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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Every Evening Another Treat -Sandhill Crane

I was sitting on my bench, by the seawall around our lake when I heard AND saw this Sandhill Crane. Evening is not the best time for a photo with the setting sun behind the subject but, well, it was so close! The spots mark it as a juvenile, or so I thought.

I kept getting closer until it took off across the lake, where it sat and squawked at me...and squawked and squawked!

A little later we looked across the lake and saw THIS! TWO with a little black fuzzy chick following them. So...these HAVE to be mature enough to have hatched a chick recently. This IS a little late in the year for such a young chick. Usually in April we begin to see much larger hatchlings. And what is with the parents and their markings of youth? No red cap on either.

To further add to the mystery, a few minutes later we saw THIS! Swimming? Sandhill Cranes SWIM??? It most certainly is the same family with their little black chick swimming behind. Ok...I really need to look this one up.

From "All About Birds" from Cornell University:

Cool Facts

Adult Description

  • Very large bird.
  • Long neck.
  • Long Legs.
  • Gray body, may be stained reddish.
  • Red forehead.
  • White cheek.
  • Tufted feathers over rump.

Immature Description

Similar to adult, but mottled gray and brown, and without facial markings or bald forehead.

  • The Sandhill Crane does not breed until it is two to seven years old. It can live up to the age of 20. Mated pairs stay together year round, and migrate south as a group with their offspring.
The breeding map at this site shows the state of Florida and some other areas in blue...which, according to the key is Winter (non-breeding). What? We have seen MANY pairs of adults WITH their babies here in Florida; babies far too young to have migrated.

Well, maybe someone will explain this to me. On with my research:

Wikipedia says this:

The Florida Sandhill Crane is far less common, with some 5,000 individuals remaining. They are most threatened by habitat destruction and probably depend on human management in the long run. In Florida, it is protected, and if killed, carries a very high monetary penalty. This subspecies is under protection of state and federal law at this time. Since the loss of habitat is a somewhat controllable cause of a declining population, habitat preservation is a valuable management measure. The current outlook for the Florida sandhill crane, if it can be maintained on the protected habitats, is good. Transplanting wild birds, as well as introducing captive-reared birds into suitable areas where crane numbers are low, appears to be a viable technique in the management of this threatened species. It is hoped that these management strategies, plus continued ecological research, will prevent the Florida sandhill crane from reaching a more critical status.

Florida Sandhill Cranes (Southwest Florida Water Management District)

Florida sandhill cranes are long-legged, long-necked, gray, heron-like birds with a patch of bald, red skin on top of their heads. Sandhill cranes fly with their necks outstretched with powerful, rhythmic wing beats. Florida's sandhill cranes are a threatened species that are found in inland shallow freshwater marshes, prairies, pastures and farmlands. Sometimes they can be seen on lawns throughout Florida. They are sensitive birds that do not adjust well to changed environments and high human populations. Sandhill cranes are usually seen in small family groups or pairs. However, during the winter, Florida's sandhill crane population increases as cranes from northern states spend the winter in Florida. Sandhill cranes are omnivorous, meaning they eat a variety of plant and animal matter. Some of their favorite meal items include seeds, plant tubers, grains, berries, insects, earthworms, mice, snakes, lizards, frogs and crayfish. Unlike other wading birds, such as herons, sandhill cranes do not "fish." The voice of the sandhill crane is one of the most distinctive bird sounds in Florida. This "call of the wild" has been described as a bugling or trumpeting sound, and can be heard for several miles. Florida sandhill cranes stay with the same mate for several years and young sandhills stay with their parents until they are about 10 months old. Like their endangered relatives the whooping cranes, sandhills live to be older than most birds. In fact, some sandhill cranes live up to 20 years.


Ok...that answers everything except the youth of the parents and their SWIMMING.
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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My granddaughter, age almost-3 won one of the 15 prize Easter baskets at the Egg Scramble, April 2009 the day before Easter. There were thousands of children there so it was quite a win for the wee one and she properly thanked the Easter Bunny.

I just had to share this cute video of my granddaughters dancing during the entertainment at the Easter Egg Scramble at the city park. This was Saturday, the day before Easter.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A History Lesson

As our days wind down we are busy finishing tasks and errands we have put off all winter. On our way back from such an errand I asked if we could go over the Wabasso Bridge and check on the state of the new boardwalk at the beach right there by Disney-Vero. We crossed the bridge and he turned South on the Jungle Trail. We have explored the North part of the trail and found it rather boring. This South part, though, runs along the East bank of the Indian River and is much more interesting.

