Return of the Wood Stork

October 27, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Posted in Creature Feature, Endangered Encounters | Leave a comment
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It’s late October, and while that may not mean much to us here in South Florida as we enjoy our sunny, 83* warm day outside, it does mean something to migratory wildlife.  As it cools down pretty much everywhere but here, some wildlife begins to make its way South for the winter.  One of my favorite seasonal birds is the not-so-adorable Wood Stork, who’s numbers have been increasing locally over the course of the last few weeks, with more to come I’m sure.

Though we may not realize it with the powerful numbers we see of them sometimes, the Wood Stork is in fact on the Endangered Species List, with it’s population decline most likely due to loss of habitat.  They’re a rather large bird with a bald head, the kind of face that only a mother (or bird lover) could love.  Wood Storks, the only breeding stork found here in North America, make their way down to our area every winter to breed.  True to their social nature, they nest in colonies.  The Wood Stork is a unique hunter.  They wade through the water with their beaks open and wait for prey to pass through, literally inviting small fish over for dinner.

Remember, next time you see that funky dinosaur looking face on a giant white birds body to respect these snow birds.  The species is trying to make a comeback from the threat of extinction, let’s cheer them on!

Photos taken with my Nikon D3100

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Gumbo Limbo Nature Center – Boca Raton, FL

October 17, 2012 at 8:35 pm | Posted in Endangered Encounters, For the Family | Leave a comment
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A few weeks ago, with the unusual occurance of having some time to kill, I took my son to Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton.  Even though we are just around the corner from there at least once a week, we hadn’t been since around April, so I decided it was time to go and see the newly opened tanks.  We went on a great day – the crowd was light, the tanks were beautiful, and the Turtle Hospital was open.

As usual, our first stop was the Butterfly Garden.  Even though the garden is in full bloom in the summer, there is never a shortage of butterflies here.  The Butterfly Garden is part of a trail system that will lead you through a wooded area and down to the intercoastal with a beautiful view.  If you’re lucky, you may see a manatee cruising by.

Gumbo Limbo has 4 new saltwater tanks on display – 2 shallow and 2 deep, all representing different types of Florida environments.  The two shallow water tanks show you a coastal mangrove system with an island and mangroves, and a shallow water reef.  You can expect to see tropical fish here as well as fish like needle fish and even baracuda.

Thw two deep water tanks are where all the action is at and the best views of the animals living inside.  These tanks represent a coral reef and an artificial reef.  The artificial reef is not yet complete and is expected to be getting a shipwreck later this year.  Complete or not, they’re still great fun!  From the bottom, you can get a front row seat to animals cruising by the glass.  In these tanks you’ll see colorful Parrot Fish, busy Sting Rays, lines of Lobster marching along, and a family of Sharks. (Momma is in one tank, several of her babies are in the other).  If you really want to see some action try to go around feeding time, which I believe is around 12:30.  These tanks will also become homes to Sea Turtles after completion.

Also newly opened is Gumbo Limbo’s Turtle Hospital.  This facility is equipted to take care of sick of injured Sea Turtles like “Cindy” (pictured above) who was brought to the facility back in July after a shark attack nearly severed her front right flipper and fishermen found her injured.  Surgery managed to save what was left.  Along with Cindy are other turtles being treated for entanglement and injuries caused by boats.  These turtles are a good lesson to us all to be more mindful and clean up after ourselves.  Turtles easily confuse plastic bags with their delicacy of jelly fish, litter is obviously very dangerous to them.

Just around the corner from the Turtle Hospital is another endangered animal in a shell, Gumbo Limbo’s resident Gopher Tortoises.  Here, guests have a chance to see the normally rather shy tortoise up close in a natural habitat made for them amongst the boardwalk area leading to the tanks and FAU classrooms.  If you come at snack time, you’ll be sure to see them.  Otherwise, look into the burrows, there’s usually somebody home.

