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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Mystery Solved



This evening I wandered out to the lake to watch and photograph the two baby Sandhill Cranes who were much closer than yesterday.

Then while I watched one of the parents flew in, it seemed, to check on the babies. A neighbor out working on his house was sure the parent would soon be chasing me. He should have grabbed HIS camera. It would have been quite a photo. However, the adult Sandhill Crane just watched me and, when I was getting too close, she few off.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Even the WEEDS Have Pretty Flowers.



Thanks to a lawn man who doesn't cut too close or too often, the "lawn" seems to be blooming in this drought. More photos coming as the "lawn" continues to put out pretty blooms. Well, at least they aren't dandelions!
Friday, March 16, 2007

Mistaken Identity

When I took this photo of these big, immature birds a month ago, I was sure they were young storks.

Then yesterday, we heard and watched a pair of young Sandhill Cranes. They were quite a distance away wandering around a neighbor's yard, too far away for me to photograph. I was sure that was what I had snapped earlier in the month.

So, today, I checked into All About Birds (link to the right) and there was a photograph of immature Sandhill Cranes. Not the same, especially the bill. SO I am back to identifying these two as immature Wood Storks. If I am wrong I would appreciate any help you have.
Sunday, March 11, 2007

American Goldfinch

There he was, just singing and singing in the top of this tree. I couldn't even see him until he flew to this branch from another.

According to All About Birds (see link in my list of links)

A familiar and abundant small colorful bird, the American Goldfinch is frequently found in weedy fields and visiting feeders. It shows a particular fondness for thistles, eating the seeds and using the down to line its nest.

  • Small bird.
  • Bill small, pointed, conical, and pink.
  • Body bright yellow to dull brown.
  • Wings dark with large white wingbars.
  • Tail short and notched.
  • Breeding male bright yellow with black cap and wings.
  • Size: 11-13 cm (4-5 in)
  • Wingspan: 19-22 cm (7-9 in)
  • Weight: 11-20 g (0.39-0.71 ounces)

Pelicans...Lessons in Humor

From time to time during the day I wander outside or to the edge of the lake just to see what might be happening. Nature is so rich here that there is almost always something to photograph. This afternoon was no different. I looked down around the bend of the lake and noticed a flock of Cattle Egrets gathered around a couple of decorative stone pelicans. It just amused me. I HAD to sneak down and get a snapshot of this strange group of birds.
A little later, before I even had time to download the photos from the afternoon, a neighbor sent word that he had a pelican at his house. It seems the neighborhood knows I am interested in whatever happens around here. In 5 years living here for the winters, I have never seen a pelican on this lake. They are all over the Indian River Lagoon, less than a mile away, but never seemed to wander here.

But here this fellow was. Now you have to understand, this was not a quiet, porch. Active building has been going on all week. There is sawing hammering and a radio playing energetically. What attracted the pelican to a place that was so busy? Who knows? I am sure the mind of a pelican is a strange place.
Friday, March 9, 2007
When the sky is reasonably clear, and the wind not too stiff, we can listen for the jump plane from the nearby airport. We often watch it as it spirals to the jump height. We are getting pretty good at judging when the plane will disgorge its riders. We can not see them until the chutes begin to open. We usually count 10 or 12 as they float down. If we catch the early ones we can see bright colors of the canopies. This is just one of the things we watch from the park bench by the lake at evening.

Red-Cockaded Woodpecker


Tapping away at my laptop on the dining table I happened to look out just as "something" flew to the back of one of the palm trees. I grabbed the camera and changed lenses. "Oh, it will be gone", I thought. I looked out and there is was on a different palm...just going up and down the trunk poking it's beak into existing holes. Still in my nightie, I ran in to get dressed and looked again...there he still was.

I went out a door that might not disturb the bird. They are quick and flighty. Another palm stood between us and I used that as cover to get closer. I was able t shoot quite a few pictures at a few different settings.

Looking at the pictures in the Audubon Field Guide to Florida, I settled on the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker, allowing for little differences and possible immaturity.