There are remains of some of the pioneer farms along the way. Most are now historic sites. It seems odd to me to call people who farmed in the 20s "pioneers" but Florida wasn't settled as early as other states. Here are a couple of other pioneer places.
Between the historic sites there are loads of luxury condominiums and homes on the East and some community docks on the West. So incongruous...tiny pioneer homes and huge almost-mansions.
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We finally made it to the breach and were delighted with the new boardwalk, bathhouse, and groomed beach. I hope we get over there early in the morning at least once before we leave. I have not seen sunrise over the ocean.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
A duck and a Sand Hill Crane in the same shot! Neither is very exotic to us any more, especially given the over-run of ducks in our Michigan town, but I couldn't resist the shot of the two together in the same frame. This is a juvenile Sand Hill so the plumage isn't the same as the pictures in the books.
This is a nightly sight...a turtle poking his head above water and looking at us. Kind of cute and we love it. Makes me sad that Turtle Hunters are allowed to set traps in this lake. So far we didn't see them at all this year. Maybe my standing on the seawall shouting at them the last couple of years made them think twice...or maybe I just missed them this year but Ididn't see the bright ribbons marking traps at all this year.
These neighbor boys (and their dad, maybe) do a lot of fishing in the lake and usually this egret is standing by waiting for his share of their catch.

Although this family is only 6 or so houses away around the lake, we don't know them except our observations evenings by the lake. There seem to be 4 or so children, and a lot of friends...maybe more. It appears that they fish, and one (or is that Dad?) is great at throwing the net. This is NOT an easy skill. We hear the kids sometimes but never is it annoying. They are active in the pool, basketball, fishing, and building some kind of poolhouse. As I said, we don't know them AT ALL, but I admire what I do see.

No photo for this one, but as I tried to go to sleep last night, I heard a definite footfall in the dry Umbrella Tree leaves underneath our bedroom window. I popped out of bed and looked out to see a FOX trotting past the solar lights around the screenhouse. What a surprise!!! I hope he manages to rid us of the opossum that gets into our trash cans on occasion.
Friday, April 24, 2009

Evening By The Lake

I certainly would be able to compete in the Photo-a-Day challenge if I were going to be here in Florida all year. This evening I went down to the lake earlier than usual because the light is better. But would I get any photos? At first there was nothing. Then I began to see the water just off the seawall churning up a bit. Soon I realized there were two turtles locked in a dance, struggle, or, more likely, mating .

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash land on the palm tree and this fellow posed nicely for me.

My Snowy Egret

There he is, "MY" Egret. My first photos here in 2003 were of this bird or another like him. As I understand it, they have a long life span, now that they are protected and not being killed for their mating plumage. This COULD be the same fellow. He certainly knows we keep cans of sardines in the house. We were sitting on the bench at the breakwall when he came up from below, fishing for minnows, and headed straight for the screen house. Mind you, that was between us and the house. He waited until I had snapped all the pictures I wanted and just KNEW I would go in and treat him to some sardines.
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Monday, April 6, 2009

Listen to the Mockingbird

Ever since I heard my first Mockingbird in North Carolina 12 years ago, I have been enchanted by the varied songs of these birds. One male seems to like perching in the very tip-top of the bottle brush tree and singing his whole repertoire each evening. Sometimes we whistle back and he seems to respond with similar calls, but his are far prettier with trills, whistles, and song.

We have been aware for the last few weeks that a pair of Mockingbirds were nesting somewhere next door. A lady staying in the house next door for a couple of weeks showed me the nest she had found. I managed these photos today although the parents were NOT happy with me. The nest is in a huge "Pencil Tree", at least that is what Rose told me it was called.

When I showed the nest to my almost-six-year-old granddaughter she went right over to her soon-to-be-three sister and asked if she could show her the "Monkey Bird Nest".
From All About Birds at Cornel University:
The "American nightingale," the Northern Mockingbird is known for its long, complex songs that include imitations of many other birds. It is a common bird of hedgerows and suburbs, and has been slowly expanding its range northward.

