Tag Archive | birds

Winter On A Florida River

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Perfect Weather!

Cool Enough For Comfort, Warm Enough For Basking Alligators

My daughter (who is seven months pregnant with her first baby) and her husband were here for four days last week, on a trip from San Diego.  They are planning a possible move back to the east coast from San Diego after the baby is born, and in addition to visiting with family, are spending some time in Savannah and Charleston, the two cities they are most interested in moving to.  When visiting home, Erin always likes to do as much “Florida” stuff as she can, and this time around, that included an Eco-Tour on the St. John’s River.  The weather was perfect, and the birds and alligators were everywhere.  We saw at least three mama gators with babies piled all over the place, in addition to at least two males in the 12 foot range.  I actually think one of them was larger than that.  It was a whopper!  Highlights of the day included several purple gallinules, a yellow-crowned night heron, wood storks, sandhill cranes, and a very hungry manatee, busily feeding on shoreline vegetation.  This is why people come to Florida in the winter.  Well, and the beaches, of course.  But for many, a peaceful, two hour glide down a Florida river can’t be beat.

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Daughter and Hubby, Just Before Embarking On Our Tour

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Erin, Busy Doing What She Loves

(This was one of the Mamas, though you can’t see the babies in the photo).

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Purple Gallinule

(Photo Found Online)

When Erin sends me some of the really good pictures she took with her various zoom lenses, I’ll share some with you.  These are just iPhone snapshots and an online pic of the gallinule, but they’re all I have right now.  Hope you enjoy seeing what MY world looks like in January.

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Look What Mark Built!

Stacked brick bird bath

My New Brick Birdbath

(Click to Zoom)

After showing Mark the article on using bricks in the garden in that South African e-magazine which featured our pond, we decided we liked the stacked brick birdbath pictured.  We also decided we needed to add a few more birdbaths in our garden, too.  (I’m convinced one can never have too many!)  Since we have enough salvaged brick to build a second house piled here and there in the pot ghetto area of the back yard, we didn’t have to buy a thing!  We also have several stacks of salvaged slate from a demo job in downtown Orlando, too.  So Mark built one of brick and one of slate.  I love both of them, and best of all, since the bricks and slate are just stacked up, they would be easy to relocate or take down completely, if we wanted to make changes.  It only took him about an hour on each one, to be sure every layer was level and neat.  I’m all smiles!

Stacked slate birdbath

(Click to see Full Sized)

This makes at least five birdbaths in my backyard, alone.  How many do YOU have?  Even birds that don’t use feeders need water, and will usually make use of a birdbath, even if it’s just a shallow bowl on the ground.  And watching them bathe is so much fun!  

Critters In The Garden #2 – White-Winged Doves

“Just like the white winged dove…
Sings a song…
Sounds like she’s singing…
ooo baby… ooo… said ooo”

Stevie Nicks, “Edge of Seventeen”

White-winged Dove

White-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica)

While not everyone appreciates all the many critters that thrive surprisingly well in urban gardens, I enjoy most of them on a daily basis, from lizards and snakes, to possums, flying squirrels, butterflies and moths,  and of course, birds.  I’d venture a guess that most gardeners enjoy avian visitors, and many, like me, put out feeders and birdbaths to ensure their comfort.  Here in central Florida, we have a wide variety of  birds that will visit and nest in our backyards.  In addition to the usual songbirds, I have red-shouldered hawks that nest in my oaks, barred owls raising young across the street, and woodpeckers of several types.  I’ve had my share of white ibises foraging in the front yard, and even had vultures scrabbling over a piece of roadkill who fought their way up my drive way and onto the front stoop, once.  Occasionally, a bald eagle lands in one of our trees, and we often see and hear sandhill cranes flying over.  All of these visitors will be discussed in future posts, I’m sure.

For now, I’m thinking about the change in our local dove population.  Our most familiar dove has always been the mourning dove, which frequents backyard feeders in great numbers.  Most anyone who pays attention at all has heard their sad call, which is what they were named for:  “Oh, woe, woe, woe….”   But shortly after we moved into this house eight years ago, I noticed a much stouter and larger dove at my feeders, with a shorter, squared off tail, and bright white wing markings.  I was surprised to find out I had a pair of white-winged doves residing in my backyard.  These birds are primarily a western species, not originally native to Florida, but were  introduced here a few decades ago. They  are becoming more and more common throughout this area.  A year after we moved in,  I had 4 of them at my feeder, and the next year, 8.  Now there are more white-wings visiting than there are mourning doves.  I’m not sure that’s a good thing, ecologically, but I’m very fond of them, with their “oooh, baby, ooooh” calls.  Somehow I find them more handsome than the mourning doves, as well.  Perhaps that’s because I didn’t grow up seeing them everywhere, so they are still a novelty to me.  It remains to be seen whether their increasing numbers will affect the mourning dove population, which has always seemed more than just abundant to me.  For now, I will just enjoy the white-wings along with my other feeder visitors.

