Palm Beach Zoo

March 21, 2013 at 3:29 pm | Posted in For the Family | Leave a comment
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Another beautiful South Florida day means another perfect day at the zoo.  I know what you’re thinking.  “This girl goes to the zoo a lot!”  OK, guilty, I do.  I happen to live an hour or less from 3 great zoos and I have a 2 year old son, of course I do!  Plus, with annual passes, why not!  This AZA accredited zoo is a great place to spend just a few hours or the entire day. During the summer time I can promise you won’t see so many trips to the zoo.  But that’s not what this post is about, we’re here to talk about the animals we saw!

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The first direction we always head when entering this zoo is to the left.  Call it habit.  We love to see some of the zoos larger reptiles, including Mardi, the zoo’s White Alligator.  Seeing him is always very cool… My son loves alligators and this is one you’re able to see quite close, I always find myself amazed that Mardi is one of only 10 White Alligators in the world (truly white, not albino, they have blue eyes), making him an incredibly rare sight!

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There are a lot of other adorable and entertaining animals as you make your way into the zoo.  You’ll come across animals from the slow Sloth to two breeds of quick little Tamarins, colorful Macaws, and the always playful Ocelots.  Today the Ocelots we playing with whatever was nearby, chewing on bundles of plant debris and ambushing each other and they moved around their enclosure.

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In the Australian area of the zoo you’ll find some of coolest and cutest Aussie animals out there.  The New Guinea Singing Dogs aren’t always super active, but today we got lucky!  The pair actually approached the fence, tails wagging, and actually seemed genuinely interested in visitors.  The kids loved that they were able to get so close and the dogs even licked their hands through the safety of the fence, we even got to hear one “sing”.  You’ll also see Wallaby’s and Australian water fowl when you enter their habitat, being separated by a mere gate on the boardwalk.  The Australian Birds habitat features some of the islands famous feather species.  On this particularly cool day we watched at the Red Kangaroo did absolutely nothing.  Sounds exciting, right?  It was actually quite adorable, it laid itself out in the sun as if it were a tourist laying out at the beach.  And of course, the Australian Exhibits main focal, Oz and Abby the Koalas.  Palm Beach Zoo was chosen by the AZA to participate in the Koala Species Survival Plan, recieving this adorable pair in hopes that they will reproduce.  Their enclosure is fronted with glass, allowing people to get a close look at these precious little marsupials, and hopefully leaving them with a lasting impression to care and take action toward Koala conservation.

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The Asian area of the zoo has a good selection of critters from Asia, including the Howler Monkey who’s yells are rivaled only by my son and a walk through Asian Bird aviary with colorful birds from the continent.  The big feature of this area is obviously Asia’s famous big cats, the Tigers.  This May, Tiger Cubs Jaya, Bunga, and Penari will be celebrating their 2nd birthday.  Their births at the Palm Beach Zoo was a huge success for their breeding program and the zoo deserves a high five for taking such great care and ensuring the success of their program of this critically endangered species.  With any luck, they will continue with their success!

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Over in the Tropics of the Americas display you’ll find some wonderful animals from Central and South America.  Here you can see the beautiful resident Jaguar, check out the Nocturnal Animal Observation, and kids can take their pictures on structures in the Mayan Plaza.  When you cross the bridge you may catch a glimpse of Tapir’s swimming in the water and Patagonian Cavy’s lounging around.  Also be on the look out for Delilah, the zoos baby Giant Anteater.  Look carefully, that adult Anteater doesn’t have a hunched back, that’s actually little Baby Delilah hanging on her mothers back.

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Heading along our way, we walked past the Spider and Capuchin Monkey Islands.  The sight on the Spider Monkey Island stopped me (and everyone else) in my tracks… a little bitty baby hanging on its mother.  It was too cute for words!  I watched as Momma Monkey climbed down the tree and over to the water to grab herself a drink.  Just as I thought for sure there was no way possible the sight could get any more adorable I was proven wrong.  Anyone who argues that animals don’t have emotional feelings needed to see the precious moment we watched.  Momma Monkey walked over to another monkey sitting alone and they threw their arms around each other and embraced in a monkey hug.  It was a moment I almost missed capturing on film because I was too busy “Awwwwwww”ing the precious moment between these two friends.

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Our last stop at the zoo was the Florida Wetlands area.  Here you can see on display our very own wildlife found here in Florida.  There is an aviary with Roseate Spoonbills and Scarlet Ibis, a pair of beautiful Bald Eagles, an Alligator display, and Florida Black Bears just to name a few.  A favorite of so many, including my son now and myself as a kid (and admittingly now) is the River Otter display where you can watch Otters swim and play and glide by you.  They seem to love an audience, even pressing against the glass when people gather to watch them.

