Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dance of the Reddish Egret

A little eye-candy from Florida for those stuck in the snow. A fascinating bird, the Reddish Egret has a rather elaborate dance.. which is guaranteed to make one chuckle. This is actually a foraging technique, not a mating dance.

Sibly's Guide to Bird Life and Behavior describes it as "the most active foraging technique of any ardeid, literally chasing small fish through shallow water." It is a hoot to watch!

Hello down there-

I can stand real tall!

(Now you should imagine the bird madly running about-)

Check out these wings... I am a big scary guy!

How did you like that? Wanna see some more?

The photos are mine, and in no way compare to the quality of those taken by my good friends who are serious bird photographers! I am just not "camera-ed up " for those type of shots. I do your basic botany shots, and just can't resist the urge to document something exciting if it is in close range.

If you would like to see a video of another Reddish Egret in action, just follow this link to you-tube and enjoy.

Stay warm! Weedpicker

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Merrit Island- Space Coast

Merritt Island- Titusville, Florida's offering to the sea.

The island, part of a series of barrier islands which separate land from sea, is easily accessible by a causeway and bridges. There are several offering of note, and it could easily be my favorite destination during the Space Coast Festival. You don't need an official trip to visit, and we birders flock to the island to self-guide tours of beach front, retention ponds on the interior of the island, and a excellent nature center- full of art work, a well-stocked gift shop and a birding trail winding around open water and native habitat

The first delights of the day, Painted Bunting- both male (shown above) and female in her subdued all green plumage, were enjoying the offering at the nature center's bird feeders.

The official greeting sign tells much of the story: Bald Eagles and rockets. This island is in immediate proximity to the Cape Canaveral launch pad and is completely "shut down" during space launches. The Feds maintain this wild wetlands and beachfront as a buffer to the workings of NASA. But, oh how the wildlife benefits. Were it not for this National Wildlife Refuge, the island would most likely have been turned into subdivisions and mini-malls by now.
Cruising this causeway offers many visual opportunities, from the rare Florida Scrub Jay and Armadillos, to the gatherings of these Black Vultures. Alligators are known to sun along this highway and the over look at Haulover Canal usually offers views of Manatees, but early January's record cold weather has played a death-blow to those gentle giants. I hope to dedicate an entire blog later to that topic. The beach views and gulling on this island, spectacular.

Looking over the shoulders of those vultures, and you'll see the space shuttle's fuel tanks standing upright in the launch position. This will the last flight for this shuttle, as this system which has been in use since the '80s, is being phased out.

This shuttle has entered the endless bounds of space and returned to tell the story of man's desire to understand the universe. And- some would say our folly- as we do not even yet understand the delicate balance of ecosystems on our own earth.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Vegging out in Florida

As much as I like winter in Ohio, I figured the Space Coast needed some birders to support their festival in Titusville, Florida, so here I am. Sunshine, 70+ degrees, and loads of cool things to see.

A Common Moorhen, with his retro-style colorful, dinosaur-headpiece, trolling the shallows off the Kissimmee Lakefront Park. It was our first destination, as it is a short stop off from the Orlando Airport and the land of a million kids!

We found several emptied Apple Snails, the favorite food of the endangered Snail Kites which breed in this area. Limpkins are said to be fond of this snail as well, so if you are a birder, you should be interested in these snails. And snails have to eat, so it starts with the botany, as these guys are vegetarians! It is all about the botany.

Here is a scary, scary sign announcing more development on this lake. I am sure the city fathers are quite proud, but the Snail Kites and I hope someone is watching out for the Apple Snails and the important plant life surrounding this lake.
And now for some happy news!

An idea for the environmentally minded consumer: hire a lawn aeration service which benefits your lawn by creating those important cores of aeration and adding needed fertilizer- all in a noiseless "residential friendly" flock. "Green" Ibis are now available for hire, but only south of the Mason-Dixson line!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Good News travels fast...

We have been hard at work on the Flora-Quest '10 info and it is now on line at Last night a friend asked which trip they should attend, and that note was the jumping off point for this blog. I realised how excited I am, and wanted to share this info with everybody. So here goes....All the trips are good! Seriously! If you want to bird the Sunshine Corridor will be good, as Jason Larson and Pete Whan both bird and botanize. Paul Knoop and McKee are AMAZING birders and his place is private preserve too. This is a brief opportunity to see something very special.

