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Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands March Field Trip

In early March my dad and I had the opportunity to join a field trip into the Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands, a restricted-access SWFWMD property near the Circle B Bar Reserve.  The wetlands are home to thousands of birds.  You can see a great variety of species there.  It’s one of the best inland birding locations that I know in Central Florida.

The March field trip was slower than the days I spent there in December and January.  The wintering ducks had mostly left, and there weren’t nearly as many birds in the skies.  Still, it was a wonderful morning. My dad and I had a great time.  Thanks so much to Cole Fredericks for organizing the field trip!

My Favorite Photo Buddy :)

My Favorite Photo Buddy :)

The American White Pelicans were still hanging around the wetlands, although their numbers had decreased significantly since the Christmas Bird Count.  Then we saw several thousand birds.  In early March we saw several hundred.  This one made me laugh as he opened his mouth in mid-flight…

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

We saw a few Black-necked Stilts and three American Avocets at a long distance.  I wonder if the stilts will nest at the wetlands, like they used to at the Circle B Bar Reserve, where they used to build their nests on the edge of the Wading Bird Way trail.  That was before they put in the nature center and the park became so popular.  On this particular morning, I was excited when a stilt flew right past me, calling across the marsh…

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt

My dad and I went on three field trips to the wetlands this winter, and the weather was pretty gray and gloomy on all of them.  Maybe next year will be better!

Osprey

Osprey

We saw several Osprey hovering over the water as they searched for breakfast.  Later, we spotted one carrying nesting material back to a tree.  The branch was twice as long as the bird!

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

This Red-winged Blackbird was singing the song of springtime.  He sat tall on his perch and let me photograph him with his beak wide open.  He reminded me that it’s my favorite time of year!

This Year’s Sandhill Crane Colts

A few weeks ago I visited a Sandhill Crane nest with the hope that perhaps the babies had hatched.  It was a cold, cloudy, windy morning.  I spotted Dad walking around, and Mom lying down nearby.  Since they were away from the nest, I knew Mom had to have at least one little fuzzball underneath her wing! I settled down to watch and wait.  My northern friends will laugh when I say that my teeth chattered as the wind gusted.  But my patience was rewarded, when Dad brought over a worm and two little heads popped out to grab the snack…

Good Morning Tussle

Tiny Sandhill Crane colts romp as soon as they emerge from under Mom’s wing

It turned out that the windy weather was in my favor.  You see, the wind was too cold for the tiny colts, so Mom sat down often to create a windbreak under the protection of her wings.  It gave me several opportunities to photograph the mother with her young chicks.  Those “under the wing” shots are my favorites.

Mother and Child

Sweet moment with the mother and child as Junior tries to find his way under Mom’s wing

After a while, Mom would stand up, dumping her two fuzzballs unceremoniously on the ground underneath her.  Then they went exploring.  Those tiny legs move quickly as they run to keep up with Mom and Dad.

This Year's Sandhill Crane Colts

This Year’s Sandhill Crane Colts

The little colts will often do this little hop-skip-jump run as they play together. They flap those little soon-to-be-wing stubs and run as if they are practicing their first flight takeoff.  I captured the joy of that moment as one colt ran towards a food offering from Dad.

Spread Your Wings!

Spread Your Wings!

It’s hard to believe, but Sandhill Crane colts are able to swim only hours after they are born.  When Mom and Dad wander into the water, the babies paddle right after them.  They got the reward of some very big tasty spiders!

Spider for Breakfast

Spider for Breakfast

Before long it was time for another nap under Mom.  This next photo is a composite of two photos, showing both babies.  It captures the moment as both babies head toward’s Mom’s tail and try to nose their way under the wing.    One baby had a little tumble as he tripped over a feather.  He didn’t seem concerned as he landed with his feet in the air, and he quickly hopped up to try again.  Mom looked on amused.

Heading for Cover

Heading for Cover

I had to tear myself away from this little family far sooner than I wanted.  As I headed to my car, I had to stop and laugh at the local glutton. :)

Squirrel with a Sweet Tooth

Squirrel with a Sweet Tooth

My First Male Bufflehead!

Honey, want to go find a retention pond with me?  – Jess

What bird is there? – Rich

Buffleheads are fairly rare birds in Florida in winter, and I’ve only ever seen a couple of females.  I’d never seen a male.  A flock of Buffleheads regularly winters in a retention pond near the house, so Rich and I took a little drive.  And we found…

Bufflehead Flock

Bufflehead Flock

Yep, that’s a male Bufflehead!  The bird in the front is a male.  The bird above him appears to be a juvenile molting into male plumage.  The other three are females.  How cool to see so many Buffleheads together!

Bufflehead Feather Sparkle

Bufflehead Feather Sparkle

The male is so pretty.  His black face shimmers with green and red when the sun hits him.  This was my first glimpse of him, way across the pond.  Then he and his friends got a little spooked.  There was a family outside playing with their brand-new Christmas kite.  Each time the kite would soar in the air, the birds would spook.  I got lots of flight shot opportunities in the seven minutes that I got to photograph before the flock took off for good.

Male Bufflehead in Flight

Male Bufflehead in Flight

I’ve returned to that pond four times since that day.  Each time I’ve hoped to see the male Bufflehead again, hopefully in sunlight and a little closer.  But each time that I’ve gone, the pond has either been empty or there were just a few females.

Female Bufflehead

Female Bufflehead

The females are cute, just not as showy as the males.  This one made me lie on the bank of the pond for at least an hour before she came anywhere near me.  Silly bird.

Bufflehead Wing-Flap

Bufflehead Wing-Flap

Buffleheads are significantly smaller than some of the other ducks they hang out with, like Lesser Scaups and Hooded Mergansers.  When this female did a wing-flip, she looked so tiny and cute!

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

I’ve been getting a lot of use out of my 2X teleconverter this winter.  The ducks are so skittish!

Male Bufflehead Landing

Male Bufflehead Landing

Here’s one more of the male with his “landing gear” down.  Maybe if I keep visiting the pond, I’ll see him again.  Hopefully!