Category Archives: Nature

Return of the Mayor. And Other Salt Marsh News.

Before Hurricane Irma visited the salt marsh in early September, all the resident birds evacuated prompted by their natural instincts. The marsh was already deserted when I was still trying to get tickets out of here for Dylan and myself…and the sun was still shining. It was eerily quiet. The mandatory evacuation orders for human residents on this barrier island did not have the same effect. Many stayed to ride out the storm.

Salt marsh before Irma UD141I have to say the salt marsh fared quite well. Most of the old, tall trees are still standing. But the debris took weeks to clear out.

salt marsh debris after Irma ud141

Irma debris at the salt marsh ud141

salt marsh after Irma ud141When I visited the park on my day at home between the storm and my trip to Europe, there were no birds. They had all stayed at their evacuation resorts. Apart from one.

papa osprey right after the storm ud141.jpgPapa Stanley was perching at the sailing center. He had returned to check out his forest and his home. Or maybe he was looking for Mama Sandy. I’m pretty sure he saw the nest had not been damaged…before he took off again.

Irma 2017 ud141When I came back from my trip in October most of the debris had been hauled away and I found this ‘monument’ at a small clearing where several trees had fallen. But only a couple of birds had returned. Among those Mama Sandy. She was perching at the nest looking a bit tousled, very serious and definitely wet. It was good to see that she, too, had made it through the storm. But now Papa Stanley was nowhere to be seen.

mama osprey after Irma ud141A lonely Tri-colored Heron was trying to figure out how to find something to eat despite the still very high water levels at the marsh. And that was it. The evacuees were slow to return.

tricolored heron ud141Late that evening, Dylan and I spotted the young Great Blue Heron on the bay. He too seemed to wonder where everyone had gone.

younger GBH UD141And so it continued for about three weeks. I started to get worried about Papa Stanley. He had made it through Irma’s 120 m/h wind gusts, but why was he not home? And where were all the other residents, including the Mayor, the Clown and Miss Rosa?

papa and mama osprey are at home ud141Then one morning in early November I looked out of my office window and discovered a large gathering at the marsh. That was a great sight…and out I ran to witness the return of the evacuees and the migrating visitors.

The first birds I spotted were Papa Stanley (yay!) and Mama Sandy. They were having a mid-morning snack, perhaps following a joint fishing trip. Papa was perching on a lamp-post and Mama at the nest. And they were keeping an eye on each other.

papa osprey eats and looks at mama osprey ud141

mama osprey at the nest 16x9 ud141Finally the marsh was busy. Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Ibis, Wood Storks and others.

younger GBH and visitor wood storks ud141The younger GBH, who now looks very much like the Mayor, was patrolling the waters in his typical manner, pretending to be the boss. Some of the Wood Storks gave him the look.

wood stork ud141That’s when I saw a familiar fellow in the corner of my eye. The Mayor had returned! He was foraging far away, completely undisturbed.

the great blue heron Mayor fishing ud141_edited-2Knowing the history of these two, I thought things might get interesting. And before long, the Mayor discovered his young rival. He decided to check on the youngster.

the GBH Mayor moves in ud141_edited-2The young fellow noticed the developments. But he didn’t back off from his newly acquired position of power. Looking determined he continued his march…

young GBH ud141

younger GBH discovers mayor ud141… until he realized the Mayor was running on water. And closing in on him.

GBH ud141The Mayor took a detour onto a grassy islet, but continued his approach with determination.

the mayor ud141Tension was building. Everybody was watching.

three wood storksThat’s when I discovered that the Reddish Egret, the Clown, had returned. He was not performing his usual tricks. Instead, he stood frozen in place under some mangroves. Watching.

reddish egret ud141The little Snowy Egret, who was hiding in the grass close to the scene, decided it was better to keep some distance. One never knew what could happen.

a snowy egret ud141

snowy egret flies away ud141The Mayor continued his march, and finally the two ‘great blues’ were face to face.

young and old GBH face to face UD141And this is what happened…

The old Mayor still has the spark. The younger GBH ended up on dry land, his feathers all buffed up. He quickly assessed the situation – and walked away. Everyone seems to prefer it that way.

younger GBH ud141 A couple of days ago, Dylan and I went to the dog park in the middle of the day…and found the same crowd at the marsh – minus the younger ‘great blue’. The party was still going on. The Clown discovered my camera and decided to perform an elaborate bathing ritual for his captive audience.

