It's not often that I get a chance to work with the color pink at the drawing table. Oh, I may draw some pretty pink summer flowers from time to time, or I may add a pink blush to a sky once in a while, but it's rare for me to draw a pink bird. Up here in the "great white North," pink birds are pretty scarce-the pinkish purple finches are about all.
On my recent trip to Florida, I was inspired by the beauty of the Roseate spoonbills. I wasn't sure what was more striking-their peaceful beauty, or just seeing a large, pink bird. In either case, I felt I had to put them on paper. I thought how nice it was of Mother Nature to give this Earth such beauty.
At 38 inches tall, the Roseate spoonbill is a little smaller than a Great Blue heron. Its range is pretty much limited to the southern third of Florida-the wetlands of the Florida Everglades. There are several species of spoonbill around the world, most of which are white. The lovely pink Roseate is no doubt the most beautiful.
Roseate spoonbills have an all-white plumage in their first year, and molt to a gorgeous pink their second year. Although the spoonbills may be seen feeding during the day, they are mainly nocturnal and mostly feed at night. They wade the shallows, dipping their long spoonlike bills into the water or soft mud. With its bill partially open, the bird moves its head from side to side, securing any minnows, insects or shellfish that they might stir up. Their heads seem to keep a rhythm with their legs as they slowly walk and feed.
Roseate spoonbills once nested in thousands from the Gulf coast of the U.S., south to Argentina and Chile but they were nearly wiped out by poaching activity. They were protected in the U.S. and have made a modest comeback, although they are still being killed when they migrate south to other countries.
Today, the habitat that the Roseate spoonbill needs to survive is disappearing, as the remaining marshes in their territory are being drained to make room for more houses. Hopefully there will always be space in the Florida Everglades that they can call home.
Besides this beautiful bird, there is much to see, hear and absorb in the Everglades. After spending so much time in a place where humans have changed the natural environment, it was wonderful to be somewhere that nature prevails--a place that is teeming with life. As we drove along the west edge of the region, I looked out over a sea of lush, tall grass. At any one time I could see groups of Cattle egrets and Wood storks, Snowy and Great egrets, Ibis and Sandhill cranes, and Great Blue and Little Blue herons. There were wetlands potholes where wild ducks sat and shore birds stalked the shallows. I saw the bobbing heads of coots and gallinules as they looked for food among the lily pads. A bald eagle soared high above and a Harrier drifted along above the grass. A Kingfisher, perched on a high line, watched the water below for minnows and a motionless alligator waited patiently for a chance at his meal.
While in Florida I also noticed large flocks of Red-winged blackbirds, grackles and robins. The Sandhill cranes were paired off, doing their beautiful courtship dance. They were all gathering to start their spring migrations to points north. Like them, the time came for me to fly north.
Back home in the Kickapoo Valley, sunny days with temperatures near 50 have melted the snow and made puddles fed by tiny streams. In the morning I find tracks in the mud, left by a pair of raccoons, a lone skunk and a small opossum. All tracks led to the area under the bird feeder, where the team had cleaned up all the bits of cracked corn on the ground.
A good friend told me she had seen a robin-the first one of spring-on February 27th. Other friends reported seeing Sandhill cranes flying over, as well as three bluebirds on that same day. All are indicators that it's a great time of year for taking walks.
It's the earliest return for the cranes in my memory, and it's a little early for the bluebirds as well. Like robins, bluebirds are members of the family of thrushes and are quite capable of surviving cold weather without a source of insects to eat. They do well on a diet of seeds and dried berries until nesting season, when they turn to insects for extra protein and energy.
Could it be that spring has sprung? The big sugar maples think so; their sweet sap is beginning to run. The red tailed hawks agree; they have begun carrying sticks to their nest. The Canada geese proclaim it with their anxious honks in the starry night sky.
Ah! At long last, I think it is spring, and it's good to be back in Wisconsin to enjoy the changes of this wonderful season.
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