IF YOU GO:

Learn more about Gumbo Limbo and the wonderful things they do here… http://www.gumbolimbo.org/Home

While this is a free place to visit, be a greatful visitor and throw them a donation.  They take care of a lot of critters, help them out.

There are also lots of things for the kids to do inside the nature center itself as well as a boardwalk that has an observation tower and also leads to part of Red Reef Park.  There is no picnicing at Gumbo Limbo, but you’re more than welcome to make the walk to Red Reef Park to picnic there.  Just remember, don’t feed the animals.

Please be respectful of the animals and keep the new tanks looking new, don’t tap on the glass.  Noise is much louder in water, it really can frighten the animals.

ENJOY!

Lion Country Safari – West Palm Beach, FL

October 15, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Posted in For the Family | 1 Comment
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Jambo!  Welcome to Lion Country Safari, America’s first cageless zoo!  LCS has been a long time personal favorite of mine.  I have so many amazing memories of going with my family when I was young, having birthday parties there when my incredibly brave mother would bring a van full of my and my friends, and I still remember how excited I was the first time I was old enough to drive through myself. (If you didn’t know I was an animal nerd before, there’s a statement that gives all the proof you need.)  This zoo offers two different types of experiences – the Safari World Amusement Park (which we’ll get to a little later) and the drive through safari.  When you first enter the safari, the gatekeeper will give you a CD to listen to as you explore the park.  Pop it in, there is a lot of great information in there about the animals you’ll be seeing in each section.

The first area you’ll be entering is Las Pampas, the South American name for “grasslands”.  Here you will find residents like the Aldabra Tortoise, one of the largest tortoises in the world who can live up to around 150 years; the Rhea, who stands about 4 feet tall, making it the 4th largest of all birds; the Llama, used in many South American farms to help with hauling as well as raised for their wool, meat and milk (and yes, they do spit, though it’s not something you have to worry about here); the South American Tapir who love to spend time in the water.  You’ll also find an island of Brown Pelican’s, many of which were once wild pelicans who have been injured and are unable to be returned to the wild due to injuries that would make life difficult or impossible for them survive, and now have a safe home here.

Next, you’ll enter the Ruaha National Park, an area of Africa known for its abundant variety of wildlife.  Here you’ll find the Greater Kudu, a beautiful antelope species with striped marking and curved horns on the males.  The Impala can also be seen here, a very agile breed of antelope that makes its predators work hard in the wilderness.  Also here is the Aoudad, a species of antelope that is famous for its ability to go for long periods of time without drinking water, able to get all the water it needs from the plants is grazes on.

The third area you’ll drive through will be the Kalahari Bushveldt, named after a large dry plateau in Southwest Africa.  This area is home to the Nile Lechwe, and antelope who is considered to be rather slow on dry land, but is incredibly fast when it comes to running through water or muddy areas, thanks to its wide hoof.  Also here is the Gemsbok, an antelope species in which both males and females sport those long horns, though injuries from fighting are not common in this rather peaceful breed.

The drive will bring you to the Gir Forest next, named after a national park in India.  The largest animal you’ll see here is the Asiatic Water Buffalo, an animals who has become very domesticated, with only hundreds truely living in the wild.  As its name suggests, it loves the water, and you’ll often see just its head sticking out when it’s cooling off.  There are also two kinds of antelope here – the Nilgai, which is the largest of the Asian antelope, and the Blackbuck, named for the dark color of the males.  Here you will also see a herd of Kulan, AKA the Asian Wild Ass, who is the fastest of the horse family and can reach speeds up to 45mph.