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Naturally, no Florida display would be complete without the Florida Panther.  This endangered cat’s population is dangerously low in the wild with only around 100 cats remaining, though this is a serious improvement from the estimated 30 in the early 90’s.  Last march the zoo lost their Panther of 17 years, Colin Patrick, but were fortunate enough to add two new cats over the summer, both orphaned rescues.  The two here at Palm Beach Zoo are still considered kittens, and boy were they acting like it today! They were pouncing at each other, chasing one another, and climbing everything in their enclosures.  In case you’re looking at one of the above photos and thinking “Why is there trash in their enclosure?”, it’s not.  The cardboard box is part of the zoos enrichment program, giving the animals safe objects to play with they they don’t usually have within their enclosure, providing physical and mental exercise. They seemed to love it and be enjoying life.

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IF YOU GO:

This is a great zoo to visit and time of year.  During the summer it is well shaded and has a fountain the kids can play in.  They also offer special events throughout the year after regular hours like overnights and nighttime parties as well as birthday parties and weddings.  For more information, visit them here…

http://palmbeachzoo.org/

Robin’s Have Invaded Green Cay

March 19, 2013 at 12:43 pm | Posted in The Wild Side | Leave a comment
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It was another beautiful day in South Florida.  Not to be wasted, my son and I wen’t for a quick walk at Green Cay to enjoy the cool air.  Turns out we weren’t the only ones loving the beautiful South Florida weather this day, but we’ll get back to that later…

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Most of the usual suspects were out and about today.  There seemed to be a larger than normal number of Blue Winged Teals and they were rather rowdy, making all kinds of noise and flying about.  Perhaps they were displeased with the Red Shoulder Hawk that had perched itself upon a Wood Duck nesting box.  I don’t entirely blame them in that case, that seems like cheating to me.  All of the usual (but no less beautiful) Heron’s were out and about looking for breakfast too.

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Toward the front was The Breakfast Club, the usual group of birds that always seem to be hanging out and feeding together consisting of White and Glossy Ibis, Wood Storks, different kinds of Egret, and the sometimes a couple of Tri-Colored Herons. (On lucky days this group will even have Spoonbills hanging with them, no such luck today.)  They all wade together, sifting through the water looking for that lucky catch…

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One lone Ibis seemed to have hit the jackpot.  Biting off more than it could chew didn’t seem to have this bird down and it played with the large frog it had captured trying to figure out a way to eat it without choking.  How does one eat food larger than it’s head anyway?  By the time we continued walking on, it was still trying to figure out how to deal with its super sized meal.

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Now about that enjoyable South Florida weather I spoke of earlier…

While I enjoy seeing all of the usual birds and animals I see at places I always love to see new and different things.  This day there were what had to be hundreds of Robins in the parking lot of Green Cay.  While this area of Florida is technically part of their range we very rarely see a Robin in our parts, they usually stick to more Northern parts of the state.  Luckily for those of us who don’t usually get to see them a cold front had moved through North of us, seemingly pushing flocks of Robins down into warmer weather.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw one fly in front of me at my car!  I though for sure I was seeing things.  I heard other photographers along the boardwalk talking about the robins so I didn’t feel quite as crazy.  I consulted with a fellow Bird Nerd via text messaging and she told me she too had seen one at her bird feeder and she too thought she was seeing things.  We got into the car and drove around to the back side of the parking lot where the Robin I saw was headed.  It was back there that I was in the middle of what I’m sure was a few hundred birds.  They were everywhere – flying back and forth, perched in trees, foraging along the floor… literally everywhere.  They were a very pleasant surprise, they reminded me of my home town of Chicago.  I do hope that next winter they remember how lovely it was here and decide to return.

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Tortuga Music Festival is Coming Soon to Ft. Lauderdale!

March 11, 2013 at 4:49 pm | Posted in Animal Events, Breaking Tradition, For the Family | 3 Comments
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It’s almost here!  In just over one short month, Ft. Lauderdale Beach will be taken over by the wonderful music of artists such as Kenny Chesney, Eric Church, Jake Owen, Michael Franti & Speahead… and so very many others that you’ll just have to look at the photo above to get an idea.  And more artists are still joining in!  All for an awesome cause – to help save out oceans!

The Tortuga Music Festival, brought to you by Rock The Ocean and benefiting the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, is a weekend long music festival to help out our oceans, presented by Landshark Lager. (Thank you Jimmy Buffett, feel free to drop on in!)  Think it’s not a big deal?  Flashback to geography class and remember that 3/4 of our planet is ocean.  That’s a big part of our world, and considering how much they provide all of us with, the big blue sea is something everyone needs to care about.

So come on down, catch some amazing music and eat some fantastic food to your hearts content, all while helping support the cause – to help raise awareness and educate folks on marine conservation and supporting a sustainable ocean.  I’ll be there, son (and sun) on my shoulders, rockin out!  And don’t forget your Guy Harvey shirt!

IF YOU GO:

You can learn more about the festival, purchase tickets, sign up and join the loyalty program for a chance to win tickets and other exciting prizes (wanna to snorkeling with Gloriana?), or even donate to the cause here…

http://www.tortugamusicfestival.com/

Learn more about Rock The Ocean and see if they’ll be having an event near you here…

http://rocktheocean.com/

And learn more about the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation here…

http://www.guyharvey.com/our-mission/

Hope to see you all out there!

