Tag Archives: Birds

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

 

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!

Surprises. And Almost a Heart Attack.

It started innocently enough. On Tuesday afternoon, just around dinner time, husband asked me if I had seen ‘the birds’, aka the Osprey family. My nose had been clued to the computer all day, so I went onto the terrace with my binoculars and my super zoom. And almost got a heart attack. The Osprey nest was empty! I mean, no adults around. A little head was sticking up from the nursery. What an earth had happened?

empty nest ud119I waited. No parent came back. And suddenly the first-born got very anxious, flexed its tiny featherless wings and screamed from the bottom of its lungs. Ma-ma!  The second-born lifted up its head as well. They were alarmed.

two osprey chicks alone in the nest ud119Then, after several minutes, one of the parents landed on the perch. It was impossible to tell which one. I assumed it was Papa Stanley because Mama Sandy would have landed in the nest. All kinds of thoughts flew through my mind on what might have happened to Sandy. You see, normally she would not leave the chicks alone before they are six weeks old, and these chicks were hardly three weeks old last Tuesday.

a parent is back ud119Right after finishing my dinner I checked on the nest again. Someone was feeding the chicks! It looked like Sandy. And – surprise, surprise – she had three chicks in front of her! The two older chicks are bigger and ‘darker’ and the youngest chick (in the middle) is still very small and much lighter in color. That was a much nicer surprise.

mama osprey feeds three chicks 4 ud119But I couldn’t be sure it was Sandy until I saw her much closer – from the ground. So out we went, Dylan and I. He knew his mom was on a mission and sat down every time I took pictures.

Dylan at sunset ud120It was late in the day, almost 7:30 p.m., but I was able to confirm Sandy was back with her chicks. That was a great relief.

mama osprey 2 ud120Perhaps Sandy had gotten tired of waiting for dinner and had decided to go fishing herself. For a change. And in the process almost gave me a heart attack.

That evening I was treated to yet another nice surprise. Miss Rosa was back! I had not seen her in about six weeks, and it was great to see was fine, beautiful as ever. Perhaps she too was on a ‘mommy break’ from nesting activities on the bird island in the bay.

miss rosa at sunset ud120And the Mayor was there patrolling the waters, as always.

the mayor at sunset ud120And just before the darkness fell, I spotted a Red-winged Backbird. I know he is nesting at the marsh right now, just like last year.

red-winged blackbird at sunset ud120On the bay side, walking back home, we saw a Willet utilizing the low tide to get herself some supper.

willet ud120Yesterday morning I took a quick walk around the marsh, mostly to check on the Osprey chicks. The whole family was gathered. Sandy was feeding the chicks, who had grown a lot since Tuesday.

osprey family ud120I could only see two of them, but it doesn’t mean that the last-born wasn’t there. The first-born and the middle chick are almost the same size, born only a day apart, while the last chick was probably born two days after the middle chick.  At this time in their development four days make a huge difference.

osprey chicks siblings ud120The oldest chick is just over three weeks old now and has already learned a lot, like mimicking Sandy when she sounded a warning to a pelican flying over the nest.

pelican in flight ud117

mama osprey and chick sound alarm ud120I had to smile. It has also discovered its wings and is trying to flex them a bit already. In the picture below, Sandy is probably feeding the little one, whom she wisely keeps a bit separated from the two older ones. I am hoping the tiny last-born will survive. Its chances to fledge are statistically only about 38%. But then, Sandy is an exceptional mother and Stanley is a great provider.

older chick has discovered his wings ud120When walking quickly around the marsh, I got a fourth surprise. Henry, the mischievous young Great Blue Heron, who used to attack the Osprey nest in 2015, was back. He is still much smaller than the Mayor, and was keenly watching the nest from the north side of the marsh. Not again, I thought.

the younger blue heron ud120I was trying to move closer to get a clear shot when I heard heavy wing beats. The Mayor was approaching, fast. I was so surprised that I didn’t even get a clear picture of him chasing away young Henry. But here is the end tail of that action.

major chasing ud120Happy being firmly in charge of the city again, the Mayor settled at the far end of the marsh.

major ud120Everything was good again. When I left to go home, the courting Mottled Duck couple cruised the calm waters just below the Osprey nest.

mottled duck couple ud120We all wish you Happy Easter.

