Tag Archives: Red-shouldered Hawk

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.

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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.

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

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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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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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Flying High. Alarm Event. And Other Local News from the Salt Marsh.

To me, local is not only places and people around us. It is also animals around us. And many of you will know I am talking about the salt marsh and its residents. That’s where my heart is. But I have to confess I have not been able to visit my friends for a while. Severe interference by something I call work.

When I finally got time to visit, I found myself right in the middle of a significant alarm event.

mama-osprey-is-alarmed-ud86Mama Sandy was vigorously defending her run-down nest against another osprey couple. Soon Papa Stanley appeared on the scene to support her. He chased the other male out of the marsh.

papa-osprey-chases-away-intruders-ud86But the female was a tough cookie. She continued to circle above the marsh. She was looking right down on Sandy and made a couple of dives towards the nest. Tension was mounting.

another-osprey-2-ud86A light blue juvenile Little Blue Heron in the bushes right below the nest looked frightened. She stayed putt in her hiding place to wait out the storm.

juvenile-little-blue-heron-ud86And the Yellow-crowned Night Heron who had been nodding off in a tree nearby woke up to follow the drama.

yellowcrowned-night-heron-ud86Mama Sandy did not take this provokation lying down. I have never seen her screaming from the bottom of her lungs like this. She sounded like she meant it. And that did it. The female osprey finally followed her hubby and flew towards the north end of the park.

mama-osprey-shouts-alarm-ud86Phew. Peace was restored and everybody was minding their own business again. Like this White Ibis, who was just chilling. Quite beautiful, I thought.

white-ibis-ud86And an adult Little Blue Heron, perhaps the juvenile’s mom, continued her search for that perfect bite.

little-blue-heron-ud86But the Snowy Egret had already spotted her favorite menu item. She flew across the pond…

snowy-egret-flying-2-ud86 …and performed daring acrobatics to fetch her brunch. I was impressed by her reach.

snowy-egret-bending-down-ud86I walked around the marsh and spotted another Snowy Egret hunting. She was working hard for her tiny morsels.

snowy-egret-hunting-ud86At the far end of the marsh a Tri-colored Heron was busy hunting. Everything was back to normal.

tri-colored-heron-ud86As I walked home I spotted the juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk again. She was soaring high in the sky and I felt like doing the same. Just to float above it all.

redshouldered-hawk-2-ud86Our fundraising drive for a new home for the osprey family continues…and I hope we have good news shortly. In the meantime I will try my best to catch up on news in your world.

royal-tern-flying-ud86Be well. And fly high.

 

Hello World! Reporting Live from the Seabird Sanctuary.

The Great Horned Owl, Miss Kitty, is alert and follows my movements in front of her little house with keen interest. This owl, whose badly infected wing had to be amputated, has been living at the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary for over nine years. She is usually one of the first birds to greet me when I visit. Her closest neighbor is another long-time resident, a Barred Owl. She is huddling deep in thought close to the ceiling of her little row house, and unlike her neighbor she clearly prefers her own company. And I respect that.

Next, I am checking on some of the White Pelicans. They have a large netted home with several swimming pools to enjoy in the summer heat. While autumn is officially here, our temperatures are still hovering in the upper 80s F (around 30C).

white-pelicans-at-scbs-ud81The Brown Pelicans have a home next to their white cousins, and their ‘yard’ is also appointed with several pools. Just chilling around the pool seems to be a favorite activity.

brown-pelican-scbs-ud81Next to the pelicans, two Sandhill Cranes have their large, beautifully decorated home.

two-sandhill-cranes-ud81Some smaller birds, like a juvenile White Ibis and an American Oyster Catcher with a badly injured wing, share the neighboring homes.

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wounded-oystervatcher-at-scbs-ud81But to be honest, I came here to see an old friend, the Red Shouldered Hawk. Her name is Isis. I will need to point out that this beautiful bird was named 26 years ago when she first came to this sanctuary with a badly injured eye. She is close to 30 years old now, completely blind in one eye and almost blind in the other. To my delight I discover that her handler has just arrived to take her out for a ‘walk’ in the park. Great! So after greeting the other birds, I walk into a large covered area under the observation tower and find her perched there.

scbs-observation-tower-ud81I love watching her and it is clear that she thoroughly enjoys her open air outing. But I also want to take a few pictures of her. And that proves quite challenging. While the covered area is nice and shadowy,  the sun is very bright right outside of it.

red-shouldered-hawk-at-scbs-ud81Isis is still molting and she is preening diligently to get rid of some old feathers on her wings.

red-shouldered-hawk-molting-scbs-ud81And then she stretches her beautiful wings. I can sense she is dreaming of flying high up in the sky riding a cool current.

red-shouldered-hawk-2-at-scbs-ud81She has had a long, safe and comfortable life here at the sanctuary and it is wonderful, as always, to spend some time with her.

