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A Portrait in Patience

A Great Egret patiently stalks its meal among South Florida’s protected wetlands, with the purple stalks of the aquatic plant, pickerelweed, reflecting on the water’s surface. Both egret parents feed the chicks during the nesting period, which remains in high swing. Fortunately, they don’t have to travel far to forage for food, as there’s an abundant supply in this wonderful preserve; and within a few miles of these wetlands lies the Everglades. Observing the egret’s focus, intent, and diligence is a true lesson in patience — but a few humans have had poetic insights into this state of steadfastness:

Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience. -(Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Have patience. All things are difficult before they become easy. -(Saadi)
Patience is the greatest of all virtues. -(Cato the Elder)
Patience is the companion of wisdom.
-(Saint Augustine)

Endurance is patience concentrated. -(Thomas Carlyle)
He that can have patience can have what he will.
-(Benjamin Franklin)
Our patience will achieve more than our force.
-(Edmund Burke)
Patience and Diligence, like faith, remove mountains.
-(William Penn)
Patience and tenacity are worth more than twice their weight of cleverness.
-(Thomas Huxley
)
Why is patience so important? Because it makes us pay attention. (Paulo Coelho)


A Great Egret Patiently Stalks Its Meal in the Florida Wetland

The Greening of the Great Egret

As mentioned in my previous post, I had to save an image of one Great Egret for its own space. At the beginning of this year’s breeding season I was able to catch a lovely model, sporting a shocking green lore — the area between the bill and the eyes. During the breeding season, the lore may turn a vibrant green; the Great Egret will also display long, elegant plumes on its back (evident in the second picture, slightly blocked by the swamp vegetation), which are used in courtship displays. Like a peacock, the feathery plumes will spread out like a fan. Outside the breeding season, these long feathers disappear.

Great Egrets are striking to spy in the swamp — their ethereal beauty, graceful stalking, and quiet strength is captivating. But the brilliant green lore and feathery plumes add yet more stunning display to an already magical scene.

Great Egret with Green Lore in the Florida Wetlands (Close-Up)

Great Egret with Green Lore in the Florida Wetlands


The Great Egret

It’s hard not to be captivated by this bird; they’re the epitome of ethereal beauty, grace and strength, stalking and flying through our swamps and wetlands.

Great Egrets, also known as the Great White Egret, the American Egret, the Large Egret or Common Egret, are a common sight in our wild spaces — even our neighborhoods. They’re the largest egret in the Old World — thus the GREAT of their title. In the New World however, Great Blue Herons win the size competition. Great Egrets are large egrets boasting brilliant all-white plumage, and are found across much of the world, from southern Canada to Argentina, and in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. Standing approximately 3 feet tall, great egrets have graceful necks, long black legs, and black feet. Their bills are straight, pointed, and yellow.

These egrets feed by stalking, wading in the shallow water, patiently waiting for fish — then grabbing or stabbing their hapless meal with sharp bills. I’ve also seen them dine on amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals.

Great Egret Stalking and Catching Fish… Got It!

They fly with their necks pulled back in an S-curve, like so:

Great Egret in Flight

Great Egret in Flight at the Protected Wetlands, Dusk

The Great Egrets in our wetlands nest in colonies with other egrets and herons. The nest is constructed of sticks and covered with vegetation, and located in trees or shrubs — or on tree-island rookeries. Not all egret hatchlings survive the nestling period — aggression is common, with the larger chicks often killing the smaller or weaker siblings. The oldest known wild Great Egret lived nearly 23 years.

The feathers of the Great Egret are stunning, almost unreal; sadly, these beautiful birds were hunted mercilessly — nearly to the point of extinction, their numbers decimated by 95 percent — towards the end of the 19th century. Their breeding plumage was especially prized, and their treasured feathers were used in hats across the globe. With conservation measures enacted, their numbers grew throughout the 20th century. While wetland habitat loss is once again threatening their existence, these birds have a high adaptability to human habitation. Of course, the loss of wetland ecosystems remains another issue altogether….

Great Egret Coming in for a Landing

In 1953 the Great Egret was chosen as the symbol of the National Audubon Society, the environmental organization formed to protect birds.

Logo — The Great Egret in Flight (Courtesy of The National Audubon Society)

During the breeding season, the Great Egret displays long, elegant plumes on its back, which are used in courtship displays. Like a peacock, the feathery plumes spread out like a fan. (Outside the breeding season, these long feathers disappear.) During this time, the lore (the area between the bill and the eyes) may turn vibrant green. Nature’s colors are brilliant, and this picture deserves its own (upcoming) post….

