Nature Walk – Spring Lights, 04.20.18

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Marsh Hen – mother and chick

Nature Walk – Spring Lights

I went for a little jaunt around Green Cay late this morning.  The spring sunshine is already intense here, although it gets more humid when the rainy season arrives.

Here are some photos:

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Green Heron and turtles

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Little Blue Heron

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Great Egret

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Saucy Tri-colored Heron

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Leaping Lizards!

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Immature White Ibis

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Berry crop

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Cruising

The photo above shows an alligator that I heard first before seeing it glide quietly across the pond.  I was about to enter one of the hammock islands when I heard the roar of an alligator.  I have heard it before so knew that one was nearby.  When I left the other side of the hammock, I scanned the lagoon and spotted the gator.  It glided under the overhanging branches of another hammock island across the way.

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Northern Cardinal

It was later in the day so there were more sunshine and heat.  A lot of the birds were sheltering in the tall grasses.  The water level of the ponds had risen quite a bit since my last visit a couple of weeks ago, due to some heavy rain that we received over the weekend.  We’re going to be getting some more rain according to the weather forecast.  The area is in need of the moisture as it has been dry for several months now.

That’s it for now.  Enjoy the upcoming weekend!

Namaste,

“Sunny” VaCoupe (aka Eliza Ayres)

© All Rights Reserved, Eliza Ayres, http://www.bluedragonjournal.com

Nature Walks – The Secret Lives of Birds

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Great Egret – photo by Eliza Ayres

Nature Walks – The Secret Lives of Birds, April 12, 2018

I managed to get out on another bird walk today.  It’s been about a year since I first discovered the local wetland preserves.  I have found them to be small oases of peace in an overpopulated area (IMHO).  And in the process of visiting these sanctuaries, I have learned quite a bit about the secret lives of birds, from nesting, fledging, finding food, and migrating.  I’ve always had a curious nature, pushing the boundaries of my knowledge, not for the sake of making money or such, but to increase my understanding of the world around me.  So, if I happen to see a new species, when I go home, I get out my Florida bird book or search the Internet for information, to verify what I’ve seen, where I can find these species and their various attributes.  In that way, I’ve gradually increased my awareness of bird calls, movements, habits, likely environments, flight patterns and so on.  This all takes a willingness to look beyond and embrace the life that surrounds us on this beautiful planet.  And a willingness to put down your cell phone for a few minutes.  I never use mine — it stays in the purse until absolutely needed.

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Boat-tailed Grackle. Photo by Eliza Ayres

In the past, I’ve approached learning about wildflowers and their ecosystems in the same manner — noting what plants grow together, their flowering seasons, fruits if any, and the environments in which you may find similar plants.  It’s all about observation.  The life that is around us in its many diverse forms is the creation of Source energy, with whatever name you wish to ascribe to it.  These lifeforms are a reflection of the endless ability of Nature to create and celebrate loving diversity, something humans can learn from by observing wild things and even their pets.

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Fledging Wood Storks. Photo by Eliza Ayres.

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Fluffy Cattle Egret in breeding colors. Photo by Eliza Ayres.

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Healthy pond apple tree with developing fruit. The fruit matures to the size of a small mango and is eaten by many animals. The small trees provide shelter for many species.

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Only alligator sighting from today’s walk. Appears to be a mature female.

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All kinds of creatures thrive in the marshes. This is a little marsh rabbit intent on nibbling the grass and other plants.

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Glossy Ibis. Photo by Eliza Ayres.

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A glimpse at a Tri-colored Heron tucked away in a pond apple tree, well out of the way of humans and predators.

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Two Double-Crested Cormorants perched on a pond apple tree.

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Tri-colored Heron in full mating display. Just a boy trying to attract a mate. Photo by Eliza Ayres.

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Great Egret guarding fledging.

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Dozing female Anhinga.

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Large green iguana perched on a tree sunning. These are a non-native or introduced species.

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Mated Great Blue Heron duo monitoring their nesting site.

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Balancing act by a Purple Gallinule. These birds are avid foragers for seeds and fresh sprouts.

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Mother duck scurrying along with her ducklings.

That’s enough for today.  I did manage to take about 90 photos today, so the assortment above is just a taste.  Wakodahatchee is a bonanza for nature photographers, as I have found, packing in a ton of different animal species in a small area.  It is also a pleasant place to walk, despite the fact that it draws many tourists, especially during “the season”, which extends from late November to April 30th.

