Blue Land Crab

Blue Land Crab

Regis and I went to the Palencia boardwalk to take some marsh vegetation pictures for a research project for the Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM). When we returned to our street, we found this blue land crab (Cardisoma guanhum) running along the street gutter. I had my camera with me, so I stopped to get a picture. It was somewhat difficult because the crab found a tree and kept trying to get on the opposite of the tree from me. Eventually, it stayed still long enough to get this photo.

Wikepedia says the distribution of these crabs is as far north as Ponce Inlet which is about 80 miles south of us. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) website says they are limited in their distribution by cold weather. During harvest season for them in Florida, you can bag 20 without a size limit. The season is closed from July 1 to October 31. They presumably taste as good as the blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus) I grew up eating in Maryland. It is a beautiful crab and it was a thrill to see our first one.

Following are the drone pictures Regis took from the Palencia boardwalk in support of the GTM research project. We are planning to take them once a month.

Aerial view east from Palencia boardwalk.
Aerial view north from Palencia boardwalk.
Aerial view south from Palencia boardwalk.

Regis Got a Blue Ribbon

Prairie Dog Family Portrait

Regis won a blue ribbon in the Florida Camera Club Council 2021 2nd Triannual Print for the above photo. I love the shot. I think momma has her eyes closed praying for strength to handle all those young ones.

local session on Wildlife Photography

Seagulls silhouetted against a St. Augustine sunrise.

Least Terns and Turkeys

Least tern parent with chick.

It is late in the season for it, but I finally went to Anastasia State Park to see the nesting, endangered least terns. The chicks are almost as large as the parents. These pictures are severely cropped because I keep my distance so I do not bother the birds.

Least tern parent with chick.
Two least terns with fish.
Least tern chick.

On my way back found this adorable Wilson’s Plover chick with five leg bands. That is a small bird for so much jewelry. There was a smaller chick running around but it was so tiny and moving so fast that I could not focus on it.

Wilson’s plover chick with five leg bands.

I was happy with my gifts for today but got one more when I was almost home. I saw a mother turkey with about 10-12 babies. I was driving and pulled to the side of the road and took pictures through the car window.

Turkey with her chicks.
Turkey with her chicks. About half of them are outside the image.

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers

A blue-gray gnatcatcher feeding its nestlings.

Yesterday, I discovered a nest of blue-gray gnatcatchers. I have been hearing the squeaky sounds of blue-gray gnatcatchers a lot lately but they are hard to see. They are tiny birds that flit among the leafy branches looking for insects. I saw an adult in a tree next to the sidewalk and it stayed close and I got a few pictures. After a few seconds, I saw it fly to a nest in the same tree. I was able to determine there are four babies in the small nest. The nest is not much bigger than a hummingbird nest and looks similar.

A blue-gray gnatcatcher checking me out. Notice the placement of the eyes.
A blue-gray gnatcatcher feeding a moth to its nestlings.
A blue-gray gnatcatcher with an insect in its beak.

I went back again this morning and got some video. The babies look like they may be leaving the nest soon.

Last Count

Snowy egrets. The yellow feet distinguish them as snowies.

It was the last bird count of the nesting season at the Alligator Farm. There are still eggs that have not hatched yet and young chicks still in the nest, but many of the babies have moved on or are hanging around the Alligator Farm. They are adorable and a joy to watch. While we count, we have to concentrate on getting the numbers correct. I do not usually photograph during a bird count unless there is something of interest like a banded bird. After we finished counting today, I hung around to enjoy the birds and get some photos and video.

Tri-colored herons.
Baby bird perched precariously on the palm boot. There are alligators on the ground below.

The little chick below fell out of the nest onto the boardwalk and I got some video of it trying to figure out how to get back in the nest. It could not fly and tried to climb the fence. It eventually climbed the fence into a palm tree, but it was not the right tree.

