After so much excitement, I’ve neglected my camera recently and wanted to finally spend some proper time searching for Florida’s wildlife. I’d been told about a good spot for wading birds, and knew that the inhabitants included my new favourite bird, the roseate spoonbill. I set out before sunrise and reached the water just as the sky was beginning to lighten; pinks and oranges blending with blue.
My first sighting was almost immediate. Perched on a branch overhanging the lake and peering curiously as I wound down the window was an anhinga. With both heron and cormorant-like features, anhingas spear fish under the water with their long, sharp bills. The name originates from the Brazilian Tupi language and translates as “devil bird”. I don’t quite see the devilish resemblance – I found the anhinga delightful, especially when it shook out its striped wings. Like cormorants, anhingas hold out their wings after swimming to dry them. This one looked like either a female or a juvenile, as males are jet black with silvery streaks.
Soon the anhinga was joined by a yellow-crowned night heron, shoulders hunched down as if with cold. With a white cheek patch and a pale crown of feathers that looks more white than yellow, the yellow-crowned night heron is actually nocturnal, so I must have been really lucky to catch a late glimpse just before the sun emerged.
Elsewhere in the tree was a green heron, who was more brown than green so was perhaps a juvenile. Apparently, green herons are known to throw insects into the water to encourage fish to the surface, which is genius and must look amazing to see.
Suddenly a snowy egret burst into view, legs dangling and panicked wings flapping. There was a deep, kronking call as more birds surged upwards. Puzzled, I glanced around for signs of a raptor, when a disturbance in the water caught my eye. There, gliding without a sound, was an alligator. My first alligator! I could hardly contain myself. All I could see of it was a pair of eyes and nostrils, so I had no idea how big it was, which was perhaps more nerve-wracking than seeing the whole animal. Even from the safety of the car my paranoia imagined the alligator leaping headlong at the open window, but it just cruised out of sight and the birds soon calmed down.
I wandered further on to try and find a spoonbill. There was a loud rustling above and I looked up to see the trees absolutely covered in white ibis; wading birds that gather in large groups all across Florida. I was spoilt for choice for photos. Although they’re not the prettiest of birds, their long, red bills still looked impressive, especially when they all took off in one simultaneous swoop. In the absence of car engines and people this early on a Sunday, the only sound to be heard was the wind in their wings which sounded so magical.
After watching them leave I wondered what had scared them off. Once again I scanned the trees for signs of a raptor and this time I found one: a stunning osprey with a fish in its claws! I’d only seen ospreys once before in Scotland, all the way across a loch that made taking photos quite the challenge. This osprey, however, was a tree’s height away and sat in a perfect patch of sunlight that made its yellow eyes dazzle. It spotted me straight away and watched as I took photo after photo. Eventually it gathered up its breakfast and took off, just as the first dog walker came into view.
At 9:30am it was already getting too hot to be out without a hat, and my hastily eaten bowl of cereal at 6am seemed far away. I’d loved to have found my spoonbill, but having seen a bonus osprey and alligator I was far from disappointed. I’d just got back to the car and was fumbling for my keys when I glanced up, and by some miracle there was a spoonbill perched at the very top of a tree. It was the pink cherry on an incredible cake.