Thursday, April 30, 2009

You're Invited to a Baby Shower!

(Good friend free-lance writer extraordinaire Maria Sonnenberg is today's Guest Blogger. The photo of a baby otter is from the Florida Wildlife Hospital. Many thanks to both, as well as to the Palm Shores folks for throwing the party.)
Otters, even the infant variety, sport an enviable savoir faire. They look cool and cute no matter what they do…and they know it.
Three tot versions of these furry Slinkies are currently residing at Florida Wildlife Hospital, part of the influx of wildlife babies that arrive each year as sure as Spring breezes. The hospital staff will be playing Mother Otter to the three little guys until August or September, when the trio will be ready to face the big wide world on their own. Among the other baby residents taxing the hospital’s very limited resources are a fawn that ran afoul of a fence, a not-so-big great horned owl that fell from its nest and was deserted by its parents, and a host of squirrels, songbirds, squirrels, rabbits, possums and did I mention squirrels?

All these little critters need plenty of love and care, as well as lots of expensive food. To help the hospital with the baby influx, the Town of Palm Shores annually hosts a Wild Baby Shower. This year, the baby shower is more important than ever, for the nonprofit, like all other charities, has seen a drop in donations.

The Baby Shower is a family event, to be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 2, at the Palm Shores town hall, located at 5030 Paul Hurtt Lane, ½ mile south of the Pineda Causeway on the west side of U.S. 1. The laidback affair features games, prizes, food, book and bake sale and a visit from the hospital’s ambassador owls.
The hospital welcomes gifts for the wild babies or---even better---a donation for special formulas and medications that they purchase at special prices. To see the hospital’s current wish list, visit For more information, call 254-8843.
(P.S. Jim wants to title the photo - Is this 2% or whole?)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bird Banding from a Bird's Perspective

I've had a B.C. cartoon strip about bird banding on my refrigerator since the last week in January, waiting for a chance to use it. When Charlie's banded woodpecker provided the perfect opportunity, I set about getting permission to use the strip I had cut out, plus the rest of the strips in the bird banding series. I located the strips themselves on the John Hart Studios web site, and it appeared to me that I met the criteria for using them legally, but I wanted to be sure, so I got in touch with them. What nice people, and what an interesting story. John Hart died in 2007, but his children and grandchildren are carrying on the cartoonist's work - you can read about it on their web site. I got a prompt, gracious email reply, confirming permission, so here it is - bird banding from a bird's perspective! (If you want to look at the strips full size, go to the B. C. Archives for January 26 - 30, 2009, on the John Hart Studios web site.)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Bird with Bling!

When Charlie Corbeil sent this photo of a Red-cockaded Woodpecker (known to birders as RCW) with five leg bands, I started my research into what the various band colors mean. I have to tell you, this was complicated.
First, a little about the RCW. It is one of only two woodpecker species protected by the Endangered Species Act (the other being the ivory billed woodpecker). It lives in small family groups and socializes with other family groups during the day. RCWs are the only woodpeckers to excavate nest and roost sites in living trees, preferring old, living longleaf and loblolly pine trees. This is a very interesting bird, and I hope you'll follow the link at the end of the post to learn more about it.
Charlie suggested I speak with Samantha McGee, Environmental Specialist at St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park. She told me The bird in the photo taken by Charlie Corbeil was seen the evening of March 26, 2009 at the St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park. This particular female Red-Cockaded woodpecker was translocated to St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park from Goethe State Forest in 2007. ... We have been actively involved in the translocation program since 2001 and have received birds from Appalachicola National Forest, Ft. Stewart, GA, Ft.Benning, GA, Camp Blanding, FL and Goethe State Forest. She also provided me with some reference links that I'll include at the end of the post.
But I still was not sure of what each colored band represented, and my Internet research only served to confuse me more. So I got in touch with Andy Bankert, birder extraordinaire since the tender age of about 9 years old, now in college. Andy was wonderfully patient with my questions and explained that different birds necessitate different banding techniques and limitations. Regarding the interpretation of the colors, he said Usually there are more than 3 color bands to increase the number of combinations so the scientists can band hundreds of birds with a unique combination. In addition to the color bands, the aluminium US Geological Survey (USGS) band is placed on the bird. This band has a specific number to identify the bird if it is ever caught again or found dead, but usually the number is too small to be read in the field, so the color bands are used for resighting birds. The USGS band is placed on all banded birds, whether they are caught at a banding station (where that is the only band placed on the bird) or caught for a specific project (where color bands may be placed to identify specific birds by sight).
Bottom line - when birds are banded, detailed records are kept. You and I (or at least I) will never figure the whole thing out, but fortunately, people like Samantha know what they are doing! There's a link below that tells you how to report an encounter with a bird that has a metal Federal band.
I know it's hard to imagine that there is anything remotely funny about bird banding, but check back here in a few days for a good giggle.
My heartfelt thanks to Charlie for his photo and Samantha and Andy for their help.
Reference Links:

