Category Archives: Nature

The Cathedral of Mother Nature. My Recent Adventures in the West, Part II

I was sipping my plain coffee. It was early and still completely dark outside. I sliced some strawberries into my oatmeal. I had slept well after all the hiking the day before and it was difficult to wake up. The dream world of the vast landscapes at Grand Canyon was still with me. 早上好! Good morning! I almost dropped my knife. Mr. Li was standing right behind me in the doorway to the restaurant where many of us were still working on our breakfast. Fifteen minutes and we should be at the bus…A-HA…if we wanted to come along on today’s adventures.

The first stop of the day was at Lake Powell soon after sunrise. This spectacular lake has over 2,000 miles of shoreline, it’s 400 feet deep and 186 miles long. We would take a boat ride and see a couple of miles of that shoreline. And needless to say it was dramatic.

The high rock walls were perfectly reflected in the water and a new waterscape revealed itself after every turn. I enjoyed this early morning boat ride, but was getting very excited about the nest stop. I covered my camera and lens in a plastic bag to protect it from dust and sealed it with duck tape. I got some curious glances, but knew that the Antelope Canyon was waiting and this slightly humorous improvised cover would serve my camera well .

We arrived at the Navajo Nation’s parking lot, about four miles from the Upper Antelope Canyon and were loaded up on small trucks to take us to the canyon the Navajos consider a spiritual place, a cathedral of Mother Nature. My Navajo guide was Abraham. He would take me through the canyon and back.

This sandstone slot canyon is about 660 feet (200m) long and 120 feet (37m) deep. It is amazing! The sandstone formations come to life like beautiful art work when the light hits the walls from the small openings at the top.

Some of the views of the formations have given names. The view above is called “the Heart” and the view below is known as “the Eye”. I am sure it sees some mysterious truths amid a continuous stream of visitors like me.

I was truly grateful for the opportunity to be able to access the whole canyon. No rain meant no flooding, just bright sunshine providing one glorious view after another.

Needless to say this amazing experience left me breathless. So before walking back through the canyon, I sat down on a rock to take in some fresh air. And my guide Abraham snapped a picture with my phone. I realized that my improvised camera cover looked like a soda can…but it was safe from the fine dust in the air that found its way everywhere.

Walking back through the canyon did not include any photo stops, but I could not resist the temptation to snap a few more pictures on my way back.

This canyon certainly made an impression on me. It was like walking in a huge gallery full of live art created over time by Mother Nature. And it felt, indeed, like a cathedral.

My journey continued to yet another creation of nature, the Bryce Canyon in Utah. It is also called the ‘red canyon’ and you can see why. Even here the views were breathtakingly beautiful.

It was cold and lots of snow still covered the ground. We left the red canyon when the sun was already low and started our long journey back to Las Vegas. What an adventure!

Part 3 of my adventure in the west will include some flashes of my whirlwind trip to a couple of cities in Nevada and California and of my impromptu work trip to San Francisco last week. Thanks so much for coming along. I hope you enjoyed the art of the nature as much as I did.

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A flash report on the Osprey Family here at home: It looks to me that there are at least two chicks in the nest. I have not yet been able to spot them properly from the ground, but here’s one picture where I was able to capture the whole family about a week ago. The second picture is from this morning taken from my terrace. It is obvious the chicks are growing and I am just hoping both of them will survive.

Positively Grand! My Recent Adventures in the West, Part I

I laughed. A-HA! He spoke in Mandarin and I didn’t understand a word. Then he spoke in Cantonese and I still didn’t understand a word. Apart from the now familiar A-HA. It indicates a pause, and doesn’t translate to much else than a simple “so”.

Mr. Li was a captivating guide, he made me laugh at jokes told in two dialects of a language I did not speak. And when he finally spoke in English he made me laugh again. The sky outside the tour bus window started to turn red. It was almost 6:30 a.m. and we were traveling through the Nevada desert. Las Vegas was far behind us.

I was on my way to the canyons in Arizona and Utah. After almost five hours, countless A-HAs, more laughter and a couple of convenience breaks in small towns along the way, I could finally step out of the bus and walk out to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

The canyon is truly Grand. And it is impressive: 227 miles (446 km) long, up to 18 miles (29 km) wide and 6000 feet (1800 meters) deep. It is breathtaking when you admire it from one of the lookout points. And no pictures can do it justice.

