New Year's guest author: Johanna Brown!

Oh, hi there. Looking for Steph? Hey, I’m Joh. Let me quickly tell you two little stories that have led to this point: 1 – Steph and I met almost seven years ago on the other side of the world: Hobart, Tasmania. We were outdoors studying when I noticed Steph’s head was on a swivel, constantly looking back and forth at the slightest sound of something moving. I, the business student, would later learn it was not ADHD, it was birds, she was adeptly aware of where birds were. At. All. Times.

2 – Fast forward five years from that moment in Hobart. I had a foot cast on, you know, the ones that require you to encase them in garbage bags with duct tape when you visit damp, cliff-faced bird sanctuaries (please see Cape St. Mary’s bird blog). I had been, at that point, joking with Steph mercilessly to get a shout-out on her bird blog. And I thought, boot cast + sheep poop + thousands of smelly birds = this would be the time. No such luck folks.

With this in mind, it is with great delight that Steph has allowed me to be a guest blogger! (Put your applications in now folks, the waiting process takes a minute).

On to the main event: the Great White Egret. What better way to start the new year than to take a stroll through Marsh Trail in the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge in Florida?! Or, as I like to call it – the closest I’ll get to being in Jurassic Park.

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Being a former non-bird-aware-person (NBAP), I may have referred to this guy as a skinny pelican, or an extended white seagull ten years ago . But bird-aware-people (BAP) would refer to this guy as being similar to a Snowy Egret but without the yellow feet.

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We found them intermixed with Great Blue Herons, Tricoloured Herons, alligators and even Roseate Spoonbills. They didn’t seem too bothered when the alligators got close.

It’s difficult to tell the difference between female and male Great White Egrets. But the juveniles don’t share the same stark white feather colouring as the adults. Their plumage can have mixed colours until they are mature.

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It is interesting to see them hunt for food. Their necks are long and slender making them pretty stealthy for all the small fish they consume. If my neck was as long as my body, I could probably sneak a lot of food without notice as well.

Now that I have exhausted Google and asking Steph, my last bird fact is that the Great White Egret can also be referred to as the Large Egret. Which makes sense when you see them all side by side. They are taller than the herons and other egrets we saw along the way.

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And my hot tip for all you NBAP out there – it is indeed possible to go birding, while drinking margaritas, if you are in Florida! If you are in Newfoundland, you have to enjoy being outside – and stopping every 4 feet to stand in absolute silence, that’s important too.

Signing off,

Steph’s - nonbirding - business-loving - much-taller - hoping-for-another-blog-writing - partner-in-crime

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Herons, every flavor

I've never seen so many different types of herons in one place. Marsh Trail, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Florida. Let's start with the most recognizable one, the Great Blue Heron.

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There might be a tiny photobomb in the photo above. If you think their coexistence is always peaceful, you've got another thing coming.

Let's focus on size so that you can get the full effect of the variety of herons living in the same habitat. The Great Blue Heron can reach heights of up to 4.5 feet. I'm not even a foot taller than that. Whoa. At its largest, the GBH can weigh up to about 8 pounds. That's a solid bird. Birds don't weigh very much. Its wingspan can reach up to 6.25 feet! Here, this will make it easier to compare them (please note that I'm using the maximum values observed for each field):

Great Blue Heron Height: 4.5 feet (137 cm) Weight: 8 pounds (3.6 kg) Wingspan: 6.25 feet (190 cm)

Next up we have the Tricolored Heron.

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Just a quick reminder that I saw these birds within minutes of each other, even seconds. It is immensely satisfying for a birder to experience the occasional easy-birding-paradise!

Tricolored Heron Height: 2.5 feet (76 cm) Weight: 1.25 pounds (550 g) Wingspan: 3 feet (90 cm)

Next we have the Green-backed Heron (or Green Heron, as we call it in the United States).

