Mama Osprey is a Tough Cookie. And Other Breaking News from the Salt Marsh.

He came closer. Walked nonchalantly in the direction of the Osprey nest. Glanced up a few times along his long bill.  A sharp warning cut the air.  The rebellious teenager he is, the young Blue Heron ignored it. And started crossing the last piece of shallow water still separating him from the islet housing the nest.

Great Blue Heron juvenile Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
The young Great Blue Heron approaches the nest.

Another warning. This time it was much longer, building up to a wavering squeal reverberating in the air. Mama Sandy was alarmed. Papa Stanley was out on the ocean fetching lunch, and she was alone in the nest with her three chicks.

Female Osprey in the nest with her chicks Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Mama Sandy keeps an eye on the approaching youngster.

She was serious. She wouldn’t tolerate yet another attack on the nest. But the young heron wouldn’t take her word for it. He came closer and closer. He had now reached the islet where the nest pole is located. He flexed his wings, but was not yet quite airborne when Sandy whizzed down from the nest. Her talons stretched out in front of her for a direct hit.

female osprey prevents an attack on the nest by blue heron Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Sandy’s preemptive strike.
blue heron on the ground Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
The young Blue Heron on the ground after his confrontation with Sandy…
young blue heron gets up
…and he slowly gets up…
blue heron stretches up
…stretches himself …
blue heron flying away Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
…and flies away.

It was a lightning fast attack. The youngster went down to cover his head. When he finally got up, the feathers on his crown were messed up. He stretched himself up and immediately flew to the far end of the marsh. I have no idea how many times this youngster has attacked the nest, but I have witnessed two such occasions previously. Mama Sandy didn’t want to take the chance of needing to defend the nest up in the air, putting the chicks at risk.  So she warned him twice, with no effect, and then took preemptive action. And after returning to her chicks, she continued to keep an eye on the young heron at the other end of the marsh.

female osprey with her chicks Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
After Sandy’s return, the nestlings help her scan for the young Blue Heron.

It’s funny how all other birds, like the two Great Egrets and the Reddish Egret pictured here just seconds before the attack, can walk and hunt close to, and even right under, the nest causing no alarm. This one individual’s bad behavior has gotten him banned from the vicinity of the Osprey family. I wonder if he’ll ever learn.

Two great egrets and a reddish egret Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
These three were fishing close to the nest just seconds before the strike. Note how fast the Reddish Egret moved away from the scene…he’s nowhere to be seen in the pictures above. Just rings on the water remained  🙂

Soon after the dust had settled, Papa Stanley arrived with a fat fish. He had already eaten the head, as he usually does with a big fish, and gave the best parts to Sandy and the chicks.

male osprey brings in a big fish Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Lunch arrives!

Sandy told him all about the attack straightaway. No secrets between the two of them. And then she took the fish and started feeding the chicks. Everything was back to normal. The chicks are growing fast and their appetite requires Stanley to catch a big fish, or go fishing twice for each meal to feed the whole family. I’ve seen him just leave the whole fish to Sandy and go right back onto the ocean or the bay.

A few days back, I also checked on the residents of the condo building. Everybody was fine. The Nanday Parakeet flew from his balcony onto his favorite pine branch to greet me. The European Starling was at home, and the Red-bellied Woodpecker was shopping for food in the huge supermarket just next to his apartment.

nanday parakeet Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
The Nanday Parakeet lifts his foot in a greeting.
eauropean starling Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
The European Starling enjoys nice weather on her balcony.
red-bellied woodpecker Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
The Red-bellied Woodpecker looks for food right next to his apartment.

One evening I visited the salt marsh again at sunset time. The Osprey kids were already sleeping, and I guess Stanley had gone somewhere to eat the leftovers from the family dinner. Mama Sandy sat at the edge of the nest and took in the calm of the evening. This is what she saw from her vantage point.

female ospey at sunset Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Mama Sandy just before sunset.
Sunset at the salt marsh…
sunset Sand Key Beach Clearwater Florida
…and over the ocean.

