Monday, April 6, 2015

April Bird and Alligator Babies

These are some of the alligator babies I found at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve. They are on the Maggiore Island Trail. When a small green heron landed on a branch above them, they scattered under the hay in the water. There are usually 25-50 eggs hatched, but I only counted 13 sunning themselves.

This is the mother alligator. She was quite calm when there were dozens of hikers peering at her. I only heard her  grunt once at a couple of men. Luckily the babies are in the water and it is impossible to get between them and the mother. They are quite close to the trail, right past the bridge. I stayed about 6 feet away, but others did not.

The mallard and ducklings are at Largo Central Nature Preserve. This mother has 7 ducklings. I observed one duckling with a piece of white folded paper in his mouth. The other ducklings were chasing him and he seemed to be enjoying the fun.

This is a mother moorehen feeding her duckling.  Seven ducklings hatched last week at Largo Central Nature Preserve. This was several days later when they were coaxed a little ways from their nest. I watched both the male and female gathering small pieces of plants and feeding each of their brood. The duckling above seemed to be the runt of the litter, but he was also the most demanding, chasing his mother to get his food and loudly cheeping.

The ducklings are black and fuzzy. They are funny looking like bald headed monks with the barest hint of red wings and black legs.  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Alligators and Crocodiles Part 1

Florida is the only state in the US that has crocodiles, and the only place in the world inhabited by both alligators and crocodiles. Although crocodiles are not native to Pinellas County, one infamous crocodile visitor found in Tarpon Lake made headlines across the US. More details in Part 2.

American Alligators and American Crocodiles are very different.

American Alligators
1. are darker with black or gray bodies. 
2. have a powerful U-shaped, shorter snout to exert the downward force needed to crack turtle shells. However their jaws are weak to open like all reptiles.
3. are typically smaller and lighter, averaging 8-12 ft long and weighing 400-600 lbs
4. have partially webbed toes on hind legs.
5. have an overbite so that only the upper teeth visible when jaw is closed.
6. have sense receptors on their jaw only.
7. Florida has 1.25 million alligators.
8. are not very aggressive and prefer to flee humans except for ones that lose their fear as they have either been fed or threatened by humans.
9. prefer fresh or brackish water found in canals, streams, large shallow lakes etc.
10.The range of the American alligator is in 10 southeastern US states, including the southern parts of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, coastal South and North Carolina, East Texas, the southeast corner of Oklahoma, and the southern tip of Arkansas, with the most found anywhere in Louisiana and Florida. Unlike the crocodile it can withstand temperatures as low as 45 degrees.

There is only 2 species of alligators. The other is the Chinese alligator which lives near the Yangtze River in China.

American Crocodiles
1. are lighter with olive green or tan bodies and with darker markings on their back.
2. have longer, V-shaped snout to eat a more varied diet. His jaws are strong to open, but can be held shut with a rubber band.
3. are typically larger and heavier, but the American crocodile is only 7-12 ft long.
4. have a jagged fringe on the back of their hind legs and have five toes on their front feet and four on their back feet..
5. both upper and lower teeth are visible when jaws are closed and has two protruding front teeth.
6. Have touch receptors on their whole body to detect their prey.
7. As of 2014 about 2000 crocodiles are estimated to live in southern Florida.  
8. The American crocodile is not very aggressive, although its relative, the Nile crocodile (two 4 foot ones were found in Florida recently) is very aggressive. 
9. prefer blackish saltwater in the mangroves along the coastal areas, but can also survive in freshwater. They only reason they are confined to Southern Florida is they .
10. They live only in southern tip of Florida in the United States, but are also found in coastal wetlands in the Caribbean along the Pacific Ocean from Mexico to Ecuador and along the Atlantic Ocean from Guatemala to Florida.  

Of the 14 species of crocodiles, Charles Darwin University found that the Saltwater crocodile was the most aggressive crocodile. It is also the largest at 23 ft, a record set in 2006 and lives in Australia and throughout SE Asia. The Nile Crocodile is also very aggressive and lives in Africa.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Allligators in Pinellas County

Adult alligator at Largo Central Nature Preserve
  Everyone  who visits the Pinellas County parks seem to be fascinated, yet scared of the alligators.  They imagine 20 ft reptiles that lay hidden in wait for unsuspecting creatures and attack suddenly, at least that is how it happens in the movies.

However, they rarely bite even stupid humans. Problem gators are usually relocated by the state of Florida. Gators do give warning. They hiss and  growl and snort and bellow. They are the most vocal of reptiles.  Go to this page to listen to them.

In the winter the alligators become less active.  They might have a burrow on the bank of a river, above the water level, or an alligator hole below the water. They can lay at the bottom of water and still survive, as long as it is no cooler than 40 degrees. If the pond freezes, they might float up to the top where their nostrils can breathe. Then, when the ice melts, they can swim free. As they cannot breathe underwater, even in winter they have to come up for air at least once an hour.  

Alligators are most active when the temperatures are between 82 and 92 degrees usually during the summer months and between dusk and dawn. 
Alligator on the banks of McKay Creek at the Florida Botanical Garden
Alligators rarely eat until it is at least 70 degrees, and then only once a week, often at night when they can be identified by the red, glowing eyes. They can last up to 2 years on the fat stores in their tale. You might see birds walk right by an alligator on even a warm day, but they remain motionless.

Alligators mostly eat fish, turtles, water birds, snakes and other alligators. Young alligators eat snails, insects, spiders, worms and larvae. It takes 9 to 14 years for an alligator to reach 6-7 feet, which is considered adulthood.

