Tag Archives: Boat-tailed Grackle

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,  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. I wouldn’t rule out it was 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 juvenile Little Blue Heron I saw a couple of weeks ago. He had turned much more blue already, as you can see.

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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.

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

Danger, Thrill and Beauty. The Unique Blend in the Everglades.

My orange-colored ear plug fell on the floor. Then it flew overboard and disappeared in water spray. The roar of the airboat engine grew exponentially as we flew over the sawgrass prairie at high speed.

airboat in everglades ud123When we slowed down and finally stopped altogether, the sky and land seemed to merge here, in the middle of this unique wilderness of 1.5 million acres. I took out the remaining ear plug. And listened.

saw grass prerie in Everglades ud123The sawgrass prairie was beautiful and very peaceful. But danger was lurking in the shallow water, only 4-5 feet/1.2-1.5 meters deep on average. Over 200,000 alligators with a typical body length of 9-12 feet, a mouth equipped with 80 sharp teeth and over 1000 pounds of closing power in their jaws, call this swamp home.

alligator swimming in everg;ades ud123

alligator sunning itself ud123They went about their daily life quietly in the water and on land. I was, without a doubt, a guest in their home.

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Alligator in everglades on the roadside ud123Luckily humans are not on their menu unless we threaten their young. They observed me as I observed them, keenly, and I could see the skies reflected in their eyes. Mesmerizing.

alligator eye 1 ud123I understood that in the Everglades, one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems, danger is married to beauty.

mangroves and sawgrass in Everglades ud123

Everglades mangrove forest ud123

everglades trees ud123The sawgrass prairie bloomed with Spider Lily and other beautiful flowers.

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flowering Everglades ud123And so did the hammocks.

flowering bush in Everglades ud123I found the airplants most intriguing. A seed lands on a tree, then grows and blooms. Just like that. One of the thousands of small miracles in nature.

airplants in everglades ud123And crisscrossing the prairie I found many of my favorite marsh birds, like the Great Blue Heron, the Great Egret and the Snowy Egret.

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great blue heron in Everglades ud123

great egret in Everglades ud123

snowy egret in everglades ud123A family of Wood Storks got disturbed by our noisy approach and took flight.

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two woodstorks in flight ud123

wood storks in flight ud123And I spotted impressive Osprey nests, several feet high. At one of them, a juvenile was considering the benefits and dangers of flying. Her mommy watched nearby. And waited.

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an Osprey chick in Everglades 2 ud123

mother osprey in Everglades ud123I saw many other birds enjoy the peace of this wilderness, like this Red-Shouldered Hawk, but it was a challenge to ‘shoot’ them from a fast moving airboat.

Hawk in the Everglades ud123Particularly if they were moving too, like this female Anhinga, who was trying to swallow her catch.

female anhinga 2 in Everglades ud123Coming back to the airboat station, I spotted two familiar handsome males. A Red-Winged Blackbird and a Boat-Tailed Grackle.

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male red-winged blackbird ud123

male boat-tailed grackle ud123From here my journey continued through the Big Cypress National Preserve. I made some interesting discoveries, like the smallest federal building in the US, the Ochopee Post Office.

smallest post office in the us ud123I also visited some wildlife centers on my way to Everglades City, which really was a small, idyllic village with a few roads and houses on stilts due to frequent flooding.

building in everglades city ud123I also spotted both modern and older versions of swamp buggies parked in front of the houses.

modern swamp buggy ud123

swamp buggy in Everglades city ud123And found a nice place for lunch. Alligator was on the menu, but I opted for a chicken sandwich.

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cocos palms in Everglades 2 ud123Arriving to the western side of the Everglades, I visited the historic museum in Chokoloskee, an area inhabited for centuries by the Calusa people, and for thousands of years by their ancestors.

Indian museum ud123

chokoloskee museum ud123My last adventure was a boat cruise through the western Everglades mangrove estuary known as the 10,000 Islands.

mangrove forest in everglades ud123After speeding past many islands, we suddenly got company. Two Bottlenose Dolphins followed our ‘sister boat’ and then kept diving back and forth under our boat. In addition to us humans, dolphins are the only other wild species that like to play and have fun 🙂  Unfortunately coming up for a photo-op was not included in their scheme of fun for the day.

dolphins swim behind the boat 2 ud123

two dolphins dive under the boat ud123After a while they decided the fun was over and headed for their own underwater explorations. We continued towards the ocean past lovely small islands until we reached the southern Gulf of Mexico.

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Southern Gulf of mexico ud123On our way back, we got company again. A young West Indian Manatee stayed with us for quite a while. This ‘sea cow’ can stay under water up to 40 minutes at a time so it was a thrill to capture it coming up for a breath next to our boat a couple of times.

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manatee 3 ud123Close to the shore I spotted an Osprey in flight above a mangrove island. That was a great ending to my adventure in the Everglades.

osprey 1 in Everglades ud123It was an unforgettable trip from the eastern Everglades through the Big Cypress National Preserve to the western Everglades. And I am more determined than ever to do what I can to preserve this wonderful wilderness, and others, for the future generations.

Thank you for coming along. See you later alligator.

Alligator 2 in everglades ud123