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12/29/08
Waterthrush, Moccasins and a Bobcat
Filed under: General, Birding & Outdoors, Florida & SE US, Birding "Patches"
Posted by: Ken @ 7:53 pm

At 7:30 this morning it was clear and there was no wind, so I slathered on the sunscreen and DEET in hopes of getting some good photos. My destination was my local birding “patch,” that begins on a gravel road only a block from our South Florida home, and ends about a mile into the West Miramar Environmentally Sensitive Land (ESL), a tract of recovering Everglades, formerly grazing land, that our developer had to set aside to mitigate the effects of draining and filling for our subdivision.  

My main objective was to photograph a Grasshopper Sparrow, as I have seen three so far this month, but none provided me with a a decent photo op. On the way in, the actions of two pairs of Killdeer provided evidence that they may have selected nest sites on the shoulders of the gravel road. They called loudly and one gave a brief “broken wing” distraction ploy.

A kestrel eyed me warily from atop a Royal Palm:

American Kestrel 20081226

After leaving the gravel road, I checked out a small patch of dry woodland, where Blue-gray Gnatcatchers frolicked (click on the photo to see this little guy stretch out):

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 20081226

Since the onset of the dry season, water levels have dropped a couple of feet, and I made my usual stop at a formerly marshy area, where Swamp Sparrows sometimes gather. The ground was now mostly dry, but there was a depressed area, not much more than a puddle, where small fish had been concentrated. Some were gasping for air and others were already dead.

I heard, but was unable to locate, a Carolina Wren as it tried to out-sing this Northern Cardinal:

Northern Cardinal 20081229

While I was looking for the wren, a Northern Waterthrush suddenly appeared at the edge of the puddle, not 15 feet away from me (the yellow wash on its breast and eyeline help distinguish it from the less common Louisiana Waterthrush):

Northern Waterthrush Edited 20081229

Palm Warblers were everywhere. Most are very drab, with only a little yellow on their rear ends, but this one had the brighter yellow underparts and chestnut cap of the Eastern race:

Palm Warbler Eastern Race20081229

After following a levee about a quarter mile south, I turned to the west, towards the middle of the ESL, on a path that is muddy or underwater most of the rest of the year. The path had been created by the spoils of a small borrow ditch that parallels on one side. The ditch, flanked by thick shrubs, usually has water all year, and lots of fish when the wetlands dry up. Two 5 foot alligators were visible on the other side of the ditch, and I heard several others splash noisily into the water when I approached.  

This one, about four feet long, continued basking as I took its picture:

Alligator  20081229

In order to get an unobstructed view of the alligator from the edge of the ditch, I had to push (carefully) through the shrubbery. Two Cottonmouths (distinguished from other water snakes by their dark masks, vertical pupils, triangular heads, and their habit of swimming with their heads held high out of the water) swam slowly away from near my feet to the other side (click for additional view):

Cottonmouth 20091229

I never saw a Grasshopper Sparrow (or any other kind of sparrow, for that matter), but was thrilled to photograph my first Cottonmouths and alligators in my “patch.” The best was yet to come, when a good-sized cat suddenly appeared on the path about 150 yards behind me, as I was heading out. Initially, I thought it to be a coyote, then it moved to the side, revealing its heavy body and forepaws. I had to examine the photo closely to be sure it was a Bobcat and not a Florida Panther.

This photo is severely cropped from the original, but it shows the short tail, longer ears and the mottled front legs and chest that distinguish it from a panther (enhanced by DavidRaymond– thanks!):

Bobcat 20081229

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