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Another Interesting Visitor

I have been toiling over a post for Space Coast Eco about the River Lakes Conservation Area, Moccasin Island Tract. I experienced blogger's block, and it took much longer than it should have. However, I was able to use the photo I took there of a lovely big red rat snake sunning himself in the road, and that brought to mind my recent snake adventure.

A couple of weeks ago, pre-snapping turtle, I raised my garage door and discovered a small snake hanging from that rubber weather strip at the bottom. Not knowing what kind he was (I really need to pay more attention to Jim and Matt), I put a big Rubbermaid tote under him and poked him with a yardstick. He dropped into the tote nicely - I gave him some leaf litter, popped a lid on the tote, and called Jim. He was a beautiful young rat snake, and as you can see, he provided Jim with a good photo opportunity. The snake was a mellow little guy, and he did not mind having that pretty tummy rubbed. Rat snakes are sometimes called corn snakes because of the pattern on their belly that looks like corn on the cob.

Jim wanted me to remind you that there are no climbing venomous snakes in Florida. He turned the baby loose somewhere safe after the photo session, of course.

Pure Florida recently blogged about his grey rat snake find - we don't get those over on the east coast of Florida, but they are found in the Panhandle.
Another friend called with the news that he'd found a complete black snake skin, still moist - a great find, indeed. He said the head was a little twisted, so he put it in some warm water and was able to straighten it out. I would not have thought of that - Florida Cracker, what say you to this idea?
Apropos of nothing except we all need a good giggle every once in a while, read Cactus Jack's Quote for the Week post, All I Know I Learned From My Horse. These rules are written from a horse's point of view, but most of them are pretty applicable to humans, although I'm not sure #12 works in polite company.
I read light mysteries, preferably ones with good writing or good recipes or both. I finished one yesterday that pretty well summed up my week. In the 1800s, poet John Greenleaf Whittier wrote, For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: It might have been! Present-day mystery writer Bill Crider took issue with this in his book Of All Sad Words and maintains the saddest words are: It seemed like a good idea at the time. Works in my mind, and I may embroider it on a pillow.
Have a good week!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Daytime Nesting Leatherback Sea Turtle

The chances of coming across a Leatherback sea turtle nesting in the daytime in March near Brevard County are slim to none. Matt and Jim would eat worms to have been on hand for this rare daytime nesting event that took place near Hutchinson Island (south of Vero Beach) on March 22.

Our trusty Sea Turtle Preservation Society friend, Ann Zscheile, provided us with this story and passed along the photos. Dave and Ann North are from Delaware and have been staying in Florida since January. Dave was fishing on the beach off of Hutchinson Island when he saw a huge object come out of the sea. He said all sorts of thoughts went through his mind, including maybe it was a human body. When he realized he was watching a VERY large sea turtle emerge from the ocean, he called his wife on his cell phone. She quickly grabbed her camera and came to the beach.

After the event. someone told Ann North that there was a sea turtle organization in Melbourne Beach called the Sea Turtle Preservation Society. She looked it up on the internet, got our number, and called and left a message that she had a video and pictures of a nesting sea turtle and would we be interested in seeing her pictures and videos?
The Norths provided the STPS with still photos and video, and when I asked if I might use a few of the pictures in my blog, Ann North was so gracious, saying it was her pleasure to share them! It's one thing to read that mature male and female Leatherbacks can be as long as six and one-half feet long and weigh nearly a ton, but these photos make those dimensions a reality. Many thanks to the Norths for sharing their once-in-a-lifetime experience with us.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Taxman Cometh!

