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/

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.

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!

Pretty In Pink, The Roseate Spoonbill

September 27, 2012 at 2:35 am | Posted in Creature Feature | Leave a comment
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It’s not every day I see a beautiful pink bird, but every so often Mother Nature is kind enough to surprise me with the presence of a Roseate Spoonbill. I’ve seen them most flying over the Everglades while driving across Alligator Alley, and on occasion I’ve seen them at Green Cay Nature Center in Boynton Beach, but this one in particular I happened upon in Loxahatchee.

 

Often confused with a Flamingo, the Roseate Spoonbill is smaller than it’s pink cousin with a distinctive spoon shaped beak. (Hey, is that how they get their name?!) They get their pink pigment the same way Flamingo’s do, through their diet. Once hunted to near extinction in the 1800’s for their beautiful pink plumes, the Spoonbill population is on the rise thanks to the protection it recieved while on The Endangered Species List. Though it has been removed from the Federal list, it is still considered a speciec of concern in Florida. Habitat loss is it’s biggest threat now. This delicate bird is also a great indication of the health of the environment it lives in. I can only hope that the more often I see the uncommon bird, the better the environment is doing, and that there is a chance out children can enjoy creatures like this for years to come.

Photos taken with my Nikon D3100

Green Cay Wetlands – Boynton Beach, Fl.

January 18, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Posted in For the Family, The Wild Side | Leave a comment
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Last week, my friend and I took our boys to Green Cay Wetlands in Boynton Beach. It was my first time there and the whole time I found myself asking “Why have I never been here before?” Green Cay is simply wonderful! The land on which the preserve sits used to be a bell pepper farm some 40 years ago. It was donated to Palm Beach County by its owners, Ted and Trudy Winsberg, and turned back into it’s natural state. Now it is home to a 1.5 mile boardwalk loop, a 9,000 square-foot nature center, and more wildlife than I ever expected to exist in Boynton Beach.

We came across two alligators this day. The first was happily sunning himself, only about 3 or 4 feet long. He was suppounded by birds, who seemed unconcerned that they could have been a potential meal.

The second alligator was saw was a bit smaller than the first, cruising around in the water toward the end of our walk. He was certainly more active than the first, and any bird in it’s part made sure to move out of the way.

This soft shelled turtle was one of the very first critters we saw. I was amazed for two reasons: 1. I couldn’t believe that all we did was walk up, look over the edge, and BAM, there he was! I hadn’t even managed to put my lense on my camera yet. Luckily he was as relaxed as everything and everyone else at the park and wasn’t in a rush to go anywhere too fast. 2. I couldn’t believe how clear the water was! I guess I’m just used to murky South Florida canal water? The water was crystal clear, you could see right to the bottom, and it was a very refreshing surprise to know that not all of South Florida is polluted beyond control.

Green Cay is home to many other turtles as well. You’ll find a variety of aquatic turtles here such as red ear sliders, yellow bellied, and painted turtles. But don’t just look in the water for them. (Even though you’ll find them there) Keep an eye on the shore line and on fallen logs, they’re almost always out sunning themselves. (Or, as we call the turtles on the log to the kids, “doind a turtle conga line”)

Green Cay is home to more birds than any other animal. They were everywhere you looked! There were flocks upon flocks of these American Coots, all making quite a chatter, eating, playing, bathing, and fighting. The only kind of bird that seemed to rival them in numbers were the White Ibis.

Some of my favorite water fowl that we saw that day were the Blue-winged Teal Ducks. They were beautifuly colored and just plain fun to watch. It may be because I’m easily entertained, but I couldn’t keep my eyes off of them! All of them that we saw were in pairs, I don’t recall seeing a single one by itself at all. We must have come at dinner time, because they were all very busy hunting, sticking their little ducky-hineys straight up in the air.

For being listed as federally endangered, the Wood Storks were sure out in powerful numbers. Which, of course, is great! We must have seen at least a dozen of them – singles, pairs, even in groups of 3. They were as far away as the distance and as close as directly beneath the boardwalk. For an animal nerd such as myself, seeing this endangered bird in such strong numbers brought a smile to my face.

Without a doubt, the Most Popular Award of the day goes to the Red-shouldered Hawk. Photographers had their tripods set up all over the board walk, snapping away shots of this beauty. He didn’t do much at all, but with looks like this, he really didn’t have to. It was a treat for us all and certainly a memorable sighting for my first visit..

A quite uncommon, but very exciting visitor this day was this Roseate Spoonbill. Perched up high on a bare tree, this beauty was just preening away. I can only imagine he didn’t have a crowd of tripods and photographers surrounding him because they all got stuck at the hawk. Their loss was our gain, we had front row seats to watch this little pink bird. Spoonbills are endangered, once hunted to very low numbers for their pink feathers.  This was the highlight of my visit.

What narute walk in South Florida would be complete without a Great Blue Heron? We almost missed this guy, we were busy looking at the second alligator toward the end of the walk and just happened to catch him on the other side of the boardwalk. I’m so glad we spotted it though, there giant birds are just beautiful.

The Great Blues weren’t the only Herons present this day. We saw quite a few little Tricolored Herons. Much smaller than the Greats, but very adorable.

Reminding us that it is in fact winter down here in tropical paradise, the Snowy Egret was also out and about today. We only saw a few, but they were quite close to the boardwalk.

Even if you’re not in to the scaley or feathery types, you can still enjoy the cute and cuddly! My friend and I thought for sure that this was an escaped pet (or, as I had joked “gator food”), but sure enough he belonged here! I didn’t realize that the Marsh Bunny even existed, this was my “something new” learned today. Also in the furry category which we did not see this day, sometimes, if you’re really lucky, you’ll spot river otter or bobcats. Guess who’s going back to Green Cay with a mission?

We saw plenty of birds, lets not forget the bees! This bee house was set fairly close to the boardwalk, but not so close that I worried for my 1 year old child. These are the good bees, honey bees, not aggressive at all. Quite honestly, if they even noticed us, I don’t think they could possibly care any less about our presence.

IF YOU GO…

Adding to the natural beauty of the park, there is no cost to enter! (If it’s free, it’s for me!) The loop of the park is open daily from sunrise to sunset. Check the Nature Center hours if you want to go inside, they have odd hours (they were already closed when we got there at 3pm.) Due to the nature of the park and it being a wildlife preserve, dogs are not permitted. It is a very lovely walk, it was easy to maneuver with our strollers, and there are restroom facilities present, as well as a water fountain and (I think, but don’t hold me to it) a soda machine. As usual, keep this park beautiful and don’t litter! There are plenty of trash cans available throughout the walk. Should you get tired walking along the boardwalk, there are also frequent observation areas with benches so you can rest.

Enjoy your visit!

http://www.pbcgov.com/waterutilities/waterfacts/green_cay.htm

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