Category Archives: birds

Friday bunnyblogging

While Noe is having a mellow Thanksgiving weekend, we’ve seen a few swamp rabbits while going for a walk.

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Yummy clover underfoot and sheltering reeds just a hop away.

Okay, not such a great photo. But the rabbits were seemingly enjoying themselves munching on clover at Lakes Park in Fort Myers.

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Anhinga sunning herself. Females have a tannish neck, males black.

There were a few birds around, but it was a bit windy and late in the day so not too much activity on that front.

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This Tricolored Heron seemed put out at the attention.

Not too many flowers blooming, either. This is a Hoarypea, Tephrosia spp.

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Might be Florida hoarypea, I’m not sure.

Continuing our trend of snake sightings, we saw a Black Racer sunning itself. Unlike the rattlers we saw last month, this one was pretty long- at least a meter.

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You can’t see it in this photo, but the snake was pretty scarred on the side. Clearly it had a close escape from some sticky situation in the past.

Two snake day at Orlando Wetlands Park

Last weekend, we went biking at Orlando Wetlands Park. It was the last weekend to visit before the park closes for the winter, and quite a nice day. We actually saw a fair variety of birds- including a lifer painted bunting, a pair of somewhat early canvasbacks, five species of warbler, a kestrel, and a Wilson’s snipe. You can tell it’s winter in Florida when the shrubs are hopping with yellow-rumped and palm warblers, and they were in fine form at OWP.

One thing about bike-birding that I’d never really thought about before is that it’s much easier to spot snakes before you get too close to them. This is a net positive, as far as I’m concerned 🙂 We saw two species of rattlesnake today, both crossing the berm trail or maybe sunning on it, and both only moderately put out at us riding by.

I’ve seen eastern diamondback rattlesnakes before, and this one was only about two feet or so long. Still, I was more than happy to let it do its thing in peace. We gave it a pretty wide berth, but not before Yan stopped and took a photo:

OWP rattler Nov13

Eastern diamondback rattlesnake. (Photo: Y. Fernandez)

The pygmy rattlesnake I hadn’t seen before, bringing me four for four on seeing Central Florida’s venomous species (the other two being the cottonmouth and coral snake). This snake was a bit over a foot long, and much more petite than the diamondback. Notice how tiny the rattle is? It’s on the right end:

OWP mini rattler Nov13

Pygmy rattlesnake (Photo: Y. Fernandez)

While Yan was taking this photo, he said it started to rattle at him in sort of a cute, hard-to-hear way. At that point, he left it alone and we biked on.

So, not a terribly exciting pair of snake sightings, but I’m okay with that. We did encounter some fairly territorial dragonflies who seemed irritated at our presence (the males seem to do this guarding thing at certain times of the year). But since we’re way past the Carboniferous Period dragonflies with 2-foot wingspans, they weren’t particularly intimidating. The 6-foot gator we saw was a bit more threatening, but he was pointed away from us at the time. Strangely, we didn’t get off our bikes to take photos of him…

Friday bunnyblogging

I just ran across this cute story about an elderly Rex rabbit and a black vulture (don’t worry, it ends well).

Makes me wonder how Noe would react to another non-human animal in the house…though given how freaked out she was today by my backpack being placed in the wrong location, it would probably take her a while to get used to the idea of another animal who actually moves.

Mobile Bay

On a work-related trip to Alabama this summer, I stayed overnight in the town of Fairhope, on Mobile Bay. I took a short walk around town to the Fairhope pier, which has a set of purple martin houses set around it in the water.

Martin house in the bay.

Martin house in the bay.

Purple martins nest in holes in trees, but are having real problems competing with European starlings for nest sites. As a result, they do best in artificial nest boxes like the ones in Fairhope which people help keep starlings away from. As far as I know, there’s only one purple martin colony in the Eastern US that uses natural trees to nest in anymore, and that one is in the Orlando Wetlands Park.

Rainclouds rolling in.

Rainclouds rolling in.

Fairhope sits on bluffs above the bay, and it’s always nice to see some coastal topography, coming from Florida. Rain was moving in across the bay-an afternoon thunderstorm, which was pretty Florida-like-so I didn’t stay long at the pier. I headed back uphill to the hotel, walking through a park on the way.

Big old magnolia tree.

Big old magnolia tree on the bluffs.

Bluffs or no, the park was covered with pine woods that seemed fairly Florida-like. In fact, they are a remnant longleaf pine forest, which once covered a large part of the coastal SE US, including central Florida. Unfortunately, the longleaf ecosystem has been pretty impacted by human development; what’s more, this ecosystem is fire-dependent. It’s hard to say what will happen to the longleafs of Fairhope, since it’s unlikely that the town will be willing to manage the habitat with controlled burning right on the edge of town

Fairhope also has rocks- not coquina rocks either, but actual rocks.

Fairhope also has rocks- not coquina rocks either, but actual rocks.

So I got back to the hotel before rain started to fall. Martins and pine woods are nice any day, so I enjoyed my stroll in Alabama.

