Author Archives: Amy

Feral Florida: Duck, duck, goose

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A face only a mother Muscovy Duck could love?

The “warts” are called caruncles.

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A couple of Egyptian geese relax on the lawn.

After a trip to Home Depot in the Martin Square Shopping Center on US 1 in Stuart, I stopped by the pond on the northwest side to check out the duck situation.

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White Ibis too, coming over to see if I have any stale bread.

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The strange, warty-faced Muscovy Duck causes confusion for some bird watchers, as it’s very distinctive and quite commonly seen, yet does not appear in some field guides. Truly wild individuals are restricted to south Texas and points south, but domesticated versions occur in parks and farms across much of North America. Wild Muscovy Ducks are glossy black with bold white wing patches and are forest dwellers that nest in tree cavities. Their range expanded into Texas in the 1980s; feral populations also exist in Florida.

A feral population is well established here at the shopping center pond.

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Also feral…

Native to sub-Saharan Africa, the Egyptian Goose is an exotic species in North America. Their introduction and establishment is not well understood, but the species likely originated from escapees from captive waterfowl collections.

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Stretch!

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Mixed flock.

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Egyptian “geese” are big and goose-shaped, but they are believed to be more closely related to shelducks. (Link.) True to their name, they are abundant in the Nile River Valley. And in ancient Egyptian art.

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One of the oldest domesticated fowl species in the world, the Muscovy Duck was already being kept by native people in Peru and Paraguay when the early Spanish explorers arrived. The word “Muscovy” may refer to the Muscovy Company (incorporated in London in 1555), which transported these ducks to England and France.

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Aztec rulers wore cloaks made from the feathers of the Muscovy Duck, which was considered the totem animal of the Wind God, Ehecatl.

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Wild Muscovy Ducks are dark-plumaged, wary birds of forested areas. Domestic varieties—heavier, less agile birds with variable plumage—live on farms and in parks in warm climates around the world, where they can be confusing to bird watchers.

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From Birds and Blooms…

Domesticated Muscovy ducks were brought to Florida intentionally in the mid-twentieth century, thought to add aesthetic appeal to lakes and ponds. Since then, they have established massive feral populations, to the point where they are considered a nuisance in some areas. Though they are native to the tropics, they can withstand cold and even freezing temperatures, and multiple urban populations of these introduced ducks exist around the U.S. The origin of the name “Muscovy” is uncertain. “Muscovy” means “from Moscow,” but these ducks are neither native to that region nor found there other than in domestication. Some link the name to certain Native American tribes, while Carl Linneaus assigned it the species epithet moschata, meaning “musk” (due to their strong gamey odor), and this may be the most logical explanation.

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They did smell a bit fishy to me.

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They let me hang around pretty close to them and take pics.

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See you later, strange ducks.

Grow up so I can tell what you are!

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Well, there’s another one. Juvenile night heron. Yellow-crowned? Black-crowned? It’s so hard when they don’t have their crowns yet.

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Perfectly still and nicely camouflaged, at the edge of the retention pond on the corner of South Sewall’s Point Road and Ocean Boulevard.

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Sometimes the pond fountain is on, sometimes off. Looking from the Ocean Boulevard sidewalk you can glimpse the town’s nice little park beyond and a bit of the Indian River Lagoon.

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Members of Facebook’s “What’s This Bird” IDed this as a Yellow-crowned Night Heron and shared a helpful link: Birdzilla: Juvenile Night Heron Comparison.

Chipojo smackdown

We interrupt the birds to bring you a special episode of…

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LIZARDS IN A TREE

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I witnessed an epic showdown in a gumbo limbo yesterday between a couple of Cuban knight anoles.

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Face off.

These guys are the largest members of the anole family, and can grow to 20 inches long.

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It’s on!

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“I’m biting your face!”

“No, I’m biting your face!”

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Territorial disputes appear to be settled not mano a mano but mouth to mouth, or boca a boca I guess!

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Cuban knight anoles are native to Cuba but are colonizing the warmer regions of Florida after escape/ release from pet stores and pet owners.

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I watched and photographed these two for about 10 minutes.

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The knight anole (Anolis equestris) is the largest species of anole lizard in the Dactyloidae family. Other common names include Cuban knight anole or Cuban giant anole, highlighting its native country, but it has also been introduced to Florida. In Florida they are sometimes referred to as “iguanas” or “iguanitos”, but this generally stems from confusion with the green iguana. In its native Cuba, this large anole is called chipojo.

