Mary Lundeberg: Blog http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog en-us (C) Mary Lundeberg marylundeberg@gmail.com (Mary Lundeberg) Sat, 09 Sep 2017 01:35:00 GMT Sat, 09 Sep 2017 01:35:00 GMT http://www.marylundeberg.com/img/s/v-5/u307811016-o148704459-50.jpg Mary Lundeberg: Blog http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog 80 120 The Path of the Florida Panther http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2017/9/the-path-of-the-florida-panther  

 

Mountain Lion EyesMountain Lion Eyes The Florida panther is tan to tawny beige, not black. No black panthers live in the United States.

Their eyes are blue at birth and turn golden as they age. Kittens are born with spots for camouflage and lose these spots as they age.

 

In November 2016, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) documented the first female panther north of the Caloosahatchee River since 1973, using a trail camera in Babcock Ranch Preserve in Charlotte County. Her tracks identified her as a female, since males have larger paws. Although male panthers regularly wander north, traveling ten miles a night along their 200 square-mile range, females tend to stay south of the river, with a range of about 75 square miles.

The Florida panther, our state animal, is the last subspecies of Puma still alive in the eastern United States and occupies less than 5% of its historic range.  Puma means “mighty magic animal” in the Quechua Indian language. Puma concolor coryi  was listed as federally endangered in 1967 when only 12-20 panthers still survived. Because they are shy, solitary and wide-ranging, panthers are difficult to count. Although the population has rebounded to an estimated 100-180, this powerful six-foot long tan cat still faces threats to its survival.

_Running3_Running3 In contrast to bobcats, panthers have a long tail, which helps balance their body when they pounce or run.

They hunt by stealth, and by ambushing prey. Their diet consists of deer, feral hogs, rodents, armadillos, small mammals,

reptiles and occasionally, unprotected pets or livestock.

The greatest threat is habitat loss. Last year, nine land owners (including an FWC commissioner) pushed for an incidental take permit to develop 45,000 acres of land adjacent to the Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge and Big Cypress National Preserve. This permit, if issued by the South Florida office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, allows developers the right to “take” any endangered species without penalty, thus bypassing the Endangered Species Act. Because Florida panthers are protected by the Endangered Species Act, killing a Florida panther is a third-degree felony under state law, punishable by up to five years in jail and/or up to a $5,000 fine. panther (captive)panther (captive)_              Development brings roads and cars. In 1996, 42 panthers died, with vehicles killing 34. For the past two years, the FWC reported record numbers of panther deaths due to road kills, in spite of 42 wildlife underpasses along the highway.

Human fear of large predators also interferes with the path of panther recovery progress. No Florida panther has ever attacked a human. Although ranchers are reimbursed for loss of livestock, some are pushing for a hunting season on panthers, and one panther recently suffered severe gunshot wounds from an illegal hunter. Panthers serve an important niche in the ecosystem, eating deer and wild hogs, as well as rodents.

Inbreeding poses another threat, and in the 1990s male panthers showed initial signs of sterility. So Florida biologists released eight female Texas cougars in South Florida which brought new genes to the inbred small population. At least 240 panthers are needed to ensure species survival, and the federal panther recovery plan calls for 240 cats in three locations in Florida. 

Are Florida panthers back from the brink (as Bill Samuels says) or at a conservation crossroads? Currently we are losing 20 acres per hour of natural habitat to accommodate the 1000 people per day moving to Florida. If we conserve land for the Florida Wildlife Corridor, we may preserve our iconic panther, and save enough water for ourselves. The choice is ours.

Florida_Panther_Resting, captiveFlorida_Panther_Resting, captive Male panthers weigh up to 160 pounds and average 6-8 feet in length. Females are smaller and 33% lighter.

Their paws are large with sharp claws. Pound for pound, they are the most powerful cat, capable of killing a hog twice its weight.

All of the photos shown here are captive panthers.

 

 

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marylundeberg@gmail.com (Mary Lundeberg) florida panther mammals photography puma concolor coryi wildlife http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2017/9/the-path-of-the-florida-panther Sat, 09 Sep 2017 01:35:05 GMT
The Buzz about Bees http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/8/the-buzz-about-bees Pollen_heavy_bee_with_spider_friend_on_wildflowerPollen_heavy_bee_with_spider_friend_on_wildflower     

About 35 percent of our food and 75 percent of our flowering plants depend on pollinators like bees, butterflies and beetles. More than 315 species of wild bees in Florida pollinate crops and landscapes. Native bumble bees (among others) pollinate native plants, which in turn produce flowers and seeds and berries that feed songbirds, wildlife and people. Like the European honey bee, they too have declined over the past decade.

Why care about bees?

Bees are the most important pollinator group. As female bees forage, pollen grains collect on their body hairs, and transfer from the male part of the plant (the anther) to the female part of the plant (the stigma) on the same plant, as well as hundreds of plants on each foray. Over 100 crops in the United States require pollination, including our Florida blueberries, cucumbers, watermelons and squash.

Honey_Bee__Extracting_Pollen_from_FireweedHoney Bee Extracting Pollen from Fireweed

A honey bee extracts pollen from Fireweed

 

The social life of bees

            Between 300-400 of the 20,000 species of bees are highly social (eusocial). A colony of honey bees contains a queen responsible for reproduction, female worker bees and male drones. Young worker bees perform duties within the hive (e.g., cleaning and caregiving) and when they age, they venture outside: exploring, foraging and defending the colony. Forager bees communicate where the pollen is through a dance.

Honey_Bee_Leaving_FireweedHoney_Bee_Leaving_Fireweed

A honey bee carries pollen in a bee basket on her leg

The plight of the honey bee

            Honey bees are not native; the first settlers brought them from Europe. Because honey bees are easier to manage and more prolific, they are used commercially to pollinate our nation’s crops.

Last winter in Florida, beekeepers lost more than 40% of their hives. Colony loss is likely a combination of stresses on bees, including mites, diseases, pesticides, and loss of native habitat. Neonicotinoids are a widely used systemic pesticide. In January 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that Neonicotinoids are harmful to bees and will not approve new products containing Neonicotinoids. However, products containing Neonicotinoids continue to be sold here, although they are banned in Europe. The loss of bees may signal environmental problems.

Honey_Bee_Hives_at_Babcock_RanchHoney_Bee_Hives_at_Babcock_Ranch

A honey bee colony pollinates crops

Bee stings

Honey bees die when they sting (except for the queen), although wasps can sting multiple times. Bees rarely sting, and will happily co-exist with you while producing beauty in gardens and bounty in crops. Apitherapists use bee venom as an alternative treatment for arthritis, multiple sclerosis and Lyme disease.

A few people (one or two out of 1,000) are allergic to bee stings and inject epinephrine (adrenaline) if stung. African honey bees entered Florida over 15 years ago, and they are more defensive than other bees. So, if you find a feral hive call a registered beekeeper through Suncoast Beekeepers Association to remove it.

Saving bees

            In some cultures, bees are revered, not feared. Bees symbolize energy, abundance and prosperity. You can “bee-friendly” by planting native wildflowers and keeping your garden pesticide-free. Consider becoming a beekeeper. Florida has a growing population of beekeepers, and the University of Florida has great resources available, including Dr. James Ellis and Dr. Joshua Campbell.

Bumble_Bee_on_PorterweedBumble_Bee_on_Porterweed

A bumble bee pollinates Porterweed, a native plant

 

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marylundeberg@gmail.com (Mary Lundeberg) bee colony collapse bumble bees honey bees nature pesticides photography saving bees wildlife http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/8/the-buzz-about-bees Mon, 29 Aug 2016 20:07:05 GMT
We are One: Polar Bears, Penguins and Plovers http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/7/we-are-one-polar-bears-penguins-and-plovers Blue IcebergBlue Iceberg      Climate change affects biodiversity. Species such as the polar bear in the Arctic, the Adelie Penguin in Antarctica, and the snowy plover in Florida, share a similar challenge: Their ecosystems are threatened by climate change.