As you drive through the Gir Forest, you have the option to drive through the Gorgongosa Reserve, named after a wildlife reserve in Mozambique.  While you have the option to pass this section, why would you want to miss the namesake of the park – the Lions!  This area is much different than the rest of the drive, the Lions are kept behind a fenced area and unable to cross the road or approach your car.  This aspect has changed from when I was younger, the Lions used to roam their section just as freely as the rest of the animals on the safari.  It was much cooler back when they weren’t separated, but I’m sure at some point in time someone did something stupid like roll down their windows, try to feed the Lions, or push their luck and attempt to exit the car.  So while I don’t blame LCS at all for making it a safer environment for both humans and lions, I still miss the old version.  Regardless, it’s still awesome!  The Lions, who are the largest members of the cat family, have a huge area to roam and are under constant supervision so fear not.  This pride (family of Lions) has plenty to do to keep busy thanks to Lion Country Safari’s Lion Enrichment Program.  If you come early or late enough in the day you may be lucky enough to see them up playing.  Otherwise they’re usually pretty lazy during the heat of the day, but still beautiful when they’re napping.

After finishing in the Gir Forest, you’ll find yourself entering the Serengeti Plains, named after the Serengeti in east Africa.  Here you’ll find several types of antelope like the Eland who is the tallest of the African antelope and can reach a whoppin’ 6 feet tall, the Waterbuck with its telltale target-like marking on its rear end, and the Wildebeest who doesn’t look much like an antelope at all and is also known as a Gnu (Who gnu?!)   You’ll also see the Watusi, AKA the Ankole Cattle, with their giant horn set that can span as large as 10 feet. One of the most entertaining animals you’ll find in this area is the Ostrich, the worlds largest bird.  It’s not uncommon to see them approach cars and peck at your windshield.

Also in the Sernegeti Plains is an island that houses the parks Camels and a Rhinoceros.  This island used to be home to LCS’s family of African Elephants up to just less than a decade ago, but Lion Country Safari’s participation in an elephant conservation program has sent them off to more “elephant friendly” zoos in the country where they have the opportunity to enter breeding programs to help save this endangered species.  One of them is as near as Animal Kingdom in Orlando.  So now the area has become home to other animals.

The final stretch you’ll drive through is Hwange National Park, named after the reserve in Zimbabwe.  This is my favorite section of the drive.  Here you are usually greeted by a herd of Grant’s Zebra upon entering the area.  Zebra’s are as unique as human beings – their stripes are like fingerprints, no two are the same.  Mingling amongst the Zebra’s, you’ll find the White Rhinoceros.  Unlike the name suggests, they’re gray and not white, and are usually quite docile animals, though you are still warned that they can do damage to your vehicle.  LCS is a participator in the Species Survival Plan for the White Rhino and has a very sucessful breeding program. (You can even see one of the babies pictured above.)  Along your drive you’ll see several primate islands, home to Chimpanzee’s (on the left) and White-Handed Gibbons (on the right).  Lion Country Safari is a participant of ChimpanZoo, a program headed by Dr. Jane Goodall, in which researchers are trained to observe Chimps.  At the very end, before exiting the drive, is the Giraffe’s.  Standing at up to 17 feet tall, they are the tallest land mammal.  Be sure to visit the Giraffe feeding inside the park to get a close look at their 18 inch long purple tongues!

Once you’ve completed your drive, remember to return your CD and enjoy the rest of the park.  There is a restaurant but you are also welcome to bring your own lunch and enjoy in the picnic area.  There are animals on display in the Safari Park like Alligators, Flamingos, Monkeys, Parrots, and tons of reptiles that will make little boys jump for joy and their mothers run off.  There are also a good handful of rides for the kids (and even adults) including a carousel, ferris wheel, safari boat ride, paddle boats, camel rides, and many others.  You can play a round of mini golf, visit with the animals at the petting zoo, or feed the Giraffes or the birds in the Lory aviary.  On hot days, there is a splash park to help cool you down.  Lion Country Safari really is an excelent way to spend the day with the family.

