Thursday, July 30, 2015

Barred Owl

After leaving Venice, on 25 March, Erika and I revisited one of our favorite Florida locations—the National Audubon Society’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Admission cost is reduced for Audubon members who remember to bring their membership cards. This visit was our third, and we saw different things each time.

One highlight of this year’s visit was this fledgling Barred Owl. Nests are found in mature forests with good understory. Nest trees are often found near water, and usually in areas with high prey densities. Eggs are usually laid from March through April, and as early as December. The young fledge at about five weeks, and the parents feed them for four to five months (Mazur and James 2000).

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Venice Rookery

On 24 March, Erika and I spent the night in Venice, Florida. The next day we were close to our goal of Sanibel Island, and so found ourselves with a bit of time to explore. We found our first destination by looking for nearby hotspots in BirdsEye, the phone app that serves as a birding “Geiger Counter.” We found a rookery a short distance from our hotel run by the Venice Area Audubon Society. We recognized our destination by the groups of birders with long camera lenses.

We did not see anything too spectacular at this urban rookery, but we were able to take some nice photographs. The Great Blue Heron in the first photo, according to Vennesland and Butler (2011) “is one of the most widespread and adaptable wading birds in North America.” Anhingas, the bird in the second photo, are common tropical birds that, in the United States, inhabit southeastern coastal areas. Anhingas are sometimes called Snake Birds because of their long, snake-like necks, or Water Turkeys, due to their turkey-like tails.

I have previously posted other information on both these species, Great Blue Heron and Anhinga. By the way, if you find missing photos in your exploration of my blog, please let me know. Such was the case with my linked heron photo. I suspect interference from Amazon.com. I replaced the heron photo for the link in this paragraph.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Black-crowned Night-Heron

During our March visit to Sarasota, Florida’s Botanical Gardens, we did see a few interesting birds and flowers. I suspect the Black-crowned Night-Heron in the first photo has molted out of its juvenal and into its adult-like, second-year plumage. Note the dark adult feathers against its brownish back. I am not sure how to explain the yellowish underparts. Is this color a photographic artifact? Or a reflection off the water? The photo was taken during mid-day, so the light should not have been tricky.

The botanical gardens did not do a fantastic job of labeling their plants, niether in reality or in their web site. I am not sure of the identity of the orchid in the second photo. Even the volunteer docent sitting under the tree upon which the orchid grew could offer any help.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Brown Anole

This lizard is a Brown Anole in Florida’s Sarasota Botanical Gardens, This reptile is native to Cuba and the Bahamas, but is now an invasive species in the southern United States. Many are escaped pets. The species is found in Florida, Georgia, Texas, southern California, and Hawaii. Brown Anoles eat almost anything they can catch and have high reproductive rates. They out-compete native lizards, such as Green Anoles, which have been forced into treetops (Wekipedia).

Friday, July 24, 2015

River Otter

I almost forgot to tell you that I saw a family of River Otters last March at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in the Florida panhandle. I happened to look up from chasing dragonflies when this adult led  four young down the shoreline. As I wrote last October, River Otters are found across North America, but populations have suffered from environmental destruction, pollution, and hunting.

Otters breed in burrows and generally give birth to up to six young. Otters are adept swimmers—they can remain submerged for up to four minutes and swim nearly seven mph. They prefer fish, but will take many small, aquatic animals.  The adult in this photograph is probably a female, since males usually establish their own groups, with often over a dozen individuals, while females stay with their own offspring. Other unrelated individuals—unrelated adults or other young otters—may join a female and help raise her offspring (Wikipedia).

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Swainson’s Hawk

Thanks to Gerry Hoestra for alerting John Holden and me of the presence of this Swainson’s Hawk along County Highway 1, just west of Dundas, Minnesota. Gerry photographed the bird on 21 July—John and I found it on the morning of Wednesday, 22 July. This species is considered to be uncommon in Rice County in the summer. Swainson’s Hawks breed across midwestern North America, from southern Canada to Northern Mexico. Southern Minnesota is the far eastern extent of their range. After breeding, they embark on a migration of over 6000 miles to wintering areas in the pampas of Argentina. When breeding, this hawk consumes rodents, rabbits, and reptiles; in the winter and during migration, it is almost entirely insectivorous, eating mainly grasshoppers.

While we were photographing this bird, it stretched its neck and proceeded to silently gape. I suspect this behavior is an example of pellet-casting, typical of hawks of owls. According to Bechard et al. (2010), Swainson’s Hawks expel one pellet per day. I did not, however, see a pellet drop.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Eastern Pondhawk

At the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, Florida, we once again identified Eastern Pondhawks. In a recent post I wrote about this abundant species. In the United States, Eastern Pondhawks are found throughout the eastern states, west to easternmost New Mexico and Colorado. A similar species, the Western Pondhawk, is found from there across to California and north to the Pacific Northwest. In the small area of overlap, intermediate forms exist. This apparent hybridization makes some scientists think these two populations are actually subspecies, and they call the combined populations Common Pondhawks. I will show you a photo of a Western Pondhawk in a future post.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Blue Dasher

Blue Dashers were also an abundant species that we often encountered during our March Florida journey. We found them at the Sarasota Botanical Gardens on 24 March. The first two photos are of an individual landing on a weed on 23 March at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in the Florida Panhandle.  The bottom photo is of an immature male at Harns Marsh, near Corkscrew Swamp, on 25 March.

Blue Dashers may be migratory in parts of their range, but are generally abundant across most of the United States, and are also found south all the way into Central America. They are absent from the northern Rocky Mountains and northwestern Great Plains. I have encountered them both in urban gardens and more wild areas, usually with nearby cattail habitats.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Eastern Amberwing

As we continued our travels in Florida last March, Erika and I went out of our way to visit the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota. We had read that these gardens were a jewel tucked away within the city. The gardens were nice, but not large enough to attract a great diversity of birds. We did see a few dragonflies, although none were new to us. We were pleased that our University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum memberships allowed us free entry.

Among the dragonflies we saw were these male Eastern Amberwings. I was impressed by how much the amberwings looked like small, golden wasps. As I have previously blogged, this resemblance may be the result of Batesian Mimicry, wherein harmless species evolve to look like poisonous ones and thereby gain some respect from potential predators.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Atamasco Lily

Last March at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge on the Florida Panhandle, Erika and I were impressed by the Atamasco (or Rain) Lilies. These colony-forming wildflowers grew along the roadsides. The flower and grass-like leaves grow from an onion-like bulb. They are native to, and common in, the southeast, and, along with wet roadsides, favor damp woodlands. The leaves and bulbs of this plant are poisonous (Wildflowers of Alabama). Zephyrus, the generic name, alludes to Zephryus, who "in Greek myth [was] the west wind and husband of Chloris, goddess of flowers” (Wildflower.org). Atamasco is a Native American word for the red stain that often is seen on the flowers.