I decided to hike along the rim from the Mather Point to the Yavapai Point and back.

I enjoyed every minute of it and took pictures of the majestic canyon and the wide landscapes opening right in front of my eyes. I observed that many other visitors took selfies. The famous last Instagram picture at the edge of the ledge is no joke. Or the video of the cartwheels on the narrow ledge (see below) to be posted on social media.

Mr. Li had warned us not to go too far out on the ledges. A-HA … safety first. And we didn’t lose anyone. Unfortunately three people fell from the rims during the week I was there.The focus on self in the midst of the most magnificent nature is a mystery to me. I just don’t get it.

I loved it there. I felt one with nature. And I heard the wing beats of times gone by.

Later in the afternoon we reached a third lookout point, near the Desert Watch Tower. The current structure is a replica of an ancient native watch tower.

Needless to say the views from there are magnificent. This became my favorite spot to observe the canyon. And I hiked again along the rim enjoying being a really tiny human in the vast embrace of Mother Nature.

After returning to the watch tower late in the afternoon, I rewarded myself with a generous scoop of ice cream. I enjoyed it sitting on a big boulder looking out over the canyon. And no, my feet were not dangling over the ledge.

That ice cream proved to be a good investment because dinner would be very little and very late that night. We said goodbye to Grand Canyon and started an hour and a half journey towards the Horseshoe Bend, a horseshoe-shaped incised meander of the Colorado River located in Arizona, not far from Utah border. We arrived at the parking lot just before sunset.

After climbing up the first steep hill in deep sand (phew!), the view downhill towards the river (darker area in the middle of the picture)was great. But I also realized it was a long sandy trail. Many people decided that the climb back up from the river would be too much and sat down on the benches at the top of the hill to watch the sunset. Not this girl.

I made the journey all the way down to the river and was rewarded with a glorious sight. I walked around the ledges and lookout points and managed to capture a view of the river bending like a horseshoe around the rock formation. Beautiful. Looking down to the river basin I noticed some people had kayaked there and now sat around a fire enjoying the peace. They would camp there overnight.

But this girl would need to climb up the long hill. Think hiking on the beach but uphill. Luckily it was not very steep and the sand was not too deep. At the end of a day that listed over 20,000 steps, it felt like a workout. But the experience was well worth it. I was secretly grateful to my personal trainer, Mr. Dylan, for keeping me somewhat in shape. I stopped only once to catch my breath – with the excuse of taking pictures of some stones that people had collected on the side of the trail.

We arrived to the little town of Page late in the evening and I was happy to get my key card… a hot shower and a nice bed were calling. This ‘night owl’ had an apple for dinner and slept early that evening. She would need to be up before sunrise the next morning. Mr. Li had promised more adventures. A-HA!

To be continued shortly. Thanks for coming along.

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For those of you who wonder how the Osprey Family here at home is doing, I can tell you that it is now obvious that they have at least one hatchling in the nest. I have been hanging out on my terrace ever since I returned from my trip and finally spotted a tiny head yesterday afternoon. My typical grainy first picture of the hatchling from almost 300 yards is below.

Now this paparazza has her work cut out for her… better baby pictures. Wish me luck.

A Bird in the Hand. And an Egg in the Nest.

My iPhone’s alarm goes off. It’s pitch black. I open one eye and see the lit face of my phone and hit Snooze. A thought crawls into my consciousness. This is not my bed and there’s no Dylan next to me. OMG! This is the day I’ve been waiting for. It’s 5:30 a.m. and I’m in Cape Coral. To attend the annual Burrowing Owl Festival. The photographers’ tour starts in 90 minutes. The night owl will meet the owls. Up you go girl!

I open the curtains, go out onto the balcony to confirm my location, put on the Keurig and hit the shower. Yay! At sunrise I’m on my way. Why don’t you come with me on this little adventure?

The small bus is full of photographers. And huge lenses. The knowledgeable guides are Listers. One of them currently tops the North America list of bird sightings in so far this year. They explain what we can expect to find today. And soon we are at our first stop, a field of burrows next to a football field, all marked with little T-shaped wooden lookout posts. The owls are still sleeping. But wait, someone’s out already. Daddy Burrowing Owl has fallen asleep on his guard.

