Flying High. Alarm Event. And Other Local News from the Salt Marsh.

To me, local is not only places and people around us. It is also animals around us. And many of you will know I am talking about the salt marsh and its residents. That’s where my heart is. But I have to confess I have not been able to visit my friends for a while. Severe interference by something I call work.

When I finally got time to visit, I found myself right in the middle of a significant alarm event.

mama-osprey-is-alarmed-ud86Mama Sandy was vigorously defending her run-down nest against another osprey couple. Soon Papa Stanley appeared on the scene to support her. He chased the other male out of the marsh.

papa-osprey-chases-away-intruders-ud86But the female was a tough cookie. She continued to circle above the marsh. She was looking right down on Sandy and made a couple of dives towards the nest. Tension was mounting.

another-osprey-2-ud86A light blue juvenile Little Blue Heron in the bushes right below the nest looked frightened. She stayed putt in her hiding place to wait out the storm.

juvenile-little-blue-heron-ud86And the Yellow-crowned Night Heron who had been nodding off in a tree nearby woke up to follow the drama.

yellowcrowned-night-heron-ud86Mama Sandy did not take this provokation lying down. I have never seen her screaming from the bottom of her lungs like this. She sounded like she meant it. And that did it. The female osprey finally followed her hubby and flew towards the north end of the park.

mama-osprey-shouts-alarm-ud86Phew. Peace was restored and everybody was minding their own business again. Like this White Ibis, who was just chilling. Quite beautiful, I thought.

white-ibis-ud86And an adult Little Blue Heron, perhaps the juvenile’s mom, continued her search for that perfect bite.

little-blue-heron-ud86But the Snowy Egret had already spotted her favorite menu item. She flew across the pond…

snowy-egret-flying-2-ud86 …and performed daring acrobatics to fetch her brunch. I was impressed by her reach.

snowy-egret-bending-down-ud86I walked around the marsh and spotted another Snowy Egret hunting. She was working hard for her tiny morsels.

snowy-egret-hunting-ud86At the far end of the marsh a Tri-colored Heron was busy hunting. Everything was back to normal.

tri-colored-heron-ud86As I walked home I spotted the juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk again. She was soaring high in the sky and I felt like doing the same. Just to float above it all.

redshouldered-hawk-2-ud86Our fundraising drive for a new home for the osprey family continues…and I hope we have good news shortly. In the meantime I will try my best to catch up on news in your world.

royal-tern-flying-ud86Be well. And fly high.


Operation Osprey. The Fundraising Issue.

The Osprey couple of the Sand Key nest, Sandy and Stanley, can now be seen sitting together on the bay side during the ‘blue hour’ every evening. I am sure they are discussing the upcoming nesting season and the dismal condition of their home. Perhaps they are also worrying about the fact that they don’t have the $3000 required for a new home in their savings account.

mama-osprey-at-the-old-nest-ud85On Sunday I took a short walk at the salt marsh and found Sandy ‘babysitting’ the nest. I told her about my hope to have a modern and durable nest dish in place by end of November. Without them needing to take on a mortgage. I think she was listening. She must have seen quite a bit of action around the nest last week. The county did all the tree trimming required for the big truck to get close to her home. A big thanks to the wonderful rangers at Sand Key Park! They truly care about the salt marsh residents.

salt-marsh-trimmedSo now we just need to raise the funds. And we are working hard to get that done as soon as possible. We have approached two large and very successful hotels here on Sand Key, Sheraton and Marriott, to sponsor the nest project. Many of their guests walk at the salt marsh and enjoy observing the Osprey couple and their kids (picture from 2015).

papa-ospreys-fish-delivery-ud85Unfortunately we have not yet heard back from them, but many residents in the area have already sent in contributions. Some of you have asked me if there is a way for you, the friends of this Osprey couple, to contribute too. So here it is. If you want to help, please send your contribution (tax deductible in the US) directly to the local chapter of the Audubon Society at

Clearwater Audubon Society, P.O. Box 97, Clearwater, FL 33757 . Please include a note “For Sand Key Osprey Nest Project” on your check or money order. Thank you.

