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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Florida Strangler Fig Fruit (Ficus aurea)

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.Ā 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.”

 

Unique Hunting Technique

This video was posted a couple weeks ago by one of the local water tour companies. Here’s how they described it: “Fish kicking is one of the most common hunting techniques used by dolphins in the Tampa / St Pete, Florida area. It may seem like a lot of work, but it’s almost always easier to catch a meal by stunning or injuring a fish with a precisely timed flick of the tail than it is to just chase one down… like a cave dolphin šŸ™‚ Not all dolphins learn the technique, and some are better at it than others, but the ones that learn it have an advantage.”

Though I watch dolphins most every evening at John’s Pass I have yet to witness this for myself. I plan on taking a kayak tour (when safe to do so) and hope to see this incredible behavior!

 

Owl’s No Good, Very Bad Day

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

I met this juvenileĀ Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) thanks to some boisterously loud Blue Jays.Ā 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 itsĀ 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!

 

Good People, Doing Good

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For the past four weeks I’ve been volunteering at the St. Petersburg Free Clinic’s drive through food bank. Since I’m out of work right now as a result of the pandemic I figured I might as help out. Plus, as you all know, I don’t sit still well so having a productive outlet for my energy is important.

A huge perk of this gig is working alongside some wonderful people. And we do quite a bit of work: last Thursday we handed out 45,000 pounds of food! No, that’s not a typo, we actually distributed 22.5 tons of comestibles.

The fun and enthusiastic demeanors of the staff and volunteers makes the time fly by. Occasionally, there’s even a bit of dancing…

Up, Down

I took these images of the drawbridge over John’s Pass back in January, when the bars and restaurants were still open. My favorite spot for happy hour was right on the water, which not only afforded me good views of the bridge action but of frolicking dolphins andĀ the sunset as well. Plus, I could walk there on the beach from my place. It was an ideal spot!

For those of you, like myself, who are fascinated by the engineering, a couple short videos. First, a sailboat cruising through the opening:

The bridge closing (in real time):

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…