Reddish Egret the Clown ud141

Reddish Egret takes a bath ud141

reddish egret sits in the water ud141We left this delightful ‘photobomber’ happily sitting in the shallow water. Normalcy has returned to the salt marsh.

mourning dove ud141Some of you may wonder what happened to Miss Rosa. I was pondering that too, until the other night. Dylan and I discovered her all alone at the marsh at sunset time. And she was there even last night. She is definitely back home too.

Miss Rosa the Roseate Spoonbill at sunset_edited-1Opening my terrace door this morning, I discovered that both Mama Sandy and Papa Stanley were at the nest. That was remarkable. But Stanley’s early visit didn’t last long. Sandy told him in no uncertain terms to wait at least 4-5 more weeks. And promptly chased him away. He will be allowed in the nest only after a proposal dance and a special gift delivery. Traditions have to be respected. And everything has its right time.

mama osprey chases papa away from the nest ud141I noted that Irma, however powerful, had not been able to sweep the nest clean of building materials Sandy had put in place last year. But this couple will still need to do quite a bit of remodeling when the nesting season starts at the end of December.

With that, we all wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. And peace.

Moon Happy Thsnksgiving

 

Arlene’s Farewell Concert. And Mischief at the Salt Marsh.

I feel lucky. I didn’t miss Arlene’s farewell concert on Thursday night. She sang the now familiar Aria di sorbetto ‘I Want Fiiish, a Big Fiiish’ to Mama Sandy, Dylan and me. She sang from the heart and closed her eyes to reach the highest notes.

osprey chick arlene asks for fish ud132Tired after the hot day and, I’m sure, many fishing attempts, she was perching at Papa Stanley’s usual summer resort in the park. Mama Sandy was sleeping on a lamp-post close by. She turned her head towards Arlene and just listened. She didn’t open an eye.

mama Sandy ud132Soon Arlene was sleeping too. Her crop was fairly full, but it never hurts to ask for more fish when mama is nearby.

osprey chick arlene is sleepy ud132_edited-1Early on Friday morning Dylan and I spotted her at her Marriott roof top suite, but during the day she had left. Almost four weeks after fledging she started her independent life. I had anticipated her departure, but little did I know these would be the last pictures of her. For now.

Papa Osprey at Marriott ud132_edited-1Dylan and I have looked for her every night since, but we have only found Papa Stanley and Mama Sandy. They have stayed in the area, and on Friday night we spotted both of them with a half-eaten fish. Perhaps in case Arlene would regret her move. But she didn’t. Osprey chicks rarely return once they ‘move out’, unlike many humans.

mama osprey on Sunday ud132But this morning when I was driving on a bridge to the mainland about five miles south of us, I spotted an Osprey chick. And an adult osprey was perching on the opposite lamp-post. I could not stop the traffic to look closer, but it could very well have been Arlene with one of her parents still keeping an eye on her. That would confirm my theory that one of the parents still support them after they leave. The presence of Osprey chicks is transient. They hatch, the lucky ones fledge and move out from the immediate nest area once they feel confident of their fishing skills. I certainly hope to see Arlene visiting the salt marsh one day. I’ll leave you with a funny picture I’ve not shared before. Arlene became a big girl and learned to potty before she learned to fly šŸ™‚

osprey chick going to toilet ud126_edited-2Adieu Arlene, we wish you a happy life! And we’ll miss you.

That brings me to the happenings at the salt marsh. On Sunday I finally decided to defy the heat and go for a long walk. The first thing I spotted was quite shocking. An Anhinga had occupied the Osprey nest. Or more accurately, the perch.

anhinga at the osprey nest ud131Birds in the vicinity of the nest reacted too. An intruder was not welcome. Some looked up, dropped their jaw in horror, but said nothing. Like this Common Grackle.

grackle ud132Others, like the juvenile Green Heron, got really upset and just stared at the nest.

juvenile green heron ud132Despite the reactions, the Anhinga perched there for quite a while. That is, until he saw a big bird high in the sky. A Swallow-tailed Kite.

swallow-tailed Kite over salt marsh ud131_edited-1

anhinga ud131One could not risk that he was the owner of the nest. So the Anhinga quickly flew back to his friends on the bay side.