Now, I did also meet some other residents at the salt marsh on my ‘inspection round’. In fact, there was quite a bit going on. The Reddish Egret was performing again.

reddish-egret-hunting-again-ud85He was ‘dancing’ around all by himself. But he wanted an audience. So he moved towards the far end of the marsh where a family of White Ibis were minding their own business. Once there, he did a disappearing act. No applause.

reddish-egret-does-a-diving-number-ud85He was not happy. He sat in the water for ten minutes just sulking. That was not like him and I was getting worried. I walked to the far end of the marsh.

reddish-egret-3-ud85And finally he got up, shook his beautiful feathers and walked onto dry land to think about a better strategy.

reddish-egret-2-ud85And right away I spotted another diver,  a young Mottled Duck. He didn’t need an audience and was happy just getting a refreshing bath.


duck-ud85When leaving the salt marsh, I was treated to a ‘fly by’. A Snowy Egret had also decided to move on.

snowy-egret-flying-ud85I hurried home along the bay side and found a successful fisherman. The older Great Blue Heron, the Mayor, had just captured his Sunday breakfast. I am sure that, in his book, this catch was as delicious as a heap of pumpkin spiced pancakes.

the-older-great-blue-heron-fishing-2-ud85We all wish you a wonderful week and hope you can get a moment in nature, away from all stress. Peace.

The Beautiful Diversity of Being. Perspectives and (Analog) Nostalgia.

It’s all about perspective. If you lay on your back on the parched ground, you will see bright blue skies through the opening formed by your body in the tall elephant grass. It is yellowed and crispy. It does not move. You see, there is not a breath of wind. Air is vibrating in the heat adding shifting patterns to the sky.  And you think of dance. Relaxing, slow dance of the universe.

Traditional dancers in Zimbabwe early 1990s

If you sit up your perspective changes. You see a thick wall of dry grass. Covered in dust it is still standing, proudly reaching for the skies. More out of habit than anything else. Elephant herds have not yet passed by here, and the sun has not yet completely broken its back. But it knows from experience that not a drop of water will come down for a long time.

An elephant family crossing the Luangwa river, Zambia,  late 1980s

If you stand up in the midst of the dry grass your perspective will change yet again. You will see the river flowing by. Its speed has slowed down since the rainy season and its banks are higher now. But it still transports the lifesaving elixir to all in need, people and wildlife alike. 

Luangwa River, Zambia,  late 1980s

Beyond the river you can see an acacia tree silhouetted against the sky. And a lone giraffe seeking shelter from the burning sun. Still months to go before the heavens will open, making the rivers overflow their banks and bringing the savannah to life again. It will get worse before it gets better.

Giraffe in Kenya early 1990s

These are but a few perspectives on Africa. As seen from a small patch of tall elephant grass.

Before experiencing Africa in the late 1980s to mid 1990s I had no idea how much this continent would adjust my perspectives on life. And of those sharing my journey.

Fresh from the plane. Our first day in Africa (Lusaka, Zambia) late 1980s

I embarked on this journey to widen my horizons, and to add to my perspectives on life. I hoped to gain a better understanding of the human experience through immersing in cultures and traditions so different from mine. I wanted to experience the wild. And hopefully to do some good along the way, however insignificant.

Attending a traditional coffee ceremony in Ethiopia in 1990
Performing Lingala songs in Kampala, Uganda mid 1990s

Those were my hopes and expectations, but I had no idea of how much the rest of my life would be influenced by Africa. That I would feel the passions and pains of its people in my bones. Develop a lifelong love of the wild creatures roaming its savannahs. And come to embrace, at least partially, the differences and similarities of lives lived under the same sun in various corners of our precious earth.

A young dancer in Livingstone, Zambia, late 1980s

What I learned gave me a firm respect for life, and overlapping perspectives to observe it from.


