Archive for ‘Nature Notes’

Meet Sarge

The chilly temperature (67 degrees) coupled with the fresh breeze (according to the Beaufort Wind Scale) kept me off the beach this past Sunday. Yes, I’m a cold weather wimp which is why I live here and not somewhere that has winter.

A friend and I made the best of the situation by touring a new-to-us location, the George C. McGough Nature Park in nearby Largo. Though it’s a small park tucked in a residential area, it had plenty to explore. There was a nice boardwalk out to the Intracoastal Waterway and a large freshwater pond but the highlight was the Birds of Prey area.

All of the roughly twenty avians were rescued and are not releasable due to various health issues. Under the Federal Migratory Bird Special Purpose Possession program, carefully monitored by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, participating facilities develop educational programs highlighting their birds.

Luckily, during our visit the keepers had a few birds out on display. Though they are fascinating birds, the American Kestrel and Red-shouldered Hawk couldn’t lure us away from Sarge, the resident Bald Eagle.

When Sarge was rescued as a slightly malnourished, young adult they discovered she (yes, Sarge is a girl) had a genetic feather disorder. This deficiency disrupted her hunting ability and therefore, Sarge now resides at the park.

Standing about three feet tall and weighing just over ten pounds Sarge cut a commanding figure. It was fascinating to watch how gently she took food from her handler. Her demeanor changed when she was offered her dessert, a dead but intact quail.

With gusto Sarge used her sharp and strong, hooked beak to tear into the flesh. We took a step back when she began flinging out the inedible bits, like the intestines.

Though it’s sad that she can’t live free at least she has a safe place to call home.

Feeding Frenzy

Well, it’s officially that time of year. No, not THAT time of year. I’m referring to migration time when millions of small fish move along our Gulf Coast. These massive schools of fingerlings attract a lot of attention from larger fish and pescatarian birds.

The larger fish in the area drew in our resident pod of dolphins. During my sunset walk this week I had the good fortune to watch them participate in a team roundup. I counted at least 8 dolphins working the fish into an ever smaller circle:

I also caught some of the pelican action from my favorite perch at John’s Pass:

Don’t worry, I assure you, there are plenty of fish to go around!

How Not to Fish

While I was crossing the bridge at Sawgrass Lake Park an Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) surfaced with a sizable catch. Skilled swimmers, Snakebirds stab their prey with their sharp, pointed bill.

This one had impaled a tasty morsel (perhaps overzealously) but had a dickens of a time trying to dislodge it. After a few minutes of head shaking and flipping, the fish finally flew free and was quickly swallowed by the bird.

Frustrating few minutes for the Anhinga but it was successful in the end!

Fishing Tutorial

I spent an hour wandering around Sawgrass Lake Park earlier this week. As before, my visit did not disappoint. While I was fascinated by it, this Tricolored Heron studiously ignored me. It obviously had bigger fish to fry (as it were).

The technique: stand perfectly still, snap up the tiny tidbit, shake off excess water and vegetation, rotate the fish with a quick flip, then swallow it whole. All of this takes place within a span of mere seconds, though the bird caught several fish while I was watching I felt fortunate to catch just a few photos of it in action!

A few bonus shots just because it was such a handsome bird!

Wood Rose, Revisited

Earlier this week I shared a beautiful Wood Rose bloom with a promise to capture a photo of the reason behind its common name. Yesterday I finally had the opportunity to return to that roadside and collect some of the ornate seed pods.

Thankfully, I was able to gather a handful of the pods for it would be a shame to crush these for their seeds – they are too pretty! The seeds I will plant in my yard so that hopefully next summer I won’t have to go as far to see this unique vine. Wish me luck!

Wood Rose

This bright flower caught my eye last weekend. Since it was growing along a roadside I presumed it was one of the many invasive morning glory species.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Cutleaf Morning Glory (Merremia dissecta) is actually a native vine with useful medicinal properties. I will be heading back soon to gather some of the cool looking seed pods for my yard.

When I do, I’ll be sure to take some photos. It is also known as Wood Rose because the ornate pods look like wooden, wild roses.

Busy as a Bee

Note that I didn’t say “busy bee” because although this creature resembles one, looks can be deceiving. This happens to be a sand wasp in the Sticitella genus.

Though relatively harmless to humans, they come by their common name, Butterfly-wolf Wasp honestly. They prey on small butterflies, stunning them before dragging them into their sandy burrows. A female can stuff as many as ten of them into her lair before laying her egg. After all her hatchling will be hungry!

Daytime Surprise

It must’ve been the clouds that convinced this primarily nocturnal Atlantic Ghost Crab (Ocypode Quadrata) to open its burrow and venture out. Even though they are pretty good at matching their surroundings, these crabs are a favorite food of gulls, hence their preference for the nighttime hours.

As you can tell from the numerous trails around the hole, the species name ocypode (from Ancient Greek meaning “fast feet”) is rather fitting. These speedy critters dine on anything from sea turtle eggs and hatchlings to other crabs to mole crabs (similar to ones I discussed while living on the Oregon coast).

It was fun to catch a quick glimpse!

Helpful Hopper

I disturbed this Southern Toad’s (Anaxyrus terrestris) daily routine with one of my recent digging projects. I was pleased to discover this nocturnal hopper in my yard since they are known to devour roaches and other nighttime creepy crawlies.

As a true toad it is toothless, covered in warts, and sports two parotoid glands. An effective defense mechanism, the toad can secrete a toxin from these glands that deters predation.

Thankfully for dog owners, the Southern Toad’s poison is not nearly as powerful as that of the non-native Cane Toad (now found throughout Florida) or the Sonoran Desert Toad out west. Years ago, I had to rinse out the mouth of a dog that made the terrible mistake of trying to chew on one, Shelby never did that again!

Welcome to my ‘hood, little one. May you live long and prosper!