Happy Bald Eagle Day!

June 21, 2013 at 1:52 am | Posted in The Wild Side | Leave a comment
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What a beautiful, majestic bird it is. A symbol of our country. So to all of you raptor lovers out there, Happy Bald Eagle Day!

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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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Pic of the Week – 3/16

March 19, 2013 at 12:13 pm | Posted in Pic of the Week | 2 Comments
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Here we are, mid March, and Spring is clearly in the air.  Nothing says Spring like all the baby animals on their way!  Last week while walking at Green Cay, my son flew up in his stroller and yelled “Bird!” as a little bird flew right in front of us with nesting material in her beak.  We stopped and watched where she went, landing in a plant near the boardwalk.  As we quietly approached where she was we could see her shuffling around between the leaves.  I knew she must have been building a nest yet I was still a little surprised to see such an elaborate little creation of dried grasses woven around branches to secure her little nest and soon to be home to her eggs.  Her dedication to her offspring was quite evident as she settles proudly into her nest, making her more than worthy of settling in at my Pic of the Week.

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 – 3/9

March 4, 2013 at 3:33 pm | Posted in Pic of the Week | Leave a comment
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I know what you’re thinking… “It’s Monday, how could you possibly have a pic of the week already?”  Let’s face it, it’s not going to get any better this week than that face above!  Over the weekend my best friend and I returned to Crystal River because I wanted to spend my birthday with manatees.  Strange request maybe, but they are quite the party animal!  This little guy above kept on making his way away from other groups and back to us.  He was not only the hilight of our trip but also my Pic of the Week. (Stay tuned for full story to follow… as soon as I manage to catch up on other backed stories!)

Sea Turtle Day

February 28, 2013 at 5:57 pm | Posted in Animal Events, Endangered Encounters, For the Family | Leave a comment
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Here we are, the last day of February.  Spring is just around the corner!  The month of March begins tomorrow, and what an important month it is!  Obviously I’m talking about my birthday being in March, next week I turn… ummm… you know what, let’s talk about what else is happening in March.  St. Patricks Day!  Also a big deal to me personally, but the subject’s I write about here aren’t really into green beer.  If you’re near the coast you probably already know that March 1st is the official kick off to Sea Turtle Season!  Soon enough Leatherback Sea Turtles will be making their way to shores and laying their eggs, followed by other species later in the season.  Welcoming Sea Turtle Season in a big way is Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton, FL, celebrating it’s 8th Annual Sea Turtle Day this Saturday, March 2nd.

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If you’re in the area, be sure not to miss this wonderful event.  It’s a great family day – there will be face painting, crafts for kids, guided tours, animal presentations, and so much more, all to benefit our friend the Sea Turtle and raise awareness about the harm that light pollution causes this endangered species.  Come out for the day with the kids and check out some of the patients in the turtle hospital, animals who were sick or injured, rescues, and are now being rehabilitated until they are able to be released back into the big blue.

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While you’re here you can also learn about FAU’s research and what they’re doing to help the Sea Turtle survive.  You can pop inside one of the labs and see young Turtles of several species under the care of the research team.  Come late turtle season, this facility will be filled with new hatchlings, gaining size and strength before being released into the ocean.  You can also learn about the centers Sea Turtle Walks, night time walks to hopefully catch a glimpse of the amazing sight of a mother Sea Turtle coming ashore to lay her eggs, and Hatchling Releases, the adorable sight of watching little ones that were under the care of Gumbo Limbo scurry into the ocean, their home for hopefully the next 100+ years.

So head on out, enjoy the day!  Sadly, I will not be able to attend, so enjoy it for me! (I will be taking advantage of one last cool weekend in Homosassa Springs to see the Manatee’s before Manatee Season comes to an end at the end of March)  If you go, let me know how it was!

For more information on Sea Turtle Day, or Sea Turtles in General, please visit here…

http://www.gumbolimbo.org/Sea-Turtle-Day-2013

Feeding Time at Deerfield Beach

September 5, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Posted in Endangered Encounters, The Wild Side | 2 Comments
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It had been a while since I had gone snorkeling, so I headed out to good ol’ reliable Deerfield Beach with my friend and her sister to see what was happening at the reef.  We had no idea how exciting this impromptu snorkel adventure was going to be!

