Beyond the BackyardLake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

January Field Trip – Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Yesterday was the January field trip to the Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands, a restricted-access SWFWMD property.  It was Birdie Paradise.  We drove onto the berms and just didn’t know what to photograph first.  Birds were everywhere – in the skies, in the grasses in front of us, in the marsh waters and reeds.  It was like being a kid in a candy store, and not knowing which delicious treat to sample first!  In my previous blogs about the Christmas Bird Counts (December 2014 and December 2013), I detailed a lot of the birdlife in the outfall wetlands.  So today’s post will focus on my favorite birds and images…

Belted Kingfisher in Flight
Belted Kingfisher in Flight

This was my favorite image of the day, taken during one of the day’s brief periods of sun.  (Hey, at least it wasn’t raining the whole time like it was in November!)  This Belted Kingfisher likes to hang out on one of the posts that is part of the water reclamation facility.  He repeatedly flew in, looked around, went out to look for a fish, and then returned to the post.  I got lucky and happened to click the shutter as he took off.  Look at his wings!  If you’ve ever been in a marsh before, you’ll often recognize the call of the Belted Kingfisher  long before you see him.  He darts and zips around, making him a fun photographic challenge.  Yesterday, I succeeded. :)

Fulvous Whistling-ducks
Fulvous Whistling-ducks

We were very happy to see a total of 32 Fulvous Whistling-ducks during the field trip yesterday.  That’s up from 4 during last month’s Christmas Bird Count.  Yesterday was really my first day to hear the call of the Fulvous repeatedly, and I really liked the almost metallic quality of their calls.  It’ll be handy to recognize their call, as the Fulvous Whistlers are another bird that I often hear before I see.  The ducks at the Outfall Wetlands are extremely skittish, so we got our best looks at them as they blasted off and circled overhead.

American Avocet
American Avocet

The American Avocet is one of the “good birds” of the wetlands.  It’s not common to find avocets so far inland as Polk County.  Yesterday I didn’t see as many as I did on the Christmas Bird Count, and they stayed fairly far off in some of the ponds.  Still, who can resist a good avocet shot?

American White Pelican
American White Pelican

American White Pelicans were everywhere!  Although they didn’t number in the thousands like they did on my last visit, there were still plenty to be seen circling overhead all morning long.  You could certainly smell where they hang out – if the white feathers scattered on the ground didn’t give the location away, the smell of the pelican droppings sure did!  I love the pelicans, maybe because they were once so amazing to watch at Circle B, or maybe just because  of their sheer numbers.  When you look up and see literally hundreds of birds congregating as far as your eye can see, that’s pretty impressive.  (Not to mention hard to photograph!)

Black-necked Stilt
Black-necked Stilt

So, speaking of that pelican poo, I got a little closer to it than I wanted when I saw this Black-necked Stilt on the edge of a pond.  It was walking along the shoreline, just feet away from me.  The best way to get a good image is to kneel down, even if you are surrounded by pelican droppings!  I made many images that I really liked, as the bird really cooperated for us, but this was my favorite.  It shows the bird’s extreme long legs, and in looking at the image, I really get the sense that the bird is on stilts.  Can you imagine living your life suspended on top of such long legs?  I guess they come in handy when you sink down into the mud as you search for food…

Caspian Tern
Caspian Tern

Caspian Terns are pretty common at the Outfall Wetlands.  Yesterday they were in with a group of gulls, in a “feeding frenzy” that was such fun to watch.  A bird would grab a fish, and then everybody else would dive after that bird…  Look at the bright reddish-orange beak of the Caspian!

Hooded Mergansers
Hooded Mergansers

There were a ton of Hooded Mergansers in the waters, and I had fun trying to photograph them in flight.  They fly really really fast!  The birds at the Outfall Wetlands aren’t used to people, so they tend to be very skittish.  If only most of my flight images weren’t birds flying away from the camera…

Snail Kite
Snail Kite

The birdie celebrities at the wetlands right now are the Snail Kites, who are fairly new residents.  During the Christmas Bird Count we counted 5 different Snail Kites, and yesterday we saw at least 3.  This juvenile bird sat obliging in the reeds for us and let us photograph him.  Wouldn’t it be cool if they nest at the wetlands?  With the apple snail population booming, the birds would have no problem finding food, and the wetlands seem like a great place to raise a family of kites.  Maybe I’ll find out if they are nesting at the next field trip!

As always, thanks to Cole Fredericks for organizing these field trips that allow access into one of my favorite birding locations.  :)

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