IF YOU GO:

Find more information on the park here… http://www.lioncountrysafari.com/index.html

I recommend going either first thing in the morning when they open, or later in the day.  The animals tend to rest during the heat of the day and you’ll see much more activity when they’re not taking their mid day naps.  You’re able to drive through as many times as you like, so if you arrive around noon and find the animals are rather lazy, drive through again before you leave and they may be waking up again.

If you think for any reason that you may return to LCS within 365 days of your visit, get the annual pass!  It will pay for itself within your second visit.  It also gets you free parking and discounts on other guests, at the gift shop, and on special programs like behind the scenes tours.  It also gets you other perks at participating parks during certain times of the year. (Right now, LCS annual passholders recieve free admission to Jungle Island through November 4th)

If you’re into camping, there is a KOA on sight for tents and RV’s and even have cabins to rent.  There would be nothing like waking up to the sound of a roaring lion!

Enjoy your day here!

Photos taken with my Nikon D3100

Zoo Miami – Miami, FL

October 11, 2012 at 5:33 am | Posted in For the Family | Leave a comment
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Back on September 29th, The Smithsonian celebrated their Museum Day Live by offering free passes to different museums all over the country.  I can’t even tell you how excited I was to see Zoo Miami on the list!  I hadn’t been down there since it was Miami Metro Zoo and shortly after Hurricane Andrew had plowed through.  Needless to say, a lot has changed over the years, and everything was much better than I had expected.

We showed up before the zoo had even opened and were one family of about a dozen waiting to get in.  It felt like we had the place to ourselves.  We decided to head over to the bog cats first before they got too hot and tired.  The lions and tigers (and later on, bears) were wide awake, enjoying their morning.  A lot of the habitats have areas where you can see them up close through glass as well and my son was super excited to see the lion up close and roar at him. (My kid roaring at the lion, you read that right)

Some of the other really cool guys that kids and adults are sure to love are the large apes.  Zoo Miami had orangutans, gorillas, and chimpanzees that always seem to be ready to entertain.  We almost missed the orangutan hiding out in the tree, but there he was, looking like he was either waking up from or settling in for a nap.  The gorillas looked as if they were observing people in the same fashion as the humans were watching them.  Then there were the chimps.  One of the bigger ones in particular was extremely animated.  I’m pretty sure the tram that runs through the park were aggitating him (earlier I had watched the Pigmy Hippo go plowing through its habitat like a bulldozer when the tram approached) and every time the tram went by he would scream, run full speed, and punch anything in his path.

In “Asia”, we saw a variety of animals from that part of the world like the Malayan Sun Bear (named for the “sun” on its chest), the Clouded Leopard, the Malayan Tapir, the Asian Small-Clawed Otter, the Onager, and many others.  The big hit (literally) or Asia are the Asian Elephants.  A little smaller that their African cousins, the Asian Elephant can live up to 60 years.  Sadly, they have been hunted onto the Endangered Species list for their tusks, which are large on the males and anywhere from small to non existant on the females.

“Africa” was surely my favorite part of the park.  Home to Gazelle, the Greater Kudu, Ostrich, the mysterious Okapi, both Grants and Grevy’s Zebras (Grevy’s is the largest of the Zebra family, reaching a whopping 9 feet tall), Giraffes, African Elephants, and much more, there is plenty here to be seen.  The Okapi, which many people assume is related to the Zebra with it’s striped legs, is actually closely related to the Giraffe.  The critically endangered Black Rhino. The African Elephant is sure to make you feel tiny.  But the hilight of Africa has to be the Giraffe…

My sons absolute favorite part of the entire zoo, be sure not to miss out on feeding the Giraffes!  While they are huge and have crazy, long purple tongues, they’re incredibly gentle and seem to love taking treats from zoo goers.  They have the freedom to come and go as they please as the feeding station is off to the side of their habitat and when it gets busy zoo staff only allow so many people on the feeding deck at one time, which is nice for when you’re feeding them and not trying to compete with someone shoving their handful of food in front of yours.  Their long tongues, which usually wrap around leaves up high in trees, will gently wrap around their hands and take the lettuce away.

