Saturday, May 10, 2014

Florida: Limpkins and the Like

Limpkin (Aramus guarauna)
Of all the birds you can find at Green Cay Wetlands, the most interesting - and peculiar - is probably this one: the Limpkin (Aramus guarauna). 

Limpkin (Aramus guarauna)
Limpkin (Aramus guarauna)
Limpkins are odd in any number of ways.  They are the only living members of their family, the Aramidae.  They have no obvious close relatives, though they are probably closest to cranes.  They are dietary specialists, feeding almost exclusively on apple snails (Pomacea sp.).  Their call is a blood-curdling shriek - hearing one at night, you might be forgiven for thinking that some poor soul was being murdered out in the marsh.

Limpkin (Aramus guarauna)
Limpkin (Aramus guarauna)
Limpkin (Aramus guarauna)
They can be difficult to see, and are far from a guaranteed sighting at Green Cay, so I was quite enthusiaastic about showing this particularly compliant individual to my grandson Ryan, on a visit to Florida from Malaysia in December 2012.

Though I think Limpkins are quite beautiful, in a subdued way, I'm not sure that Ryan (who was five at the time) necessarily understood why this particular bird was so much more interesting than the other feathered regulars in the neighbourhood.

Limpkin (Aramus guarauna)
I'm not sure that the Limpkin was enthusiastic about us, either.

American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus)
Oh, well, on to other birds.  Here is one that is even harder to see at Green Cay than a Limpkin: an American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus) peering at us from its hiding place in the vegetation.

Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)
I don't know if I ever noticed before That Black-crowned Night Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) have yellow soles to their feet. This immature, busily scratching its head, demonstrates the fact quite plainly.

Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)
Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)
 These rather more sedate adults appear to be quietly waiting for the evening hours to arrive.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
 Meanwhile,  the more diurnal wading birds were active as usual, giving Ryan plenty to look at.  Here, a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) flies past.

Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
 A Cattle Egret  –  here, a Western Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis),  less orange-headed that the Eastern Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus coromandus) that Ryan  might have seen in Malaysia – poses among the reeds....

White Ibis (Eudocimus albus)
... while a White Ibis (Eudocimus albus), the bird we saw Ryan admiring in my last post, stands guard along the boardwalk.

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)
Land birds show up at Green Cay too: Red-bellied Woodpeckers (Melanerpes carolinus) breed here...

...while Palm Warblers (Setophaga palmarum) drop by for the winter.

Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)
The standard bird of prey at Green Cay – vultures aside – is the well-marked Florida subspecies of the Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus).

Merlin (Falco columbarius)
 It is not the only one, though. A Merlin (Falco columbarius) often winters here...

Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus) do Northern Harriers (Circus cyaneus).

Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)
 This is not an ideal shot, but it does show one of the Harrier's chief field marks, its white rump.

Osprey (Pandion haliaeetus)
Ospreys are frequent in the area too - no surprise to find a fish-eating hawk over a wetland!

Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)
Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)
Like any child, Ryan enjoyed watching the ducks.  This is a male Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors), the commonest wintering duck at Green Cay.

Green-winged Teal (Anas carolinensis)
Green-winged Teals (Anas carolinensis) are considerably less numerous.

Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)
Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)
I had to explain to Ryan that, appearances notwithstanding, this was not a duck but a Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps).  He was happy to watch it all the same...

Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)
...and I was particularly happy to get this photo of a grebe with its wings open.  They don't pose like this very often! 

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