Thursday, April 15, 2010

Whooping Cranes, Flamingos and More!

Around the time I was born, there were fewer than 15 Whooping Cranes in existence. 60 plus years of extensive efforts have raised that number to over 400; 200 - 250 in the wild and another 200 in captivity. On Wednesday, Bill and I were fortunate to see 2 of the 400.

Whooping Cranes are huge birds - standing about 5 feet tall with a wingspan of almost 8 feet. They look like Sandhill Cranes, except they are white with red forehead and cheeks.

A small population of Whooping Cranes lives year around on the Kissimmee Prairie near the Disney complex in central Florida and others winter south of Tallahassee.

Another group is being established on the Gulf coast just west of Ocala at the Crystal River Preserve State Park north of Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. The story about how they are being re-introduced is amazing:

Bill and I visited the park in Homosassa where two of the birds who were injured during migration now live.

The park is a rehabilitation center for injured and orphaned manatees but they have all kinds of critters living in and around the preserve. Most are free to come and go, while others, like the Whooping Cranes, live in natural - but protected - settings and cannot be released back into the wild because of permanent disabilities. Many of these permanent residents freely co-habituate and breed with their wild counterparts. Main-streaming at its finest!

Here in the U.S., other than an occasional sighting in the Everglades or Key West, flamingos are usually only seen in zoos. The preserve at Homosassa Springs had quite a few - and boy are they beautiful!!

Their red-pink color comes from the pink Gulf shrimp that is their principle food.

They live and nest around the lake that is the centerpiece of the visitors area of the property. There are natural springs with water bubbling up from the ground at a constant 72 degrees - the headwaters of the Homosassa River. Most of the birds here come and go and I saw nothing that kept the Flamingos from leaving as well.

Look at those wings! The black is not visible except in flight - or when they stretch.

The breeding plumage on this Great Egret was stunning! It looks like the Mute Swan was impressed.

Two Bald Eagles live in the park. Both are unable to fly. So sad - but it's nice that people can see them. There were a few cages for the protection of certain animals like the Florida Panthers, Key Deer and Black Bears - but mostly just fences along the boardwalk.

I was thrilled to see this Crested Caracara as I've never seen one before.

Isn't he wonderful?

High in the trees, there were all sorts of nests. These Anhinga are raising their chicks right there in the park - alongside the water.

Mr. Red Fox was getting ready to take a nap.

All of the birds and animals - including this magnificent Red-tailed Hawk - are native to Florida.

Well, all but the hippo. This is Lucifer. Apparently he was left over after the State of Florida purchased the land from an exotic animal park. The plan was to convert it to a wildlife preserve with only native Florida birds and animals. Area school children petitioned the state for "Luc" - a former movie star - to stay. Since all of the animals had to be Florida residents, the Florida legislature made Lucifer an honorary Florida citizen. At 46, he is the oldest resident.

We saw several Sandhill Cranes.

The Mute Swans are beautiful.

There was a large family of White Pelicans.

I was curious about the growth on the beaks of some of the adults and learned that during mating season the male develops this fibrous plate on the upper part of the beak. I have no clue if it has a purpose.

This guy wanted to show me the black on his wings. He flew to the other side of the lake to join the ladies.

You might have to click on this picture for a larger image to see the Wood Ducks in the trees. Wood Ducks nest in trees and once all the eggs have hatched, the little birds have to jump down. Not all of them make it.

It's always nice to see a father bonding with his children.

I saw Wood Ducks in Colorado, but this is the first I've seen them in Florida.

This picture shows the beautiful setting. The boardwalk is in the background and Pelican Island is in the middle of the small lake.

The Brown Pelicans were nesting - sitting on their eggs. Too cool!

Bill and I will definitely go back - and if you come for a visit, this might just be a "must" day trip.

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