Red-winged Blackbirds vs Red-shouldered Hawk

A few weeks ago my brother and I took our kids out to the Cutler Wetland to try out our new binoculars.  We watched some wading birds foraging in shallows, while the kids kept themselves busy looking through the wrong ends of their binoculars.  They ended up discovering a snake egg.  Other than the egg and the usual cast of waders, there wasn’t much else going on at the Wetland so we decided to see what might be happening on the other side of a small embankment across the road.  There we discovered a group of Red-winged Blackbirds harassing a Red-shouldered Hawk.  The hawk stood his ground stoically, as the blackbirds scolded him and dive-bombed the area around him, making sure not to get too close.  I grabbed my camera and crept in as close as I dared to squeeze off a few shots.  Eventually I got close enough that the hawk decided to relocate himself.  He turned and flew away, keeping close to the ground with several red-winged blackbirds hot on his trail, probably thinking that they had finally succeeded in warding him off.

Red-winged Blackbird harassing a Red-shouldered Hawk
Dive-bomb!
I’m ignoring you.
Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)

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Birding the Everglades: Chekika State Recreation Area

Chekika State Recreation Area is another great birding location just a few minutes from the suburban sprawl in southern Miami-Dade County, FL.  Until last weekend I never knew it existed, despite growing up less than thirty minutes away.  Chekika is part of Everglades National Park and is open to the public between December and May.  The Chekika facility includes a small pond, a hammock with a hiking trail and a large lawn suitable for picnics. It is surrounded by sprawling fields of sawgrass. My short visit there on Sunday yielded several different bird species, including some firsts for me.

A Killdeer, one of my new favorite birds.

“Hmmm, let’s see if there is anything to eat over here.”  (Little Blue Heron)

“Ummm, Maybe I’ll try somewhere else.” (Little Blue Heron)

I originally identified this as a Red-tailed Hawk, but stand corrected.  It’s a Red-shouldered Hawk.

Red-shouldered Hawk

He watched me closely, but never left his post.

Green Heron, active as usual.

Great Crested Flycatcher

A pair of juvenile Common Moorhens stopped by for a drink.

Birding the Everglades: Anhinga Trail

I invited my dad to join me on my latest birding expedition. My dad is a great appreciator of nature, and is probably the biggest reason why I have grown to have such a love for birds and nature. During my childhood my dad would always stop to notice the little treasures that exist in nature. That sensibility somehow made through my thick-headed and distracted adolescence and now it is instilled in this adult version of me. The two of us had a wonderful time enjoying what nature had to offer.

We decided to venture down to the southern end of Everglades National Park.  We found ourselves tackling the Anhinga Trail and the Gumbo Limbo Trail, which are both just a couple miles inside the main park entrance in the Royal Palm State Park section. Every time I make out to the Everglades I find it incomprehensible that the sprawling suburbs of a major city are no more than a fifteen minute drive away. Once you get out there you are immersed into a completely different world. The “river of grass” dotted with hammocks and pinewoods extends farther than the eye can see. Birds and other wildlife that rarely or never venture into to the nearby neighborhoods thrive, although their continued existence is threatened by South Florida’s increasing growth.

Thanks to the recent generosity of a very good friend my ability to capture digital images of my birding experiences has been greatly upgraded. Here are a few of the many wonderful birds we saw. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Eastern Wood Pewee

Anhinga (Breeding Plumage)

Double-crested Cormorant

Red-shouldered Hawk

Purple Gallinule

Green Heron

Shark Valley, Everglades National Park

Last weekend I loaded up the family and set off for Shark Valley, at the north end of Everglades National Park.  It was an overcast day and we drove through a couple of rain showers to get there, but once we had parked and bought our tram tour tickets the sun peeked out and the remainder of the day was beautiful.

Shark Valley is a great place to observe exotic birds and other wildlife in their natural habitat, because it is really nothing more than two paths running out to an observation tower eight miles deep into the swamp.  Once you’re out there it is wilderness as far as the eye can see.  I’ve been out there several times in the past with my bicycle, but this time we opted for the tram tour, because an eight mile bike trek would probably be too much for my five-year-old to handle.   The tour was narrated by Ranger Mel.  He did an excellent job pointing out animals and educating us about the Everglades’ history, natural features and the challenges it faces.  As a novice birder, I was especially grateful for Mel, because he identified the bird species we saw.

Female Anhinga

Female Anhinga

Anhingas perched on the trees hanging over the deep water areas drying their wings in the sun.  It is easy to distinguish the females from the males, because they have a sandy-white head and crown.  The male Anhingas are almost completely black.

Red-shouldered Hawk

A Red-shouldered Hawk watched us from the high branches of a distant tree, making me wish I had a better camera.

Great Egret

Great Egrets perched atop the little Cypress trees that dot the “River of Grass.”

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron

A Great Blue Heron stalking new hatched alligators, begrudgingly yielded the road as we approached.

In addition to the birds I was able to photograph we also saw Black Vultures hovering overhead ready to perform Nature’s clean up duties.  American Crows as big as ducks observed us closely on our ride in and on our ride out.  Northern Mockingbird flew in hopping and skipping patterns from bush to bush and a lonely Western Osprey hovered high above everything.

My wife and daughter, who were initially somewhat skeptical at the idea of spending an afternoon in the wilderness, ended having a wonderful time.  My daughter said her favorite bird of the day was “the fat one.”  Later, I discovered that she wasn’t referring to me, but the Red-shouldered Hawk, which coincidentally was my favorite bird of the day as well.

Until Next Time,

The Fat One