Walking out of the sanctuary I meet two non-residents, an American Black Vulture and a Black-crowned Night Heron. Perhaps they have relatives in rehabilitation here, or maybe they are just waiting for a free meal. I also note that the night heron is strategically positioned to remind visitors of the importance of donating to this unique sanctuary.

american-black-vulture-3-at-scbs-ud81

black-crowned-night-heron-at-scbs-ud81It is lovely to know there is a place where so many injured wild birds can get help. About 15-20 birds daily, or up to 5000 each year, are brought to the Dr. Marie L. Farr Avian Hospital located in this sanctuary. They have varying injuries, for example to their limbs, eyes or bills.

sun-coast-sea-bird-sanctuary-ud81Unfortunately about 90% of those injuries are directly or indirectly attributtable to human activity. After receiving the necessary hospital care, the birds are rehabilitated and then released. The success rate is fairly high, over 80% of the birds who survive the first 24 hours go back to live their lives in the wild. Those who cannot manage to live on their own due to a permanent handicap are provided a forever home here. I am always filled with gratitude thinking of all the volunteers who take care of these birds and keep their homes looking wonderful, and people who donate to keep this sanctuary going.

That’s all for tonight from the Seabird Sanctuary. Next, your reporter will take on the replacement of the osprey nest platform at the salt marsh. We don’t want Mama Sandy and Papa Stanley to move out just because their home falls apart, do we?

We all hope your week is going great.

Juveniles Rule. And Slowly Returning to Normal.

I am not developing an argument here on what ‘normal’ might be or look like. All I know is that our surroundings here at home are slowly starting to look as they used to – before Hermine dumped almost 15 inches/38cms of water on us over five days. The flood waters are almost gone. I say almost because there are still a few pools of water on the beach, in the park and in our garden. And birds love them. Like Snowy Egrets and White Ibis, who were mingling on the beach in large  numbers yesterday.

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snowy-egret-and-white-ibis-ud80And juveniles of all sorts were playing and feeding in the shallow pools. Like these two juvenile White Ibis. One of them was quite white already, while his little sister was still much more brown than white.

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juvenile-white-ibis-ud80Another juvenile, a Black Skimmer, who had already left his parents was practicing skimming in one of the shallow pools.

juvenile-black-skimmer-ud80The juvenile Royal Tern pestering his mom was quite entertaining. Although his poor mom might have disagreed. She tried to show him how to catch food items in the shallow water, but he was not interested. He wanted to be fed.

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baby-and-mama-royal-tern-ud80Walking into the salt marsh, I noticed the water levels were down and the bird count was up. Despite the fact that the mosquito count was down only a bit, I decided to see who had returned. And right away saw the younger Great Blue Heron. After hanging around for over two years now, I think he has earned to be named. I will call him Henry. He was balancing high up in the cypress tree surveying the marsh. Possibly trying to find out whether or not the Mayor was present.

young-blue-heron-ud80He wasn’t. So Henry decided it was safe to fly down and start hunting at the far end of the marsh, a spot usually reserved for the Mayor.

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young-blue-heron-lands-ud80A Great Egret was also scanning the marsh from the top of a tree in the middle of the marsh. He might have been counting his relatives, who were many but difficult to spot in the high grass.

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great-egret-ud80The only smaller wading bird present, in addition to Snowy Egrets, was a beautiful Tri-colored Heron. She was fishing at the shallow side of the marsh that had already dried up quite a bit. But she was still more than knee-deep in the water.

tricolored-heron-ud80But the Moorhens and Mottled Ducks were present in big numbers. The ducklings born here last spring had returned and were swimming in a nice formation – all ten of them. Juveniles definitely ruled the day 🙂

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ten-ducklings-ud80I finished my walk at the Osprey nest. Mama Sandy was having her brunch and checked on me between the bites. I wanted to tell her that on Sunday, I would be visiting again – with the contractor who will be repairing or replacing (if required) the nest. But I let her eat in peace.

mama-osprey-eats-lunch-ud80I didn’t see Papa Stanley, but I know he is around as I saw him just the previous day. He flew low over our garden and tipped his wings to me and Dylan. Instead I spotted a Red-bellied Woodpecker on my way home. He was showcasing his reddish belly.

redbellied-woodpecker-2-ud80But that was not all. Approaching home, I saw a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk fly past me towards our garden.