  • Medium-sized songbird.
  • Long tail.
  • Pale gray above, whitish below.
  • Bill thin.
  • Two white wingbars.
  • Large white patches show in wings in flight.
  • White outer tail feathers.
  • Size: 21-26 cm (8-10 in)
  • Wingspan: 31-35 cm (12-14 in)
  • Weight: 45-58 g (1.59-2.05 ounces)

Cool Facts

  • The Northern Mockingbird frequently gives a "wing flash" display, where it half or fully opens its wings in jerky intermediate steps, showing off the big white patches. No one knows why it does this behavior, but some have suggested that it startles insects into revealing themselves. However, it does not appear to flush insects, and other mockingbird species that do not have white wing patches use the display, casting doubt on this idea.
  • The Northern Mockingbird is a loud and persistent singer. It sings all through the day, and often into the night. Most nocturnal singers are unmated males, which sing more than mated males during the day too. Nighttime singing is more common during the full moon. In well-lit areas around people, even mated males may sing at night.
  • A Northern Mockingbird continues to add new sounds to its song repertoire throughout its life.
  • The Northern Mockingbird typically sings throughout most of the year, from February through August, and again from September to early November. A male may have two distinct repertoires of songs: one for spring and another for fall. One study found only a one percent overlap in song types used in spring and fall.
  • The female Northern Mockingbird sings too, although usually more quietly than the male does. She rarely sings in the summer, usually only when the male is away from the territory. She sings more in the fall, perhaps to establish a winter territory.

Clearing the Jungle


Rose was "Quite a Gardener". That is the first thing I heard about our neighbor before I ever came down here. When I asked her about this plant or that she just laughed and said it was something pretty. If it had a flower, she loved it. Among the tangle of native plants, she had an extensive collection of orchids. I have been reading up on cultivation of orchids and she didn't do ANY of those things, but her orchids, in pots of sand, shoved under bushes, flourished.

About a year ago Rose passed away. Her two adult children from back in Ohio cleared out the house and left furniture and other amenities in case friend or family wanted to stay for a little vacation. All of the orchids were put out by the street with a sign asking passers-by to give them good homes.

The rest of the tangle of native plants has kept growing and growing until they began to push through the screen of the pool enclosure. Today we called and received permission to prune back around the screen house. Above is how it looked when we started. Below are a couple of pictures of the finished landscaping and one of the two truckloads of prunings we took to the dump.

Along the side between the houses NOW.

Along the back of the screen house, uncovered from thick weeds.

The truck loaded for the first of two trips to the dump with brush.
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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Bee Hive

Several days ago we were up the coast about an hour, visiting my FIL. This thing was hanging from a large cork tree by the apartment complex he owns. I was fascinated.

As an old science teacher, one of my pet peeves was people who see a WASP and call it a BEE. Wasps BAD...bees GOOD! Yellow Jackets, wasps which look a bit like bees, are nasty buggers who will live to sting again. Bees die when they sting because the stinger stays in the victim and that kills the bee. Bees are NECESSARY to pollinate and wasps, although they do some pollination, only seem exist to sting me and my loved ones. Wasps, as far as I know, never build hives anything like this one.

I looked really closely...these are honey bees. The combs are beautiful and filling up fast. It is a new hive and probably would be prized by any beekeeper. FIL has no plans on getting rid of it and, indeed, it is fascinating to watch. I just hope none of his tenants decide to do something about it and get stung.

I do not see ANY signs of aggression so I pretty much ruled out those Africanized bees. Those things scare me!!!
Friday, April 3, 2009

Here's to Old Friends

While we were standing talking with our neighbor, we watched a couple of storks fly down the lake. This one, I think recognized us from years past. He wheeled around and came back, landing a few feet from us. I THINK it is the same stork I have been feeding for 7 years. I wonder what their lifespan is. In fact, I think this is the fellow that was in one of the first photos I took with my original Canon Digital DSLR. However, I had a better lens I had transferred from my film SLR. That photo ended up in the newspaper.

I can't wait for my daughter to get here in a few days with my Macro lens!

So, I slipped into the house, grabbed the camera and a tin of sardines. At first I dug out a fish for him but then I gave the tin to my Old Dear and let him feed while I snapped. Unfortunately, in the photos you can't really appreciate how close the two actually were.
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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Another Assult on the Senses

One of the things I missed most about the springs right after the hurricanes of '04 was the scent of orange blossoms. Several mornings ago I awoke to a breeze out of the West that was so heavy with orange blossom scent I just sat up and inhaled again and again. Heaven must smell like this! For the last week the scent wafts in and out as the winds shift. How can I share this in the blog?