Chick that fell out of the nest onto the boardwalk.
The egg had just hatched and this tri-colored heron parent is removing the shell from the nest.
Tri-colored herons.
Tri-colored heron with a punk hairdo.
Young wood stork.
It is tough to tell what type of bird the babies are when the parents are not around. Cattle egrets, snowy egrets, great egrets, wood storks, and little blue herons have white chicks. Great egrets and wood storks are fairly easy to identify if you can get a look at their bill. The other birds can be difficult which makes it tough to count. I have a particularly hard time with baby snowies versus baby little blues.

This is probably the last nest of roseate spoonbills to hatch this season at the rookery.

Fifty Baby Alligators

Baby alligators.

I went to the Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM) today to continue taking photographs for the North American Nature Photography Association bioblitz. I found about 50 baby alligators. Baby alligators are adorable. When they are young, they have yellow markings. These little alligators were concentrated in the same general area. Alligators have the coolest eyes.

Baby alligator.

I got some photos of lichen and fungi. I was hoping to find a snake but had to settle for a frog.

Tree frog.

I managed to get some pictures of blue-gray gnatcatchers this evening. I hear them when I walk on our street but they hang out in the upper parts of leafy trees and it is difficult to see them. They also move constantly and quickly. I suspected there were some parents feeding young a few houses away, but I could never get a good look. This evening, they briefly spent time in a tree with several bare branches and I got lucky and captured a parent feeding a fledgling.

Blue-gray gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) feeding a fledgling.

Crab in the Living Room

Squareback marsh crab (Armases cinereum)

Regis found this marsh crab in our living room yesterday. At first he thought it was a leaf until he realized it had legs. It was difficult to catch. It is small and fast and immediately went under the couch. When Regis moved the couch, the crabbed moved with it. We have a dog that sheds a lot and that hair accumulates under the couch. The crab was hindered by the dog hair. I pulled as much stuff off him as I could before releasing him back into the marsh. We can not figure out how he got into the house. The doors have been shut because it is too hot to leave them open. He could have hitched a ride on Dart. We have had a snake, birds, frogs, anoles, and now a crab in the house.

Counting Birds at the Alligator Farm

Tri-colored heron fledgling at the Alligator Farm

I count birds at the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine weekly during the nesting season. Next week is our final count. Many of the baby birds have grown up and left and a few are stilling hanging around the swamp. I love doing this because the birds are fascinating and I love my fellow bird counters. It is very difficult to count the birds because they will not stay still, it is hard to see the chicks in the nest if they are hunkered down, etc., etc. Once we move to a different angle, we have trouble figuring out whether we already counted a particular nest. We try hard to be accurate and do the best we can, but it is a tough job. Watching the birds nest and the chicks grow up in the rookery is a rewarding experience. Today, Gen the curator, gave us Alligator Farm tote bags and T-shirts with wading birds on them. I counted birds this morning and I am already wearing my cool T-shirt.

Tri-colored heron parent feeding its chicks. It visually appears as though the chick has been speared through the head with the parent’s beak, but that is not the case.

As I was arriving at the Alligator Farm this morning, I saw a squirrel get hit by a car in front of me. The squirrel ran out at the wrong time, so the driver would not have been able to do much. The squirrel made it to the side of the road, so I pulled over to check it out. As I was walking back to the squirrel, I saw that it was trying to climb the fence to the Alligator Farm but its back legs were hanging making me suspect it was now paralyzed from the waist down. A woman was in front of me walking on the sidewalk and touched the squirrel when she walked by. When I got to the squirrel, I was not sure how I was going to get it since my bird emergency bin was sitting in my garage. Since the lady touched the squirrel without incident, I grasped the squirrel and took it to my car. It did not react. That could have been a bad move on my part. I drove a few hundred feet to the parking lot of the Alligator Farm and let my fellow bird counters know that I was headed to the vet and would join them shortly. When I got to the vet, the squirrel was dead. It was probably a good thing. When I got back to the Alligator Farm and arrived inside, the woman who had touched the squirrel was there. She works at the Alligator Farm and recognized me and asked about the squirrel. I was sorry to let her know it did not make it. I brought the dead squirrel home and left it for the local wildlife and a raccoon retrieved it in the evening. I feel this is a good way to recycle it in the environment.

