Archive for ‘Nature Notes’

Handsome Heron

I was fortunate to be sitting on the bank of the Myakka River when this Green Heron (Butorides virescens) flew in. After assessing me keenly for a few moments, it stalked out to the end of the logjam and settled into hunting position. I waited for awhile, hoping for an action shot, but apparently, I lack the patience of a heron. Fifteen fruitless minutes later, I carefully extricated myself and wished the bird happy fishing.

In certain postures, like when the neck is stretched out, it is possible to confuse this heron with a bittern at first glance (especially with juveniles). Their binomial actually references that similarity, butor is Middle English for bittern, while “oides” means resembling in Greek. Bitterns are nowhere near as colorful, though.

Didn’t the sun highlight this heron’s beautiful plumage nicely?

Itty Bitty

This little octopus (a mere three inches, including arms) was struggling on the beach Monday afternoon. I don’t know why it washed ashore, though part of one arm was missing – perhaps an attack by a predator?

Quick aside, did you know that the correct plural of octopus is octopode? Octopi is incorrect since you can’t Latinize a Greek word. But back to our little guy, I used a nearby shell to scoop it up safely and toss it out in the surf. Good luck, little one!

 

 

Sea Pork

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Sea Pork, Treasure Island, Florida January 2020

Saturday’s wet and windy storm really churned up the shallow water here along the gulf coast of Florida. As a result, all manner of strange things washed ashore, which made today’s beach walk much more interesting.

There were hundreds of gelatinous blobs strewn on the sand. Though most were a pale tan, this coral-colored beauty stood out. My first guess, based on the pattern, was that it was a type of soft coral. An internet search corrected my thinking, sea pork is actually a colonial species of tunicate. It earned its common name because it resembles chunks of meat, not because it is edible.

 

 

 

Shadow Tail

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Eastern Gray Squirrel, Sarasota, Florida December 2019

While bird watching at a park, I came across this attractive squirrel who was people watching. Instead of scurrying off, it was gracious enough to pose nicely for me. The prolific Eastern Gray (Sciurus carolinensis) is the most common of three squirrels found here in Florida (the other two are the Fox and Southern Flying).

While this one wasn’t sporting the biggest appendage I’ve ever seen, the genus name is quite apt; the Greek root words, skia and oura, translate as shadow tail.

 

Lame Limpkin

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Limpkin, Myakka River State Park, Sarasota, Florida December 2019

I felt fortunate to spend a bit of quality time last week with this Limpkin (Aramus guarauna). It is the closest I’ve yet seen one, the others I encountered during my last trip to Florida were much more reticent to being photographed.

Two things I would’ve liked to have experienced: their limping gait (hence their name) and their wailing cry. I’ve read that you can often hear them before you see them. While it shares a common ancestor with cranes, the Limpkin is the only extant survivor of its lineage. Unlike cranes, which are resourceful, unfussy eaters, Limpkins primarily specialize in apple snails (up to 70% of their diet).

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For Perspective, This Bird Stands Over Two Feet Tall with a Wingspan Over 40 Inches

This one’s missing toe may be the result of a turtle attack (the birds often stand on floating vegetation and are therefore susceptible to turtle bites).

Day 5: Curi-Cancha Reserve

For my last day in the cloud forest I was joined in my ramblings by Marcel and Mariza, retired school teachers from the Netherlands. Though the woods were fairly silent we had a lovely time chatting while wandering the winding trails of the Curi-Cancha Reserve.

A special treat was stumbling across a group of seven agoutis hunting, and squabbling over, large (and presumably tasty) acorns. We finished our warm afternoon with our own sweet treat, ice cream made fresh at the local dairy. It was a delightful way to wrap up my visit!

Wait for the surprise ending – things got a little heated under the old oak tree!

Day 4: Eco Paz Park

Searching around on the map the night before I found a small, free park in the hills above Santa Elena. Since that was a rarity in the area, I decided to check it out. The next morning I packed a lunch and headed uphill. The park wasn’t that far but the 4500′ elevation and hilly terrain of the area were a bit of a challenge for a girl who has spent the last two years living at sea level.

The park had several winding trails and even a lovely stream running through it. The velvety brown seed pod of the Macuna tree was one of the first things to catch my eye. This is the tree responsible for the hamburger sea beans, like the ones I found this past summer on the beaches of the Texas Gulf Coast.

I was delighted to see my fourth species of toucan, the Keel-billed (or more colorfully, Rainbow-billed) Toucan. After following an industrious line of Leafcutter Ants through the park for awhile I settled on a mossy stone near the brook for lunch.

A tiny movement to the side caught my eye so I slowly raised my camera and turned toward it. There, peering at me from behind a leaf, was a handsome Blue-crowned Motmot. To say I was delighted is an understatement! I later learned that they nest in the banks of waterways, earning them the common epithet of “banco bravo” (riverbank guard).

It was a really great way to spend another day in the cloud forest!

Day 3: Ecological Sanctuary

My next excursion, the Ecological Sanctuary, was a hilly 1.3 km walk from Santa Elena. This property is family-owned and primarily consists of secondary growth forest. They allow visitors to wander the grounds for a fee but they also grow coffee and bananas to supplement their income.

Surprisingly, the open areas of this reserve proved to be very fruitful. I discovered several new-to-me species of birds, marveled over the clear wings of the Glasswinged Butterfly, spent quality time watching an adorable agouti, and sadly, lamented the recent demise of a precious porcupette. Clear views of the Nicoya Gulf and Peninsula were a special treat.

Though I was alone on the trails my visit was nowhere near silent as a myriad of insects were abuzz.

Day 2: Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve

I was up early the following morning for a wildlife tour of the world famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. True to its name, we were hiking in a cloud most of the time. Thankfully, it was only a drizzle, or as they say up here, pelo de gato (a fine, cat hair-like mist).

The reserve protects 26,000 acres of virgin forest, covering six life zones in the Cordillaren de Tilarán (mountains that form the continental divide between the Caribbean and Pacific coasts). There were many moments during our three hour stroll that the verdant landscape reminded me of the Hot Rainforest in Olympic National Park. 

According to our guide, the woods were unusually quiet that day but I enjoyed chatting with my companions, lovely folks from both Denver and Houston. Thankfully, we did manage to spot a few stunning birds, especially at the hummingbird garden near the entrance. Overall, a wonderful way to spend a day!

 

Dashing, By Any Name

While there were Scarlet Macaws noisily fussing about in the trees high overhead this Yellow-throated Toucan* (Ramphastos ambiguus) was the center of attention at the shuttle stop on the way to Monteverde. This colorful character had a big personality befitting his size; averaging 20 inches in length and weighing 1.5 pounds. Of the six toucan species found in Costa Rica, this is the largest (and no surprise, this one tends to throw its weight around when claiming territory or food sources).

The striking design appears to be taken from a child’s coloring book; iridescent black, red, yellow, white, and green feathers with pale blue feet and a humungous two-toned beak. It all seems a bit superfluous for a forest-dwelling, fruit-eater, but I admire the flair.

I didn’t hear him vocalize but I’ve read that it sounds like “Díos te dé” (Spanish for “God give you…”). They speak Spanish, por supuesto.

*AKA: Black-mandibled or Yellow-breasted Toucan.