All About Birds website (see link to the side of this blog)

One of the few bird species endemic to the United States, the Red-cockaded Woodpecker is a bird of mature southern pine forests. Its preference for longleaf pine and the destruction of that habitat have resulted in the woodpecker becoming an endangered species.

  • Medium-sized woodpecker.
  • Black and white coloration.
  • Large white cheek patch.
  • Black back barred with white.
  • Black cap.
  • Black mustache and neck streak.
  • Size: 20-23 cm (8-9 in)
  • Wingspan: 36 cm (14 in)
  • Weight: 42-52 g (1.48-1.84 ounces)
Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Pelican over Indian River Lagoon

One evening I took my new camera to the public park and walk-way along the Indian River Lagoon. The park includes long wooden piers out into the water. While I was out on one of the walks this fellow glided by. He was going slowly enough and motionless enough for me to
get this picture.

Facts from All About Birds (see link to the right)

Unique among the world's seven species of pelicans, the Brown Pelican is found along the ocean shores and not on inland lakes. It is the only dark pelican, and also the only one that plunges from the air into the water to catch its food.

  • Long bill with extensible pouch.
  • Legs short.
  • Body large and heavy.
  • Feet webbed.
  • Wings long and broad.
  • Tail short.
  • Soars close to water surface.
  • Dives from the air into the water.
  • Size: 100-137 cm (39-54 in)
  • Wingspan: 200 cm (79 in)
  • Weight: 2000-5000 g (70.6-176.5 ounces)

The Scoop on the Brush Fire

The 11:00 PM news mentioned the brush fire from yesterday. It seems that some tiddly-wink set off a bottle rocket from his porch and started the fire. They had to evacuate the middle school, it was so bad. Then a second fire started a mile from the first, probably from the sparks from the first.

I am hoping that the fires spread slowly and allow the wildlife to escape. I will try to find out more. Maybe Florida Fisheries and Wildlife will know. I want to call them about the Turte Catchers anyway. That is another whole story.
Monday, March 5, 2007

A Brush Fire and My Buddies

How can you be interested in the Flora and Fauna in Florida without getting a cold chill when you look at the sky and see this? All year the conditions have been dry...way below normal rainfall. While this is great for the beach and the tourists, no one WANTS to see brush fires. The dryness of the brush is as much a part of the weather report as sunshine and temperatures. The photo above was from the yard, but was miles away. It didn't even get a mention on the news.
Who are my two buddies? I heard this squeaky, chirpy call and looked out to see the Great Egret and the Wood Stork from yesterday looking for me. They looked SO ready to play or something that I just had to go out and talk to them. Now I am updating the blog and they are still standing there. I will go out in a minute and go down to the bench by the water. I know they will follow me. What do they want? They CAN'T consider me a companion...could they?
Sunday, March 4, 2007

A Visitor by the Lake

We were sitting on the park bench by the lake having a drink together when a small flock of cattle egrets landed on the seawall 2 houses away. Right behind them came a Great Egret. He chose a landing spot about 50 feet from us and started walking toward us. He was between us and the house. The neighbor came out to see how close the bird would get to us. I will have to give him the camera sometime to take a photo of us and one of these bold birds.

Over the space of half an hour the bird eyed us, wandered nearer, then a little away, ending up on the sea wall about 10 feet from our bench. We weren't silent, by any means. He was talking on the cell phone and I was talking to the Egret and taking pictures. There WAS interaction between us and the bird, but it is hard to say on what level. You would not believe how comfortable the Egret and the Stork seem to be with us.From All About Birds (Cornell University)
A large white heron, the Great Egret is found across much of the world, from southern Canada southward to Argentina, and in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. It's the largest egret in the Old World, and thus has garnered the name Great White Egret. But in the Americas, the white form of the Great Blue Heron is larger and warrants that name. In the United States, the Great Egret used to be called the American Egret but that was hardly appropriate, since the species range extends beyond America and indeed farther than other herons.
  • Long, black legs and feet.
  • Yellow bill is long, stout, and straight.
  • Flies with neck pulled back in S-curve.
  • Size: 94-104 cm (37-41 in)
  • Wingspan: 131-145 cm (52-57 in)
  • Weight: 1000 g (35.3 ounces)
  • Sexes appear alike.
  • A deep croak when disturbed. Other low calls around nest