Be Calm. And Enjoy Life as It Unfolds.

More than anything, I’m saying this to myself as I am facing a work trip packed with back-to-back meetings. I’m not used to such speed anymore. I’m more like the turtles I spotted at McCough Nature Park on Saturday. They just enjoy life in the present moment, lapping the sunshine. They have no hurry to do anything in particular. They accept what is and go with the flow. Or don’t go anywhere at all. A few lessons for me right there.

turtles-ud108While at this beautiful park, I also said hi to Sarge, the Bald Eagle. She has a rare feather disorder and is not able to fly. She now lives in the small Raptor Sanctuary in the park. She was undergoing tests to determine why her feathers are brittle and grow curly instead of straight. The cause could be environmental or genetic. And if it is environmental, it is important for the whole Bald Eagle population to pinpoint the exact substance that may have caused this disorder.

sarge-the-bald-eagle-ud108Sarge’s home is adjacent to a few other raptors, owls and hawks. One of the Great-horned Owls was about and about with his handler.

greathorned-owl-ud108After I had greeted all the raptors and chatted with staff, my journey continued to the Seaside Seabird Sanctuary. I couldn’t believe my luck when I arrived there exactly at the same time as Sheila’s handler. Sheila is the old Red-shouldered Hawk, whom I have met a few times in the last two years.

Sheila was happy to get out for a walk with her handler in the gorgeous winter weather. She flexed her wings vigorously before she settled down to enjoy the sunshine. She is almost blind, with very weak sight in one eye.

sheila-red-shouldered-hawk-with-her-handler-ud108When I talked to her she turned her head and looked towards me. I always enjoy her company. Walking back from the beach side where Sheila was perching, I spotted a Brown Pelican. She was doing bird yoga in the pool.

pelican-yoga-ud108This particular pose lasted for a while, and right afterwards she took a vigorous bath.

brown-pelican-bathing-ud108I walked to greet an old friend, an American Oyster Cather, who has a serious wing injury. It was great to see that she seemed to have more energy now than a few months ago when I first saw her.

american-oyster-catcher-ud-108As always, many completely healthy birds were drawn to the peace – and food – at the sanctuary. There were several American Black Vultures hanging around the hospital building. Maybe visiting their two relatives, who live here permanently.

american-black-vulture-ud108A few Black-crowned Night Herons were around too. One was busy drinking from the water fountain next to the raptor homes.

black-crowned-night-heron-ud1-8And many Brown Pelicans had made their nests in the high trees around the sanctuary. I counted 11 (!) pelican nests. The mothers-to-be were already sitting on the eggs and the males were bringing in complementary nesting materials. Or just hanging around.

papa-pelican-brings-nest-materials-ud108

male-pelican-at-the-nest-ud108Before I leave the sanctuary, I always greet the Great-horned Owl, one of the permanent residents here. He is very curious about me and the camera, and always poses nicely for a picture in his neat and clean little home. He has accepted what happened to him, a serious wing injury, and seems to enjoy every day given to him.

great-horned-owl-scbs-feb-11-ud108I was delighted to see how well the birds and their environment in this sanctuary are taken care of by the new management, all the volunteers and the medical staff who work in the hospital. They had just released several birds into the wild last week, and those who cannot manage on their own have pleasant and clean forever homes here.

On this happy note, I wish you all a Happy Valentine’s Day!

two-turtles-ud108

Flying Again. And True News from the Salt Marsh.

I haven’t been here, or at your place, much since my unlawful adventure on the bay side with Dylan. I’m totally guilty, but I will not keep you in suspense. We were not caught.

Sometimes life gives you ‘stuff’ you can’t ignore, like leaking pipes in the attic, family health issues happening far away and new work projects popping up out of nowhere. So that’s where I’ve been. In the ‘when-it-rains-it-pours-land’, just keeping my feet above the water. I’m sure you’ve been there at some point too. Thanks to friends who have been thinking of me and worrying. What wonderful friends you are!

brown-pelican-taking-flight-ud105But now I’m flying a bit higher and the ‘weather’ is much calmer, both literally and figuratively. I’ve even had an opportunity to visit my friends at the salt marsh yesterday. Since I’ve been away from them too, I wanted to check everything out and make a comprehensive round from the bay side to the salt marsh and back home through the beach.