1.Bear Closeup1.Bear Closeup

Closeup male polar bear after eating seal

     Polar Bears on the Brink

     About 20,000 polar bears live in five countries in the Arctic circle:  U.S. (Alaska), Canada, Norway, Russia, and Greenland. Bears travel great distances between their winter and summer habitats, crossing country borders. We share two polar bear populations: one with Russia, and one with Canada.

2Massive Male Polar Bear2Massive Male Polar Bear Massive male polar bear with scars on face from fights

     These huge carnivores (males can reach 1,500 pounds and measure eight to nine feet from nose to tail), are well adapted to a polar marine environment. White hair provides camouflage, while large paws enable careful treading on slippery ice, and fast swimming. Female paws carry scent on the ice so males can locate them during mating season. A polar bear’s acute sense of smell can track a scent twenty miles away.

3.Bear jumping ice floe3.Bear jumping ice floe Polar bear jumping ice floe

     Polar bears rely on sea ice for hunting, denning, and breeding. Due to climate change, their prime habitat is melting three weeks earlier and reforming three weeks later. Melting sea ice brings fewer ringed seals and less meat for bears. Thus, female bears are not eating as much and have fewer or no cubs. One-third to half of cubs die in their first year.

4Bear nursing cubs74Bear nursing cubs7

Female bear nursing 18 month old cubs. The female stays with her cubs for over 2 years.

5Mom leaping into water with cub behind5Mom leaping into water with cub behind Cubs follow mother as she jumps into the sea.

     Polar bears are threatened, yet harvested at an unsustainable rate: about 1,000 polar bears a year are killed. Although the Arctic glaciers are melting faster than any place on earth, excessive hunting of a declining population may push our white bear into extinction.

6Bear climbing onto ice floe6Bear climbing onto ice floe

Polar bear climbing up on sea ice floe.

Penguins in Antarctica

1closeup Adelie penguin1closeup Adelie penguin      On the bottom of the globe, the habitat of Adelie penguins is losing 250 billion tons of ice a year, as glaciers melt and sea ice disappears.  The loss of winter sea ice diminishes penguin’s major food supply, Antarctic krill. The Adelie penguin needs sea ice to rest on, but not to nest on.

2Adelie penguin on iceberg2Adelie penguin on iceberg These flightless birds build nests out of pebbles and need a shoreline free of ice and snow. Because warmer temperatures allow the air to carry more moisture, snowfall has increased, leaving little snow-free ground for nests. Thus, Adelie penguin populations are declining.

3 Adelie penguin checking on eggs3 Adelie penguin checking on eggs

An Adelie Penguin checks her egg and re-positions them on her pebble nest.

The Snowy Plover in Florida

3.Snowy Plover chick at wrack line3.Snowy Plover chick at wrack line Snowy plover chick at the wrack line

    This dainty waif of a shorebird (about six inches long) blends into the sand and disappears from sight as it dashes along the wrack line, eating tiny invertebrates. Like other state-threatened shorebirds, the snowy plover nests in small scrapes in the sand, usually on open beaches. Florida has about 200-250 breeding snowy plover breeding pairs.

1.Snowy plover nesting1.Snowy plover nesting Adult nesting

This optimistic species regularly loses its eggs to predators, human disturbance and flooding, but most birds attempt to re-nest. Bird Stewards rope off areas and educate beach goers about these adorable creatures. Snowy plovers’ habitat is threatened due to sea-level rise, beach raking, and storms. 2 Snowy Plover cuddling with chick2 Snowy Plover cuddling with chick 5. Snowy plover chick eating insect5. Snowy plover chick eating insect Snowy Plover chick with insect

Climate change affects polar bears, penguins, plovers, and us. We are connected. As John Muir said, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” 4. Two snowy plover chicks pause4. Two snowy plover chicks pause

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marylundeberg@gmail.com (Mary Lundeberg) Adelie penguins Antarctica Arctic Florida Nature Photography polar bears snowy plover chicks snowy plovers http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/7/we-are-one-polar-bears-penguins-and-plovers Tue, 26 Jul 2016 19:00:49 GMT
Skimmers Slice the Surf http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/7/skimmers-slice-the-surf 1.Skimmer_skimming1.Skimmer_skimming      Black Skimmers (Rynchops niger) are one of Florida’s more unique birds. Although related to terns, the skimmer doesn’t dive for fish. Instead, this awesome bird uses its brilliant orange-red bill to knife through the surf for fish as it glides expertly over water. Their long, broad wings beat mostly above the body, enabling graceful, buoyant flight just inches above the water. 2.Black_Skimmer_Skimming_Reflection2.Black_Skimmer_Skimming_Reflection

Functional Uneven Beak

     The lower mandible of the skimmer’s thin bill is longer than the upper. Black skimmers skim water with the lower mandible, then snap its upper mandible down when it touches a fish. Sometimes the skimmer flips its head back to swallow the fish as it continues flying. Even the tongue is orange! Male’s bills are slightly larger and deeper than female’s. This odd, but useful bill sets skimmers apart from all other American birds. When skimmers hatch, the two mandibles of their bills are equal in length, but when they fledge, the lower mandible is about one centimeter longer than the upper.

3.CATCHIING_A_MINNOW3.CATCHIING_A_MINNOW      Because it feeds by touch, the skimmer doesn’t need daylight like most birds to forage. Skimmers primarily fish at dawn and dusk, and sometimes at night, when the water is calmer and fish are closer to the surface. Skimmers capture small fish up to five inches in length.

4.Black_Skimmers_Mating4.Black_Skimmers_Mating

Black Skimmers Mating

Slit-shaped Pupils

     Skimmers are the only bird species to have slit-shaped pupils, like cats do. This vertical slit enables them to see in low light, and cuts the glare of water and white sand in bright light.

5.Three Chicks_standing_in_scraped_nest5.Three Chicks_standing_in_scraped_nest 6.Big_Fish_for_Little_Chick6.Big_Fish_for_Little_Chick

Good Dads

Males and females share parenting duties. Their nest is a scrape in the sand, about one inch deep and ten inches in diameter. Males do more scraping than females, kicking sand behind them with their orange feet. The average nest contains four spotted buff eggs which blend into the sand. Both parents incubate the eggs for 21-25 days. The downy chicks are vulnerable to heat and predators, so parents shade and guard them. Within a couple of days, the chicks are running around, and fledge at three-four weeks. Both parents continue to feed their young for several weeks after hatching, while the chicks practice skimming along the shoreline.

10.Lean_on_me_little_one10.Lean_on_me_little_one 8.feeding and cuddling chick8.feeding and cuddling chick     

Colonial Beach Breeders

Skimmers breed in colonies, sometimes quite large, containing hundreds of birds. They prefer sandy beaches, and nest along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

9.Skimmer_shades_chicks9.Skimmer_shades_chicks 7.Dinner_for_two7.Dinner_for_two     

Florida Species of Special Concern

Coastal development has reduced the territory available for nesting. Black skimmers can be disturbed by beachgoers, dogs and gulls. For these reasons, the Florida Audubon created a bird steward program to educate people about beach-nesting birds and to protect the fragile eggs and chicks. 11.Broken_egg_after_tropical_storm_ColindBroken_egg_after_tropical_storm_Colin Broken egg after Storm Colin

Coastal storms can wipe out nesting birds, and although tropical Storm Colin destroyed eggs and 25 of 40 chicks on Lido Key, many birds that nested on higher ground survived. After the storm, these exotic creatures mated again.