Over in “Australia”, you’ll find animals like the Red Kangaroo, New Guinea Singing Dog, and others.  The Koala had to have been the cutest resident in this part of the park.  Sure, they don’t do much, in fact every time I see one it’s sleeping, but I can’t get over how absolutely precious they are!

All over the park, you’ll find wonderful, fascinating animals.  There are many different types of mammals, reptiles, birds, and fish to see.  You can watch the White Handed Gibbons swing from trees, watch the Lemurs clean each other, enter one of two aviarys and walk amongst the birds, and still manage to miss something!  This zoo is huge!

Another great area of the zoo you shouldn’t miss out on if the interactive Childrens Zoo.  Here, you can feed Goats at the Petting Zoo safely from the outside of the fence or go inside and grab a brush and groom them.  There are a lot of other zoo animals here too like Sheep, Pigs, and Ponies.  Also in this area you will find Camel rides, educational areas where kids can pet animals like Guinea Pigs, and a Reptile House where you can press your face against the glass of all the creepy crawlies you want.

Of course, there is also more to do here than just the animals.  There is also a Dinosaur playland for the kids to burn off some energy, paddle boat rentals, and Splash Pads to play in on hot days.  There are adorable animal statues all across the zoo as well that are perfect climbing size for kids and make for great photo ops.  You have a few transportation options as well.  You can ride the monorail across the park, take the tram, or even rent carts in the front of the park.  It’s something to consider for sure as this place really is massive.

Photos taken with my Nikon D3100

IF YOU GO:

First and foremost, as stated above, be careful not to get peed on by a Rhino!

Go early in the day, the animals are more active and the crowds are much less.  We felt like we were having a VIP experiece with how little people traffic we encountered.  If you can go on a cooler day, you’ll be extremely greatful.

There are several concession areas inside the park.  The food is surprisingly good and not greasy at all.  You are not allowed to bring in your own food, but there is a picnic area at the enterance to the zoo if you wish to pack your own.

Consider renting one of the carts.  It basically looks like a golf cart and a bicycle had a love child, but it might save you a lot of energy with walking, and it can fit several people, has front row seats for the little ones, and you’re even able to store things on top like a stroller if you wish.

You can learn more about Zoo Miami here… http://www.miamimetrozoo.com/visit-the-zoo.asp

Have as much fun as we did!

My Little Pony

October 11, 2012 at 3:38 am | Posted in Furry, Feathered, Finned (and Scaley) Friends, One Shot Wonders | Leave a comment
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Well, no, not mine, but I would stick her in my pocket and take her home in a heartbeat!  She’s out at the barn that I ride at and this little face can always make me smile.  Never fails, every time.  How could you not love this little filly?  At just two months old she will be a baby for a while, and while I’m excited to watch her grow into a beautiful pony, I absolutely love foals and their awkward goofiness.  I just had to share her adorableness with everyone.  I hope she brings a smile to your face too!

Deadman’s Reef, Grand Bahama

October 9, 2012 at 4:15 am | Posted in For the Family, The Wild Side | Leave a comment
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Located on the West End of Grand Bahama Island is one of my favorite snorkeling locations I’ve ever been to.  Weather you’re staying at a resort on the island or just at port for the day on your cruise ship, it’s easy to make arrangements to visit this reef in Paradise Cove.  What is great about this reef is that you have the ability to do as much or as little as you like.  It’s an easy swim off shore, you don’t have to take a boat to access it, just a buddy.  You’re allowed to stay out as long as you like and you can stick to the shallow inside of the rock formations if you prefer or head around the back side where the water is deeper and the inhabitants are larger.  There is also a concession stand on the beach for when you’re ready to snack, the cherry on top of this perfect location that really does allow you to hang out all day.

