Saturday, June 9: Lee County 20/20

During the summer months, the new Lee County conservation property is only being checked once a month, mostly due to the presence of lots of water and to the heat and humidity. Today was the June wildlife survey.

It turned out to be an interesting morning. Of the 30 species of birds identified, four were new to the 2018 composite list of birds, bringing this year's total to 81 species. One of the nicest additions was the Common Nighthawk. Two were seen.

The first, at the top of the page, was a surprise. It was perched in a cypress tree overlooking the trail, but I was unaware of its presence until after I passed it and it flew down and flopped on the ground in front of me with its wings spread. There must be a rational explanation of why it did that, but I don't know it. It was pretty well camouflaged on the ground, but it was hard to miss when it landed just feet away.

The second Common Nighthawk in the photo at the right, was even more of a surprise. It was on the ground in a partially mitigated restoration area with lots of dead Melaleuca branches, bark and trunks on the ground. As I approached, it flew up and landed on a snag not far from me. It may have had a nest on the ground near to me, so I continued on without stopping. Then it flew again, following me, and landed on another snag at my side which is when its photo was taken. I continued on and it didn't follow, so I must have been safely out of its territory. They really are handsome birds.

The other birds new to the list were Green Heron, Roseate Spoonbill, and Glossy Ibis. All were there because of the increased amount of water. In fact, 192 of the 307 individual birds seen were wading birds, plus Mottled Ducks like the one at the left and Anhingas. The most often seen species were White Ibis with 61 individuals followed by Great Egrets with 49 individuals and Snowy Egrets with 23 individuals. Of the nine Roseate Spoonbills seen, two were very new fledglings, perfectly white without a trace of color other than the gray bill. The majority of the White Ibis were adults, but 11 of the 13 Black-crowned Night Herons seen were juveniles.

In addition to the birds, nine species of dragonflies were identified and six species of butterflies.

One of the butterflies, an American Lady, was a lifer for me. I'd seen Painted Ladies before, but never an American Lady. It stood out because of the intricate pattern on the undersides of its wings, right.

The most common dragonflies were Needham's Skimmers and Blue Dashers, followed by Band-winged Dragonlets and Little Blue Dragonlets. Two of the most attractive dragonflies were seen, too: a pair of Common Green Darners and a pair of Roseate Skimmers.

Herps were unexpectedly scarce in spite of all of the water. There were no gators, snakes, or turtles, and the only frogs/toads were Oak Toad, Squirrel Treefrog, and Greenhouse Frog.

The only mammals aside from the cattle were White-tailed Deer. There were several groups of them plus a few soloists. The two stags below were the most tolerant of me. They were grazing on emergent grasses in the shallow water and only look up as I went by. The other deer were does, and they moved quickly away and into the woods.

Tuesday, June 12: CREW Cypress Dome

Swallow-tailed Kite nesting season is approaching the end. Many of the nests are now empty and fledged chicks are in the air and learning to hunt on their own. The kites are also in the beginning stages of gathering in preparation for their migration south.

Today at the regular night time roost, 11 kites were perched in two pine snags in the early morning. Most were preening getting ready for the day. At the start, one of the trees had three kites and a Black Vulture that was also just beginning to stir.

Then a flock of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks flew overhead. Three of them circled and returned to perch in the same snag with the other five kites. The kites didn't seem to mind at all and shared the snags.

Eventually, the kites began to slowly disperse, heading out to forage.

Of the five kite nests that were along the yellow trail, only one should still have been active. The other nest got a late start. One adult was standing on the edge of the nest and frequently lowering its head into the nest, so there are probably chicks in there, but they would still be very small.

However, the two kite chicks in nest CD28, which were branching last week and should have fledged, were now back in the nest and calling continually to be fed.

Other kites were in the air over the area, and one of them was definitely a fledgling with the yellow-tinged neck and breast and the shortened tail feathers.

The persistent begging of the reluctant chicks paid off. One of the adult kites approached the nest with a treefrog in its talons and the loudest of the chicks immediately crouched down and began fluttering its wings. The adult dropped the treefrog into the nest and then continued on. That quieted the chick.

The pair must surely be fledged by next week, but that's what I though last week too.

Water was up along the yellow and white trails with spots on the yellow trail up to 12 inches deep. The cool water was refreshing on a hot and humid morning.

Frogs were less vocal although still present. Many of them have already mated and laid eggs, and some of the small, shallow puddles were full of tadpoles.

In the drier spots, lots of wild flowers were in bloom. Large patches of the Whitemouth Dayflower were especially attractive as were the variety of yellow blooms ranging from Hypericum, Coreopsis, and Piriqueta and more.

Wednesday, June 13: CREW Gargiulo

The Swallow-tailed Kite nest in the Gargiulo tract was empty and newly fledged kites were in the air, so that nest was on time.

With the kites no longer patrolling and protecting the area, other raptors began using the pines for perches to look for prey.

One Red-shouldered Hawk was present as were two Red-tailed Hawks. The one at the left was the most stationary of the trio of raptors, perching for periods of time in one tree and then flying to another for an additional period of time. It was calling out everywhere it went and its voice could be heard over a a good distance from the bird.

Other birds were the regulars, although there weren't any vultures today.

When the kites soared away, they headed in a southerly direction, so on my way out, I checked the regular "migration" roost where they've collected for the past several years.

Three kites were perched in a cypress while another five circled overhead. Two of the five were fledglings, and since the Gargiulo nest only had one chick, there must have been more nests in Bird Rookery Swamp, which was immediately to the west.

Water was up in the Gargiulo tract too, and the lane through the agricultural fields to the wooded area in the back was mushy and wet. My car made it through with no problem, but I'm glad the kite fledged and I won't have to drive through again and possibly get stuck.

Friday, June 15: Corkscrew

Extreme humidity was the most notable feature of the morning. Very few visitors were on the boardwalk, and even wildlife was subdued. Water is higher than last week and now registers on the first water gauge.

Other than a couple of Great Egrets in the area around the first water gauge and some Limpkins along the boardwalk in the same area and near the Carol Ann May bench, waders were still scarce. The Green Heron at the right was sitting on the rail at the landing on the way to the observation tower.

The most frequently seen and heard birds were Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. They were flying from the south to the north all morning. The size of the groups ranged from pairs to "V" formations of up to six ducks.

Several large "V" formations of White Ibis also flew over, but none were on the ground.

Barred Owls and Yellow-billed Cuckoos called, but neither were seen.

Smaller birds were mostly Carolina Wrens, Tufted Titmice, Northern Parulas, and White-eyed Vireos. Cardinals were also visible and vocal.

The smallest bird was the female Ruby-throated Hummingbird at the left. She was dining at one of the Firebush plants in the Rosekrans wildflower garden.

Herps were active.

Green and Brown Anoles scampered across the boardwalk and up trees, a small Southeastern Five-lined Skink foraged in front of the Bunting House a little before noon, Green and Squirrel Treefrogs called throughout the morning, and gators were bellowing in the late morning at both lakes.

Red-bellied and Soft-shelled Turtles were swimming in the lakes, and two Yellow Rat Snakes were out. One was on the shortcut boardwalk and startled two visitors who were afraid to walk past it. Sam, the intern, came along and assured them it was not venomous and that it was safe to walk by it. They did so, but so quickly that they scared the snake.

The only mammals were Gray Squirrels, one Raccoon, and one Cottontail Rabbit.