You can help skimmers survive while enjoying their acrobatic flight and barking song by keeping kites, dogs and fireworks far away from nesting colonies. 12.Skimmers_flying_in_formation12.Skimmers_flying_in_formation

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marylundeberg@gmail.com (Mary Lundeberg) Beach nesting birds Black Skimmer chicks Black Skimmers Florida Florida shorebirds Lido Key Nature Photography Rynchops niger http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/7/skimmers-slice-the-surf Tue, 26 Jul 2016 18:35:53 GMT
Least Terns: Protective Parents Seen and Heard http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/5/least-terns-protective-parents-seen-and-heard 1. Least tern carrying minnow to attract mate1. Least tern carrying minnow to attract mate            One of the joys of living in Florida full-time is noticing least terns return each spring to find nesting territory. After a delightful display of courtship behavior and protective parenting, these tiny terns migrate to South American in mid-October. Although small, their presence is both seen and heard.

Several Calls Heard

Calls of terns create a concert of music, as males hover above the water, dive to capture prey, then pursue potential mates while carrying a minnow in their bright yellow bills. The handsome least tern has a charming courtship ritual, in which the male offers a minnow to a female, and bows his head from side to side as he puffs his chest and dances around her. If interested, she crouches down, and accepts his gift. After bonding, she typically lays three eggs in a shallow scrape of sand and shells.

3.Least_Tern_Mating_Dance3.Least_Tern_Mating_Dance

Masters of Camouflage

Least tern eggs blend in with the sand. After three weeks or so, the camouflaged chicks hatch. For their first three days, the chicks stay near the nest, cuddled together in a tiny depression in the sand.

4.Least_tern_egg_and_chick4.Least_tern_egg_and_chick Least Tern with egg (front of tern) and chick (under tail wing)

Protective Parents

These elegant birds eat small fish, crustaceans, insects, small mollusks and marine worms, and feed their chicks until they fledge, about three weeks later. Both parents provide protection from sun and predators. If a diminutive tern dive-bombs you during a stroll on the beach, you are too close to a nest. Usually, least terns nest in colonies of ten to twenty pairs, although that varies by location. I have observed colonies of terns chase herons, plovers, ghost crabs and humans who wander too near their territory.

5. Least_tern_looking_at_newborn_chick5. Least_tern_looking_at_newborn_chick

Least tern gazing at chicks

Terns aren’t Gulls

Although they belong to the same family, terns are sleeker than gulls and don’t scavenge for food. A tern’s narrow, long wings are suited for maneuvering and diving for prey, whereas gulls grab food but don’t generally dive.

2.Courtship Chase2.Courtship Chase

Terns competing for minnow and mate

Threatened Birds

Sandy beaches—the kind that people like—provide prime nesting habitat, so as more coastal development occurs, populations of least terns have declined. The American Bird Conservancy lists the Least Tern (Sternula antillarum) as one of their 25 threatened birds that are a special focus for partnership, such as programs to protect beach nesting birds. In addition to habitat loss, least terns are threatened by beach recreation, oil spills, pollutants and rising sea levels. If suitable beach is unavailable, terns will nest on gravel rooftops.

Please respect protected areas and keep dogs away as well. Birds disturbed from their nests for ten minutes in the hot Florida sun can result in fried eggs, and untended chicks become easy pickings for gulls, crows, hawks, dogs and feral cats, in spite of the mobbing defense mounted by the parent birds. I use a long telephoto lens (1200mm) to ensure my presence doesn't disturb the birds.

A future for the least tern depends on us. We can help these protective parents by sharing the beach and giving them space to raise their families. 6.Least_tern_chick_flapping_wings6.Least_tern_chick_flapping_wings

 

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marylundeberg@gmail.com (Mary Lundeberg) Beach Birds Florida Least Tern Nature Nature photography Photography Sternula antillarum http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/5/least-terns-protective-parents-seen-and-heard Mon, 30 May 2016 20:20:59 GMT
Share the Beach with Birds http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/5/share-the-beach-with-birds  

Did you know that not all birds nest in trees? This time of year, though, I watch where I step because the nests, eggs and chicks of shorebirds blend in with the sand.

 

Least tern egg and chickLeast tern egg and chickLeast tern egg and chick

Least tern egg and chick (under wing)

Wilson Plover chickWilson Plover chick

Wilson Plover Chick

In our area, the Snowy Plover (pronounced like lover) and the Wilson’s Plover scrape small nests in the sand where hatch downy young that can barely be seen. The precocial chicks race and rest in the dunes and along the wrack line, feeding themselves small invertebrates such as insects, and crustaceans. Both parents follow, occasionally taking them under their wing to protect them from threats.

 

Snowy Plover chick eating insectSnowy Plover chick eating insectSnowy Plover chick eating insect

 

Hearing the adults’ call, a sharp whistled “wheep”, warns me that chicks are near. Time to back away! One pair of Wilson’s Plovers that I photographed this season lost their eggs to a bobcat, but to my delight they produced two more chicks. The flightless chicks are vulnerable to predators, until they fledge at roughly 21 days.

 

Snowy Plover maleSnowy Plover maleSnowy Plover male

Snowy Plover

Newly hatched chick without downNewly hatched chick without downNewly hatched chick without down

Least tern with chicks

In contrast to the plovers, who are solitary nesters, two species of seabirds, the Least Tern and the Black Skimmer, nest in noisy, active colonies on the beach. Bird steward volunteers rope off sections of the beach to protect the camouflaged eggs and chicks from accidental trampling. Please respect protected areas and keep dogs away as well. Birds disturbed from their nests for ten minutes in the hot Florida sun can result in fried eggs and untended chicks become easy pickings for predators. However, gulls, crows, hawks, raccoons, coyotes, dogs and feral cats can snatch eggs and chicks, in spite of the mobbing defense mounted by the parent birds. I use a long telephoto lens (1200mm) to ensure my presence doesn't disturb the birds.

Least tern turns eggLeast tern turns eggLeast tern turns egg

Least tern turning egg

 

The tiny Least Tern has a charming courting ritual, in which the male offers a minnow to a potential mate as he puffs his chest and dances around her. If she takes it, they bond and she typically lays three eggs in a shallow scrape of sand and shells. After three weeks or so, the chicks hatch. For their first three days, they stay near the nest, cuddled together in a tiny depression in the sand. Both parents provide protection and fish until the chicks are able to fly, about three weeks later. This diminutive bird is a fierce protector of its’ young. I’ve watched colonies dive-bomb herons and humans who wander too near.

Least Tern with giftLeast Tern with giftLeast Tern with gift

 

The Black Skimmer skims water with the lower part of its orange bill (mandible) submerged. When it touches a fish, the upper bill (maxilla) snaps shut. This seabird is twice as large as the Least Tern.

 

Skimmer with MinnowSkimmer with Minnow

Skimmer SkimmingSkimmer Skimming Black Skimmer SkimmingBlack Skimmer Skimming

 

Like the terns, both parents share in the care of their young.

Black Skimmer feeding chick, Siesta KeyBlack Skimmer feeding chick, Siesta Key

Black Skimmer feeding chick

 

Defenseless chicks leave protected areas to explore their new world. Please teach children not to chase or feed shorebirds and seabirds, who need to rest or tend their fragile young. Populations of beach nesting shorebirds and seabirds have declined in Florida, due primarily to habitat loss and human disturbance. We can share the beach and protect our beach nesting birds. Consider becoming a bird steward; it’s rewarding!


