Rosyfinch Ramblings
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February 2010
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STA-5: The Mother of all Treatment Ponds
Filed under: General, Birding & Outdoors, Florida & SE US
Posted by: Ken @ 4:55 pm

Birds and birders flock to water treatment plants. My first experience with one was the sewage pond at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. It was a green oasis in the otherwise arid desert, chock full of shorebirds. It smelled to high heaven!

This one has a modest name, Stormwater Treatment Area Number 5, STA-5 for short, managed by the South Florida Water Management District, and located south of Lake Okeechobee in no-man’s-land of Hendry County. In the middle of the sugar cane fields, STA-5 consists of four large shallow ponds that occupy an area of eight square miles. Audubon of Southwest Florida calls it one of the best birding spots in all of Florida.

Similar to domestic sewage settling ponds, STA-5 receives waste water and allows impurities to precipitate out and serve as food for millions and billions of trillions of microorganisms, algae and water plants. But unlike urban sewer plants, the source of the water is runoff from Florida’s generous summer rains, and the waste is agricultural effluent from the many farms upstream. Fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides dissolved in the runoff are captured and stored before purified water is released into the Everglades. Phosphorus is the main culprit. The Everglades are historically poor in nutrients, and phosphorus stimulates the growth of cattails that overrun the sawgrass that normally carpets the River of Grass.   

Although remote and at the end of a mile-long unpaved road, it is rather easy to find, about twenty miles south of Clewiston on otherwise good paved roads. The drive down to to STA-5 is a destination in itself.

A Crested Caracara roosted atop a utility pole:

Crested Caracara 2-20100215

A large flock of Black-necked Stilts waded in the shallow water of the northeast pond:

Black-necked Stilt 20100215

One stilt appeared out of place as it rested alone on the shore:

Black-necked Stilt 2-20100215

American White Pelicans were everywhere:

American White Pelican in flight 20100215

A compact group of Short-billed Dowitchers slept as one kept a wary eye on its surroundings:

Short-billed Dowitchers 20100215

Another dowitcher foraged in the shoals:

Short-billed Dowitcher 20100215

A male Belted Kingfisher dove recklessly from its wire perch after a small fish:

Kingfisher Dive 20100215

The kingfisher then hovered, hoping for another meal:

Belted Kingfisher 20100215

It stayed in one spot in the air, the better to see movement in the water below:

Belted Kingfisher 2-20100215

An American Bittern was almost invisible against the vegetation as it stood motionless among Snowy Egrets and a Glossy Ibis:

American Bittern with Heron and Ibis 20100215

A Caspian Tern, with others of its kind in pursuit, held on to a fish:

Caspian Tern 20100215

An Anhinga dried its wings, surrounded by Common Moorhens and Blue-winged Teal:

Anhinga Teal Moorhens 20100215

A Roseate Spoonbill, one of many at STA-5, cast a colorful reflection:

Roseate Spoonbill 3-20100215

Nearby, another spoonbill preened:

Roseate Spoonbill 2-20100215

A flock of Fulvous Whistling-Ducks paddled by:

Fulvous Whistling-Ducks 20100215

A Black-crowned Night-Heron flew over:

Black-crowned Night-Heron 20100215

A Black Skimmer created a linear wake, its reflection so crisp that I had trouble telling which side of this photo belonged up:

Which way is up 20100215

Another skimmer inscribed a curve in the water:

Skimmer Wake 20100215

This skimmer displayed its unique bill in a fly-by:

Black Skimmer 5-20100215

This photo demonstrated the skimmer’s bill at work, close-up and personal:

Black Skimmer 3-20100215

A male Snail Kite hunted for Apple Snails:

Male Snail Kite 20100215

This is one of at least two pairs of Snail Kites that were present:

Snail Kite Pair 2-20100215

Two Cassin’s Kingbirds, vagrants from the Western US, so common in our New Mexico front yard, caused excitement:

Cassin's Kingbird 2-20100215

A pair of Western Kingbirds, a species which wanders to Florida more commonly, provided a nice plumage comparison. Note the softer gray on its head and lack of contrast with the light chin:

Western Kingbird 20100215