After a while his beautiful wifey comes out too. Oh, so many long lenses pointing at her … at a respectable distance. She turns her tiny head around in swift movements to check on everybody.

And finally her hubby wakes up too, moves closer to his wifey and inspects the crowd.

These expressive tiny owls reach about 9 inches from top to toe. They are too cute, but we need to let them go on with their Saturday morning chores. We move on.

Our next stop is about ten minutes away, at the nest of the Great-horned Owl. And we are not disappointed. Two Owlets huddle next to each other high up in the nest. Aww.

They are curious little fur balls. The older one inspects me thoroughly, but there are no adults in the nest. Where are mommy and daddy? We look around and finally spot an adult a few trees away. And another adult yet a bit further in the woods, but so well camouflaged by branches I don’t get a good picture. It’s comforting to know both parents are around.

What a treat to see the owlets. We move on, drive quite a while and come to a large meadow known to be the home of some of the few remaining Florida Scrub Jays. Last year, we spotted six of them there and being very curious birds, a few got close up and personal with us.

But we heard that this year, unfortunately, only two individuals had been seen there. These birds are endemic to Florida and their numbers are going down fast despite their protected status. We are lucky. The couple comes and finds us. They settle at the top of a bush not too far from us.

They fly around and we enjoy their presence. Finally one of them lands on the hand of a fellow photographer. For one second tops.

Then they fly away together to the far end of the meadow. And we hear the melancholic song of the Eastern Meadowlark.

She moves around in the grass, her tiny head sticking up at times, but finally she flies on the top of a cable box in the middle of the meadow and offers a somewhat clearer view. She is a strikingly beautiful bird.

We spot a few other birds in the distance, like this Loggerhead Shrike on a wire, and then we move on.

Our next stop is a Bald Eagle nest. We don’t see any activity at the nest. We hear that, unfortunately, this eagle couple have been unsuccessful in their breeding efforts the last two years. And now it seems there are no eggs or nestlings in the nest. So sad. Finally we spot an adult flying towards us.

It circles around and then lands in the tree where the nest is.

Then it sits in the nest and observes us. It seems to be getting slightly nervous about our presence and we promptly leave the vicinity of the nest. This majestic bird needs its peace and quiet.

By now it is almost midday. The heat is up and we head to our last stop of the day. It’s another burrow very close to a small road of white sand. An adult sits on the observation post.

And we spot a juvenile’s head sticking out among all the flowers near the opening of her childhood home. As this is the farewell picture of our tour, I’ll make it to a post card from these precious tiny owls. Until next year, be well!

Back home on Sunday Dylan reminds me there’s something we need to do. Right now. And it’s not just going out to bathroom. We need to check whether or not Mama Osprey has laid any eggs while we were gone. We approach the nest and find Papa Stanley sitting on the perch and Mama Sandy standing in the nest.

She’s not sitting on the egg(s), but it certainly looks like she’s in the process of laying her first egg.

Stanley is holding guard and warns everybody flying too close to the nest. Usually he only sounds an alarm when another raptor, mostly another osprey, flies by but today he’s vocal even when a gull flies by. And he’s keeping an eye on us too. Something’s definitely up.

We go back late at night on Monday, on our way to the dog park, and there she is. Incubating her first egg when the sun has just gone down.

And I can tell you she’s still there. Today it’s been raining all day, but whenever Dylan and I check on the nest from inside our dry and comfy home we see a head in the nest. It’s not always Sandy. Stanley is a modern dad, he settles on the egg(s) many times a day to give her a break to eat, exercise and take a bath. I hope there are already two eggs in the nest. But right now there’s no way to tell. Incubating osprey eggs is a long journey of 34 to 40 days.

Thank you for coming along. Mr. D and I hope you’ll have a great rest of the week.

Ps. Dylan tells me he’s itching to blog soon. I’m not sure whether to take him up on his offer. He tends to spill out things that I’ve kept quiet about.

Flying in and out of the Nest. With the Osprey Couple.

In the past few weeks I’ve been flying in and out of my nest on this barrier island I call home. Several work trips to big cities. Lot’s of ‘osprey time’. And bird’s eye views.

Or views from my temporary nest high up in the air in the Big Apple late in the day…and night.

