Rainy Morning at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

The last morning of the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival was rainy. We’d signed up for a field trip about birding by ear and habitat at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. It was one of the few field trips that was not cancelled entirely but it was changed considerably by the weather. We talked through the topic of using other than markings for bird identification – songs, habitat, silhouettes, behavior…and then did the best we could to observe some birds. We didn’t do any hiking…just observed what we could from the visitor center and from within the car along the wildlife loop. Still – it wasn’t a bad morning for seeing birds. The visitor center has feeders that attract Painted Buntings this time of year. What a treat to see these brightly colored small birds!

Then it was out to the wildlife loop to look at water birds. The first one we saw was a smallish white bird at the edge of the water. In was in the right habitat for a heron or egret…about the size of a cattle egret but in the wrong habitat since they are usually in fields. It was a juvenile Little Blue Heron with green legs and a washed out looking face….definitely not a Snowy Egret.

There was a group of Northern Shovelers feeding – living up to the ‘shoveler’ name.

Glossy Ibis were feeding in the shallows and mud.

There were some Roseate Spoonbills feeding almost out of range of my camera. Watch the one in the center in this sequence.

There were was a mixed group of birds: Roseate SpoonBills, American Avocets, and a Great Egret. That area near that shore must have been rich pickings.

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A little further along the shower there was a group of American White Pelicans in the water. The group might have been working together to herd fish into the shallows – easy feeding.

Last but not least - a Tricolored Heron made an appearance. It too was looking for breakfast in the shallows.

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Overall – it was not a bad ending for the festival. It would have been better had it not be raining…and even better if the sun had come out. We picked up some snacks intended for some trips that were cancelled and headed back to the hotel to pack for the trek home the next day. Both my husband and I enjoyed the festival and I’m sure we’ll do it again – leaving more time between field trips (and before/after the festival) to do some photography at our own pace. It’s a rich area for birding and more comfortable in the winter than it is in the summer.

National Aviary (Pittsburgh)

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Last Friday afternoon was very cold in Pittsburgh – and a lot of people decided it was a good day for the National Aviary. Our first clue that it was going to be crowded was the full parking lot. We pulled into a parallel space across the park from the aviary and walked across the frozen, snow dusted paths to the gate in the fence around the Aviary. The priority was food instead of seeing birds since we hadn’t had time earlier for lunch. The café area was crowded but we managed to satisfy ourselves enough to last until dinner…and then headed to the Wetlands area. We walked in a few minutes before feeding time. The schedule feeding times are great for picture taking. They have several spoonbills and I got a picture of the underside of bill like I did for the white ibis on South Padre Island; the spoonbill underside is the same concave shape. I also realized that spoonbills are don not have totally bald heads like vultures, but they certainly have a receding feather-line.

The flamingos seemed to be doing their preening while standing on one leg.

As the staff (and volunteers) started feeding the birds, the birds moved about more, and I was able to get different angles of the same bird. Some of the colors change dramatically.

There are sometimes surprising patches of color that become visible only from the side or back.

The hadada ibis has wings with a sheen.

Some birds are small and fast…hard to photograph except when worms are offered on the railing and they fly down to gobble them up.

Some appear drab but have ‘personality’ when viewed via the camera’s zoom.

One of the pelicans flew up to the top of a tree in the enclosure….closer to the glass roof….alas no sun while we were there.

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Of course, there was water below the bridge walkway we were standing on…if there were fewer people around I would taken more time to photograph the variety of ducks present in the exhibit.

As I turned to leave - I noted the brilliant yellow tail feathers of a bird on one of the pipes high overhead, near the ceiling…a last hurrah for the wetlands exhibit.

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South Padre Island and Bay Cruise – Part 3

The last part of the field trip was a cruise on the bay. The first ‘sight’ was a lighthouse with scaffolding around it as we neared the dock on our bus.

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Then we were off and looking for Peregrine Falcons under the bridge. We spotted several but there was only one that was positioned for pictures.

There were mud flats with Laughing Gulls,

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An Osprey surveying the scene, and

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A Great Blue Heron walking awkwardly in the mud.

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There was an island that provide roosting sites for Great Blue Herons (7 of them in the foreground) and Roseate Spoonbills (8-10 of them in the background).

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This is the best picture I got of the Roseate Spoonbills as we cam around their side of the island.

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Brown Pelicans, Double-crested Cormorants, and laughing gulls were groups on the sandy beach.

What birds to you see in these two pictures? So you see the Green-winged teals (2 males and a female), Black-Necked Stilt (2), Great Egret, Laughing gulls.

As we headed back to the dock, there were Double-Crested cormorants on pilings we were passing

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And a Laughing Gull settled on the highest point of our boat.

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There were so many Brown Pelicans. It’s thrilling that their numbers have recovered from the brink of extinction caused by pesticide pollution!