When we look at a satellite view map of central Florida, we see a swiss cheese pattern, land pocked by myriad holes containing water. It's not surprising that there are stories in the news regularly about people inadvertently driving their cars into lakes and canals. They're everywhere! These wet spots are a huge draw for all manner of water birds: full time residents as well as birds like us passing through. As we learned in our recent visit to the Orlando Wetlands, these wet spots are not just good places for birds and people to go fishing. They also serve as a natural water cleaning mechanism with the soil filtering out unwanted elements before the water returns to the water table.
While we don't fancy ourselves as bird watchers, if we stay here much longer, we may have to change our tune. We love being outside in nature and around here that means soggy soil and impressive birds. At home it seems like all the birds are brown or gray and small. We can hear that they are there and once in a while catch a glimpse as they flit around, but that's about it. Recently, our campground was visited by huge flocks of robins. We could hear them chattering with each other, but it took hours for us to spot one in the thick vegetation holding still long enough for us to see that distinctive red breast. It was like a visit of friends from home, but at home they usually just sit on the lawn sucking up worms and bugs. Here they were congregating high up in the trees. Their behavior was so different from what we see at home I had to Google, and learned that probably we were seeing the results of hormone surges. Mating follows soon. After leaving lots of "presents" on our windows and new picnic table, they moved on.
We've heard a lot about the Viera Wetlands and decided to check them out on a beautiful blue sky day, made even sweeter by the news of the Polar Vortex back home. Unlike where we are camped, the area had gotten a lot of rain that night and the roads were so muddy, that cars were forbidden to enter. We had planned to drive around all the small lakes, which you usually can do, but walking was probably better for us and better for spotting the birds. We were far from the only bird watchers there. These birds are used to company and rarely fly away because you are nearby. This gave us plenty of time to observe, admire and photograph. The Sandhill Cranes are among the tallest and stride around in pairs acting like they own the place. Once again, I feel badly that I have not sorted out more of their names. When I look at my photographs, I can't tell if that white bird is the one that was one foot tall or two feet tall. When I study labeled photographs of birds, the puzzle is complicated by the fact that the juveniles can appear far different from their parents. Males and females also can differ dramatically. Excuses, excuses!