So after all this flying, I have enjoyed being earth bound this past week. Watching others fly. Like Papa Stanley, who recently flew in for some Valentine’s Day romancing with Mama Sandy. Dylan and I backed off to allow them some privacy.

I think Sandy is pregnant. Her belly is growing and Stanley is already feeding her. And she’s spending lots of time at the nest every day. Yesterday she was watching intently over the bay…

…I turned around and saw Stanley flying far over the bay with a big fish.

Sandy would get it, eventually. But first the head had to be eaten. Sandy was working on rearranging the furniture in the nest, but kept an eye from time to time on Stanley and the fish on a nearby lamp-post.

This morning my assistant and I visited the Taylor Park and spotted many familiar birds. It’s funny how the birds favor the same spot, like this Anhinga who always dries her feathers at almost the same place.

She always faces the lake looking for any signs of approaching gators, but turned to look at my assistant. She didn’t move. Dylan is already trusted by these birds. Next to the kayak launch pad we usually find the Ring-billed Gull. So also this morning.

And the blackbirds are chilling out there too. The dad Boat-tailed Blackbird was reading the sign warning about the presence of gators and warned his wifey who was wading in the water nearby. Wading is a no-no according to the sign.

At the north end of the lake the resident Osprey dad was trying to spot some fish and at the south end two Great Egrets were chasing each other amid a loud argument.

We walked around the lake and spotted our usual suspects, the Little Blue Heron and the Tri-Colored Heron.

A Double-crested Cormorant with bright blue eyes was windsurfing on the lake, watching the waters carefully for any signs of gators.

And he was right in being careful. According to my latest intelligence, there are at least five gators in the lake. So far we had not spotted any of them. But we saw a large flock of American Coots in the middle of the lake and a few brave individuals were cruising solo closer to the shore.

That’s when we saw him…sunbathing on the shore.

I tightened my grip on Dylan’s leash, but since the gator posed calmly I went for a portrait too.

He was quite impressive. We walked back to the other side of the park and before going back to my car, we spotted a little head coming up for air in the middle of the green slime in a small pond. That was our tiny friend, the Pied-billed Grebe.

Today being an outdoors day for us, we also visited the Osprey couple this afternoon. They were napping together in the nest. Stanley seems to have grown a short beard. Perhaps to mark that he’ll soon be a dad once again.

While Sandy was truly sleeping, Stanley was just nodding off. He opened his eyes and told us “I see you.”

The salt marsh was fairly quiet in the middle of the afternoon, which is not unusual. The Mayor was walking around and checking his territory…

…and Mama Moorhen was gliding quietly right below the osprey nest.

I thought that was it…until we found someone hiding deep in the shadows. I had to smile. It was the younger Great Blue Heron. He didn’t want to be seen either by the Mayor or Mama Sandy. His has some unfortunate history with both of them.

I’m hoping for evidence of eggs in the Osprey Family within the next two weeks. And this coming weekend I’m off for another little nature adventure in South Florida. Stay tuned and thank you so much for visiting.

Help! Where was I?

The answer is here, there and everywhere. And I don’t even know where to begin. Perhaps warm greetings from a chilly NYC, where I’ve worked this past week, would be in place?

I can’t believe I’ve been away from here for over six weeks. Various adventures near and far with my friends visiting from Sweden have filled my days… sprinkled with some necessary work sessions. And then a completely unnecessary bout of severe cold kept me ‘lying flat’ for days. But now I’m upright and on the go again. Feeling thankful for it.

Our nearby adventures included, of course, the salt marsh. This past month that little village has been lively. Many migrating birds have made a stopover there to mingle with the locals.

The Mayor has tried to keep peace among the sometimes unruly crowds, but despite his watching eye, the Clown (aka the Reddish Egret) got into trouble. It started innocently enough. A Wood Stork was trying to catch a fish. But the Clown got upset and flashed his red hair… and that was it!

The larger bird went into attack. And the Clown had to flee!

That was the first time I have seen him retreating. Ever.

He had met his match and settled on a small islet. He was sulking. Or maybe mulling over what just happened.

That day the marsh had more than fifty visitors. Birds everywhere. Some were flying…

Others were running…

Many were fishing…

One or two were dreaming…

Or just mingling and giving speeches…

Mama Sandy was, as always, only watching the nest and the skies. She couldn’t be bothered with the crowds. She knows they come and go.

