, and plenty of amateurs driving around in their cars. We walked and took pics and notes and got sunburned and learned a lot. I think the biggest thing we learned is that we don't know anything about birds.

Some of my notes are:
small gray bird
orange beaked black duck
white beaked black duck
laughing hyena sound
turtle on log
tiny brown birds

And I think those might not have been crows, after all.

Hubs is at his computer right now comparing his pictures of the "tiny brown birds" with a long list of flycatchers trying to figure out which one we saw.

I think the lesson is this: you're going to have to know birds to look for birds.

That being said, we saw a lot of very cool birds and I will post some of the pictures for you. We also saw a lot of alligators. A few of them were small, maybe three or four feet. But then we saw a large one that I say was six feet. Hubs says eight. And after that an even larger one! That was an eight-footer for sure. Of course you can't tell how big they are without anything to compare them to. So, I walked right up next to them so you could----just kidding!

So, here are some birds. If you know what kind they are, be sure to comment and let me know.

1. I've lived in Florida my entire life (well, okay, except for that year in Denver) and I've never seen a white pelican. All the pelicans I know are gray and hang out at the pier begging for fish scraps. But these have to be pelicans.

2. Well, it's white and it's tall. And it has a yellow beak. Is it a heron or a big egret? I'm always getting herons and egrets mixed up.

3. Or is this a heron or an egret? It's gray, with a yellow beak. My notes would say "big but not super big gray bird."

4. Tiny little gray birds in the grass, possibly flycatchers.

5. Ducks? They don't have beaks like ducks. Their beaks are pointed-ish and white, although some looked pretty much the same with orange beaks. And the duck(?) up top looked...mottled. And on the board at the park there actually was a picture of a duck that was called a mottled duck...or something like that. So, I'm going with that. I saw a mottled duck.

6. Cormorant, right? Please tell me it's a cormorant because that's what I've been calling this bird for years. (Update: probably an anhinga. They're a lot like cormorants, but not the same.)

7. This bird was as big as the sand hill cranes we see in our neighborhood, but its head is totally different.

8. Here's a sand hill crane. So what's that one above?

9. Here's the bird I thought was a crow, but it could be a grackle. But then again, what if a crow is a grackle? How is a person supposed to know? This could take a lifetime of study.

10. Here's another shot of the grackle crows. If you look a the vertical beam in the middle of the picture, just above it is the moon. I thought it was very artsy, but it was better in person.

We got to see a bald eagle, but only through the binoculars. There were lots of cormorants, some hawks, osprey, some little white birds with split tails that dove into the water and wouldn't sit still. Lots of black vultures, ibis, alligators, and a turtle or two. Oh, and an adorable caterpillar. Here are some pics:

The six-footer (imo).

The eight-footer with teeth!

Smaller gators:

And the caterpillar:

I thought the caterpillar was the cutest thing we saw. He had quite a big personality. We stayed by him while he crossed the road to make sure he made it to the other side safely. I wanted to bring him home, but I'm pretty sure we're not allowed to molest wildlife in the parks.

All in all, it was a great day birding and a good start to our Big Year! I'll have to do some bird study before we go again...not that it will help.

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