As you can see from these photos, the marshes, even these man-made versions, are filled with life.  It is a pleasure and a privilege to be able to see all these extraordinary creatures living in natural surroundings outside of a zoo.  All the birds and probably most of the creatures except the alligators are free to come and go.  You can see by the bustling life, that the birds are quite happy to take up residence here and some endangered species, like the Wood Storks, are actually thriving.

May your own forays into Nature be as rewarding as I have found mine.  I send my blessings to all.

Namasté,

“Sunny” VaCoupe (aka Eliza Ayres)

© All Rights Reserved, Eliza Ayres, http://www.bluedragonjournal.com

Photo credits:  All taken today in Wakodahatchee Wetlands Preserve, Palm Beach County, Florida

 

Nature Walks – Whacked out at Wako

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Cattle Egret

Nature Walks – Whacked out at Wako

Ah, another day, another wetlands preserve.  This time I headed to Wakodahatchee for the first time in about a month!  The last time I was there the parking situation was very tight; today, it wasn’t a problem.  Apparently, a lot of our temporary visitors have returned to northern climes once again, after the recent Passover and Easter holiday weekend.

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Fuzzy baby Wood Storks

This time of the year, Wakodahatchee is a baby nursery for birds, lots of noisy, smelly baby birds.  The local Wood Stork nurseries were filled with half-grown fuzzy youngsters, sometimes all joining in on a chorus as their patient parents arrive to the feed the next generation.

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Grooming Great Egret

Half-grown Anhingas were preening themselves in the sunshine, perched on the pond apple trees.  The trees have recently burst into their full greenery, with some displaying their characteristic yellow blossoms and tiny green fruit.  The fruit eventually mature to the size of small mangos.  When they drop into the ponds, sometimes you will see turtles pushing them around through the dark water, while attempting to nibble at the sweet fruit.  In the past, humans have also enjoyed pond apples.

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When waiting to be fed, sometimes these young Wood Storks bob in a noisy chorus until one of the parents feeds them. It can be quite deafening at times but is a positive sign for the future of this singular stork.

There were no alligator sightings today, although I looked carefully at all the places I have noticed them in the past.  Most of the activity was from birds, with birds flying overhead, diving into the water, swimming or wading.  It is a busy time for the adults keeping their young fed.

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Great Blue Heron couple

I noticed one Tri-colored Heron preening himself intently while sitting in a huge leather fern.  With his turquoise breeding color around his beak and lovely fluffy plumage, he was obviously looking for a partner.

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Then I noticed some young Cormorants swimming and diving, carrying up twigs and bits of weed to the surface and then hopping up into an old pond apple trunk.  I suppose they were practicing their hunting skills or do birds play?

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Double-crested Cormorant. Notice the hooked beak which differentiates it from the needle-nosed Anhinga.

The male iguanas have all reverted back to their normal green coloring from the breeding orange.  There were some very large iguanas draped high in trees and dozing in the sunshine.

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Before I left the sun was dimmed a bit by growing clouds.  Soon the spring thunderstorms will begin once more and the official “dry” season will be over.  Just as well; the water levels of the local ponds are down quite a bit.  And I saw a lot of crispy looking vegetation over at Green Cay yesterday.  It is not unusual to have wildfires out in the Everglades at this time of the year.

Here are more photos:

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Young Anhingas

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A handsome Great Blue Heron.

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A Black-necked Stilt. Look at those legs!

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Anhinga and a Double-crested Cormorant. Two very different birds, but both are excellent swimmers.

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Some of the native plants used to purify the waters.

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A portion of a Wood Stork rookery. Other birds, including Anhingas, Cormorants, Herons, and Egrets also raise their young within these pond apple rookeries (if that is the proper name!).

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The heart of the wetland preserve. The taller trees are growing on a levee that separates the ponds. It doesn’t stop the alligators from traveling over the embankment to reach the other side. The entire wetlands are surrounded by high wire fencing to keep the alligators in. Alligators are still capable of climbing over chain-link fencing.

That’s it for today, folks.  I hope you enjoy the upcoming weekend.  And thank you for visiting Blue Dragon Journal!

Namaste,

“Sunny” VaCoupe

© All Rights Reserved, Eliza Ayres, http://www.bluedragonjournal.com

Nature Walks – Back to the Birds, 03.28.18

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Tri-color Heron in Flight

Nature Walks – Back to the Birds, 03.28.18

Well, I guess I’m fully recovered from my last bout of illness, this time laryngitis.  It’s been three weeks since I was out on a bird walk so I thought I would test my legs and managed well.

