Sunday, December 20, 2009

Time to Leave This Beautiful Place....

Ah, my little sister Gail with the brilliant blue Florida sunshine! She gets to stay for several more months and I have to go back on Tuesday....She and her dear husband Bill have made this stay very, very enjoyable even though we are not physically at their condo! They have driven us around, fed us and showed us all sorts of birds!

We now know to go to Ding Darling first thing in the morning. We were there right after it opened at 7. The white pelicans were feeding. Brown pelicans feed by diving from great heights straight down while white pelicans swim in a group pushing their beaks down into the water to get food.

We saw a lot of roseate spoonbills very early. After about fifteen minutes, they had all disappeared into the mangroves!

I took this one to show the difference in size between the brown pelicans which are pretty good sized and their much, much larger cousin, the white pelican.

I believe these are two red breasted mergansers in their non-breeding plumage.

Both Gail and I have had better luck shelling on Lovers Key than Sanibel and today was no exception. There were some different shells on Sanibel and they certainly were piled up in huge heaps in places but not a lot of interest! I did pick up a number of nice apple murex as well as some scallop shells and calico clams.

These were the blue winged teals again at Ding Darling. We saw quite a few this morning! I believe the lone fellow in front is a Lesser Yellowlegs.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Power Shelling!

We had some ferocious winds and waves yesterday in Ft. Myers so my sister and I decided that a trip to Lovers Key to go shelling was in order so bright and early....

Of course since we were shelling, we decided we shouldn't bring our cameras which is always a huge mistake. Of course as we walked over to the beach, we saw two Roseate Spoonbills that were literally feet away from us. Gail scurried back to the car to get the cameras while I kept the "tourists" quiet as they crossed the bridge. The two spoonbills moved on but not far enough away that we couldn't at least get some pictures. We had originally planned to go to Ding Darling this morning just to see these magnificent birds. No trip to Ft. Myers Beach is complete without a couple of pictures of these birds! In this shot, they were heading into the mangroves and they completely disappeared from sight a few minutes later.

Later after we went shelling (and did pretty well at that), we stopped by another pond and found two more spoonbills. The one on the right is the more mature with the red on the top of the wing. The other is probably a more juvenile version.

This was the resident osprey who was nest building while we were there.

Now, these strange shapes were in the shallows of the low tidal area. They were very symmetrical in shape and I suspect they are some sort of anemone but don't know this for a fact. The varied colors seem to support the idea though.

Imagine my surprise when I walked out to sit by the pool and saw this scene -- a turkey vulture hanging out with the Great Blue that seems to frequent the back yard!

Here is a closeup of the buzzard. If you double click you can see quite a bit of facial detail but he is still a little spooky looking!!

Snails, Snails and More Snails - Harns Marsh

First thing on Wednesday morning (even before dawn), I got out to the beach to pick up some shells as I knew it would be an extra low tide. Well, there weren't many shell remains but there were a lot of living shells and some interesting sea creatures (I always take my camera on these walks). It was still so dark that I had to use a flash for this creature, many of which I saw hanging out in the shallows. I believe it is some sort of anemone. It was brighter pink around the edges but the flash washed it out a bit.

Two posing pelicans on the canal.

This was a nice four or five inch tulip shell alive on the beach -- I saw many that morning.

Dawn was just coming up for this Great Egret and Snowy Egret in the shallows.

At the canal again, a Great Blue Heron and a Little Blue Heron so you can compare the sizes!

I saw this fellow on my beach walk and took many pictures as I didn't know what he was as he was too big to be an egret! There is a version of the adult Great Blue that is all white as well but he would have yellow legs as opposed to the grey legs of this bird. Maybe a giant snowy egret?

I took a whole bunch of pics and after looking through all of them, I think it is the white morph of the Great Blue which generally is only found in the Keys and the Everglades. He looks like all the pictures online though!

Okay, we think the mystery is finally solved! It is probably the rare white morph of the reddish egret. Either way, it is an uncommon coloration of the herons!

Ah, now I know the difference between a swamp and a marsh. I had never thought about it before. The marsh was like a large field or pasture with small ponds. The swamps have been dense with mangrove and cypress trees. This is Harns Marsh which is north of Ft. Myers in Lehigh Acres. It is a very peaceful setting and a place where you can spot the endangered Snail Kite which feasts exclusively on Apple Snails.

If you look closely here, you can see the telltale white beaks that identify this flock as American Coot. I have seen them in North Carolina as well and there were lots here.

This butterfly is a Buckeye -- I am not sure what variation of Buckeye though.

This was my first sighting of a bird called a Limpkin. It has a long slightly curved beak like the ibis but the beak is straighter, he is bigger and has a long neck and is very spotty brown. I was thrilled to see him!

And these are the apple snails that the Snail Kite feasts on and I must say FEASTS!! Along the side of the ponds, these were literally piled up, every color and size. These vary in size from about 2 inches to about 4 1/2 inches but they can get as large as 6 inches across. It was amazing to see them all cleaned out along the shore!! I couldn't bend over, I had so many in my pockets! We only saw the Snail Kites off in a distance though, none were close enough for a photo even with my sister's 24X optical zoom!

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Visit to Corkscrew Swamp -- an Audubon Sanctuary

We got an early start for us and got to my sister's condo so we could venture down to the Corkscrew Swamp which is about an hour south of here. At my sister's condo, they have this beautiful Hong Kong Orchid tree which I just LOVE -- they really look like orchids!

We didn't have high expectations for finding too much down at Corkscrew but it is a lovely 2 mile walk through the swamp on a nice boardwalk. This is an epiphyte that is ready to bloom (which I won't get to see). These are the "air" plants you see in all the swampy areas.

