During one of our visits to Viera Wetlands, we saw this Anhinga playing with a piece of pipe. Anhingas hunt by swimming under water and spearing fish with their sharp bills. They then have to manipulate their prey in order to eat it, which usually involves tossing the fish into the air from the perpendicular and catching it as it falls parallel into its throat. These photos I found on Flickr show the toss and catch process. We were both enthralled and amused watching this Anhinga’s antics as it practiced its prey-flipping skills.
Category Archives: Viera Wetlands
I admit I had fun watching the American Coots at Viera Wetlands last week. American Coots look a lot like Common Coots, a familiar bird I saw almost every day back in Leiden. They remained relatively solitary on the city canals so seeing coots in a big amicable group (raft) was new to me.
Besides the coot photos I shared yesterday I also took a couple of videos, which I put together here. The first part of the video shows a group feeding calmly together. After the transition the coots are on high alert. I am not sure what spooked them but I found this looking-in-all-directions behavior very cute. Despite the alert level there is a teeny tiny mini standoff between two of the birds starting at about :15 (look on the left side). That’s more like the coot behavior I am used to seeing!
We returned home late on Friday from an 8-day road trip down to Florida to see the Space Shuttle Atlantis lift off for the ISS. The launch was scheduled for Monday, November 16th and, unlike last time we tried to view a launch, there were no delays and the Shuttle took off right on time.
Of course we couldn’t pass up the chance to do a bit of birding along the way. While staying on the Space Coast we visited Viera Wetlands twice and spent a day at Merritt Island NWR (which remained closed during our last Florida visit, when the Shuttle was delayed, and delayed, and delayed…). We took our time driving home and stopped at Great Swamp Sanctuary in South Carolina and even drove through Great Smoky Mountains NP.
To start off what will probably be a handful of blog entries about our trip, here’s my Bird Photography Weekly submission for this week. American Coots summer up here in Illinois, but we rarely get to see them up close. At Viera, they were tooling around in large rafts all over.
nom nom nom
The shuttle Endeavor finally launched mission STS-127 yesterday, and we weren’t there to see it. We’ll try again with another of the remaining 7 shuttle launches – we really want to see one! On that note I found one last video from the trip last month to share with you. At Viera Wetlands we watched this group of Cattle Egrets gather branches from a dead tree to use as nesting material. The egrets would work at the dead branches and once they had one they were satisfied with, they would fly over the road to a large heronry.
When we first noticed this behavior, we stopped the car to watch them. Unfortunately this spooked the birds – but they were on a mission! They just moved to the nest dead tree down the road. When we slowly approached on foot they did not seem to mind as much, but we still kept our distance. It was fun to watch them!
They might not be the most graceful species, but this Common Moorhen does an impressive job of walking on water.
This wraps up the Viera posts, but there’s a bit more of our trip to Florida to come!
One of my all-time favorite bird species is the Eurasian Spoonbill, which is a summer breeder in the Netherlands. In the spring we used to go look for them in their breeding plumage which includes long head plumes and a yellowish breast band.
I was hoping to get good looks at their cousins, the Roseate Spoonbill, when we were in Florida. We only saw them once, flying high up in the sky over Viera Wetlands.
For more stories of the sky from around the world, check out the other submissions for this week’s Skywatch Friday.
At Viera Wetlands last week, out of the 30 species we saw, six were lifers.
The Crested Caracara seems to be a symbol of the wetlands as its image was on several of the navigational signs on the roads. Both times we visited, the Caracara was perched in the same tall tree. Both times, we had good looks in bad, bad light. This photo isn’t too hot, but I think that profile is unmistakable. What a beautiful bird!
This Least Bittern was lurking in the reeds but did pop out for some great looks and mediocre photos.
We saw some groups of Mottled Ducks in a few of the ponds.
We saw lots of Black-belled Whistling Ducks flying overhead, but rarely saw them in the water – except for the one pictured below. It was totally posing for us! I think this was my favorite bird we saw in Florida. I love the colors on this bird – black, white, brown, taupe, and that bright orangey-red bill.
Finally, we added Loggerhead Shrike to our life list. We’ve actually seen this bird before, very badly, at the Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve in Kissimmee a couple of years ago, but it wasn’t until recently that we noticed it was not recorded on our list. We had really excellent views of a pair of shrikes flying between two trees just a few yards from the car.
Even though we didn’t have a lot of time to go birding while in Florida last week (and even though I’m stretching out those few hours of birding into many posts, ha ha!), it was so much fun to see birds we don’t normally get to see up here where we live. Here are some of the more southern species we saw at Viera Wetlands.
Northern Mockingbirds range into northern Illinois and further during the summer, but we just don’t get to see them much here in Lake County. Once we got into Tennessee though, they were all over the place. They were hanging out at Viera Wetlands, too.
We only saw one Glossy Ibis at Viera, even though these are pretty common birds in Florida.
We also just saw this one lovely Limpkin.
And some more of the usual Florida suspects…
Coming up next… our six lifers at Viera. Stay tuned!
While in Florida last week we did some birding at Viera Wetlands (while waiting out the time between shuttle launch scrubs). We wanted to go to Viera and Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge and weren’t sure which one to visit first. I mentioned our dilemma on Twitter and got this reply from Birdchick: “Do Viera, do Viera, do Viera!” This was very good advice indeed: Merritt Island was actually closed the entire time we were on the Space Coast due to the scheduled shuttle launch. (Birdchick also has some great blog posts about Viera which I would highly recommend to anyone planning a visit there: Birdchick’s Viera Wetlands posts.)
The Viera Wetlands, actually named the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands at Viera, are owned by the Brevard County Utility Services and are part of a non-traditional water treatment method used by the county. We knew this going in; what we didn’t realize is that the wetlands are perfectly set up for wildlife viewing, with an observation tower and several one-way roads providing routes through the ponds that are absolutely ideal for birding from the car.
We visited two different mornings and almost melted in the heat, which we totally weren’t used to. When we visited on Friday, June 12 it was about 85°F when we arrived with 85% humidity and no wind. We decided to drive the slow dirt roads around the wetlands with our windows open – big mistake. At the end of the day there were about 80,000 mosquitoes in the car. The second time, we left the windows closed and made frequent stops to view the birds.
Signs at the entrance of the wetlands provided information and explained the rules (stay on the roads, routes are one-way, 10MPH speed limit, etc). There was a sign asking for any Purple Gallinule sightings to be reported (we didn’t see any, unfortunately).
During our visits we spotted just 30 different species, six of which were lifers. We also saw a few birds that are also present up here in Illinois. Some of these old friends are shown below; stay tuned for more in upcoming posts!
We’ve been back from Florida since Friday and I’m getting ready to publish a few posts about the bit of birding we go in while on the road. This Green Heron was one of my favorite sightings. We get them up here in Northern Illinois, but they are so shy here we almost only catch them when they fly over – like they’re in a hurry to get out of view. This one we saw at Viera Wetlands was strutting around like a rock star (and kind of looking like one, too).
Stay tuned for more Florida posts here in the coming days and be sure to visit the other great submissions for this week’s Bird Photography Weekly.