Chatting with Buffleheads at Sweetwater Wetlands

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It’s been a while since I visited a new birding location. So I drove up to Gainesville to visit Sweetwater Wetlands Park. My target birds were the uncommon Le Conte’s Sparrows and Yellow-breasted Chat that have been spotted at the park. Sweetwater reminded me of Circle B or Orlando Wetlands, and I enjoyed a nice long walk as I meandered around the park.

My first bird of the morning was this Great Blue Heron in breeding plumage, stalking his breakfast in the morning light. Surrounding him were coots…and more coots…and more coots.

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron

Sparrows are most active in the early morning, so I headed immediately for the Le Conte’s location. A couple of other birds were also watching for these rare birds. We found lots of Savannah Sparrows, but no Le Conte’s. The wind picked up after a while, so I moved on to enjoy the rest of the park.

Savannah Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow

This Limpkin was showing off his long beak. Usually Limpkins eat apple snails, but this one grabbed what looked like a clam. He pranced around with it for several minutes before setting it down in the shallow water and attacking it with that long beak.

Limpkin with Clam
Limpkin with Clam

I headed back to the entrance of the park, where the Yellow-breasted Chat has been spotted. A few years ago, a chat frequented the Lust Road entrance and Crazy U at Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive, but I never got to see him. So I was a little surprised at how easy it was to find the one at Sweetwater. I stood in the general area, watching the Carolina Chickadees, and then spotted a bright flash of yellow. He was a big warbler. He moved very quickly, hopping from bush to bush, defying my focusing skills as I followed him from bush to tree. But I managed a few shots – what a pretty bird!

Yellow-breasted Chat
Yellow-breasted Chat

Then I headed to the pool where a volunteer told me the Buffleheads have been hanging out. While I’ve seen Buffleheads before, these were closer and more cooperative than the others I’ve photographed. Especially the males. Their feathers sparkle in the sun and shine with a beautiful iridescent sheen. What a great way to end the morning!

Bufflehead
Bufflehead (Female)
Bufflehead
Bufflehead (Male)

The One We Missed

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We’re all still smiles remembering our hummingbird banding experience with Fred Bassett. The next time I went to my parents’ house, we went outside with cameras to try to spot our pink-headed birds. We didn’t see a pink head – but we definitely saw a hummer that Fred didn’t band. He was nectaring at a penta flower. I enjoyed this little series that shows how quick and flexible these birds are!

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Close Encounter with the Whooping Cranes

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It’s not often that you drive by a field and come upon two of the rarest birds in North America. When they are super-close and you can get head shots, it’s a really good day!

Whooping Crane
Whooping Crane

The Whooping Crane is the tallest bird in North America. It is a cousin of our Sandhill Cranes. In the early 1900s, there were only 21-22 Whooping Cranes alive. Thanks to intense conservation efforts, there are around 600 Whooping Cranes alive today. Two of them like this particular field in Lake Wales. I saw them there a couple of years ago and they looked pretty much the same in 2020, even down to the broken radio transponders on their legs.

Whooping Crane
Whooping Crane

Of course the birds were heavily backlit in this rare opportunity to be so close to them. The best light I could find was harsh side-light, which totally blew out their beautiful white feathers. Look at that gorgeous red head. I wonder if the birds realize how rare and special they are.

Whooping Crane
Whooping Crane