The larger the gator, the more likely he will occasionally eat bigger mammals like raccoons, small dogs, cats, etc. On a warm night he might venture up to 170 ft from the water and attack prey on land, but it would have to be a huge gator to attack a rare deer, wild boar, bear, bobcat or a human.
Alligator near the dog park at Walsingham Park
The alligator at Largo Central Nature preserve can usually be found near the beginning of the boardwalk around the retention pond. He makes himself scarce on the cool days, but when it heats up into the warmer 60's he comes out to sun himself. At Sawgrass Lake Park, I have seen the young alligators out even in jacket weather. 
Young Alligator at Sawgrass Park

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

More Largo Central Nature Park Bird Pictures

I didn't think I would see many birds today at Largo Central Nature Park. It was in the 40's and 50's all day. Even the East Bay Golf Course was bereft of golfers.  

The alligator was still hidden. But there was an Anhinga on a branch really close to the boardwalk. 

 The Tri-colored Herons were out fishing in the canal separating the park from the East Bay Golf Course. .

The Ibis was stalking fish too. 

 There are no bad days at Largo Central Nature Park. Just ask the moorhens cavorting in the water. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

What I Saw in One Afternoon at Largo Central Nature Park

I am always surprised at the variety of wildlife that I see at Largo Central Nature Park. As an amateur photographer, I love this park, but this weekend, it was exceptional. It is hard to believe I was able to spot this many birds, mammals, and reptiles in one place in one afternoon. I think they read the sign that said the pond had been stocked recently. 

Squirrel greeting park visitors
Chicken Turtle

First I walked around the boardwalk.  There was two squirrels chasing each other and a turtle swimming in the canal, but no alligator, A flock of cormorants were swimming in the retention pond
A Great Egret briefly appeared to do some fishing. 

Great White Egret
A little blue heron was sitting on the railing of the boardwalk and even allowed us to pass him

Little Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron Scratching Himself

Around a bend in the boardwalk  was two Limpkins and an Ibis. What a great day for photography!

Limpkin searching for fish
The ibis is an especially beautiful bird, especially in the late afternoon sun when its feathers are illuminated

Ibis grooming his back
Ibis Grooming his side

Back on the trail, I found this Roseate Spoonbill in the branches beside another ibis. There were also common moorhens in the canal separating the park form East Bay Golf Course and another Little Blue Heron.  

Roseate Spoonbill
 Continuing on the 3/4 mile loop, I found this Anhinga on the drainpipe. His favorite spot!

Anhinga on drainpipe
Around the bend was this Great Blue Heron, oblivious of any park visitors. You can't miss them, they are so tall. 

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron grooming himself
Great Blue Heron really grooming himself

Thursday, November 13, 2014

George C. McGough Nature Park: My favorite place to take children or grandchildren

There are  so many things to entertain the children at McGough Nature Park

1. You can feed the turtles off the turtle deck.  Food can be purchased in the nature center for less than a dollar for the small cup. 

2. You can identify all 6 different kinds of turtles in the park. There are turtles in the water, turtles on the bank sunning themselves, turtles on tree roots and limbs, turtles in the nature center tank, and turtles in a pen outside eating from their own food dish. 

Chicken Turtle looking at you
Red Eared Slider, under the turtle deck waiting for some food
Yellow Bellied Turtle on a grassy bank
Yellow Footed Tortoise in an outside pen
Chicken Turtles on fallen branches
Mississippi Map Turtles in the nature center aquarium
3. You can watch the owls and hawks being socialized.  A park ranger will be available at 11am on Wednesday and 12pm on Saturday to show you a different bird of prey each week and answer any questions. You might catch a volunteer  between 10-2 Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, taking a rescued owl and hawk out of his cage, tethering him to his leather glove, and walking among the visitors. Call Aleta Kane, the Nature Program Specialist at 727 518-3047 or email her at for the latest schedule. 

Theresa with Red Shouldered Hawk
4. You can search for the gopher tortoise which is roaming around the woods and can be spotted from one of the trails. 

Gopher Tortoise
5. You can watch the butterflies in the butterfly garden. 

6. You can watch the caged live snakes in the nature center.  There is a caged red tailed, an albino rat snake, and an albino black rat snake.  There are also snake skins. 

7. You can watch the bearded dragon in the nature center warming himself under an infrared lamp. 

8. You can learn to identify fish, birds, reptiles, and mammals by studying specimens in the  nature center. 

9. You can participate in the many special activities. Recently they had an Owl-O-Ween in which the children followed a haunted trail with ghosts, goblins, bats and owls. The next event is Winter in the Woods on December 20, 2014. If you go to you can get pre-register for this event and get the latest information about McGough Nature Park.

10. Bring a lunch and eat at one of the picnic tables or reserve a shelter and barbecue some hamburgers or have a birthday party. There is also restrooms and a playground, However there is no dogs or bicycles allowed on the trails. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

My Favorite Roses at Sturgeon Memorial Garden

What is there not to love about a rose: the bright, happy colors, the muted pinks to creamy ivories, the musky perfumes of old roses, the dreamy layers of petals, Every one is an artist's dream. Who would guess that I would find it in Florida, which is supposed to be too humid for roses? 

Here are some of my best photographs:

Jules Margotton
Abraham Darby
Burgundy Iceberg

Over the Moon
Pat Austin
Double Delight
Wild Blue Yonder
Bronze Star
Rose Parade
Frances Meilland

Johann Strauss