hawk-ud80I decided to see if I could spot her again and walked around among the trees where I thought she might have landed. And I found her! She was sitting in a dense tree – on our neighbor’s side. It was an awkward spot to try to ‘shoot’ her. Sun right in my eyes, a thick, high hedge on one side and a large ditch with some remaining flood water on the other. I tried to balance on my toes so I could get a clear shot of her, but this is the best I could get. What a beautiful bird.

juvenile-red-shouldered-hawk-ud80She flew away to continue her hunt, and I spotted another bird in a tree right above me. A Black-crowned Night Heron had settled there to sleep for the day and I inadvertently woke him up.

black-crowned-night-heron-ud80Luckily he didn’t seem to be angry. I was happy to find so many of my feathered friends. I concluded that things are slowly returning to normal around here, but unfortunately the damage assessments still continue elsewhere not too far from here.

We all wish you a very happy weekend. Peace.

Free Like an Eagle. A Hike in the Urban Wilderness.

This is Sarge, a five year old female American Bald Eagle. But unlike in the song, or how I pictured her here, she’s not free. Quite the opposite. Sarge can’t fly, and now lives at the Narrows Environmental Education Center in McGough Nature Park. But let me start from beginning.

mcCough nature parl trail ud70This long weekend I suddenly found myself without plans. Our smallest granddaughter woke up with a viral infection and sky-high fever when her family was supposed to drive this way on Saturday.

So yesterday I decided to hike in McGough Nature Park, a jungle-like small park bordering to intracoastal waters south of us. Huge oak trees mix with tall pines, palms and mangroves providing a peaceful spot of wilderness in the middle of the hubbub of this crowded beach weekend.

jungle 2 ud70This park is a safe haven for hundreds of turtles, so I started my hike at the turtle pond. Some turtles were enjoying the sun on the ‘resort deck’ in the middle of the pond.

turtle resort ud70While others preferred to lounge solo on the land or in the water. I thought many of them had beautiful colors. And observing their slow pace of life was calming to the soul. They had no hurry to do anything or to go anywhere. A lesson on “just being”.

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turtle closeup ud70In the open areas of the park, lots of wild flowers were blooming.

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wild flower at McGough ud70But around the forested trails sunlight reached the ground only at a few spots.

McCough trail ud70I could hear an Osprey calling and many birds singing, but it was impossible to spot them high up in the dense forest. I walked towards the intracoastal hoping to find some birds.

nest UD70I walked along the long pier over the water and spotted a pelican just taking off. But all wading birds were hiding from the heat in the dense mangrove forest.

pelican on the intracoastal ud70I stood there in the welcome breeze for a while and observed the busy boat traffic, a sign of families having fun on the water this long weekend.

boat traffic on the intracoastal 2 ud70It had become cloudy and I hurried back through the park to visit the raptors who had their permanent home at the Education Center.

pier McGough nature park ud70Sarge is a newcomer to the park. She was found weak, dehydrated and malnourished in Tennessee a couple of years ago.

sarge ud70After a long rehabilitation at the World Bird Sanctuary near St. Louis, she was deemed non-releasable. She has an irreversible and rare feather disorder. Her feathers are brittle and can break easily. Her molting, unlike for other birds, happens all on one side. That makes balanced flight impossible. Thus she cannot take care of herself in the wild.

Sarge is a beautiful, big bird of about 11 pounds. She came here only in May and is still getting used to her new home. But now she is safe and well cared for, and gets to go on outings in the park once she’s familiarized herself with the new environment.

I found her fascinating. She looked at me, the only visor at the time, and we talked for a while.

american eagle ud70Next to her, some Great-horned Owls had their little home. I thought one of them looked at me a bit suspiciously from the corner of his eye.

great-jorned owl ud70And then there were several hawks, all with different injuries that made life in the wild not an option for them. I thought this Red-shouldered Hawk girl was most beautiful.red-shouldered hawk ud70I stayed with these wonderful raptors until a few fat rain drops started falling and I had to head back home. It was a great hike. I hope you enjoyed it too.

fireworks ud70Happy Independence Day to all friends in the US!

Monday Musings: Just Be

blind red-shouldered hawk 3 with frame

She is almost blind. Lives in her little apartment at the sanctuary. She is safe, and well cared for. Now that she cannot manage on her own.

There is some sadness in her. Maybe a fleeting memory of her youth. Soaring high up in the bright blue skies. Carried by the winds over green forests and sparkling seas.

But most of all there is contentment. Quiet enjoyment of life. And appreciation. The light breeze moving her feathers. The sun warming her old bones. And the love of a human, who takes her out on walks, touching her heart. Precious moments to treasure. To just be.