Sunday, November 4, 2018

Stange Happenings at Largo Central NP

Flock of birds clustered along the shore of the Largo Central NP pond.

The first day of November, I took my evening stroll with my camera around Largo Central NP. Completing the near mile circuit along the canals, I had seen a few Anhingas and little blue herons here and there, but nothing extraordinary.

I like to end my walk at the pond with the boardwalk around it, in the golden hour before sunset. After completing the lap, I noticed a flock of ibises along the railing, so I slowed my pace and didn’t look at them, hoping to get a picture after I passed them. Usually the wild birds let me pass within inches of them, but this time a few more skittish of the flock moved on and the others followed. 

I arrived at the entrance of the boardwalk where the birds had flown. This area had no boardwalk or railing, just foliage, rocks and a gravel shore leading to the pond; in other words, a perfect uncluttered background to delight any photographer.

A pair of Snowy Egrets, Little blue herons, and a Great White Egret
To my surprise, there were now twenty creamy white birds clustered along the shore. As these birds are year round residents, they would not be migrating. Maybe they gathered because tomorrow promised to be a rainy day and they needed a last minute grooming. 

L-R Ibis, Snowy Egret, Great White egret, and more Ibises
I had never seen such a large variety of birds gathered together at this park. It was like a Roger Tory Peterson convention.

Two Immature white Little Blue Herons with an Ibis in the foreground

Scattered among the ibises were great white egrets, snowy egrets, little blue herons, tricolored herons and immature, white, little blue herons. The darker birds were mostly clustered around the periphery.
The Great White Egret was no slouch

The Ibises were serious groomers

The flock stayed along the shore for over an hour; A snowy egret bathed in the water; there was a few aggressive behaviors with wings flapping, mostly from the active little blue and tricolored herons. For the most part, they coexisted peacefully. An unexpected groomfest!
 A pair of Tricolored Herons
Little Blue Heron after his bath

The next day my phone vibrated with a message to take cover. Pinellas, Hernando and Pasco county had tornadoes vicious enough to impale cars, knock down power lines, fell trees, destroy signs, cave in roofs and other buildings. Tornadoes are unusual in our area.

Ibises live together in flocks, but are not usually found with such a large assortment of other birds. When birds do strange things, expect usual weather conditions.  Listen to the birds.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Sawgrass Lake Park in the fall

 At Sawgrass Lake Park, I spied a mother and 5 baby alligators busily swimming around her. They were too scattered to get a picture of the entire family. Getting very brave, aren"t they?

Closeup of baby alligator at Sawgrass Lake Park
Baby alligator at Sawgrass Lake Park

I also saw a pair of frisky raccoons searching for food. Here is one who thinks he is hidden and another who is looking up at me..

Raccoon at Sawgrass  Lake Park
Raccoon looking up at Sawgrass Lake Park
Here is my posing squirrel all grown up. 

Gray Squirrel at Sawgrass Lake Park
There was a little blue heron by the bridge at the entrance to the park.

Little blue heron at Sawgrass Lake Park
Sawgrass Lake Park is known for its majestic, old live oaks that line the entrance road. 

Live Oaks at Sawgrass Lake Park

Pinellas County Parks are great for sunsets.

According to Governor Rick Scott,  Florida State Parks are the only state in the US to win  the National Gold Medal Award for Excellence in the management of state park systems three times! Actually, no other state has even won the award twice. Honeymoon Island, Caladesi Island, Anclote Key Preserve, and the Skyway Fishing Pier are the only state parks in Pinellas County.

Pinellas County Parks are no exception in their excellence, and must be seen to be appreciated. Sunset is a perfect time to take  pictures. These were taken between 4:30 and 5:30 pm.

Seminole Lake Park

Dodging the evening rush hour traffic, then joggers heading for the trails in the parking lot, I walked around the southeastern shores of Seminole Lake, which are the part that can be accessed from the park. 

Sunset at Seminole Lake Park, FL

There were still ducks and a little blue heron on the lake at sunset. Near the boatramp an Anhinga, bathed in light, was perched in a tree, cleaning his feathers. Benches near huge palms, also had a golden glow.

Pair of coots at Seminole Lake Park
Mallard at Seminole Lake Park

Little blue heron at Seminole Lake Park
Anhinga at Seminole Lake Park

Sunset near the boat ramp at Seminole Lake Park 

November is a great month to visit Largo Central Nature Preserve

Tri-colored heron at Largo Central NP
Fall is a good time to visit the parks. There are not as many snowbirds and vacationers, so you sometimes have the parks to yourself. Some of the male birds are coming into their breeding plumage. You can see how much the awkward looking babies from this spring have grown.

Young osprey at Largo Central NP
Young night heron sleeping at Largo Central  NP

It has been a warmer fall then usual, so the alligators are more active. I spotted two alligators at Largo Central Nature Preserve on the same day.

Huge Alligator at Largo Central Nature Preserve
 One alligator, approximately 12 ft. long, was in middle of the pond. He leaped in the air and quickly swam away in response to a group of  noisy teenagers. A group of nervous moorhens nearby, probably sighed in relief. A smaller alligator rested on the opposite side of the boardwalk. Usually I only see the larger alligator, who would probably be lying motionless on the edge of the pond, soaking up the sun. 

I rarely see snakes in the parks, especailly in November, but along the edge of the pond in some aquatic plants I photographed a young water moccasin. I felt very thankful for the boardwalks that day!

Young Water Moccasin at Largo Central Nature Preserve

Everyone was not shopping on Black Friday. Dylan DeSio, a Seminole, FL resident home from college this weekend, caught a nice 2 lb. bass in the recently stocked pond at Largo Central Nature Preserve. 

Dylan DeSio with a 2 lb bass  caught in Largo Central NP
 Early November, there did not seem to be as many birds at Largo Central and elsewhere.  There are always moorhens, great white egrets, cormorants, pied-billed grebes, anhingas, ibis, yellow-crowned night heron, tricolored and little blue herons, but not the sheer numbers all at once.  I did not see the great blue herons, roseate spoonbills, shovelers, etc. The mallards were in a flock across the canal at the East Bay Golf Course. The fish and otter was jumping out of the water, but the turtles were not sunning themselves.

Great White Egret at Largo Central NP
Cormorants at Largo Central NP

A bow-legged Ibis at Largo Central NP

Anhinga, wings drying, at Largo Central NP
Limpkin at Largo Central NP

Pied-billed Grebe at Largo Central NP
Brown anole on boardwalk at Largo Central NP

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