Tag Archives: Bottlenose Dolphin

Winter. Hope. And Other Animal Encounters.

We have Winter here in Clearwater, Florida. She is a rescued Bottlenose dolphin, whose tail had to be amputated. But thanks to some inventive and compassionate people, she now has a new prosthetic tail – and a permanent home.

winter UD148_edited-1She is the star of two wonderful films, The Dolphin Tale and the Dolphin Tale 2. But even more importantly, she is the star in the hearts of countless kids who have met her and her friend Hope at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

Hope and Winter UD148Despite its name this is not a traditional aquarium, but a marine hospital and rehabilitation center where injured animals are brought from near and far for urgent care and rehabilitation.

staff feeds a sea turtle UD148The two dolphins, and a third one called Nicholas, live here getting all the care and therapies they need on a daily basis. They have certainly made a lasting impression on my ‘grandies’.

going to feed Hope UD148_edited-1This past holiday season Santa brought them an opportunity to have a close encounter with Hope. They could feed her, touch her and get a photo taken with her. Absolute joy.

Hope with a trainer UD148_edited-1One of the last days of 2017 we also visited the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, where we found this baby chimpanzee pondering the complexities of life…

Baby chimpanzee UD148…while his friend, a colobus monkey, demonstrated his gymnastic skills. And his fancy haircut.

colobus monkey UD148We saw many birds, including a Scarlet Ibis and a beautiful mystery bird I have not been able to identify as yet. Anyone?

scarlet ibis UD148

mystery bird at Lowry park zoo UD148_edited-1And we watched the meerkats watching us. The one on guard duty, in particular, nailed his eyes on us. But we were on our best behavior and he didn’t need to sound alarm.meerkat UD148_edited-1In the “Africa” section we spotted elephants, zebras…and a giraffe couple having a tender moment.

elephant UD148

young zebra UD148

giraffe love UD148I’d rather observe all these animals in their natural environment like I used to, but have to admit well run zoos offer the kids an invaluable opportunity to experience them.

my family at the zoo UD148And some zoos, including this one, also help to breed endangered species. Four southern white rhino babies have already been born here.

southern white rhino ud148There was so much more to see, like this sweet little wallaby basking in the late December sun.

wallaby UD148But when you are dealing with a granny and two kids, there’s a limit how much you can take in during one visit. So late in the afternoon we had to say goodbye. Thank you for coming along!

parakeet ud148

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.

an alligator swims away ud123

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.

spider lilies in everglades 3 ud123

flowers in everglades ud123

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.

saw grass prerie in Everglades 2 ud123

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.

woodstork in Everglades ud123

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.

osprey chick ud123

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.

a large airboat ud123

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.

lunch place ud123

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.

south Gulf of Mexico island ud123

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.

manatee 2 ud123

manatee ud123

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

Weekly Photo Challenge: Motion in Nature (9 Images)

This week’s DP photo challenge is “motion”.  Since I love to capture motion in our precious natural environment, I thought it’d be fun to participate. So here are some images representing four different types of motion in nature. In addition to the butt-shaking, water spraying motion demonstrated by Mama Osprey in the featured image.

I hope your week has started well.

Slow motion.  Enjoyable, hardly noticeable, purposeful. Often lovable.

mama and baby bottlenose dolphin slowly gliding by Caladesi Island Florida
Mama and baby Bottlenose Dolphin glide slowly on the surface of the calm ocean.
mottled duck with ducklings Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Mama Mottled Duck swims slowly with her ducklings in tow.

Quick motion. Fast and furious. Gone in a blink. Always momentary.

sandwich tern flying in the surf Sand Key Beach Clearwater Florida
A Sandwich Tern flies fast to get out of the furiously moving surf.
A great egret eats a fish sand key park clearwater Florida
A little fish pops extremely fast into the mouth of a Great Egret.

Accelerating motion. Rising. Upward. Onward. Often sudden and surprising.

A brown pelican takes off Sand Key Beach Clearwater Florida
A Brown Pelican takes off.
A Great Egret takes off Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
A Great Egret takes off.

Decelerating motion. Slow-down. Approach. Touch down. Most often anticipated.

Royal Terns and Sandwich Terns come in for landing.
papa osprey lands in the nest in Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Papa Osprey lands…for a romantic interlude a couple of months ago. Now he’s landing to feed three chicks 🙂

You can find other DP Weekly Photo Challenge entries on Motion here.

Silence Breathes in Colors. On Caladesi Island.

Caladesi island from the air. Source: Pinellascounty.org
The Hurricane Pass and Caladesi island from the air. Source: Pinellascounty.org

One morning at the end of January, I set out with a friend just after sunrise.  She had agreed to join me for a hike on Caladesi Island, one of the few remaining pristine barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico, situated a mile and a half off shore from the city of Dunedin, FL.