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Fierce creatures they are!

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I went and got my husband at our house half a block away to show him the jousting knights and when we got back to the tree there was just one lizard, presumably the victor. All hale, king of the tree!

When not to feed the birds (and alligators)

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A couple of big birds walking at Park of Commerce Boulevard just off Beeline Highway in northern Palm Beach County.

The wetlands in that area are remnants of northern Everglades, with some big employers too like Pratt Whitney and destinations like Palm Beach International Raceway.

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Also, wildlife abounds.

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We were at the gas station there yesterday, after giving up on a walk in a too-wet wetland. When I saw these Sandhills Cranes, I walked over and sat at a picnic table (with my camera) to see what they would do.

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They walked slowly and fearlessly toward me.

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An adult and juvenile, maybe.

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Head shot of the larger crane.

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Got an itch.

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The young one.

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Probably people have fed these cranes, which is illegal in Florida.

In Florida, it is illegal to feed manatees, sandhill cranes, bears, raccoons, foxes, and alligators.

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Feeding wildlife often has a detrimental rather than a helpful effect. Feeding animals may cause some species to concentrate so much on this supplemental feeding that they become a nuisance or a threat to people (e.g., bears, sandhill cranes). When fed, alligators can overcome their natural wariness and learn to associate people with food. When this happens, some of these alligators have to be removed and killed.

A bold, 12-foot alligator killed a woman in South Florida a few days ago. It had taken up residence in a park in an urban area where people fed the animals and sabotaged traps set out to capture nuisance critters.  Some people can be so dumb.

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But I can certainly understand the temptation to attract and interact with this cool animal. Growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs, I read National Geographic, watched animal documentaries and TV shows, and dreamed of safari jobs and adventures getting close to large animals in wild habitat.

But of course you don’t have to go to Africa to observe wild animals.

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The cranes gave up on me and headed toward the Fried Chicken and Hot Subs.

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My husband and dog were at the table over there. The top of our German shepherd’s head is just visible. Radar has his ears in the irritated-with-us position. He was ready for a big walk, but the trails in J.W. Corbett WMA were mostly under water. Rainy season has been too rainy.

Much of South Florida is dense-pack developed, but there are huge swaths of preserved land for exploring too. Many are Wildlife Management Areas, with dirt roads and some trails, where hunting is legal. I’m realizing why I see a lot of jacked-up mud trucks with monster tires around here. An airboat would have come in handy yesterday too.

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Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: Living With Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill cranes are cherished members of the Florida ecosystem. They stand almost 4 feet tall and their bugling or rattling calls are haunting and beautiful. Sandhill cranes occur in pastures, open prairies and freshwater wetlands in peninsular Florida from the Everglades to the Okefenokee Swamp.

Florida sandhill cranes are present in many urban areas and some unlikely places such as golf courses, airports and suburban subdivisions. This is probably due in part to the rapid development of their native habitat by humans. Cranes are probably attracted by the open setting (mowed grass) and availability of some foods (acorns, earthworms, mole crickets, turf grubs).

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A few minutes after I took these photos, I watched a guy gassing up at a pump toss some leftover unidentifiable mystery food from a styrofoam container onto the ground in front of the cranes and they pecked at a few bites.

The omnivorous Sandhill Crane feeds on land or in shallow marshes where plants grow out of the water, gleaning from the surface and probing with its bill. Its diet is heavy in seeds and cultivated grains, but may also include berries, tubers, small vertebrates, and invertebrates. Nonmigratory populations eat adult and larval insects, snails, reptiles, amphibians, nestling birds, small mammals, seeds, and berries.

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Whether stepping singly across a wet meadow or filling the sky by the hundreds and thousands, Sandhill Cranes have an elegance that draws attention. These tall, gray-bodied, crimson-capped birds breed in open wetlands, fields, and prairies across North America.

Elegant even at a gas station.

Lazybirding June

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Gull loaf.

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A couple of young Laughing Gulls claimed a piling each at Sandsprit Park a few days ago.

Not a lot of bird action these days, with wintering birds gone and nesting season nearing the end. Or am I the lazy one?

