Category Archives: Birds

No Election Stress. At the Salt Marsh.

It’s election day. The salt marsh is right next to our polling place at the Sailing Center.

election-day-ud89Early this morning as voters started to stream in, Papa Stanley was stationed right there, on the wind metering device, keeping watch. He was very alarmed, to say the least.

papa-osprey-sounds-alarm-ud89To my relief I discovered that he was alarmed about something completely different. Another male osprey flying over the salt marsh, where Mama Sandy was minding the nest.

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mama-osprey-ud89Sandy and Stanley are dating now, and he doesn’t venture far from her side. I bet he is already rehearsing his proposal dance to be performed in late December. In any case, the bay side was as lively as the polling place. Pelicans had gathered around the pier, and lots of fishing was going on.

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pelican-2-ud89I decided to visit the salt marsh. And the turnout of birds did not disappoint. Although Mama Sandy had now flown away from the nest, there was a lively crowd of ‘big boys’. Like the Wood Storks.

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wood-stork-ud89And the Great Egrets. Although a few of them decided to move to the bay side. More excitement there, I assumed.

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great-egret-flies-away-ud89But most importantly, the Mayor was in the ‘office’ on his favorite islet. He was keeping an eye on everything.

great-blue-heron-mayor-ud89In addition to the big guys, I spotted some smaller fellows. Like this Black-crowned Night Heron. He was trying to take a nap, apparently unsuccessfully, in the bushes below the osprey nest.

black-crowned-night-heron-ud89Then my attention was drawn to a rare visitor, a Belted Kingfisher. He was flying and hovering above the marsh for a long time, and finally sat down to rest in the middle of the marsh.

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belted-kingfisher-ud89I decided to take a swing on the beach. But I felt watched. A drone was circling above the beach. It was watching me, so I decided to watch it too. Tit for tat.

drone-ud89I didn’t like the drone and decided to return to the salt marsh. Just in time to see Mama Sandy return to the nest. I was secretly hoping she would not like the artificial ‘bird’ in the skies above the beach. But had to assume she had not seen it.

mama-osprey-lands-in-the-nest-ud89She had no fish. I believe she had already eaten her breakfast and was just taking an extra exercise round above the bay.

I then spent some time observing a few very small birds. They moved fast, but finally one of them sat down for a photo shoot. After looking at all my pictures, I think it might be a Pine Warbler, but stand to be corrected by friends who know these small birds much better than I do.

pine-warbler-ud89After getting my shot, I decided to walk home. Just when I got onto the street, I saw Papa Stanley fly over my head. With a fish. He landed on a lamp-post close to the marsh – with a direct line of sight to the nest where Mama Sandy was perching. Everything was in order.

papa-osprey-caught-a-fish-ud89Whatever happens tonight, I hope we will find peace. Individually and collectively.

Halloween at the Salt Marsh. Everything Transmogrified.

A few minutes after midnight I stepped out into the cool night. As I approached the end of our driveway, the pale crescent moon suddenly disappeared in red haze. It was pitch black. Then, slowly, a sparkling full moon appeared. I thought that was strange. But knew it would aid me on my visit to the salt marsh.

halloween-moon-3-ud88The gate into the park was closed, of course. But unlike any other night, a mean looking bird was guarding it.  His long bill was sharp and his left foot was raised as in a warning.

nature-reserve-forest-and-snowy-egret-halloween-2-ud88No admission. But stubborn as I am, I decided to climb over the low stone wall a little further down.

salt-marsh-stone-wall-3-ud88Right away I could see some hunching shapes on one of the small islands in the distance. A gathering of the ghosts perhaps? Halloween party? It was impossible to tell.

wood-storks-and-great-egrets-halloween-2-ud88Bang! The ground shook and lightning struck from the clear sky. It illuminated the osprey nest. From afar, it looked deserted and seemed to glow faintly in the moonlight.

osprey-nest-halloween-4-ud88I was frightened, but there was no turning back. So I walked closer. Suddenly I heard heavy wing beats right above my head. A large bat? I saw a huge creature land on the nest. He looked right at me and I thought his eyes were somewhat familiar. He didn’t say anything, just stared at me flexing his enormous wings.

papa-osprey-halloween-3-ud88Just under the nest, I could discern a glowing figure on the ground. Someone else was observing me too. It was spooky. And eerily quiet.

yellowcrowned-night-heron-playing-halloween-3-ud88The silence was broken by a bone-chilling scream. An apparition with a huge bill drifted right next to me. I started running.

papa-wood-stork-halloween-2-ud88Further out, I saw more dark shapes starting to gather at the far end of the marsh. Curiosity won over fear and I decided to investigate. Walking along the water line, I spotted large glowing fish in the deep pond. Monsters over three feet long.

fish-tarpon-in-the-salt-marsh-halloween-ud88I sensed many pairs of eyes were following my every step from the deep shadows. It was unnerving. But I kept going.

