Friday, December 9, 2011

Beautiful Birds of Myakka

On a brisk, gusty November afternoon, Bruce and I kissed two mopey-eyed dogs goodbye (sniff, sniff), hopped in a taxi, made our way through airport security, glided along on several moving walkways and boarded a plane to the west coast of Florida. Thanksgiving with my family down in Longboat Key is always a joy. Our days are spent with loved ones, savoring delicious home cooked meals, basking in the warm, soothing rays of the sun and strolling on white, powdery beaches. Viewing the gorgeous wildlife of the Gulf Coast is a special treat for us as well.

This year, we decided to visit Myakka River State Park, only 40 minutes away. Myakka River State Park is one of the oldest and largest state parks in Florida. The Myakka River flows through 58 square miles of diverse terrain. A most wonderful day was spent viewing an abundance of wildlife (especially birds!) and beautiful scenic landscapes. We observed at least 34 species of birds, eight American Alligators (two mating) and one furtive Florida Water Snake. I was thrilled to add two life birds to my list, as we spotted a few well camouflaged Wilson's Snipes and four elegant Black-necked Stilts.

This post features several of the stunning birds seen at the park ... and one BIG alligator.

A resplendent Tricolored Heron exhibits interesting fishing behavior

This lovely Sandhill Crane pair was one of several we observed at the park

A slender Greater Yellowlegs darts for prey in the shallows

An elegant Great Egret walks amid a lush bed of water hyacinth

I gasped when I saw this Great Blue Heron land in close proximity to the basking alligator. The scaly large-mouthed reptile showed no interest and a minute or two later slowly slid into the water.

The Wood Stork's diet consists of crayfish, crabs, fish, frogs and large insects. I find the prehistoric look of the Wood Storks bald head to be so very interesting.

Many solitary Glossy Ibis were seen feeding throughout the park. I recently read that these birds will without hesitation, indulge in eating water snakes.

The stunning blue plumage of a Little Blue Heron

We were thrilled to spot over 40 Roseate Spoonbills at the park. Most were congregated at a remote area of Upper Myakka Lake. This is not the greatest photograph, but I was elated to catch sight of the blushing bird in flight.

A beautiful White Ibis exhibits a mucky beak from probing in the mud for food

A Great Blue Heron and Wood Stork cross paths while seeking sustenance

Soon after the above photograph was taken, this American Alligator lumbered into the water and swam after another alligator, perhaps 300 feet away. The rapid chase continued for a few minutes until they both slowed down, swam side by side and proceeded to mate.

~ The average male American Alligator is 10-15 feet long and weighs 500-600 pounds ~

Monday, November 7, 2011

Fall Feathers

This post features several of the beautiful birds I have seen throughout the autumn months.
~ Identification corrections always welcome ~

A most striking raptor ~ Juvenile Cooper's Hawk

A pretty Palm Warbler seen against a colorful autumn background

American Goldfinches are a common sight during the fall months 

Goldenrod offers a nice perch for this stunning White-crowned Sparrow

A beautiful Black-throated Green Warbler forages amid the tree branches

 A gust of wind fluffs the feathers of an American Kestrel

I spotted this Dark-eyed Junco bathing delightfully in a puddle after an early morning downpour

A Horned Lark explores washed up vegetation on the Lake Michigan shore

A handsome juvenile Red-tailed Hawk scans the nature preserve for prey

A Red-eyed Vireo passes through our property on its migration south

A peanut is this Blue Jays snack of choice ~ This particular Blue Jay would repeatedly pick up 4 - 8 peanuts and toss the rejects before it decided on the perfect nut

A Semipalmated Plover enjoys a sunny day at the beach

Floating lazily in the cool pond waters ~ Hooded Merganser

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Joy of Hummingbirds

The autumn season in the Midwest brings cooler, more comfortable temperatures, a stunning array of colorful leaves and crisp, sweet apples ripe for picking. When the month of October arrives, I know the departure of our little Ruby-throated Hummingbird friends is not far away. It's no secret I love hummingbirds. Last fall I wrote a blog about my experiences with these tiny fascinating creatures titled Hummingbird Delight.

This past summer, Bruce and I took great pleasure in watching what seemed like hundreds of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds visit the fifteen feeders on our country property. This post features many of the hummingbirds seen over the last few months. It is time to bid adieu to these feisty, diminutive birds who so skillfully perform breathtaking aerial displays. They will surely be missed.

A common sight on our property over the spring and summer months ~ Ruby-throated Hummingbird

I did not know hummingbirds were capable of opening their beaks so wide until I witnessed this male exhibit the behavior several times

My, what a long tongue this hummingbird has!

Ready for departure ~ Take note of the small red feathers developing on the neck (gorget) of this young dashing male

A little itchy ~ I marvel at the minuscule feet

 A hummingbird wipes its long beak across the branch as if it is a violinist drawing the bow along violin strings

All fluffed up!

A little action at the feeder

While rehanging a feeder, I heard a chirping commotion behind my back ~ I turned around to find these two hummingbirds in a heated dispute

Using their beaks like swords ~ Dueling for ownership of the feeder

Pleasantly plump for the long migration south

Until next year ...

Thursday, September 22, 2011


As many of you know, we are currently in the process of building a permanent residence in northwest Indiana. Bruce is overseeing the project so we have been spending quite a bit of time on our property this summer. One of my favorite things to do is wander about our acreage in search of beautiful nature/wildlife. I most always tote my camera along, just in case I find something of interest. Below are photographs of a few caterpillars I have been observing and the changes they have been going through.

I found this very young Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillar snacking on the leaves of a sassafras tree. The markings and coloration on the caterpillar resembles bird droppings, which helps protect it from hungry predators. I found three of these caterpillars on the same sassafras tree. This one was the largest, the other two were quite small, no bigger than a grain of rice

Here is the same caterpillar two days later. The eyespots have developed and the coloring on the caterpillar has taken on a greenish tinge. Take note of the mat of silk that the caterpillar has spun atop the leaf. I observed all the caterpillars move from their silk resting spots to feed on other leaves. When finished eating, they returned to their silk pads

I checked back a week later to find a plump, bright green caterpillar with light blue spots

Meanwhile, the smallest caterpillar of the three is developing quite nicely

A day later, the largest caterpillar has relocated to a new leaf and found a companion. They nestled side by side for 24 hours, then the smaller of the two moved on

Appearances can be deceiving. The eyespots are false and what looks like a tongue, is the head of the caterpillar.

To my delight, I found three more Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillars on another nearby sassafras tree ~ This one seems to have fared well through the heavy rain storm

Back to the largest caterpillar ~  I woke up in the morning to find that its color had changed from bright green to olive-brown with numerous speckles.  The next day it was gone ... my guess is that it moved on to pupate elsewhere

Eventually, the ever-changing caterpillars above will turn into a beauty such as this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

While walking through an area with an abundance of wildflowers, I noticed this Common Buckeye Caterpillar on the side of a Queen Anne's Lace flower

Twenty minutes later I found it attached to the unopened flower head and arching upward

I returned an hour and a half later to find it curled up in a "J"position preparing to pupate

 I checked back the next day, and to my surprise, found that it had turned into a pupa overnight. I was amazed at how fast this happened

I have not noticed any changes over the last several days, though the Queen Anne's Lace stem is slowly wilting

I have my fingers crossed that I will be fortunate to watch it emerge from its chrysalis, dry its wings and flutter across fields of yellow and purple wildflowers ~ Common Buckeye Butterfly