A green heron chick near the zip line at the Alligator Farm.
As I continue my bioblitz, I saw this Queen (Danaus gilippus) butterfly in my yard today.
I also saw these palm flatid planthoppers (Ormenaria rufifascia).

The best thing about bioblitzes is that I spend more time looking at all the life around me, not just the big stuff. Today, I found that an invasive species I thought I had eradicated is growing back. I submitted the picture to iNaturalist and it suggested a Chinese tallow. We had cut one down near this area and did everything we were supposed to do to make sure it did not come back. Apparently, we were not successful.

Likely, invasive Chinese tallow (Triadica sebifera).

NANPA Bioblitz

I think this is a squareback marsh crab.

The North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) has a bioblitz underway from June 4 to June 15. A bioblitz is an identification of all the lifeforms you see in a certain period of time. All the bioblitzes in which I have participated required a photo to be uploaded to iNaturalist.org. This is my third bioblitz and I thoroughly enjoy them. It forces me to take pictures of every lifeform I see and I find myself noticing things I would have otherwise missed. When I upload to iNaturalist, the software gives a preliminary identification and I either agree or disagree. I usually agree and then experts review the photo and either identify something else or agree with the identification. A minimum of two agreeing identifications are required to achieve research grade status.

Regis and I started our participation today. He went to the beach and got his best photo of a swallow-tailed kite. He got some photos of the kite eating on the fly, but the kite was too far away to identify the food item so I included one of the closer shots here. This is not the first time Regis got an image with a swallow-tailed kite eating while flying, which is how they always do it.

Swallow-tailed kite.

While he was at the beach taking pictures, I was trudging through the marsh behind our house. It was a muddy experience. I got some crab pictures but more importantly, identified what may be a problem in the marsh. We recently noticed an area in the marsh that has become devoid of grasses. We thought the water channels were changing. In the meantime, I have been doing research on the Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve for personal reasons and saw some information on periwinkles killing off marsh grasses. Today, I entered the area devoid of marsh grasses and this is what I found.

Periwinkles on a single blade of marsh grass.

That is a lot of periwinkles on one lonely blade of grass. I suspect this is a sign of periwinkles killing off the marsh grasses. I am reaching out to the GTM Reserve to see if they have any biologists working on this issue. I found the following information from the University of Georgia website.

“Periwinkle snails are easily spotted in most salt marsh, feeding on the cordgrass just above the water line. They don’t actually consume much of the grass – they are more interested in the fungi that live on the grass. But their chewing damages the grasses’ surfaces, allowing the fungi to further infest the plants. Healthy plants can keep this fungi infestation in check as long as they are not weakened by environmental conditions or required to support too many snails. According to this research, the recent marsh die-off occurred because severe drought stressed the natural defense systems of cordgrass and snails began to kill off the stressed plants. As the plants on which they fed died, the displaced snails began to move toward healthy cordgrass, forming dense fronts. These fronts began to kill off even healthy cordgrass and, in doing so, expanded into a concentrated wave of grazing snails that cascaded through the marsh leaving bare mudflats in its wake.”

Although the situation seems suspicious that the marsh grasses may be dying back because of periwinkles, it is best to get more data to see whether this is what is happening. I will work on that.

On a lighter note, I saw a bluebird family at our feeder. The two adults and four offspring were at the feeder at the same time.

Eastern bluebird family.

I have been working on cutting the invasive vines behind our property over the last several days. Today, I went out with good intentions and noticed a movement behind me. A small fawn jumped up and leaped into the higher vegetation. There was no way I could continue my effort until I am comfortable that I will not impact this little Bambi.