Friday, February 23, 2018

Making love in bamboo

I was heading down our unpaved road on the way to town.  It's a bumpy road. I was going slow. To my right is an 80-acre forest slated to become a subdivision. To my left are a few of our rental homes on large lots surrounded by bamboo. Something in one stand of Bambusa multiplex caught my eye.  I slowed to a stop then backed up for a closer view.

Two snakes were entwined in the 'boo.  At least I thought that's what I saw.  It was hard to tell from inside the car so I grabbed my camera and got out for a closer look.

Yes!  Definitely snakes! (I love snakes) Two black racer snakes were entwined in a tangle of love.  Reptilian whoopee in a clump of bamboo.


Snakes watching me watch them


Although this was the first time I spotted two black racers mating, I've seen racers many times before. Southern black racers (Coluber constrictor) are the snakes I see most often in the garden and around the house. Harmless to people but deadly to rodents, birds, lizards, other snakes, frogs, toads and insects, I consider black racers to be an essential part of nature's arsenal.  Pest control at its most basic level.


Black racers in an amorous embrace


This slender reptile can grown up to 6 feet long with a solid black upper side, a dark gray to black belly, white chin, white throat and brown eyes.


Entwined in the 'boo


Male racers become sexually mature on or slightly before their second year but females take a year or two longer to reach sexual maturity. After mating, a female may lay up to 30 eggs that hatch about 3 months later. When they do, the 6-inch-long babies are fully prepared to hunt and live on their own. That's good because after a week or so of guarding their newly laid eggs, the parents leave their future offspring to fend for themselves.


This is the view that caught my eye as I was driving down the road


Encountering two snakes mating was a completely new wildlife experience for me. While some people may shudder at the very thought of encountering two snakes mating (or, sadly, at seeing snakes at all), I reveled in the moment. The snakes obviously loved what they were doing.  I did too!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Great egret greets the day with a smile and a laugh

An unoccupied bluebird nesting box next to Hour Lake is a popular perch for a variety of birds. 

On a recent dawn, a Great egret took advantage of this lakeside platform to practice its morning ablutions by preening, stretching and posing in enough postures to satisfy my seemingly unquenchable photographic thirst.

Below is a sampling of the egret's antics.  Hope you enjoy them as much as I did.


"Good morning!"


A bird bigger than the bluebird nesting box

Starting the day with a laugh!

"Gotta itch! Gotta itch! Gotta itch-itch-itch-itch!"

Gargling?

"Aren't my feathers pretty?"

Big feet. The better to scratch itches with.

Done preening
Looking fine in sunshine

 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Dolphins, dawn and a calm lagoon

Early morning. Chilly. Instead of biking to the beach I decided to drive.

Instead of my usual haunts - 27th Ave. Beach or Hiles Blvd. - I rambled on down to the lagoon side of Bethune Beach.

It was a beautiful morning.  Cold but calm.


Ripples in calm water


I hoped to see some dolphins or manatees and was not disappointed. Shortly after walking down the boardwalk overlooking Indian River, I noticed a moving stream of ripples in the water.  A telltale sign that aquatic company was heading my way.



A pair of dolphins arrived shortly after I arrived


Two dolphins swam swiftly from the north into the small cove by the park.  I was mesmerized by their antics.


Looking north from the park boardwalk


As captivated as I was by the dolphins arrival, I was equally awed by the burgeoning day. I felt as if I was embraced by beauty!


Such a sky!


In addition to dolphins, a great egret and several pelicans had gathered in the cove.


Great egret on piling. Pelican in water.


Most likely the birds were there for an early morning feeding. Probably, the dolphins were too. But I like to imagine that they, like me, had come to greet the day. Quiet time. Calm water. A new day getting under way.  Ah...the wonder of it all!


Friday, February 9, 2018

January birds

One month. Many birds.

Below are some - not all, but a good sampling - of the many birds I've enjoyed photographing during the month of January 2018.  Most were taken at our home in Groveland but I've included a few shots from New Smyrna Beach.  Usually we split our time equally during the two locations but this January, circumstances and weather kept us away from the beach much more than usual.


Red-bellied woodpecker on crepe myrtle tree

Killdeer on the ground where it blend in so well with the leaves and dirt 

This pair of pied-billed grebes have been regulars on Hour Lake since November

I still don't know what this red-shouldered hawk has in its talon
Maybe you have an idea?

I photographed these cardinals while rowing close to the southern
shoreline of Hour Lake.  They always come out to watch me when
I row by just to be sure I don't get any funny ideas about
who the property really belongs to

Phoebe on fenceline

American kestrel perched upon an old spigot in an abandoned
orange grove I spotted while driving down back roads in Groveland

Lesser blue heron perched awkwardly upon one of our mid-lake platforms

A pair of sandhill cranes doing their sandhill crane dance
It's been a joy watching them this month when they stopped by to
check out the many feeding stations in our yard

Yellow bird on a branch
What kind of yellow bird is it??

American bluebird - male with his bright colors posing prettily
on a bamboo pole

Sandhill crane, captured in the canes

Robin redbreast doing what robin redbreasts do best during their
Florida stopover - eating berries.
In this case, the robin is about to munch on Brazilian Pepper berries,
an invasive non-native plant spread, in large part, by birds that munch on its berries.

