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Bird Beauties of Viera

Sunday, February 13, 2011

If you can't get a good photo of a great blue heron in Florida, there is something wrong with you. But you can get wonderful photos of all kinds of much scarcer and shyer birds at Viera Wetlands, and the photographers all know it.

A glossy ibis preens its coppery plumage.

You beautiful thing. For this birdwatcher, for decades, glossy ibis have been just dark shapes through a spotting scope, and now here you stand right before me, preening unconcernedly.

A drake hooded merganser hides in the rushes, yellow eye like a panic button.

He gathers his mate and out they glide, and I am too close to get them both in (I'm digiscoping with Bill of the Bird's Leica rig, and loving every second of it). For more on the equipment I rather inexpertly used for my closeups, go to Jeff Bouton's Leica Birding Blog.

White ibis are confiding and nice, and pretty much everywhere around Space Coast.

 But the limpkin is a specialty of Viera Wetlands, and this is where wonderful photographers like my friend Marie Read come to immortalize them. Just look at her gallery of a spectacular limpkin fight at Viera!

They were in a much more pacific state of mind when we visited, but the air still rang with their staccato calls. Limpkins, more closely related to cranes than to their lookalike ibis, specialize in eating apple snails, and the empty shells strewn on the shore attested to their efficiency. I love their Latin name: Aramus guaruna. The origin of Aramus is unknown, according to Ernest Choate's Dictionary of American Bird Names, but the Guaruna are a tribe inhabiting the Orinoco region of Venezuela. There are not many bird names in Choate's gem of a book whose origins are unknown, and I like the air of tropical and systematic mystery surrounding this strange and noisy bird. According to, it's called "Limpkin" for its jerky, awkward flight, but the Internet is full of tautologies. Jury's out on that. I can attest that the limpkin's haunting, hollow, cackling call has much of the resonance of the sandhill crane's purr, and that's good enough for me. Here's "Inspirational Sheila's" brief video of a limpkin calling. I have to confess I hadn't really thought about the limpkin's crane affiliations, but the voice truly gives it away. Listen to this bird's putts and then the full-out cry.

It was good to see and hear this dusky little brother of the crane.

News flash! A palm warbler actually on a palm!!  a sabal, to be exact. I like this photo a lot. You can even see its shadow.


A shoveler nearly in full breeding plumage. Most of them were looking tatty.  

A lady of the lake (tricolored heron) fishes the clear waters. Hard to believe they were in a shower or toilet at one point...

Sun has its myriad attractions, but the colors of tricolored herons really show nicely in overcast, as on this rainy first visit to Viera.

The once endangered wood stork, another success story for conservation. I really though I'd never be lucky enough to see one, so critically endangered were they when I was growing up. It seems Ol' Ironhead is everywhere now. How lovely to have a true stork in North America. Nyah nyah, Old World. We got one too

and ours has pink feet!

Spectacular birdie he is. I almost drove off the road on my first visit to Fort Meyers in the early 90's, when I saw a bunch of wood storks in a roadside ditch. While I was growing up, wood storks were quietly making a comeback in Florida, spreading through the Southeast. I hadn't known. And now they are a reasonably common sight.

So many things to celebrate! It is what it is, and much of it is good.


Yes Viera is a wonderful place to photograph. I was there in December and a Limpkin stayed on the bank 20 feet away from me and I also got a great video

I will never forget the Limpkins calling while I paddled the Oklawaha, under a full moon, all of 17 years old. My pal and I were on a three day canoe adventure and we didn't have a clue where we would stop to camp that first night ... or any of the nights for that matter.

At 17, you just go for it.

When the shoreline proved to be only wet swamp as the sun set, we decided to push on in the moonlight.
Somewhere that evening, tired and drowsy, but still paddling and seeking high ground, we both got the heebie jeebies as the limpkins started their eerie calls.

We didn't know what it was, but we paddled a lot faster and finally found a patch of higher swampy ground to camp on.

It was years later when I realized what we had heard that night.

What an amazing place Viera is. I love the concept of wetland water treatment and to have it double as a birdnificent place is especially sweet.

Great photos!

Your palm warbler looks like me on my first visit to New York City.

I love your commentary and photos! I learn so much, and you are such a positive voice. Thank-you.

Great birds and photos, Viera looks like a place I would love to visit someday.

Floridacracker, thank you for that story. I'm still trying to sum up your manificence in a post.

Murr, me too. Ga-aaw-lee!

Michelle, thank you. I learn a lot, too, and was tickled pink to make the link between limpkins and cranes in researching this post. It's all in the voice, no?

Well, JZ, I think we can officially name this a Photography Blog. Your Palm Warbler shot is my personal favorite for its artistry but I love them all. I'm taking my camera to Florida whenever I can get there.

Not a birder till I moved to FL about ten years ago, I love the big birds here...wood storks are something I see every day (they look to me like ancient silent film doyennes, hunched in old finery, lost in remembered glories); limpkins industriously process the ditches bordering cow pastures on my way to work; swallowtail kites cruise the neighborhood in summer in an efficient grid pattern, heart-stopping in their grace and elegance. How can you not fall in love with these birds?

Gorgeous pictures that you made there. I didn't know that you've got so many birds up there.

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