Sorry - was going to title this post "We get by with a little help from our friends ...", but I just couldn't resist.

The snapping turtle (I named him Big Guy) made himself right at home in my little fenced courtyard. Monday when I got home, he came over and started banging on the sliding glass door - he had already figured out where his Spam was coming from! Tuesday morning, he was guarding the front gate, so I had to delay getting the newspaper until the coast was clear. He was growing on me - I was actually considering constructing some sort of mud hole and painting a sign - Beware of Guard Turtle. Fortunately, Jim rescued him from what would have been a pretty boring (and monastic) existence, took these fabulous photos, and released him into Turkey Creek. I love these pictures - I sized that top one large so you can snag it as a screensaver!
"... with a little help from our friends" also applies to David McRee's review in his April 10 Visit Florida Beaches and Surf Expert column of our new Space Coast Eco blog. David not only "gets it", he can articulate it! He doesn't talk "eco" as a marketing ploy - he's a native Floridian and loves the biodiversity the state offers. In his personal blog, Blog the Beach, he frequently writes about birds and sea critters - one of my favorites is his video on pelican rescue. I've written before about the FREE ocean safety e-book he offers on his BeachHunter web site. It's a must-read for beach-goers.

As I was thanking Jim for rescuing me from yet another wildlife adventure, he reminded me that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) folks were meeting today to consider stronger conservation measures for freshwater turtles. The commercial harvest of freshwater turtles is a significant conservation threat in Florida, and the FWC, with strong support from the Governor, is proposing new restrictions. I've been remiss in not talking about this sooner so you could have added your voices to those supporting this much-needed protection of our turtle friends, but I'll keep you informed as to the outcome.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

What I Got for Easter!

Some people got Easter baskets. I got a snapping turtle. (There are those that would say this is appropriate.)

I was stopped at a red light on a road under construction (aren't they all?), and out wandered a turtle. I jumped out of the Forester, waved to the folks behind me, snagged the turtle, and popped him in what suffices for a trunk. I noticed he hissed, but I was trying to get back in the car before the light turned green, so I didn't pay much attention to what he looked like.
When I got home, I got him out of the car and put him in my fenced courtyard. At this point, I did notice his claws and his BIG mouth. I hosed him down (for which he seemed reasonably grateful - stuck his head up and drank), and threw him some lettuce, grapes, and banana. He sneered, and I should have realized then that anything with a mouth like that wanted steak and wanted it ASAP. (Be sure to click on this first photo - I intentionally left it large, as this guy has some really interesting architectural details!)
Now I like turtles, but when it comes to identifying them (other than a Florida box turtle), I rely upon Matt and Jim, neither of whom were home. So I researched the critter on-line, verified he was indeed a common snapping turtle, and thanked my lucky stars that I had not lost a finger in this whole adventure. By this time, he had disappeared into the jungle I call landscape, but eventually he came out to pose for photographs. I fixed him a plate of a chopped chicken tender and chopped Spam. He sneered at that, too. He has a big plant saucer of water that he just fits in, but of course he wants deeper water and mud.

Believe me when I tell you he is just as grumpy as he looks. Neighbor John took one look at the photo and said I've never seen such an angry looking, ugly turtle.. Looks like you spray painted him black and beat him with a stick..
Tomorrow, I'll ask Jim to find him a safe home after he gets some photos. Meanwhile, I'm really careful about where I walk in the courtyard.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Joyous Easter

These will always be my Easter ducks, even though I didn't get them for Easter. Last year, a neighbor found two baby ducklings in the road in the middle of the night. He brought them to my house on a Friday - by Saturday morning, they were a photo op for Jim and Matt. This picture is one that Matt took.

