Category Archives: Birds, Fish & Other Critters

J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge

The J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge located in Southwest Florida on Sanibel Island is putting on a series of lectures and films by experts and naturalists describing a variety of birds, endangered species, Manatees, reptiles, amphibians, nature photography and other topics. The lecture and films series are held at the visitor center which is shown in the pictures above.

The Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge is visited by thousands of visitors every year especially bird watchers and photographers and people wanting to see a piece of the old and original landscapes and waterscapes of Florida. Ding Darling consists of 6,400 acres of lakes, rivers, mangroves forests, submerged sea grass beds, salt water marshes, and hardwood hammocks. It was established as a refuge by President Harry S. Truman in 1945. It has gradually been enlarged by generous donations of land by the City of Sanibel and property owners.

The refuge can by seen by visitors by driving through a winding road traversing through the refuge or bicycling and walking along the trails. There is a small admission fee to enter to refuge. The lecture and film series which are very popular with visitors and tourists are held in the winter months from January through April. Visit the Ding Darling Wildlife Society website to see the lecture dates.

There are guides who also take visitors through the refuge by foot or by a tram. I have taken many photographs at Ding Darling of White Egrets, Blue and Green and Yellow Crowned Night Herons and other birds. The Tarpon Bay Explorers located inside the refuge also rents kayaks, canoes and takes people out on motorized boats on sightseeing tours.

 

 

 

Barn Owl

Barn Owl - Fish and Wildlife Comm

Barn Owl – Fish and Wildlife Comm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Barn Owl or sometimes referred to as the Common Barn Owl was spotted on Sanibel Island for the first time since 2005 according to the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF). Barn Owls are important to ecosystems because they feed upon unwanted rodent populations such as rats and keep their numbers in check.

Sanibel Island has a rat problem because I have seen their numbers increase and recently had to fix my car engine which was used by a Rice Rat as its nest. The rat apparently was looking for a warm and hidden place to make its nest and the inside of my car engine made a good place for it to hide out. It cost me over $300 to have the rat debris removed and cleaned out.

Barn Owls are whitefish or pale in color with rounded heads and medium in size. They are nocturnal birds that hunt mainly at night with very keen hearing skills and excellent low vision eyesight abilities.  They can swoop down and catch mice and eat them whole. They do not pass their food or prey through their digestive tracts but instead cough up the digested food through their mouths as pellets. The pellets are used by ecologists as useful information for what owls are eating in their habitat.

Barn owls make a hissing noise which you can hear on the All About Birds website. If you visit their website. Click on the sound tab and choose one of the sounds it makes. Barn owls are usually found in abandoned barns, marshes, prairies and agricultural areas. The Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation advises residents on the islands not to use rat poison around their homes because it is then ingested by owls which causes harm to the owls.

Photograph was used, courtesy of the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clinic for Rehabilitation of Wildlife

The Clinic for Rehabilitation of Wildlife is a teaching hospital which cares for wounded animals of all kinds that are found in and near S.W. Florida. The clinic is located on Sanibel Island. Animals and birds of all kinds are brought to CROW when they are found by people who travel through Florida including fishermen, tourists and Florida Fish and Wildlife Officials. The Clinic offers state of the art veterinary care, research, education and conservation medicine.

The Clinic gives tours and presentations about the hospital and has a series of lectures coming up this winter which feature experts on various topics. The Gulf Breeze Cottages website offers a partial list of some of the upcoming lectures including Conservation Medicine on March 20th and on Ospreys on March 28th in 2018.

Ospreys are called raptors or birds of prey and they are seen everywhere around Sanibel and S.W. Florida. They are often seen standing on a bridge railing near water, branch or other object peering over the water below them and waiting for a chance to swoop down and catch a fish swimming by. Ospreys are large hawks and have long wing spans, and sharp bills and feet called talons.

The American Bald Eagle is another kind of raptor or bird of prey that hunts like the Osprey. They are larger than the Osprey and can sometime steal food that is caught by smaller birds. The photographs above show pictures of an Osprey sitting on a branch and of the American Bald Eagle which I photographed while on a boat in the Estero Bay off Ft. Myers beach.

Visit the CROW Clinic website to learn more about their Veterinary care for animals. Their lecture series this year should be worth the effort to come and listen to experts on wildlife and conservation medicine.