The inside of the reef is mainly sea grass beds and smaller corals.  The water is shallow enough to stand in, but watch your feet, you never know what you may be stepping down on and damaging, so it’s best you keep your feet up.  Amongst the grass, we found all kinds of cool inverts like Starfish, Sea Biscuits, Hermit Crabs, and Tulips.  There are also a lot of little fish seeking protection in the safety of the shallow water seperated by the deep by a wall of reef.

Something I found fascinating in the shallows attached to many of the rocks and even making homes within corals themselves was a variety of feather duster worms.  These aren’t your typical slimey worms, their beautiful “feathers” sway in the water and are used to filter feed the animal.  When is if frightened or harassed or if it catches food, they quickly retreat into their tube.

One thing that there is plenty of on both sides of the reef is beautiful corals.  Brains, Staghorns, Sea Fans, you mane it, they’ve got it.  The corals are very sensitive and delicate, you should swim around them with enough distance so that you don’t ever touch them or bump into them.  It’s easy to hurt them so please be mindful.

More than anything else, Deadman’s Reef has fish!  They’re everywhere!  Beautifuly and boldly colored, super tiny to as big as you are, you’ll find a wonderful variety here.  The reef is home to Parrot Fish, Tangs, Surgeonfish, Wrasses, Damsels, Snapper, Grunt, Butterfly Fish, and so many more than I could ever name.  There are also the occasional sharks swimming through looking for dinner, which usually does NOT include human being, so don’t panic.  This reef has also become home to the invasive and environmentaly harmful Lion Fish, so if you happen to see one you’re asked to please report it so that it may be removed.

There are a lot of really cool inhabitants that call Deadman’s Reef home as well.  A lot of times Sea Turtles, like the young Loggerhead pictured above, can be seen in the grass beds snacking on sea grass.  Thanks to the many tourists, they are typically not terribly shy and will hang out for a while to let you gawk at them.

As we headed around the back side of the reef we came across a lot of really great animals.  I can’t even begin to tell you my excitement in spotting a Hawksbill Sea Turtle.  This isn’t something I ever see in my hometown snorkel trips, so this was a special treat for us.  They’re much less common and usually quite shy.  This guy was resting in the rocks when we happened upon him.

Just as we were admiring the Hawksbill, this Stingray caught out eye cruising by.  Stingrays are another common resident of the reef that are pretty exciting for snorkelers of all ages to see.  Following this guy as he was on the move helped us stumble upon my absolute favorite part of this trip, creatures whos presense will live with me forever…

This pair of Spotted Eagle Rays was by far one of the coolest sights I’ve ever seen in the ocean.  They were massive!  Eagle Rays can get up to 16 feet long, and while this pair wasn’t quite full grown, they were still an impressive sight.  They were both gliding along the bottom of the ocean floor and filter feeding with their mouths wide open.  I could have watched them all day!

Photos taken with my Fugifilm Finepix UW

IF YOU GO:

Deadman’s Reef is makes for a great trip.  Like I said before, it’s easy to do weather you’re on a cruise or staying on the island.  Plan to stay for at least half the day so you can see everything.  There is a concession stand with drinks, snacks, and lunch foods like burgers and hot dogs.  You can snorkel, have lunch, rest on the beach, and snorkel again.  It’s paradise, take your time and enjoy this beautiful piece of the island.

While you are allowed to snorke for as long as you wish, remember that you must have at least one swim buddy with you at all times.  This is for your own safety.  You will be provided with a flotation device so you don’t have to worry about sinking from exhaustion, and there are also buoy’s in areas of the reef to hang onto and rest if you need.

Don’t forget, if you see one of those pesky Lionfish, be sure to report it.  And most importantly, don’t touch anything!  Let’s make sure this reef is still beautiful for our children to see.

Enjoy!