Life is about following your path. Sometimes it may mean leaving behind the safe and familiar to experience the pulse of something new and different. To leap into the unknown in order to contribute, to learn, to discover and respect other perspectives than those one was born with. To see the beautiful diversity of being. aulikki-and-dylan-birthday-2016

Last week I grew a year older. An excellent opportunity to reflect on what has been. Thinking back to this meaningful passage in my life, I feel nostalgia. And tremendous gratitude for having had the privilege to peek into life on this old continent over several years in several countries. Despite some hazards and heartaches, my eight years in Africa rise to the surface among the good things that have enriched  my life experience. I appreciate the hardships and the blessings. Africa captured my heart.

On my birthday I found nostalgia right there in my lap, together with Dylan. And went to try on my Ethiopian national dress. It still fits.


Operation Osprey. Alien Presence. And Family Feuds at the Salt Marsh.

This past week has been very busy. But the good news is that we have finally made some headway on “Operation Osprey”, as my friend Gladys dubbed the project we are working on. I had never thought that helping the Osprey family to get a safe home would be as simple as someone climbing up to the nest and putting in two new supports for the wooden platform. I had seen the platform was falling apart and knew it had to be replaced. But I had also not envisioned a big “project” involving the county, the Audubon Society, a contractor and a bunch of donors.

osprey-nest-sept-26The local Audubon Society has the required permits for this work. And we now have a commitment from the county to do the necessary tree trimming in the park so that a big truck can get close to the nest. We also have a proposal from a contractor on the installation of a new osprey nest platform. It will be a modern dish with drainage holes widely used in Florida. nest-176-disk-nest-platform-300x225-fl-osprey-watchSomething like this (Osprey nest 176, Florida Osprey Watchers), with an added perch. The perch will serve many purposes. But perhaps most importantly, it will allow Papa Stanley to stay close to Sandy when they incubate eggs and look after the nestlings. Yay!

The fundraising has also started. I’m hoping we’ll get enough donations in the next two weeks so that the materials can be ordered and the project be put on the contractor’s work schedule. Otherwise we’ll run out of time.

mama-osprey-ud83You see, Sandy and Stanley have already started dating again. It’s really sweet to watch. The other night when Dylan and I took a late walk past the Sailing Center, we found both of them perched close to each other admiring the moon raising over the bay. I didn’t have my camera with me, but this is what they would’ve seen.

sunset-and-moon-rise-over-the-bay-ud83And yesterday morning it looked like they were fishing together. First I spotted Stanley scanning for fish at the Sailing Center.

papa-osprey-at-sailing-club-ud83A couple of minutes later, I spotted Sandy flying from behind me carrying a fish. She must have been fishing a bit further out on the bay because I didn’t spot her. She settled down on the lamp-post right opposite Stanley’s favorite resort.

mama-osprey-lands-with-a-fish-ud83And a few seconds later Stanley flew over my head with a fish. He must have picked up a fish from the bay right after I left him.  He settled at his resort to have his breakfast.

papa-osprey-eats-beakfast-ud83So there they were, the love birds, eating their breakfast at the same time and very close to each other.

mama-osprey-eating-breakfast-ud83And in late December, they will start rebuilding the nest. Fingers crossed we can give them a brand new, safe home by then.

the Mayor with his crowd UD83.jpgFrom the bay side I walked into the salt marsh, where the Mayor was leading the morning preening session. The marsh had been ‘taken over’ by several families of White Ibis and Snowy Egrets. I counted about thirty individuals. And I observed some discord in one of the Snowy families. Voices were raised and feathers flew. I have a few unusable pictures of this family ruckus where one can only see white fluffed feathers.


angry-snowy-egret-ud83A few Great Egrets were present too, but held to themselves, away from the boisterous crowds.


great-egret-2-ud83I also spotted a juvenile Green Heron quietly sneaking in the shadows at the far end of the marsh.

juvenile-green-heron-ud83And a Little Blue Heron observing the wild stuff from a small tree with keen interest.

little-blue-heron-ud83When I was leaving, I saw the Mayor had taken a position in the middle of the large, shallow pool, where he could have an overview of the lively marsh. Perhaps he was hoping the Snowy family would settle their disputes without his intervention.