Just when I thought enough excitement now, there was more. The Reddish Egret I have dubbed ‘the Clown’ was doing his song and dance performance.

reddish Egret UD132

reddish egret 2 ud132He was moving swiftly, running sic-sack and talking to himself. He was almost too fast to capture on ‘tape’. Oh sorry, there are no tapes. Just some blurry photographs of his wild performance.

reddish egret 3 ud132Someone was watching this spectacle. As there always is. The Mayor was standing in the bushes nearby, and he was growing annoyed.

great blue heron the mayor ud132He started walking towards the Clown. Determined to stop the loud performance.

great blue heron ud132The Clown quickly calmed down. He was like nailed to the mud. Completely motionless he watched the Mayor walk by.

great blue heron and reddish egret ud132_edited-3A female Mallard was observing the power-play from the trail. She was keeping her distance, probably not knowing what to expect.

female mallard ud132But there was no confrontation. The Clown walked away, calmly. Despite some Black Skimmers flying back and forth right in front of his nose.

reddish egret and black skimmer ud132But he soon regained his resolve. And challenged the mayor, all puffed up.

reddish egret 4 ud132What he didn’t understand was that the Mayor is a stable, thick-skinned adult. Not to be easily provoked. And suddenly everything was calm again. The little Mottled ducklings swam by completely oblivious to the previous tension.

two mottled ducklings ud132The Tri-colored Heron continued her search for a tasty bite. And the Great Egret at the other end of the marsh gave a sigh of relief. He’s had his disagreements with the Clown.

tri-colored heron ud132.jpg

great egret ud132And I walked home. Now that the nesting season is over, I might take some time off too. I want to do some travelling. And approaching my fifth blogging anniversary next month, I also feel the need to refresh my blog. In the meantime I may blog less…and/or different. Although we’ll probably ‘see’ each other over the summer months, I wish all our friends a wonderful summer. A huge thank you from all of us at the salt marsh for being here.

Happy Father’s Day, Papa Stanley!

This great dad celebrated this Father’s Day close to his little family on the bay side. After the day’s fishing trips, Stanley perched at the sailing center just before sunset. Like on so many evenings these past two weeks.

papa osprey watches Arlene ud131That is an excellent location to keep an eye on his daughter, Arlene, who seems to have a long-term rental on Marriott’s roof nearby. She was sleeping there with full crop while drying her wings. All was good in Papa Stanley’s world. One chick had survived and now, exactly three weeks after fledging, she was a thriving young Osprey. That was the best gift he could get.

arlene sleeps at sunset ud131_edited-1Mama Sandy kept an eye on their chick from the other side of the same roof. She likes to perch on the antenna, a high vantage point allowing straight line of sight to Arlene’s comings and goings. And a welcome nap after a hot day.

mama osprey on the roof ud131_edited-1From their respective vantage points, the Osprey family could see the nest and the salt marsh colored by the setting sun. If they looked carefully, they will have noticed that the Mayor and little Miss Rosanna have stricken a new friendship.

Great blue heron and roseate spoonbill at sunset ud131

roseate spoonbill B ud131

great blue heron B ud131_edited-1And on this evening they were able to observe the lively bird life on the bay too, like the Snowy Egret patrolling the seawall in her yellow shoes…

snowy egret at the seawall ud131…and the Little Blue Heron foraging nearby utilizing the low tide.

little blue heron at sunset ud131And of course they saw the sun about to dive into the Gulf on the other side of the salt marsh.

todays sunset ud131_edited-1After this beautiful day, Papa Stanley is likely retire to his secret spot in the park. And maybe he’ll stop for a while close to his favorite roosting branch and reflect on his day.

papa osprey after sunset ud131Happy Father’s Day to all other fathers too!

In Focus: Incredible Arlene

On a stormy evening late last week, Arlene was perching on the boat lift at the sailing center. She was scanning for fish. Suddenly she flew up, hovered for a few seconds above the water and dove feet first into the water. She didn’t catch the fish. Not yet. But she had all the right moves, including shaking off water in mid-air like a pro. This was less than two weeks after she fledged. And that’s nothing short of incredible. I didn’t carry the camera so you just have to take my word for it. Dylan is my witness. After coming home, I caught this picture of her from my terrace. She was back up there staring into the water…and she would try again. I call that determination.

