Great Blue Heron takes catch of the day

This is Henry. 20160501-img_0197

Henry waited all day for the fisherman behind him to catch a fish so that he could steal it.

20160501-img_0202

He whiled away the hours looking into the sea and contemplating life.

20160501-img_0217

He watched tourists visit the nearby restaurant and gorge themselves on fish tacos.

20160501-img_0203

He pretended that he was the only Great Blue Heron waiting for the fisherman to catch a fish.

Meanwhile, down the pavement a few steps from Henry, another Great Blue Heron lurked. Gerald. He was much closer to the fisherman.

With one final cast by the fisherman's sore, sunburned arm, a fish leapt from the water and took the hook. Henry's eyes widened, his breath quickened.

He started toward the fisherman with the haste of a glacier, not ever putting urgency before grace.

Gerald's stoic countenance emerged from the shadows. He was three feet away from the fisherman.

The fisherman examined the fish in his hand, decided it wasn't worth his trouble and looked over his shoulder at Gerald.

Henry continued toward the man, knowing his time was running short. He moved with intensity. He moved with the fervor of a snail.

The fisherman tossed the fish in the air and who was there to catch it?

20160501-img_0214

It was Gerald. The victor.

Henry continued to move toward Gerald making very poor time. Perhaps one footstep every 30 seconds as is customary for herons.

Gerald flourished in his triumph, holding the fish in his bill this way and that. He pretended not to see Henry.

20160501-img_0212 20160501-img_0219 20160501-img_0220

Henry literally never even sped up enough to challenge Gerald for the fish. It was actually kind of frustrating to watch.

Let's be honest though, Gerald's markings in the above photo are beautiful. It's no wonder the handsome young gent made off with the fish. Heh.

Early morning Sanderlings

20160430-img_0180 If you want to see birds, you have to wake with the birds. Especially if you're on a very popular beach like the one in St. Pete Beach, FL. You're bound to see shorebirds anyway, but if you want VIP access, hit the beach before all the children and sun-bathers for a nice walk (with your binoculars and camera that you carry everywhere because you MUST bird every location).

Sanderlings are some of the most beautiful migratory shorebirds you'll have the pleasure of watching. From a distance, they might look a bit drab skittering across the surf in search of insects and mollusks but they're actually quite colorful when you zoom in. Have a look.

20160430-img_0098

20160430-img_0096

Sanderlings are extreme migrators! They breed on land in the northernmost locations that exist on our planet (including the tip-top of Russia, Greenland, Canada and Alaska). During the winter they surround the coasts of just about every continent. You'd be hard pressed to travel somewhere with a beach that didn't play host to Sanderlings.

20160430-img_0178

20160430-img_0099

Come back Wednesday for more Florida wildlife. Reptiles this time!

Tips for Bird ID: 4 Birds in St. Pete Beach

20160430-dscn3277

  • Northern Mockingbird. If you've never seen one before you might be surprised at how drab they are. They are among the most romanticized birds (thanks, in part, to Harper Lee and that "Hush Little Baby" song). Tips for identifying: remember that when birding, always go for shape and size first, not colors. The long tail and skinny bill are best for spotting this bird. Personally, I'd rather ID this one from song. Many birds mimic other birds (and frogs, in this case) but the Northern Mockingbird always repeats a phrase 2 - 6 times. If you can only hear the bird and cannot see it, make sure to listen for a couple of minutes. Brown Thrashers repeat phrases 2 times as do Grey Catbirds, who sound nasally and garbled.
  • Mourning Dove. Another bird that is much easier to identify from its vocalizations. Sometimes, beginner birders hear doves and mistake them for owls because doves say "who, who, who" much more clearly than most owls. Mourning Doves call in intervals of who's at a particularly low-frequency. Once you know the shape of a dove or pigeon, it is easy to identify them, even by silhouette. My advice for this easy-to-recognize bird is to pay attention to where you are casting your gaze. Good places to look for Mourning Doves: power lines, fences, and other man-made structures.

20160430-dscn3280

  • Red-bellied Woodpecker. Though the name includes a color, it is still important to first identify the bird as a woodpecker by shape and behavior, THEN you can proceed to figure out which species you're dealing with. Let me show you why. Here is a female Red-bellied Woodpecker that I spotted outside of my accommodations in St. Pete Beach.