Snowy Plover chick near GulfSnowy Plover chick near GulfSnowy Plover chick near Gulf Snowy Plover Chick
 

Wilson plover with chickWilson plover with chick Wilson Plover and chick

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marylundeberg@gmail.com (Mary Lundeberg) Birds Florida Nature Photography Shorebirds http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/5/share-the-beach-with-birds Mon, 23 May 2016 21:14:01 GMT
Will the Future be Rosy for Spoonbills? http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/5/will-the-future-be-rosy-for-spoonbills Roseate_Spoonbill_FlightRoseate_Spoonbill_Flight

Some people confuse spoonbills with flamingos, since both birds are large and pink. These huge wading birds stand almost 3 feet tall with wingspans of 4 feet. In mating season, the striking wing feathers turn bright red to magenta, making spoonbills one of Florida’s most unique and brilliant birds. Biologists believe their pink feathers are derived from the spoonbill’s diet of carotenoid-rich organisms like shrimp. Some writers have advocated for the spoonbill to be our state bird, rather than the mockingbird. Roseate Spoonbills (Ajaia ajaja) wading, Myakka State ParkRoseate Spoonbills (Ajaia ajaja) wading, Myakka State ParkRoseate Spoonbill (Ajaia ajaja) wading. This juvenile still has dusky tips on his wings.

 

Tactile Feeders

            The spoonbill’s distinctive spoon-shaped bill has a nerve that tingles when the it touches prey. To feed, the spoonbill sweeps its open bill from side to side in the water, which creates whirlpools of water. As prey escapes, the spoonbill feels vibrations and snaps its bill shut on aquatic insects and crustaceans, and tosses minnows back to eat them. Spoonbills need the right amount of water to forage. If it is too deep, their bill can’t reach the bottom, and if it is too shallow, the fish leave. Roseate Spoonbill catchiing fishRoseate Spoonbill catchiing fish

Spoonbills sift through a lot of mud, and parasites hop on them. They bathe and preen to clean their feathers. These beautiful birds inhabit wetlands, ponds, and estuaries within southern Florida, coastal Texas and southwestern Louisiana in the United States.

Roseate Spoonbill BathingRoseate Spoonbill BathingRoseate Spoonbill (Ajaia ajaja) takes bath to dislodge mud

 

 

A Bowl of Roseate Spoonbills

Spoonbills are gregarious birds, feeding together, flying together and congregating in rookeries to raise their young. Spoonbills feed in groups with other wading birds, such as Ibises, herons and egrets.  Birds send warning signals when predators appear. The spoonbill’s ears on the side of her head usually stay above the water. Groups of spoonbills are called a bowl.

Roseate Mates Arranging Nest,Roseate Mates Arranging Nest,

Roseate Spoonbill Feeding ChicksRoseate Spoonbill Feeding ChicksRoseate Spoonbill Feeding Chicks

Breeding Behavior

Spoonbills mate for the season, and although males are slightly larger than females, they look similar. Spoonbills engage in courtship, such as the mating dance I observed in the Everglades. Roseate Spoonbill Love, EvergladesRoseate Spoonbill Love, Everglades The male collects twigs, brings them to the nest (often in mangrove trees) and the female arranges them. Both parents incubate the eggs, and feed their young. The parents dribble regurgitated material into chicks’ open bills. After about three years, immature paler spoonbills become adults and their pink feathers darken.

 

Roseate Spoonbills (Ajaia ajaja) sleeping with chicksRoseate Spoonbills (Ajaia ajaja) sleeping with chicksDad arrives ready to feed chicks and Mom wakes up

Roseate Spoonbill Shaking Wings,Myakka State ParkRoseate Spoonbill Shaking Wings,Myakka State ParkRoseate Spoonbill (Ajaia ajaja) adult stretches wings

 
 

Species of Special Concern

Spoonbills, prized for their flamboyant feathers, were slaughtered almost to extinction by plume hunters during the late 1800s. Once spoonbills gained legal protection, the species rebounded until the later 1970s when 80% of their wetland habitat in Florida Bay was drained for development. Nesting in the Tampa Bay area has increased however, on Audubon protected islands. Yet, spoonbills’ habitat remains threatened, so the FWC lists them as a species of special concern.

Spoonbills are sensitive to water fluctuations. During one nesting season in Florida Bay, an entire colony with nearly 400 chicks was decimated when water levels rose rapidly.

The Roseate Spoonbill has been identified as a key indicator species. Scientists are concerned because spoonbills are struggling in the everglades, and this indicates trouble for that ecosystem. Let’s listen to the spoonbill’s warning.

Roseate Spoonbill BallerinaRoseate Spoonbill BallerinaRoseate Spoonbill Ballerina

 

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marylundeberg@gmail.com (Mary Lundeberg) florida nature photography spoonbills http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/5/will-the-future-be-rosy-for-spoonbills Mon, 23 May 2016 20:53:38 GMT
Bunnies Are a Sign of Spring http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/5/bunnies-are-a-sign-of-spring  

Rabbits appear everywhere this time of year: in stores, gardens, marshes and in the arms of children. Because of their fertility, bunnies are associated with spring and rebirth, hence their connection with Easter.

We have two species of rabbits in our area of Florida: the Eastern Cottontail, Sylvilagus floridanus, and the Florida Marsh Rabbit, Sylvilagus palustris paludicola. If you see a rabbit swimming, don’t worry, it’s a Marsh Rabbit.

Florida Marsh Rabbit

Found close to water, this cousin to the cottontail is a strong swimmer. Its habitat includes fresh and brackish marshes, and its diet consists of aquatic and wetland plants. This reddish brown rabbit with a gray tail is slightly smaller than the cottontail, measuring about 17 inches long and weighing slightly more than two pounds. This crepuscular creature, active primarily at dawn and dusk, can hide in wetlands with just its’ nose showing above the water.

Marsh_RabbitMarsh Rabbit

Eastern Cottontail

Distinguished by its white fluffy tail that looks like cotton, the Eastern Cottontail rabbit is found throughout Florida (except the Keys and coastal marshes). Ranging from 14-20 inches long, and weighing two-four pounds, this bunny prefers brush, weed patches and the edges of forests. Like the marsh rabbit, the cottontail is a herbivore, who likes clover. At dawn, I’ve noticed the rabbits in my garden trimming the Mexican Petunias I planted for the butterflies.

Cottontail RabbitCottontail Rabbit

Breeds like a rabbit

Rabbits breed fast and frequently, and are as prolific as the saying goes. Bucks (male rabbits) and does (female rabbits) reach sexual maturity before they are a year old. Unlike other mammals, does don’t have an estrous cycle, so they can breed anytime. Intercourse stimulates ovulation. After 30 days, does produce a litter of 4-12 kits, and can mate again after the kits are born. Young are typically born from March through September.

Great vision

Rabbits’ eyes are placed high to the sides of their heads, allowing them to have nearly 360° panoramic vision, as well as above their head. They can see everything behind them and only have a small blind-spot in front of their nose, so they have evolved to detect predators from almost any direction.

Rabbit eating cloverRabbit eating clover

Scared like a rabbit

In addition to excellent eyesight, rabbits possess a keen sense of smell and hearing. When threatened, they will freeze in place, since predators such as cats, dogs and foxes are better at detecting moving prey. Rabbits can run up to 15 m.p.h., and usually do so in a zig zag pattern. Rabbits have over 40 predators, including dogs, cats, alligators, bobcats, foxes, eagles, hawks and owls. About 80% of bunnies die from predation, although some rabbits live 8-10 years in the wild.

Rabbit head

Social creatures

Rabbits are social creatures, hanging around and grooming one another. A group of rabbits is called a herd. Rabbits are revered in our culture, as evidence by their presence in children’s books and cartoons. These gentle herbivores symbolize abundance, sensitivity and vulnerability.