arlene learns to fish on her own ud130She is scanning for fish often now. And her parents, after seeing her early progress, have clearly taken the back seat. Mama Sandy is still around occasionally keeping watch for any dangers. Sometimes I have not seen her for a day or two, but she comes when Arlene calls her. Like last night when the skies suddenly darkened and the wind picked up before strong thunderstorms. I could not see Arlene, but I heard her. She was somewhere on the roof. Sandy was flying towards her pushing against the strong winds. Really struggling. She came from the north along the bay side and landed on the roof. I guess Arlene needed adult company in the storm and her mama was there for her. Dylan and I ran home and rushed into our garage just when the first fat raindrops started falling. And then pretty much everything went out of focus.

storm on the bay out-of-focus 2 ud130Sandy probably feeds Arlene only once a day now, if that. Her parenting is encouraging independence. But still providing protection. And Arlene is confident in her abilities, as she has been from the day she fledged. A strong female leader in the making, as I see it.

Mama osprey keeps watch ud130On Sunday morning, Arlene’s two-week fledging anniversary, Ā I saw her perched at the sailing center. Ten minutes later I went for a walk and saw her eating on Marriott’s roof, at her favorite spot.Ā I wouldn’t rule out it wasĀ the first fish she’s caught by herself. No parents were in sight.

arlene eats fish ud130Young Arlene has not followed the conventional path to independence. You see, normally, Osprey chicks stay at the nest being fed by their parents at least 4 weeks after fledging. They start to follow their parents on fishing trips during the 3rd week and start to try to fish on their own at 4-6 weeks after fledging. Not Arlene. She left the nest the day she fledged and directly started to fly with her folks. She was diving for fish 12 days after fledging…and now, 16 days after her fledging, I think she might be able to provide for herself already. I am sure Sandy will not stay in the vicinity for long. And Arlene, too, is likely to move a bit further soon. But as long as she stays here you’ll have ‘full and impartial coverage’ on this brave and beautiful chick by this media outlet.

Arlene at sunset June 9 ud130On Sunday, I also briefly visited the salt marsh between heavy showers. After two weeks of rains, everything at the salt marsh was green and the water level was high. Consequently many of the waders were keeping away for now. I guess they don’t like their bellies getting wet while wading in high waters.

salt marsh after the rains ud130But that memo had not reached the juveniles. Or perhaps they are more adventurous simply because they are not looking at the world through the lens of conventional wisdom. Some of them were happily wading on previously dry mud flats or amongst the high grass. First I spotted the same juvenileĀ Little Blue Heron I saw a couple of weeks ago. He had turned much more blue already, as you can see.

juvenile little blue heron ud130

juvenile little blue heron 2 ud130The second juvenile wading at the marsh was a very small, young Green Heron. He still had some of his white ‘baby hairs’ right on the top of his head, but was bravely doing it alone.

juvenile green heron 2 ud130

juvenile green heron 1 ud130_edited-1The third juvenile I spotted was a Boat-tailed Grackle. She was in the company of her mother…and although she had fledged, she was still asking to be fed. Quite unlike Arlene.

female boat-tailed grackle with a juvenile ud130_edited-1The fourth juvenile, the Roseate Spoonbill I had named Rosanna, was observing life from a tree at the deep water channel.

young roseate spoonbill ud130The only adult wader I encountered was the beautiful Snowy Egret. I thought she looked like a white flower in the midst of the green grass.

snowy egret ud130And that’s when they arrived, the two Black Skimmers. They flew at extremely high speeds while skimming the surface, water spraying all around them. They put on a wild show. I enjoyed trying to catch them in flight. But they did beat me time after time…resulting in many pictures of water, sky and grass – without a Skimmer. One has to learn one’s limitations the hard way.

black skimmer 1 ud130_edited-2.jpg

black skimmer skimming ud130 We all wish you a wonderful rest of the week. Thank you for visiting.

The Natural Order.

I have come to the conclusion that expressions of order in nature are captivating. Much different from any man-made order, however neat, and more beautiful. In my book, order in nature is of higher quality and its many manifestations are fascinating. I have been digging in my photo archives to show you a few expressions of order in nature as I see them through my lens – with some humor.