Circle Bar B Reserve

I just realized that I’d been remiss in posting some photos from a hike we went on way back in February. Not that I’ve been consistently posting anything but rabbit photos lately, but anyway…

We went on a weekend trip to Tampa in the first part of February (the kittiwake-spotting  trip), and on the way back stopped at the Circle Bar B Reserve in Lakeland. As you might guess from the name, this is a former ranch (and phosphate mining site) that’s been partially turned into a wildlife preserve. It’s a good place for birding, and seemed quite popular on a Sunday afternoon.

Sandhill cranes at Circle Bar B.

Sandhill cranes at Circle Bar B.

I was really hoping to see some fulvous whistling-ducks there. Not only because these are interesting birds in and of themselves, but also how can you resist looking for a bird whose name combines an obscure color with the adorable whistling sounds it makes?

Fulvous.

Fulvous.

Sadly, it was not to be. Even though several families of fulvous whistling-ducks were reported that weekend on eBird (including with infuriating comments like “Really obvious, right by the trail”), we were not able to see any. But we had fun anyway.

Spoonbill in a tree.

Spoonbill in a tree.

We had a nice walk- the weather was quite pleasant- and saw a lot of birds and other wildlife. One of the highlights was a mother gator and her recently-hatched brood of babies. They were clearly acclimated to human attention. We assumed they were pretty close to their former nest site, which was right by the trail. Probably not a bad place for a nest, as long as you can stand the noisy human presence-maybe it helped keep the other adult alligators away.

Gator family. The mother is on the right, and babies on the left. They're pretty well camouflaged.

Gator family. The mother is on the right, and babies on the left. They’re pretty well camouflaged & just look like ridges in the muck.

Circle Bar B includes quite a bit of upland habitat, including some pine flatwoods and oak forest. However, it’s the system of ponds that are exciting to birders. There was quite a variety of wading birds, along with woodpeckers, warblers, and some raptors.

Another gator baby.

Another gator baby.

One of the highlights was a massive black & turkey vulture roost (YMMV). The birds perch in cypresses and pines along both sides of the trail. Since we were there until late afternoon, they were starting to fly in to sleep. It’s neat to hear their feathers swooshing in the wind when you’re close to them.

Limpkin on a tree.

Limpkin on a tree. The spots in the sky weren’t from a dirty lens- they’re swallows.

We also saw quite a few limpkins. These are fairly uncommon big wading birds that eat snails. While they’re solitary, we did see a lot of them in close proximity. I guess it’s good snail habitat.

Limpkin with snail.

Limpkin with snail.

After doing a big loop through the ponds, we swung by a lake before heading back to the car. It was an interesting place to visit, and it would be fun to go back at some point.

Winter day at Circle Bar B.

Winter day at Circle Bar B.

Walking in Seminole County

The weekend before last, I went to the Earth Day festivities at Seminole County’s Environmental Studies Center. This is a small nature center near the southeast corner of Lake Jesup; I’d previously biked past it on the Cross Seminole Trail, but never visited.

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Early afternoon at the nature center.

I took a short stroll on the center’s trails after the event- not too far, but it was nice to get into the outdoors. There weren’t too many birds, because it was pretty warm in the early afternoon.

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Moss and droopy bark.

It’s apparently a good spot to see migrating warblers (and other forest birds) early in the morning at this time of year. I did see (and hear) the ubiquitous cardinals, catbirds, and blue-gray gnatcatchers. I also heard a red-shouldered hawk or two and saw a swallow-tailed kite soaring overhead.

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Wildflowers.

The area is pretty damp, as it’s pretty close to the lake. I’m sure it gets even wetter during the summer.

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Light through the palm fronds.

I’m not sure how extensive the trail system is, but it might be fun to go back and explore.

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Thick, wavy patterns in the pine bark.

Hiking Wekiwa Springs SP

Last week, we took advantage of a warm day to do some hiking in Wekiwa Springs State Park. The park has a pretty varied landscape- aside from the eponymous spring and spring run, with its riparian swamp, there are oak savannah & pine flatwoods communities. We ended up hiking about 4 miles round-trip from the main parking area by the spring to the tiny Sand Lake.

Ferns and other plants were sending up new spring shoots.

Bracken ferns and other plants were sending up new spring shoots.

Once you get out of the swampy hammock near the spring, a few feet of elevation difference is enough to make the landscape very dry. I’ve heard peninsular Florida called a desert with a monsoon season, and we’re definitely in the dry season now (though it’s ironically raining as I write this- but the first rain we’ve had in over two weeks).

Pine-palm savannah.

Pine-palm-oak forest.

We did see a few flowers blooming, but I think the majority of the floral action happens a bit later in the year. I wasn’t able to ID these plants, but they soften this log in an interesting way:

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Spring wildflowers in the flatwoods.

The trail runs pretty close to the road- other trails do go into the parts of the park where you can’t drive, and I think we’ll explore those next time we come here. Wekiwa Spring itself is endangered by excessive water withdrawal and nutrient pollution from fertilizer use and poorly-regulated septic tanks in the area. When you’re walking on dry, sandy soil like this, it’s sometimes hard to remember that only a few feet underground there’s a shallow but wide groundwater system. Any change to that water affects the spring.

