A Symbol of America on Thanksgiving

November 28, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Posted in Creature Feature, The Wild Side | Leave a comment
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On Thanksgiving day, on the way home from Sanibel, I was still kicking myself for missing the opportunity to snap pictures of the Bald Eagles we had seen that day.  Little did I know, my real opportunity was 5 minutes down the road from my inlaws at the Dollar General!  Yes, that’s right, the Dollar General of all places.  We were making the final right turn toward our families neighborhood when I spotted two large birds on top of a large bare tree.  Most of the day, I had been getting my hopes up of seeing these majestic birds only to find out what I though could have been them from a distance was actually an Osprey or a Turkey Vulture.  This time though, with their bright white heads glowing in the sunset, I was sure!  I frightened my husband into popping a u-turn and going back.

With around 1,200 nesting pairs, Florida has the third largest population of breeding eagles, with Alaska having the most and then Minnesota. Bald Eagles usually make their way down to Florida around September for the winter/breeding season, often returning to the same nest they have used in years before.  Because Eagles return to their old nests, organizations have been able to install “Eagle Cams” at the nests while the pair isn’t using it.  This gives anyone with internet access the ability to check in on a nesting pair and watch from the time eggs are laid until the young fledge.

While I didn’t see a nest in sight, I’m certain this pair of Eagles will be nesting nearby.  Three times we drove past the Dollar General, three times at least one of the raptors was there, if not on the old tree than perched upon a cell tower on the other side of the building.  Cape Coral has around 11 pairs of nesting Eagles in or near the town, we were pleasantly surprised to find this pair was practically our neighbors.

Photos taken with my Nikon D3100

To locate a nest in Florida, try FWC’s Nesting Locator…

https://public.myfwc.com/FWRI/EagleNests/nestlocator.aspx

Not near a nest but want to catch the nesting action anyway?  Try one of these Eagle Cams…

http://www.eaglenestcams.com/

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Sanibel Snowbirds

November 25, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Posted in For the Family, The Wild Side | Leave a comment
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After an early dinner on Thanksgiving, my family and I decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather on the West Coast of Florida and head over to Sanibel Island for the afternoon.  I had read that the White Pelicans were in town for the winter and was dying to see them for myself.

Our first stop on the island was to Blind Pass Beach, an old favorite of mine.  We stopped to take pictures of the kids at the beach but we also had quite a show from feeding birds.  Out over the water, Brown Pelicans were diving left and right while Gulls circles frantically and Osprey hovered nearby.  It was a Thanksgiving feast for all the birds!  After watching the birds for a while, we “convinced” the kids to load into the car and head over to Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge to see who was wintering in town.

If there is one thing Ding never lacks, it’s shore birds.  We saw tons of Gulls, Sand Pipers, and Plovers at just about every body of water.  Even with these more common residents, I could see a big increase in population from our last visit back in May.  This was already good news to me, the cooler weather really does bring the birds into the park.

Another sure sighting in Ding Darling is the good ol Osprey.  At my last visit, we were there just after nesting season, when the young were getting ready to fledge.  This time, the posts with platforms that are set up for the Osprey to nest on were all empty, but the Osprey were still out and about.  I had heard that Bald Eagles were in town for the winter and quite often a cruising Osprey managed to psyche me out with my hopes of seeing one here. (We did, for the record, but we were driving outside of the park and it flew overhead. I cursed myself for the rest of the day, until we happened upon a pair when we were 5 minutes from where we were staying… another story to be posted over the course of the next few days.)

Of course, no trip to Ding would be complete without the plethora of Herons and Egrets.  Even the usually shy Little Blue Herons were making appearances today.  What I love about this place is that I always see at least one Reddish Egret, something I rarely see back home on the East Coast of Florida.

Despite the effort to come at the best possible time to Ding Darling (later in the day, at low tide) we didn’t see the massive flocks of Roseate Spoonbills that can be seen here at times.  I was still pleasantly surprised to see the two we did see, I always love seeing them.  We saw one wading out with other birds near a sand bar and another gracefully flying by as we got out of the car to admire something else.

Ah, the White Pelicans.  Winter residents to the refuge.  THIS was who I had come to see!  I had just missed them last spring so I wasn’t about to miss them this season.  They certainly didn’t disappoint.  There were several groupe hanging out together as more flew in for the evening doing everything a snowbird does – sleeping, eating, preening, and driving horribly… oh, wait, that’s the other kind of snowbird.  They were a beautiful sight to see!  I am grateful to have family on the West Coast now, I know I’ll be back to see them before they head back North for the summer.

Pic of the Week 11/24

November 23, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Posted in Pic of the Week | Leave a comment
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20121123-144910.jpg

I realize I’m a slacker, missing last weeks pic of the week, but I’m hoping this makes up for it. While spending Thanksgiving weekend with family in Cape Coral, Fl, I spotted a pair of Bald Eagles by a Dollar General in a dead tree. After seeing them throughout the day while driving and missing the opportunity to take their pictures, this was exactly the moment I had been waiting for! So after popping a u turn and a little frantic driving to get to them before they flew away (and they did, those pictures should be up in the best few days), I was able to capture this American icon on Thanksgiving Day, and my pic of the week.