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Female Anhinga

The crowds at Green Cay have moderated a bit.  There were birds and more birds, as well as a gator sighting.  I also got a peek at a Screech Owl, but it was well camouflaged by its setting and my camera was not capable of picking it up against the surrounding dried foliage.  It was very cute nonetheless and I felt privileged to be able to see an owl mid-day.

Green Cay is much bigger than Wakodahatchee, so the animals are more spread-out, but I managed to get a few good photos:

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Tri-colored Heron

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Male Grackle

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Purple Gallinule

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Song sparrow?

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Glossy Ibis

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Limpkin

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Male Blue-winged Teal

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And finally, a White Egret…

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That’s all for today, folks.  Enjoy the upcoming sacred days.

Namaste,

Eliza / Sundeelia

© All Rights Reserved, Eliza Ayres, http://www.bluedragonjournal.com

Nature Walks – A little Lox and Wako

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Nature Walks – A little Lox and Wakodahatchee

Being retired has both pros and cons.  One thing, you need to be self-motivated to get out and do anything.  Another pro… is that you can set your schedule.  Still, living in a heavily populated area, I tend to plan around commute times as I dislike traffic and noise.  BTW, the drivers here in SE Florida, at least 10% of them are seriously whacko driving and winding through traffic at about 65 MPH, way over the speed limit.  Anyway, despite the traffic, this week I made it out to Loxahatchee and today to Wakodahatchee.

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The birds were thin on the ground in Loxahatchee, at least for any attempts at photography.  I could hear them okay, but the tall grasses and reeds were effective camouflage for the now nesting birds.  I didn’t see any alligators and just a couple of turtles, but they’re around, hiding.  The weather has been quite a bit cooler, so the reptiles are probably a little slower.  With the exception of a heavy rain shower on Tuesday, the weather has been quite dry, with low humidity, a true blessing for humans, but dangerous for the wildlands as wildfires can easily start up in the grasslands and dry forest plots.  The wildfire season here is almost the exact opposite of what I’m more accustomed to in the West, where fires were mostly limited from mid-summer to mid-autumn, depending on the winter snow/rain.  There was plenty of rain here last summer and into autumn, but that just encourages the growth of grasses which later dry out in the dry winter winds.  Such is the paradox of Nature’s cycles.  Add careless humans into the mix and you have trouble.

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Two Wood Stork Mates greeting each other. They sometimes clack their beaks and waggle their heads…

In Wakodahatchee, the nesting season is going strong.  I saw some fledglings popping their fuzzy heads above the nest material today, as well as some young Anhingas enjoying the cool sunshine on one of the many pond apple trees.  Again, the alligators were not evident, probably hiding out in the warm shelter of grasses and reeds.  They will venture out later in the season.  It was quite cool this morning…for Florida… with the thermometer hitting the low 50’s and upper 40’s, with light breezes.  I added a sweater for a little extra warmth and needed it until the clouds parted and the sun decided to make an appearance.

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Sleeping Anhingas

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Up a tree…

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Glossy Ibis

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Portrait of a Black-bellied Whistling Duck

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Wild Elderberry, a common marsh plant

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Cattle Egret

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Young Anhingas

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Seeking balance…

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Pensive Tri-colored Heron

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Bright-eyed Grackle

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Green Heron

The Wood Storks are doing very well in this relatively new nesting grounds (for them).  They have taken over several more pond apple trees that are spotted throughout the preserve.  The pond apples are short but sturdy trees that can thrive in water or on land.  Their “apples” or fruit are edible.  Late last summer I witnessed several turtles chasing “apples” around the dark waters, as they nibbled at the sweet fruit.  I haven’t tried it myself yet.

That’s all for now, folks.  Enjoy your weekend.

Namaste,

Eliza/Sunny

© All Rights Reserved, Eliza Ayres, http://www.bluedragonjournal.com

Nature Walks – Wakodahatchee Nesting Season

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Great Egret in breeding colors (green @ eyes)

Nature Walks – Wakodahatchee Nesting Season

One learns about Nature through observations made over the long-term, following seasons and cycles, drought and heat, wet and humid, wind and rain.  Since arriving in South Florida nearly a year ago, I’ve spent a little time in the local wetland preserves each week.  Lately, I’ve observed the changes in coloring in some of the birds.  The changes can be subtle or quite marked.  Some birds, like the tall stoic Wood Storks, don’t seem to change coloring but do change their behaviors, becoming more affectionate and attentive to their chosen mates.  The herons seem to take on a change of color around the eyes and upper beaks.  This morning, I noticed some Tri-colored Herons in breeding colors, having a beautiful blue color around the eyes.  The Great Egret takes on a green color around the eyes and so on.

