Winter Birds at Sweetwater Wetlands (Gainesville, FL)

From a distance, there appeared to be a lot of dead vegetation in the marsh. It looked like scattered chunks of palm bark.

From a distance, what appears to be dead vegetation.

Then, in the water, I noticed a duck with a bright orange bill. I lifted my binoculars for a better look, and then realized that the woody shreds were moving. This wasn’t debris! Resting among the reeds was a flock of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.

A Tricolored Heron joins a flock of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.

I’d seen these showy birds in the guidebooks, but had never spotted one. But now, as I listened to the flock whistle, I realize I’d been in their presence many times.

As mentioned, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks have bright orange bills. They also have orange-pink legs. Their chests are mahogany or rust-colored; their bellies black; and from the crown of their heads to the base of their necks, they sport black Mohawks. As they move, their wings flash white.

There were large numbers of Great Blue Herons at Sweetwater Wetlands – one of my personal favorites, even though they are relatively common.

A Great Blue Heron camouflages itself among strands of Spanish Moss.

I noticed that the bird’s flowing feathers and gray coloration provide effective camouflage when a Great Blue rests among wispy strands of Spanish Moss.

A Little Blue Heron fishes in the marsh.

Little Blue Herons were also plentiful, and their white offspring mingled with Snowy Egrets and White Ibis.

Immature Little Blue Heron

Juvenile Little Blues can be differentiated from Snowies by their blue-gray bills and patch of blue skin between the base of the bill and the eye. Snowies, in contrast, have black bills and a yellow skin patch.

Tricolored Herons joined the other wading birds.

I spotted a Wood Stork moving along the water’s edge. Because it was moving quickly, I doubted my photos would come out. But it was a good time to practice moving my camera at the same speed as the animal, to reduce blur. I was pleasantly surprised at the clarity of the processed images.

American Coot

Through my 12×42 binoculars, I watched a pair of American Coots diving for salad. I had never seen these birds dive at close range before, and was to discover they leap straight up from the water, leaving the water’s surface before plunging headfirst. Small discoveries like this always renew my appreciation for the animals I meet.

I am always amazed by Red-winged Blackbirds. They fly in clouds, which suddenly vanish as the birds drop into the yellow marsh grass.

Double-crested Cormorant

Today I was especially lucky. I got a good picture of a Double-crested Cormorant, which tend to be a bit skittish.

Male Anhingas are black.

I also took a good, crisp picture of a male Anhinga. Anhingas can be photographically challenging for a number of reasons. They twitch a lot and tend to point their bills away from the camera and toward the water. Their wet wings can reflect the sun to become streaks of glare. Their small eyes must catch the light a bit; otherwise the eye’s red coloration becomes a black dot. A water backdrop adds further difficulty. When too much light is reflected on its water’s surface, the bird becomes a silhouette.

On my way out of the park, I spotted a second new-to-me bird, a pair of painted buntings! These birds are too small to photograph with my humble camera, and apparently others find them difficult to photograph as well. When I looked for images taken by other photographers, there were very few available. These birds are tiny and are covered with intense patches of red, green, and blue.

American Alligator

And, in Florida, wherever there are bodies of water edged by vegetation, there are alligators. The largest animals appeared to be lounging in the sun, but smaller gators were more active, suspiciously eyeing passers-by from algae-covered water.

Published by cafsamsel

Carol Fullerton-Samsel is a nearly-native Floridian who lives with her husband of 25 years and three rescue animals. She has a passion for day-hiking and nature, and also enjoys writing. Be sure to visit the TenPaths YouTube channel, which is still in its infancy.

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