Stilts Of The
Tidal Marsh

Text and Photographs By

Bob Paty


These baby Stilts are feeding themselves just hours after hatching.


It was that kind of morning! One that invited a person outdoors, a little cool, but not cold; an invigorating type of day. A gentle breeze from the southeast quietly stirred the surface of the few ponds remaining in the marsh. So far it had been an exceptionally dry spring. It had been three weeks since any measurable amount of rain had fallen on the northern part of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. The marsh that stretched out on either side of the dikes had been reduced to a few small ponds, and only a small amount of water remained in the ditches on each side of the dikes. The marsh was slowly turning into a giant mud flat.

Walking along the trail on top of the dike, I was deep in thoughts and my mind was afloat in a sea of daydreams, barely aware of the activity around me. An alligator slithered into the water from behind the mangroves. A pair of night herons suddenly flew up and alighted some where out of my view. As I continued to walk, several gallinules voiced their displeasure at this intruder, but I was not listening.
Suddenly jerked may from my daydreams and thrust back into the real world, I was being dive bombed by black and white objects coming at me from several directions at once. One passed so close I had to duck my head for fear of being struck and could hear the birds wings as it passed by. Several birds were uttering a frantic KEEK-KEEK-KEEK call as they raced by in their attempt to dispel this invader from their territory.

Inadvertently stumbling into a colony of black-necked stilts that were nesting nearby, I had become an intruder. It is strange how a normally timid bird can become a hostile aggressor when they start their nesting activity. To restore peace to this pandemonium I sat down on the shoulder of the dike. This seemed to satisfy most of the stilts. Two of the birds flew down and alighted in the dry mud flat in front of me, as the rest of them disappeared from view. As I watched the pair, one started to flutter its wings as if feigning injury, then settled down on an invisible nest. This was for the intruder's benefit, as a distraction from the nests behind me.

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