That’s all for this week from the salt marsh. Wishing you all happiness in the month of May. Peace, Tiny

Weekly Photo Challenge: Motion in Nature (9 Images)

This week’s DP photo challenge is “motion”.  Since I love to capture motion in our precious natural environment, I thought it’d be fun to participate. So here are some images representing four different types of motion in nature. In addition to the butt-shaking, water spraying motion demonstrated by Mama Osprey in the featured image.

I hope your week has started well.

Slow motion.  Enjoyable, hardly noticeable, purposeful. Often lovable.

mama and baby bottlenose dolphin slowly gliding by Caladesi Island Florida
Mama and baby Bottlenose Dolphin glide slowly on the surface of the calm ocean.
mottled duck with ducklings Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Mama Mottled Duck swims slowly with her ducklings in tow.

Quick motion. Fast and furious. Gone in a blink. Always momentary.

sandwich tern flying in the surf Sand Key Beach Clearwater Florida
A Sandwich Tern flies fast to get out of the furiously moving surf.
A great egret eats a fish sand key park clearwater Florida
A little fish pops extremely fast into the mouth of a Great Egret.

Accelerating motion. Rising. Upward. Onward. Often sudden and surprising.

A brown pelican takes off Sand Key Beach Clearwater Florida
A Brown Pelican takes off.
A Great Egret takes off Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
A Great Egret takes off.

Decelerating motion. Slow-down. Approach. Touch down. Most often anticipated.

Royal Terns and Sandwich Terns come in for landing.
papa osprey lands in the nest in Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Papa Osprey lands…for a romantic interlude a couple of months ago. Now he’s landing to feed three chicks 🙂

You can find other DP Weekly Photo Challenge entries on Motion here.

The Sky Is Falling. Thy Daily Folklore.

The annual Sugar Sand Festival at Pier 60 on Clearwater Beach closes in a couple of hours. But if we walk fast, we can still make it!

Clearwater Beach at pier 60 Pier 60 Clearwater Beach This year’s theme is Sugar Sand Tales. Ten internationally renowned sand sculptors have created stunning scenes reminding us of our childhood’s fairytales.

sugar sand festival tent clearwater beach

Let’s enter this enchanted storyland housed in a massive 21,000 sqf tent, where our fantasy and great memories will be brought to life.

We made it out just in time for the fireworks! They too are like fairytales. Whimsical and inventive. See for yourself.

sugar sand festival fireworks clearwater beach sugar sand festival fireworks clearwater beach sugar sand festival fireworks clearwater beach sugar sand festival fireworks clearwater beach

And now that we are in a child-like mood, we can go home and watch the uplifting nature movie made right here, Dolphin Tale 2.

sugar sand festival clearwater beach

Thanks for joining me for a tour inside this timeless storybook made of sugar sand. May your week be magical.

Fireworks. Strong Storms. And Little Miracles in the Salt Marsh.

The sky lit up, and loud bangs reverberated through the salt marsh. About an hour after bed time, the three Osprey chicks woke up to experience their first fireworks. Courtesy of the Sugar Sand Festival going on just north of the park, on the other side of the narrow waterway. Luckily Mama Sandy and Papa Stanley have experienced these occasional “disturbances” several times before. I’m confident they made the chicks feel safe. And explained to them the silly fascination with these loud nightly displays we humans have.

sugar sand festival fireworks Clearwater Florida
Lights come on with a bang in the middle of the night.

On Sunday afternoon the drama continued, but this time it wasn’t manmade. Papa Stanley had just left for his 2 p.m. fishing trip on the bay when the thunderstorms rolled in. The skies darkened instantly. The winds picked up, gusting up to 50 miles/hour. Dry leaves and small branches swirled through the air. Sheets of rain moved sideways like grey walls of water, followed by thunder and lightning.

storm over the bay
Storms over the bay where Papa Osprey went to get some  afternoon snacks.

