Friday, September 30, 2011

Angry Birds

Friday, September 30, 2011
The new Nature's Classroom facility at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.

I was down in the Florida panhandle a while ago, helping to open a wonderful new building at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge called "Nature's Classroom." This facility will serve as a resource for area residents, teachers, students, birders, photographers, and nature enthusiasts, giving them a place to meet, learn, explore, and a base from which to enjoy St. Marks NWR.

Some of the team responsible for the new Nature's Classroom building at the ribbon-cutting.

While there I gave three talks and lead a couple of bird walks, one of which was on the Plum Orchard Trail behind Nature's Classroom. We had 30 or so folks along, including some keen young bird watchers, and the birding was fairly good, considering it was a hot, muggy afternoon. We had lots of red-eyed vireos, eastern kingbirds, a green heron, immature white ibis, little blue heron, tricolored heron, pine warbler, four woodpecker species, and a noisy flock of brown-headed nuthatches. But the most interesting sighting happened right at the end of the walk on the sandy pool of water behind Nature's Classroom.

As we returned on the loop trail, one of our group spotted two shorebirds out on the pool. We initially thought they were spotted sandpipers because there were lots of spotties around and because they were teetering their tails the way that spotted sandpiper often do. But as they came out of the vegetation and walked closer it was clear that they were the larger solitary sandpiper. And they were really behaving weirdly: running around excitedly, bobbing almost constantly, looking into the grass.

Solitary sandpipers doing their best Angry Birds impression.

That was when the object of their attention slithered into view: a banded water snake came gliding toward the birds. The birds seemed to be conflicted about this: should they run or should they fight? As soon as the snake would head away from them, the solitaries would chase it. If the snake came toward them, they scampered away. Certainly the snake was too large for them to kill and eat, and I'm not sure that the snake could have subdued the sandpipers, so they were left to perform pantomime parries and thrusts with no actual attacks.

The whole scene lasted just a few minutes, but it was interesting to watch. I guessed that these birds might have been youngsters migrating south with the fall, and this might have been their first snake encounter.

Solitaries and the water snake.

This was my first trip to St. Marks—one of our oldest national wildlife refuges. What a fantastic place it is! I'm certain I'll be back again for another visit.


On September 30, 2011 at 6:45 PM Julie Zickefoose said...

Neat and very rare photo, I'd wager, of solitary sandpipers confronting a snake. They're tree nesters in the Far North, using old gray jay nests (pretty odd behavior for a sandpiper), so they probably don't come into conflict with snakes on the breeding ground, but they still recognize a predator when they see one.

On October 1, 2011 at 3:48 AM Anonymous said...

I've only ever seen one at a time in South Forida. Could they be siblings perhaps? Tree nesters? Julie, what a cool fact!
Kathy in Delray Beach.FL

On October 2, 2011 at 6:33 PM Chatterbirds said...

What a wonderful sounding place and how cool to see that interaction between the Solitaries and the water snake. We need lots more of classrooms like those!

On October 5, 2011 at 3:18 PM Rondeau Ric said...

super photo Bill, timing is everything.

On October 5, 2011 at 3:18 PM Rondeau Ric said...

super photo Bill, timing is everything.

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