major-great-blue-heron-ud83On the beach I found hundreds of birds, mainly gulls and terns. They were just chilling. Calmly exchanging the latest news or flying around in search for breakfast.



royal-tern-in-flight-ud83And suddenly I came face to face with an alien. He was big and reflected the outer space on his clothing. He was no E.T. but he didn’t frighten me too much, to tell you the truth.

jet-ski-alien-ud83I took comfort in the fact that Mama Sandy had finished her breakfast and was flying towards the ocean right over my head, keeping an eye on any aliens that might pop up on my path. I knew I would need to work harder on Operation Osprey to beat the deadline of Papa Stanley’s forthcoming proposal.

female-osprey-in-flight-ud83That’s all for today. Thanks for joining me on this walk. I wish you all a great week ahead. Peace.



My Quest for a Forever Home.

I found what I was in search for. I know, it’s a spoiler. But I couldn’t possibly be sitting here at mom’s laptop writing to you if I was still pursuing my quest, could I ? Truth to be told, mom picked me up from my foster home on Friday, April 1. Almost six months ago now. But I can assure you I’m not an April Fools’ Day joke.  I’m a survivor.

Photo from March 2016 courtesy of Constanza Bryant, Florida Poodle Rescue.

You see, I was abandoned by my first family. I lived on the streets. And it was hard. Although I became good at sniffing for food people had thrown on the ground, I was always hungry. I could smell a half eaten chicken leg or a piece of hamburger bread from 50 yards,  but such treasures were few and far between. I lost a lot of weight. It was not obvious because my hair grew so long. If anything I looked fat. No hair cuts, no baths and no love do that to you. But it was even worse with water. Fresh water is something you take for granted when you have a home. I learned the hard way that it doesn’t rain in the spring in Florida. Finding even a small pool of dirty water was a challenge. I learned to get by with very little of it, mostly licking the trickles that reached the street when people watered their lawns. Recycled water. Not too good for you.

I can’t tell you how long I lived on the streets. I lost count of the days. And the long nights. I hardly slept because it was not safe. I had to stay alert. So I slept only for a few moments here and there when I collapsed of exhaustion.

Photo from March 2016 courtesy of Constanza Bryant, Florida Poodle Rescue.

And I was looking for my family all the time. My mission was keeping me alive. I ran towards young couples pushing baby strollers. If they let me close, I would gently sniff at the baby’s toes. But it was always some other baby. I couldn’t find my family. I had always believed I was part of the family. Obviously I was wrong. They were gone and had left me behind. I had no idea what I had done to deserve this, but there I was. Homeless. I was so sad.

Then one day a car stopped next to me. It was not the car I used to ride in and hang out from the back window my ears flapping in the wind. Not my car. And I had learned to avoid cars. But the man was friendly so I finally agreed to ride with him. A milestone. My new journey had started. Hospital stay. Food. Water. Love. Florida Poodle Rescue. A foster family – and more love. I was grateful to have a home, but still grieving the loss of my family, if that makes sense.

About a week later, mom knocked on the door. She came with a friend…to visit me! I knew right away she was my mom. That’s called intuition. I jumped onto her lap. I’m not sure if I even thanked my foster family well enough for all the love they gave me, I was so eager to go with mom. And like magic ~ I found myself in her car. I remember sitting in the back seat with her kind friend. Mom kept telling me we would go home to dad. It took a couple of hours, but she was right. I’m home now.

dylan-april-6-bI’m always with mom in her office when she works. Or blogs. I can make my bed of the old blanket on the sofa, redesigning it until I’m comfortable. Sometimes I just chill on the floor next to her desk.

dylan-3-ud82I’m an avid reader, and sometimes mom lets me browse other blogs too. Nothing short of amazing. So much interesting stuff!

dylan-at-computer-2-ud82But I’ll tell you what I love the most. Going for long walks! The faster we walk, the better. But running is the best, of course. You see, I’m mom’s personal trainer.  And I take my work seriously. She really needs her exercise. At least three miles a day. Sometimes even four or five, if I can trick her.

dylan-in-the-parkAnd she’d better take her work seriously too. I appreciate my rewards, ever so small. Be it a couple of baby carrots or a piece of my favorite cookie. Even a tooth cleaning treat will do. Mom, give it to me already!

dylan-1-ud82I have developed many new tricks to test on mom and dad. Some of them work, some don’t. I’ve noticed a few more tricks work on dad. But that’s another story. See you later. Be good now.