Sand Lake on a cloudless day.

Sand Lake on a cloudless day.

We saw a fair number of birds, given that it was fairly late in the day- there was a lot of warbler & gnatcatcher activity in the trees overhead. We also heard a barred owl that was probably roosting near the spring area, and saw several swallow-tailed kites soaring gracefully overhead. I’ve seen kites dip down in flight to drink water from the river at Wekiwa before- a pretty neat sight.

More Sand Lake.

More Sand Lake.

One thing that would have made the experience more enjoyable was bug spray- the mosquitoes aren’t out yet, but we were unpleasantly surprised that the population of no-see-um’s was going strong already. Though at least no-see-um bites don’t itch.

Yan walking through pine flatwoods.

Yan walking through pine flatwoods.

We saw several other people on the trail, including a few people walking their dogs. Noe is definitely not the type of pet that can go on hikes with us- especially with all the aerial predators and who knows what lurking in the underbrush.

A big pine had fallen across the path and split this sapling.

A big pine had fallen across the path and split this sapling.

One interesting thing we noticed was that in places near water, the moister air was really evident. So it’s not just the soil that has large moisture variations-it’s the air as well.

Crossing a tiny stream.

Crossing a tiny stream.

I find the oaky areas generally prettier to walk through than the drier plant communities. Though obviously this is an aesthetic preference. I like the dappled light through the branches and their clinging lichens.

Afternoon sun on the trail.

Afternoon sun on the trail.

Aside from birds, we saw a few arthropods and the ubiquitous gray squirrels. We didn’t see any fox squirrels, though they’re supposed to live in the park.

Cup-shaped spiderweb in the forest.

Cup-shaped spiderweb in the forest.

The day’s bird list: Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Swallow-tailed Kite, Red-shouldered Hawk, Mourning Dove, Barred Owl, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Carolina Chickadee, Carolina Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Black-and-white Warbler, Northern Parula, Palm Warbler, Pine Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler

All in all, it was a nice short hike. Definitely a place to return to and explore further- both by foot and by canoe.

Mulberries and turnips

Since the new semester began, we’ve been having some theft from the community garden. It’s pretty disheartening to grow vegetables and wait patiently until they’re almost ripe, only to have them stolen. At any rate, security cameras have been installed, and two of the culprits have been photographed loading up bags of produce (including one of my turnips! who steals a turnip?). I suspect those photos are on their way to the campus police. Other anti-theft measures have also been installed- I probably shouldn’t say what, except that motion sensors are involved…

Things looking good in the garden.

Things looking good in the garden.

At any rate, we’ve done some harvesting of vegetables this week. On Tuesday, we picked assorted herbs, a fennel bulb, and some not-collards. Today, I collected some turnips and pulled up one of the last remaining misome plants, which was just beginning to bloom. More misome seedlings are in the ground, though.

Flowering misome.

Flowering misome.

Most of the seedlings that we planted recently seem to be doing fine. Interestingly, the read-leaf lettuce, which stayed green when sprouting on the patio, is now turning red. A neat example of sun-protective pigments!

lettuce

Pak choi seedlings are in the foreground, with lettuce behind them.

The beets all seem to be doing well, which is nice to see. It’ll be nice to get some more root vegetables after the turnips are gone.

Beet seedling.

Beet seedling.

The fennel all seems really happy too- it looks like some of the really small transplants did take, and are now sprouting up.

Sprouting baby fennel- very cute!

Sprouting baby fennel- very cute!

The new carrots are still growing strong, and the transplanted chives seem to be much happier here than rootbound in the pot on our patio.

Carrots, and the ever-present not-collards.

Carrots, and the ever-present not-collards.

I saw quite a few birds today- some of which are probably feeding on the mulberries, which are now going quite well. A palm warbler hopped around to different perches scolding me, but eventually flew off to menace another warbler and some savannah sparrows. There were also cardinals, catbirds, a red-bellied woodpecker, red-shouldered hawk, mourning dove, a titmouse, and of course robins. I keep planning to just loiter in the garden a while with my binoculars to watch the birds, but never seem to do so.

Mulberry flowers and unripe berries.

Mulberry flowers and unripe berries.

Finally, here’s a look at today’s turnip harvest. I’ve just used most of the leaves to make a Asian-style pickle. Hopefully it turns out well.

More turnips.

More turnips.

Random emu

While birding at Oakland Nature Preserve last weekend, I had an unexpected emu encounter.

Not quite like seeing one in the wild for real, but interesting nonetheless.

The property next to the preserve is owned by a ranch that raises exotic animals: zebras, emus, long-horned cows, and several types of antelope. I’d never seen them right next to the fence, though. So it was interesting to watch the emus walking around, foraging under the oak trees for food. My cell phone camera’s not very good, so you’ll have to take my word for it that they were pretty close to me. Pretty neat.

Also, I should add that hearing peacocks calling while birding the swamp by Lake Apopka is an interesting experience.