Tag Archives: Florida

When not to feed the birds (and alligators)

IMG_4646-2

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.

IMG_4649-2

Also, wildlife abounds.

IMG_4650-2

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.

IMG_4652-2

They walked slowly and fearlessly toward me.

IMG_4653-2

An adult and juvenile, maybe.

IMG_4656-2

Head shot of the larger crane.

IMG_4660-2

Got an itch.

IMG_4661-2

The young one.

IMG_4663-2

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.

IMG_4665-2

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.

IMG_4666-2

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.

IMG_4667-2

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

IMG_4668-2

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.

IMG_4669-2

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).

IMG_4670-2

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.

IMG_4671-2

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.

Shorebirds galore

img_5850-2

Willet in the surf at Bathtub Beach last Thursday.

img_5851-2

Willets are often seen alone. They walk deliberately, pausing to probe for crabs, worms and other prey in sand and mudflats, or to pick at insects and mollusks.

img_5852-2

Willets and other shorebirds were once a popular food. In his famous Birds of America accounts, John James Audubon wrote that Willet eggs were tasty and the young “grow rapidly, become fat and juicy, and by the time they are able to fly, afford excellent food.” By the early 1900s, Willets had almost vanished north of Virginia. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 banned market hunting and marked the start of the Willet’s comeback.

img_5859-2

A couple of Willets plus a Sanderling for size.

img_5897-2

Ruddy turnstones. I see a lot of these but have not yet blogged them.

img_5899-2

The ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres) is a small wading bird, one of two species of turnstone in the genus Arenaria. The scientific name is from Latin. The genus name arenaria derives from arenarius, “inhabiting sand, from arena, “sand”. The specific interpres means “messenger”; when visiting Gotland in 1741, Linnaeus thought that the Swedish word Tolk “interpreter” applied to this species, but in the local dialect the word means “legs” and is used for the redshank.

American crows? Uh-uh.

img_5432-2

I am feeling more confident I can tell the difference between an American Crow and a Fish Crow after two mornings in a row of a Fish Crow Convention, with attendees between 5 and 20 birds calling their uh-uhs from the Norfolk Island pine in our front yard.

img_5434-2

From my bird ID Bible, Cornell Lab of Ornithology…

Not everyone realizes it, but there are two kinds of crows across much of the eastern United States. Looking almost identical to the ubiquitous American Crow, Fish Crows are tough to identify until you learn their nasal calls. Look for them around bodies of water, usually in flocks and sometimes with American Crows. They are supreme generalists, eating just about anything they can find. Fish Crows have expanded their range inland and northward along major river systems in recent decades.

corv_ossi_allam_map

Fish Crows have a distinctive caw that is short, nasal and quite different-sounding from an American Crow. This call is sometimes doubled-up with an inflection similar to someone saying uh-uh.

img_5438-2

Size & Shape
Fish Crows fit the standard crow shape: hefty, well-proportioned birds with heavy bills, sturdy legs, and broad wings. At rest, Fish Crows’ wings fall short of their medium-length, square tails.

Color Pattern
Fish Crows are all black. Immatures are less glossy and can become brownish as their feathers wear in their first year.

Behavior
Fish Crows are very social birds—look for them in pairs in the breeding season and up to several hundred or more during migration or winter. When feeding and roosting they may mix with American Crows. When Fish Crows give their distinctive nasal calls from the ground, they often puff out their neck and body feathers, forming a distinctive, ragged ruff on the throat.

Fish crow, check! My 21st Florida bird photographed and ID’ed since we moved here Dec. 6, one month ago.

The dawn of 2017

img_5313-2

Made it just in time to see the first sunrise of 2017! That seems lucky.

Husband and I took the dog to Santa Lucea Beach on Hutchinson Island for his morning beach run, chasing the ball over and over. Fishermen were catching bluefish. People were taking photos of the sun and the ocean.

img_5341-2

It is so great to go to bed early and then get up early for the New Year. That’s how it is when you are 50-something.

img_5345-2

My first photographed birds of the New Year: grackles running around at the gas station.

img_5347-2

I fueled up and my husband got us some coffee. Here he is watching the birds while the birds watch him back.

img_5350-2

Common Grackles are blackbirds that look like they’ve been slightly stretched. They’re taller and longer tailed than a typical blackbird, with a longer, more tapered bill and glossy-iridescent bodies. Grackles walk around lawns and fields on their long legs or gather in noisy groups high in trees, typically evergreens.