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I’ll be honest – it started out less than stellar.  Ever since the first row of reef has been covered by sand from storms, the sea life seems a little less adundant.  It was starting to look a little bit like a reef ghost town by the time we reached the front of the reef.  We quickly learned to head to the back side of the row of reef and you’ll find more activity.  We headed South, as usual, to where the sea turtles usually hang.

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The back side of the (was 2nd row) now first row is full of colorful fish and is more or less like a nursery.  You’ll find juvenile Sgt. Majors, Tangs and Surgeonfish, Triggers, Puffers, Parrot Fish, and Wrasses as well as smaller fish like Coco Damsels and Blennies.  They’re always out and about feeding and they’re not usually terribly shy.

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Amongst the least shy of them all are the young French Angelfish that call this reef home.  What seems to be a “friendly” personality of them swimming right out to you is actually them standing their ground and letting you know thei is their home and they’re not looking for a room mate, but they’re far from aggressive (with people, anyway) and as long as you’re respectful of them they’ll put on a great show for you and happily “smile” for a photo.

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I highly recommend taking a deep breath, diving down, and getting a closer look at things.  Otherwise you might miss something cool like this Scorpion Fish, who looked like part of the rock until I was about a foot away from him.  If you’re snorkeling, diving down gives you a great chance to see a lot of different things that you wouldn’t see from the top.  On the same note, if you decide to go in for that closer look, DON’T grab on to anything to hold yourself down.  Aside from the damage you could do to the reef and anything alive that you might accidentaly touch, it’s very easy to cut yourself or get stung by something living on the rock.  Also, trust me when I tell you, you don’t want to ever grab a big handful of Scorpion Fish as certain species can pack a nasty venomous punch.

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It was at the time that we were admiring a rock covered in colorful fish, including the Scorpion Fish, that I had the feeling we were being watched.  There’s nothing creepier than feeling eyes on you out in the ocean, or at least there’s not when you were watching Shark Week an hour before being in the water.  I turned to my right to find this adorable Sea Turtle who appeared to be fish watching with us.  It seemed to be more than happy to be in our presence.

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We were clearly too busy admiring the Sea Turtle to even notice what we had swam into… that is, until we saw it taking a big bite out of a Jellyfish.  We looked around and realized that we had swam into a mini swarm of jellies!  That quickly explained why the little Sea Turtle wasn’t in a rush to leave, we had accidentaly stumbled into its buffet.  Normally, panic would have kicked in, but considering we hadn’t been stung yet (and with my luck, if anyone was going to get stung, it would have been me) so we hung out and quietly cheered him on as he demolished jellyfish after jellyfish.

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This had turned out to be the coolest Sea Turtle encounter we had ever had!  After feeding, he swam amongst us as if we belonged in the same world.  He even approached my friends brightly colored fins like he was going to touch them.  As we had learned in SCUBA classes, brightly colored air tank boots often attract Sea Turtles, so we joked that this little guy must have had a crush on her fins.  We could have stayed out there forever, except now we were starting to feel the jellyfish!

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IF YOU GO:

The reef structure at Deerfield is much different than it was before a year ago, you have to swim out further to get to the reef.  It is now more important than ever to make sure you have a dive flag!  Sure, lifeguards will alert boats coming too close to shore, but boats don’t always hear or pay attention.  It’s for your own safety!  Also, as always, while you can come in to shore from anywhere, you must go out to the reef from the private stretch of beach.  If you’re looking for the turtles, go out there and swim South.  That is where I find them every time!  JUST REMEMBER – Sea Turtles are ENDANGERED and federally protected.  While it goes without saying to respect ALL the sea life you encounter, be mindful of these guys.  While photographing this turtle there was no chasing or touching happening, he was with us on his own and if he swam away that would have been it.  The best thing to do is let them be and remember you’re a guest in their world… this typically leads to humans seeming less threatening and a better viewing of wildlife.

Have fun and enjoy!

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