Sunday, January 31, 2010

Why Do I Listen to Bill?

Why do I listen to Bill? The other day he asked what I wanted to do - then continued "I thought maybe we'd..." (so why did he ask me????) "try to find that geocache at Estero Bay Preserve." We had gone one other day, but the mud and water (and the fact that Bill had printed out the wrong directions) kept us from finding it.

Our hike started out fine. We had the correct directions and were headed down the right path. We both had sprayed with bug spray and Bill said we would not need it on the trail and to leave it in the car. (See blog title.)

This is not a pond - it's the $%$#&*! trail!! Under that layer of water was black mud - the kind that sucks your shoes off with each step. (See blog title.) And naturally, the bugs were ferocious! The hungry black flies were so thick, Bill had to break off a branch and swat his back as he walked. I hate when they buzz around your ears - but buzz they did - non-stop! Bill said the mud and bugs were "incentive to keep moving" (See blog title.)

The dead trees in the background are Melaleuca - an aggressive invader that spreads rapidly, destroying habitats by converting beautiful sawgrass marshes, wet prairies, and aquatic sloughs into impenetrable paperbark thickets. It was introduced to Southern Florida from Australia in the early 1900's to help dry out the swamps so they could be developed and is now a huge ecological threat - especially in the Everglades.

Here's the really awful part: One Melaleuca tree can store an estimated 20-million seeds. They are released when the trees are stressed, so many of the methods used to try and kill the trees may actually cause them to spread.

There were a couple of Plovers on high ground. At first I thought they were Killdeer - but they were much too small. I sent the picture to my sister as she is much better with the shore bird identification than I am and she says it is a Semipalmated Plover. Thanks Beth!

That's me at ground zero looking for the cache. The boardwalk was around 15 feet from a huge tidal pond - and we were there at high tide - so guess what I was walking in - up to my ankles. Bill finally spotted it through the deck slats. At least the water washed some of the mud off my shoes.

The cache was in an ammo box. We signed the log, replaced the box under the deck and headed back. I had hoped to find ducks on the pond - but not a one. (Maybe the bugs ate them.)

We went back on a different trail. Yes, it was plenty muddy - and slippery - but there was not near as much water so at least I knew what I was stepping on. Have I mentioned the smell? Black mud stinks!

This is a hog trap. The feral hogs are another big problem in the preserves as they dig up huge areas looking for food. I tried to get Bill to pose for a picture inside the trap - but at this point he was afraid I'd leave him there (and I just might have!).

We arrived back at the car hot, thirsty, dirty & smelly - but glad to have finally found the illusive Estero Bay Cache. This cache was special to us because we met a geocacher last year at ground zero. He was looking for the cache around the deck where we were sitting looking at the birds around the pond. At that point we were not into geocaching - and meeting and talking to him was one of the factors that got us started.

Outside the preserve, these beautiful Wood Storks and Great Egrets were waiting for us. A nice way to end our walk.

So to answer my question "Why do I listen to Bill?" - I listen, because I love him and we have amazing adventures every day. I am so-o-o lucky!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yes Virginia, there is a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. It's one of those names that people think they are making up to be funny and I didn't believe in them until the other day when one was pointed out to us while strolling along the boardwalk at the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary with friends, Tom and Cathy.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are about the same size as the more common Red-bellied Woodpeckers. They are called sapsuckers because they drill holes in trees to drink the sap. This one is a female. The males have a red chin. Her belly looks more yellowish in person.

Meow. Catbirds really do sound like cats. There is just a small spot of red under his tail.

This Red-bellied Woodpecker has found a tasty berry.

I just love the Cardinals. We don't have them in Colorado, so it's a treat when I see one. This colorful male was playing in the butterfly garden at the entrance to Corkscrew.

Bill, Cathy and Tom strolling along the boardwalk. Whether they want to go or not, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is a must trip for all of our visitors.

Another must see are the adorable Burrowing Owls on Cape Coral.

We enjoyed our visit with Cathy and Tom and sure hope they come again - soon!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Monk Parakeets

I read on another birder's blog that you can usually find Monk Parakeets on Cape Coral by the ball fields - so yesterday, after a wonderful afternoon at the pool, we headed over the $2.00 bridge to find them.

We looked around the ball fields with no success and had decided to go on to dinner when we saw what looked like an odd pair of doves up on the wires. Bill turned around, parked the car and I hopped out with my binoculars and camera. Sure enough, we had found the Monk Parakeets! They are lime green with beautiful bright blue wing feathers.

I usually hate to have man-made structures in my pictures, but I made an exception with these. The pictures are not great, but they certainly confirm our identification. Monk Parakeets have unusual toes. Instead of three toes forward and one back like most birds, they have two forward and two back. This arrangement helps them hold and eat their food.

