Mama Owl Is in Da House!

I’m just bouncing around in happiness since I discovered this morning that Mama Screech Owl is back, and it looks like she’ll soon have babies fledging — she can barely fit in her house! It seems Austin is having a great Eastern Screech Owl year — almost everyone I know has at least one occupied house! Which is why I was feeling so very jealous and also so very worried that something had happened to our mama lady. But there she be!

esowl04-24-12.jpgShe switched houses, too — opting for the house in the back of the yard instead of the side. I think it was a fine choice for her to select the other apartment — a woman always has the right to change her mind and also to rearrange furniture! Or in this case, just plain move. Though she’s on a tree that sways in the wind a lot more, she sure gets a good view of everything going on in the yard.

Once again, her appearance has mysteriously coincided with fewer toad calls at night. I get the feeling that she LOVES our wildlife garden for all the food it provides her and her babies. One of these days, maybe I’ll get to see Papa Owl!

As if that weren’t enough, I also found our first Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars, hatched from eggs that a surprise female butterfly deposited a few weeks ago, and an Orange Sulphur caterpillar on our Lindheimer’s Senna, too! Oh happy day!

 

 

Giving a Turtle a Hand But Not Digits

It’s not every day that one has a chance to do a good deed and lose some fingers in the process. But recently my neighbor Jan gave us that opportunity when she reported that she had saved a snapping turtle from a terrible fate that likely would have awaited it as it crossed the highway frontage road near our house. She named it Jaws, and appropriately so. Perhaps Jaws was a female who’d gotten lost after laying her eggs somewhere — whatever the reason, the highway was no place for this turtle to be, and she was far, far from water.

snappingturtlea04-01-12.jpgJan carefully put Jaws into the back of her pickup and asked for assistance in getting the turtle back to the nearby pond from which it likely came. She jokingly offered to let me put it in my backyard pond. As much as I love wildlife, my hot-tub pond does NOT need a giant snapping turtle. Besides, with the turtle’s sheer size and weight, it might have displaced all the water! Actually, we estimated that Jaws weighed around 30 pounds, a pretty good size for a turtle.

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What a smile! As if it is daring us to get in range…

Wanting my sons to have all sorts of memory-making experiences with nature, I first asked them to join me to go see the snapping turtle and then asked my oldest son if he’d like to help get the turtle to the pond — carefully, mind you. He said yes, then proceeded to spend quiet moments reflecting on all the ways he values his fingers.

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Closer, please.

Common Snapping Turtles are pure prehistoric awesomeness, as I like to say. They have so much body that they seem to ooze out of their shell, and that’s one reason why they are so snappy — they can’t hide back in their shell in times of danger. But they actually are quite benign creatures overall — the powerful jaws only come into play if they feel threatened (or hungry). 

snappingturtleh04-01-12.jpgLook at the gorgeous claws.

snappingturtlec04-01-12.jpgAnd the nifty plates on the legs — a vision in armor. Actually, take a look inside the mouth, too. For one thing, you can see whatever plant part it munched on. But you can also see its wide tongue, one of the ways you can distinguish a Common Snapping Turtle from an Alligator Snapping Turtle. Just don’t look TOO closely, if you know what I mean.

snappingturtlee04-01-12.jpgJaws also had perfect little nostrils on the tip of its nose. Can you just imagine the turtle laying low in the water and muck, reaching its head up to the surface every once in a while to take a breath of air?

snappingturtlef04-01-12.jpgAnother distinguishing characteristic of a Common Snapping Turtle is its long tail.

snappingturtlei04-01-12.jpgLook how it fills the wheelbarrow. Big girl. Or boy — apparently you can tell by looking at the base of its tail, but sometimes such information isn’t worth going after, haha. Keep in mind that a Common Snapping Turtle’s neck is long and flexible, and this is what makes handling one such a risky venture. It can snap out forcefully and fast, sideways or vertically, in the blink of an eye.

