There are a number of special wetlands where marsh birds rarely seen elsewhere may be commonly observed at close range. Most of these are impounded, constructed, and/or restored wetlands that are shallow with lots of emergent plants and receive waters enriched with nutrients from sewage, stormwater and/or agricultural effluents. It is intriguing that such highly disturbed, but now restored/created wetlands, are so attractive to wetland birds, and so easily accessible to wildlife watchers. The famous phrase “build it and they will come” seems appropriate in this context. Some examples in FL are Celery Fields, Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Viera Wetlands, Lake Apopka, Harn’s Marsh, and STA 5. A lesser known site near Lakeland which my wife, Margaret, and I have visited is the Circle B Bar Ranch or Reserve (CBBR) owned by Polk County. More information is available at:
She took some photos recently which demonstrate some of the remarkable birds to be seen during a short walk along dikes there.
One of the most sought-after marsh birds is the American bittern (see two photos) which are remarkably camouflaged in the marsh vegetation, and often stand very still with their beak upwards. One feature of reserves such as the CBBR, is that birds become used to people passing by without threatening them, and thus sometimes excellent views of shy birds may be obtained as shown here. One wonders what such a large and mobile bird is afraid of in any case, and perhaps predatory birds, and mammals such as bobcats or foxes are a threat to them, or at least their young.
The snipe is also extremely well camouflaged (see photo) and distinctive with its long beak for probing for small invertebrates in the mud. Another bird with a very long bill is the king rail, which seems designed for catching small invertebrates such as crayfish and frogs, but does not probe as deeply in the mud as do the snipe and woodcock. The limpkin is a much larger bird with a long heavy bill which appears to be well designed for shucking the flesh from apple snails and from bivalve molluscs.
An interesting feature of the fact that marsh birds are often most common, or at least more easily found, in previously disturbed but impounded, restored/created wetlands is that bird watchers become spoiled by the ease with which they may find both rare and common birds of great beauty. Thus when faced with the prospect of finding birds in a more natural marsh environment, they may not understand why relatively undisturbed or “real” marshes are quite difficult places in which to find wildlife.
So I encourage all wildlife watchers to spend at least some of their time outdoors in truly “natural” habitats to give themselves an attitude adjustment back to reality after having spent time in beautiful but somewhat artificial places such as CBBR.
Bill Dunson, Englewood, FL & Galax, VA