 

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marylundeberg@gmail.com (Mary Lundeberg) Bunnies Eastern Cottontail Florida Marsh Rabbit Nature Photography Rabbit Sylvilagus floridanus, Sylvilagus palustris paludicola http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/5/bunnies-are-a-sign-of-spring Mon, 23 May 2016 20:34:06 GMT
The Ancient Gentle Gopher Tortoise http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/5/the-ancient-gentle-gopher-tortoise  

The gopher tortoise, the Florida state tortoise, is one of the oldest living species, originating from a group of tortoises that lived here 60 million years ago. The gopher tortoise, Gopherus polyphemus, used to be well established but has declined 80% over the last hundred years, and is now listed as threatened.

Gopher Tortoise EatingGopher Tortoise Eating

Built to dig

Their name derives from their ability to dig large burrows. The forelimbs of these reptiles are flat and shovel shaped, built for digging burrows in dry well-drained soil or sand. The burrow entrance is half-mooned shaped, like a tortoise. Burrows range from six to ten feet deep, 15-40 feet long and as wide as the tortoise is long. Burrows are essential to gopher tortoise survival, since they protect the tortoise from the sun, predators, and fires that naturally occur in dry, sandy uplands.

Because their burrows shelter about 360 other species of animals (such as burrowing owls, gopher frogs, quail, and snakes), the gopher tortoise is a "keystone species." Removing a keystone species can have a detrimental effect for ecosystems.

Gopher Tortoise ClawsGopher Tortoise ClawsGopher Tortoise Claws

State law protects tortoise burrows

            Even if a burrow doesn’t show obvious activity, that doesn’t mean it isn’t being used. According to Eric Sievers at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, “Both the tortoise and its burrow are protected under state law. All burrows classified as potentially occupied are protected, and this includes burrows with obvious signs of use and those with minimal or no obvious sign of use…The lack of observable tortoise signs may be due to weather or season. “ If construction can’t avoid the burrow by 25 feet, a permit from the FWC is required.

Burrow SignBurrow SignBurrow Sign

Loss of habitat is their biggest threat.

            Prior to 2007, developers could pay mitigation to plug up burrows and entombed thousands of tortoises. Now builders purchase a permit to have a tortoise relocated according to FWC guidelines. Tortoises are released into temporary enclosures for six-twelve months and relocated into high quality habitat. Permits and other useful information is on the FWC website.

Results evaluating the success of relocation indicate that about half of the tortoises relocated dispersed or died their first year. If penned first, 69-92% survive.

Along with development come other threats to gopher tortoise survival, such as increased road mortality, use of pesticides and herbicides, disease from relocation and fire suppression.

April begins mating season.

 Female gopher tortoises lay four to six eggs nests in the sand at the entrance of the burrow, and the eggs hatch about 3 months later.

Two tortoises share a burrowTwo tortoises share a burrow

Move slowly to live long

These slow moving vegetarians live 40-80 years. The plants they eat provide water. Please do not place gopher tortoises in water, or they might drown. If you see one crossing a road, move it in the direction it was traveling in.

Close up of gopher Tortoise munching grassClose up of gopher Tortoise munching grass

Will our native gopher tortoise survive the next 25 years if the population of Florida expands by 40% as predicted? Can we preserve enough habitats for gopher tortoises and the critters living in their burrows?

 

 

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marylundeberg@gmail.com (Mary Lundeberg) Florida Gopher Nature Photography Tortoise http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/5/the-ancient-gentle-gopher-tortoise Mon, 23 May 2016 20:10:32 GMT
Fox in the Neighborhood http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/5/fox-in-the-neighborhood  

“There’s the coyote the golf course is trying to trap,” said my instructor. “That’s not a coyote, that’s a red fox,” I said as we watched a rusty creature emerge from the woods and gracefully sprint across the back of the driving range. “Look at his beautiful bushy tail, and his size.” I could barely see the white tip, so characteristic of red fox, but the stride and size was clearly fox, not coyote.  Although both belong to the same dog family Canidae, a red fox weighs up to 15 pounds, as compared to a coyote which can weigh up to 50 pounds. 

Fox at DawnFox at DawnFox at Dawn

            For the next three evenings I parked my car, and waited for the fox to reappear with my camera ready. I saw palm fronds the color of the fox, but no fox. Then a friend who knows I like wildlife told me she saw a family of fox on the golf course and described where she saw them.  I persuaded my husband to play golf with me the next evening. As we neared the hole where my friend spotted the fox family, I said to my husband, “I don’t see any fox.”

            “What’s that?” He nodded to a catlike creature curled up, resting in the shade, partly hidden by a bush. Fox are masters of camouflage.  I climbed out of the cart slowly, took her photo and left quickly so as not to disturb her. For the next three months I photographed the fox family at dawn and dusk, whenever I could, observing the behaviors of the father fox (called a dog) and the mother fox (vixen) as they cared for their three kits.

 

Three fox kits Three fox kits Three fox kits

 

 

Predators on the Edge

Red fox like the edges of woods and hills for protection, Although fox can outrun coyotes, their kits can’t. Coyotes kill fox kits, so fox tend to den near people, since coyotes are more wary of people.  Unlike coyotes, fox do not kill dogs or cats.  Coyotes can hunt in packs, whereas fox are solitary hunters. Foxes are skillful scavengers and eat fruit, insects, frogs, birds’ eggs, rodents, small mammals (e.g squirrels) and even baby alligators. Because their ears are so large, they can hear rodents running through thick shrubs. Fox don’t overeat; they cache surplus food for future use, digging a shallow hole and covering it with dirt, twigs and leaves. I watched the vixen retrieve the remains of a dead bird she had saved.

 

Closeup Fox with RatCloseup Fox with RatCloseup Fox with Rat

Vixen with alligatorVixen with alligator_

Sideview Fox with RatSideview Fox with RatSideview Fox with Rat

 

Catlike behaviors

To catch their prey, fox have developed catlike behaviors. The anatomy of their eyes is similar-they have vertical-slit pupils that allow them to see in the dark as well as bright daylight. Fox move quietly and can quickly pounce on prey, even as young kits.

 

Red Fox Vixen in wildflowersRed Fox Vixen in wildflowers

Male FoxMale FoxMale Fox

Graceful sprinting foxGraceful sprinting foxGraceful sprinting fox

 

 

Raising kits

            Fox are devoted parents, sharing in guarding the den, providing food and grooming their young. The female fox nursed her young, while the father fox stood guard.  As the kits grew, their territory expanded, and the fox changed dens, even adopting a sand trap as one of their homes. My favorite times were watching the kits play, chasing one another and pouncing on one another as they developed their amazing skills.

 

Red Fox Grooming KitRed Fox Grooming Kit

 

Closeup VixenCloseup VixenCloseup Vixen

 

Kit hears dogKit hears dog_

 

Fox on hillFox on hill_

 

Kissing MamaKissing MamaKissing Mama

 

Mom and KitMom and KitMom and Kit

 

Three fox kitsThree fox kits __

 

Kit Visiting MomKit Visiting MomKit Visiting Mom

 
 

Vulpine success story: The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) has the widest geographic distribution of any carnivore alive in the world today. I am grateful for the opportunity to photograph this beautifully adaptable creature. I welcome the red fox in our Florida neighborhoods.

Red FoxRed Fox_

Red Fox, FloridaRed Fox, Florida

\ Kits Play FightingKits Play FightingKits Play Fighting

Father Fox Guarding the DenFather Fox Guarding the DenFather Fox Guarding the Den
Fox FaceFox FaceFox Face

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marylundeberg@gmail.com (Mary Lundeberg) Fox Nature Photography http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/5/fox-in-the-neighborhood Sat, 14 May 2016 20:57:21 GMT
Majestic Eagles Return http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/5/majestic-eagles-return          A bald eagle soared high above Lemon Bay, searching for fish, as its powerful seven-foot wings beat the air. Bald eagles bring me hope. In half a century, after banning DDT, and passing the Endangered Species Act, populations of eagles have increased 10-fold. Florida now has over 1,400 bald eagle nesting territories, the largest number in the lower 48 states. Only Alaska has more eagles.