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The grackle (Boat-tailed) is a reliable presence, easily spotted and willing to pose for portraits. This one found me, flew down from a cabbage palm, landed on a railing by the waters of Manatee Pocket and said, “HERE  I AM, LADY.”

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Yesterday evening I saw this Yellow-crowned Night Heron near the entrance of the east causeway park of the Ernest Lyons Bridge. I was riding in the passenger seat of the car, with my camera on my lap and simply asked my husband to slow down, then I leaned out the window and click! (Or whatever the digital camera sound is.) That was easy.

It’s my first photo of an adult Nyctanassa violacea! (Order Pelicaniformes, family Ardeidae.)

While not as slender as a typical heron, the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron’s smooth purple-gray colors, sharp black-and-white face, and long yellow plumes lend it a touch of elegance. They forage at all hours of the day and night, stalking crustaceans in shallow wetlands and wet fields. Their diet leans heavily on crabs and crayfish, which they catch with a lunge and shake apart, or swallow whole.

Here is a juvenile eating a crab, back in Dec. 2016 when I first moved to this exotic locale.

Big color bird

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Juxtaposition. Sandhill Crane and Chilean Flamingo, together at the Palm Beach Zoo.

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Sandhill Cranes we see in Florida, Chilean Flamingos not so much.

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Not quite as large, but more intensely pink-orange… the American (aka Caribbean) Flamingo, also at the Palm Beach Zoo.

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Only recently have scientists concluded that YES flamingos are native to Florida.

Miami Herald: Is century-old flamingo mystery finally solved?

Early naturalists spotted plenty flamingos, but never made a definitive decision. A century later, after plume hunters ravaged the state, they’d mostly disappeared. Now, a comprehensive study recently published in the American Ornithological Society’s journal The Condor finally provides an answer: Flamingos are likely natives, though their footprint in Florida is as light as their hot pink feathers.

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I’d love to hop across the water someday and see the flamingos in the Bahamas, on Great Inagua Island. Over 80,000 of them!

Audubon: The Bahamas are filled with flamingos once again

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Flamingo feeding with its eyes open.

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That color! Love it.

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Ballerina bird.

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Tutu beautiful.

Black-crowned Night Herons at the zoo

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There is a small colony of Black-crowned Night Herons living, by choice, and appropriately, in the Florida Wetlands section of the Palm Beach Zoo. (MAP)

There were a number of nests in the treetops. We noticed because they were squawking overhead.

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A juvenile stands around.

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Black-crowned Night-Herons are stocky birds compared to many of their long-limbed heron relatives. They’re most active at night or at dusk, when you may see their ghostly forms flapping out from daytime roosts to forage in wetlands. In the light of day adults are striking in gray-and-black plumage and long white head plumes. These social birds breed in colonies of stick nests usually built over water. They live in fresh, salt, and brackish wetlands and are the most widespread heron in the world.

And my photo life list bird #175.

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Adults are pretty distinctive, particularly on the tops of their heads, or “crowns”… but spotted brown juvenile Yellow-crowned and Black-crowned Night Herons are easy to confuse. The yellow on the bill is an identifying feature, according to Nicholas Lund writing The Birdist’s Rules of Birding #115: Learn to Identify and Differentiate Night Herons.

Another big clue: adult Black-crowned in the trees above this juvenile!

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Night heron and turtle gaze deeply into one another’s souls… wondering the eternal questions of the animal kingdom, “Can I eat it?” and “Is it going to eat me?”

Palm Beach Zoo, part 1

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This bright little parrot is a Rainbow Lorikeet.

My husband and I visited the Palm Beach Zoo yesterday and our first stop was the Lorikeet Loft, a relatively new interactive exhibit where you can enter the aviary and feed the birds.

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One cup of “nectar” (which is low-iron apple juice) is $2. Hold your arm out and a lorikeet, one of about 40 loose in the aviary, will perch and sip.

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Is this great or what? Much better than just staring at animals on the other side of a fence.

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Nestbox #8 with a friendly lorikeet coming to the front door.

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I focused mostly on birds during our visit, unsurprisingly. Some, like this Tricolored Heron, were wild birds choosing to visit the zoo for its bounty of food resources.

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Heron head shot.

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This bird was fishing by dancing across the water and grabbing fleeing fish off the top.

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It made several passes across the water like this while we watched.

