Friday morning, I drove down to St. Marks NWR and used the Tower Pond Trail
to get to the outer levee. I shouldered my scope and started walking North
into a stiff wind. Black-crowned Night Herons were barking as they flew
overhead towards their Headquarters Pond roost. The stars were fading and
the Eastern sky was already a pale blue that shifted to a narrow band of
light orange near the purple clouds on the horizon. High-flying ducks
passed me as they came in from Apalachee Bay.
I was heading for a raised area on the levee where it passes over a water
control culvert. The extra height would give a good view out over Mounds
Pool III for the morning flight. It was close to first light by the time I
got there and set up my scope. Flocks of Snowy Egrets were coming in from
the marshes flying at eye level. A Harrier slowly glided through spooking a
flock of Blue-winged Teal. Hundreds of Dunlin flew low over the mudflats,
their bellies flashing white as they turned before settling down again.
First light came and Great Egrets started to fly. Small flocks of ducks,
mostly Redheads, began to move. Greater Yellowlegs began to chase prey in
the shallow water. A Bald Eagle flew the length of the pool. Its progress
marked by eruptions of ducks and waders.
This is the best part of the day.
With the sun risen I started walking back, scoping the North end of the
pool as I walked. There were dozens of waders; Little Blue & Tricolored
Herons, Snowy Egrets and White Ibis. A flock of dark ibis landed and began
feeding. They were mostly White-faced, but there were a few Glossies. A
large flock of American Avocets were sweeping the water, walking between
Green-winged Teal. There were over a hundred Northern Pintail.
As I got closer to the end of the pool I ran into White Pelicans, immense
birds with a nine-foot wingspan. A lone Snow Goose sitting with them looked
tiny. Ducks were still flying in, Gadwalls, Redheads, Scaup and Hooded
Mergansers. They landed among the ducks already on this end of the pool,
mostly Redhead, but including a few Mallards and Black Ducks.
We are nearing the end of Fall migration and the refuge is beginning to
settle in to its winter species profile. Populations of Horned Grebes and
Common Loons are beginning to increase on Apalachee Bay and all of our
regularly occurring winter duck species have been reported. Duck numbers
have quadrupled in the last three weeks.
There are still migrants that will be arriving or passing through for a few
more weeks. Sandhill Cranes are flying high overhead bound for the
peninsula and undulating lines of White Pelicans are passing through the
refuge. This is the best time to watch for geese. We mostly get Snow Geese,
but Ross’ and Greater White-fronted are possible.
These are still trying times. Be thankful we have St. Marks as a refuge.