Monday, June 29, 2009

Jay Watch

Besides being wonderful photographers and generous friends, Charlie Corbeil and Vince Lamb are both Florida Master Naturalists and active in Florida scrub-jay activities. Vince invited me to travel with them to a Jay Watch scrub-jay survey this past Saturday. I couldn't go, but he was kind enough to write up this guest blog, and he and Charlie contributed photos. Here is Vince's report:

Photo by Vince Lamb

Jay Watch is an annual survey of Florida Scrub-jays conducted at approximately 67 sites in 14 counties to monitor the status of this threatened bird. During 2002, the Nature Conservancy developed Jay Watch, utilizing volunteers to perform annual surveys. Buck Lake Conservation Area, a property located northwest of Titusville, has been included in the annual survey since 2007.

Photo by Charlie Corbeil

Maria Zondervan, biologist with St. Johns River Water management District, leads the surveys at Buck Lake. The 2009 survey took place on June 27-29. After a briefing session each morning, the participants were driven to selected locations. After confirming that no predators were present, each participant played a recorded scrub-jay call at intervals for several minutes and observed for scrub-jays. The numbers of adult birds and the number of fledglings were recorded. Band information was optionally collected. Calling and observing was repeated at six locations per participant.

Fledgling scrub-jay Photo by Vince Lamb

Juvenile scrub-jays are distinguished by the brown feathers on their heads until their first molt, typically in September. Jay Watch is conducted in June and July to allow the observers to detect the juveniles, which represent reproductive success. Seeing the juveniles with the scrub-jay families is always a treat.

Juvenile scrub-jay Photo by Vince Lamb

The Buck Lake Conservation Area, managed by The St Johns River Water Management District, is located north of State Road 46 and west of I-95, The eastern portion of the 9,638-acre property includes oak-palmetto scrub, the chosen habitat of the Florida Scrub-jays. The Jay Watch volunteers observed many other species of birds on the property, including a great horned owl, red-shouldered hawks, blue-jays and red-bellied woodpeckers.

Photo by Charlie Corbeil

Florida Scrub Jay
Florida Scrub Jay Watch
2008 Jay Watch Report
Florida Master Naturalist Program
Buck Lake Conservation Area
Vince Lamb Photos
Charlie Corbeil Photos
Our "it's a wild world" post with Charlie's fledgling pix

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Think Mink!

Internet friend Sandra Baker-Hinton is an acclaimed artist and gallery owner living on Amelia Island. She's also “Senior Volunteer Turtle Lady” for the Ft. Clinch Park Service, and she writes a personal newsletter filled with photographs of the Park critters and scenery that I am lucky enough to receive. The other day, she forwarded some photos taken by a friend of hers, Pat Foster-Turley, showing an exciting find at the Park. In case you do not recognize the little guy in the photo below - it's a mink!

I did a little research and found that indeed, minks can be found in the salt marshes of the north Gulf coast and the north Atlantic coast down to Ft. Mantanzas. A threatened subspecies called the Everglades Mink is found in south Florida. (If you search on Florida mink, most of the hits refer to either coats or a rock band. However, I've included a Conservancy of Southwest Florida link below that provides some critter information.)

Is this cute, or what!

I asked Pat if I might share her photos with you, and she graciously agreed. Pat is a wildlife biologist with a specialty in otters - follow the link below to read more about her. Her husband is a Ranger at the Park, so I can imagine there is not much that goes on there, critter-wise, that they don't know about! She writes a Wild Ways newspaper column - when she writes up her mink sighting, she's going to send me the link and I'll post about it. Meanwhile, she says: I saw the mink around where a turtle nest was marked, but it was not after any eggs at the time. It was cruising along hunting the embankment where lots of grasshoppers and small crabs were evident. At one point it looked to me like it ate a crab.

Pat included her email address so folks can contact her directly for photos or more information - . Our thanks to her for sharing her experience and her photos with us!

Sandra Baker-Hinton
Amelia SanJon Gallery
Florida Minks
Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Monarch Emerges

You've heard me speak of Ed Perry - Park Ranger at McLarty Treasure Museum in Sebastian, leader of the Sea-Bean Symposium, maker of sea grape jelly, and all-around good guy. Ed has a butterfly garden at his home, and he recently sent us this cool video that he made of a Monarch butterfly emerging. His notes include the following: This is a Monarch butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. I found the chrysalis in my garden - it had fallen after a storm, so I pinned it back up and was able to follow it through development. It emerged in the morning at about 8 a.m., and I was able to capture this miracle on video.

I showed the video to Jim and asked him if there was any significance to the twirling back and forth at the end - he said it was probably because Ed had pinned the chrysalis back up, and that under normal circumstances, the chrysalis would have been stable and there would not have been the twirling. In any event, the butterfly coped beautifully!