I can't...not really. My friend Judy said it smelled like Hawaii. I was never there so I can't relate to that. The lady staying in our neighbor's house for a couple of weeks came down to the waters edge and asked me what it WAS that smelled so sweet.

I missed that scent the first couple of years after the hurricanes of '04. Indian River County groves had suffered losses of most of the trees around the perimeters of the groves. The interior trees were so damaged that it took until '08 to recover. I don't remember the scent being this pronounced. Maybe it is the windy days we are having, or the trees just laden with blossoms but this year it IS remarkable.
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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Another Item Checked Off

On my (mental) list of ambitions was "To take a photo of an armadillo." Sunday we drove around the Fellsmere area (Florida) and back along a sand road through some marsh park. Now I have seen Armadillos along the I-95 as we drove back and forth from the airport in Orlando, but you just don't ask a driver in that traffic to stop so you can get a photo. This time we could.
I didn't get my new Canon Rebel XTi until the next day but I didn't think this photo was too shabby for a little Canon PowerShot ELPH.
Armadillos are small placental mammals, known for having a leathery armor shell. The Dasypodidae are the only surviving family in the order Cingulata, part of the superorder Xenarthra along with the anteaters and sloths. The word armadillo is Spanish for "little armored one".
There are approximately 10
extant genera and around 20 extant species of armadillo, some of which are distinguished by the number of bands on their armor. Their average length is about 75 centimeters (30 in), including tail; the Giant Armadillo grows up to 1.5 m (5 ft) and weighs 59 kg (130 lbs), while the Pink Fairy Armadillos are diminutive species with an overall length of 12–15 cm (4–5 in). All species are native to the Americas, where they inhabit a variety of environments.
In the
United States, the sole resident armadillo is the Nine-banded Armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus), which is most common in the central southernmost states, particularly Texas. Their range is as far east as South Carolina and Florida and as far north as Nebraska; they have been consistently expanding their range over the last century due to a lack of natural predators and have been found as far north as Illinois and Indiana.

Habitat and anatomy
Armadillos are prolific diggers. Many species use their sharp claws to dig for food, such as grubs, and to dig dens. The Nine-banded Armadillo prefers to build burrows in moist soil near the creeks, streams, and arroyos around which it lives and feeds. The diet of different armadillo species varies, but consists mainly of insects, grubs, and other invertebrates. Some species, however, are almost entirely formicivorous (feeding mainly on ants).[citation needed]
Armadillos have poor vision. The armor is formed by plates of dermal bone covered in relatively small, overlapping epidermal scales called "scutes", composed of bone with a covering of horn. In most species, there are rigid shields over the shoulders and hips, with a number of bands separated by flexible skin covering the back and flanks. Additional armor covers the top of the head, the upper parts of the limbs, and the tail. The underside of the animal is never armored, and is simply covered with soft skin and fur.[1]
This armor-like skin appears to be the main defense of many armadillos, although most escape predators by fleeing (often into thorny patches, from which their armor protects them) or digging to safety. Only the South American three-banded armadillos (Tolypeutes) rely heavily on their armor for protection. When threatened by a predator, Tolypeutes species frequently roll up into a ball. Other armadillo species cannot roll up because they have too many plates. The North American Nine-banded Armadillo tends to jump straight in the air when surprised, and consequently often collides with the undercarriage or fenders of passing vehicles.[2]
Armadillos have short legs but can move quite quickly, and have the ability to remain underwater for as long as six minutes. Because of the density of its armor, an armadillo will sink in water unless it inflates its stomach and intestines with air, which often doubles its size and allows it to swim across narrow bodies of water.[3]
Armadillos use their claws for digging and finding food, as well as for making their homes in burrows. They dig their burrows with their claws, only making a single corridor where they fit themselves. They have five clawed toes on the hindfeet, and three to five toes with heavy digging claws on the forefeet. Armadillos have a large number of cheek teeth, which are not divided into premolars and molars, but usually have incisors or canines.
Gestation lasts anywhere from 60 to 120 days, depending on species, although the nine-banded armadillo also exhibits delayed implantation, so that the young are not typically born for eight months after mating. Most members of the genus Dasypus give birth to four homozygous young (that is, identical quadruplets), but other species may have typical litter sizes that range from one to eight. The young are born with soft leathery skin, which hardens within a few weeks, and reach sexual maturity in 3-12 months, depending on the species. Armadillos are solitary animals, that do not share their burrows with other adults.[1]

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Gabby Faye
Michigan, United States
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