As much as I tried, I couldn’t get a picture of just how fast the snapping turtle snapped its jaws outward while my son moved the turtle from truck to wheelbarrow and wheelbarrow to pond. Perhaps a wise person would have switched to video mode, but I feel certain that in that case the turtle would have caught fingers for real and then I’d have a Youtube moment, as well as extreme mother guilt.

snappingturtleg04-01-12.jpgAll things considered, I’m glad that Jaws has an aquatic home once again and that everyone still has their digits. Thanks, Jan, for watching out for our wildlife and to both Jan and Logan, you earn a Medal of Bravery. Me, I stayed behind the camera. For documentary purposes, of course.

A Rainbow of Texas Wildflowers

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Over the past three weeks, I’ve been lucky enough to head out to the Hill Country a few times to see the beautiful Texas wildflowers blanketing fields and roadside edges in color this spring. They have been a most welcome sight, as last year the drought meant there were almost no springtime wildflowers at all. Thank goodness for the little bit of rain we’ve had.

Take a walk on the wild(flower) side with me…

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Indian Paintbrush


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Blackfoot Daisy

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Firewheel, or Indian Blanket

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wildflowersh03-29-12.jpgPrairie Fleabane

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Texas Bluebonnets, our official state flower, with Prickly Pear, our official state plant

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Mexican Hat

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Missouri Evening-Primrose

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Prairie Verbena and Coreopsis

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Damianita

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Coreopsis

 Texas is beautiful all around, but never more so than in the spring!

—————

End note: Our state is having a terrible time with an invasive plant called Bastard Cabbage, or common giant mustard (Rapistrum rugosum). I had to drive quite a distance to find pristine pockets of wildflowers in the Hill Country, for vast areas have become covered with this awful plant, which originated in the Mediterranean and thrives in the same places and soil our wildflowers do. But then it takes over with its long tap roots, large size, and prolific seeds. I opted not to show a picture of the Bastard Cabbage (my son calls it “Bad Word” cabbage) so as not to taint my post with its presence. I’m mentioning it only because I worry about the trouble our wildflowers are having!

Cheers for Floral Pom-poms

goldenball04-16-12.jpgIt’s that time of year again when pom-pom blooms abound, and I can’t help but want to do a cheer.

goldenballb04-16-12.jpgSwaying gently in the breeze, the Goldenball Leadtree (Leucaena retusa) towers above my spineless Opuntia as a tall yet airy backdrop. Bright yellow pom-poms stand out against the evergreen foliage, an eye-catching combination. But perhaps most enticing of all, the Goldenball Leadtree’s fragrant nectar beckons bumblebees and butterflies to partake in its sweetness, and I can’t help but take a long whiff of the delightful aroma myself.

fragrantmimosa04-02-12.jpgFragrant Mimosa (Mimosa borealis) is a vision of delicate pink fluff.

fragrantmimosab04-02-12.jpgThe soft pink puffballs are a contrast to the sneaky thorns up and down the branches.

fragrantmimosac04-16-12.jpgI’m slightly behind in showing the photos of the Fragrant Mimosa in bloom — this week, it has already erupted in seedpods. Take a closer look above — even the seedpods have prickles. This makes both seed collecting and seed cleaning an adventure everytime.

huisacheb04-14-12.jpgLikewise, Huisache (Acacia farnesiana) beckons one over with its fragrant orange-gold blossoms, but watch out for its wicked thorns.

huisachec04-14-12.jpgAll over town, Huisache trees have been sharing their golden colors and intoxicating scent. It was tempting to bring one of these home from the Wildflower Center’s plant sale this past weekend, but I resisted, as I suspect my backyard is not an appropriate setting.

All are native Texas plants. The first two are in my garden, and the Huisache I admired at the Wildflower Center.

huisache04-14-12.jpg2-4-6-8, Pom-Poms I appreciate!