As always, our thanks for talented friends like Ed that are willing to share their adventures (and their sea grape jelly).

Ed always closes his emails with some quotations - this one seems particularly appropriate :

"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."Albert Einstein

Sunday, June 21, 2009

One good Tern deserves another!

Saturday, friend Margie picked up five rehabilitated Least Terns from the Florida Wildlife Hospital to release in Cocoa Beach, near where they had been rescued. This is her account. The Least Tern release went really well. I had five of them in a mesh cage. They were quiet all the way to Cocoa Beach in the back seat. They stayed quiet, but watchful, while I carried them down a very long walkway to an area of the beach where a large flock of Least Terns gathers every day. As soon as we stepped onto the beach and heard the first cry of an adult Least Tern flying overhead, all the little ones in my carrier went wild. A couple started trying to fly out, and they all started chirping like mad. I took them down toward the water, as close as I could get to the flock, which had at least 50 birds in it.

As soon as I opened the top of the carrier, one flew out, then another, then a third. The last two were confused and needed a little encouragement, but they all flew well and joined the other birds.

The youngsters are on the far left of the below photo , with the light heads. (Margie titled this photo Everybody is facing this way, so I will too!)

A reminder - many shorebirds are beach nesters. Watch where you step, and don't approach birds that look as though they may be nesting. Be mindful of posted signs that warn of bird nesting areas. Don't let children run into flocks of birds just to see them fly - birds need their rest, too. Birds such as these Least Terns are designated as Protected, so please do your part in protecting them. For more information on nesting shorebirds, visit (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission).

Thanks to Florida Wildlife Hospital for their work on behalf of our wildlife, and to Margie for her volunteer efforts and her photographic ability - taking photos and releasing birds simultaneously is quite a feat! Good thing our Florida birds know how to pose.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Happy Father's Day

I mentioned to friend Margie that I was trying to select an appropriate photo for this Father's Day tribute, but I hadn't thought out which bird fathers contributed to the family structure. After we talked a little, it became clear that we humans could take some lessons from our critter friends when it comes to parenting. Apparently, almost all bird daddies share in the child rearing activies. Our Florida Scrub Jays are certainly prime examples of a solid family structure. Sandhill Cranes marry for life, and you nearly always see the children with both parents. The little Cardinals that come to my courtyard typically come as a family. The Woodstorks in Matt MacQueen's beautiful photo look as though they are posing for this year's family Christmas card.

Margie volunteers at the Florida Wildlife Hospital. One of the hospital's educational birds is Gonzo the Screech Owl, a male who fosters baby screeches. The hospital folks actually had him gender tested, so they know he's a he. They didn't know he would act as a foster parent (he came in as barely more than a baby himself) until they put some young ones in with him so the little ones could see an adult. He immediately began caring for them and became quite protective of his babies. Now he fosters babies every year. (Gonzo photo by Florida Wildlife Hospital)
So a very happy Father's Day to both human and critter fathers!

Welcome to Motel 6

Visitors to Motel 6 in Cocoa Beach might wonder at the owls lined up along the edge of the roof, looking for all the world like welcoming doormen! (Click on photo to enlarge)

There's not much room left on Cocoa Beach's beaches for bird nests, so birds such as terns and skimmers have adapted to nesting on gravel-topped roofs. The plastic owls on the roof are designed to keep these birds away.
How's that working out? Apparently, the birds believe the owls are there to welcome THEM! (Look closely at the photo above to see a bird next to the owl, peering over the edge of the roof.)
Our thanks to Margie Mitchell for the photos and the sense of humor and to Motel 6 for their humane attempt at controlling Mother Nature.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tracking Sea Turtles - Then and Now

Today, much of our sea turtle knowledge comes from tracking turtles that have been instrumented with transponders. Scientists can then track the instrumented turtle's journey. This is an instrumented Belle o' Brevard from last year's Tour de Turtles, sponsored by the Caribbean Conservation Corporation. (Photo by Wayne Matchett)
Contrast that with this photo of Dr. Archie Carr and a couple of helpers, instrumenting a sea turtle with weather balloons so he could track its journey! I love this picture - judging from the swim trunks, I'd say 1950's? (Caribbean Conservation Corporation photo)
And faithful readers will recall a January post about Blair Witherington's research into sea turtle hatchling "lost years" - he and his graduate school friends constructed a balsa boat with an LED, harnessed it to a hatchling, and followed the "instrumented" hatchling by boat for three days.

And who said scientific research was no fun!