Monk Parakeets are originally from Argentina and were brought to the United States as pets. Enough were released or escaped that they now successfully breed in small clusters here in South Florida. The only native North American parakeet was the now extinct Carolina Parakeet.

Happy to add a new bird to our list, we headed over to Ariels for dinner with our good friends Wendy and Larry - the perfect ending to another wonderful day in paradise.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Birding with New Friends

Yesterday started out foggy and looking like rain but we had made arrangements to take our new friends, Carol and Chuck to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary - so off we went. The day could not have been more perfect!

Looking at this picture, you can really see how the Red-shouldered Hawk got his name.

We always look for the Painted Buntings. The multi-colored male was there for a second but was scared off by the other ground critters. This female Painted Bunting stood her ground and continued eating the seeds that had fallen from the feeders - right next to a squirrel and a raccoon.

And this hungry raccoon wasn't the least bit interested in the bird and would not even lift his head long enough for a decent picture! He was determined to get every last seed.

This Yellow-crowned Night Heron was hiding in the trees but Chuck found an opening for me to take a picture through.

The Great Egrets are so graceful and elegant - this one has his neck stretched out looking for a small fish.

A day at Corkscrew wouldn't be complete without seeing at least one alligator. This guy was bigger than most that we see there - snuggled in the leaves taking a nap.

We saw several kinds of little birds including this Eastern Phoebe. I think Carol and Chuck enjoyed their stroll through the swamp. We didn't see tons of birds, but enough to hold our interest - and it's always a nice calming walk.

Instead of driving right back to Ft. Myers, we headed to Immokalee to see the new casino. The casino is okay - just okay. It's not as smokey as the old one - but certainly not smoke-free like the ones in Colorado. The gambling is ridiculous, you might as well just throw your money out the car window on the way by. $20 was sucked out of my hand in a nanosecond. I didn't get to play at all. Since it was getting late, we decided to eat lunch and the food at the casino deli was fabulous! Bill and I split a pastrami sandwich - there was no way either of us could (or should!) eat a whole one - and it was one of the best we have had here in Florida.

With full tummies, we headed to Manatee Park so Carol could see a manatee. There were quite a few getting warm in the waters by the power plant, but the lighting was terrible for pictures.

Instead, I took this shot of the huge mural on the welcome center. This shows a nursing calf with her mother.

Chuck, Carol and Bill posing for the camera towards the end of a great day with our friends.

The day before, Bill and I walked the entire loop at Harns Marsh. This time we took our GPS and I can report it was exactly 4-miles around. We didn't see anything too unusual for the area and didn't even spot a Snail Kite. We did see lots of buzzards, Limpkins, swallows, Killdeer, shore-birds, hawks, heron, egrets, ibis and ducks (including Blue-winged Teal). This is a beautiful American Kestrel. I usually don't like to photograph birds on wires, but I made an exception with this little guy. The river otters also made an appearance - but it was brief.

Mottled Duck on the left, Glossy Ibis on the right. Mottled Ducks are all over Florida - but not much anywhere else. They are similar to Mallards and the two species are often are seen together. The Glossy Ibis are just beginning to acquire their beautiful breeding plumages - iridescent reds, blues and purples that shine in the sunlight. Spring is coming.

We haven't been back to Ocala and are still torn with our decision. There are so many pluses to moving to a retirement community - but I just LOVE it here in Southwest Florida! The weather this year has not been ideal - but it has not been great up north either. Ocala would bring all new opportunities for adventures - including new birding and hiking sites - but I would miss being close to the Everglades, beach, tropical marshes and swamps. Decisions, decisions....

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Caloosa Bird Club Field Trip

Bill and I spent a day birding around Sarasota with the Caloose Bird Club. We started at Ackerman Park before moving on to the Celery Fields Regional Stormwater Facility and several small lakes in the area and finished up at the Myakka River State Park. The official club count of different species sighted that day was over 70. I identified over 50 different species including several birds I had never seen before. Most, I would have never spotted, let alone identified, if I had not been with so many friendly and knowledgeable birders.

This is a large flock of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks that are native to Texas and rarely seen on the east coast.

I'm sure I've seen a Savannah Sparrow before but had no clue what it was.

I was very excited to be the first one in the club to spot this Sora, a type of rail. I had to have help with identification as I had never seen a rail before. Soras are small chickenlike birds that feed along the edges of water - hiding in the weeds looking for aquatic insects and seeds.

The club had lunch at Myakka River State Park, where I saw this beautiful Limpkin hunting for snails. S/He took this one back to the two babies hiding in the tall grass. I'm sure the snail was as much a treat for them as just seeing them was for me.