Some Plant-life

This digital scrapbook layout shows some of what fascinates me about Florida. You can also see the tower where the Osprey are nesting. There is also (L to R) a Gerber Daisy, a Hibiscus, and Banana Tree...all from our wee piece of Paradise.From The Garden Pages of Window to my World

Plumeria (Frangipani) also known as the Lei flower, is native to warm tropical areas of the Pacific Islands, Caribbean, South America and Mexico. They can grow to be large shrubs or even small trees in mild areas of the U.S. In tropical regions, Plumeria may reach a height of 30' to 40' and half as wide. Their widely spaced thick succulent branches are round or pointed, and have long leather, fleshy leaves in clusters near the branch tips. Leaves tend to fall in early winter since they are deciduous and sensitive to cold.

The first two years we came down here I could not figure out the "tree" at the corner of the house. A relative in another town had the same kind of "tree" and she called it a Sausage Tree. She also said there were beautiful sweet-smelling flowers late in the spring.

I asked some online friends who lived in Florida and they called it a "Frangipani" or "Plumeria". Well, at least that gave me a name for some research. Two years ago I saw my first Frangipani flower the day we left to go back North. Last year I went North for a month for Grandma Duties, and returned in May. The Frangipani was in bloom and the smell was awesome!

This year we had a really warm January and the tree put out a couple of very early blooms. Again, the scent could be detected for 50 feet or more in each direction. What a cool choice for Hawaii as their State Flower!
Saturday, March 3, 2007

Alligator Adventure

Ok. Time to come clean about the Alligator I mentioned earlier.

Our first year here I never saw him. Indeed, I thought he was someone's imaginary phantom. The second year a neighbor came over one morning and pointed out what looked like a log floating off shore. Ok...now I knew what to look for.

The next 2 years we saw the alligators swimming out there from time to time, but never all that close. You can NOT guess the size from two eyes and a pair of nostrils peeking above the water.

Then, this year, a neighbor got a photo of one fellow's head as he eyed her dogs. Still the guess was maybe 6 or 8 feet long.

Then one day I saw him sunning himself on the bank across the bay. WOA! That boy was BIG! Way longer than we thought. Several others have looked at him and the most educated guess right now is about 12 feet long. He certainly isn't afraid of anything. Thank goodness we have a 4 foot seawall all around the lake.About Alligators from Enchanted Learning
Alligators are large, semi-aquatic carnivorous reptiles with four legs and a huge tail. The tail is half the animal's length; it helps propel the alligator through the water, is used to make pools of water during the dry seasons (gator holes), is used as a weapon, and stores fat that the alligator will use for nourishment during the winter. Alligators are cold blooded (ectothermic); they do not make their own body heat. They gain body heat by basking in the sun.
There are two types of alligators:

  • The American alligator, which grows up to 19 feet (3.5 m) long, and up to 600 pounds (270 kg).
  • The Chinese alligator, which grows to be about 6 feet long (1.8 m).
Alligators have four legs. They swim very well, mainly using their tails to propel themselves through the water, and, to a lesser extent, using their webbed feet.

Alligators (like many reptiles) are plantigrade; they walk in a flat-footed manner. On land, they can run relatively fast, but only in short bursts.

Alligators mostly live in fresh to brackish water, in swamps, marshes, canals, and lakes. The American alligator is found only in the southeastern part of the USA; the

Alligators are usually solitary animals. They have a life span of up to about 30 to 35 years in the wild, and up to 50 years in captivity.

Alligators have a wide range of calls and vocalizations. These calls are used in mating, to define territory, as distress signals (babies grunt to alert the mother when in danger), etc.

