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Incredible Photography Morning at Viera Wetlands

Seeing the Smooth-billed Ani at Viera Wetlands on Sunday was great, but just the icing on the cake after an incredible morning of photography.  There were so many birds, and everywhere I turned, there was a great photo op.  I kept telling my dad, “this is how Circle B used to be!”  Herons and hoodies and spoonies, oh my!

We first stopped to check for the Smooth-billed Ani, who hadn’t yet made an appearance.  A mockingbird posed in the bushes as an ani stand-in.  We weren’t impressed.  But we turned around and spotted a Loggerhead Shrike posed in beautiful morning light.  What a great start to the morning!

Loggerhead Shrike at Viera Wetlands

Loggerhead Shrike

The Eastern Phoebe saw us admiring the shrike.  “I can pose on a post too!” he said.

Eastern Phoebe at Viera Wetlands

Eastern Phoebe

We drove off to the center of Viera Wetlands, where the Great Blue Herons are nesting at the tops of the palm trees.  Two of the nests were under incubation and not super interesting.  The birds basically just sat there.  On a third tree, a long heron was trying to attract a mate.  She stood on her tree and thrust her head to the sky in a classic courtship gesture.

Great Blue Heron Courtship at Viera Wetlands

Great Blue Heron Courtship

Below the heron nests, a juvenile Purple Gallinule charmed the paparazzi.  A little Green Heron also lurked at the edge of the water.  He reached down and grabbed a fish for breakfast.

Green Heron at Viera Wetlands

Green Heron

We walked a little way down the path to look for Hooded Mergansers.  I spotted some Roseate Spoonbills and got all excited.  Then a Crested Caracara flew in and perched in one of the dead trees.  The Caracara breed at Viera Wetlands and are seen regularly, but I’ve had few opportunities to photograph one in a natural-looking setting.  (No, the observation tower doesn’t count!)  It’s a good thing I’ve been getting back into practice because I got my camera to focus in time for the landing…

Crested Caracara Landing at Viera Wetlands

Crested Caracara Landing

I continued on my way to the Roseate Spoonbills, who were in full breeding colors.  I love their hot pink, yellow, and orange colors at this time of year.  They are such pretty birds.

Roseate Spoonbill at Viera Wetlands

Roseate Spoonbill

A lone Lesser Scaup floated in the water, then climbed up on a patch of land and sunned himself.  He was one of the few ducks at the Viera Wetlands.  It’s such a contrast to my visits several years ago when the waters were covered in ducks.

Lesser Scaup at Viera Wetlands

Lesser Scaup

We did spot some Hoodies, both males and females.  The males are pretty, but I couldn’t stop photographing the female.  Her brown feathers sparkled in the sunshine against the brown winter background.  Then she headed out into the open water and gave me a perfect reflection.  I thought that photo was my favorite until she reached back and gave me a wing flap.  How great!

Hooded Merganser Wing Flap at Viera Wetlands

Hooded Merganser Wing Flap

A flock of American White Pelicans was roosting at the wetlands and the nearby Click Ponds.  Groups of them hung out in the water, and all morning, birds flew over our heads.  Just like the good old days at Circle B.  I always chuckle when I see these large birds put down their “landing gear” as they swoop towards the water.

Landing Gear Down! American White Pelican at Viera Wetlands

Landing Gear Down! American White Pelican

My final bird of the day was an Osprey flying overhead as we waited for the ani to make an appearance.  He swooped down and grabbed a fish, then flew off with it.  Look at those strong talons grabbing the fish!  Of course I didn’t get the camera maneuvered fast enough.  I don’t think I can say I clipped his wings – I chopped them!  But it’s still a cool picture.

Osprey with Fish! at Viera Wetlands

Osprey with Fish!

Viera Wetlands is closed this week while they remove some invasive Brazilian Pepper.  But I’m already looking forward to my next adventure there!

Foggy Morning Walk at Circle B Bar Reserve

Saturday was a foggy, cloudy morning at the Circle B Bar Reserve.  My dad was excited to show me the Hill Myna that has been frequenting the area around the visitor’s center.  Alas, he wasn’t present when we looked for him.  But we had a nice walk around the reserve, up Marsh Rabbit Run and around Eagle Roost.  The wildlife knew it was cloudy and decided to sleep in, but we still got some good shots.

This little Pied-billed Grebe met us at the “Four Corners” intersection of Heron Hideout and Marsh Rabbit Run.  You can see from the water what a gray, icky morning it was.  The grebe didn’t mind.  He was happily diving for fish.