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Painted Bunting male – a winter visitor

Babies are still being made, while some babies have already hatched.  I saw a couple of  Great Blue Heron fledglings just holding their fuzzy heads above the branches of their nest.  Most birds have gone into the breeding cycle, with Anhingas, Wood Storks, Egrets and Herons often sharing the same pond apple trees.

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This Purple Gallinule was busy picking and eating the tender shoots on the bottom of these reeds.

The people who visit the wetlands can also be a source of amusement.  I overheard one woman pointing out a nesting Cattle Egret while telling her friend that it was a baby Wood Stork.  No… a breeding Cattle Egret has a golden head and back like this one.  In a month or so… certainly by April, it will be quite evident that the young Wood Storks are considerably larger and noisier than the small Cattle Egrets.  I don’t even consider myself an expert on birds, but I have managed to learn a few things in the space of ten months.

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Great Blue Heron family

Here are some more photos from today’s walk:

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Wood Stork in search of soft nesting materials. These birds stand 40″ tall.

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A lively marsh resident — the Red-winged Blackbird

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Tri-colored Heron in breeding colors (blue on beak)

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Busy Glossy Ibis

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Another Tri-colored Heron in breeding colors

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The only North American stork species, the Wood Stork.

That’s all for now, folks.  Enjoy your weekend.  And all those who are having some really cold weather and storms this weekend in the NE and Europe, keep warm and safe!

Namaste,

Eliza/Sundeelia

© All Rights Reserved, Eliza Ayres, http://www.bluedragonjournal.com

Nature Walks – Winter Boardwalks

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Nature Walks – Winter Boardwalks

Winter walks on the boardwalks of our local wetland preserves presents a new obstacle course, winding around the tourists and snowbirds who are down for “the season”.  Parking is at a premium especially at the smaller Wakodahatchee and one is perhaps in more close proximity to complete strangers than is totally comfortable.  Well, in life here you just have to roll with the punches and take things as they come.  Fortunately, most of the people are in a good mood watching all the activity, hustle and bustle as the mating and nesting seasons commence for the various bird and animal species who make the wetlands their adopted homes.  Adopted… as the wetlands were built and the birds arrived.  I’m not sure what arrangements were made for the alligators… That would be interesting to find out.

Here are some photos from my latest forays:

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Female Anhinga

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Tri-colored Heron

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Blue Winged Teals

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Somnolent Alligator

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Cattle Egret in mating plumage

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Wood Stork Rookery

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Male Anhinga.

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Great White Egret in mating plumage.

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Cruising…

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Double-crested Cormorant. Note the subtle pattern on the wings.

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A patient Great Blue Heron guarding his nest. He’s surrounded by the larger Wood Storks.

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Mature Male Iguana

That’s it for now, folks.  Enjoy the upcoming weekend.

Namaste,

Sunny VaCoupe

© All Rights Reserved, Eliza Ayres, http://www.bluedragonjournal.com

Nature Walks – Love is in the Air

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Nature Walks, 14 Feb 2018 – Love is in the Air

The last two walks I went out, there wasn’t much to photograph, whether it was the weather or the animals were just making themselves scarce.  Today was different.  I’ve been slowly recuperating from the flu so am careful not to overextend, but for some reason, I decided to add a mile to my little walk.  And was rewarded for my efforts by seeing one of the largest alligators at Wakodahatchee crawl across one of the berms.  He was majestic, huge, powerful…and moving pretty fast but several of us got photos and a thrill to see such an ancient-looking beast in action.

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Alligator taking a stroll across one of the berms, Wakodahatchee Wetlands Preserve.

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All attention focused on…

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No, the alligators weren’t “in love”, but the Wood Storks… well, let’s say there was plenty of feather fluffing, jumping up and down, bill-clacking and posturing as stork mates were prepping for the season.  The Wood Storks at Wakodahatchee are a success story in the making.  They’re the only stork in North America and have been on the endangered list.  This season, there are even more nest sites and storks than there was last year — they’ve taken up residence in several pond apple trees sited around the wetlands.  The stoic white and black-feathered birds are making and raising lots of babies.