Meeting Wonderland’s Caterpillar

As anyone who has read Alice in Wonderland knows, a caterpillar on a mushroom is an odd-enough sighting. File:Alice 05a-1116x1492.jpg

For me, it is no less odd to find a caterpillar on a mushroom in real life. I have seen exactly one. This means nothing about how common or uncommon it really is, mind you. It just means that I’ve only seen one. Ever.

blpmushroome04-07-12.jpgThe caterpillar-on-mushroom above was found at Bright Leaf Preserve, a guided-hike-only preserve here in Austin that is truly a Wonderland itself. The caterpillar, without much investigation on my part into its actual ID but could be a Haploa moth species, looked to be consuming the mushroom, evidence being the amount of frass sitting right there on the cap. The caterpillar didn’t seem to have to move much, that’s for sure — certainly not to poop.

As for the mushroom, it seemed to be some type of Boletus. On the same hike, we found another mushroom of similar type:

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I am really struggling to ID Boletus mushrooms, so I asked for help. Sue Meltzer, author of Texas Mushrooms, told me it might be Boletus rubricitrinus, based on its reddish cap and yellow flesh. I asked about why the mushroom looked so flat, and Sue told me:Mushrooms change during their life cycle. When fresh, they are very round, and the caps open and flatten as they mature to allow them to more efficiently disperse their spores. Picture a pretty girl lifting her skirt as she sits down until it is spread all around her. The color of the cap also fades as 1) the diameter increases, and 2) it becomes sunstruck. For a field guide, we always shoot photos of young, fresh mushrooms. That is because if you want to eat them, you should only choose them in that condition. Older mushrooms become bitter (this is also true of Portobello — I won’t buy them unless I can see that the gills are pink to pale brown. Once they are dark, they are very bitter). Also, mushrooms get attacked by insects and your caterpillar. Flies lay eggs on them which hatch into maggots. But the basic characteristics (in this case) yellow flesh and red cap; bruising to blue very quickly, are stable.” Sue, thank you! For those interested in mushrooms commonly found in Texas, Sue’s book is a wonderful and useful resource — I very much recommend it. But oh, I have so much to learn — mushrooms are not easy! 

Also, a note of thanks to WiseAcre, who offered words of condolence at having mushroom ID troubles. He compared it to a “frustrating, head-banging exercise in futility.” I get that.

birdsnestc03-09-12.jpgAll sorts of fungi sightings have peaked my interest lately. My favorite is perhaps the Bird’s Nest Fungi growing right here in my backyard, under some poppies and other plants. These little mushrooms are so named for how they look like miniature egg-filled nests. The “eggs” are actually called peridioles, inside of which are spores. I’m amazed I noticed the tiny cups at all, and I owe it to the weeds in my garden bed that I found them, as the removal of said weeds prompted the discovery of what lay underneath.

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Bird’s Nest Fungi often appear in colonies, and mine were no exception. The “nests” serve as splash cups, and raindrops can easily disperse the peridioles. I ran across a video of such spore dispersal – it’s pretty nifty.

puffballb04-07-12.jpgSpeaking of nifty, have you seen a Puffball? If you tap on the top, a cloud of what looks like dust or smoke comes out. That so-called dust is actually the spores being dispersed. Look closely and you can see it in the picture.

puffbald04-07-12.jpgHere’s another view, again with visible spore dispersal. This Puffball was found in Bright Leaf Preserve on the same hike during which the Wonderland caterpillar was discovered.

 Fungi are fantastic, even if I do get a headache from all that banging my head in trying to ID them. Sometimes it’s even hard to know you are looking at a fungus at all!

Oh How My Garden Grows — Befores and Afters

garden04-04-12.jpgNow that I’ve finally finished my Florida wildlife posts, I get to have fun getting back to my roots, as it were — my garden here in Austin! The rains over the winter helped revitalize my garden tremendously, and while we are nowhere near out of the drought yet, I’m just happy as can be that I have what feels like a garden again. My garden did NOT look like this last year, as I am what is best described as a minimal waterer. I teach my plants to be survivors.

Normally I’d do a before/after later in the year as an anniversary post, but every time I walk outside I am just amazed at the transformation of my yard in a mere 3.5 years. So I’m going to show it off!

BEFORE:

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AFTER:

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What a difference! That’s a garden given only compost and occasionally liquid seaweed upon planting. It’s more than 90 percent native Texas plants, and even though the poppies blooming aren’t native, they give the garden such a nice touch of color.