         Eagle MatesEagles mate for life, but if a mate dies, they often seek another. Each year, eagles court anew using a magnificent sky dance. Although similar in appearance, females are 10-20% larger than males. Their territory is a 1-2 mile range located near water since fish is their primary food source.

Eagles MatingEagles Mating

         Life in the AerieEagles generally build their nest (aerie) in a strong tall pine tree, near a snag, which they use as a viewing post.  Unless disturbed, they rebuild their nest yearly. Aeries can weigh up to two tons and reach a diameter of 7 feet.

 
Eaglet branchingEaglet branching
 

Nest at Cedar Point 2016Nest at Cedar Point 2016

         Both mates share incubation duties. In Florida, 1-3 eaglets hatch in late December or early January. Initially the male fishes, and the mother tears the fish into tiny morsels for her babies to swallow. Eagles bring 2-4 fish per day to their chicks. At 8 weeks, young eaglets test their wings, and between 10-13 weeks of age, they fledge.  If an eaglet is reluctant to leave the nest, the parents seem to encourage their young to fledge by flying around the nest carrying fish to a nearby tree. Juveniles follow their parents for months, until they learn to fish. If a second-year immature eagle returns to the nest, the parents will chase it away. Immature Bald eagles explore vast territories and can fly hundreds of miles per day, traveling 30-35 mph at altitudes up to 10,000 feet. Eagles live between 15-30 years in the wild.

 

Mom feeding chickMom feeding chick

 

Eaglet begs for foodEaglet begs for food

 

         Feathers, Beaks, and TalonsBald used to mean white, rather than hairless. Eagles are brown at birth. Their eyes and beaks turn yellow gradually over the first four years, and at age five, their head and tail feathers turn white. Their beaks are weapons: the hooked upper mandible overlaps with the bottom and is sharp enough to slice skin, but delicate enough to feed its chicks. The beak and strong talons, made of keratin, grow continuously.

 

Eagle HeadEagle Head

Taking offTaking off

 

         SymbolismThese majestic birds symbolize freedom, independence and strength. In 1782, our founding leaders chose the largest raptor in North America as our national emblem for they admired this regal bird native solely to North America. For Native Americans, Bald eagles signify honor, leadership and bravery. 

 

Carrying fishCarrying fish

 

People continue to use eagles for inspiration. For example, a popular, wildly inaccurate PowerPoint presentation on the Internet claims that some eagles choose at age 40 to extend their lives to age 70 by removing their beaks, talons and feathers. This modern myth encourages people to shed their past to move forward. The conservation of the bald eagle reminds us that we can save endangered species.

 

Eagle SoaringEagle Soaring

 
 

 

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marylundeberg@gmail.com (Mary Lundeberg) Eagles Earth Nature Photography http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/5/majestic-eagles-return Wed, 11 May 2016 22:25:18 GMT
The Future of Florida Black Bears http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/5/the-future-of-florida-black-bears  

As a wildlife photographer, I’ve enjoyed several trips to northern Minnesota to photograph black bears foraging for food, playing, and communicating with their cubs. I love these large mammals; I admire their strength and respect their resourcefulness. When I listen to the low grunt of a mother bear calling her cubs, I’m reminded of a quote by Thoreau: “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”  I’m grateful to live in Florida, a state that gives bears room to roam; black bears need large and interconnected spaces. The habitat of black bears is diminishing due to development. 

 

Bear Cubs are shyBear Cubs are shyBear Cubs are shy

Today, Floridians must ask ourselves if we’ll be able to restore, connect and protect native habitat for wildlife in the future. Black bears represent a Florida conservation success story. Because the black bear population declined dramatically to a few hundred by 1974, the Florida black bear was listed as threatened, and the bear hunting season closed. According to a 2002 survey, about 2,500-3,000 bears now inhabit Florida, so the black bear is no longer a “threatened species.” Look for an updated bear population survey in Fall 2016.

 

Cooling offCooling offCooling off

Bears mate between June and August. If a sow has eaten enough, she births two-to-five cubs in the winter, and remains in the den for several months. Cubs stay with their mother for about two years, nursing and learning to forage. Black bears are omnivorous, with 95 percent of their diet from vegetation, honey, unsecured garbage and 5 percent from insects, rabbits and fish. Cubs climb trees to explore their world. They play on limbs, lick leaves, scratch bark for insects and nap in trees. Like us, in the heat of the day, bears like to cool off in water. Driven by the need to feed, and a snout that smells food a mile away, bears gravitate to game-feeding stations, unsecured garbage, bird feeders, beehives, compost piles and outside pet food.

Bear eating leaf is tastyBear eating leaf is tastyBear eating leaf is tasty

“A fed bear is a dead bear,” warns David Telesco, coordinator of the Bear Management Program for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC). Bears who associate humans with food lose their natural fear of us and are often killed by vehicle collisions or guns. The FFWCC may remove the 20-year ban on bear hunting at its June 24 meeting. Hunting won’t address recurring conflicts between humans and bears. Allowing hunters to bait bears with food will help hunters lure bears, but will also increase human/bear conflicts. After using bear-proof garbage cans for a year, 95 percent of Glenwood residents reported fewer human/bear conflicts.

Bear rolls in cedar _W5C3917Bear rolls in cedarBear rolls in cedar

Education is key to coexisting with these adaptable, intelligent creatures, who would rather scramble up a tree than face a person. Unlike grizzly bears, black bears in Florida are rarely aggressive. No one has ever been killed in Florida by a bear. If you care about bears, visit myfwc.com to express your opinion on bear management, or attend the FFWCC meeting to decide the future of Florida bears on June 24 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Sarasota.

 

 

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marylundeberg@gmail.com (Mary Lundeberg) Bears Black Florida Nature Photography http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/5/the-future-of-florida-black-bears Wed, 11 May 2016 21:37:26 GMT
The Elegant Brown Pelican http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/4/the-elegant-brown-pelican  

The brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) glides gracefully along the eastern and western coasts of Florida, occasionally dipping the tip of one of its’ six to seven foot wings in water. A master of aerodynamics, the pelican’s wing beats are slow and powerful as it surfs updrafts along waves or buildings. When it spots fish, it turns, then dives headfirst from heights of 50 feet, folding its wings before it hits the water. Why does this creature plunge so fast and so hard?

Juvenile GlidingJuvenile brown pelican glides over GulfJuvenile brown pelican glides over Gulf

The pelican’s plunge-dive stuns small fish, which the pelican scoops into the gular pouch attached to its lower bill. This huge pouch expands to hold about three gallons of water. A pelican dips its head forward to drain the water from its bill and tips its head back to swallow the fish whole. Sometimes minnows leak out, which seagulls snatch.

Juvenile_Brown_Pelican_Spots Fish and Begins DiveJuvenile Brown Pelican Spots Fish and Begins DiveJuvenile Brown Pelican Spots Fish and Begins Dive

Brown pelicans’ bodies are designed for water impact. Air sacs under their skin (including the throat, breast and undersides of their wings) may cushion the impact of hitting the water. These sacs, along with air sacs in their bones, may also help them bob to the surface after the plunge. In spite of their large size, pelicans weigh only 6-10 pounds.

Juvenile_Brown_Pelican_with_SeagullSeagull sits on Juvenile brown pelican ready to steal minnowsSeagull sits on Juvenile brown pelican ready to steal minnows

Entanglement in fishing gear may lead to a pelican’s slow death from dehydration and starvation. If you hook a pelican, never cut the line. ***For instructions on removing a hook, download this brochure: https://www.saveourseabirds.org/wpcontent/uploads/2014/07/pelican_brochure_version_5.pdf.