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Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee Wildlife Refuge

March 11, 2013 at 12:09 am | Posted in The Wild Side | 2 Comments
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So many times I’ve driven up and down 441, so many times I’ve seen Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, so many times I’ve said to myself “I need to make time to spend a day there.”  Finally, just a few weeks ago, I did.  I was taking my son to Bedners Farm to pick strawberries and decided that we should check out the refuge before we did that.  It was a lovely cool day outside, the skies were blue, and there was no legitimate reason not to spend as much time as possible outside, so we popped in.  There are a lot of different areas to explore, so be sure to allow yourself some time!

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After checking out the Visitors Center, we headed to the very back of the park.  Here you can get out of your car and launch your boat, rent a canoe, fish, or hike or bike up and down the levy.  We explored the nearby surroundings and saw tons of wildlife!  There were pairs of ducks and wading birds at the shore.  We walked over by the fishing pier to see what we could see… and boy did we see something!  A monster sized alligator was relaxing in the water, just yards away from someone fishing, seemingly fast asleep.  I’m sure it was waiting for a special delivery on the other end of the fisherman’s line, but the fish didn’t seem to be biting that day, and it appeared someone got a little tired of waiting.  Other animals seemed to have noticed Sleeping Beauty as well, ducks swam just feet from it without flinching and fish were picking bits of gunk off its back.  A little further down the fishing pier were several baby turtles out sunning themselves, safely distancing themselves from the alligator.  Personally, I think they should be more worried about the ducks, they can be a bit shady.

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After checking out the first area we piled into the car and went over to the area you can park to get out and hike.  This foot traffic only area is park of the Great Florida Birding Trail and has miles of dry hiking and an observation tower around marshy areas where you will find plenty of wildlife.  We saw tons of herons of all kinds wading in the water looking for lunch, butterflies fluttering all over, small birds flying between trees, coots and moorhens swimming among fish and turtles, and turkey vulchers circling above who knows what.  The trails are easy to walk and there are areas with bridges to cross over canals making it a very pretty hike.

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Probably my favorite part of the hike (and the day) was the final stretch heading back to the parking lot.  Along this last walk we came across a small alligator sitting atop some sawgrass that was enjoying the sun and warmth far too much to be bothered by anyone or anything.  It sat peacefully as small crowds gathered to look at it.  Also along this area were small ponds with water so still that it looked almost like a mirror.  In this area were turtles also sunning themselves, creating a picture perfect scene that so many people seemed to miss because of much “bigger and cooler” things happening.  A few yards down was another distraction, and certainly my hilight of the day, a very brazen red shouldered hawk who sat atop a small tree with people a mere 10 feet away.  People directly below, he couldn’t seem to care any less as he preened away and surveyed the area.

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As promised to my son, we jumped back into the car and headed off to Bedner’s Farm to pick strawberries.  When you’re leaving the preserve remember to check out the canal along the road, you never know what you’ll see… you may see a Great Blue Heron of large and lazy Alligator like we did or maybe you’ll get super lucky and see some of the resident Otters.

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Of course, if you head into Bedner’s and are out in the fields picking strawberries don’t think you’re out of the wildlife woods.  We came across this little guy on our way in swimming with tomatoes.  He was small and harmless and surely looking for rodents sneaking into the fields to snack on some fresh produce.  So if you see a gator in the fields don’t fear it, thank it.

IF YOU GO:

Check out Loxahatchee Wildlife Preserve here…

http://www.fws.gov/loxahatchee/

Don’t forget to stop in at Bedner’s and either pick some fresh produce for yourself or purchase some from their farm store, they’re really great!

http://www.bedners.com/

Pic of the Week – 2/23

February 25, 2013 at 5:19 pm | Posted in Pic of the Week | 2 Comments
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Last weekend was a pretty cool weekend.  Literally, for South Florida, it was a chilly 50 something degrees that required layers for those of us with thin blood and came with plenty of complaining from those “Who live in Florida so I don’t get cold” (Which, by the way, we still get cool, you live in Florida so you don’t have to dig out of the snow.)  But if there was someone who LOVES the cool weather it’s my Husky, Lani Bad Dog.  She and I headed out on what I believe was the coolest evening we had all winter to catch the sunset.  I had never been out to the Evergaldes to watch a sunset, so I opted to bring Lani for “protection”… Protection as in she’ll lick you to death.  Regardless of her reason for tagging along, she was psyched to be there!  Since I had my son, life is mostly about him, and since she became an “only dog-child” 9 months ago when our Hoku passed, I can tell she’s been in a rut.  I try my hardest, but usually the only time just her and I get to spend quality time together not at home is when I bring her to the vet or to be groomed.  So needless to say, this was a special night for her.  Cool weather, just the two of us, and new sights ans smells, she was in heaven!  Shortly after the sun set we began hearing noises of larger animals shuffling around in the saw grass.  I could only imagine they were probably alligators hustling to find somewhere warm to sit.  Nose to the air, she explored the sights, sounds, and smells of the environment.  And in this moment, apparently tastes too, becoming my highlight and Pic of the Week.

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/

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.

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