Here’s the hot-tub pond, BEFORE:

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And AFTER:

gardenb04-04-12.jpgLast year we built the soil up around the pond to make a berm, and this year we’ve been creating a border around it and filling it in with plants. At some point I’ll show you a different view of the pond area, as it’s looking really nice (I just forgot to take the picture, and I’m impatient to show the changes).

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Stonecrop

Speaking of the pond, the bullfrog is back. Or maybe it’s a new bullfrog. I heard it for the first time ever just tonight — the sound so confused me that I thought my pond pump was broken, until I realized that it was a frog’s call. I think we’ve decided to name the bullfrog Jeremiah. Maybe the name is not so original, but it’s a fun song to sing to the bullfrog while we are out there! I’m sad to say that Jeremiah hates me ever since I cleaned out the pond a couple of weeks ago. I think he thinks he’s Alpha frog and I messed with his territory and his ego, or at least his sense of safety. I’d show you a picture of him except that now Jeremiah darts underwater anytime I’m within even 10 feet of the pond. Doesn’t he realize that I cleaned the pond just for him? We seem to have plenty of fish, by the way. I blame Bob Pool (Draco Gardens) and his darn procreating goldfish.

fragrantmimosa04-02-12.jpgFragrant Mimosa in bloom

The Wonderful Pomegranate is blooming at last, not that I remembered to take a picture. It’s blooming one whopping bloom at a time, leaving the rest as buds that just tease me until it’s the next one’s turn to open. Now how is pollination going to happen like that? I want Pomegranates!


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This year I have 37 milkweed plants (Tropical, as I still can’t get Antelope Horns to establish). They have been eaten down to sticks by all the giant Monarch caterpillars. Now what? I don’t want to have to buy even more milkweed! I guess it’s a decent problem to have — I’m ecstatic to be supporting so many Monarchs.

It’s getting hot, and I’m wishing it would rain again, but I’m just grateful as can be for what I’ve got. The butterflies are returning en masse, as are the caterpillars, and birds are singing glorious songs of happy, happy. My gardening goal for the year is simply to fill in the empty spaces in the beds we have and maintain only — other than that, we’ve got to focus on building a new shed. Forward progress!

Cracking Up in a Most Eggscellent Way

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Oh no! A casualty!

We’ve had great fun yesterday hunting Easter eggs in the wildlife garden with friends, and we made good use of our colorful painted Easter rocks once again. Add to that cascarones, lots and lots of butterflies and blooming flowers, delicious food, and yummy Key Lime Pie cupcakes — what a great day! Thank you, Easter Bunny, and all our friends! Happy Easter, everyone!

Note to self: Did my husband remember to get those eggs back off the ground? Real raw eggs and Texas heat do not a good combination make….

Florida Bound: A Cattle Stampede Means It’s Time to Go Home

Even though we were well on our way back home from Florida, we couldn’t resist making an additional stop or two in Louisiana before the final home stretch to Texas. Beignets, check. Gumbo, check. Wildlife refuge, check.

 binocularsa03-16-12.jpgWe wanted to visit a wildife refuge in Louisiana to get an idea of environmental differences between it and Florida — and if we had an opportunity, to sneak in a glimpse of the coast. The answer — the Creole Nature Trail, a long wildlife-scenic highway route south of Lake Charles. The trail took us to the Cameron Prairie Wildlife Refuge, as well as several other viewing spots.

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Cameron Prairie Wildlife Refuge’s primary purpose is to support migratory birds, such as wintering waterfowl, as well as many other animal species with its 9,621 acres of marsh, coastal prairie, and old rice fields.


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A Pied-Billed Grebe swims among American Coots

binoculars03-16-12.jpgA boardwalk and observation deck make it easy to look search for water-loving birds, and we observed White Ibises, different species of ducks, Great Egrets, Coots, Grebes, Great Blue Herons, and others.

bee03-17-12.jpgCarpenter Bee — it’s very difficult to capture an image of this fast-flying insect!

