Friday, October 30, 2009

Birding Myakka River State Park

Thursday I received a text message from the Sarasota Bird Alert telling local birders that a group of maybe 100 Roseate Spoonbills had been seen in a small wetland adjacent to the the Myakka River in the state park. With the Spoonbills was a multitude of Wood Storks, numerous other herons and egrets plus two American Avocets. And while all of these were being watched a juvenal American White Pelican was seen checking out the feeding frenzy. Needing both the Avocet and White Pelican for my Sarasota County list I was out the door before dawn headed to the park just southeast of Sarasota.

This basic information about Myakka River State Park is located on its website:

One of the oldest and largest state parks, Myakka protects one of the state´s most diverse natural areas. The Myakka River, designated as a Florida Wild and Scenic River, flows through 58 square miles of wetlands, prairies, hammocks, and pinelands. Visitors can enjoy wildlife viewing from a boardwalk that stretches out over the Upper Myakka Lake, then take to the treetops with a stroll along the canopy walkway. The park´s river and two lakes provide ample opportunities for boating, freshwater fishing, canoeing, and kayaking; a boat ramp provides access to Upper Myakka Lake. Hikers can explore trails that cross large expanses of rare Florida dry prairie.
The Myakka River had overflowed its banks on numerous occasions in September. However with the onset of the dry season (funny how we never really had a wet season this wet season) a small wetland adjacent to the river at the first bridge crossing had been cut off from the river. As the heat continued and the water diminised in area all sorts of fishes and frogs and larvae and other goodies that birds love to forage on were trapped in this constantly shriveling patch of wetland. To the birds it was an invitation to pig out.

Arriving at 8:05 this morning I was greeted with this scene:

There were at least 200 Wood Storks in the wetland each feeding feverishly. Many times I observed some intra-specific aggression between two or more foraging Ibises. And to think I had always viewed them as sanguine!

Next in abundance to the Wood Storks, perhaps numbering 150 or so were the Roseate Spoonbills.

Along with all of the tall pink and white birds was a cast of the usual herons and egrets expected here. It seemed like Tricolored Heron was second only to Snowy Egret in abundance.

As the sun heated the air burning off the heavy layer of fog that greeted me when I first arrived I was able to view the muddy shoreline of the wetland were there was a nice collection of shorebirds, the most beautiful of which being American Avocet, starkly beautiful in its black and white winter plumage.

Adjacent to the feeding frenzy in the pond was the requisite assemblage of American Alligators that are virtually guaranteed to be seen in the Myakka River. Today there were five monster gators chilled out in the water, perhaps hoping some itinerant bird watcher would come a little too close for a picture.

There was no alligator-on-human predation that I saw today, but I was able to witness some predation a bit later in the morning.

Leaving the feeding frenzy of herons egrets spoonbills and storks I moved further up the road passing through some exquisite forest.

Every time I am in Myakka River State Park I get this melancholy feeling looking at these forests thinking about how 100 years ago the entire countryside here looked like this. Untrammeled. Im place. Undisturbed. Wild. This is my image of what people are talking about when they say something is "Old Florida." This forest reminds me of what Florida is supposed to look like, not what it has become.

I saw or heard a nice assortment of passerines as I passed through the forest, eventually coming onto a flock of Black Vultures who were dining on what once was an Armadillo.

From the forest I drove north to the boardwalk known by everyone as the "Bird Walk." This boardwalk constructed out into the wetland at the edge of Upper Myakka Lake gives visitors an unparalleled opportunity to get a feel for the wetland and all the critters in it while still keeping their feet dry.

At the upper end of the birdwalk there is a wider area where you can set up a spotting scope and scan the wetland. I had hoped for American White Pelican here but had no such luck. There was, however, an abundance of other birds including hundreds of Blue-winged Teal, some Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and no shortage of Mottled Ducks.

There were probably 25 to 30 American Alligators in view most of the time as they paddled around the edge of the lake looking for breakfast. One gator became exceptionally lucky as I watched.

Laying in the water disguising himself as a log, the gator's eyes must have widened as a juvenal Roseate Spoonbill slowly and methodically foraged its way toward what it thought was a log. The gator lay still until the spoonbill was about 1 inch closer than it should have been. Suddenly the gator leaped (well as much as a gator can leap) up catching the spoonbill not only 1) by surprise but 2) in his jaws 3) in the middle of the spoonbill's body. It was in an instant. Suddenly there was a flurry of feathers and the gator is next seen swimming away with breakfast in its jaws. Somewhere out there in the primordial soup of evolution old Charles Darwin is smiling right now thinking "damn, eugenics is such a beautiful thing." Could it still think, the spoonbill would be agreeing with him.

I saw and or heard 55 species in 2 1/2 hours at Myakka River State Park this morning. Not a half bad showing. Perhaps the overall "best" bird of the morning aside from the great show of feeding herons, was the Sedge Wren I found in the sedges (duh) adjacent to the Birdwalk.

The morning's list is reproduced here.

Pied-billed Grebe

Double-crested Cormorant


Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Tricolored Heron
Little Blue Heron
Snowy Egret
Cattle Egret

Wood Stork

White Ibis
Glossy Ibis
Roseate Spoonbill

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Mottled Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler

Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture


Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk

Common Moorhen

Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet


Wilson's Snipe
Long-billed Dowitcher
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper

Laughing Gull

Mourning Dove

Belted Kingfisher


Red-bellied Woodpecker

Eastern Phoebe

Tree Swallow

Carolina Wren
House Wren
Sedge Wren
Marsh Wren

Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird

Fish Crow

Northern Parula
Palm Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Common Yellowthroat

Savannah Sparrow

Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting

Red-winged Blackbird
Boat-tailed Grackle


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