Florida Atlantic University Gives A Hoot

October 8, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Posted in Creature Feature, Endangered Encounters, The Wild Side | Leave a comment
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Check out Florida Atlantic University’s hooters!  Seriously, check them out, they’re adorable!  FAU has more on campus than just their mascot owl, it is home to many Burrowing Owls and Gopher Tortoises.  On the lack side of the stadium, next to a parking lot and just behind the airport, you will find a beautiful grassy area that is home to FAU’s resident creatures.  FAU has done a wonderful job of preserving habitats for these animals, making it easy for everyone to enjoy them but safe enough for the animals so they don’t feel threatened by anyone watching.

The Gopher Tortoise is an endangered species and federally protected.  It is experiencing loss of habitat everywhere it lives, so designated scantuaries like this are extremely important to help with the survival of the species.  There are “Tortoise Crossing” signs all over to remind students to watch where they’re driving in case they decide to leave their designated area for any reason.  The tortoises are fairly shy, usually retreating to their holes when they see or sense humans nearby.

While not considered endangered or threatened, the Burrowing Owl is considered a “species of concern” by the FWC, meaning they’re protected on a state level from and type of harassment.  They’re a small owl, only around 9 inches tall, with bright yellow eyes (as adults) and lack the tell-tale owl ear tufts.  They live in treeless prarie grasslands and as their name suggests, they nest by burrowing into the ground.  Sometimes they will take over old Gopher Tortoise burrows but they typically dig their own, anywhere from 4 – 8 foot burrows, where they nest and live as mating pairs.  Unlike most other owls, they’re active at all hours, which is nice for those of us who like to observe them.  These particular photos were taken about an hour or so before sunset, always a beautiful time of day and great for observing all kinds of wildlife.

Having lived just minutes from FAU for most of my life and even going to the school, I can honestly tell you it was only recently that I have actually seen these little guys.  Maybe I just wasn’t looking hard enough, or maybe the teenager in me wasn’t REALLY trying to find them, but I never could.  Their scantuary near the stadium makes it easy to observe and photograph them.  They seem to be used to human presence.

Of course, that’s not to say they stay in their designated area, they’ll set up shop pretty much anywhere a person doesn’t typically walk and they can make (or find) a hole in the ground.  The adult and juvenile pictured below were by the student apartments next to a busy parking lot.  In the case that they do decide to move in wherever they please, the school fences off the area they’re in puts up a T perct nearby.  I was happy to see them in random locations throughout the campus, the more owls the merrier!

IF YOU GO:

You may want to skip a day in which FAU has a football game at home, they’re next to a parking lot just off the stadium.  Let’s face it, wildlife viewing and tailgating don’t really mesh well.  They’re here all year long so don’t worry.

Remember, the Gopher Tortoise is endangered and the Burrowing Owls are protected as well.  Give them their space and don’t disturb them.  Under no circumstances should you go over the fence and into their designated areas.

Photos taken with my Nikon D3100

Herons in Florida

October 8, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Posted in Creature Feature, The Wild Side | Leave a comment
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Florida is home to a ton of different wildlife.  A good majority of that wildlife is made up of different birds, from the tiny hummingbird to the much larger great egret.  Herons are quite popular throughout all areas of the state, usually found near any type of water body including canals, lakes, marshes, and the coast.  Here is a crash course in Florida’s Herons…

With a wing span that can stretch over 6 feet wide and standing up to 54 inches high, the Great Blue Heron is the largest heron in North America.  They typicalls feed on fish and aquatic invertebrates but can also be seen grabbing small mammals, small of baby birds, and even the occasional baby allgator if they’re brave enough to face momma gator.  They nest in the winter time with huge nests that look like giant stick piles in trees or anywhere up high.  There is also a white color morph, which looks nearly identical to the Great Egret, except that the Heron has light colored legs.

The Tricolor Heron is also a very common heron here in Florida.  Standing at around 26 inches and with a wingspan of about 36 inches, this little guy is much smaller than his Great Blue cousin.  Once known as the Lousiana Heron, the Tricolor is often confused with the Little Blue Heron.

