Little Blue Heron

I went kayaking this morning and launched on the Guana River 1/2 hour before sunrise. This is the first time I launched in the dark. It was amazing. The birds were vocalizing, the water was calm, and the colors of the sunrise reflected beautifully in the water. I am already planning to do a before sunrise launch in a different location tomorrow. It is a great time of day to be out there.

I never know what I am going to see when I kayak. I expect one thing and something else shows up. Today was a little blue heron day. I saw several of them and parked myself in the marsh grass to watch and take pictures. Sitting still gives me a great opportunity to watch their behavior. I was too far away to see what they were catching in the water to eat. Following are a couple favorite images.

On the way back to the boat ramp, I found this juvenile tern sitting on a float. I think it is a juvenile royal tern since that is the tern most often seen in this location, but I am unsure. I tried the Merlin app and it thinks it is a common tern which I think is unlikely for this location. I posted it in iNaturalist and will see whether experts can identify it.

Juvenile tern.

Dolphins

I have been on a mission to get some pictures of white pelicans for 2 1/2 months. The pelicans hang out along the shores of the intracoastal waterway (ICW) where they can barely be seen from shore or on the northern half of Guana Lake. These locations require water access to get good views of the pelicans. Every time I have attempted to kayak the ICW to see them, it has been too windy. Most of the winter, the northern part of Guana Lake is closed for hunting. The lake reopened several weeks ago. Regis went to the six mile landing boat launch on Guana Lake the other day and was fortunate to see the pelicans near the shore. He posted a blog. I went the next day with the kayak and I saw no pelicans and the water was too shallow to launch. The pelicans will leave any day to migrate north and I was running out of time this year.

Today, the weather was beautiful with no wind. Regis joined me on a kayak trip on the ICW and we got lucky. There were some pelicans hanging out in their usual spot and I was able to paddle close enough to get pictures without disturbing them.

Linda taking pictures of the white and brown pelicans. There are also a few double-crested cormorants.
White and brown pelicans and a double-crested cormorant to the far left. (Regis got his picture).
White pelican with a raised vertical plate on the bill which they develop early in the breeding season and shed later in the year.

After getting pelican images, I went chasing after some cormorants and Regis found some frolicking dolphins. I am sorry I missed the dolphins. We often see them, but I have not seen the behavior Regis captured today. I suspect they were playing or doing something more adult oriented. There were four of them and they were leaping out of the water and touching each other.

The water was so calm as to be unbelievable after all my prior windy adventures in the same location. As a result, I was able to achieve another goal. I have been trying to get a picture of a single feather floating and reflected on the water. I was almost successful in Alaska in 2019 and have been trying ever since in Florida. The water is not calm enough, there are no feathers or there is too much debris in the water. I only saw this one feather, so this was my chance to make it work.

Feather floating on the water in the ICW.

Unlikely Pair

I recently joined some members of the St. Augustine Camera Club on an all day boat tour of the St. Johns River on Eco-Tours out of DeBary, Florida. The boat was at 25-33% capacity and there was plenty of room for us and our camera gear. The crew were very knowledgeable and delightful. The most unusual thing I saw was this unlikely pair of an alligator and a turtle sunning together. Alligators eat turtles, but these reptiles were more interested in sunning than eating.

Our trip began with this beautiful pileated woodpecker.

The most adorable critter was the young osprey in a nest.

These two white ibises were showing their breeding colors.

These blue herons were sitting on a nest.

We saw several manatees including mother and calf pairs.

The toughest thing to watch was this great white heron eating a frog.

White Pelicans

White pelicans on Guana Lake.

A couple days ago I got a bug to go over to the GTM and get some landscape pictures. The weather was getting warmer (63F) and it was sunny to boot. I grabbed the wide angle and a telephoto lens, the tripod, the external mic for video (it was very windy), an extra battery and stuffed it all into a backpack. I jumped into the car and took off.

The GTM is just a 3/4 mile from our back door so you may ask “why didn’t you just walk?”. It’s one of those “you can’t get there from here”. We live on the west edge of a wide tidal marsh that abuts the ICW (intra-coastal waterway) which runs north-south which abuts a tidal marsh on the east which is part of the GTM. The only way to get to the GTM is to drive the long way around.