If the bird is injured or has swallowed the hook, call the Wildlife Center of Venice (941-484-9657), the Peace River Wildlife Center (941-637-3830), or Save our Seabirds (941-388-3010). Every year several hundred pelicans require rehabilitation from fishing injuries, and from ingesting large fish bones that puncture their pouch, throat or intestines.

Do not kill pelicans with kindness. When fishermen filet sheepshead or other large fish and toss the bones to begging pelicans, the bones can lodge in their throats, causing severe injuries.

Because pelicans are sensitive to disturbance from humans, they prefer to nest on isolated islands in large colonies, with both parents tending the chicks. Juvenile pelicans are brown with a white belly and after three years mature into grayish adults with yellow caps.

Destruction of habitat, overfishing and water pollution adversely affect pelicans. The Gulf oil spill may be responsible for hundreds of thousands of seabird losses. Brown pelicans are protected as a Species of Special Concern in Florida. Although once endangered, pelican populations recovered after dangerous insecticides (DDT) were banned.

Pelicans swim well with their webbed feet that also serve as brakes for landing. This webbing connects all four of their toes, even the back one. I love to watch pelicans take off, as they pound the surface of the water with both feet to gain speed. But mostly, I enjoy seeing pelicans roost on a mangrove branch or a post, which allows them to rest and preen their feathers. This sight reminds me to pause and take pleasure in our spectacular surroundings.

Juvenile Swallowing fishJuvenile Swallowing fishJuvenile Swallowing fish

 

 

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marylundeberg@gmail.com (Mary Lundeberg) Brown Earth Nature Pelican Photography http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/4/the-elegant-brown-pelican Wed, 27 Apr 2016 21:12:55 GMT
Turtle Time http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/3/turtle-time This is turtle time. The time when sea turtles lay clutches of 80-120 eggs, and hatchlings are born. As a member of Coastal Wildlife Club Turtle Patrol, Ive been trained to identify turtle tracks and to look for hatchling tracks. Three days after a nest hatches, we excavate the nest to count the hatched and unhatched eggs, and sometimes find live hatchlings.

Lori Johannessen explains to crowd_why we excavate nestsLori Johannessen explains to crowd why we excavate nestsLori Johannessen explains to crowd why we excavate nests

Yesterday, we found three hatchlings deep in the nest, deeper than the typical 18 inches beneath the sand. Somehow these three missed the initial burst of 100 sea turtles cracking their shells, and erupting upward through the sand towards open lighter horizon. The light was the moon reflected on the water, and turtles use this to navigate. All turtle tracks led to shore. If houses, flashlights, or street lamps are on, turtles sometimes go towards artificial light and become disoriented, which can lead to death. If holes and castles are left in the sand, hatchlings can fall in and die. Beach chairs, debris and umbrellas can become barriers to hatchlings as well as sea turtles.

Green_Turtle_Hatchling_climbs_footprintGreen turtle hatchling crawls to the sea.Green turtle hatchling crawls to the sea.

Loggerhead sea turtles represent our most common nesting sea turtle, and Florida shores support over 90% of the U.S. population of loggerheads (Caretta caretta). Although sea turtles have lived over 110 million years, their survival is threatened. Boat propeller gashes are apparent in many dead and injured sea turtles that wash up on local beaches. After migrating hundreds of miles, and laying hundreds of eggs, female turtles remain offshore, making an average of four nests every two weeks or so. Hatchlings emerge after 45-60 days, mostly at night.

A_loggerhead _lit by the moon_returns_to_the_sea_after_nestingA loggerhead lit by the moon returns to the sea after nestingA loggerhead lit by the moon returns to the sea after nesting

 

It is estimated that only 1 in a 1,000 hatchlings will survive to maturity, and return as adults to nest, usually on or near the beach where they hatched. From the nest to the shore loggerheads face threats from erosion, ghost crabs, armadillos, raccoons, coyotes and gulls. Hatchlings must swim many miles until they reach floating seaweed called Sargassum, without getting snatched by a frigate bird, swallowed by a shark, poisoned by debris, or thrown by a storm. About 85% of little loggerheads found after storms have ingested bits of plastic. Along the way, these tiny turtles will sleep on the surface of the water, folding their front flippers over their backs. Oil spills can be deadly for baby sea turtles.

 

In addition to loggerheads, the endangered green turtle (Chelonia mydas) also nests nocturnally in our region. Finally, Kemp’s ridley turtles (Lepidochelys kempii), though rare, nest in the daytime. Most sea turtles nest at night, and are sensitive to disturbance from humans or other animals. If disturbed, the sea turtle will turn around without laying her eggs, making a “false crawl” in sea turtle lingo. Nesting has increased this year among all three species of sea turtles.

Visitors Ainsley and Kelly O'Dell watch a hatchling crawl to the seaVisitors Ainsley and Kelly O'Dell watch a hatchling crawl to the seaVisitors Ainsley and Kelly O'Dell watch a hatchling crawl to the sea

 

If you walk the beach at dawn, you may get the chance to guard a hatchling from the gulls as it crawls to the sea. One visitor declared, This was the best part of our vacation.

 

Loggerhead_hatchling_crawls to the seaLoggerhead hatchling crawls to the seaLoggerhead hatchling crawls to the sea

 

 

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marylundeberg@gmail.com (Mary Lundeberg) Sea Turtles http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/3/turtle-time Mon, 07 Mar 2016 06:42:11 GMT
Call of the wild Sandhill Crane http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/3/call-of-the-wild-sandhill-crane Sandhill Cranes are my husband’s favorite birds. He loves their large size, their wild wondrous call and their elegant mating dance. With their long legs and necks, these gray birds with crimson-capped heads stand up to 4 feet tall, and have a large wingspan ranging from 5.5 – 7.5 feet. Males are slightly larger than females, but otherwise look identical.

I often hear their loud, trumpeting call before I spot these prehistoric creatures, because their call from the ground or the air can be heard 2.5 miles away. The structure of Sandhill Cranes’ elongated windpipes enables them to produce their distinctive bugling sound. I especially love the synchronized duets that occur when mated cranes stand close together. During this “unison calling”, the female makes two calls for every one from the male. The cranes’ courtship dance is delightful. They stretch their wings, bow and leap gracefully into the air, chasing one another energetically.

Crane Courtship Dance, Bosque del Apache, New MexicoCrane Courtship Dance, Bosque del Apache, New MexicoCrane Courtship Dance, Bosque del Apache, New Mexico

Sandhill Cranes mate for life and share parenting duties. Both bring plant materials to construct a nest, usually in a marsh, bog or shallow pond. The female lays 1-3 eggs, and both male and female cranes incubate the eggs for about 30 days, taking turns sitting on the nest. Both parents protect the young once the chicks hatch.

Sandhill Cranes on the nest, incubating eggsSandhill Cranes on the nest, incubating eggs

Foxes, raccoons, coyotes, bobcats and alligators hunt the chicks, as well as hawks, eagles and great horned owls. Young chicks hide under their parent’s wings, but usually only one survives. In addition to natural predators, cars hit chicks who haven’t fledged yet.

Sandhill Crane Colt under wingSandhill Crane Colt under wing

Young Sandhill Cranes are precocial: able to swim and leave the nest within a day after hatching. Both parents feed seeds, insects, berries, frogs, crayfish, grubs and roots to their chicks who remain with their parents for about ten months. Cranes can be observed in fields, prairies, wetlands as well as urban places such as golf courses.

 

Sandhill Crane leads chick to pondSandhill Crane leads chick to pond

Beginning in October, thousands of Sandhill Cranes migrate from their northern nesting grounds to warmer climates. About 25,000 Greater Sandhill Cranes fly to Florida for the winter, where they join our resident population of about 4000-5,000 Florida Sandhill Cranes. The Florida Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis pratensis) is a subspecies of the Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis), and the two species look similar.  Our Florida Sandhill Cranes do not migrate, however.

