This is the first of a three part series of a Florida field trip organized by the South Jersey Camera Club for the purpose of photographing birds and their behavior. The field trip was conducted over a five-day period in the beginning of March.
This first post will present images captured at the Venice Audubon Rookery in Venice, Florida. This rookery is a 14-acre park with a man-made lake. The lake has a small island that is made of mangrove trees and shrubs. A first glance of the island does not particularly provide a significant impression, but a closer examination reveals an incredibly busy habitat. This small island that is probably no longer than 50 yards (46 meters) and 20 yards (18 meters) wide displayed an astonishing level of activity including courting, building nests, mating, and feeding the newborns by an assortment of bird species. Nesting at this rookery can begin as early as December and last through May.
Great Egrets are often the first birds to begin nesting in an area, which often precipitates the nesting activity by other bird species. Great Egrets are the symbol of the National Audubon Society.
This elegant bird stands between 37 and 41 inches (94 to104 cm) and has a wingspan of 52 to 57 in. (131 to 145 cm).
The male will begin to construct the nest from sticks and twigs before it pairs up with a female. Both sexes will work together to complete building the nest.
During breeding season, long plumes grow from their backs that are displayed for courting.
Great Egrets were hunted for their plumes almost to extinction in the late nineteenth century. This resulted in some of the first laws to protect birds in the United States. It was the reason the Audubon Society was originally formed to bring attention to that slaughter.
Broods of one or two are produced. Here the two siblings are licking the beak of an adult for nourishment from regurgitated fish by the adult. The nesting period lasts for 21 to 25 days.
The Anhinga is predominately a southeastern bird in the United States preferring Cypress swamps, wooded forests, and freshwater marshes. The female Anhinga has a pale brown neck and breast while the male is green-black overall. The long thin pointed bill is used for spearing fish.
Anhingas have a variety of courting behaviors. Here they are pointing their beaks up in the air and were maneuvering their snake-like necks between each other.
The Anhinga nest is mostly built by the female with the male supplying the materials.
The Anhinga does not have oil glands for waterproofing its feathers like most water birds. So it is often seen sunning itself to dry off its wings.
The ‘cousin’ to the Anhinga is the cormorant that also was attending to a nest at the Venice rookery. Cormorants have shorter tails, shorter and blunter bills and do not have the silvery wing patches like an Anhinga.
Flying over the Venice rookery was a flock of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. The geographical range for these ducks extends from South and Central America with their most northern range in the United States being Texas, Louisiana and Florida.
The Great Blue Heron is the largest heron in Florida measuring between 42 and 52 inches (107 to 132 cm). It spite of their majestic size they only weigh 5 to 6 lbs. (2.3 to 2.7 kg). They build large platform nests made of twigs and lined with leaves and grasses. The male brings the nesting material to the female who builds the nest.
Different aged- generations of these herons were being reared at nests on the island. Here the adult identified by the black plume extending beyond the back of the head, the blue-gray back and wings and the back plumes in alternate plumage was busy feeding an immature heron. The immature heron has brownish to gray upper wings, lacks back plumes and lacks the black plume extending from behind the eye.
The young herons will take to flight by the time they are 45 to 55 days old. However, the immature herons are not as proficient at foraging and will return back to the nest to get additional nourishment from an adult. This will go on for about 2 months after fledging.
Both sexes share in the care and raising the young. One of the parents is always present during the first 3 to 4 weeks. Feeding the young is primarily regurgitated fish.
Check out the long toes of the Common Gallinule that allow this bird to walk atop soft mud or floating vegetation while foraging. This newly hatched chick is being cared for by an adult. Newly hatched chicks have spurs on their wings that aids them to climb into their nest.
One, two, three, four – photography is all about being at the right place at the right time. Number One: This Brown Pelican took flight from the island directly towards the outer bank of the lake where this photographer was standing.
Number Two: It then immediately plunges its beak into the water with its throat pouch wide open to trap the fish.
Number Three: It then proceeds to drain the water from its pouch.
Number Four: And then it swallows its catch.
All four images were taken during a period of 22 seconds.
Black-crowned Night Herons spend their days mostly perched on tree limbs or concealed among foliage. They forage in the evening and at night.
Sunset over the Venice Rookery provides another surprising event. Hundreds of birds fly into the rookery to roost during the night.
This is one very, very busy rookery. Spring has sprung in Florida. Stay tuned for the next post ‘Spring Has Sprung: Birds of Prey”.