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Of course, many other wildlife species live at or visit the refuge — turtles, lizards, butterflies, insects, and, of course, alligators.

easternpondhawk03-17-12.jpgEastern Pondhawk


granole03-17-12.jpgGreen Anole, Shedding

scope03-16-12.jpgThe boys, throughout our entire trip, were quite the naturalists, and they were excellent at both finding and IDing wildlife species — Louisiana was no exception.

The Red-Winged Blackbirds were the most plentiful birds we saw in southwestern Louisiana. Great numbers of large flocks were spotted time and again throughout the marshland and agricultural areas we visited.

rwblackbirdfemale03-17-12.jpgFemale Red-Winged Blackbird


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Black-Necked Stilt

Leaving the refuge, we continued toward the coast, the roads taking us past miles and miles of marshland.Often we could see alligators along the road’s edge, where marsh waters attracted a smorgasbord of animals on which an alligator might feast. Unfortunately, this also meant that we occasionally saw dead alligators along the road, a car or truck likely their source of doom. One deceased alligator looked to be at least ten feet long, and it was a very sad sight.

cows03-16-12.jpgAh, but we had adventures yet to come. We found that the maps we had and the roadway signs left something to be desired as we traveled that day in Louisiana. Trying to visit a particularly spot along the trail, we made a wrong turn, through no fault of our own (seriously), and after driving a bit we found ourselves on a road lined with curious cattle who splashed through the marshland to come over to see us. In moments lots of cows surrounded our Civic Hybrid, and those big cows made our little car seem smaller than ever.

I snapped a picture of a cow just outside my window but it apparently decided that it wanted nothing to do with us or my camera, and it ran, which startled another cow running, and another, and before we knew it, we were in the middle of a stampede of some 25 startled cows rushing toward, around, and past us and our little vehicle.
cowsb03-16-12.jpgI had no choice but to keep moving my car in the same direction, very slowly, but it wasn’t until we began to pass a few of them that one mooed a “Hey, it’s okay” moo and the cows started to slow and calm down. The experience was a first for us, indeed, and in moments the cows just stared at us calmly again as if nothing had happened.

LAgullsb03-17-12.jpgBack on the proper road, we continued to discover more reasons to gripe about the maps and lack of decent road signs, but eventually we found ourselves at a ferry, which takes cars across a ship channel to another portion of the highway. Even there at the ferry, we had sign issues. There was a sign and painted road marks showing where to stop to await the ferry, but there was no sign telling us that after 5pm you needed to drive over to another place in order to get on the ferry. So the driver of the car in front of us waited at the posted place, and we waited behind him, and time tick-tocked and tick-tocked, until a local resident drove up and said, “Hey, after 5pm you have to go over THERE to get on the ferry,” pointing to some place not visible from where we sat. Thank goodness he said something or we might still be at that stop sign waiting for the ferry.

LAgullsc03-17-12.jpgOn the plus side, the boys hadn’t been on a ferry in a very long time, so far back they couldn’t remember the experience, so it was nice to be able to drive our car onto a boat, then get out and walk around for a few minutes as we crossed the channel. The gulls and pelicans flying all around us made it even more exciting.

LAgulld03-17-12.jpgThe gulls in particular followed the ferry en masse, hovering just off the back as the waters churned around us. Perhaps they hoped some people would toss them food, but they honestly didn’t seem interested in the humans on the ferry — maybe instead they were hoping to spot some fish in the waters behind the boat.

LAgulls03-17-12.jpgLAbeach03-17-12.jpgSoon after the ferry ride, we found ourselves driving along the beach. We pulled over to look for shells and found them we did — many were huge!

fulvouswhistlingducks03-17-12.jpgFulvous Whistling-Ducks

The Louisiana coast was so different from the coasts of Florida’s peninsula, but it reminded me much of the familiar coasts of Texas. Clearly we were close to home! 

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The sun went down as we finished our drive along the Creole Trail, and thousands of Red-Winged Blackbirds silhouetted against the sun’s vibrant setting colors marked the final wildlife viewing of our vacation. It was time to get home to see Texas once again.

