Friday, September 27, 2013

Birding and Business

Anyone who travels for work knows that it is not at all glamorous. You arrive, usually late at night, after a day of negotiating airports, rental car counters and shuttles, luggage carts, and hotel reservations. You eat something on the run and try to get a good night's sleep. Exhausted after working all day, you head back to the airport, rarely getting any time to see the city you are visiting.

Last week I traveled to Orlando and Central Florida. Whenever my travel arrangements are such that I have to add a day, I try to include something fun or touristy in the area. Concerned that a Sunday flight might arrive too late to allow me to drive 90 minutes north of Orlando and not be exhausted on Monday, I added a day to the trip.  We've been to visit The Mouse, so I decided to schedule birding time instead of doing the usual things in Orlando.

Arriving late on Saturday night, I got up early on Sunday and drove to DeLand, a small town off of Interstate 4. My destination was Blue Heron River Tours. Driving through the sub-tropical landscape along the winding river, I admit to thinking I heard echos of "Dueling Banjos" playing. After a while, and after dodging a suicidal Muscovy duck, I arrived at Hontoon's Landing. I was a little early and the captain told me he was expecting three more people so the tour would be a very small group. By 10:00 a.m. no one else had arrived so the tour was a private one. Kudos to the captain for not cancelling!

A lot of the birds were the same birds we see along the Texas coast and inland waters--herons, ibis, and such but I was able to see an Anhinga. We do have this bird, related to the cormorant in Texas but I'd so far not managed to actually see one. This one preened and posed very nicely for the camera! Some of the heron were similar but different, like this
Little Blue Heron
Immature Little Blue
Little Blue Heron who was so blue it was almost unreal. Young Little
Blues are white and frequently mistaken for young Snowy Egrets.

Meandering along the river, the boat actually made a big circle and we encountered an alligator basking on a tree trunk, as well as turtles and many other birds. Lazing down river was an old-style paddlewheeler. These old steamers were the only way to navigate the St. John's River in years bygone and they played an important role in the economic development of Florida.

Florida Scrub Jay
After the 2-hour cruise, I headed to Deltona and the Lyonia Preserve. This preserve is actually part of the Volusia County Regional Library where I was going to be speaking the next day. It's open on Sundays from 1:00-5:00 p.m. so the birding was not as good as I had hoped due to the later time and higher temperatures. Actually, after walking for about 30 minutes I had heard a few birds but not seen a single one! Disappointed, and sweaty, I was about to give up when this Florida Scrub Jay started dancing in front of me. I sat on a concrete wall next to the walkway and waited for this bird and a buddy to come back so I could get photos! Restricted to the rare oak scrub areas of Florida, this bird is the only Florida bird found only in Florida so it made the trip really worthwhile. One of their favorite foods is the acorn.

I sometimes take photos even when I'm not sure what the bird is or if the photo will even be viewable. The wonder of digital photography is that I can take 20 shots and it's okay if only one is good. Thankfully I decided to take a photo of a bird I could barely see in a tree. Turns out it is a Loggerhead Shrike. This amazing bird is small and hardly looks like a predator. Actually it is quite ruthless, hunting lizards, insects, mice, and other birds. It stabs its prey on its hooked beak and then impales the meal on thorns that hold the unfortunately creature while the shrike rips it apart. Nature is not always pretty!

There were many other birding areas in Central Florida but this was all I could fit in for one day. Thankfully, I had that day because shortly after I left the Lyonia Preserve monsoon rains started and continued through Monday. If I had not come in early, I would have missed so much beauty.

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