20160430-dscn3268

If we just ID from the name, we expect a very Woody The Woodpecker-esque bird with a bright red belly, do we not? And then if we examine the above photo, we are inclined to re-name the bird to something including a red head. But that's already another species of woodpecker. With a complex family like the woodpeckers, look for dead giveaways like that forked tail and sturdy long bill. But more importantly, have a look at what the bird is doing. Is it darting around the trunk of a tree or utility pole quickly examining the surface with its bill? Probably a woodpecker. If you're lucky, like me (it's actually a mixture of luck and patience) you'll get to glimpse the red belly of this species.

20160430-dscn3272

Not much red to speak of. The dappled black and white back and the red on the head are good indicators, but not great. So how do you win with this woodpecker? You learn by looking at your field guide. And also by making yourself aware of birds' ranges. The Red-bellied Woodpecker is found year-round in all parts of Florida so I can immediately cross off other woodpeckers that might look similar but belong to other parts of the world.

  • Bird #4 is a trick question.

20160430-dscn3266

My favorite animal is not a bird *GASP*

Bird nerds get this question a lot. What is your favorite bird? I think I might be able to answer that one for all of us. I have spent years working on an algorithm and I'm happy to say that I can finally answer that question for bird lovers everywhere.


...

......

............

Just kidding, my algorithm only works for mammal-lovers. The correct answer for those folks is: African Brush-tailed Porcupine.

The real answer is that no one will ever be able to choose a single bird as their favorite. And if one can choose, they are the most resolute human in existence. Still, my money is on the tumultuous inner dialogue of those resolute humans five minutes after leaving the bird conversation. GAH! I forgot about pheasants! I should've said pheasant.

*shakes head, disappointed face, kicks rock haphazardly*

As if indecision on the favorite bird front wasn't enough salt in the wound, get this. Birds aren't my favorite animal. They never have been. I started off as a dinosaur girl. My love for dinosaurs was so great that I had what I like to call a Harry Potter Meltdown. You want Harry Potter to be real so much that you basically lose it.

I found a way to make dinosaurs real again though. Well, I didn't actually find a way. I won't take credit for evolution. The solution to my pangs of dinosaur emotion was, and is, the American Alligator. It's basically a dinosaur, folks. Let's head back to Marsh Trail where dreams came true for me.

20160504-IMG_0356

If you're not caught up on the glory of Marsh Trail, give these posts a once-over: Roseate Spoonbills in The EvergladesRivers of Grass on Marsh TrailCommon vs. Boat-tailed Grackle.

From the lookout on this trail, I first spotted Roseate Spoonbills because they are large and bright pink. The very next thing I spotted was the baby gator in the photo above. Friends, I had never been this close to a wild alligator. It still baffles me that I drove up to a trailhead, hiked for a few minutes, and then there were 20 gators within petting distance. Whoa.

20160504-IMG_0258

20160504-IMG_0359

20160504-IMG_0350

20160504-IMG_0280

20160504-IMG_0271

20160504-IMG_0328

20160504-IMG_0274

Now I know you're all a bunch of nature enthusiasts so I won't bore you with the cold-blooded/warm-blooded bit. Let's talk about just how long the genetic blueprint for this animal has remained virtually unchanged. Think hundreds of millions of years. Most of the anatomical changes seen in crocodilians were subtle changes in the shape of the jaw to accommodate different food sources in different areas. The body armor was also adapted for changes in the environment, ever so slightly. Other than that, it is nearly the same animal that shared the earth with the dinosaurs.

Let's bring it full circle. Roughly 240 million years ago, birds and crocodilians shared a common ancestor. After the mass extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs, birds evolved quickly and diversified at a rapid pace. Thousands of little feathered dinosaurs came to fruition. Crocodilians, as mentioned before, pretty much stayed the same. If you think about it, I have surrounded myself with quasi-dinosaurs.

Here's to creating a world where you can breathe a little easier about the dinosaurs being [almost] gone. Now, what to do about this Harry Potter business...