Archive for ‘Nature Notes’

Tummy Trouble

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Raccoon, Walsingham Park, Largo, Florida May 2020

During my training as a naturalist I was taught to avoid anthropomorphizing – inferring human emotions or characteristics upon animals. It can be challenging and I often fail, “Oh, look at those dolphins, they look like they’re playing, they’re having so much fun.” Hey, I’m only human and some animals do seem to embody pure joy (dolphins, otters, and puppies for instance).

I explained all that so that you can understand my thought process about this raccoon. I watched it for at least 30 minutes the other afternoon (from a safe distance away, using a zoom lens). It changed position exactly once in that entire time, carefully settling into the crotch of the branch.

Once I saw its distended belly pooch out on either side I occurred to me that the animal looked incredibly uncomfortable. Downright miserable, actually. Then I noted the fruit in the tree, and all the bird activity and droppings. Conclusion? Someone over indulged. Hey, we’ve all done it. Sorry little one, hope you feel better soon!

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Possibly a Winter Cinnamon Tree?

All Gussied Up

Though it is difficult to distinguish between the sexes in Great Egrets (Ardea alba), I will venture a guess that this brightly-colored one is a male. During breeding season the birds undergo certain enhancements to make them more appealing, in this case that means long, fluffy plume feathers, a more vivid bill, and most strikingly, flourescent green lores (skin patch between the eye and bill).

The male of the species tends to exaggerate these features more and the one I photographed was exceptionally vibrant, hence my determination. Putting on bling to attract a possible mate’s attention. Hmmm, sounds like humans on a Friday night…

It is a conservation success story that these birds are still commonly found. In the late 1800s the frenzy for their long ornamental feathers (used as fashion accessories) almost caused their extirpation. Instead, concerned citizens demanded protections for the birds which led to not only the creation of this country’s first bird sanctuary but the enactment of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

“The statute makes it unlawful without a waiver to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, or sell birds listed therein as migratory birds. The statute does not discriminate between live or dead birds and also grants full protection to any bird parts including feathers, eggs, and nests. Over 800 species are currently on the list.”

 

Owl’s No Good, Very Bad Day

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Juvenile Great Horned Owl, Walsingham Park, Largo Florida May 2020

I met this juvenile Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) thanks to some boisterously loud Blue Jays. The three of them were so raucous that they alerted the entire woodland to the owl’s presence. After ten minutes of incessant squawking the annoyed owl finally left its perch and flew to the top of a nearby pine tree.

Unfortunately, the owl’s situation did not improve after relocating. The jays received help in their mission to drive away the apex predator from a persistent and fearless crow. The master aerialist pestered the owl with multiple strafing runs. I felt fortunate to catch some of the action.

Sadly, I lowered my camera when the crow pulled up and flew away. As I soon discovered, the crow was making way for larger reinforcements, in the form of a pair of noisy and determined Red-tailed Hawks. Unlike the crow, the raptors were going for full contact. Rather like the difference between flag football and regular football.

After the second dive bomb, the owl awkwardly crashed into the shelter of the thick branches below. Message delivered, the hawks circled one more time while screeching before wheeling away into the sky.

I think the owl and I both learned something that day. I doubt it will be perching out in the open again any time soon and I will be more patient with my camera.

Not Exactly Pretty…

Last week I found this Wood Stork (Mycteria americana) wandering around my favorite nearby oasis, Walsingham Park. The yellow bill and feathery head indicate that it was a juvenile (the bill will turn black and the feathers will disappear from the neck up as it matures).

I followed as it foraged in the shallows, watching it get muddier by the minute. It didn’t seem to have much success with its foot stirring method of hunting, but perhaps that is a skill refined with age?

Standing at 3-4′ tall it is in the same size range as the Great Egret and Blue Heron though nowhere near as lissome in appearance. With its scaly head and neck, to me, it bears a strong resemblance to a vulture. It can even ride thermals like a vulture.