Grackles are old friends of mine, ever since the day I made that wish that came true.

img_5379-2

We stopped at East Island under the bridge next, to rinse the sand off the dog with a swim in the Indian River Lagoon. I spotted this solo Willet.

These long-legged, straight-billed shorebirds feed along beaches, mudflats, and rocky shores. Willets are common on most of our coastline—learn to recognize them and they’ll make a useful stepping-stone to identifying other shorebirds.

img_5385-2

East Island under the Ernest Lyons Bridge, with John, Radar and a fisherman wearing one of those straw hats I want.

img_5395-2

Also at East Island, a Little Blue Heron.

img_5396-2

More gray and purple than blue, if you ask me.

img_5400-2

Morning light is so nice.

img_5402-2

Happy New Year to all my bird, dog, and human friends!

Tricolored heron

img_5244-2

Tricolored Heron in a pond by the golf course.

Audubon Field Guide…

On the southeastern coastal plain, the Tricolored Heron is a characteristic bird of quiet shallow waters. Strikingly slender, with long bill, neck, and legs, it is often seen wading belly-deep in coastal lagoons. Although it is solitary in its feeding, it is sociable in nesting, often in very large colonies with various other herons and egrets. Formerly known as Louisiana Heron.

Egyptian geese on the golf course

img_5221-2

Egyptian geese are native to Africa and were sacred to the ancient Egyptians.

img_5223-2

Here they are on the Ocean Club Golf Course at the Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort.

img_5225-2

According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Egyptian geese have been seen in Florida since the 1960s.

Species are present but not confirmed to be breeding. Population persists only with repeated introductions and/or escapes of individuals.

Native to North Africa and Syria. This is probably the most commonly seen exotic goose species in the wild in Florida, but it rarely breeds successfully (Florida BBA). The sightings in Florida represent escapees.

img_5226-2

Pretty colors. I saw five of these geese while I was out on a “bird walk” yesterday in the late morning. I have seen them on or at the edge of the golf course nearly every time I have driven past too. I guess they live there.

High wire ibis

img_5286-2

You usually find White Ibis poking their beaks around in the dirt of a front lawn or golf course, or wading in shallow water. But sometimes they perch on wires like perching birds instead of wading birds.

img_5287-2

I saw this flock along A1A near the entrance to Stuart Beach today while out for a bird walk.

img_5288-2

Audubon Field Guide: White Ibis 

One of the most numerous wading birds in Florida, and common elsewhere in the southeast. Highly sociable at all seasons, roosting and feeding in flocks, nesting in large colonies.

‘Tis the season for sanderlings

img_5003-2

Sanderling corps de ballet rehearses for The Crabcracker.

img_5005-2

Lots of sanderlings just south of Jensen Beach the other day.

img_5011-2

Getting organized.

img_5012-2

Here we go.

img_5030-2

Wikipedia:

The sanderling (Calidris alba) is a small wading bird. The name derives from Old English sand-yrðling, “sand-ploughman”. The genus name is from Ancient Greek kalidris or skalidris, a term used by Aristotle for some grey-coloured waterside birds. The specific alba is Latin for “white”.

img_5032-2

Sanderlings feed on invertebrate prey buried in the sand in the upper intertidal zone. In North America, this diet largely consists of the isopods Excirolana linguifrons, Excirolana kincaidii, and the mole crab, Emerita analoga. When the tide is out, these crustaceans live in burrows some way beneath the surface. When the tide comes in, they move into the upper layers of sand and feed on the plankton and detritus that washes over them with each wave. They then burrow rapidly down again as the water retreats. They leave no marks on the surface, so the sanderlings hunt for them by plunging their beaks into the sand at random, consuming whatever they find. Their bills can penetrate only 2 or 3 cm (0.79 or 1.18 in) and as the water swirls around and retreats, the sand is softer; this makes it easier for the birds’ beaks to penetrate further.

Little Blue Heron

img_4980-2

Little Blue Heron on a piling behind the Snook Nook, Jensen Beach. I was there yesterday to buy my husband a gift certificate for his birthday.

img_4971-2

Gulls and pelicans on the pier, attracted perhaps by the pungent odor of bait.

img_4981-2

Lizard near the parking lot.

img_4982-2

From the Snook Nook you can see the bridge from Jensen Beach to Hutchinson Island.

img_4979-2

A small, dark heron arrayed in moody blues and purples, the Little Blue Heron is a common but inconspicuous resident of marshes and estuaries in the Southeast. They stalk shallow waters for small fish and amphibians, adopting a quiet, methodical approach that can make these gorgeous herons surprisingly easy to overlook at first glance.

And, my, what big feet they have.