 

 

Protecting Pollinators

Protecting Pollinators such as bees, birds, butterflies and bats are responsible for pollinating 75% of the crops and flowering plants in the United States according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Pollinators do this by carrying pollen from one plant to another and when they rub their bodies against the inside of flowers when searching for food or nectar they fertilize other flowers. The pollen is moved from the female part (stamen) to the male part of the other flowers (stigma).

The pictures shown above are of a bumble bee and Monarch Butterfly that I photographed on Long Island, New York. They obviously are crawling around flowers looking for nectar and pollinating other flowers in the process. There must have been over 100 Monarch Butterflies feeding on the flowers of this one bush.

The Agriculture Industry attributes the value to pollinators and crop production to over $19 billion annually. Many crops in the U.S. could not produce their seeds or fruits without the help of these bees, butterflies, birds  and other flying organisms. Some farms set up bee hives near their crops to ensure their plants get pollinated.

Dangers to the health of pollinators and causes for their decline in numbers which has been happening for years are their loss of habitat, diseases spreading among these organisms, and pesticide use by man. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has some useful information about protecting pollinators on their website which tells citizens how to protect pollinators and prevent the decline of their populations.

 

 

Monarch Butterflies

I came across a large number of Monarch Butterflies while bicycling along a road in Southampton, Long Island this summer. The amazing thing that caught my eye was the number of Monarchs that were flying around and feeding on the flowery shrub along the road. There must have been over a 100 Monarch Butterflies feeding on the nectar of the flowers. The Monarch has black and orange wings with whites dots on the tips of its wings and on its head. There are also black veins running lengthwise down its wings. The pictures shown above are the butterflies I photographed this summer. Click on any one of them for a larger image. 

Monarch Butterflies are unique in the Butterfly kingdom because they only feed on the milkweed plant during its caterpillar or larval stage. The chemicals from the milkweed plant make the Monarch toxic to any predator that might want to feed upon it.  Monarchs are also unique because of their migratory patterns. They fly over 1,200 to 2,800 miles each year from northern states and California to Southern California and Mexico. They also make the return trip when warmer weather returns. They can fly over 20 miles in a single day. I saw this batch of Monarch Butterflies in August which is the start of their trek south from northern states. 

This butterfly is an endangered species because the change in climate which is happening due to global warming disrupts their habitats. The loss of habitat due to human causes such as over development in rural areas also hurts the lifestyle of the Monarch. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service shows the migratory patterns of the Monarch on maps on its website along with other interesting information of this unique butterfly. 

 

 

 

 

Red Cardinal

Red Cardinals are supposed to be good luck when you see them and this summer there has been no shortage of Cardinals appearing in many places I have visited. I normally write this blog for SW Florida but I have been staying on Long island for most of the summer. Red Robbins seem to be the dominate bird species in my area of Eastern Long island but Red Cardinals have been flying around frequently and making their calls or songs as song birds do.

The Red Cardinal that I photographed above was in the Elizabeth Morton Wildlife Refuge located in Noyac, New York. Noyac is located near Southampton, New York and the preserve which is part of the U.S. National Wildlife Refuge system consists of 187 acres that is located on a narrow peninsula that juts out into the Little Peconic Bay. It is definitely worth the visit because of the beautiful views of a forested nature preserve and the beaches and views of the Peconic and Noyac bays. I also saw several wild turkeys walking along the nature path.

The female Red Cardinal is bright red all over except for the black patch on its face. The male cardinal has a brownish color over its red body. They both have sharp and short bills and a red crest on the top of their heads. They live in nests in short bushes, wooded forests, and backyards with birdfeeders.

You can hear the call and song of the Red Cardinal by visiting the All About Birds website and clicking on the sounds tab and then choosing either of the green arrows below. They make a loud whistling sound with a distinctive series of whistles.

Click on either of the 2 photos above for larger images

 

 

Burmese Python Elimination Program

The state of Florida  and South Florida Water Management District  has begun a Burmese Python Elimination Program. The Burmese Python Snake is a reptile that came to Florida from S.E. Asia from the pet import business that thrives in Miami and South Florida. It became a threat to the people of S. Florida and native animal species in the Everglades after they were released by pet owners and the release of snakes after the damage that was done by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Burmese Python Snakes can grow  to over 20 feet in length and up to two hundred pounds during their lifetime. Females can lay 100 eggs at a time. The main problem with these snakes is they have no known predators and they can eat and devour animals as big as deer and alligators. They have been decimating the small bird and mammal population in South Florida which makes it harder for other mammals and carnivores such as the Florida Panther to find enough food to feed themselves.