Home At Last – Cindy the Sea Turtle’s Release

November 16, 2012 at 3:52 am | Posted in Endangered Encounters, For the Family | Leave a comment
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For my regular readers out there, you may remember this beautiful face from my recent trip to Gumbo Limbo.  Cindy, a Loggerhead Sea Turtle, had been brought to their Turtle Hospital back in July after being rescued by fishermen off of Pompano Beach.  She was the victim on a shark attack that in which she lost one of her front flippers and left the other nearly severed.  She also had bite marks on her shell and head, it was a miracle that she escaped alive.  She was in terrible shape when she was brought in and her fate was unkown.  Surgery was done on her front right flipper and it was saved, she fought off the infection, started putting on weight, and made an unbelievable recovery.  Today, 104 days after being admitted to the Turtle Hospital at Gumbo Limbo, Cindy was finally returning to her home in the Atlantic Ocean.

To say Cindy’s release drew a crowd would not do the event justice.  After all, with having spent nearly 4 months at Gumbo Limbo, she had become quite popular with a lot of families.  Young and old, all ages came out to see Cindy’s release, drawing an estimated crowd of nearly 500 people.  Everyone line up from the water up to the dunes, making a path in the middle for Cindy to head out to sea.

So how does a sea turtle make her way down to the shore?  At around 140lbs, she isn’t exactly a lightweight.  Cindy arrived to the beach by way of a baby pool on the back of a Gator.  She was driven to her path as everyone eagerly watch and waited for her to make her way.

After a brief speech by Gumbo Limbo Staff, Cindy was lifted out of the back of the Gator to be brought to the waters egde.  In the photo above, you can see Cindy’s battle wounds, the scars on her front right flipper, and you can see how close she came to losing it.  On this flipper she also sports a new piece of turtle jewlery, her ID tag.

Volunteers set Cindy at the waters edge and she knew where she was.  Cheers and applauding rang out from the crowd as she scooted herself into the water.  Upon hitting the water, she took a sharp right and swam directly at those of us who were lucky enough to be right there.  And just like that, after her brief tour of the shallow water, Cindy turned to the left and headed out to deeper water.  We watched as she crossed over the sand bar and out to sea, cheering her on.

Cindy is living proof of the great work the folks at the Gumbo Limbo Turtle Hospital are doing.  She exceeded all expectations in her recovery and today everyone’s hard work paid off – Cindy is finally home.

DUCK!

November 14, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Posted in One Shot Wonders | Leave a comment
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I absolutely love it when they do this!  This is a pair of Blue-Winged Teals that I recently saw at Green Cay Wetlands in Boynton Beach.  They can often be seen sticking their heads under the water to forage for food, and when they really reach for it, their little ducky hineys come popping up into the air.

Pic of the Week – 11/10/12

November 13, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Posted in Pic of the Week | Leave a comment
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This weeks pic of the week is of one of my own.  Last week was my sons 2nd birthday.  He had a special day playing at the park, he had a party, he had cake, and he had presents.  My husky, Lani, who is convinced she is the Queen of the Universe did not have a birthday last week… No special day at the park, no party, no cake, no presents.  As you can see by the look on her face, her lack of royal treatment did not fly over well.  Cheer up Lani, your “It’s not my party, but I’ll still cry if I want to” look won you last weeks Pic of the Week!

Who Comes Out To Play On A Cool Day – Green Cay Wetlands, Boynton Beach, FL

November 7, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Posted in Endangered Encounters, The Wild Side | Leave a comment
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It was a chilly week here in South Florida last week!  And by chilly, I mean it was in the 60’s.  But it’s a nice change of pace for those of us here who crave cooler weather.  With the cooler weather comes more activity with wildlife, so it seemed like a good time to head out to Green Cay and see who else was out and about enjoying the beautiful day.

My first thought about the cooler weather was that surely the alligators would be out sunning themselves, keeping their cold blood warm.  Boy was I right!  There was a gator right by the boardwalk right at the first bend and their presence didn’t stop there.  All together, 7 alligators made an appearance that day.  There was one that was easily 7 feet long basking on an island as well, one swimming toward what could have potentially become a meal (we’ll get to that later), and the remaining 4 babies that hatched last year and still stick together close to their nest.

There were also several Raptors out today too.  A Red Shouldered Hawk sat perched upon a barren tree trunk, seemingly uninterested in hunting.  There was also an American Kestrel perched by the sparrow houses as if it was a birdy drive-thru.  I can’t decide if him waiting for a sparrow to come out was just unfair or incredibly genius… it seems it was a bit of both.

