So after reading on jaxbirding.com that Roseate Spoonbills were overwintering at the Theodore Roosevelt marsh area, of course I had to go. I reached out to Thomas, who runs jaxbirding.com, and he kindly told me where to look: the mudflats.
I arrived at the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve not too long after sunrise. I had planned to hike directly and briskly (it was 40 degrees) to the observation tower, my camera backpack and tripod strapped to my back. But I had hardly got out of the car when I saw three Black Vultures, a Turkey Vulture, a Red-shouldered Hawk, and a Pileated Woodpecker at Spanish Pond. So I unloaded the camera and began shooting right away.
Heading down the boardwalk, I was surrounded by American Robins, Northern Cardinals, and a particularly raucous Gray Catbird.
Just as I arrived at the mudflats, two Roseate Spoonbills–the very bird I’d come to see!–flew in and landed on the other side of the water from me.
I followed them on the opposite shore as they worked north, straining the water with their spoonbills, but they were fairly far away. Eventually I turned back and climbed up the observation tower.
I had thought I would set up the tripod, but as it turned out I held the camera the entire time. I was constantly scanning the marsh, the sky, the treeline–360 degrees–and birds would appear unpredictably anywhere. The tripod stayed strapped to the backpack.
Many birds flew overhead on their way to other parts, including Red-breasted Mergansers, Wood Storks, a Ring-billed Gull, a Laughing Gull, a Great Blue Heron, and a Brown Pelican. Other birds, including Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Tri-colored Herons, Little Bue Herons, Killdeer, Belted Kingfishers, and a Greater Yellowlegs were patrolling the marsh for food and would suddenly take flight and land elsewhere on the marsh.
The Osprey below eventually alighted on a branch with a view of the salt marsh. It landed on its right leg, the talons of its left leg firmly grasping the fish.
Can you spot the Killdeer below?
There were maddening, smallish birds–Red-winged Blackbirds, I think–in the marsh grasses that would raise a cry from time to time, but remain largely unseen. Occasionally a Yellow-rumped Warbler or a Palm Warbler would land on the bare branches of a tree near the observation tower.
Speaking of which, a couple of birds very familiar to me showed themselves in a new light in this setting. For instance, for the first time I saw a Palm Warbler in breeding colors:
But the real revelation was the hovering behavior of a Belted Kingfisher. I’ve been watching a Belted Kingfisher at Nathan Krestul Park for weeks now, and I’m familiar with how and where it perches and how it dives, but I have never seen it hover. (As it should be, with so many good places to perch there, the boat winch being one of its favorites.) Yet at the marsh I kept catching sight of a bird hovering out in the distance, in the perfectly round part of the treeless marsh (a gentleman I met out there told me he’d read in the newspaper a few years back that scientists speculate that a meteorite had struck there). It wasn’t easy to focus in on this bird, and it wasn’t until I downloaded the pictures that I could tell it was a Belted Kingfisher:
On my way out, the Red-shouldered Hawk was keeping watch on Spanish Pond from a low perch.
Then I went to Reddie Point, another site often mentioned at jaxbirding.com. There, at the pond by the entrance I saw a Great Blue Heron, perched in a tree, surrounded by several juvenile Black-crowned Night Herons. Yellow-rumped Warblers were flitting around in the trees at the water’s edge.
I couldn’t go back home without stopping by Nathan Krestul Park to see what was going on. The Belted Kingfisher was diving for fish and doing no hovering at all:
An Anhinga, some sort of white junk on its beak, was sunning itself:
Far into the interior a Little Blue Heron, a Tricolored Heron, and a Snowy Egret were looking for food, all within about ten square feet of each other.
In the afternoon, I picked up Mom and went to Westminster Woods to visit Gram. The first two birds we saw were Wood Storks. In the picture below you can see the glint of the sun in its eye.
Here’s an Anhinga with Double-crested Cormorants. The Anhinga is a year-round resident; the Double-crested Cormorants show up only in winter.
Also at Westminster Woods we saw several Great Egrets, a Great Blue Heron, a pair of Wood Ducks, a pair of Hooded Mergansers, and a pair of Mallards.