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!

Cool Amenity!

A friend and I recently took a couple hours one evening to explore the new expansion of Robinson Preserve in Bradenton. Manatee County has certainly invested some time and effort into this restoration project!

In addition to the construction of ramadas, well-defined walking paths and scenic bridges, they’ve done a tremendous job reintroducing native plants to the landscape. Though young and small now, they will definitely benefit wildlife in the years to come.

What I found most impressive was the kayak setup. Not only are there several launch spots with rinse stations but the park also offers kayak storage (for a monthly fee).

What a great idea – no more loading your kayak on your vehicle and lugging it around. Instead, just pull it out of the safe, weather-protected space and plop it on the water. It’s definitely a popular feature, of the 50 slots I only counted 5 that were not in use.

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!