Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Darling Birds

One of my (missed) target birds on our Florida trip was the elusive Mangrove Cuckoo, which is found in its namesake mangrove forests along the Florida coast. The J.N. Darling Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island showed some of the most recent MACU reports, and I was eager to visit the remarkable mangrove swamps, a habitat we don't have on the west side of the country. 
The drive onto Sanibel island was lit with a beautiful sunrise. Frigatebirds and Pelicans soared over the connecting bridges, while Laughing Gulls scavenged near the road.

Ospreys were incredibly numerous in the area, and were in fact the most numerous bird I saw on Sanibel, after Laughing Gull and Sanderling. It was yet another bird that occurs often in Arizona, but seldom with such up-close visibility.

The J.N. Darling Refuge is a loop trail several miles long. It can be accessed by vehicle for $5 or on foot. Since the toll-bridge cleaned out my cash I had to hoof it. Although there was plenty of noise around the refuge, many of the birds were unsurprisingly difficult to see. Winding moats of gulf water encircle all of the walkways and the dense mangrove vegetation concealed the birds. 
This Red-bellied Woodpecker perched atop a street light near the visitor center, and was one of the few non-water birds I'd get a good look at during the walk.

The Mangrove Cuckoos were always a bit of a long shot, but I was pretty confident, and with good reason, that the Darling Refuge would turn up one of my old friends from Texas. 

This was the first of several lovely Yellow-crowned Night Herons, just hangin' out doing heron stuff.

While going to school in Dallas, my disgusting dank dingy apartment complex had a gunked-up fish pond near the front office, you know, to help with curb appeal. The apartments were terrible, but the fish pond drew in several YCNHs in the evening.

I'd sit out and watch the Night Herons hunting around the water's edge, watching them snap up minnows, little frogs, and even crawfish.
At one point while I was sitting out near the water, I observed one YCNH pull out a particularly massive crawfish, far too big and pinchy for it to swallow. It ditched the crustacean right near my bench, and since not everybody can say they've had fresh-caught seafood that was caught for them by a night heron, we boiled that invasive crawfish up and et' him with garlic butter.

A few Little Blue Herons, Ibis, and Cormorants added to the day's list, but it was hard to get visual on smaller birds. The one exception to this, of course, was the merry Cardinal. They were all over the refuge, constantly making me chase after their scurrying silhouettes only to finally focus and then feel disappointment. There's nothing wrong with Cardinals of course, but they ain't Cuckoos.

While these red birds sent me on red herrings, I also came across various other inhabitants of the island, including adorable little mangrove crabs, anole lizards, and this Black Racer.
I didn't know if it was poisonous, so I went ahead and had it bite me just to be sure.

The tour was very enjoyable just for the habitat, and I was pleased to get some Night-heron photos as well. The Cuckoos didn't materialize but a lifer even came out of the mix in the form of this bug-eyed Mottled Duck. Score!