Flying in formation: Six White Ibis (featured image) and five Brown Pelicans.

five pelicans in formation UD129Standing in line: Four Willet all standing on their right foot.

four willets on one leg ud129Marching order: Mama Mottled Duck with her ducklings.

mama duck and ducklings ud129Tight formation swimming: Mama Mottled Duck and her ducklings.

mama mottled duck with ducklings ud129Pecking order: 2015 season’s Sand Key Osprey chicks (from the left) 3rd born Sindile, 1st born Lofty and 2nd born Aspire.

three osprey chicks May 27 2015 ud129Landing lineup: Royal Terns’ approach to landing in formation.

royal terns landing order ud129Departure lineup: A group of Wood storks departing in the Everglades.

three wood storks departing ud129Above and below: Four Brown Pelicans flying in “layers”.

four pelicans in flight ud129_edited-1 Backorder: father, mother and baby elephant and three zebras on the savannah.

three elephant butts ud129

three zebras ud129Side order: Two Black Skimmers and two Brown Pelicans flying side by side.

two black skimmers ud129

two pelicans flying tandem ud129Front and back: A Roseate Spoonbill and a Great Blue Heron upfront and a Wood Stork at the back on a small islet.

wood stork blue heron and roseate spponbill ud129_edited-1Law and order: A Reddish Egret chases away a Great Egret, who didn’t have a fishing permit.

Reddish Egret chases a great egret ud129_edited-1Taking turns: One Great Egret eats first, the other one eats second.

two egrets ud129Even disorder in nature can be beautiful: Three White Ibis, one standing on the left foot, two standing on the right foot…

three white ibis ud129…and Monarch Butterflies on a tree in no order at all.

butterfly tree ud129And finally, for our regular readers, there is the current order: The Osprey chick joins her parents to enjoy the sunset glow at the sailing center after a good meal on Marriott’s roof.

osprey chick eats on the roof ud129_edited-1
Arlene has supper on the roof at 7 p.m.
osprey chick hanging out with Mama osprey ud129_edited-1
Arlene and Sandy at the sailing center after sunset around 8:30 p.m.
osprey chick enjoys sunset ud129
Arlene looks for a small “dessert fish” in the water below
mama osprey after sunset ud129
Mama Sandy proudly watches Arlene
papa osprey looks at chick ud129
Papa Stanley lovingly watches his family

I hope you agree that order in nature has many amazing expressions. Have a great weekend!

Blue Hour Walks. And Adventures of the Osprey Chick.

We have finally gotten some rain.Ā  Refreshing soft rain has nourished the salt marsh and the whole island for many days now. Luckily it has taken frequent breaks at sunset time enabling Dylan to take me on walks late in the day. And we have walked on the bay side. By design.

bayside ud127_edited-1

dylan ud127You see, I wanted to see how little Arlene and her parentsĀ are doing. And the best chance to spot her has been late in the evening on Marriott’s roof. She has been perching on the top roof. And Mama Sandy on the lower roof.

osprey chick and mama osprey at Marriott ud127

osprey chick sleeps at Marriott ud127

mama osprey with chick at Marriott ud127_edited-1And you can see from the markings on the wall that she has been eating regularly šŸ™‚ Sometimes Arlene has been sleeping with Sandy perching right next to her, like last Sunday night. Arlene was wet. And that means she might have been practicing diving already, emulating her parents.

osprey chick and mama osprey on the roof ud127_edited-1Papa Stanley has been camping at a distance where he can both see and hear her, either at the sailing center or, late at night, on a nearby lamp-post.

papa osprey waits at the sailing center ud127_edited-2

papa osprey on the lamp ud127_edited-2This is a highly unusual setup. Young Arlene seems to fly a lot during the day. A couple of times I’ve seen her whoosh right by my office window. Then in the evening she returns to “her” spot on the roof for supper. And her parents have adapted. Normally only either Sandy or Stanley stays nearby and feeds the chick after it has fledged, but Arlene has changed their routine.Ā  Both parents are engaged in her fishing lessons, which seem to have started much earlier than for other chicks in past years. You go girl!

On our blue hour walks we have seen other friends as well, like this Yellow-crowned Night Heron on the sea wall.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron ud127And both the Mayor and the young Great Blue Heron have delighted us with their presence late in the evening.

great blue heron ud127

young gret blue heron ud127_edited-1And the other night Dylan spotted some friends practicing paddle boarding on the calm bay. Luckily he didn’t ask to be enrolled in that school.

dogs on paddle boards ud127_edited-1I hope Arlene’s fishing lessons will last a little longer so that we can still find her when I return from a short work trip to the nation’s capital later this week.

Thank you for visiting. Best wishes for a beautiful rest of the week from all of us on the bay side.