One day my friends went for a walk with Dylan when I had to take a break … for work. And Tony spotted something special. Sandy had allowed Stanley to the nest although the nesting season was still more than a month away!

I hadn’t seen Stanley for a couple of weeks, so perhaps they had an argument and he’d gone away for a while? To let it cool down. And when he finally returned and brought her a fish as a sign of reconciliation, she allowed him to perch on the nest. Here is the proof. Thanks Tony!

And after that they have been flying a lot together. The other day when I was trying to work while battling a bout of bad cold, they flew several times past my office window.

And one morning I saw them working together. They were chasing a huge Bald Eagle away from the salt marsh. I had no camera, but Dylan is my witness. They took turns to dive on the back of the eagle until it got tired and flew to the other side of the bay where it lives.

But I spotted a juvenile Bald Eagle on one of our trips to Taylor Park. It was trying to fish, but gave up after several unsuccessful attempts and flew back into the forest.

My friends liked Taylor Park too. So many birds always show up…
…just to disappear like magic.

And it is quite a thrill to spot a gator lurking around and looking at you…

We got to see many more of them on an airboat ride with Captain Duke we did in the central Florida swamps.

In fact, we were guests in their very special world.

We spotted numerous huge old ones in and out of the water…

And deep in the swamp, we saw a baby gator who had dared to come out of the nest hole all alone.

It was a great journey through the St. John’s River swamps, or the ‘real Florida’ as our captain put it.

Of course we spotted lots of birds as well, but it was not easy to capture them on camera while speeding through the waters.

It was an adventure deep into nature my friends appreciated.

Although they flew back home a couple of weeks ago, you can still participate in more adventures right here in the coming weeks.
Thank you for coming along to the salt marsh, the Taylor Park and to the central Florida swamps. Have a great weekend. Lady Liberty says hi.

The Beauty and the Beast. For Real.

It’s slowly getting a bit fall-like here in Florida. And we love it. Mr. D. and I have been going out to enjoy nature more frequently in the last two weeks. Last Sunday morning we took a walk at Florida Botanical gardens and met a real beauty. A Gulf Fritillary at the outskirts of the Butterfly Garden.

Adult Gulf Fritillary 2 ud172The various gardens were beautiful, both the cultivated ones with plants native to Florida and the many natural habitats. Lots of mosaics are incorporated into and around the walk ways. I included a couple of them in the slide show below.

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Earlier in the week we walked the Taylor Park again. It’s becoming one of our favorites…always some excitement in addition to its natural beauty. And I’m learning to recognize the residents of this ‘village’ while Mr. D. is learning the important spots to sniff.

Taylor Park lake ud172Right off the bat we spotted someone in the grass spying on us. I guess we had surprised him in the middle of his breakfast.

squirrel ud172Then I heard someone working. Looking around I spotted our smallest woodpecker, the Downy, on a tree trunk quite a bit away.

a downy woodpecker ud172On the lake side we spotted a Wood Stork ooking for breakfast…

woodstork taylor park ud172… and soon realized that the whole village was out and about. A Great Blue Heron, a Little Blue Heron and Tri-colored Heron we all looking for an early bite.

GBH ud172

little blue heron ud172

tri-colored heron at Taylor Park ud172When we arrived at the canoe launch ramp, aka the local Starbucks,  we saw it was busier than ever.

white ibis drinking ud172This time there was no gator lurking nearby, the coast was clear. So the Ibis had their morning drink and their morning bath all at once. On the side of the ramp an Anhinga was drying his wings…

Anhinga at canoe ramp ud172… and another one was checking his outfit in the mirror.

Anhinga looking in the mirror UD172Nobody seemed concerned about dangers lurking in the water. Looking out on the lake I discovered a large Pied-billed Grebe family in the company of a young Moorhen.

grebe family and a moorhen UD172While they were diving for food and generally having fun,it was clear they also kept an eye on the water, like these two…

two grebes ud172I looked in the direction their eyes were trained at…and there he was. Silently gliding in the water.

new gator at Taylor Park ud172Sometimes only the very top of his head was visible. Then he turned to check on us, or perhaps he was interested in the busy Starbucks on the shore.

gator looking at me ud172I was glad the birds were keeping watch. We continued our walk to the end of the lake and turned around.

