Snakebird

Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) earned its nickname Snakebird for swimming with its entire body submerged, with only its sinuous neck and head showing. Like cormorants, they do not have waterproof feathers which is a boon for diving and swimming (waterproofing captures little air bubbles which make a bird more buoyant). However, it means a lot of time drying out in the sun since if they get too waterlogged, they can drown. A delicate balance, to be sure.

Oddly, the Anhinga is a waterbird with a penchant for heights. It often catches afternoon thermals and soars high in the sky in a distinctive cross shape. The name Anhinga comes from the Tupi language in Brazil and translates as “devil bird” – though I don’t know how it earned that moniker.

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Heart-shaped Anhinga Wing, St. Petersburg, Florida March 2020

The Cuban Invasion

The Cuban or Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei) is, as the name implies, native to that Caribbean island. This highly invasive lizard was first reported in the Keys in 1887. It remained largely relegated to southern Florida, until 2004 when it was documented all the way up in the Panhandle. It is now one of the most commonly seen lizards throughout the state.

The secret to their success? They reproduce rapidly and, as I read, they’ll eat “nearly anything that will fit in their mouths” (insects, fish, eggs, and even other lizards). Sadly, for the slightly smaller, native Carolina Anole (Anolis carolinensis) that means they’re on the menu, too.

The relatively recent arrival of the Cubans in central and northern Florida has forced the natives to quickly adapt. Carolina Anoles have moved further up into the canopy and in just 15 years their footpads have increased in size to help them with their new, predominately arboreal lifestyle. Hopefully, this separation of territory will lead to a détente that will allow them to coexist.

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Look At That Spiral!

Unexpectedly Chromatic

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Peacock Body

I noticed a sign touting the significance of a spot across Boca Ciega Bay from me back in December but it wasn’t until this week that I finally explored it. While most people visit St. Petersburg’s Jungle Prada Park for the boat ramp, the small park is packed with history. It is purportedly the landing place of the Spanish Narváez expedition of 1528 and it protects the majority of a Tocobaga shell mound (the other section is owned by the Anderson family).

For my fellow history buffs: The Pánfilo de Narváez expedition left Spain in 1527 with the intent of establishing Spanish forts along the Florida Gulf Coast. To say it was ill-fated is an understatement. They lost two ships in a hurricane near Cuba and further storms forced them to land along Boca Ciega Bay.

Dispirited, Narváez declared the area most unsuitable for settlement (Ha, tell that to the 4.5 million people currently living here!) and pushed on, determined to cross the gulf over to Mexico. That attempt killed all but 80 (including Narváez), the remaining survivors were swept onto Galveston Island.

We know this because, amazingly, there were four men who made the trek on foot through Texas (and possibly into New Mexico and Arizona) before finally reaching Mexico City in 1537. The leader of that group, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, later wrote about his experience as the first European to travel that part of North America. His account is exceptional in that he focused on the native peoples and their customs, a boon to anthropologists and archaeologists.

I had hoped to take a guided tour of the private portion of the mound, however it was understandably closed due to COVID-19 concerns. I did follow a handsome fellow around for awhile, though for the life of me, I can’t figure out what peacocks are doing there! I enjoyed the show though.

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He’s Handsome and He Knows It!

 

 

Bright Spots

I stumbled across these treasures at two different parks this past week. The little decorated rock was stuck in the mud. A small splash of blue caught my eye, so I reached over and dug it out. After a quick wipe, I was pleasantly surprised by my find. I slid it in my pocket, and after a thorough cleaning, it now sits on my coffee table, offering a spot of cheer. I’ll return it to the wild someday so it can continue on its journey.

The second I discovered while getting lost in the woods. I had followed a bird call off trail and ended up in a fairly derelict corner of the park. As I waited for my elusive quarry to return (it didn’t), I spotted this graffiti. I don’t condone the hobby but I appreciate the craftsmanship, and in this case, the message.

Thank you to the artists and creatives who leave bits of magic in this world for us to find. These bright spots help in trying times…

Final Finale

Well, it finally happened (some say it was long overdue) the beaches here in my part of Florida will close tonight at midnight. I spent my last afternoon walking on the white sand and stayed for my last beach sunset (for the time being).

The closure will be nearly impossible for authorities to enforce but I don’t intend to be one of the rule breakers, no matter how much I’ll miss my beach. There are other outdoor places on my list to visit. And now, I will have plenty of time to explore them since restaurants are also closing (or switching to takeout only).

I am fortunate in that I have no debt, some savings, and I live simply – so I am not as anxious as others. And I will be spending more time in nature which has a way of soothing my worries. I hope we all stay healthy and safe during this challenging time!

Different Spatula

This Blue-winged Teal pair (Spatula discors) was so busy dabbling that they decided to tolerate my presence. Like our other two teal species, these small ducks have a low profile in the water.

While the female Cinnamon, Blue-winged, and Green-winged can be challenging to differentiate, the half-moon face on the male BWTE makes him easily identifiable. Thankfully, they are often found in mated pairs, which is helpful for the casual birder.

These resourceful birds inhabit all of North America except far northwestern Canada and Alaska. They are the first ducks to migrate south in the fall and the last to return in the spring. Their binomial is Latin for spoon (or spatula) and different (though I’m unclear as to what about them is so different).

Shark!

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Shark Boat, Treasure Island, Florida March 2020

My favorite spot for happy hour overlooks John’s Pass, a channel that connects the Gulf of Mexico and Boca Ciega Bay. This place earned top billing in my book because not only are their prices reasonable and I can sit outside to watch the sunset but there is a pod of dolphins that cruises the channel. I guess you could say we’re all regulars here.

Last week was the first time I’ve seen a shark in these waters. Let’s hope it stays that way!

Swamp Chickens

I spent a while watching this Common Gallinule (Gallinula chloropus) family at a nearby park earlier this week. I was hoping they’d swim closer but the parents were careful to keep their brood away from the shore where potential predators might lurk.

Formerly known as the Common Moorhen, this bird can walk atop water plants, climb into trees, and, despite lacking webbed toes, it is a good swimmer. But it is a lousy flyer (hey, it can’t be good at everything).

Compared to its close relative, the American Coot, the Common Gallinule sports a jaunty splash of color; from its yellow feet (the second part of its binomial translates from Greek as yellow foot) to the bright red shield and bill on the adult birds.

Note the small spur on the outstretched wing of the chick in the second photo. It is used to help the young climb through vegetation.