SPRING INTO SUMMER
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Spring comes and goes pretty quickly in central Florida, at least as far as climatic conditions are concerned. Temperatures can hit the mid to high 80's by early March, and it doesn't feel very spring-like by 10 to 11 in the morning. Nonetheless, seasonal changes in the comings and goings and doings of the birds of Emeralda are a bit more protracted. One of the great pleasures of doing weekly censuses from early March on has been the anticipation of what changes I would see in the avifauna from one week to the next.
Of course, the multitudinous gators continue to become more and more apparent as temperatures rise - lots of the small- to medium-sized ones are out basking on any sunny morning. The activity at the heron rookeries also shows noticeable changes from week to week. Numbers of cattle egrets (left) in and around the breeding colonies have continued to increase through the end of April. The great blue herons (right), some of which were on nests as early as January, are less apparent in the colonies, but becoming more numerous in some areas of the marsh. Young ones presumably just out of the nest are starting to forage on their own. Occasional territorial contests and displays are still seen by foraging adults though - the guy on the right was shot just as he completed his "head-up" display to another great blue that took the message and headed elsewhere.
|I probably see more successfully hunting great blues than any of the other aquatic species, not because they are actually more frequently successful, but because they often feed on such large fish that they often carry them around a bit and manipulate them before swallowing them or letting them go. This guy on the left has snagged a big old bullhead and is wondering what to do next. He ended up flying away with his catch as I tried to get more photos. I don't know if he eventually choked it down or not. Bullheads (or other catfish) seem to be one of the most common prey fish for the great blues.|
|Cormorants are another fish-eating species common on the flow-way during the winter that seem to decline as spring proceeds. There are always a few around, but they are not conspicuous on the rookeries, and the numbers seen on open water are much lower than in mid-winter. The birds on the right, however, are a consistent feature of my census route. There are nearly always a dozen or so birds sitting in this same cypress tree, at whatever time of the morning I happen to pass it.|
|Numbers of ducks show a pronounced drop by mid-Spring. Total density and diversity of ducks decreases fairly gradually throughout March, and by about mid-April, the ducks are nearly gone. A few blue-winged teal (left) and the stray shoveler or ring-neck or ruddy duck are the only wintering ducks still seen by the end of April, although a few wood ducks are present and nesting in the flow-way.|
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