It was called Hog Island until 1921 when a major hurricane split it into two separate islands. The Hurricane Pass was formed. The northernmost island became known as Honeymoon Island after becoming popular with honeymooners in late 1930s.  The southern island got its name, or so the story goes,  after a Spaniard named “Desi” said to have lived on the island bayou, which is “cala” in Spanish. Caladesi.

Caladesi Island eastern shore

Caladesi Island, now a state park, was “discovered” in 1888 by a Swiss immigrant, Henry Scharrer, who became the first and only homesteader ever on the island. His daughter, Myrtle, who was born there in 1895, has written an interesting book, “Yesteryear I Lived in Paradise – The Story of Caladesi Island”,  first published in 1984.

Myrtle and her father, Henry, at the homestead, circa 1902. Source: floridastateparks.org

In the book, she gives a timeline of the area’s early history involving the Tocobaga, Seminole and Miccosukee people, and the Spanish – English – Spanish rule until the Florida territory was acquired by the U.S. in 1821. She also describes her family’s life on the island in late 1800s and early 1900s in vivid color and fascinating detail.

Fishermen close to Honeymoon Island

We started our trip by driving to Honeymoon Island. From there we took the first boat of the day over to Caladesi. The air was cool. The ocean was completely still. A light mist was rising  from the water as the sun  slowly climbed higher.

fog rises on the ocean on our way to Caladesi island
A small island between main land and Caladesi Island

Suddenly we spotted some movement in the water. It was a bottlenose dolphin on a morning swim in the sparkling ocean.

A Bottlenose Dolphin near Caladesi Island
A Bottlenose Dolphin

A few minutes later we passed the northernmost tip of Caladesi Island. White sand,  shore birds … and more dolphins, all swept in the soft blue of the morning.

northern tip of caladesi island by tiny
The northern tip of Caladesi Island
A school of Bottlenose Dolphins frolicking in the ocean Caladesi Island

We watched them quietly for a while – and got another delightful surprise. A mother dolphin with a baby beside her “floated” by on the other side of the boat.  They might have been sleeping. It certainly was a dream-like moment.  Dolphins are such enchanting beings, meeting so many of them first thing in the morning was a treat. The universe was smiling.

Caladesi Island two Bottlenose Dolphins, mother and child
Two Bottlenose Dolphins, mother and child

The boat ride was short, about 20 minutes, and soon we started to navigate our way into the marina, the only establishment on the island. I was excited to finally experience the beauty of the island I had read so much about.

Caladesi island approaching the marina
Approaching the marina

The island is about six miles (9.6 km) long. We decided to start by walking south on the beach, and then hike the 3-mile (4.8 km) nature trail in the interior of the island. The beach was pristine, so beautiful I could have walked there for the whole length of the island!

caladesi island beach by tiny
The miles long beach on Caladesi Island

But we wanted to see more. I knew that unlike Honeymoon Island, this was not a place where I could spot lots of birds inland, but I anticipated that the nature itself would be breathtaking. And it was, Florida in its natural state, as it used to be.

caladesi island nature trail live oak by tiny
The nature trail
Caladeai island live oak on the nature trail by tiny
A huge live oak extends across the trail
caladesi island nature trail pines2 by tiny
Tall pines along the trail

The trail passed through beautiful old pine, oak and palm forests. And soon we came across the beautiful waterway along which one could reach the interior of the island by kayak.

caladesi island pond by tiny
The inland waterway

When we came closer to the former homestead, we found the only fresh water pond on the island. That’s where Myrtle and her family got their water for daily use. Trees were bending over the pond, as if protecting it from the passage of time. And silence… was breathing in mesmerizing colors.

caladesi island freahwater pond
The fresh water pond on north side of the trail
caladesi island freswater pond
…and south side of the trail

Fairly close to the pond, we literally stumbled upon the famous “Harp Tree” or twin pine as it’s also called. Numerous photos were taken there, and are exhibited in the book, by early photographers who came to the island to visit Myrtle’s family.

Caladesi Island The famous "Harp Tree"
The “Harp Tree”

It was a beautiful spot. I could feel the wing beats of history in the air. It was easy to imagine how life used to be there a hundred years ago, and how exciting photography had to be for these early pioneers. There would always be someone willing to climb up to be pictured sitting in the Harp Tree.

Caladesi island old pine trees
Beautiful, old pine trees

Then the trail turned back towards north and the harbor. We were admiring the old trees when we heard some rustling in the bushes next to the trail. We stopped, looked carefully, and saw a nine banded armadillo trying to dig a hole in the ground, either to find food or to prepare a new burrow. His head was already far down there, and he was working hard.

A ninebanded armadillo
A nine banded armadillo

The last part of the trail was equally beautiful. I felt like I’d been thrown back in time. A harsh time in many ways, but much more simple and peaceful in this island paradise.

A huge oak tree on the nature trail
A huge oak tree on the nature trail

The tranquility of Caladesi Island was tangible. Being dipped so deep into untouched nature was inspirational and soothing for the soul. Like coming back to my real origins.