Learning to Use a Tripod

On our last trip through Babcock Webb Wildlife Management Area before they closed full vehicle access after hunting season, I took along my tripod to see if it really made a difference in my pictures. I learned it makes a huge difference.

This shot was taken at full zoom (24X) and has been cropped and re-sized. The flock of Great Egret could barely be seen with the naked eye. The committee of buzzards on the left are feasting on the dead fish produced by the long spell of cold weather and hard freezes here in Florida. Dead fish are washing up everywhere - including the beaches. Thank goodness for the buzzards!

This is another of the panoramic shots that I was able to crop way down so I could identify all the various species including a Wood Stork.

Another of the several Wood Storks we saw at Babcock Webb.

Imagine my surprise when a large herd of Feral Hogs ran in front of the car! According to the species account at

"The wild hog is not a Florida native, and may have been introduced by explorer Hernando DeSoto as early as 1539. They may weigh over 150 pounds, and be 5-6 feet long. They travel in herds containing several females and their offspring.

Wild hogs occur throughout Florida in various habitats, but prefer moist forests and swamps, and pine flatwoods. They are omnivorous (eating all kinds of foods, both plants and animals, indiscriminately) and feed by rooting with their broad snouts. They may cause great damage of the understory and leave an area looking like a plowed field."

I've been trying to get a decent picture of a Belted Kingfisher. Not bad but I will still be working to improve on it. Most of the birds I photograph will not sit still while I set up a tripod - heck, they barely sit still for me to point and shoot!

This very tiny sandpiper was hunting for food along the side of the lake. I think it is either a Least Sandpiper or a Western Sandpiper.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Eagles, Hawks and Ocala

It's been a busy few days and I have lots of new pictures to share - and some uncertain identifications. We've been back to Babcock-Webb a couple of times to continue our search for the rare Red-cockaded Woodpecker, but he is no where to be seen. Instead we've seen hawks and eagles.

We were watching this juvenile Bald Eagle - off in the distance - having no clue what it was at the time.

We turned our attention to this Northern Mockingbird who had landed in a nearby Palm tree when,

what seemed like a fight broke out overhead.

At the time we thought this was an Osprey.

He seemed to be clashing with a Bald Eagle. We now realize the two birds were both Bald Eagles, the adult and the juvenile.

This beautiful Bald Eagle landed in a tree on the other side of a lake. He was at quite a distance - but I had seen him land so I knew where he was. In the commotion, the juvenile - that I did not identify until I later looked at my pictures - had disappeared.

I took this picture of what I'm sure is the same eagle a couple of days later. Wow - I can't begin to describe the feeling when you see such a magnificent animal.

This hawk was another stumper. We have tentatively decided it is a Northern Harrier. When he finished his meal and flew away, he glided low to the ground. This is typical of Northern Harriers.

We found lots of Bluebirds in the Pine trees. Babcock-Webb has worked to increase the Bluebird population with good success.

Along a canal, we found this thistle in full bloom.

And lots and lots of white Ibis. This one is a youngster and has not yet turned snowy white - but he will.

Killdeer are the only Plovers you will find inland. I've seen them in Kansas and Colorado as well as here in Florida.

It's always a good day when we see a Pileated Woodpecker!

The next day we visited Six-Mile Cypress Slough and the little birds were everywhere - but would they stay still long enough to have their picture taken? NO! We saw Blue-gray Gnatcatchers; Yellow-throated, Yellow-rumped and Black-and-white Warblers; Pine and Palm Warblers; Solitary and Yellow-throated Vireos along with some we have no clue what they were!

This Palm Warbler was playing a fast game of hide-and-seek.

I never get tired of seeing Great Blue Herons.

On Thursday, we drove back up to Ocala - about an hour north of Orlando - to take another look at On Top of the World - a 55 and older retirement community. Alex showed us lots of homes - from a $35,000 attached villa (that was amazingly nice!) to newer and nicer single family homes. We are impressed with all of the activities offered - including an RC flying club with their own flying field, several pools (both outdoors and in), birding club, photography club, wood shop, etc. This is the house we liked - it's small, 2 bedrooms, two bathrooms, nice eat-in kitchen, lanai with heat and air, a 2-car garage with room for a shop and a backyard where we could have a BBQ grill, bird-feeders, etc. There is a lot to consider. I would miss the vacation paradise here in Fort Myers with the beach just 5 miles away, a beautiful lake in our backyard and all the friends we've met, but would enjoy an adult community and a single family house where we have more freedom. Bill would certainly love to have a flying field closer than he has here.

We have to take another look....