American Coot – Walking on Water

I have always found it both amazing and amusing when American Coots take off and run across the top of a pond.  Apparently it takes awhile for their little wings to provide enough lift to get themselves airborne, so off they go skipping over the surface of the water in a fashion that reminds me a lot of a pontoon plane.

American Coot (Fulica americana)

  

Cutler Wetland: Coots and Ducks

Last weekend I visited the Cutler Wetland to see what types of waterfowl were congregating there.  We are in the midst of fall migration and have had a lot of rain recently, so I was excited to see the various species of waterfowl and ducks that would be hanging out.  It turned out there wasn’t a wide variety, I was only able to identify American Coots and Blue-winged Teal, but the numbers were abundant.  I counted at least twenty Blue-winged Teal and there were hundreds of American Coots.  The normally quiet waters of the wetland sounded like a rushing brook, which as I listened, I realized was from the sound of hundreds of little paddling feet.

Hundreds of American Coots congregating at Cutler Wetland

American Coots in the reeds

American Coot (Fulica americana) 

American Coot (Fulica americana) 

Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)

Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)

Blue-winged Teal coming in for a landing

Blue-winged Teal  swimming to the other side of the marsh

Backyard Birding – Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt

The pond behind our backyard has changed a bit over the last few weeks.  We haven’t seen any American Coots for a while, and the Ring-necked Ducks have migrated to wherever Ring-necked Ducks go for the summer.  But we have some newcomers – a few Black-necked Stilts.  These lively wading birds prance and peck through the shallows at the pond’s edge looking for beetles and tadpoles.  Their high contrast black and white markings and their bright pink legs, make them a joy to watch for both birders and non-birders alike.

Nature vs. Video Game

Last Sunday I called my six-year-old daughter to come outside to see the American Coots chasing each other in the pond behind our backyard.  She had just started a video game, so I was surprised when she readily agreed and stepped outside.  We watched their game of tag for a little while and then decided to take a walk around the small pond.  It was a beautiful mid-November South Florida afternoon — perfect walking weather.  We began by tossing some bird seed at some of the Muscovy Ducks who roam our community.  Then we continued along keeping our eyes peeled for what the Great Outdoors had to offer.  I scanned the trees for sparrows and finches, while she was fascinated by the little rust-colored butterflies fluttering in the grass.  Eventually she announced that I was the bird explorer and she was the the butterfly explorer.  That was just fine with me.

Feeding Muscovy Ducks

Along the way we ran into a Greater Yellowlegs that I had first spotted a few weeks earlier.  At the time I had first seen this very interesting wading bird, I hadn’t been sure if it was a Greater or Lesser Yellowlegs, but this time he let me get pretty close and I was able to watch him for quite a while.  His long bill was approximately twice as long as the thickness of his head and had a slight upward curve. A Lesser would have had a shorter, straighter bill.

Greater Yellowlegs

We continued our walk and approached a group of approximately twenty birds that had been swimming in the middle of the pond.  As we drew near they suddenly took to the air in unison and flew away from us, resettling seconds later at the far end of the pond.  I had been watching them from my window the last few days and they had been diving below the surface so I had just assumed they were more American Coots.  We have had coots in the pond ever since we moved in this past summer.  But when these guys left the water and sped across the pond it became very obvious that they were not coots.  They were ducks.  They were a lot smaller than the Muscovy Ducks, but duck nonetheless.

Ring-necked Ducks

We slowly made our way toward these newcomers, not wanting to startle them, but needing to get closer if we were going to have a chance at identification.  It seemed that every time we got within a certain distance they would relocate further away, but eventually we found a spot under an wooden overhang that allowed us to watch from a comfortable distance.  The ducks had black heads and backs. Their bellies were gray.  They had small yellow eyes and black bills marked with bright white stripes.  Some of them were a little brownish in color with less striking features.  Later when I was able to identify these shy swimmers as Ring-necked Duck, I found out the brownish ones were the females.

American Coot and Muscovy Duck

We eventually closed the loop around the pond and were back to our yard.  I expected my daughter to run back in to finish the video game she had paused an hour before, but when I began to walk toward the door, she said that she wasn’t ready yet.  So we hung out under the shade tree in our backyard and talked and picked some of the little flowers growing in the grass until she was finally ready to go back inside.  Nature won this round.

Until Next Time,

The Bird Explorer with the Butterfly Exploring Daughter

American Coots Congregating

American Coot

When we moved in to our town house a couple of months ago I noticed a lone American Coot swimming in the pond behind our building. I watched her (or him) as she swam back and forth across the pond. Every now and then she would quickly dart under the water and come back up with a tasty snail or seed. After a few days of observing this coot I realized that she had burrowed a little home base for herself into one of the grassy banks of the pond. I thought about her being alone and where the other coots might be. I wondered if American Coots were loners or if she had become separated from her group somehow.

Last week, much to my surprise, I noticed a second coot swimming in the pond next her. A few days later I spotted a couple juveniles. Yesterday morning I surveyed the pond and I counted six coots. I am happy to see these new arrivals and I am guessing the coot is too. Unless, of course, coots are really loners after all.

Reinforcements Arrive

The Broken Foot Birder

I have been fascinated by birds for most of my life, and during the last few years I have flirted with the idea of taking up birding (bird watching) as a hobby. But, like most of my bright ideas, this one remained an idea that stuck in my head but never turned into any real action. Then one day as I was rescuing a small child from the jaws of a rabid alligator, I broke the fifth metatarsal in my left foot. Actually that is a bit of an exaggeration; alligators don’t get rabies. Now back to the story. I broke my foot. Okay. Fine. I was moving a bed downstairs and I missed the last step. The way that my foot was broken isn’t really the point of this post, but it was very painful and I was heroic as I bravely fought back the tears and asked my wife to drive me to the emergency room.

So why am I talking about my broken foot on the first post of my bird blog? The reason is my broken foot was the catalyst that moved the idea of birding from the back of my mind into action. The broken foot kept me still and grounded and forced me out of the fast-paced, “what’s next?” tempo that my life had become. For several weekends all I could do is watch the little slice of the world that was available to be viewed through the sliding glass door in my living room.

My back yard runs into a man-made pond that was carved in between two rows of town houses, but, as I was to find out, just a little bit of water will attract all kinds of life. When you have nothing else to do but sit and watch you really begin to notice things that you wouldn’t otherwise. During those few weeks of watching that pond I saw several species of birds. A King Rail perched on the concrete rim of a drainage pipe scanning the water for fish. Small groups of juvenile White Ibises combed the grassy slopes in search of insects. Muscovy Ducks patrolled yards surrounding the pond, some with ducklings in tow, and some leaving little dropping on my back porch. A Great Egret waded in the shallow waters and then stretched is large white wings and glided away. Chimney Swifts buzzed all around one evening feeding on flying ants, but unfortunately not getting all of them. I also discovered that a lonely American Coot has burrowed a home base in to a grassy hill just yards from my back yard. Altogether I counted nine different species of birds, viewable just outside my window.

The last few weeks have been refreshing and eye-opening and have inspired me to get off the couch and out into nature. If I can see nine different types of birds from my living room just imagine what I will find when I go out looking for more. I have a couple more weeks of until I can walk again, but I already have plans to begin exploring all of the wonderful venues for observing nature that South Florida has to offer. I plan to take pictures and to write about my adventures here. I also hope to get my soon-to-be-six-year-old daughter interested in birding too, but that might be pushing it.

Until Next Time,

The Broken Foot Birder