Pond-side Birdwatching in Florida,
from Chaplain Bob’s Backyard: Part 3
by James J. S. Johnson
Like a crane or a swallow, so did I chatter: I did mourn as a dove: mine eyes fail with looking upward: O Lord, I am oppressed; undertake for me. (Isaiah 38:14)
But they that escape of them shall escape, and shall be on the mountains like doves of the valleys, all of them mourning, every one for his iniquity. (Ezekiel 7:16)
O ye that dwell in Moab, leave the cities, and dwell in the rock, and be like the dove that maketh her nest in the sides of the hole’s mouth. (Jeremiah 48:28)
Doves (a kind of birds that include pigeons) are among the most commonly observed birds in the world. Doves display great variety (mourning dove, turtle dove, zebra dove, Inca dove, white-winged dove, etc.), the most popular variety being the pigeon (whose more formal name is “rock dove”). Doves illustrate 2 different nesting habits (both being mentioned in Deuteronomy 22:6-7): some nest in trees or other high places; others nest on the ground. Pigeons are often seen, due to their conspicuous habit of domesticating urban habitats (such as city buildings and bridges), nesting in high places (as indicated by , feeding, and flying in plain view of human spectators – often learning to accept food from humans, or to scavenge human garbage. However, other doves (such as mourning doves) nest on the ground, a more vulnerable lifestyle. Doves that nest on the ground, however, tend to be more reclusive (hiding in bushes and other thick vegetation), so they are more often heard than seen. For example, in this birding report, brief mention will be made of a cooing mourning dove – that was heard, but not seen.
As reported previously, at Lee’s Birdwatching Adventures, it was a wonderful morning in St. Petersburg, where 3 of us (my dear friends in Christ, Chaplain Bob and Marcia Webel, and I) were watching the duck-populated pond and its bird-visited shores, with coffee and feet propped up, in the Webels’ backyard — under a huge beach umbrella, shielded from occasional droppings (!) from ibises and ospreys (who were perched in branches hanging over where we were) sitting with binoculars, coffee mugs, healthy breakfast foods, and a bird-book. Mostly we were bird-watching, that morning, but also we were bird-listening!
MUSCOVY (a/k/a “MUSCOVY DUCK” or “BARBARY DUCK”: Cairina moschata).
RTP @ 52-53 & 302-303
The Muscovy Duck is a strange looking fowl. (And its name refers to “musk”, so it must have a characteristic smell, too!) It is a duck, yet it is large – the size of a goose. Yet even stranger are the colorful growths of red flesh upon its face: the Muscovy looks like someone spilled some red bumpy-lumpy oatmeal on the sides of its bill, and on some of them the “red oatmeal” stuck to the face even around the eyes. This fleshy growth is wattle-like “caruncle”, something like what turkey faces display. Some people dislike the Muscovy Duck simply because its knobby (i.e., carunculated) face looks grotesque or diseased or “corrupted”! But Mallards don’t seem to disdain these beauty contest flunkies; often a Muscovy (or two) is seen amidst a group of Mallards, and it seems that maybe they sometimes hybridize. The coloring of a Muscovy Duck might be mostly white, or mostly black (with iridescent green tinting), or a quilt-patched mixture of black and white, with large white “patches” or “bars” on the wings. (See Roger Tory Peterson, A Field Guide to the Birds Eastern Birds: A Completely New Guide to All the Birds of Eastern and Central North America, abbreviated as “Eastern Birds” [Peterson Field Guides, Houghton Mifflin, 1980], at pages 52-53 & 302-303.) The Muscovy’s awkward gait, when waddling about, sometimes looks a clumsy-looking, but these strange ducks are hearty survivors. Regardless of where they came from (some say Latin America), these ducks are here to stay. A domesticated form of the Muscovy is bred as the Pato Criollo (i.e., Creole Duck), though it seems that many of these have figured out how to escape their intended culinary destinies, becoming semi-wild as escapees. Muscovy Ducks have been observed and studied for centuries. The Muscovy Duck was noted by two of the earliest (and most godly) eco-science geniuses, Konrad Gessner and John Ray, both being Bible-believing creationists. To appreciate just an introductory sample of their trail-blazing creation research, analysis, and scholarship, see: http://www.icr.org/article/christianity-cause-modern-science/ (mentioning John Ray), http://www.icr.org/article/graffiti-judgment/ (mentioning, in Footnote #3, both Konrad Gessner and John Ray), and http://www.icr.org/article/fossil-political-correctness-sixteenth-century (mentioning Konrad Gessner as a Bible-believing Christian ecologist).
WHITE IBIS (Eudocimus albus).
