Sunday brought me an unexpected "Valentine's Day gift" when I walked with Sarah down to the bridge over the South Fork of Hammock Creek and spied a roseate spoonbill high up in an Australian pine. It was huddled close to a stork, and in the same area but scattered more widely were three or four great egrets. Unfortunately, even with my zoom I couldn't get close enough to the spoonbill for a good picture, and the spoonbill wasn't giving me a good pose, either. Still, it's the first I've seen around here, and while I have never been one to favor the color pink, I couldn’t help thinking what an appropriate sighting this bird made for the day.
An unmistakable bird of south Florida’s mangroves and freshwater estuaries.... The light pink wings and back of immature birds deepen gradually over three years when adults take on a much brighter pink, highlighted by an orange tail, bright red rump, shoulders, and chest patch, and black skin on sides and back of neck. The broad, flattened bill is distinctive in all ages.
- Herbert W. Kale, II and David S. Maehr, Florida’s Birds: A Handbook and Reference (1990)
According to this book, spoonbill population in 1990 was on the increase, even as their habitat was being lost. “The survival of this species,” the authors note, “depends upon maintaining its shallow feeding grounds.”
Spoonbills as a rule don't hang around this far north. They belong in a warmer climate and prefer south Florida and the Bahamas to our rough-and-ready Nature Coast. Since they visit these parts only occasionally, you'd think this one would have come later in the spring rather than during furnace weather. Maybe the other night’s fierce wind blew the bird here against its will?
Whatever the reason, its visit was a nice bit of serendipity for us, as our bedtime reading is still Inagua (we’re about halfway through) a true story set in the Bahamas, and it was only a couple nights ago, just after I'd read during the day the wonderful little natural history book called Mangrove Island, by Marjory Bartlett Sanger, that we reached the chapter of Inagua in which the narrator follows a flock of spoonbills up a mangrove-lined creek inland from the ocean. The chapter had lots of discussion on mangroves, reinforcing what I’d read in the other book, to which David added a mangrove experience of his own, years ago near Miami. You do not want to get caught up in a mangrove swamp after dark, let me tell you! The narrator of Inagua was nearly devoured by mosquitoes, no one would ever have found his body, and it was all because he couldn't resist following those siren spoonbills--they are that spectacular.
See here for pictures that really tell the story.