Sunday, 6 April 2008

Wildlife from home and away

Pelican with fish

After a long bout of bronchitis it was wonderful to escape the English winter and experience some Florida sunshine and exotic wildlife. Ironically, it was so cold for the first two days that we had to buy fleeces and wear our windproof jackets! After that the weather settled and we enjoyed exploring Nature Trails, strolling along shorelines, listening to the sounds of the ocean and, on our last night, watching the launch of the space shuttle challenger.

A great white heron with lunch

It's amazing to watch, first the stalking and then the successful lunge. This heron took its time over swallowing the fish, carefully positioning it before letting it slide down its throat.

A yellow crowned night heron

During our holiday we visited The Ding Darling wildlife sanctuary on beautiful Sanibel Island.
Sadly, there seems far less birdlife here than there was five years ago. The same was true of The Everglades. We gather it's partly because of the habitat damage done by hurricanes Wilma and Katrina, but also because of the lack of fresh water. With so many people moving to Florida each week that can only get worse I should imagine.

A red -shouldered hawk hunting

We had the pleasure of watching this magnificent hawk hunt for insects, lizards and snakes right in front of us for half an hour. It would fly from a nearby tree and land in the grass near our feet before heading back to a tree. It didn't seem the least bothered by our presence.

An osprey heading back to its nest

We came across an osprey nest in the autumn and hoped to be able to photograph its young on the nest but we were just two days too late. However, there was another nest nearby, though far less easy to photograph, so we had to content ourselves with watching the birds in flight.

A cormorant with an impressive catch

It was a rather grey day when we spotted this cormorant so the colours lack vibrance but its performance with this fish made up for that. It took ages to 'prepare' the fish prior to swallowing it but we gather it has to do this because of the spines on the fish.

A great egret dealing with an itch

These egrets look so lovely with their breeding plumage. This one was fishing only a few feet away from some large alligators. I was told that one of the alligators had managed to take a great blue heron the day before but the egret seemed indifferent unless a gator got really close.

An anhinga in breeding plumage

When we visited The Everglades in 2003 we saw so many of these fabulous 'snake' birds but there were considerably fewer this year and, apparently, none nesting along The Anhinga Trail a couple of years ago. They are given the nick name 'snake bird' because their long necks look like snakes underwater.

An osprey hoping to spot a fish

An alligator having a yawn

I watched this gator for at least half an hour and at one point when it yawned I could see right down its throat.

A great blue heron having a cautious scratch

The heron never took its eyes off a gator that was gradually moving closer and closer to where the bird was perched. When it got too near the heron squawked and flew to a higher branch.

A yawning anhinga

A brown pelican in flight

A great egret with its catch

I spotted the egret on a beach below as I was walking along a pier. I saw that it was about to 'strike' and was fascinated to watch how it dealt with its catch. Sometimes it would drop it by the water's edge but then pick it up again and re-position it. It took nearly five minutes before finally swallowing the fish.

The island garden after a snow fall in april

We've been having some very odd weather in the last couple of weeks, one day warm and the next few chilly. Today we had snow which looked lovely but didn't last.

Our resident mallard heading back to her nest

Every year 'Goldeneye" nests on our top deck and she now gives us a hard time if we don't get her nest box out in time. This year we asked a friend to build some proper nesting boxes but she wasn't prepared to wait for them to arrive so we had to dig out her old plastic box. We didn't have any straw or hay to put in it so she kept stomping up to the French windows and looking in at us with a resentful expression. In the end, I went to the local stables and cadged some old straw but she wasn't keen on the smell of manure. Nor did she like the shredded paper that Dave tried out on her! I gave in and made a special trip to the shops to get her some meadow hay. As soon as I'd removed the old straw and replaced it with the new she went straight in and starting shaping her nest. The ducklings are due to hatch on or around April 20th we hope, though we have reason to think that she or her mate might be infertile.

A view from the island bridge in late March

A male tufted duck in the early morning sunshine

Mandarin ducks heading for my feeding station

We don't know where these two are nesting but they fly in regularly for breakfast, lunch and supper. Several other male mandarin ducks also turn up and try to impress the female with their magnificent displays, to no avail!