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squirrel-halloween-ud88As I came to the far end, I noticed action on the water. Someone was running for his life!

mottled-duck-run-on-water-halloween-ud88The poor fellow was chased by a much bigger creature, who was flapping his wings as he ran on the water. I could feel chills go down my spine.

reddish-egret-hunting-halloween-ud88Suddenly I came to a halt. A creepy feathered being was blocking the trail. He was huge! And he was scrutinizing me from top to toe from the corner of his eye.

great-blue-heron-halloween-2-ud88I started shaking, but finally he let me pass. I took cover under some short palm trees next to the water. That’s when I saw her. Her pink skirt was flowing in the cool breeze as she performed her dance at the edge of the pond.

roseate-spoonbill-halloween-2-ud88All action stopped. No running, no chasing, no fooling around. Complete silence as if all the creatures were holding their breath. Then wings started flapping. Loud applause reverberated in the night. I tried to clap too, but couldn’t. Something heavy was weighing down my left arm. It didn’t move.

dylan-halloween-ud88I woke up. And Dylan turned to look at me. I must have been screaming because the hair on his head stood up. I had dozed off and been dreaming about my friends at the salt marsh. All transmogrified just in time for Halloween. I turned off the TV and the light, petted Dylan and went back to sleep. Who knows what the night might bring. Happy Halloween folks!

Rise and Shine. Fall at the Salt Marsh.

We have gorgeous fall weather here on Florida’s Gulf coast. I want to invite you all to join me on a morning walk on the beach, in the park and at the salt marsh.

love-grass-2-ud87Being “evergreen” we do not have the typical fall foliage, but there is plenty of color for us to enjoy right here in our garden.

And the beach is lively with shorebirds, particularly Sanderlings and Willets, in addition to the usual gulls and terns.

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willet-ud87From the beach we walk to the fishing piers at north end of the park. Sun is shining on the bay and the Clearwater Pass.

shine-ud87People are fishing and birds are flying over the water.

bridge-ud87We spot two familiar birds: the “other osprey” who was pestering Mama Sandy last week, and Henry, the younger Great Blue Heron.

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younger-great-blue-heron-henry-ud87For some reason, Henry is not at the salt marsh, but has flown into a kayak enclosure next to the fishing piers. Perhaps hoping for a free meal from one of the fishermen.

sand-key-park-ud87From there we walk south through the park to the salt marsh. And spot more fall colors on the way.

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pink-flowers-ud87Arriving at the marsh, we immediately notice the visitors. A family of eight Wood Storks mingle with Great and Snowy Egrets.

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great-egret-ud87The Great Egret wants to show the visitors who’s the boss, and some loud exchanges follow. But where is the real boss, the Mayor? We walk towards the osprey nest and find him hiding in the bushes right below the osprey nest.

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older great blue heron 2 ud87.jpgIt seems he doesn’t want to get involved in any squabbles, but rather prefers to take some quiet time to enjoy the morning. And the same goes for Mama Sandy. She has just caught a fish and turns to greet us before starting her breakfast.

mama-osprey-with-a-fish-ud87Then we spot the showman. The Reddish Egret performs his hunting dance. The clown of the marsh, as I dubbed him two years ago, draws his energy from a large audience. And today is no exception.

reddish-egret-hunting-ud87But the smaller herons, apart from the Snowy Egrets, have decided to stay away from the ‘big boys’.

snowy-egret-ud87Walking home, we find one of them, the Little Blue Heron, hunting alone on the bay.  The low tide has revealed new and interesting fishing grounds.

little-blue-heron-in-the-bay-ud87I hope you enjoyed this three mile walk in the crisp autumn air – a rare treat for us this early in the season.

At home another treat is waiting. The Audubon Society has received a grant from Duke Energy, our power company. Yay! Thank you to all who have contributed! We are now much closer to having the new dish platform for the Osprey couple installed on time. We all wish you a wonderful week.

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.

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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.

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.

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

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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.

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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.

 

 

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.

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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.

american-black-vulture-3-at-scbs-ud81

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 🙂

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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.