The descriptions are no less kind as it is referred to as hefty with a massive bill. I will say that the black flight and tail feathers flashed with a colorful iridescence. I only wish I’d captured a photo of that!

 

One Chance

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Wood Ducks, Walsingham Park, Largo, Florida April 2020

This handsome but skittish Wood Duck pair (Aix sponsa) allowed me one photograph before flying off. I am relatively pleased with my single shot. I have taken better pictures of a male before but this is my first one with a female included.

Though he obviously steals the show with his vivid rainbow array of colors, she sports some nice iridescence. Maybe someday I’ll be permitted a photo session with a female. A girl can hope…

Don’t Mess With Momma!

A few weeks ago I spent a lovely, sunny afternoon strolling around John S. Taylor Park in nearby Largo. It wasn’t very birdy out but I still found creatures to interest me, namely several alligators.

I was pleasantly surprised to come across three young ones. While I can’t promise that the first photo is of mom, there were too many gators to keep track of, she was definitely that size. The opposite of a helicopter parent, mom was floating out near the center of the pond. That aloof demeanor, however, belied her fierce protective nature.

Which became apparent as soon as another gator mistakenly swam too close. A slow speed chase ensued, with the intruder wisely opting for the other side of the pond.

No wonder they have all those no swimming signs posted!

The Wailing Bird

The Limpkin (Aramus guarauna) is a really unusual bird. Though it is the only living member of its genus, it shares habits, and even resembles, a large rail but structurally it is built more like a crane. I’ve shared photos of limpkins recently, if you’d like more information about them.

While those oddities are enough to make this bird standout, its loud, piteous call is what earns it the nickname, wailing bird. The limpkin making all this noise is standing in the pickerelweed where the shade ends, though I dare say, it will be hard to find.

And here’s a challenge to my fellow birders, what bird is calling in the distance?

Flutterbies

For years I’ve been on a mission to change the name for these delicate, aerial masters from butterflies to flutterbies. I have two simple reasons: they actually flutter by when navigating from flower to flower and they are not, in fact, made of butter.

These are a few of the flitting beauties that I’ve encountered over the past few weeks, roughly in size order from largest to smallest. Left to right, top to bottom: Monarch (Danaus plexippus), Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta), Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charithonia), Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae), Dorantes Longtail Skipper (Urbanus dorantes), Tropical Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus oileus), Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis), Horace’s Duskywing (Erynnis horatius), Dainty Sulphur (Nathalis iole), Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus).

Last but not least, this brightly-colored caterpillar, and while not technically a flutterby, it does represent one life stage that all flutterbies must pass through.

White-marked Tussock Moth Caterpillar

White-marked Tussock Moth (Orgyia leucostigma) Caterpillar, Clearwater, Florida April 2020

Patterned Terrapin

I came across this shy Florida Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri) last week. As the name implies, it is endemic to this state (and the southeast corner of Georgia). This species is far less tolerant of cold weather than other box turtles. Apparently, we have that in common.

The yellow dashes on the carapace are distinctive. To be honest, I think it looks like a Common Gallinule walked over the turtle’s shell after stepping in yellow paint.

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Common Gallinule Toes, Largo, Florida March 2020

The “Marshan”

As the common name implies, I discovered this Florida Marsh Rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris paludicola) in a riparian area the other day. The second part of the binomial also references its preferential habitat as palustris is Latin for “of the marsh”.

These strong swimmers live in the marshes and swamps of coastal regions of the southeast. I had hoped to see it swim but no such luck. Though, now that I know where it lives I will be on the lookout during my next visit.

Please forgive my partially obscured photos, this was a secretive animal and I feel fortunate to have seen it during the day as they tend to be more active at night.

Compared to the Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) I photographed a couple weeks ago, it is easy to discern the Marsh Rabbit’s smaller ears and darker, more rufous, overall coloration.

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Eastern Cottontail, Dunedin, Florida March 2020