The recent program started by The SFWMD to eliminate the Burmese Python  is to pay hunters $50 for each Python they catch up to four feet in length and an additional $25 for each ft over 4 ft. An eight foot Python would bring a hunter $150 in bounty. An additional $100 reward would be paid to a hunter who catches a female guarding a nest of eggs. The program has resulted in over 53 snakes caught and eliminated since the pilot program began this year.  To learn more about the Burmese Python, visit the National Park Service website. The pictures shown above are courtesy of the South Florida Water Management District. Click on the pictures for larger images.

 

 

 

 

 

Mottled Ducks

Mottled Duck and Chicks

Mottled Duck and Chicks

 

 

 

 

 

 

I saw and photographed this brood of Mottled Ducks on Sanibel Island swimming in a freshwater pond swimming on  its way with a dozen or so chicks following in tow. It was amazing to see such a large number of chicks in one group. It is common for a Mottled Duck to have 5-13 eggs in one season.

The Mottled Duck is similar to the Mallard Duck and is in danger of becoming extinct as a unique species because of its mating with the Mallard and subsequent hybridization. The Mottled Duck has an all brown body with a lighter colored head and neck. Its habitat is mostly freshwater wetlands and wet prairies and marshes.  It also has a distinctive greenish, bluish streak on its back,

According to the All About Birds website, its diet consists of seeds of grasses, aquatic vegetation, invertebrates and small fishes. This duck is different than other duck species because it does not travel in large groups but is instead seen in pairs or by itself. Like other animal species, its main threat is loss of habitat. The U.S. has seen a large decrease in the size and number of wetlands areas over the past 50-100 years.

The Audubon Society is an organization devoted  protecting birds of all kinds from over hunting and loss of habitat. Click on their website to learn more of the Mottled Duck and the mission of the Audubon Society. You can also see a larger image of the ducks in the photo by clicking on the photo.

 

 

 

 

Common Gallinule and Mottled Duck

Two duck like birds that I often see in S.W. Florida are the Common Gallinule and Mottled Duck.

The Common Gallinule shown in the picture above also known as the Common Moorhen has a dark body, and red bill and often swims in ponds, lakes, streams and other wetland bodies, feeding upon seeds of grasses and sometimes snails. It is able to walk on top of aquatic vegetation or mud flats with its long toes.  It is also an excellent swimmerand will dip its head in the water looking for food. The Common Gallinule makes a loud screeching call and sound and can be reproduced on the All About Birds website. It is listed on the threatened list of birds in America because of predation by other animals and loss of habitat.

The Mottled Duck is distinguished by its multi-colored feathers on its body, green bluish colors on its tail, lighter colored neck and head and yellow bill. Its picture is also shown above. Like the Common Gallinule, it also makes its habitat in fresh water marshes, ponds, lakes and estuaries. It feeds upon the seeds of grasses, aquatic vegetation, small fish and marine invertebrates.  The Mottled Duck is in danger of becoming extinct because of its breeding with the similar Mallard Duck which produces a hybrid version of the Mottled Duck. It is also hunted throughout the United States for sport. You can learn more about the Mottled Duck and Common Gallinule  on the All About Birds or Florida Audubon websites.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gopher Tortoise

I came across this Gopher Tortoise while riding my bicycle on Sanibel Island along the Sanibel-Captiva Rd.  The Gopher Tortoise was slowly crawling along a grassy area and eating grass. This reptile is a land dwelling animal and lives in a burrow that it digs for itself with its’ strong claws.

The burrow that it digs averages 6.5 feet deep and 15 feet long. The burrow provides refuge or habitat for up to 350 other species. The Gopher Tortoise is called a keystone species for this reason because of its importance for helping to insure the survival of other species in its ecosystem.  The animals that typically live in the Gopher’s burrow include burrowing owls, rattlesnakes, crickets and many others.

The habitats that this reptile lives in include dry uplands, sandhills, pine flatwoods, scrub, dry prairies, xeric hammocks, pine mixed hardwoods and coastal dunes. They depend on natural fires to burn away the brush, dead leaves and shrubs so that new plants and grasses can grow. The Gopher Tortoise has been around for a long time and its estimated to date back  60 milliion years. The Gopher Tortoises’ life time averages 40-60- years.

The Gopher Tortoise itself is as a threatened species in Florida and is protected by the laws of the state against poaching or hunting.  No land clearing or development can take place in an area where a tortoise lives unless it is relocated to a similar environment and permits are issued for its relocation. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has additional information about this animal. http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/gopher-tortoise/

Click on the pictures above for larger images.