One of the great benefits of living on the marsh is the wide open views of the marsh and the many inhabitants. Egrets, herons, hawks, eagles, clapper rails (heard more than seen) and that’s just the feathered friends. We also have raccoons, armadillos, opossums, deer, and other critters. One of the seasonal birds we see is the white pelican. They congregate on a beach just south of our house. They are close enough that we can identify them but too far to count. Our estimate is between 75-150.

While driving to the GTM, I went by a boat ramp on Guana Lake. I slowed to check the water levels of the lake, part of the GTM. This is one of the places we like to kayak. The water level in the lake is controlled thru a dam and at times can be so low as to not be able to launch a kayak. What I saw surprised me. There were about 200 white pelicans! I did a U-turn and pulled into the boat ramp.

I jumped out and set up to get some pictures. The birds were not close but I could at least document my sighting for Linda. While I was setting up, the main group drifted with the wind farther south. A small group swam back and forth in front of me. While snapping pics I noticed what I thought was feeding behavior. I switched over to video mode to capture the action. It looked like they were just swimming back and forth with an open beak in the water. Every so often one of them raised their beak up and looked to be swallowing. (After reviewing the video at home that seems to be what they were doing)

White pelicans feeding on Guana Lake.

Moving on I made my way to the main entrance to the GTM. I collected my gear and went on a hike. My goal was to walk to the ICW where I could get some open water and beach shots. One of the things both Linda and I need to improve is getting landscape pictures. While I was walking along the beach looking for some type of landscape, I came upon a little bird running back and forth along a mud bank. The bird did not seem to mind that I was there. I sat down on the wet low tide beach to swap out the wide angle lens to a telephoto. Just forget the landscape, get the bird shot!

Spotted sandpiper.

On the way back I spent most of the walk off the trail looking for an eagle nest that is in the area. I was hoping to get to a spot to observe if there are any chicks in the nest. Finding the nest was a fail, but several days later I found I got a deer tick for my trouble. Linda made sure Dart’s tick medication was current since she is concerned I am bringing ticks to Dart, instead of the other way around.

Today, Linda took a test to be a licensed drone pilot and she passed. It looks like we have another major expenditure in the works. Now that she is licensed, there is no way to stop the acquisition of a drone. She already has the BEAKS Wildlife Sanctuary asking her to take pictures of their property once she is ready.

First Look The Artisan’s Market

Display at First Look The Artisan’s Market.

I recently set up a display of my photos in the First Look The Artisan’s Market and was interviewed today about it. To see the interview, click here.

We also recently re-established our Facebook page and would love for you to go to the page here and Like It.

Twitterpated

The weather has been beautiful and we had the windows open last night. During the night, I heard loud and strange animal noises. I thought they sounded like raccoons, but not the same sounds we hear regularly of raccoons fighting (or having discussions). I was concerned that some animal was in its death throes and it went on and on and I could not sleep. Today, Regis heard strange sounds coming from the marsh and went to investigate. He saw raccoons entwined. I do not think the female raccoon was as enthralled as the male but I may be misreading her facial expressions. I was glad to know the sounds I was hearing was not an animal in its death throes, but I hope the sounds were a mutual love fest rather than the alternative.

I learned the term twitterpated in the Disney movie Bambi which means smitten or lovestruck.

Osprey with a Fish

Regis and I were sitting on our back patio enjoying the beautiful weather yesterday afternoon when an Osprey landed in a tree near our backyard with a fish in its talons. The fish was flopping as the Osprey began to dine. The fish continued to flop as the Osprey continued to slowly dine. I had to stop watching. It is good for the Osprey that it caught a fish but I felt sorry for the fish, especially since it did not die quickly.

Pelican Patrol

Brown pelican.