This Brown Pelican was entertaining me on the bay. Sometimes resting on the calm waters and other times disappearing with a big splash.

brown-pelican-ud105

pelican-diving-ud105And I spotted an Oyster Catcher, the first in several months. He was busy feeding in the low tide and paying no attention to the stunts by the pelican close by.

oyester-catcher-ud105And the same applied to a Snowy Egret, whom I discovered only when hanging out from the very edge of the seawall.

snowy-egret-ud105I had to smile at the three White Ibis standing in formation next to the sailing center boat launch. All of them had received the memo, but apparently it didn’t specify which leg to stand on.

three-white-ibis-ud105Approaching the salt marsh, I could see that both Mama Sandy and Papa Stanley were in the nest. This is not a sharp picture, but since it’s been taken from a great distance you can see that the nest remodeling has been completed. Their new home is brimming with furniture.

mama-and-papa-osprey-at-their-nest-ud105I was particularly happy to note that Stanley was at home. You see, a couple of days earlier when walking with Dylan, I saw a huge Bald Eagle fly towards the salt marsh. Suddenly two ospreys started chasing it back to where it belongs, on the other side of the bay. One was Stanley and I believe the other was his fishing buddy, Steve, who lives only eight blocks south of the marsh on the roof pillar of a high-rise building. I lost sight of them and was worried that something might have happened. Now I’ve seen both Steve and his wife Sheena (earlier pictures) fly above their top-of-the-line home. So everyone is okay.

When I arrived at the nest, Stanley had disappeared and Sandy was busy working. She was refitting some pillows in the nest. As in preparing the soft ‘nest cup’ for the eggs.

mama-osprey-works-on-the-nest-ud105Just below the nest I spotted the Mayor, the older Great Blue Heron. He was sitting there deep in his thoughts when a Black Crowned Night Heron zoomed in and startled him. But there was no reason for alarm, and the new-comer settled right below the Mayor’s retreat.

great-blue-heron-and-black-crowned-night-heron-ud105

blackcrowned-night-heron-ud105I walked around the marsh and spotted two couples of Yellow-crowned Night Herons, all in the vicinity of the deep waters close to the osprey nest.

yellow-crowned-night-heron-ud105I’m hoping they’ll nest at the marsh so we can see some Night Heron kids this spring. They look too funny with their baby hair standing straight up.

Further out I spotted a Little Blue Heron and a beautiful Great Egret. The former was busy selecting suitable food items, while the latter showcased her beautiful breeding plumage.

little-blue-heron-ud105

great-egret-ud105Suddenly I saw a strange shadow and looked up to the sky. Starlings by the hundreds! The tail end of this party decided to occupy a few palm trees at the marsh.

starling-murmurations-ud105

murmurating-starlings-ud105They sat on every branch, and while some of them seemed to be quiet for the photo shoot, the discussion flowed non-stop between the birds in different trees. Until, like on a secret command, they all flew away again.

By that time I was at the beach end of the marsh and saw that Stanley had sneaked back into the nest. He had brought a fish for his pregnant wife. How thoughtful of him.

mama-and-papa-osprey-2-ud105

mama-osprey-eats-fish-ud105Just before I left to walk home through the beach, I spotted Mr. Moorhen, whom I haven’t seen for several weeks. I think he was scouting for suitable nesting sites.

moorhen-ud105The beach was lively too. Hundreds of birds resting in several colonies. A large group of tiny Sanderlings, several groups of Royal Terns, Laughing Gulls and a few Willets and Ringbilled Gulls. And Brown Pelicans, of course. Here just a few pictures of shore birds I encountered on my way home.

sanderlings-ud105

royal-terns-ud105

ringbilled-gull-ud105

a-brown-pelican-and-a-gull-ud105I thought that was it for the birds. But when I walked into our garden, I heard a familiar sound. A male Red-bellied Woodpecker was working hard in a palm tree next to our garage entrance. His tempo was almost too fast to get a clear picture of his head.

mr-red-bellied-woodpecker-ud105-2I wish you all a wonderful weekend and will do my best to visit all my friends in the next few days. We all wish you peace.