With love, Dylan (or maybe I should say Bob Dylan, but that’s also another story)

Hello World! Reporting Live from the Seabird Sanctuary.

The Great Horned Owl, Miss Kitty, is alert and follows my movements in front of her little house with keen interest. This owl, whose badly infected wing had to be amputated, has been living at the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary for over nine years. She is usually one of the first birds to greet me when I visit. Her closest neighbor is another long-time resident, a Barred Owl. She is huddling deep in thought close to the ceiling of her little row house, and unlike her neighbor she clearly prefers her own company. And I respect that.

Next, I am checking on some of the White Pelicans. They have a large netted home with several swimming pools to enjoy in the summer heat. While autumn is officially here, our temperatures are still hovering in the upper 80s F (around 30C).

white-pelicans-at-scbs-ud81The Brown Pelicans have a home next to their white cousins, and their ‘yard’ is also appointed with several pools. Just chilling around the pool seems to be a favorite activity.

brown-pelican-scbs-ud81Next to the pelicans, two Sandhill Cranes have their large, beautifully decorated home.

two-sandhill-cranes-ud81Some smaller birds, like a juvenile White Ibis and an American Oyster Catcher with a badly injured wing, share the neighboring homes.


wounded-oystervatcher-at-scbs-ud81But to be honest, I came here to see an old friend, the Red Shouldered Hawk. Her name is Isis. I will need to point out that this beautiful bird was named 26 years ago when she first came to this sanctuary with a badly injured eye. She is close to 30 years old now, completely blind in one eye and almost blind in the other. To my delight I discover that her handler has just arrived to take her out for a ‘walk’ in the park. Great! So after greeting the other birds, I walk into a large covered area under the observation tower and find her perched there.

scbs-observation-tower-ud81I love watching her and it is clear that she thoroughly enjoys her open air outing. But I also want to take a few pictures of her. And that proves quite challenging. While the covered area is nice and shadowy,  the sun is very bright right outside of it.

red-shouldered-hawk-at-scbs-ud81Isis is still molting and she is preening diligently to get rid of some old feathers on her wings.

red-shouldered-hawk-molting-scbs-ud81And then she stretches her beautiful wings. I can sense she is dreaming of flying high up in the sky riding a cool current.

red-shouldered-hawk-2-at-scbs-ud81She has had a long, safe and comfortable life here at the sanctuary and it is wonderful, as always, to spend some time with her.

Walking out of the sanctuary I meet two non-residents, an American Black Vulture and a Black-crowned Night Heron. Perhaps they have relatives in rehabilitation here, or maybe they are just waiting for a free meal. I also note that the night heron is strategically positioned to remind visitors of the importance of donating to this unique sanctuary.


black-crowned-night-heron-at-scbs-ud81It is lovely to know there is a place where so many injured wild birds can get help. About 15-20 birds daily, or up to 5000 each year, are brought to the Dr. Marie L. Farr Avian Hospital located in this sanctuary. They have varying injuries, for example to their limbs, eyes or bills.

sun-coast-sea-bird-sanctuary-ud81Unfortunately about 90% of those injuries are directly or indirectly attributtable to human activity. After receiving the necessary hospital care, the birds are rehabilitated and then released. The success rate is fairly high, over 80% of the birds who survive the first 24 hours go back to live their lives in the wild. Those who cannot manage to live on their own due to a permanent handicap are provided a forever home here. I am always filled with gratitude thinking of all the volunteers who take care of these birds and keep their homes looking wonderful, and people who donate to keep this sanctuary going.

That’s all for tonight from the Seabird Sanctuary. Next, your reporter will take on the replacement of the osprey nest platform at the salt marsh. We don’t want Mama Sandy and Papa Stanley to move out just because their home falls apart, do we?

