Viera Wetlands - not just birds

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Viera Wetlands - not just birds

Several years ago I finally visited one of the east central Florida’s birding hotspots in Brevard County. Still widely known as Viera Wetlands, it was officially named Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands at Viera in honor of a longtime employee at the adjacent water treatment facility.

Since the wetlands are currently closed for maintenance work (see below for more details on this), I thought I would showcase a few of the highlights of my visit. One of the first birds I came across was one that I more frequently see while kayaking - a green heron - seen here with a dragonfly on a nearby cattail, demonstrating that sights in the wetlands include more than birds.

Butorides_virescens_5357.jpg Green heron and dragonfly

The wetlands consist of a series of impoundments divided by levies with unpaved roads on top. The roads have been closed to vehicles for some time, allowing only pedestrians and bicycles. Upon entering, I came upon a snowy egret perched on the edge of a large vertical culvert that water was flowing out of. The egret appreared to be finding and plucking edible treats from the flowing water.

Egretta_thula_5392.jpg Snowy egret

Wetlands habitats are frequently populated by common gallinules, and here there were both adults and juveniles. These birds are also known as Florida gallinules and previously as common moorhens, a name that is now applied to eastern hemisphere species.

Gallinula_chloropus_5438.jpg Adult common gallinule

Gallinula_chloropus_5401.jpg Juvenile common gallinule

On this August day, an anhinga was perched with its mouth open. Like dogs, birds often pant to cool down when it is hot. Some may only hold their bill agape, others actually pant which is called gular fluttering, both techniques aid in evaporation which cools the body.

Anhinga_anhinga_5453.jpg Anhinga in a small tree with bill open

Herons were in abundance, including both great blue and tricolored herons, the latter also known as Louisiana herons.

Ardea_herodias_5557.jpg Adult great blue heron with tricolored heron in background

Egretta_tricolor_5568.jpg Tricolored heron with minnow in bill

Little blue herons and at least one osprey were also present, but neither were cooperating as photographic subjects on this day.

As promised, something other than birds, a four-spotted pennant was in the obelisk posture. Dragonflies often raise their abdomen on hot days to keep from getting too hot. In this position the tip is oriented towards the sun so that less surface area is exposed to sunlight.

Brachymesia_gravida_5478.jpg Four-spotted pennant in obelisk posture

Back to birds with something completely different, boat-tailed grackles were noisily making their way through the shoreline vegetation. One of these was a female calling.

Quiscalus_major_5539.jpg Female boat-tailed grackle

And a cattle egret flew past, this side view showing the dark legs and yellow bill of a non-breeding adult.

Bubulcus_ibis_5503.jpg Cattle egret in non-breeding plumage.

Another dragonfly, this one a male eastern pondhawk.

Erythemis_simplicicollis_5532.jpg Male eastern pondhawk

Both of Florida's ibises were present, the common and widespread white ibis and the glossy ibis, which is more frequently seen in the central and south peninsula than in the rest of the state.

Eudocimus_albus_5573.jpg White ibis

Plegadis_falcinellus_5574.jpg Glossy ibis - non-breeding adult

I was familiar with a fair variety of ducks before I moved to Florida, but black-bellied whistling-ducks were new to me when I finally saw some south of Tampa Bay one year. And I've nearly always seen these striking waterfowl in pairs.

Dendrocygna_autumnalis_5611.jpg Pair of black-bellied whistling-ducks

The Florida state bird was perched on the top of a post. Northern mockingbirds are the official state bird of Florida and also four other states.

Mimus_polyglottos_5634.jpg Northern mockingbird

The final member of the well-represented herons and bitterns family that I photographed at the wetlands was this great egret with its head held high on an extended neck.

Ardea_alba_5704.jpg Great egret

Closing out with a couple of non-dragonfly insects, first a Southern green-striped grasshopper.

Chortophaga_viridifasciata_australior_5672.jpg Southern green-striped grasshopper

Last, and also least (in size) was this barred sulphur butterfly on a blade of grass.


In case you thought I was completely forgetting plants, bulltongue arrowhead, also known as duck-potato, was flowering and is in the header thumbnail of this post.

This reminder that as of late 2023 the Viera Wetlands are closed for maintenance to improve the primary function of the wetmands, which is to facilitate the final treatment of wastewater. Reopenening is expected in early 2024, February at the earliest. The wetlands are located at 3658 Charlie Corbeil Way, Viera, 32940.

Clicking on any of the links or images above will take you to the Wild Florida Photo page for that species where you can find more photos of and information about that subject.

Paul Rebmann

Dec. 7, 2023