Warm Up. At the Salt Marsh.

This morning, waking up to rare Florida winter temperatures of 36F/2C, strong northerly winds and 5-8 foot/1.5-2.5 meter waves on the Gulf, I decided to pull together a post about my short walk earlier this week. The weather was balmy, partly sunny and the temperature hovered around 70F/20C. Just seeing the pictures now makes me feel warmer. And I hope they have the same effect on friends who are experiencing snow, ice and freezing cold right now – up north in the US and Canada as well as in Northern Europe. I still remember the truly cold weather from my youth…and the blizzards up in D.C.  And can’t honestly say I miss the snow.

winter-snow-at-home-up-north-ud101On Thursday morning I took a short break from working on my current project and walked to the salt marsh. Mama Sandy was sitting on her new perch, but Papa Stanley was nowhere to be seen. Sandy might have sent him to Home Depot for more supplies for their nest remodeling efforts, which obviously have already started.

mama-osprey-at-the-nest-ud101She greeted me in her usual friendly manner. And sometimes I wonder if she knows that I had something to do with the new nest she suddenly found one morning last November. I’m suspecting she does.

mama-osprey-at-her-perch-ud101In any case, I am happy not needing to worry that the winter storms might take down her nest.

The older Great Blue Heron, the Mayor, was standing guard on the same small islet he has favored in winters past. It’s always great to see the Mayor in his ‘office’.

great-blue-heron-ud101I spotted two Yellow-crowned Night Herons close to the Osprey nest. They had received the Mayor’s memo urging everyone to rest on one leg. And I think they might be a couple. I’ve seen them together many times in the past few weeks. If they’ll nest at the salt marsh, we might see little babies come late spring. If they choose to nest on the protected ‘bird island’ in the bay, we’ll see juveniles as soon as they learn to fly next summer.

yellow-crowned-night-heron-ud101

yellow-crowned-night-heron-2-ud101Otherwise the marsh looked deserted.  I wondered why that might be.

Just when I was leaving, I spotted something bright blue moving on the ground a bit further away. I realized it was a Blue Jay.  They are extremely skittish so I tried to be invisible when I slowly moved closer. Of course he discovered me, Tiny is 5′ 6″ after all, looked at me and was gone. Hence only one ‘soft’ picture of him.

blue-jay-ud101I walked home through the bay side. To my surprise I found many of our salt marsh friends there. They were enjoying the ‘fast food’ provided by the low tide on the bay. The Great Egret was hurrying to the table.

great-egret-in-flight-ud101

great-egret-ud101The Snowy Egret was already there and so was the Little Blue Heron. The latter appeared truly blue in the weak sunlight, but seemed to be reasonably happy.

snowy-egret-ud101

little-blue-heron-ud101I saw several Brown Pelicans on the other side of the Sailing Center pier. And almost fell down from the seawall trying to get a straight shot of one of them between the pillars. It goes to say that trying to frame a shot can be risky at times.

brown-pelican-ud101Now, looking at the part of salt marsh I can see from my windows, it appears completely deserted. The birds have taken shelter from the cold wind. Even Sandy, whom I saw at the nest first thing this morning, has gone to some more sheltered location in the woods. But I hope this little greeting from the recently warm world of our feathered friends, made you feel a bit warmer. Have a great week ahead.

 

Anticipation. And Action.

I watch the bird. It seems to float on a current, but there is no wind. Not where I stand under a blooming tree. Petals of its tiny flowers are breathless in anticipation of a visitor.

butterfly-monarch-ud95A Monarch approaches. Its wings flutter and its feet reach for a flower. Soon it enjoys life-giving nectar. Unpretentiously. Expecting it to be there. Always.

fly-and-the-monarch-butterfly-ud95As on cue the rest of the company arrives.  I am in awe of the rare sight of a butterfly tree.

butterfly-tree-ud95And I pray. For more butterfly trees. And continued protections of the earth. Less greed. And less sacrifice by nature for human activity.

pelicans-in-flight-16x9-ud95I hope the skies will be filled with birds for generations to come. Birds that can glide on the currents of unseen winds. But that’s not what we should anticipate. Unless we take action.