After they got too big for their nursery, they had the run of the screened in porch - the indoor/outdoor carpet was old anyway :) Morning, noon, and night, I took a bowl of shredded romaine lettuce and warmed baby peas out for their main meal (they always had fresh water and chick mash). If I was late getting their meal out to them, they'd peck at the sliding glass door. I loved watching the dynamics between them - they never fought, even over the food. They'd eat as fast as they could (that's why their heads are a little blurred in the photo that I took), throwing all the lettuce onto the floor, eating the peas, and then eating the lettuce.

As they got older, it was apparent they were mottled ducks, one male and one female. They had one swimming pool full of sand and leaf litter and one swimming pool full of water. They'd roll in the sand and leaf litter and then jump in the pool and swim madly for a while, then float around gently.
When they were able to fly, we took them to a wonderful ranch in the middle of nowhere. I still miss them. (Photo by Matt MacQueen)
May the joy and promise of Spring and Easter be yours.

Monday, April 6, 2009

A Thing of Beauty

This is one of Charlie Corbeil's "glamour shots." You might think this beauty is some rare, exotic species. Indeed, it is an adult male boat-tailed grackle, common, noisy - often seen on telephone wires or having lunch in the Publix parking lot. But in the right light, the grackle's iridescent black plumage takes on the jewel-like tones that Charlie captured here. We could wax philosophical about finding beauty in the mundane, but let's just enjoy the picture instead! Thanks, Charlie. (Charlie Corbeil Photography)

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Other White Meat

I cannot (and would not want to) take credit for today's title. Matt and Jim concocted it while looking at Jim's photos from his recent trip to Gatorland. The photos included this one of a leucistic gator. The purists amongst you can research a more technical explanation, but basically, the difference between leucistic and albino animals involves the amount and type of pigments retained. An albino would typically have pink eyes, while this alligator's eyes are blue, making him leucistic. Neither leucistic or albino critters survive long under natural conditions, and in captivity, they must be protected from harmful UV rays.
I was reminded of these photos when Florida Cracker promised to start an all-alligator blog on April Fool's Day - and he did! His tagline is Here there be dragons - most appropriate. He also staged an elaborate April Fool's Day hoax on his Pure Florida site that centered around a purported meteor chunk landing in the back 40 of what he refers to as Pure Florida Headquarters. Well done, and worth a read. (Links are included at the bottom of this post.)
I follow the fascinating blog of an international ecotourism consultant, Megan Epler Woods. She is currently on her second trip to Bangladesh, where she is working with Government and businesses on a sustainable ecotourism plan. A recent post described some of the wildlife she has encountered (no Bengal Tigers yet) and included photos of an endangered saltwater crocodile, spotted deer, and a very odd owl. I recommend her blog to you as a wonderful glimpse of other lands and other cultures.
I'm so glad to have these other bloggers to point to, as I'm chomping at the bit to start writing about Click Ponds for my Space Coast Eco blog. Enjoy your weekend.
Wikipedia entry on Leucism:
A Day in the Life of an Ecotourism Consultant:

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Curtis Ebbesmeyer's New Book

You'll recall our speaking fondly and frequently of Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer, the only person I know that when I search his name on the Internet, he has 72,900 mentions and his photo in Wikipedia. He's also the only person I know that speaks of forensic oceanography and floating heads and feet. He is a charter member of the Sea-Bean Symposium and one of life's unforgettable characters.

Curt is featured in three videos on our Florida Beach Basics web site, and our Florida Beach Basics - The Space Coast DVD has a segment devoted to flotsam that of course includes much about Curt.

We are so pleased to tell you that Curt's new book, with co-author Eric Scigliano, was released March 24, 2009, by Smithsonian Books/Harper Collins. It's titled Flotsametrics and the Floating World: How One Man's Obsession with Runaway Sneakers and Rubber Ducks Revolutionized Ocean Science. I've loved the cover since the first time I saw it. The little rubber duck is synonymous with Curt - he's famous for tracking rubber bath toys that fell off a container ship in the 1990s and using their progress to monitor ocean currents.

Curt will be here for the next Sea-Bean Symposium (mid-October), so buy your book now and bring it to the Symposium to get it autographed.

Read more about Curt's "baby" at Flotsametrics and the Floating World.