Don and I are getting up there in age — olderish, as some may say. In this Florida heat, we are warned not to spend too much time outside. But the weathermen don’t have to warn us. We know that when the thermometer reads in the 90s, we should be inside and hydrating.
However, like other outdoor folks, birdwatchers can get a bit stir-crazy when cooped up inside. Even though many of us have good views and can watch out the window for wildlife, it is just not that same as going out and feeling the excitement of special discoveries.
We are fortunate to live in what I believe is a fairly birdy area, where we are surrounded by interesting wildlife. Just last night, we had a barred owl hooting in an area with mature pine trees. I tried my best, but in the fading light I could not locate it.
We and residents in our development have sighted quite a few birds here: Snowy egrets, great egrets, double-crested cormorants, anhingas, pied-billed grebes, red-shouldered hawks, American robins, common grackles, common moorhens, black-bellied whistling ducks, swallow-tailed kites, black vultures, sandhill cranes, brown and white pelicans, northern cardinals, tufted titmice, pileated and red-bellied woodpeckers, blue jays, ruby-throated hummingbirds, wood storks, ground and mourning doves, brown thrashers, four heron species and a pair of yellow-billed cuckoos.
Birds are everywhere. As we drove home yesterday evening, there was a large flock of nighthawks wildly flying along Holopaw Street. What a lovely greeting. The previous afternoon, as we were driving with friends to a restaurant, we spotted an unusual bird gracefully walking down the sidewalk. I grabbed my phone to get a photo so there would be no naysayers. I called it immediately as a juvenile yellow-crowned night heron — a nice sighting.
With so many possibilities nearby, we decided to do some birding close to home. Since we didn’t want to get heatstroke or be caught in a thunderstorm, we opted for a method that some purists will sneer at. You can look down on it if you like, but for us, birdwatching from the car is a simple compromise we’re happy to make.
Off we went with bottles of water (and Don with his thermos of coffee) to explore the ‘hood. It’s not unusual to see great egrets, white ibises and great blue herons foraging in the ditches, especially after a good rain. Even after 16 years of living in Florida, it’s still wonderful to see all of these common but beautiful birds almost daily.
We started out our “birding in the ‘hood” trip in Rotonda Meadows, looking for the burrowing owls. As we slowly drove through the rather barren area, we spotted a few loggerhead shrikes on the wires. Several mockingbirds flitted back and forth in the bushes. A red-tailed hawk glided slowly across the clouded sky. Red-shoulder hawks are much more common here, and so we were glad to spot the red-tail.
We stopped at a wetland area and watched white ibises, great egrets, little blue herons and cattle egrets foraging in the muck. The large ponds and lakes had no birds — probably because they were too deep after the huge rain storms we’ve been having every night.
We finally made it to the burrowing owl area. Unfortunately, we only spotted the burrow, not the owls — but did see another red-tailed hawk.
Our next stop was a pond by a trailer park. We were thrilled to find three limpkins feeding voraciously in the bank of the pond. We also sighted fish crows and a common grackle, and had a flyover from a black-crowned night heron. Several ground doves were picking in the grass and some mourning doves were up in the trees.
As we drove along Placida Road, we sighted many ospreys. Some were in their sloppy nests on the poles; others where wheeling overhead. A small group of black vultures were busily tearing up some carrion in a grass area.
After spending several hours driving through the area, our last stop was the Englewood Sports Complex. While birds were absent, it was exciting to see several peninsula cooter turtles. One was as large as my biggest frying pan. This biggest cooter had her head extended and it was quite handsome with a striped neck.
Birding done, we went to the grocery store, where we actually added several rock doves (pigeons) to our list since they were lolling around in the parking lot. We were home in time for the big thunder and lightning, which suits me fine. I love birding, but not enough to go out in a lightning storm.
Abbie Banks is a member of the Venice Area Birding Association, a group of folks who want to enjoy the environment and nature without the cumbersome politics of an organized group. For more info on VABA or to be notified of upcoming birding trips, visit AbbiesWorld.org/references.html or email her at Amberina@aol.com.