Two Amigos

Just after completing the last entry, I decided to take the camera out and see what I might find. I headed to my neighbors house, since she was out gardening, and when I turned around there was a big old Wood Stork and a beautiful Great Egret, along with several small Cattle Egrets and an Ibis or two all in my yard with the bigger two right close to the screen room begging, it looked like. They eat live fish! For WHAT were they begging? I could not believe how close the stork let me come. I was the one who backed off, not him. I was within 6 feet when I decided that was close enough. Not that he was the least bit aggressive.

I took photos earlier this winter of a young Wood Stork with still some feathers on his head.
A week or two later I snapped two much younger storks who were still all spotty and brown.

Now, keep in mind all of this is in just one backyard, but it IS on a small lake with a mile-long island-wildlife preserve in the lake. Still, to this Northern Gal this is a thrill. I will never take these beautiful birds for granted. I don't know if it is their size or the sparkling white of their feathers. They are quite comfortable with my coming close with a camera.

WOOD STORK (From All About Birds - Cornell University All About Birds
large, white, bald-headed wading bird of the southeastern swamps, the Wood Stork is the only stork breeding in the United States. Its late winter breeding season is timed to the Florida dry season when its fish prey become concentrated in shrinking pools.
  • Huge, long-legged white bird.
  • Long, thick, down-curved bill.
  • Head black and bald.
  • Wings white with extensive black flight feathers.
  • Size: 85-115 cm (33-45 in)
  • Wingspan: 150-175 cm (59-69 in)
  • Weight: 2050-2640 g (72.37-93.19 ounces)
  • Sexes look alike.
  • Usually silent. Nasal barking calls at nest.

Musings on Osprey


Osprey - from All About Birds

One of the largest birds of prey in North America, the Osprey eats almost exclusively fish. It is one of the most widespread birds in the world, found on all continents except Antarctica.

  • Large raptor.
  • White breast and belly.
  • Black back and wings.
  • Long wings, held with wingtips angled slightly backwards.
  • Dark eyestripe.
  • Crown and forehead white.
  • Size: 54-58 cm (21-23 in)
  • Wingspan: 150-180 cm (59-71 in)
  • Weight: 1400-2000 g (49.42-70.6 ounces)
  • Sexes similar; female larger and tends to have fuller and. darker chest band
  • Calls are short, chirping whistles
We have been watching Osprey for 5 years, now. Several pairs have nested on the mile-long island wildlife preserve down the middle of the lake. We listened to the babies squawking as the parent came toward the nest with a fish, we watched the parents fishing in the lake, but that is rare. It seems that they carry fish from the Indian River Lagoon, less than a mile away.

This year I watched one bird flying with several others, but squawking up a storm while carrying some kind of nesting material. I thought at first that he had something wound around his legs and was in trouble but as I watched there was more happening.
The Osprey started circling the cell phone tower just across the little bay. While I watched he placed the stick and left.

Since then I have seen the nest grow and a pair of Osprey take up residence. In the early morning one or the other will spread his wings and just step off the tower. It is so high that there is no need to flap those great wings. It certainly seems like they enjoy riding the wind. What a choice of a perch! The tower is more than 10 times taller than the tallest tree. Their view must be spectacular.

I will be watching all spring for the first signs of nestlings.
Thursday, March 1, 2007

Paradise?

Maybe not "paradise" for everything. About 10:30 last night a sound came across the little bay of the lake. It could have been a cat, but something louder than a housecat was in trouble. Well, the island is a wildlife preserve and such sounds are not all that rare.

This morning I looked out the window and 6 or so of those big black vultures with white on the wing tips were swarming all over something and more birds circling in the air. They were tearing something up.

What was that sound? What animal was in trouble? What killed it?

I don't think it was the alligator because he would have consumed his prey or pulled it underwater to save for later. He certainly wouldn't have wasted anything. As big as he is (guessing around 11-12 feet) he needs food, not sport-killing.

Mysteries back home center on whether or not an eagle got my housecat 3 years ago. This is so much more exotic.

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Laura Lou
Michigan/Florida, United States
I am a retired Middle School Science teacher from Michigan spending 4 months each winter in Florida and learning about a whole new world.
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