Part of lake at Taylor Park ud172We spotted the resident Osprey. She made a few fishing attempts at the far end of the lake, but didn’t seem to have any luck. Walking back we spotted her again on a pine branch above the trail. She was looking intently out to the lake…

resident osprey at Taylor Park ud172… and I did too. First I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. The gator was no longer there and all the Grebes seemed to be safe. But scanning the water with my zoom lens, Mr. D. patiently sitting by my side, I spotted another, much larger gator. He was well camouflaged with a green head covering.

a well camouflaged gator ud172He was quietly swimming about quite close to the shore. Suddenly he turned around with a splash…

gator hunts at taylor park ud172… and opened his mouth. I remember checking that there was no bird close by. And then I saw it. He caught a fat fish!

gator swallows a fish UD172Phew! I was happy he had fish on his menu that morning. The little birds diving in the lake seemed to be safe for now. Relatively speaking.

Florida Mottled Duck ud172

Pied-billed Grebe ud172We caught up with some moms on an outing with their babies…

Moms and babies at Taylor Park ud172…and also spotted another little cutie on the lake before arriving back to the parking lot.

Pied-billed Grebe 2 ud172Next week we will be getting company. Good friends from Sweden are coming to visit. Stay tuned for some new and different adventures. Thank you for walking with us again. Mr. D. and I wish you wonderful fall days…or spring days for those of you in the southern hemisphere.

 

 

Walking the Taylor Park. With Gators.

taylor park lake ud171It’s a beautiful morning, not humid and not too hot. A rare treat for mid October. Dylan and I jump into the car and head towards the Taylor Park to walk our newly discovered nature trail. We invite you to come along.

wooden bridge Taylor park ud171The shadows are still long when we start our walk. Dylan is on a short leash. The trail goes right next to the water so all sniffing is done strictly on the forest side of the trail…for a good reason. While we haven’t seen any alligators on our previous visits, I know they are lurking in the water, like in most fresh water lakes in Florida. This park is also favored by many birds. And right away we spot one of them, an Anhinga with her wings spread to dry after the morning dive.

anhinga B ud171The next one we see has selected a good spot to scout for the gators…and makes us smile.

anhinga on alligator sign at Taylor Park ud171And the third one does double duty. Dries her wings while spying on gators down below.

anhinga in the tree ud171I’m keeping my eyes trained on the water too, but no luck so far. All I see is water sprinkled with flowers and Moorhens.

water lilies ud171

moorhen family ud171

flowers at taylor park ud171

moorhen 2 ud171And an Osprey on a reconnaissance flight over the lake.

osprey at taylor park ud171On the forest side of the trail, I spot two woodpeckers, a Red-bellied Woodpecker and Pileated woodpecker but miss the latter. Dylan decides it is time for a bathroom break. I get a big splash of red in the picture as the large woodpecker flies away.

red-bellied woodpecker at taylor park ud171Next we spot a Little Blue Heron and a Limpkin. I am delighted because Limpkins do not often come to the salt marsh.

Little Blue Heron ud171

limpkin ud171Further, in the shadow of the bridge over the lake, we see a Green Heron in the water. He seems to consider his options for a morning meal while exhibiting good situational awareness.

green heron ud171But close to him a Tri-colored Heron is only aware of a potential breakfast bite in the water below. He has no worries about becoming a breakfast himself.

tri-colored heron hunting ud171By this time the sun has climbed higher. After stopping for some water we decide to turn around and walk back seeking some shade in the forest.

Taylor Park trail ud171We reach a canoe launch pad and hear loud screams. We look towards the lake and spot three White Ibis lining up for their morning drink. A Starbucks line with unexpected hassles.

white ibis and a gator ud171A gator is waiting for an opportunity to strike.

alligator ud171

gator at taylor park ud171These birds quickly leave their watering hole, but an Anhinga stays close by right on the side of the launch pad. Perhaps he has concluded the gator cannot jump.

an anhinga ud171The last bird we hear and then spot is a male Red-winged Blackbird hanging out in the reeds.

male red-winged blackbird ud171Thanks for walking with us, the birds and the gators. Have a great weekend and week ahead.