Thanks for joining us on our journey across the southern states to Florida and back. It created many memories of a lifetime for me and my boys, and we can’t wait to go back!

Florida Bound: Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

On our way home to Austin from the Everglades, we decided to visit one more state park along Florida’s western coast, the Homosassa Wildlife State Park. This 210-acre park is a rescue facility for many bird and animal species native to Florida. Most of these animals cannot survive in the wild, but their home at the park is as close to their natural habitat as possible. That draws in many other animal species to take up residence, as well. The state park, with is spring-fed waters, is also a rehabilitation center for injured and orphaned West Indian manatees, who eventually are released back to the wild.

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Great Horned Owl

Because I have a lot of photos to show, I’m going to keep text to a minimum and only show my favorite images or ones that tell a good story. You’ll see mostly birds and reptiles here, mainly because the mammals, including the endangered Florida Panthers and Red Wolves,  were too far away to allow for a good picture.


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Wood Ducksbarredowl03-16-12.jpgBarred Owl


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American Alligator

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Likewise

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Flamingos

grheron03-16-12.jpgThis Green Heron has a severe wing injury, and lucky for it, it has a home at the state park.

anhingasa03-16-12.jpgI watched a male Anhinga work several minutes to pull a section of leaves from a tree I was standing under. Once he pulled the short branch away, he flew over to the nest where his mate rested. She dictated where she wanted him to put it, and it was clear that she wanted it “just so.” My husband might recognize this scenario.

anhingasb03-16-12.jpgEventually he got the branch in an acceptable spot.

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Nolan and I sat down to sketch this beautiful alligator, sparking the interest of others who came over to watch us. The alligator seemed to appreciate our attention, and it kept moving ever closer to us. I’m sure that’s the reason, right?

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amercroc03-16-12.jpgBaby American Crocodile — note the distinguishing “zipper” teeth characteristic. American Crocodiles are endangered.

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For juvenile comparison, a baby American Alligator (to better see the jaw difference, look to the big guys above)

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Brown Anole, showing his dewlap. This is an invasive species.

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White Ibises, Juvenile and Adult

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Great Egret

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Red-Shouldered Hawk

flamingoc03-16-12.jpgFlamingo

flamingob03-16-12.jpgFlamingos, mildly bickering

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Brown Pelicans, wonderful parents to their little baby. I watched the father add sticks to the nest, and both parents shared the responsibility of feeding their baby.


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Here is an image of the feeding process, made interesting by the very large bills of the parents.


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Whooping Crane, Endangered


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American White Pelicans, with their visible “horns.” These horns will be shed after breeding season.


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Roseate Spoonbill

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Sandhill Cranes


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Broad-headed Skink, perhaps?

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Burrowing Owls


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Bald Eagle

louhippo03-16-12.jpgLu the African Hippopotamus. Part of the previous privately-owned attraction at Homosassa Springs since 1964, Lu the hippo was given special Florida citizenship in order to allow him to stay at the State Park’s native wildlife refuge.

It was time at last to officially leave Florida and travel west toward Texas. Just to offer full disclosure about our Florida trip, we did sneak in two days at Orlando — Epcot and Universal Studios. A detour, I admit, from the wildlife we focused on the rest of the time, but we wanted to have some butterbeer at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Without going into details here, I’ll just say that we had a glorious time, and butterbeer is yummy.

Florida Bound: Southern Everglades

alligatora03-13-12.jpgOne of the highlights of our Florida trip was canoeing in the Everglades at 9-Mile Pond, just a few miles north of the Flamingo Center. Arriving in the early morning, we were welcomed by an alligator drifting lazily across the pond.

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The alligator wasn’t the only one to greet us — several vultures awaited our arrival and that of the other folks doing the canoe trip with us. It didn’t take long before the vultures began to attack and consume the rubber parts of cars foolishly left in the parking lot. This is why the vultures we saw all around the Everglades seemed to stalk us whenever we drove into a visitors area. Fortunately for us, we had been warned not to park in the 9-mile lot and also to make sure to cover our windshield wipers and sideview mirrors with bags to help protect them. The woman who drove the car above
 
didn’t bother to move her car, saying, “Meh, it’s a rental.”