Mama Osprey was tightly pressed over her chicks, her head pointed against the wind. The chicks experienced their first torrential rains and their first thunderstorms under Mama’s half-spread wings.

mama osprey protects chicks in storm Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Mama Sandy protects the kids during the thunderstorms – as seen from my terrace.

This scene was repeated, with more intensity, on Monday afternoon. Looking through my window with binoculars, I could see that both Sandy and Stanley were in the nest shielding the kids from wind and rain.

On Tuesday afternoon I could finally take a walk to check on the residents in the salt marsh. The water levels were up throughout, and I saw several feathery friends out inspecting their surroundings after the storms…or just enjoying the much nicer fishing weather.

moorhen Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Mr. Moorhen inspects his flooded neighborhood after the storms.
Great Egret fishing Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
The Great Egret goes fishing after the storms.

Arriving at the osprey nest I noticed Mama Sandy had a small injury on her tummy, a bloody patch just above her left leg. But she was in full swing feeding the chicks, and didn’t seem bothered by it. Something must have hit her there scraping away the soft feathers and skin.

male osprey sleeps while the female feeds the chicks Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
The first born chick watches Mama Sandy  feed the middle chick while Papa Stanley takes a nap. Mama’s injury is partly visible just above and left of the nest corner.

It’s been quite a week for the Osprey family. The first born chick is now about four weeks old. All three chicks have learned to walk and discovered their wings. Their curiosity is limitless. They come close to the edge to scan the skies or to peek down. Even just to say hello.

osprey chick says hello Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
The middle chick says hello to Tiny. Their eyes are almost red at birth, then turn to a lighter orange shade and finally yellow at maturity.

So what do good parents do? They go shopping for baby gates. That’s exactly what both Sandy and Stanley have done several times this week.

mama osprey brings in reenforcements to the nest with three chicks Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Mama Sandy brings in reinforcements to the nest. She left the first born (on the left) in charge.
male osprey brought nest reinforcements Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Papa Stanley brought in a heavy duty baby gate.

I’ve admired the good discipline Sandy and Stanley have established. The chicks are always fed one at the time, while the other two patiently wait for their turn. All three seem to be growing, developing their own personalities … and challenging my ability to catch them all in a family portrait 🙂

Osprey family Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
A family portrait (almost). The smallest chick is being fed by Mama Sandy, his/her head partly visible next to Mama’s leg behind the middle chick.

The regular daily routine Sandy and Stanley have established serves to keep the chicks feeling safe in the wild world of fireworks and storms. It goes something like this

  • Wake up time just around dawn at 7 a.m.
  • Breakfast 7:30 – 8:30 a.m.
  • Lunch 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
  • Afternoon snack 3:00 – 4:00 p.m.
  • Dinner 7:00 – 8:00 p.m.
  • Sleepy time just around nightfall at 8:00 p.m.

Nice, eh?  I don’t think these wise parents have googled expert recommendations on consistency in meal and nap times. They just intuitively know. And that’s quite amazing to watch. In fact, it’s a privilege.

Papa Stanley and the oldest chick scan the skies.

Now is also the time to meet other youngsters. Yesterday afternoon I spotted a young  Great Egret enjoying a refreshing bath at the shallow end of the marsh.

Juvenile Great Egret  takes a bath Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
A young Great Egret takes a cooling bath.

And watched quietly in awe when Mama Mottled Duck suddenly came out of her nest. With ten little miracles in tow.  Possibly for one of their first swims. I could only see them for a minute or so before Mama took them into safety in a narrow corridor under the mangroves. Aren’t they lovely?

female mottled duck with 10 chicks Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Mama Duck takes her ten chicks for a swim.