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Green Heron Height: 1.5 feet (48 cm) Weight: 0.5 pounds (260 g) Wingspan: 2 feet (60 cm)

Though there are three herons pictured above, 12 different types of herons inhabit the area. That includes egrets and bitterns because they're in the same family. The vast variety of shapes, sizes and colors are customary for non-passerine bird families. I think we can all agree that herons are underrated and should be getting at least as much attention as flamingos.

Join me Sunday for the kickoff to Iceberg Week here on InkFromTheQuill!

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/discover-challenges/animal/

American Black Vultures on Marsh Trail

20160504-IMG_0305 American Black Vultures are part of a family of birds called the New-world Vultures (Cathartidae). These birds are "new-world" because they all live in the Western Hemisphere. People living in the western United States are most likely familiar with Turkey Vultures, another of the family's members. American Black and Turkey Vultures are close relatives of condors plus a few other South American vultures.

The rest of the vultures (those animated in Disney movies) live in Africa, Europe, and Asia.

The vultures on Marsh Trail stood out to me for their indifference to my presence. At one point, Johanna was walking down the trail only two feet behind one of the vultures as it meandered along in front of her. Obviously we pretended to leash the vulture and take it for a walk. It didn't seem to mind.

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If you think this bird looks large, you're correct. Check out my 50th blog post for a brief glimpse at a group of vultures feeding on a boar carcass. The wingspan of this vulture can reach over five feet long (160 cm)! Surprisingly, the bird's mass maxes out at just over 4 pounds (1,940 g).

Here's a portrait of one such beast.

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The one thing that we all know about vultures is that they have a propensity for scavenging. The term "vulture" has even become an anthropomorphic adjective for the mooch, gold-digger or beggar. Rather than deducting character points from this creature for taking shortcuts, I'd like to brag on his bravado.

Vultures eat pretty much everything (insects, fish, other birds' eggs, large animal carcasses). Obviously this presents them with more opportunities for food. American Black Vultures specialize in animal muscle and viscera and get this, they locate all of their food without a sense of smell. Even more impressive, their food of choice is older carcasses that other species of vultures have already finished eating from. Pretty rugged.

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They can hunt also. They kill nestling birds and baby turtles. They aren't great fishermen but they manage.

The most interesting thing about these vultures is their social hierarchy. They maintain strict foraging roles wherein there are established rules for activities like drinking and bathing.

Join me Wednesday for Willets!

 

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.


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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.

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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.

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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...

"I" is for Ibis

Before I begin, do you have Instagram? If you'd like to see photographs of wild Newfoundland, Canada from my month-long bird survey work all over the island, stop in and follow me! Thanks! @inkfromthequill


The first time I ever heard the word "ibis" was in my great grandmother's lap reading a tattered old alphabet book early on a Wednesday morning. I know it was a Wednesday morning because I spent every Wednesday with my great grandparents as a child. Their humble cabin-style home with the stove in the corner made for a warm quilt tossed over my young impressionable bird-learning years.

By the way, I'm still experiencing those young impressionable bird-learning years and I'm having a helluva time.

The letter "I" in the book had a photo of an ibis next to it--which I thought was pronounced "ibbiss" until I heard my grandmother say it aloud. The White Ibis isn't an overly resplendent bird. But there is something extravagant about its beet red face juxtaposed against a flawlessly white body. Here are some adults in Naples, FL.

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When we drove up on these birds crossing a median, I thought they were lawn ornaments. They can stay shockingly still if they need to.

And strange as it might be, juvenile White Ibises don't have much white on them. Let's head back to Marsh Trail in the Everglades to have a look at some immature ibises.

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The older the birds get, the whiter they get. They are very closely related to Roseate Spoonbills with whom they share glades and mangrove swamps (Roseate Spoonbills in The Everglades). They eat mostly crustaceans including crayfish, crabs and shrimp. They don't mind the odd frog or insect either. And the good news is that there is a healthy North American population of about 209,000 White Ibises.

We're staying put on Marsh Trail this Sunday but we're straying into songbird territory for just a moment!