Monday, June 15, 2009

World Sea Turtle Day and Dr. Archie Carr

NOTE: This is a repeat of a 2009 posting celebrating World Sea Turtle Day. Today is the day, the CCC has changed its name to Sea Turtle Conservancy, but Dr. Carr's legacy and the beauty of the sea turtle remain unchanged. I've also added a couple of links in Reference Links.

Tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of Dr. Archie Carr's birth. His legacy includes the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, named in his honor. Fifty years ago, Dr. Carr was the founding scientific director of the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC), and the CCC has issued an excellent Centennial Tribute to him, penned by folks that know what they are talking about - David Godfrey, Executive Director, Caribbean Conservation Corporation; Charlie Pelizza, Refuge Manager, Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge; Paul Tritaik, Refuge Manager, J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The CCC web site also includes a brief biography about Dr. Carr written after his death in 1987. (See Links below - both are fine reading.) As a further honor, CCC has designated June 16 as World Sea Turtle Day. (Photo from CCC web site.)

I went on a sea turtle walk with the Sea Turtle Preservation Society (STPS) last Tuesday night. We met at the Melbourne Beach Community Center at 9:00 p.m. and watched a very informative slideshow for 45 minutes. There were about 20 visitors, most of them a group from out of town, and several volunteers. While we were getting educated, spotters were out on the beach with their night vision scopes looking for sea turtles preparing to nest. As soon as Dave Hochberg, our STPS guide, heard that a nester had been located, we all drove a few blocks down to Ocean Park. We walked down the beach a ways, waiting until the spotters were sure the turtle was fully engaged in laying her eggs so that we would not spook her, then gathered in nature's delivery room under a full moon to watch. There were several children in the crowd, and they hunkered down close to the nest in awe. (I know they were in awe, because they were quiet and didn't move - that's awe!) Flash photography is not allowed during night nestings, but Jim Angy's photo shows a daytime nesting Loggerhead (be sure to click to enlarge).

It took about 30 minutes for our Loggerhead turtle to complete dropping about 100 eggs into the hole she had dug. I took my videocam with night video to test it out - it actually worked quite well, considering my skills. However, I did not get a good shot of the hole full of eggs, so Donna kindly provided this STPS photo to show you what it looks like. (Jim has just gotten some great new daytime nester photos that he's bringing over tomorrow, so there will be plenty of sea turtle pix in the days to come.)

When the egg laying phase was complete, we all backed away and watched as our turtle covered the nest, turned around, and headed back to the ocean. There was applause as she eased herself into the water, and a lot of smiling faces (including the turtle's, I would think). The folks from Ohio and Indiana will have a good story to tell when they get back home.

So as we honor Dr. Carr on Tuesday, let us also honor the organizations and volunteers that work in behalf of these "ancient mariners." The Centennial Tribute included these words: But to truly honor Archie Carr, one need only take up the cause for protecting wildlife and wild places. With a little effort to darken the beach during nesting season, to support land and marine conservation efforts, and to support research and education, we can all contribute to sea turtle conservation. Archie would be very proud.

My thanks to Dave, Roger, and the STPS volunteers who made Tuesday night so special for a bunch of folks, including me. Archie would be very proud.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

We're baaaaack!

What a week! On June 4, I got frisky and decided to publish this blog on a custom domain, keeping the SpaceCoastBeachBuzz part, but registering the domain name to protect it and eliminate .blogspot from the URL. The process seemed to be pretty straightforward, but then the blog became inaccessible through any means at all! I've been in a tizzy, trying to find out how to contact Google customer service, even going so far as to ask Robin Chapman, who lives near the Googleplex, if she had any friends that work there (she doesn't). Long story short, I finally learned that to get help on a Google Blogger issue, you post your question on a forum . I did that, and very shortly received an answer - the whole problem was that I had entered my new URL as SpaceCoastBeachBuzz, and using upper case in the URL is a known problem (maybe known by others - not by me). I followed the instructions to correct the issue, and they worked - here we are! (Since the rest of you are bloggers too, I thought my experience and the forum link might at some point be useful to you. Actually, the forum is pretty interesting, and I'm going to go back and wander around in it.)
So the new address is, but using the old URL with the .blogspot in it will work - it just gets forwarded. I tried it - it worked, too. Whew!
One of the things I didn't get to post this week was the Flat Stanley that Wayne submitted to Channel 13. For those of you not from around here, Stan Van Gundy is the coach of the Orlando Magic, and they returned to Orlando for games 3, 4, and 5 of the NBA Finals. Channel 13 came up with a Flat Stanley cartoon and encouraged viewers to print/cut out/leave around in various places. (For those of you not familiar with the real Flat Stanley books and project, follow the above link.) Since Wayne had taken some great pix of the shuttle returning via 747, he whipped up this great illustration. The Lakers currently lead the series 3-1, and Sunday night's game will determine if the Magic return to LA for games 6 and 7 or if the Lakers celebrate their victory on the Magic's home court. We certainly don't want that to happen, so GO MAGIC!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