The Ark Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation has received a large number of injured pelicans in the last couple weeks. Many of those pelicans came from the GTM Reserve where I volunteer regularly. The GTM has a dam with a lake on one side and the Guana River on the other. It is a favorite local fishing spot and this is where the heart of the problem appears to be. The GTM scheduled some volunteers for the next few weeks to patrol the area and help with rescues. When a fisherman hooks a bird, it is important that they reel the line in and remove the fishing gear from the bird instead of cutting the line. Cutting the line can result in the death of the bird. By patrolling, we hope to help fisherman do the right thing and capture any birds we find with fishing gear. If the bird can fly, that’s a tough problem.

I volunteered this morning and was aware that there was a juvenile and adult pelican spotted with fishing gear and the folks volunteering yesterday were not able to successfully capture the two birds. They tried hard. I arrived around 8 and for the first two hours there was not much activity and I could not find the birds with the gear. I spotted a juvenile hanging out at the time that made me suspicious because it did not look well, but I could not see any gear. I went around an gathered fishing line from the area and this is what I found.

Fishing line, etc. left behind by fishermen.

After gathering the fishing line, I went back to the juvenile pelican that made me suspicious and it stood up. It had fishing gear hanging from its wing. I forgot my net and even if I had it, it was doubtful I could catch the bird by myself. I grabbed a blanket from the car and tried to sneak up on the bird, but it was wary and flew away. It was likely the same bird that they attempted to capture several times yesterday and was very wary of humans approaching.

A juvenile pelican with 5 hooks in it, three in the body and two in the mouth.

I called Regis to bring the net. We live 45 minutes from the GTM, so I’m sure he was thrilled to interrupt his plans. In the meantime, I called someone at the Ark and asked the best way to catch the pelican and she said to lure it with fish while someone snuck up on it. By now, I had become friends with the fishermen who arrived long before me and asked if they would keep an eye on the bird and I ran to a local bait shop and bought fish and a net. This means Regis would not have needed to bring a net, but he was on his way and it is what it is.

When I got back, a new fisherman showed up to set up right in front of our juvenile pelican we wanted to capture. I told him what we were about to do and his suggested using a cast net to get the pelican. He said he could do it but needed a cast net and noticed that one of the fisherman I had been with all morning had one. That fisherman with the cast net said he could do it and BOOM he got the pelican. Just like that. Amazing. It took 3 fisherman and me to hold the bird and extract 3 hooks from the body and 2 from the beak. After putting the bird through this trauma, we tried to offer it a fish, but it was not interested. It flew away as fast as it could. I do not blame it.

I called my friend at friend at the Ark to let her know the good news and while I was on the phone, one of my fisherman friends snagged a cormorant. I hung up and Regis arrived just in time for the cormorant rescue. The fisherman reeled the bird to the water’s edge and I used the net to get it and then grab it. It had so much fishing gear on it that I think it could have opened a sporting goods store. A couple fisherman helped extract the many hooks and then I had trouble releasing it because it was entangled in the net. Regis helped me extract the bird. Regis and one of the fisherman were at the receiving end of the lack of gratitude by the bird as it lashed out with its bill.

The fishing gear we removed from a cormorant.

The next volunteer this afternoon found an adult pelican with gear and managed to save it and saw a fisherman catch a pelican. He was going to cut the line and she convinced him not to do it and the bird was successfully extracted from the gear. Whew! This is a full time job.

I saw this tern try to get bait while the fisherman kept yelling no. The bird did not listen but escaped getting caught.

A tern trying to get to the bait from a fishing line. Fortunately, it did not get caught.

I strongly feel that getting the birds untangled from fishing line early prevents them from winding up at the Ark Rescue as a patient or dead.

A royal tern.

Night Owls

Great-horned owlet.

We were temporarily caring for some great-horned owlets until they could be taken to Beaks Wildlife Sanctuary. I was hoping to get some video of their activity, but they huddled together and slept all day. We let them spend their days on the lanai and brought them in at night for their safety. As the sun set, their activity picked up and they began to roam around the lanai and perch together. I do not have the equipment to take video in the dark.