We all hope your week is going great.

Juveniles Rule. And Slowly Returning to Normal.

I am not developing an argument here on what ‘normal’ might be or look like. All I know is that our surroundings here at home are slowly starting to look as they used to – before Hermine dumped almost 15 inches/38cms of water on us over five days. The flood waters are almost gone. I say almost because there are still a few pools of water on the beach, in the park and in our garden. And birds love them. Like Snowy Egrets and White Ibis, who were mingling on the beach in large  numbers yesterday.

Snowy Egret at flood water pool ud80.jpg

snowy-egret-and-white-ibis-ud80And juveniles of all sorts were playing and feeding in the shallow pools. Like these two juvenile White Ibis. One of them was quite white already, while his little sister was still much more brown than white.

two juvenile ibis ud80.jpg

juvenile-white-ibis-ud80Another juvenile, a Black Skimmer, who had already left his parents was practicing skimming in one of the shallow pools.

juvenile-black-skimmer-ud80The juvenile Royal Tern pestering his mom was quite entertaining. Although his poor mom might have disagreed. She tried to show him how to catch food items in the shallow water, but he was not interested. He wanted to be fed.


baby-and-mama-royal-tern-ud80Walking into the salt marsh, I noticed the water levels were down and the bird count was up. Despite the fact that the mosquito count was down only a bit, I decided to see who had returned. And right away saw the younger Great Blue Heron. After hanging around for over two years now, I think he has earned to be named. I will call him Henry. He was balancing high up in the cypress tree surveying the marsh. Possibly trying to find out whether or not the Mayor was present.

young-blue-heron-ud80He wasn’t. So Henry decided it was safe to fly down and start hunting at the far end of the marsh, a spot usually reserved for the Mayor.


young-blue-heron-lands-ud80A Great Egret was also scanning the marsh from the top of a tree in the middle of the marsh. He might have been counting his relatives, who were many but difficult to spot in the high grass.


great egret and snowy egret ud80.jpg

great-egret-ud80The only smaller wading bird present, in addition to Snowy Egrets, was a beautiful Tri-colored Heron. She was fishing at the shallow side of the marsh that had already dried up quite a bit. But she was still more than knee-deep in the water.

tricolored-heron-ud80But the Moorhens and Mottled Ducks were present in big numbers. The ducklings born here last spring had returned and were swimming in a nice formation – all ten of them. Juveniles definitely ruled the day🙂


ten-ducklings-ud80I finished my walk at the Osprey nest. Mama Sandy was having her brunch and checked on me between the bites. I wanted to tell her that on Sunday, I would be visiting again – with the contractor who will be repairing or replacing (if required) the nest. But I let her eat in peace.

mama-osprey-eats-lunch-ud80I didn’t see Papa Stanley, but I know he is around as I saw him just the previous day. He flew low over our garden and tipped his wings to me and Dylan. Instead I spotted a Red-bellied Woodpecker on my way home. He was showcasing his reddish belly.

redbellied-woodpecker-2-ud80But that was not all. Approaching home, I saw a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk fly past me towards our garden.

hawk-ud80I decided to see if I could spot her again and walked around among the trees where I thought she might have landed. And I found her! She was sitting in a dense tree – on our neighbor’s side. It was an awkward spot to try to ‘shoot’ her. Sun right in my eyes, a thick, high hedge on one side and a large ditch with some remaining flood water on the other. I tried to balance on my toes so I could get a clear shot of her, but this is the best I could get. What a beautiful bird.

juvenile-red-shouldered-hawk-ud80She flew away to continue her hunt, and I spotted another bird in a tree right above me. A Black-crowned Night Heron had settled there to sleep for the day and I inadvertently woke him up.

black-crowned-night-heron-ud80Luckily he didn’t seem to be angry. I was happy to find so many of my feathered friends. I concluded that things are slowly returning to normal around here, but unfortunately the damage assessments still continue elsewhere not too far from here.

We all wish you a very happy weekend. Peace.

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