After my visit to Everglades National Park in south Florida, the plan was to drive up the east coast and visit Merritt Island NWR. This is another drive-thru park where you weave through wetlands for wildlife viewing. I did it years ago with my Dad and it was really cool so since I was headed north I figured I’d check it out. On the way, I decided to make the stop at the water treatment plant that the Everglades park ranger had told me about in hopes of hunting up a wood stork so I get see it up close.
A little Google search took me to a site for Delray Beach public water utilities. It told me that the “water treatment plant” where wood storks are occasionally found is called the Wakodahatchee Wetlands.
Website didn’t say much, so I didn’t expect much.
Rolled out of Homestead Florida at about 5am so I could get there right around sunrise. It was easy to find.
When I pulled in the parking lot just before 7am, I was surprised to find only 1 parking space left. And I saw several older guys with serious birding cameras getting gear out of their cars. There was also a security guard.
Why would they need a security guard?
I made my way up a short boardwalk, turned the corner and saw this.
Worth Waking Up For
It’s a rookery. A wood stork nesting ground!
There were HUNDREDS OF WOOD STORKS. Nesting. The site was an elevated boardwalk that wove through a beautiful manmade wetland pond and marsh and the storks were literally everywhere. And there were BABIES. Like everywhere.
I was stunned. I laughed out loud. Then I cried with joy at the sheer magic of how a simple interaction with that park ranger just delivered the motherload.
The wood stork is America’s only stork. At one time, there population was estimated to be around 150,000. Now, less than 10,000 due to destruction of habitat and disruption of water flow through southern Florida. They nest in both spring and fall, but if conditions are not right they may not nest at all.
There is nothing cuter than fluffy baby birds. Period. Check out these little guys:
And these guys which I think were baby tri-colored herons but who knows. They are just freaking adorable all snuggled up in their nest.
Bird Disney World
So not only were there wood storks for days, it turns out that Wakodahatchee Wetlands is pretty much bird Disney World. The boardwalk is 3/4 of a mile of bird playground. There were cormorants, herons, egrets and anhinga’s nesting too.
Check out this baby common gallinule and momma. Watch for the baby’s little wings that don’t have feathers yet.
I stumbled across a few fun fellows that were NOT birds.
One of the reasons to get up early for birding is that the lighting is better for photography. I still use my favorite Nikon point-and-shoot 84x zoom camera and it has served me well, but I did feel a bit inferior that day.
The retirees of Delray Beach showed me up in the camera department for sure. But I was close enough that an iPhone probably would have done just as nicely.
So what I thought would be a ten minute stop to see nothing turned into a 2 hour tour. There was so much to see. I vote that we turn all public water plants into birdie Disney parks.
7 Miles. 7 birds.
As it turns out, Wakodahatchee was the highlight of the day. I continued on to Merritt Island but a GPS snafu put me 40 minutes south of where I needed to be. By the time I got to the park entrance and set out on the drive, it was late afternoon and about 95 degrees.
Birds, like most wildlife, don’t sunbathe. They prefer shade in the heat of the day. Drove the entire 7 miles and saw maybe 7 birds total. It was blindingly hot and bright. I checked out two other spots and then called it a day.
I did get this lucky shot of an anhinga having a late lunch. Anhinga’s dive into the water and use their beaks to stab fish. Watch the skill used to then get it down the hatch.
Saying Goodbye To Bacon
I’ve been on the road now, technically, for 8 months. I have only my most prized possessions with me: my dog’s ashes, my journals, my Cutco knives, my cast iron grill pan, my Caraway saute pans, 4 mason jars of my homemade basil cashew pesto and my last couple packages of bacon from the farmer’s market in Louisiana where I used to live.
I don’t eat much meat. But I DO eat bacon. The problem is, store bought bacon just sucks. The strips are thin enough to read a newspaper through. I’ve been SPOILED by a local farmer (his wife actually) who has kept me well stocked on quality, thick cut farm bacon for years now.
I have hauled my bacon from freezer to freezer up to this point. When I started the road trip, this became a bit of a dilemma. I have a small cooler that I fill with ice every night, but by night 4 it became clear that the bacon would have to go.
Greasing The Path
In an effort to continue putting good karma and energy out into the universe as I continue to make my way across the country, I selected a very nice receptionist at the Hampton Inn Titusville Florida as the lucky recipient. Let’s see if the universe brings this gift back around down the road.
I wish I could have given it to the park ranger that told me about the “water treatment plant that sometimes has storks.”
Frittata Cross Country will be taking a break from birding for a few days. It’s time to have a little fun. Does anyone know where you can have fun about a hour from Merritt Island, Florida??
Here’s a hint. I figured out a way to get that trip to Africa in after all!