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It’s in your nature: Some wetland wildlife of Florida

The Times News region isn’t blessed with many marshes, sandy beaches or many ideal birding wetlands. If you travel to “The Shore” you’ll see plenty of marsh and wetland habitats.

If you venture farther south, Delaware and Maryland offer even more opportunities to bird these habitats. BUT as the pandemic (hopefully) continues to diminish our fears, you may be taking that long-awaited trip to one or some of Florida’s theme parks.

A bonus for you and your family is that in either the parks themselves, or on your travels to them, acres and acres of ponds, canals, marshes and lakes are available to investigate. Take a morning break from the hustle and bustle of the crowds and take in what cool bird and wildlife you can find.

Very noticeable and rather numerous are the egrets. These all-white birds seem to be everywhere. Often alongside them are great blue herons and double-crested cormorants. Don’t overlook the common moorhens that resemble red-beaked, gray, big-footed chickens.

They may be swimming in circles in the park’s ponds or using their long-toed feet to walk “on top” of the water hyacinths and lilies. Sometimes swimming among them are coots with their whitish bill and basically black body.

One less common, but rather unique, wetland bird is the limpkin. I might best describe it as sort of a prehistoric-looking bird. Its bill, much like the ibis bill, is used to find its favored food, the apple snails. They are not as brightly colored as egrets or “great blues” and are a bit more reclusive. But if you spend a few minutes searching and are a bit lucky, you may find one.

I did highlight the anhinga in a previous column, but look for this eerie-looking bird perched on or near the water drying its wings. Remember, it is nicknamed the snake bird because of its unusual trait of swimming underwater and chasing and spearing fish. With less oily feathers than diving ducks, it then needs to emerge and dry its feathers from a sunny perch. They are commonly seen near the canals and swamps perched on a low limb or stump.

One other “creature” you may see poking its head above the water is the Florida softshell turtle. The periscopelike head and neck will pop above the water surface briefly as it gulps in some oxygen so it can then resume its underwater search for fish and crustaceans. I was lucky enough to find one crossing between two water courses and included a photo of the rather unusual looking reptile. Of course, the largest reptile you would probably see on your trip is an alligator. On cooler days they would very likely be basking on the sunny shore of one of the same aquatic habitats used by the limpkins, anhingas or egrets.

So if you get to resume some normalcy after this troubling 2020 and early 2021, take a few minutes to locate some wildlife on your Florida vacation trip. Enjoy.

Test your outdoor knowledge: A tree trunk has five layers: the outer bark, inner bark, cambium layer, sapwood and heartwood. Two of these layers are actually dead. They are: A. heartwood and sapwood, B. outer bark and inner bark, C. outer bark and heartwood, D. cambium layer and sapwood.

Last Week’s Trivia Answer: Actually biologists believe the toucans of South America are rather lazy and use the large bill to reach fruits more easily.

Contact Barry Reed at breed71@gmail.com.

This common moorhen, seldom out of the water, is rather common in Florida's wide variety of aquatic habitats. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
The anhinga can be seen in its rather eerie pose drying its feathers after its underwater search for fish.
The often comical coots can be found throughout Florida. They do make an occasional spring appearance in our area as well.
Usually only its snorkellike head and neck are seen poking up through canals and ponds. This large female Florida softshell turtle can commonly weigh about 15 to 20 pounds.