Although Greater Sandhill Cranes are not endangered, the Florida Sandhill Crane is listed as threatened in the state, due to loss of habitat as wetlands are continually developed. Once Florida Sandhill Cranes were overhunted; now they are protected and it is against the law to kill or feed one.

Hopefully, these magnificent birds will continue to grace our ponds and skies with their melodies. You may enjoy the migratory Greater Sandhill Cranes, as well as our non-migratory resident species, who share space when their “snowbird” cousins arrive each fall. Cranes can live up to 20 years. The oldest Sandhill Crane fossil, estimated to be 2.5 million years old, was discovered in Florida. Will they survive another million years?

5Crane leading chick to pondCrane watching second chick hatchCrane watching second chick hatch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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marylundeberg@gmail.com (Mary Lundeberg) Nature http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/3/call-of-the-wild-sandhill-crane Tue, 01 Mar 2016 00:40:36 GMT
Beautiful Bobcats http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/2/beautiful-bobcats "There’s a bobcat sleeping on my pontoon boat,” my neighbor said. The Florida wild bobcat or Felidae rufus Floridanus, is not afraid of the water, since it can swim and climb dock posts, as well as trees. My neighbors had rats in their boat until the bobcat visited. Bobcats sometimes get wet catching prey, like the bobcat who caught a shark off the shore of Sebastian Inlet State Park earlier this year. Typically, though, these patient stalkers eat rats, squirrels, opossums, small raccoons, rabbits, insects and sometimes ground-dwelling birds. Bobcats hunt by sight, usually at dawn or dusk, with vision that is six times better than ours. They are not dangerous to people or pets, and are ecologically useful, controlling pest populations of rodents. Bobcats have sharp claws and teeth, and they do not make good pets.

_-3Bobcat in brush

Each night a bobcat will move from one to seven miles along its habitual route. The range of a bobcat varies by location and gender: five miles in rural terrain and one to two miles in urban and suburban areas. Female bobcats have smaller territories; one male’s range may touch several females’ ranges. A male bobcat can sire more than one litter, since bobcats are polygamous. Breeding season runs from August to March, and females birth one to four kittens, after a gestation period of about two months. Thick areas of dense vegetation, such as saw palmetto, or mangroves provide cover for resting and den sites. The female raises the young alone, and she may have  multiple dens spread across her territory.

_-2Bobcat watches frisky kitten

_Bobcat kitten peers over log.

_Bobcat kittens playing Weaning the young is a gradual process. The mother bobcat brings wounded live prey for her kittens to  to play with, so they can practice stalking and killing prey. That play helps kittens grow stronger and develop hunting skills. Kittens play-fight, wrestle, and leap over one another.  Within three to four months, kittens travel with their mother, while she teaches them to hunt. Young stay with their mothers for eight to ten months. Before they disperse, they hang around the mother’s range until they are confident hunters. Offspring generally settle within 12-25 miles of their mother, but transient bobcats have been known to go as far as 113 miles away.

Bobcat on boat closeupClose-up of bobcat on boat Bobcats can live an average of 12-13 years, but only half survive to adulthood. People frequently mistake bobcats for panthers, which are extremely rare and  very shy. On average, bobcats measure about 21 inches in height and two to four feet in length; whereas panthers stand about 24-28 inches tall, and measure six to seven feet in length. The tail of a bobcat is usually about four to seven inches long, although some cats have 12 inch tails; whereas, the panther’s tail is two to three feet. A bobcat has a mottled coat. Unlike the Florida panther, our other shy beautiful cat, bobcats are not endangered in Florida, although they are endangered in Ohio, Indiana, and New Jersey. Keeping parts of Florida wild will help our beautiful bobcats continue to thrive. 

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marylundeberg@gmail.com (Mary Lundeberg) Bobcats Nature Photography http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/2/beautiful-bobcats Tue, 16 Feb 2016 02:23:06 GMT
The Mystery of Monarchs http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/1/the-mystery-of-monarchs Monarch with caterpillar on MilkweedMonarch with caterpillar on Milkweed Migrating monarchs generally head north in March or April, depending on the weather. Shadows move across the milkweed in my garden and as I notice a monarch laying an egg on the milkweed, I wonder if this is a resident or visiting butterfly? Not all of the six species of monarch butterflies migrate, and the ones who do still puzzle scientists. How can this beautiful fragile critter with a four-inch wingspan and weight of less than two one-hundredths of an ounce flutter 25-30 miles per day? The monarch has a sun compass in its antenna to orient it south in the fall. They also have a magnetic compass to orient them on cloudy days.

The Monarch’s journey takes the skill and cooperation of generations

In this region of North America, migratory monarchs travel up to 3,000 miles, from Canada to Mexico. Monarchs fly 25-30 miles per day, and they typically live from two to six weeks. Migrating butterflies tend to live longer, and the longest recorded lifespan of a monarch in Fort Myers, Florida is 84 days. So one monarch can’t live long enough to cover that length of a journey, which has become more dangerous in the past two decades. In the mid-1990s monarchs numbered one billion; that number is down by more than 90%.

It takes several generations of monarchs to make the journey; the monarch butterflies leaving Mexico this month are the great grandchildren of the ones that left Canada last Fall. How do they communicate this path to their offspring?  Before they die, monarchs lay eggs on milkweed. Monarch caterpillars require milkweed to grow, become a chrysalis and blossom into a butterfly that can continue the journey.

Magnificent stages of a monarch butterfly

Butterflies lay white eggs about the size of a grain of salt on the undersides of milkweed leaves.  After four days, the eggs hatch and the caterpillar eats milkweed for two weeks or so until it forms a chrysalis.  After 10-14 days, the chrysalis changes in color from green to dark gray and just before hatching, the wings of the monarch are visible. In the morning, a butterfly emerges and lets its wings dry out, so it can fly to nectar flowers.

Threats to the monarch

          Milkweed loss is a problem across the country, where the herbicide glyphosate, more commonly known as Roundup, has destroyed acres of native plant habitat. Without milkweed, monarchs can’t survive their journey. Other threats include illegal logging in Mexican forests where monarchs winter, and extreme weather, such as droughts, storms, unusually cold springs, pesticides, and increased housing development. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently considering a petition to list the monarch butterfly as a threatened species.

          How you can help

            Planting native milkweed alongside nectar plants can help fuel monarch’s flights. Spanish needles and scorpion tail are two local native plants that provide nectar for monarch butterflies.  Avoid pesticides, especially systemic insecticides that will poison caterpillars and butterflies that feed on the leaves.

If you are interested in volunteering to tag and track butterflies, check out the North American Butterfly Association (www.NBA.org), which has local chapters in Florida. To encourage more butterfly gardens, the National Wildlife Federation has created a program called “Butterfly  Heroes” to inspire people to plant a butterfly garden, and will send families a Butterfly Garden Starter Kit while their supply lasts. People who pledge to start this garden by May 15, 2015 can win a trip for 4 to Walt Disney World (www.nwf.org/Butterfly-Heroes/Pledge.aspx).

 Noticing a beautiful orange and black creature fluttering about my yard brings me joy. But the monarch’s bright colors are not for beauty alone; those colors warn animals that a monarch is harmful to eat, so predators leave it alone.

Can we protect this natural wonder that is now in jeopardy? Fifty-two members of Congress recently supported listing the monarch butterfly as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

 

 

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marylundeberg@gmail.com (Mary Lundeberg) butterfly caterpillar milkweed monarch monarch butterfly noticing nature wildlife http://www.marylundeberg.com/blog/2016/1/the-mystery-of-monarchs Sun, 10 Jan 2016 22:56:43 GMT