This is a Yellow Crowned Night Heron. I have always seen these on my trips down but until this trip the Black Crowned Night Heron had eluded me. That was all I saw down here this trip until I saw this Yellow Crowned one!

I loved all the different lichen that were on this old tree branch. This is a Cypress swamp.

This is a Black Crowned Night Heron -- they are not as pretty as the Yellow Crowned IMHO.

This is a Black and White Warbler which I hadn't seen before. I took the picture and identified it when I got home. Sometimes you just have to blow them up!!

We saw a few anhingas and I couldn't resist this handsome male with his piano key wings.

This is a Ruddy Daggertail. He is facing down which confused me before I looked at the picture!

I now know that this is a Swamp Lily. I had seen this down in the Everglades as well.

I don't know the name of this flower but I hadn't seen it before or anywhere else.

This is a Green Anole. We see the brown ones all the time skittering around but Warren saw this bright bright green one. He was very striking and I took lots of pictures of him.

After visiting Corkscrew, we drove down to Naples as Warren and I hadn't been there before. We went out on the City pier to see the boats. It is definitely more upscale than Fort Myers.
This is Bill on the left and my dh Warren on the right.

Tuesday's Travels -- The Adventure Continues

After a quick lunch on Tuesday, Gail and I were on the road again -- this time to go to Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island. Our National Parks Golden Age Pass allows us to go for free and it is a wonderful drive although the best time would be early morning during a low tide. I still saw some interesting birds and there are always a few that actually pose!! This was one of many Pied Eyed Grebes which were really off in the distance but you can see his small stubby bill in this shot.

These were two of the many Blue Winged Teals that frequent the Refuge. I had seen them there before but not for a number of years. The name sounds a lot more spectacular than the bird which is mostly spotty brown but with a dark blue wing on top which you can probably see if you double click on the image.
There were of course many of the white pelicans grooming and sleeping. They are surrounded by legions of small shorebirds including plovers and sanderlings and a few cormorants and laughing gulls.

This was one of those posing birds -- a snowy egret with the yellowest feet ever!

This Little Blue Heron took the time to pose for us as well.

The biggest treat of the day (besides the Manatees) was Gail's dear husband driving us over to Cape Coral where there are many nesting Burrowing Owls!!! After a couple of attempts we found this pair sitting above their burrow in someone's yard! The people of Cape Coral are very protective of these little birds and erect stakes where the burrows are and little cross pieces so that the birds have a place to stand. During breeding season, they cordon off the burrows to keep away people. Bill and Gail discovered all about this during the annual Burrowing Owl Festival. Supposedly, they are found with great frequency in the western part of the country where they take over the abandoned burrows of prairie dogs, skunks and anything else living underground. They will enlarge these burrows though. Although the men teased Gail and I the rest of the evening, I can't help but repeat that they are just soooo darned adorable!!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Travelin' Tuesday Morning!

Well my sister and I made an early start (for me but halfway through the day for her) at 7 with plans to go shelling at Lover's Key which is a small series of islands south of Ft. Myers Beach. As the park didn't open until 8 in the morning, we took a side trip first through a very small kind of private preserve on the southern end of Ft. Myers Beach. I don't know whether it has a formal name or not. We also took a circuit around the Catholic Monastery in search of the fabled scarlet ibis which has been spotted there (no, we didn't see one). What a treat!!!

This was at a small pond behind the monastery and was a series of trees with probably 25 anhingas all appearing to be females! They have the brownish necks while the males are solid black.
I believe this is a Wilson's Plover. I know it is a plover and the markings on the Kildeer which is looks most like are much stronger.

This is a Semi-Palmated Sandpiper and is bigger than the plovers.

This is the Semi-Palmated Plover. I have seen these quite often on the beach.

This is a Kildeer which is also a plover. We used to get these in our yard in Batavia, NY. They are a very noisy bird!

After wandering around this small salt water marsh where we saw all the plovers, we headed over to the beach as we saw some dolphins feeding near the shore. This was a dolphin that was pushing a school of fish up onto the beach -- he probably ended up in about six inches of water just feet from us. I hadn't even noticed the pelican in front!

This was a lovely Tri-Color Heron that we saw as we were heading back up to the car. He was in the tidal pools. They are about the same size as the Little Blue Heron but have more distinctive markings and are whitish underneath.

These are Mottled Ducks (what my sister called Florida Ducks) which are very common around here. I had seen them before but hadn't identified them.

This was a particularly nice reddish egret that we also saw in this shore area. It was a lovely side trip to say the least.

Next we headed down to Lover's Key for some shelling! It is always good there. The thermometer on the car measured 93 in the sun and we hear we set the country's record for the warmest temp! The day was glorious though and the water warm and clear.
This is my stash from collecting shells down at Lovers Key. I had to give up after two hours as I was still suffering some dehydration from the flu I had a couple of days previously. You can see conchs and olives and most of the common shells found down here! I never tire of collecting shells and neither does my sister Gail. It is in our genes for sure!!
On our way out of Lover's Key, we stopped one last time to see if we could spot manatees as I had never seen one! Gail spotted some down the way so we drove down and watched them for ten minutes! They were quite active although on the other side of the canal. Nonetheless, I did manage a few good pictures. I loved this one as he (or she) looks like a person in a back float somehow in this shot -- not a very attractive person I might add!! Some canoes came by and the manatees disappeared deep under water and out of sight. It was quite a thrill!!

I couldn't end the blog without including this picture of my elusive Belted Kingfisher. Of course he chose to come around closely again when my camera was by the pool, but not me. Luckily my dear husband had the presence of mind to take some shots. This really shows the essence of the Kingfisher -- doesn't he look fearsome?