Roseate Spoonbills in The Everglades

20160504-IMG_0266 Why do we fixate on specific things? When something catches our eye, is it because we were already subconsciously driven to notice it or is it totally random? Maybe it's both. Or neither. Maybe everything we ever see lodges somewhere in our brain and is only accessible when we follow certain paths of interest, lines of inquiry in the private auditorium of our own black echoing minds.

Why, out of all the lifers available to me in the Everglades, did I SO  want to see Roseate Spoonbills? I'm not entirely sure. But here's what I knew going in: they're kind of big, which automatically makes most people go ooohhhh aaahhh; they're mostly bright pink; and they have a large bill shaped like a spoon. That did it for me. And it was the one bird I almost did not see.

On the brink of a torrential rainstorm, we (Johanna and I) rushed out of Naples, FL where we were staying and drove without abandon toward Collier-Seminole State Park. Just as we were pulling in, our kayaking guide from the night before texted me saying, "You MUST walk Marsh Trail. If you're only going to have time for a single trail, do this one." Lucky for us, Marsh Trail was conveniently a 5-minute drive down the highway.

Sometimes in life, I wonder about the eery conveniences that we seem to stumble into. There's something magical about happy coincidences. Magical and shifty.

Cut to the chase Steph. Literally 3 minutes into our walk we find a tower that looks out onto a large glade. From the top of the tower, this is what we see.

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Understand that these photos are a heavily cropped version of this vast glade. And since we'll be in the Everglades for the next few weeks here, on this blog, let's clarify a few words. We'll start with glade, marsh, and swamp. A glade is simply a river of grass. Marshes and swamps are not the same thing. A marsh is an open wetland full of reeds and grasses while a swamp is a wetland where trees and other woody plants grow. We'll talk about bogs and fens later in another post.

Back to the spoonbills.

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Roseate Spoonbills are very content birds. They don't move around much and they don't make much noise. They aren't even worried about mating until 3 years old when they become sexually mature.

These birds have a history of struggles though. Starting in the 19th century, they were heavily hunted for their feathers. By the 1930's, they were almost completely exterminated. It was during this decade that intense persecution for the plume trade began. And by the 1940's, Roseate Spoonbills had legal protection and a very successful recovery effort ongoing in Florida and Texas.

It's a happy ending for these beautiful birds, really. Of course, they are still hunted in some places and pollution threatens to alter their breeding and feeding habits. And there's the issue of their vendetta against raccoons and the sharing of mangrove islands. But other than that, they are safe. For now.

Join me Wednesday for more Marsh Trail fun!

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Egrets on St. Pete Beach

Sometimes I think about birds in terms of how I would describe them to a small child. Maybe it's the teacher in me. Or perhaps I'm always trying to simplify birds into a skeletal few bullet points that make them easier to separate. Like Darwin. Or anyone who ever looked outside and subconsciously divided different backyard birds into mental categories to better distinguish them. In any case, I would describe this week's bird as "slender white flamingo with pointy bill and creeping legs."

It's a good thing I don't have to simply describe every bird to you anyway. I can show you. Huzzah internet!

Sit yourself down at the table of warm, early morning beach walk in Florida and have a look at these Snowy Egrets. Snowy? Yes. I think the adjective is more a color reference than a geographical range descriptor.

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Snowy Egrets are year-round residents of a vast amount of earth. Southeastern USA and most of South America. However they also breed in most of the United States; all but the northernmost states.

One would think that egrets might be hard to distinguish, what with being similar tall white birds and all. But a quick look to the legs and feet is usually enough to tell them apart. Does your egret have yellow boots on? Snowy Egret.

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Does your egret wear black hosiery? Great White Egret.

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As the name suggests, Great White Egrets are larger than Snowy Egrets. And really, these guys have such a large range that they form main populations. The Great White Egrets inhabiting the western hemisphere are more often referred to as American Great Egrets.

One can easily guess that egrets eat fish. But they're actually far less picky than that. They are opportunists that also enjoy snakes, lizards, amphibians, insects, tiny mammals, and even other birds. That sharp bill is a savage weapon.

Speaking of savagery, something called "siblicide" is quite common in egrets. Chicks that hatch first often do away with other chicks in their nest that hatch later on and are smaller. A few days of seniority is a huge advantage in avian development.

Starting now I will go back to posting twice per week so come back on Wednesday for more birds!