I was able to get some video after I fed them yesterday morning. I put them on the lanai after feeding them and they stood around before walking off to their little corner where they huddled for the day. They tolerated Dart and us well, until we entered their zone. When that happened, they put their head down, fluffed up their feathers and clacked their beak. At one point In the video below, you can see Dart’s nose in the right side of the picture. He entered the zone of the owl on the left and the owl reacted. When they first arrived, I think Dart believed this was a play gesture. Dogs put their head down and their butt up when they want to play. It took a day for Dart to figure out they weren’t going to play with him.

I successfully transported them to Beaks this morning. They are in good hands, although I will miss them. But, I won’t miss feeding them rats and mice.

The owlet on the left is watching Dart while the owlet on the right is watching me.
Close-up of the pointed nails on a great-horned owlet.
The foot of a great-horned owlet. They are dangerous. Experiencing them up close gives me a greater appreciation of why great-horned owls are a formidable predator.

Great-horned Owlets

Great-horned owlets.

Note: I am a licensed volunteer with the Ark Wildlife Rescue in St. Augustine.

It has been several weeks since we last posted. We have spent most of that time tearing up the carpeting in the house and replacing with vinyl flooring that looks like wood. It is beautiful and will work much better for us. Regis did almost all the work and my job was to declutter as long as we were moving things around and take time to plan our summer camping trip. We will be leaving the beginning of August and going to the southwest. I am attending a hummingbird workshop in Arizona in August and after that we will visit the four corners area (where four states meet).

The red-bellied woodpecker is growing its body feathers back but its wing feathers continue to come in slowly. We opened the cage last Sunday and it took at least 3 hours before the bird exited. When he did, we could see him get a bit of air time but not sufficient to release him. I enjoy watching him when he sits in front of his bowl of bark butter bits and flings one across the lanai, eats one, flings two, eats one, etc. until the bowl is empty. When I go out to clean his cage and give him fresh food and water, I step on the bark butter bits scattered all over the floor.

The coolest thing is that I picked up some great-horned owlets yesterday. I am keeping them until they can be transported to another rehab facility that specializes in birds of prey. The facility should be ready for them Saturday. I wish their mom and dad were raising them but as long as that is not the case, I am enjoying them. Regis was expecting small fluffy things and was surprised to see that each bird is the size of a football.

Great-horned owlets.

After feeding them this morning, I put them on the lanai and one of them came to the door to watch us. Dart wants to play with them and is excited. They are the biggest non-dog animal we have had around and they were big enough to get Dart’s tail wagging. The owlets were not interested in playing and puffed up their wings and clacked their beaks at Dart and he was taken a back. I think he was saddened that they did not have the same enthusiasm for play that he had. He laid down and watched them through the slider for a while and eventually went off to sleep somewhere.

Owlet looking into the house from the lanai.

The owlets get fed 2-3 times a day so they are not as high maintenance as young songbirds which have to be fed every 90 minutes or so. The owlets make up for the fewer feedings by the stuff they eat. Below is a picture of their dinner thawing out.

Regis calls this rat-a-two-y.

Our freezer is full of frozen mice, rats, and crickets. The refrigerator has chicken, mealworms, and some of Dart’s dog food. Surprisingly, there is some room left for our food.

In order to allow the red-bellied woodpecker and owlets to share the lanai, Regis had to hang towels to block their view of each other. The red-bellied woodpecker is stressed enough without having birds of prey staring at him. So far, the owlets have only made noises when we get ready to feed them. Regis tried to help feed them this morning but he was a disastrous great-horned owlet parent and will have to stick to hanging towels and setting up perches in the lanai or the owlets will starve. He does not seem to be able to get the food in the owlet’s mouth properly for it to swallow. They appear to be young enough that it is necessary to push the food into their beaks to get them to swallow. To prepare the food, I have to cut the rats, mice, or chicken into small pieces. Feeding mealworms and crickets to birds does not seem so bad now and much preferable.

While Regis was reviewing this post, I tried to make homemade protein bars. My first try at homemade protein bars did not taste well. I tried a different recipe this time. I had to stop before completion because smoke started to come out of the food processor. Perhaps I need to stick to purchasing protein bars.