Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Underneath Spanish Moss (Part 1 of 5): Anhinga

When I first moved to the south, Savannah was a place everyone talked about. Growing up in a subtropical country, this historical seaport immediately caught my attention. Every year millions of tourists visit Savannah, Georgia's first capital city, for her architectural beauty, historical value and the abundance of seafood. One can not help but notice this flowering plant that grows on large trees through out the city, Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides), a native plant to the southeastern of United States, grows mainly in Georgia, Florida and Louisiana. They are "air plant" and sustain the means of life by absorbing nutrients and water from air and rain. You now might ask what this air plant has to do with birds? If you are a birder, you might notice that many birds like to perch on this plant. I tried to photograph a Yellow-throated Warbler and Northern Parula and I just had hard time to focus on them and thought they were having too much fun by playing hide and seek. Serendipitously, I noticed these birds really not having fun but carrying Spanish moss as a nesting material! While weaving nests, birds help to spread their seeds from tree to tree. In this blog series, I would like to share with you what I found under these haunting, yet beguiling Spanish moss and I hope you enjoy them :)


A male Anhinga doing his "spread eagle" ..Click image to enlarge.
Approaching Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, the first thing welcoming you is this huge Southern Live Oak covered by Spanish Moss.  As driving through an Alice-wonderland-like forest, you will hear nothing but bird chipping and insect humming.This place is also a breeding haven for many waterbirds such as herons, ibises, egrets, cormorants and Wood Storks. Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) or Darter, a cormorant-like bird at the first glance, but Anhinga is not or does not behave like a cormorant at all. They are swamp specialists and like to swim low in the water with their necks and heads stick out of water like a snake. So commonly it's also called "snakebird".  They are great flyers and can soar in the sky for a long time without flapping their wings. When gone under water, they propel slowly with their feet instead of swimming with wings. Anhingas have a very interesting foraging technique when hunting fish under water. They will spread their wings, like herons, to create a shadow-like effect to lure fish going under and then spear their prey with their long bill. 


It was very comical seeing 6 Double-crested Cormorants first time face the same direction with their wings wide open. Anhingas, like cormorants, need to dry their wings in the sun after swimming because their feathers are not water-proofing. Such a small discomfort gives them a great advantage so they are able to adjust their buoyancy to go in and out of water effortlessly instead of diving like most of waterfowl.


Immature Anhinga ..Click image to enlarge
One interesting fact is that male will start building a nest even before finding his female. By displaying interesting courtship ritual and presenting his mate sticks and twigs, they form a family. This reminds me when I was a young child my dad gave my mother a bamboo stick to discipline us. As a grown-up, I couldn't remember any torment under that sweeping stick but love and respect.  Anhingas breed in the southeast, mainly in central and south America. You will be able to see this gorgeous bird by "Flying" down to the south :) -- Happy Birding! -- Linda


Some awesome sites about Anhinga (and 900+ species):
1. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology , it covers information, fun facts for 900+ species of North America Birds
2. The US Geological Service, provides technical and taxonomic information of USA birds


See other 4 posts of "Underneath Spanish Moss" here:
Part 2 of 5: Heron
Part 3 of 5: White Ibis
Part 4 of 5: Wood Stork
Part 5 of 5

1 comment:

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  1. Your photos keep getting more and more fantastic!

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