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Our Park Ranger guide, Daniel, was excellent — articulate, informative, and funny.

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The canoe trip took us across 9-Mile Pond and then along a winding path through many Red Mangrove islands.

canoeing03-13-12.jpgSometimes we maneuvered through tunnels made from overhead arching branches, while the mangrove roots arched downward into the water. In case you are wondering why my son isn’t wearing a life jacket in the image above, the Park Ranger let us take them off once we were in the shallow waters of the mangroves. I opted not to “rock the boat.”

 
mangroves03-13-12.jpgRed Mangroves create a community utilized by many different plants and animal species. Additionally, they serve as protection for the delicate ecosystem, especially during hurricanes.

flyingegret03-13-12.jpgWe saw the occasional alligator, and several birds took flight as we paddled our way around curves and corners.
 
 

mangroveroots03-13-12.jpgThe upright Mangrove roots stood out of the water like stilts, supporting the tree above.

 
 
 
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Bladderwort, a carnivorous plant, was plentiful in the waters below us. Bladderwort extends only its flower above water. Below the surface, bladders on the leaves trap and consume mosquito larvae and other tiny aquatic creatures.

 
 
alligatorb03-13-12.jpgmangrovesb03-13-12.jpgOut in an open area of Spike Rush and scattered Mangroves, our group paused to discuss the movement of water through the Everglades ecosystems and how wildlife adapts to the flow of water in wet and dry seasons.

evergladesflow03-13-12.jpgPark Ranger Daniel also spoke to us about the historic flow of water that once supported the vast Everglades and how human development and drainage drastically altered the path of water on which the Everglades flora and fauna have long been dependent, leading to several species becoming endangered. Efforts are in the works to restore some of the water flow to the Everglades, but as you can imagine, it will take time.

syrphidfly03-13-12.jpgWhile we were stopped, Syrphid flies, Palpida albifrons, sought resting spots on our canoes, much to the chagrin of those in our group who at first feared they were bees. Great mimics, aren’t these flies? I’m astonished I managed to get a picture, given the movement of the canoe in the water and the wary reaction of the flies to my camera.

fish03-13-12.jpgBelow us, we only saw small fish, but much larger fish can be found throughout the fresh to brackish waters.

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Apple Snail eggs

mangrovesc03-13-12.jpgOne young Red Mangrove is all it takes to start an island, as materials collect under its roots and more Mangroves develop. Well, one young Mangrove and a lot of time!

thistle03-13-12.jpgspoonbills03-13-12.jpgAfter leaving the 9-mile pond, we headed south toward Flamingo. Along the way we spotted Roseate Spoonbills and many other birds at Mrazek Pond, which as it turns out happens to be a prime birding location.

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Tri-Colored Heron

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Tri-Colored Heron and, I believe, a Lesser Yellowlegs.

bwteal03-13-12.jpgBlue-Winged Teal, Female

birdsatFlamingo03-13-12.jpgView from Flamingo, Southern Everglades

butterflies03-13-12.jpgDown at Flamingo, we walked about the Visitor’s Center, enjoying sights of birds and butterflies. Manatees were mating at the marina, as well.

 
skimmer03-13-12.jpgBlack Skimmer


blackskimmerd03-13-12.jpgI fell in love with the Black Skimmers, especially fascinated by the elongated lower mandible that allows a skimmer to, well, skim the water for its food.

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Laughing Gull, Juvenile

 
gullb03-13-12.jpgOur visit to the Everglades was ever too brief. We have grand plans to go camping there for a full week sometime soon!

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Pelicans, Key West

 We ended the day with a drive out to Key West, which is considered the southernmost point of the contiguous United States. We had some key lime pie, as one should do while in Key West. I’m happy to report that while the pie was delicious, my boys like mine better! Just writing this, I’m craving lime — I think I best do something about that!

keywest03-13-12.jpgFrom this southernmost point, we pointed our car north again. It was time to head back toward Austin, but we still had a few stops to make during our journey home….