Also making a big appearance today were many different types of Herons.  We saw nearly all of the Heron species that call Florida home, the only one missing was the Yellow Crowned Night Heron.  The normally shy Green Herons were all over and quite active.  There were a few Little Blue Herons out as well, which are usually hit or miss here.  The always popular Great Blue Heron and Tri-Colored Herons were everywhere, as usual.  On the way out, much to my excitement, I even spotted a Black Crowned Night Heron!  This was the first time I have seen this bashful Heron, it was just calmly and quietly roosting next to the Nature Center. (Side note, I can update my Heron post now that I have photos of all Florida Heron species! Woohoo!)  To my luck, as I was driving away, I saw my second Black Crowned Night Heron… flying… almost into my windshield, but luckily we avoided a car/bird meet.

Just as numerous as the Herons were the number of Egrets.  Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and Cattle Egrets seemed to be at nearly every waters edge.  While the Great Egrets were loners and doing their own thing, the Snowy and Cattle Egrets joined the flocks of Ibis who were in feeding frenzies.

The White Ibis are always very popular at Green Cay.  They’re always there and they’re usually everywhere.  So it was nice to see the Glossy Ibis thrown into the mix with them.  Of course there were nowhere near as many as the whites, but there were quite a few here.

Amongst every group of Ibis and Egrets was usually a Wood Stork.  This goofy looking bird feeds by opening its mouth in the water and waiting for prey to swim into its beak, sometimes kicking to scare small fish in that direction. (You can see this in the top picture above.)  It’s always nice to see the Wood Stork when it makes its way down for the winter.  Walking through Green Cay and seeing them nearly everywhere, it’s hard to believe this bird is federally protected as an Endangered Species.

Joining one of the flocks of feeding birds on the back side of the wetlands was a small group of Roseate Spoonbills.  All the comotion of whatever was so great to eat must have attracted some of them close to the boardwalk where we were all able to get a great view.  Dare I say it, Spoonbill sightings seem to be becoming reliable at Green Cay.  Usually, I see one flying overhead or napping somewhere far away where it’s almost difficult to recognize them, but their beautiful pink plumage gives them away every time.  This was a lucky day for me that they were so close by as the Spoonbills are probably my favorite birds to see here.  Not because of their pretty pink feathers, though that certainly does make them popular with everyone who sees them, but it’s that odd spoon shaped beak that does it for me, I can’t help but love their faces!

Also becoming an oddly reliable sighting is the family of Black Bellied Whisteling Ducks that has taken up residence here.  I always spot them on the North side of the park, usually at a distance, but every so often you get lucky and one might be literally sitting on the boardwalk waiting for you.  I will never forget the first time I saw them there – I heard their odd whisteling noise coming from one of the islands and there they were, chasing galinules all over the place.

As we were admiring the sleeping Whisteling Ducks, an Anhinga surfaced in the water next to us.  We had seen ripples in the water where it had been swimming quickly below the surface chasing a fish,  When it popped up, it had captured its lunch, and it was stuck to its beak!  After struggling for just a few seconds, the bird flipped the fish off its beak and town its throat.  The photo above with the fish mid air was a lucky catch on my part!

Luck was certainly on my side today.  Toward the back side of the park was an American Bittern out walking around.  This was another first for me, I had never seen one before.  From speaking with someone else there, they’re apparently very shy birds and don’t tend to come out into the open much, particularly around people, and usually feed by standing within the reeds with their heads up and beaks open, ready to catch their next meal.  But here he was, out for a stroll and hunting.

Winning the “Awwww” award for the day was the family of raccoons we encountered on toward the end of the walk.  A mother was out with her 3 babies and they were just as adorable as can be!  We watched them wrestle each other, pick food off of plants, and chase birds while their mother would peek out of the plants and closely watch the approaching allogator who was inching nearer and nearer.  Of course, I wasn’t about to stick around and see just how close the alligator got.  That’s something I would imagine my 2 year old son might find a little horrifying.

And so it was another beautiful day to be outside enjoying nature.  South Florida, we have some more cool weather headed our way!  Get out and enjoy it!

Pic of the Week – 11/3

November 6, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Posted in Pic of the Week | Leave a comment
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Photo taken with my Nikon D3100

In an effort to keep my posting more regularly, I have decided to add a “pic of the week” feature.  This weeks Pic of the Week was taken on Thursday at Green Cay Wetlands in Boynton Beach.  The Spoonbills have been around pretty often, but usually sleeping, flying by, or far away.  This day was a great day for Spoonbill watching!  There was a small flock of 4 wide awake and foraging for food near the boardwalk.  After listening to photographers waiting arounf for a sleeping Spoonbill on another day talk about how difficult it could be to get action shots of these lazy birds I realized this active day was more of a treat than most people knew.  This bird in particular had been wading with the Spoonbill you can see in the distance behind him but decicded to take a closer look at what the Ibis and Egrets were feeding on.  The result – this weeks Pic of the Week!

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