Great Egret Takes a Break While Stalking His Meal

Wakodahatchee Wetlands

Without the sanctuary of Green Cay and Wakodahatchee, I may nearly have lost my mind this past year. Both boardwalks/wetlands are an oasis of green, here in suburban Delray Beach (land of wayward development and concrete). Located on Jog Road between Woolbright Road and Atlantic Avenue, it’s open seven days a week, making it readily available to the public. In the Seminole Indian language, Wakodahatchee translates as “created waters” — and that’s exactly what’s been done at these wetlands. Wakodahatchee’s present-day 50 acres of wetlands were, in their previous incarnation, unused utility land. But the space has been transformed into an Everglades wildlife ecosystem, with marsh habitat, intermittent tree islands, and cypress hammocks. Along the .75-mile elevated boardwalk are helpful signage about the habitat, as well as covered gazebos. Each day, the Palm Beach County’s Southern Region Water Reclamation Facility pumps nearly two million gallons of highly treated water daily into Wakodahatchee; the wetlands themselves further naturally cleanse, recharge, and filter the remaining nutrients and maintain earth’s water cycle. Wakodahatchee incorporates dozens of different species of trees, shrubs, and aquatic vegetation to manage this feat. A pioneer in the fields of wastewater treatment and reclaimed water distribution, the Palm Beach County Water Utilities Department has proven its effective and innovative management philosophies in the Wakodahatchee Wetlands.

Besides affording a sublime stroll, Wakodahatchee is a birdwatcher’s paradise — a camera and/or binoculars are always handy. This site is part of the South section of the Great Florida Birding Trail, and common bird sightings include egrets, herons, ducks, grebes, bitterns, ibis, moorhens, warblers, blackbirds, cardinals, owls, hawks…and the list goes on, with more than 140 species counted at the site. Many turtles make their home at the wetlands, including the Florida Red-bellied Turtle and the Peninsular Cooter. Marsh rabbit can also be seen in the grassy and low-lying marsh areas. As always, alligator sightings are common at Wakodahatchee, and non-poisonous snakes and frogs live on the fringes of the boardwalk. But I’ve even had the most fortunate sightings of a shy otter and bobcat.

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Green Cay Wetlands

Without the sanctuary of Green Cay and Wakodahatchee, I may nearly have lost my mind this past year. No joke. Both boardwalks/wetlands are an oasis of green, here in suburban Delray Beach (land of wayward development and concrete). Located on Hagen Ranch Road between Woolbright Road and Atlantic Avenue, it’s open seven days a week, making it readily available to the public.The present-day wetlands are the progeny of Ted and Trudy Winsberg who, for more than 40 years, grew vegetables at their Green Cay Farm. Time passed and surrounding farms were razed for commercial development. But the Winsbergs’ love for the land prompted their most generous gift: 100 acres of protected land. In its pre-farmland existence, the land was open prairie with wetland areas. But it has now been transformed into an Everglades ecosystem, with marsh habitat, intermittent tree islands, and cypress hammocks. Along the 1.5-mile elevated boardwalk are helpful signage about the habitat, as well as traditional Seminole chickee huts. Designed to naturally filter several million gallons of highly treated water daily from Palm Beach County’s Southern Region Water Reclamation Facility, the wetlands also help to recharge groundwater resources and maintain earth’s water cycle. Green Cay incorporates 86 different species of trees, shrubs, and aquatic vegetation to manage this feat. Additionally, the 9,000-square-foot Green Cay Nature Center is one of the county’s newest nature centers, and features a host of interactive exhibits and programs, providing educational opportunities about South Florida’s unique wetland habitat. A pioneer in the fields of wastewater treatment and reclaimed water distribution, the Palm Beach County Water Utilities Department has proven its effective and innovative management philosophies in the Green Cay Wetlands.

Besides affording a sublime stroll, Green Cay is a birdwatcher’s paradise — a camera and/or binoculars are always handy. Common bird sightings include egrets, herons, ducks, grebes, bitterns, ibis, moorhens, warblers, blackbirds, cardinals, owls, hawks…and the list goes on. Many turtles make their home at the wetlands, including the Florida Red-bellied Turtle and the Peninsular Cooter. Marsh rabbit can also be seen in the grassy and low-lying marsh areas. As always, alligator sightings are common at Green Cay, and non-poisonous snakes and frogs live on the fringes of the boardwalk. But I’ve even had the most fortunate sighting of a shy bobcat.

For More Information:

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