The Little Blue Heron is a tad bit bigger than the Tricolor Heron, up to 30 inches tall and up to a 40 inch wingspan.  They are still often confused with one another.  The little blue is a solid deep blue looking color with a dark beak, while the Tricolor often has white on its chest and wings and a lighter colored beak.  The exception to the Little Blue’s color is in its younger days, it is solid white and grows into its dark color, with a white/gray pied look when it’s a juvenile.

The Green Heron is a cute little bird.  At only 19 inches high with a 26 inch wingspan, this year round resident is the smallest of our herons.  They are typically rather shy around humans and tend to keep a good distance.  The Green Heron has a unique behavior – it is actually known to “fish” by using a small insect of twig to skim the surface of water to attract a fish.

There are two types of Night Heron here in Florida.  The Yellow-Crowned Night Heron (pictured above) and the Black-Crowned Night Heron.  The Yellow-Crowned is much taller and more common that the Black-Crowned, who is a short, squaty little bird and a somewhat rare sight. (Which is why I only have a photo of the Yellow-Crowned to share with you.)

*UPDATE*  Look what I FINALLY found!  A Black Crowned Night Heron.  I actually saw two on this particular day.  This one was resting in the trees as I left a park, then a second one attempted a game of chicken with the windshield of my car.  No worries, no animals are ever harmed in the making of this blog.

Photos taken with my Nikon D3100

And there you have it!  Your quick guide to impressing friends with your Heron knowledge… or making them think you’re a total weird-o for all of a sudden becoming a wildlife pro.

The Peafowl Problem

October 7, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Posted in Creature Feature | Leave a comment
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With their vibrant colors and beautiful tails, peacocks have long been admired across the planet for many years. The males have a long train tail that is used to attract females when they fan it out in a mating ritual.  More then just the lady birds are impressed, this display is always sure to make people of all ages “Ohh” and “Ahh”.  Unless they’ve set up camp in your neighborhood, then they’re not quite as exciting.

Peafowl (used to describe both males, peacocks, and females, peahens) are native to India.  So why is it that they’ve taken over certain parts of South Florida?  Just as with so many other invasive species like Iguanas and Lion Fish, the peafowl started as pets that were either released or somehow escaped.  With South Florida being the beautiful tropical oasis that it is, the species has managed to flourish.  They’ve taken over areas in Coconut Grove, Miami, and Boynton Beach where in the neighborhood of Fox Hollow their population reached an estimate of about 400 birds earlier this year.

So what is it about these beauties that make them such horrible neighbors?  For starters, they missed their potty training seminar, and they poop everywhere!  With their feces all over and the likelihood of it transmitting disease, yoy could probably imagine this isn’t the best combination in a neighborhood full of children playing outside.  Secondly, they’re loud!  Sure, birds make noise, this isn’t exactly front page news.  But if you’ve ever heard a peacock scream, you know how loud they can be.  Now imagine that outside of your window at 3am,  And unlike your obnoxious college neighbors, you can’t call the cops (well you can, just don’t expect them to actually do anything) so you’re stuck with night after night of peacock hollering at all hours from sunset to sunrise.  Also, though they don’t mean to be, they’re destructive.  Those long, sharp claws of their that can be used for self defense can do a number on your cars beautiful paint job.  Sound like a fun bunch, don’t they?

HOWEVER, for those of us who don’t have to deal with the not-so-glamorous side of them, peacocks remain a beautiful display of nature.  This particular bird was at Tradewinds Park in Coconut Creek, FL.  I didn’t happen to see any females nearby, so I can only imagine he was trying to impress (or challenge) my sons brightly colored stroller.  Regardless of his intentions, he put on quite an impressive show that both my son and I loved to watch.  Tradewinds is pretty reliable if you want to see them for yourself.  Just remember not to feed them, or you may end up with a rowdy neighbor.

Photos taken with my Nikon D3100

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