And of course I would spot Mister Reddish Egret successfully chasing his cousin, the Great Egret, away from the fishing spot he’d claimed. That was not a miracle, but a rather common occurrence around here 🙂

Reddish Egret chases a Great Egret Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Mister Reddish Egret chases away the Great Egret.

This morning it’s been raining on and off. I noticed that Mama Sandy left her kids by themselves for a little while. Probably to get more reinforcements to the nest.  Right after she left it started raining again. The three chicks moved to the middle of the nest and huddled together until she returned a few minutes later.

three osprey chicks huddling together in the rain UD3
All three chicks huddling together in the rain. Sorry for the quality as I took this picture without a tripod from my terrace more than a block away.

You will notice the youngest chick is quite a bit smaller than the other two. My guess is that the first two hatched a day apart, but the last born hatched 2-3 days after the middle chick. Sandy seems to keep him/her separate from the others, often between or right behind her legs when she’s in the nest, including at feeding time. I’m sure she does that to increase his/her chances to make it.

We all wish you a great day/evening filled with love, laughter and small miracles. Rain or shine. Your embedded reporter in the nature zone, Tiny

Weekly Photo Challenge: Early Bird ( 8 Images)

This is a weekly photo challenge I couldn’t resist! Sunrise is the time I feel nature comes to life in most vibrant colors. Unfortunately I’m a night owl, so it’s not very often I can catch the early bird. But lately, just for pure fascination with the early light, I’ve gotten up in time to peek into nature when it’s waking up.

“The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun”. -Christopher McCandless

So here are a few images from this morning and a some (not earlier published) from the last couple of weeks. I hope you enjoy. Have a wonderful week.

roseate spoonbill Sand key Park Clearwater Florida
Miss Roseate Spoonbill says good morning.
boat-tailed grackle Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
A Grackle scans the salt marsh.
osprey Sand key Park Clearwater Florida
Papa Osprey enjoys the first rays.
Great blue heron at sunrise Sand key Park Clearwater Florida
A Great Blue Heron in his morning meditation.
male oprey returns home at feeding time Sand key Park Clearwater Florida
Papa Osprey returns when one of the chicks is getting breakfast.
mottled duck couple at sunrise Sand key Park Clearwater Florida
Mottled ducks at sunrise.
sunrise over the bay Sand Key Clearwater Florida
This morning’s sunrise over the bay.

This week’s photo challenge: Early Bird

Silly Saturday: Reddish Egret. The Showman. Animated.

Just to be a little silly on a lazy Saturday, I wanted to see if I could create a couple of animated GIFs from my existing bird photos. I got the inspiration from a cute video GIF I saw on Live and Learn last night.

I haven’t made any videos in ages, so a video GIF was out of the question. But I knew clumsier animated GIFs, a little bit like old films from early the 1900s, could be created from stills as well. Ideally taken for that purpose, of course. But since I’ve never created any animations, I had no pictures taken explicitly for these kinds of GIFs.

Then I thought of the Reddish Egret . He’s been showing off his fishing skills several times. Or just showing off. I had planned to feature him in a future “Wordless Wednesday” post, but got the idea to try to animate him. He’s worth it. And I’d have fun.

In the first image he just runs and flexes his muscles. Boosts his confidence in preparation for a fishing trip. But never gets anywhere.

reddish egret shows off
Reddish Egret prepares for his hunt. Copyright Tinylessonsblog 2015.

In the second image he gets serious. Buffs himself up, takes a few steps, hits the water and picks a fish. Every time.

Reddish Egret fishing gif
Reddish Egret picks a fish. Copyright Tinylessonsblog 2015.

Happy weekend to everyone. May you catch a fish every time you try  😀

Sunrise Pageant in the Salt Marsh. And a Bombshell.

