Birding Tripleheader, March 3, ’08

Bald Eagle head

Three stops on my birding trip today: The eagles’ nest, St. Lucie Lock, and Dupuis WEMA.

Bald Eagle Nest

I’ve been monitoring this Bald Eagle nest for about a month. It’s located in Martin County, Florida, where I live. There is one chick in the nest, and it has grown dramatically in size.

Bald Eagle chick in nest

I view the nest from more than 100 yards away (about 100 m), to avoid disturbing the birds. There are trees and scrub along the sight line, but eagles have excellent vision and surely can see me. Fortunately, they don’t seem to mind being spied upon.

When I got on site yesterday at 9 a.m. the chick was alone in the nest. It still isn’t flying, but it is trying out its wings.

Bald Eagle chick in nest

Bald Eagle chick in nest

It was windy, but I could plainly hear those big wings flapping! One of the adults flew around the nest and called, then flew away. That got the chick’s attention, though it didn’t call back, but remained silent. About 10 a.m. an adult landed, with a late breakfast for the chick.

Bald Eagle nest

Now the chick got really noisy! The adult, which I’m going to guess was its mother, helped the chick tear up the food. I’ve seen the chick ripping chunks of meat off something when it was alone in the nest, so I’m assuming Mom was indulging the impatient child.

Bald Eagle nest

Despite all the feeding, the chick kept crying for more. About 40 minutes later the other adult brought more food.

Bald Eagle nest

Now the first adult had a chance to eat as well.

Bald Eagle nest

By 11 a.m. things had quieted down, so it was time to say good-bye to the eagles until my next visit.

Bald Eagle nest

There are many more photos of the eagles at this page on my gallery.

St. Lucie Lock

I dropped into this park on the way to Dupuis WEMA. The St. Lucie Canal runs from the St. Lucie River, which flows into the Atlantic, to Lake Okeechobee. You wouldn’t think Florida’s terrain varied enough to warrant a lock, but estuaries like the St. Lucie River are tidal. In any event, water levels are so low now, the canal is closed to boat traffic.

The Corps of Engineers operates the park, but I noticed that some of the land was donated by my local Audubon Society chapter. It was getting windy, so I took only my binoculars on a short walk across the lock and along the canal. More wind-blown than flying, I saw Brown Pelicans, Ospreys, and four Swallow-tailed Kites sailing overhead, and a couple of Great Blue Herons fishing. I plan to go back later this week. For local birders, Locks Road is the first traffic light west of the Turnpike overpass on SR 76. The park is about 2 miles from SR 76, at the end of the road.

Dupuis WEMA

I wanted to look for birds yesterday, but I also needed a long walk. I’ve been doing too much car-window birding lately. It got windier and windier as the day went on, but a short hunting season commences at Dupuis today, so yesterday was the day to go. I drove in to a junction with the Florida Trail.

Okay, I confess, I was hoping to find some Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers (RCW), which are being reintroduced at Dupuis. RCWs are similar in appearance to Downy Woodpeckers.

It’s usually easy to identify a small woodpecker as a Downy, because RCWs are so uncommon around here you don’t expect to see one. Yesterday I had to make the effort to rule out every one I saw. RCWs have a large white area on their cheeks; Downy Woodpeckers have a large white area on their backs. Downies don’t make identification easy. Their habit is to keep the tree trunk between themselves and nosy birders, and it’s hard to see their cheeks from a steep viewing angle. I had to look at this one for several minutes to be sure.

Downy Woodpecker, Dupuis WEMA

In this photo you can see the white back, identifying it as a Downy.

There are other woodpeckers at Dupuis, of course. Most common are the Red-Belllied Woodpeckers. They are a little less skittish around humans.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Dupuis WEMA

From this angle it’s impossible to see whether the red cap extends completely over the top of its head, so we can’t tell if it’s a male or a female.

Nothing liberates my spirits like a walk in the woods. Dupuis is remote enough that I never heard traffic sounds, or even an airplane, and never saw another person. The only sounds were the birds and the wind soughing through the trees. I have a hard time turning back on a trail. I always want to see what’s just up ahead. But I had it in mind to spy on a RCW cavity around sunset, so I turned back a little after 3 p.m. On the way back I came upon a raccoon family out for a stroll. They seemed lighter in color than the raccoons I saw in New England.

Here’s an Eastern Phoebe that generously posed for me.

Eastern Phoebe, Dupuis WEMA

I set up within binocular-viewing distance of an active RCW nest cavity, hosed myself down with bug spray against the mosquitoes, and waited. I’d never get bored looking at this view.

Dupuis WEMA

Other photos I took around this time are on another page of my gallery. While I never saw a RCW, other birds put on quite a songfest as the sun set. I heard a Pileated Woodpecker give a brief call, followed by a reply from some distance away. I believe Pileated couples roost separately outside of nesting times, but call to each other just before dark.

Spending large blocks of time among birds makes you appreciate them as more than eating and reproducing automatons. A Chipping Sparrow briefly alighted to have a look back at me; an Anhinga sat on a branch over a nearby pond and made its guttural croaks; eight White Ibises and a Little Blue Heron finished eating along the bank and flew off for the night; a Great Blue Heron roosted high up on a distant pine. And finally, sadly, it was time for this interloper to pack up and leave as well.

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