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Another species that is doing well is the non-native Green Iguana.  On one pond apple tree alone I spied out at least ten grayish-colored iguanas and one large male.

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Glossy Ibis

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Great White Egret

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A little blurry shot of a rare Black-Crowned Night Heron out fishing.

I saw a photographer intently staring into the marsh plants and casually glanced over his shoulder.  There was a Black-crowned Night Heron fishing.  The above photograph is a bit blurry as my camera focused on the plants, not the bird.  These birds are very shy and usually come out at dusk; it’s rare to see them out in broad daylight.  Another lucky find!

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Great Blue Heron nesting.

Due to the influx of Wood Storks, many of the other birds seemed to have been pushed aside, but when you look carefully, there are still plenty of herons, egrets, cormorants, anhingas, ducks and tiny songbirds whose flitting movements through the branches defeat the attempts of most photographers to capture their images on “film”.

So much for my outing on Valentine’s Day, with plenty of love in the air, on the water, in the water, on the branches and all around.

Happy Love Day to all my readers!

“Sunny” VaCoupe (aka Eliza Ayres)

© All Rights Reserved, Eliza Ayres, http://www.bluedragonjournal.com

Nature Walk – Cabin Fever Reprieve

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Nature Walk – Cabin Fever Reprieve

People who live in cold, dark climes in the winter know all about cabin fever, yet I live in sometimes sunny Florida.  However, I’m recovering from a lengthy bout of the latest flu.  Symptoms were light, but the fatigue long-lasting.  And the flu this year has been a killer, so I’m one of the fortunate ones.  Being retired, too, allows me to gradually heal as needed.

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Well, beyond the personal bits, I managed to get out to Wakodohatchee today and was greeted with a feast of feathers (perhaps that’s a better title for this piece!).   The Wood Storks are back in full force and I even spotted a few heads of babies peeking up above the branch piles that pass for their nests.  The great storks are stoic birds, elegant in their own way and very patient parents.

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I was also blessed with three sightings of alligators, some iguanas who were literally hanging around, as well as an assortment of turtles and other birds.  My, the Great White Egrets are stately birds.  I’m glad their feathers are no longer used in women’s fashion.  They look better on the birds.

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Naptime.

The weather was in the mid-seventies and at 88% humidity, slightly sticky but pleasant.  There were many of crowds, but most people were in a good mood, intent on taking in all the sights and activities.  The parking lot was crowded when I arrived around 9 a.m. and overflowing when I left.

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Great Blue Heron

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Egret busy watching a nearby alligator.

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Subtle patterning on a Florida Water Snake (non-venomous)

And here’s a rainbow for luck!

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It’s a Double!

Have a great week, everyone!

Sunny

© All Rights Reserved, Eliza Ayres, http://www.bluedragonjournal.com

Photo Credits: Delray Beach Municipal Beach, Wakodahatchee Nature Preserve

Nature Walks – Wakodahatchee, 01.12.18

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Great Egret with lunch.

Nature Walks – Wakodahatchee, 01.12.18

Wakodahatchee is the another one of the nearby wetlands that I periodically visit.  The crowds were here today for the show and such a show.  There were five alligators to see and probably a bunch more that we couldn’t see.  I saw the biggest alligator that I have ever seen in Florida, sprawled out on a muddy bank with his lady love.  I overheard that it’s mating season for the alligators so they’re more active than usual.

Look at the size difference between the mature male and the female gator!  Oh, my.

There was also a sprinkling of large iguanas to be found mostly lurking in the trees or lying on the grass.

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Male iguana. Non-native species.

The Great Blue Herons, Anhingas and Double-crested Cormorants are actively nesting, while the great Wood Storks are still gathering in great numbers hunting for food and scouting out nesting sites.  There were also a lot of Egrets of all varieties, including the Great Egret, Snowy Egret, and Cattle Egrets.

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Here’s a couple more of the alligators…

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Napping in the Lilies.

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Here are some of the denizens of the marsh:

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Double-crested Cormorant. Great perch!

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Male iguana. I think I saw this guy on my last visit.

Well, there you have it, some photos of my visit to Wakodahatchee.  This is a very popular place for tourists and is open most of the year, from sunrise to sunset.  The boardwalks are sturdy and as you can see, there is plenty of activity right now as the mating and nesting seasons approach.

Enjoy your weekend!

Namasté,

“Sunny” VaCoupe (aka Eliza Ayres)

©  All Rights Reserved, Eliza Ayres, http://www.bluedragonjournal.com