Here is a picture of a mourning dove  for comparison.

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

Check out these links to hear the typical call of these birds. (Just scroll down until you see the sound bar & click on the “Play” arrow.)

White-Winged Dove

Mourning Dove

Photos found online.

Critters In The Garden #1

One of the best things about having a garden, even in urban or suburban areas, is the incredible amount of wildlife you can provide habitat for.  Of course, most gardeners are very happy to welcome songbirds to their yards, but many have no idea how interesting and varied other forms of garden wildlife are.  I’m hoping that by sharing pictures and information here about the many other creatures who call my own yard home, others will realize what a wonderfully diverse place a garden can be.  Over the course of the weeks ahead, I’ll be posting on birds & birdfeeders, butterflies & other insects, mammals, and reptiles that coexist pretty well in my yard.  Especially considering the two killer dachshunds I have who patrol their territory on a daily basis. 

Just to kick this “series” off with a bang, I’m not going to start with cute cardinals or brash bluejays.  I’m going to leap right into discussing the critters many people fear, dislike, or simply don’t understand, the reptiles.  Particularly snakes.  If you count yourself among the many who actively dislike snakes or think that they are always venomous or dangerous, I hope you’ll read a bit more, and learn to accept them and their place in the garden with less fear or hatred.   Perhaps you will never learn to see them as the beautiful and interesting creatures that I do, but if you can restrain yourself from bashing them with shovels, I’ll consider these posts a success.

Let’s start with the snake I see most often in my garden, the Southern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor priapus).  This is one of my favorite snakes, being completely harmless, and very beneficial in the garden.  I also think the long, streamlined body is quite pretty, with the grey to black, smooth coloration, and the white chin that is distinctive in the southern subspecies of this snake.   (Click on any image to open a larger version).

Southern black racer (coluber constrictor priapus)

One of the things about black racers that I most enjoy is their habit of “periscoping.”  When gliding through grasses or slightly taller vegetation, they often pause and lift their head up high, in order to “scope out” the lay of the land, and make sure no unseen dangers await them.  Like all snakes, they use their tongue to taste air molecules for the scent of anything threatening or delicious nearby.  Also like all snakes, racers can and WILL bite if threatened.  If you are not experienced in handling snakes without causing harm to them or to yourself, don’t try to pick these guys up.   Just admire their graceful slide through the garden, and let them go on their way unharmed.  Their bite may not be venomous, but it can be painful, and can cause breakage of the snake’s teeth, which isn’t good for them.  Black racers do not make good pets, either.   I don’t really espouse keeping wildife as pets to begin with, and racers, in particular,  never get over their nervous disposition,  and really dislike being handled. 

I had a wonderful moment with a black racer a couple of summers ago, when I was hand watering my flowers.  We were in drought mode, as is often the case here in central Florida, and the splashing water attracted a medium sized racer, about 2 1/2 feet long.  He slid forward a few slow inches at a time, stopping repeatedly to check me out and be sure I wasn’t doing anything that looked threatening.  I stood very still and let the water continue to sprinkle on some leaf mulch in my flower bed.  Eventually, the racer reached his goal, lowered his head to a tiny puddle of water in a cupped leaf, and began to drink.  By this time, I was holding my breath, watching something I’d never seen before, and not wanting to scare him away before he had quenched his thirst.  He drank a very long time, then turned slowly, raised his head to give me one more look, then turned and glided back under the fence, to whatever hiding spot he had emerged from.

Here is a picture I took a few weeks later of what might have been the same snake, though I have several living in my yard.  Notice the white chin, which you can see clearly, even though this snake doesn’t have his head raised up.

Southern black racer (coluber constrictor priapus) in my garden.

If you have any questions about black racers or other snakes in your garden, please feel free to ask.  If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find it for you.  In the meantime, here’s a link to a website with lots more information on the Southern Black Racer.