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But we didn’t have all day to watch a small native heron when there were other more exotic animals to see.

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The Laughing Kookaburra is the largest member of the kingfisher family. I learned the Kookaburra song when I was in Girl Scouts a hundred years ago and so it’s a bird I “know” but have never seen.

I’d love to see one in the wild, but of course I’d have to go to Australia for that.

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A predator of a wide variety of small animals, the laughing kookaburra typically waits perched on a branch until it sees an animal on the ground and then flies down and pounces on its prey. Its diet includes lizards, insects, worms, snakes and are known to take goldfish out of garden ponds.

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Fennec foxes were eating lettuce when we stopped by their enclosure.

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Crunch, crunch! went the little desert fox from North Africa.

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The Chestnut-breasted Malkoha is a large cuckoo from Southeast Asia.

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It was inside an aviary you could enter… staring out rather forlornly, in my opinion.

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Patagonian cavy, or mara. This seeming cross between a rabbit and a small donkey is actually more closely related to a guinea pig. But it also reminds me a little of my dog.

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Another wild bird making itself at home in the zoo.

IMG_4481-2Anhinga hanging out near the maras.

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Nearby, the largest member of the guinea pig (cavy) family and largest member of the order Rodentia… the capybara.

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One of a number of Eurasian Collared-Doves we saw wandering around the zoo, representing the classic bird category “Pigeon at the Zoo.”

With a flash of white tail feathers and a flurry of dark-tipped wings, the Eurasian Collared-Dove settles onto phone wires and fence posts to give its rhythmic three-parted coo. This chunky relative of the Mourning Dove gets its name from the black half-collar at the nape of the neck. A few Eurasian Collared-Doves were introduced to the Bahamas in the 1970s. They made their way to Florida by the 1980s and then rapidly colonized most of North America.

I have been keeping an eye out for one of these doves. I was almost as excited to “get” it (with my camera) as I was to see any of the captive birds – which I’m not counting on my Photo Life List sidebar. Eurasian Collared-Dove is #174.

Oystercatcher

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Oystercatcher!

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A large, boldly patterned bird, the American Oystercatcher is conspicuous along ocean shores and salt marshes. True to its name, it is specialized in feeding on bivalves (oysters, clams, and mussels) and uses its brightly colored bill to get at them.

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I was walking over the bridge between Sewall’s Point and Hutchinson Island Tuesday evening with my husband and dog. Down below, we saw herons and egrets and then one solitary oystercatcher… which is now Blogged Bird #173 (see the sidebar of my Photo Life List). And didn’t have to say, “I wish I had my bird camera!”

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On eBird I noticed that oystercatchers are sometimes sighted around here, but I have never seen one in Florida… until now.

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When I was a teenager, I rowed a small rowboat from my grandparents’ house on a lagoon in Ocean City, New Jersey out into the bay to a large marshy island where I went for a walk, feeling like an intrepid explorer, and saw a large flock of funny looking black-and-white shorebirds with orange beaks. I always remembered them as a special discovery, although I didn’t know what they were, living their half-secret lives away from places I usually went. What other creatures live close to us that we never see or notice, I wondered.

Years later I saw them again on Cape Cod and discovered, via the internet which now existed, that they were American Oystercatchers.

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Nature walk in Boston

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Animatronic robin.

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Just kidding.

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We went for a walk at Arnold Arboretum in Boston on Saturday and so did this big old snapping turtle.

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It crossed the paved pathway, traveling from one pond to another, while about 15 people stopped to observe and wonder.

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“That is the prettiest color,” said my daughter Laura. We were in town to celebrate her graduation from MassArt, BFA in Painting.

The nest, featuring robin’s-egg-blue eggs, was down low right next to the path.

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This Red-winged Blackbird has a distinguished and distinguishing shoulder patch of red and yellow.

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Tree Swallow on a nest box.

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Yellow Warbler in a thicket by a pond.

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Close-up of the Tree Swallow. Such a nice deep blue iridescence on its back and head.

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Over by the bonsai collection, a Common Grackle feeds its kid.

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Is that a potato chip or a moth?

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Ahhh!

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Chipping Sparrow hopping around in front of us, sort of camouflaged yet not.

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So this is where some of my winter friends have flown to!

In the artist’s palette of bird colors, this bird is Catbird Gray.