The White Ibis is a white-plumed wading bird, with a reddish/orange-scarlet/pinkish/salmon-colored “decurved” (i.e., downward-curved) bill — shown here (with Dan Dusing, Baron Brown, and me — in a lakeshore photograph taken by ornithologist Lee Dusing) being fed bread crumbs. The White Ibis is a gregarious bird, nesting in colonies and often seen foraging as a group. Its homes are found in coastal mudflats, lakes and lakeshores, ponds and pondshores, and marshy areas. (Obviously this group of ibises have been fed bread crumbs before – they are quite ready for a tasty snack!) During the breeding season the White Ibis also has skinny pink legs (about the same color as its prominent bill, but at non-breeding times these legs are duller in color), — and this bird knows how to scurry about on those legs! The decurved bill, of course, is an excellent tool for probing around in shoreline mud or sand, for little things to eat, such as small crustaceans (like mudcrabs), frogs, or bugs. (Obviously God gets the credit, for designing the ibis bill to accomplish what it does for the ibis, as well as for supplying ibis populations with the food sources they need to carry on the business of life.) If the White Ibis bill snaps your fingers, as you feed him (or her) a bread-crumb, don’t worry! – the ibis’s bill is so light and gentle that its peck doesn’t hurt at all. The White Ibis is found all over Florida, year-round, as well as on the Gulf Coast and America’s East Coast as far north as North Carolina. (See Peterson’s Eastern Birds” [noted above, in entry for Muscovy Duck], at page M105.) Why do fishermen especially appreciate the White Ibis? The ibises eat a lot of shoreline crustaceans (like crabs and crayfish), which in turn eat fish eggs. So if the crustacean populations grow too much, eating lots of fish eggs, the fish populations decline – bad news for fishermen. Without consciously realizing it, therefore, the White Ibis is protecting the reproductive success of coastal fish populations — on which human fishermen (and their customers) rely. (See the National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to North American Birds – Eastern Region [Alfred A, Knopf, 1994 revised edition], co-authored by John Bull & John Farrand, Jr., at page 376.)
GREAT WHITE EGRET (Ardea alba or Casmerodius albus).
The Great White Egret (a/k/a “Great Egret”) is a large long-legged heron-like wading bird, white in plumage, with a yellow bill and black legs. (See Bull & Farrand’s Eastern Region [noted above, in entry for White Ibis], at page 368.) This truly “great” egret is often seen standing, like a statute, on the shoreline of a pond, waiting for movement that would betray the availability, in the shallow water or the shoreline weeds, of a quick meal – perhaps a fish, a frog, or even a snake. Donald and Lillian Stokes describe its eating habits as follows: “Primarily feeds by walking slowly, head erect, then striking prey. Forages in shallow water for small fish and amphibians [like frogs], but also on land for insects, reptiles [like snakes], and small mammals. May feed solitarily and defend feeding areas by displaying aggressively and supplanting intruders. Also feeds in large groups when food is concentrated. Has been known to steal fish from other birds.” (Quoting Donald W. Stokes & Lillian Q. Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to Birds – Eastern Region [Little, Brown & Co., 1996], page 34.) During summer this egret also frequents marshy grasslands, tidal mudflats, salt marsh beaches, and other wet habitats – all over America’s lower 48 states. During winter this fair-weather fowl routinely migrates to America’s East (northward to Delaware), Gulf Coast, and West Coast. It makes guttural-hoarse croaking noises, as well as loud squawking noises, but it is usually seen before it is heard – due to its large size and strikingly white color. Its flight is majestic and gracious — a marvel to watch, with or without binoculars.
COMMON TERN (Sterna hirundo).
The Common Tern is one of the many coastline-dwelling birds that get lumped into the term “seagull”. The Common Tern has been described as “White with black cap and pale gray back and wings. Bill red with black tip; tail deeply forked. Similar to Forster’s Tern, but lacks frosty wing tip. Also similar to Arctic and Roseate Terns.” (Quoting Bull & Farrand’s Eastern Region [noted above, in entry for White Ibis], at page 519.) This seagull likes to nest in colonies, often on sandy beaches or on small islands, near lakes, bays, or ocean tidewaters. Unsurprisingly, the males are the more aggressive sex, although a male intruder may be rebuffed by a male-and-female pair — so don’t mess with a Common Tern couple! (See “Common Tern”, by Donald W. Stokes & Lillian Q. Stokes, in Bird Behavior, Volume III [Little, Brown & Co., 1989], page 71.)
MOURNING DOVE (heard cooing — Zenaida macroura).
Many books could be written about the Mourning Dove, and about its many cousins – such as the “pigeon” (Rock Dove) – that inhabit so many rural, suburban, and urban places around the world (as noted above, at the beginning of this birding report). But a better description and appreciation for this bird must wait another day, because this report is already too long! So, for now, this report closes with a passing mention that “mourning” was heard that morning – the plaintive cooing of the (well-named) Mourning Dove. But no need for sadness – because it will soon be (God willing) another day for pondside birdwatching in Florida!
On the morning of February 9th, AD2015, from the pond-side backyard of Bob & Marcia Webel (while enjoying breakfast and Christian fellowship with the Webels), I saw 14 birds: Great Blue Heron, Brown Pelican, Mallard, Double-Crested Cormorant, Black Vulture, Wood Stork, Lesser Scaup, Osprey, Snowy Egret, and Florida Gallinule, as reported previously, — and, as reported hereinabove, Muscovy Duck, Great Egret, White Ibis, and Common Tern, plus the cooing of a nearby Mourning Dove was clearly recognizable. What a morning!
James J. S. Johnson loves duck ponds, having formerly taught Environmental Limnology and Water Quality Monitoring for Dallas Christian College, as well as other courses on ecology and ornithology. Limnology terms are not universal: what some call a “pond” others call a “lake”. [NOTE: Some use the temperature of the bottom water as the lentic nomenclature determinant: if the bottom water is the same temperature, year-round (i.e., regardless of whether it is winter or summer), it’s deep enough to be a “lake” – otherwise limnologists call it a “pond”.] Regardless of this semantic custom, the “pond” viewed in the foregoing bird-watching report is called “Lake Coronado” in Florida’s Pinellas County. J