Friday, February 2, 2018

The eagle has landed

I was on my way to town - taking back roads, as usual - when a flash of white caught my eye. 

Eagle.  On the ground.  Completely occupied with something it was eating.

I pulled over for a better look.




While the American bald eagle is not an uncommon bird in Central Florida, sightings are infrequently enough to give me pause.  And pause is precisely what I did when I realized what I'd chanced upon.

The eagle - a solidly built bundle of black and white feathers with a huge golden beak, penetrating eyes beneath heavy brows and sharp talons protruding from a sturdy pair of strong legs - paid me no heed as it tore chunks of meat off its unfortunate prey.




Every few seconds the majestic bird - adult American bald eagles can weigh up 14 pounds with a wingspan of 5.9 to 7.5 feet - it would stop eating to check its surroundings before continuing to tear apart flesh with its powerful beak.



 
As I sat in my car taking pictures with through the open window, I tried to figure out what animal the eagle was eating.  Bald eagles are opportunistic feeders who are just as likely to feast upon roadkill as they are prey they've stolen from others or captured themselves.




Although it was difficult to tell from my seated vantage point - I hesitated to get out of the car lest I scare the bird away - the size, shape and color of the critter caused me to conclude it was an armadillo.




In Florida, bald eagles primarily feed upon fish. According to one study conducted in north-central Florida, bald eagle diet was composed of 78 percent fish (mostly catfish), 17 percent birds (mainly American coot), three percent mammals, and one percent amphibians and reptiles combined.

Whatever this particular raptor was eating, it wasted no time consuming as much of its found delicacy as possible. The reason why it was rushing soon became obvious.  Vultures.  Lots and lots of vultures. 




While bald eagles may be masters of stealing fish away from ospreys and chowing down on carrion along roadsides, a murder of vultures is just as eager to steal dead meat away from a lone eagle.




And indeed, that's precisely what happened.  The vultures - there must have been a dozen waiting in the wings for just the right moment - suddenly flew close enough to the eagle to scare it away.  The eagle took flight and the remaining carcass of the chewed apart animal was soon set up by a new group of hungry birds.




What an encounter! 

For those who wonder (queue my husband) why I stubbornly choose back roads instead of more direct routes from Point A to Point B, an encounter like this is the reason why.

I never know what I'm going to find when I take the long road home but there's always something - often many somethings - to catch my eye and be captured by my camera. This time it was something special - a bald eagle having a feast.  It was a feast for me too.  A feast for my eyes. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A bull, a cow and a calf walked into a bamboo grove...

A bull, a cow and a calf walked into a bamboo grove...

No. This is not the start of a joke.  But it is funny.

I walked outside the other day to see how my son was doing painting the exterior of our house. Timmy was making great progress.  So were a group of cattle grazing a few feet away in a nearby grove of bamboo.


Two of the three bovines that appeared in our yard


Timmy making great progress painting our house

The cattle belong to my neighbor, who grazes them in a large field abutting the east side of our property.  The pasture is surrounded by a field fence topped with two strips of barbed wire. On the portion of fence that backs up to our acreage, a long line of mature clumping bamboo provides an extra layer of separation between our two properties.


Two of the three layers of division - field fence and barbed wire


You might think that such a three-layer approach - field fence, barbed wire, bamboo - would be enough to keep cattle contained.  You'd be wrong.

Apparently, the same idiom that applies to people lusting over the color of their neighbor's lawns - the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence - applies to bovines too.


Cattle chomping down on green bamboo leaves
  

On my neighbor's side of the fence, the pasture has been grazed down to brown stubble with nary a spot of green in sight.  By contrast, our side of the fence boasts a proverbial banquet of fresh, young sprouts.  

Despite the recent cold snap, our livestock-free land has sprouted a profusion of edibles.  From new bamboo shoots (cattle candy) to low-growing weeds like wild geranium (geranium carolinianum), there's a bountiful supply of tender young greens to tempt the taste-buds of just about any hungry ruminant.


Bamboo = Cattle Candy


And temptation is undoubtedly what led my neighbor's four-legged beasts into our yard.  

Somehow the not-so-dumb animals found a hole in the fence and invited themselves to lunch.  Doing so wasn't unusual - they've found their way onto our property many times over the years - but this time, they chose to chow down of a spot of greenery right next to our house.  It didn't matter that our son was only a few feet away or that I stood even closer snapping off one photo after another.  Food was what was on their mind.  Never mind the people.


No buts about it!  Cattle like bamboo

I don't have a problem with the cattle being here.  I actually like it.  When my neighbor called later to ask if he could come by to round them up I told him, no hurry.

"The animals are helping me out," I said.  They're keeping the bamboos trimmed, mowing down the weeds, fertilizing the ground and fun to look at to boot.  You don't have to mend the fence if you don't want to."

Robert Frost tells us, "Good fences make good neighbors." But a bit of permeability can be a good thing too.  

It may not be a joke when a bull, cow and calf walk into a bamboo grove but finding them there sure was funny.

Below are a few more shots from my recent bovine photo shoot



  
   

Friday, January 19, 2018

This post is 'For the Birds'

There were so many birds in the yard this morning!




From my kitchen window I shot this short video of some feathered friends
at feeders, along the lakeside and on tree branches. 

Music & lyrics by Bill Staines - 'This Song is for the Birds'