Pied-billed Grebe at Circle B

Pied-billed Grebe

Eastern Phoebes were everywhere. As flycatchers, they like to sit tall on a perch and watch out for insects.  How convenient for photography!

Eastern Phoebe at Circle B

Eastern Phoebe

We were surprised to see the lack of ducks and other birds on Wading Bird Way.  I can remember when the waters were covered in American Coots.  This year, the waters were virtually empty.

I’d often stood on Wading Bird Way noticing the tall grasses there, and mentally begging the birds to please hop up and pose on a tall clump.  On Saturday the Savannah Sparrows actually cooperated!  For this image, I was shooting straight into the fogrise as the bird picked apart the grass seeds and ate them.

Cooperative Savannah Sparrow at Circle B

Cooperative Savannah Sparrow

Then I turned around and saw another sparrow against a better background, but without the mouth full!

Savannah Sparrow at Circle B

Savannah Sparrow

A few Double-crested Cormorants perched on the posts sticking out of the water.  Then we spotted an Anhinga swimming around with his prize in his mouth.  This was a small fish compared to the large catfish I usually see Anhingas gulping.  You can really see from this photo why the common name for Anhinga is “snakebird.”

Anhinga with Fish at Circle B

Anhinga with Fish

As we headed up Heron Hideout on our way out, the sun finally made an appearance.  It lit the alligator flag plants perfectly, along with the little Palm Warbler hopping on the tops of the leaves…

Palm Warbler at Circle B

Palm Warbler

A Red-shouldered Hawk coughed up something as we said goodbye.  What a face he’s making!

Red-shouldered Hawk at Circle B

Red-shouldered Hawk

It’s always good to get out to Circle B.  The pesky myna showed up at the nature center later in the afternoon.  Maybe next time I will get to see him!

Rare Smooth-billed Ani at Viera Wetlands

There’s a new celebrity in town: the Smooth-billed Ani at Viera Wetlands!  This bird is common on the Caribbean islands but the Florida population is on the decline.  So when a single Smooth-billed Ani was spotted at Viera Wetlands, many birders flocked there to see him.   He’s been hanging out at the entrance to the wetlands for the past couple of days.  The bird is remarkably predictable, frequenting a particular patch of Brazilian Pepper on the north side of the water treatment plant.  He’s also remarkably tolerant of the circus of cameras, scopes, and iPhones pointed in his direction.

Smooth-billed Ani at Viera Wetlands

Smooth-billed Ani at Viera Wetlands.  View larger on 500px.

When my dad and I first arrived at Viera, the ani was nowhere to be seen.  So we spent a few hours driving through the wetlands, enjoying the best morning of photography I’ve had in a long long time.  (More on that in an upcoming post!) Of course we checked for the ani on our way out, and there he was, perched up on top of a bush just a few feet from my car window.  What an incredibly cooperative lifer!

Smooth-billed Ani at Viera Wetlands

Smooth-billed Ani at Viera Wetlands

I saw a similar bird, the Groove-billed Ani, at Lake Apopka a few years ago.  The Smooth-billed Ani looks very similar, but he he lacks the indentions on his bill.  The anis are very social birds, living in family groups of birds.  Apparently they nest in a communal nest, with each female adding her eggs to the nest, and all females sharing incubation responsibilities.  Kind of like a rookery but different!

Smooth-billed Ani at Viera Wetlands

Smooth-billed Ani at Viera Wetlands

The Smooth-billed Ani feeds primarily on insects, and he forages on the ground.  So it wasn’t surprising that our bird spent a good amount of time hidden in the grass, but he popped up every 10 minutes or so.  Cue the cameras!  We spotted him in the Brazilian Pepper and on nearby bushes.  If you haven’t ever seen an ani, you might mistake this guy for a crow or a large grackle.  Until you hear him…this guy sounded like no bird I’d ever heard!

Smooth-billed Ani at Viera Wetlands

Smooth-billed Ani at Viera Wetlands

The rust-colored buildings in the distance didn’t provide the greatest background for our celebrity bird (see below image), but with a little bit of creative camera positioning (a.k.a. silly photographer contortions), I was pretty happy with the first image posted above.  The bird’s tail was definitely worn, and perhaps explains why he ended up all by himself at Viera.

Smooth-billed Ani at Viera Wetlands

Smooth-billed Ani at Viera Wetlands

While it’s fun to see a rare bird, and unusual to have the opportunity to get really good photos of him, I kind of felt sorry for this guy.  I hope he finds his way home soon.  Or maybe he’ll bring his family to live at the Viera Wetlands – that’d be ok, too! :)