While folks awaited the infamous Punxsutawney Phil’s prognostication for the fate of winter, the local Black-crowned Night Herons also saw a shadow. They could have cared less about the weather. Hard to complain when it is clear skies and nearly 70 degrees. They saw the shadow of something boding much more sinister than cold weather.
With a loud raucous squawk, about a half dozen or more Black-crowned Herons simultaneously lifted off from their comfortable roost on the river. I have seen this behavior several times before. Sitting on the neighbor’s dock right next to a jon boat, all I could see was a flurry of wings coming right at me. One landed three feet away on the nose of the boat and just stared at me with its wide red eye full of alarm and fear. Another landed right behind my head on the deck railing while the others scattered into the marsh for safety.
I had just observed a high gliding Great Bald Eagle heading up the river. That was not the cause of the commotion however. A large hawk had also appeared gliding over the marsh in slow circles looking for prey. The first step to identifying any hawk is to use its size and shape to decide what you are looking at. Is is one of three main groups: buteo, accipiter, or falcon? Buteos have broad rounded wings and short, wide tails, and you often see them soaring without flapping. This buteo, was larger than our common Red-shouldered Hawk, it was a rather hungry looking Red-tailed Hawk. These hawks have many local/geographic color variations depending on where you are, some darker, some lighter. This Red-tail was the "light morph" variety. The hawk took no notice of the frightened herons and continued its circular hunt for much easier prey. If it were here last week I would have gladly given it a fat rat dinner.
Regardless of ole "Phil's prognostication", I can say without doubt that winter will be short in Florida. In fact those brutal three days that dipped into the 30s in January seem to be about it. According to one post, the Palm Trees saw their shadow and predicted 12 more months of great Florida weather. Be Blessed.