We're In Transition

I learned to blog in a class and had to think of the blog name on the fly, so to speak (not my forte). Under the category of "if I knew then what I know now", I should have registered the blog name as a domain name, thus eliminating the word .blogspot from the URL. Well, some 167 posts later, I finally got around to doing that. In Google theory, this transition will be complete within three days (two to go), and the original name will always be forwarded to the new name. Meanwhile, I'm having trouble getting to old posts. All this should work its way out in a couple of days. New blog name, by the way, is , and that fabulous photo in the header of a green sea turtle on a Space Coast beach is from our cohort Jim Angy's collection.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Snowy Egret Ballet

Centennial Park at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge has a wonderful covered bench overlooking a large pond, just perfect for chatting and watching the world go by. As friend Marilyn and I sat on said bench, she pointed out an interesting activity by some Snowy Egrets. As we watched, one would skim across the pond, dragging his toes in the water. As soon as he was finished, another one would take off, doing the same thing. I, of course, called Jim to see what was going on. Meanwhile, Marilyn snapped this photo.
Turns out, this is a common Snowy Egret fishing technique. The closest name I could find to attach to it is "foot dragging" - you can read more about other techniques in the link below. Snowy Egrets have great big yellow feet, and they skim those yellow toes across the water in hopes that a fish or frog will think it is something tasty. I put out a call to "the guys" for illustrative photos, and as always, they came through. Matt contributed this beauty - you can see two spots where the toes have gone in, almost like a skipping stone.
It was such a treat to watch these birds and their antics - they reminded me of a bunch of teenage skateboarders. They didn't work in pairs, they didn't seem to be much interested in eating, and they didn't interfere with other birds - they just waited their respective turn and took off skimming. What fun!
When they stir up something good, the Snow Egret can snag it in mid flight. Lucky for us, Charlie Corbeil snagged this photo and shared it.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Welcome Back To Florida, Atlantis

You will recall that Shuttle Atlantis, carrying a crew of seven, recently returned to Earth after an 11-day mission featuring five risky, but successful space walks to service and upgrade the Hubble telescope. Unfortunately, Atlantis was unable to land at the Cape because of rain - much needed rain, but still inconvenient if you're NASA trying to bring Atlantis back safely. So Atlantis landed in California and came back "home" on the back of a converted 747 jumbo jet late yesterday afternoon. Friend Wayne snapped this photo from his yard in Satellite Beach as the mated pair cruised up the beach. Welcome home, Atlantis! The next launch is scheduled for June 13, as Shuttle Endeavour heads for the Space Station. (Photo by Wayne Matchett. Click on photo to enlarge.)

CORRECTION: Jim just called, and I made an egregious error in yesterday's post (now corrected) about the Peninsula Cooter - the MALE is the one with the long nails. They are used to keep him situated during mating. Whatever works.)

Link: Florida Today story (Atlantis return)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Yet Another Turtle!

You know it's going to be a good day when another turtle enters your life. When Sugar (my Italian Greyhound rescue princess) and I went for an early-morning walk, she discovered a moss-covered turtle pushed up against the wall of the townhouse next to mine. I brought said turtle into my fenced courtyard, watered her, and fixed her a nice breakfast of home-grown lettuce and store-bought watermelon. At a decent hour, I called Jim, and he came over, camera in hand.

Turns out my newest visitor is a Peninsula Cooter, and Jim says the shorter claws indicate she is a she (males have longer nails to hold on to the females during mating). She was about the size of a large dinner plate, and Jim guessed her to be about 12 years old.
I showed him where I had found her, and he pointed out that she had dug a nest hole and was preparing to lay eggs when I moved her to the courtyard. I felt bad about that, but I feared some of the large dogs frequently walked off-leash in the area would attack her and knew she'd be safer in my courtyard. (We checked - no eggs in the hole.)

As luck would have it, Jim had this dandy photo of a baby Peninsula Cooter. Awwww! (Be sure to click on all the photos to enlarge.)
After a suitable photo op, we drove her to a nice pond where Jim says other cooters spend their days sunning. This was so cool - as soon as we got her out of the car and she saw/smelled the pond, she got all excited! Jim carried her about half way down to the water's edge and set her down. As I was chastising him for not putting her nearer the water, she hauled turtle butt as fast as she could - my old camera missed a final shot of her as she slid into the water, but I guarantee you that she was smiling.
A good day.
(All photos by Jim Angy except the dirt and this last one, which I took)