Last Sunday was my big outdoors day. I was up before dawn and went for a walk to see the natural world wake up to a new day. I was happily surprised to find so many birds up and running at the early hour. It was like watching a pageant right there in the salt marsh. One beauty arriving after another. I invite you to join me.

tricolored heron at sunrise Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
First out was the Tricolored Heron carrying her multi-colored feathers with exquisite beauty…
a great blue heron Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
The Great Blue Heron was next….pausing  to showcase the whimsical cut on the back of his suit…
The Snowy Egret on Sand Key Beach Clearwater Florida
The Snowy Egret was walking like a pro, demonstrating her elegant white gown and great posture.
a roseate spoonbill in Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Next out was the Roseate Spoonbill in her hot pink dress…something worth reflecting on.
 Little Blue Heron in Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Ms. Pink was followed by the Little Blue Heron showcasing her deep purplish-blue dress with sophisticated grace.
a reddish egret in Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
The pageant file-through  was completed by the Reddish Egret, appropriately clad in striking colors for his upcoming show.

Needless to say, I was delighted by all this natural beauty. But where were the Ospreys?  The answer: still sleeping. It’s wonderful that the exhausted parents got to sleep in on a Sunday morning, isn’t it?

sleeping osprey in Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Everyone in the nest is still sleeping…it’s barely daylight.

When I arrived at the nest, Mama Sandy was the only one visible. Slowly she opened her eyes, and soon another sleepy head appeared. Papa Stanley was waking up. It looked like he had slept in the nest, for a change. I observed their morning ritual. Both flexing and preening for a few minutes. Then Sandy started asking for breakfast. And Stanley complied after a short, remarkably quiet discussion. No sign of the kids, they were still sleeping.

osprey couple at sunrise in Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Mama Osprey asks Papa to go get breakfast just after 7 a.m.
male osprey leaves for an early morning fishing trip Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Papa Stanley leaves for an early morning fishing trip.

I took another walk at sunset time the same day. I found a late dinner in progress at the nest. Again, I didn’t get to see the chicks.

Dinner at 7:40 p.m. at the osprey nest in Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Dinner at 7:40 p.m. Sandy is feeding, but no chicks visible.

So on Monday morning, having my coffee on the terrace, I looked at the nest with binoculars. I blinked. And blinked again. But still saw the same scenario: not two, but three little heads came up when Sandy distributed breakfast. That’s dropping a “bombshell” on me. And a very good one at that. Sandy and Stanley have three chicks!

I didn’t get the opportunity to go see the chicks, who must be about three weeks old by now, until midweek. When I arrived at the nest, lunch was being served. And I got lucky. The table was in plain view from the ground. And I could see all three chicks being fed in turn.

osprey feeding chickSand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Sandy feeds the first chick.
three osprey chicks in Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Sandy feeds the middle chick…but you can see all three here.
osprey female feed chicks Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Gimme food! Sandy feeds the last chick.

They are already moving around, and one of them even came close to the edge and looked out into the big, wide world. I’m guessing it was the first born.

A curious osprey chick looks out of the nest in Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
A curious chick scans its environment.

The kids’ lunch lasted about 40 minutes, and then it was Sandy’s turn to eat. Finally Stanley started collecting what was left of the fish, took it and flew to his man cave to enjoy a late lunch.

male osprey collects the rest of the fish in Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Stanley collects his lunch box…
male osprey flies with the rest of the fish after chicks have been fed Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
…and flies to his man cave, passing right above my head.

This ritual is repeated at least three times a day, maybe four. I hope all three nestlings will thrive, despite the hotter than normal weather. And that we’ll be able to watch their flying lessons in about a month. That should be fun. Here’s a teaser. This is how their only nestling, a girl, fledged last year.

Osprey chick learns to fly on May 13, 2014, almost landing on her mama Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Their chick learns to fly on May 13, 2014, and almost lands on Sandy (I didn’t have my current zoom last year, so the picture is a bit grainy)

That’s all for this week.  The salt marsh gang sends ❤ to all friends, and particularly to those whose week hasn’t been the best.  Tiny