If you are into kayaking- Martin McAllister and Kevin Bradbury are locals who know all the great stuff to see on the Scioto Brush Creek! I can't say enough good about Marty, (and all the guides really!) as he is really sharp on geology, history, botany- this guy does it all.

Then again, the trip I would pick would be Botany and Bugs. Harvey Ballard, our speaker on violets, and John Howard, plus Jenny Richards...throw me in the brier patch! We always look a bit for butterflies and bugs as well as great botany.

................Bird-foot Violet, Viola pedata photo by John Howard.

Bob Scott Plaicier and Rich McCarty lead the Appalachian Sampler trip. Two of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, and top notch birders. Tree questions? Ask Bob, and Rich knows everything that blooms or sings in Adams County, and this trip will see most of it. Some of it is in super-secret places! We could call this the Good 'Ole Boys tour, one of my favorite.

Photography? Oh yeah, Tom Arbour and Dave Riepenhoff know their way around a camera! Check out Tom's blog for some stunning photography. But you don't have to be a camera buff for this trip. Casual walkers and "point and shoot" folks are welcome to enjoy the relaxed pace.

Ohio Heritage Botanist Rich Gardner is the sedge man in Ohio! He'll lead the trip to Cedar Falls, and if you really want to learn botany, this is your chance. We send Janet Creamer along too, as she is not only very knowledgeable, but also fun in the field. She makes sure Rick doesn't get lost in his sedge world...

Minney and Fitten: Great birders, and they always get the highest reviews. I don't know what they do but people love it! And seriously- Chris Bedel and Tricia West's Plant ID will be very popular. If you don't use a Newcomb's- it is well worth the time to learn and the flowers will be great too. Did I mention the Blue Grosbeak my daughter saw last year on this trip? It is not all class time, you be in the field too!

Seriously- they are ALL good!!! I love these guys! Can you tell I am excited?

Paula Harper has all our paperwork in order, so head over to the Flora-Quest site and download a copy of the trip descriptions and a registration form. We are going to have another great year! If you want to read the "official" promo for Flora-Quest, instead of my rabid rantings, it can be found on the Midwest Native Plant blog.

We'll look forward to seeing you there!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A moment of raptor...

The weekend trip to the Wilds provided a lot of opportunities for socializing, some botanizing, those coveted views of the odd rhino and takin, but primarily we were there for the birding. Fortunately we had some "fully loaded" photographers on-board as well. You'll soon see why I am called a "Weedpicker" and not a "Photo-clicker". Look at the first frame in the last blog post, and compare it to this one, virtually the identical scene:

A Red-shouldered Hawk through the camera lens of Dane Adams. Dane captured this immature Red-shouldered with some amazing frames, which will allow us to study the youngster. First off, the posture threw my ID off a bit. When we arrived on the scene, I assumed this bird perched tip-top of a tree like a Christmas tree ornament was going to be a Rough-legged Hawk. But the size seemed a bit small.

It took a couple of looks, and some general prompting from Tom Bartlett, to realise this was an immature bird with a streaked chest and a general lack of rufous highlight on the shoulders. But that will all change with age, and he will soon take on the more familiar coloring of an adult Red-Shoulder.

And when Red-shoulders fly, look for the white crescents of "windows" on the bases of the primaries (toward the wing-tips.) Dane's excellent photo captures this feature mid-flight.

Fully extended, a hunting machine becomes airborne. We see birds in flight everyday, but something about these freeze-frames portrays the combination of the physics and beauty of a bird aloft.
Breath-taking! Thanks to Dane Adams for sharing these great photos.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Wilds- a winter view

The Ohio Ornithological Society (of which I am a member in good standing) runs an annual trip to The Wilds, a restored strip-mining operation in southern Ohio. It has a fascinating history, which you can read all about here.

It is a huge grassland, with some areas being reforested with the only trees and plants that can withstand the compacted, degraded soils: Black Pine, Green Ash, Sycamore, Silver Maple and the like.

A typical view of the back roads; these are AEP's acreage contiguous to The Wilds. Look carefully in the very top of the middle pine: Red-Shouldered Hawk, juvenile. This one was pretending to be a Rough-legged Hawk by perching at the tip-top of the tree!

Now we are talkin' wild. Sichuan Takin, that is, Budorcas taxicolor tibetana, (hmm, are they spicy-hot?) Check out this link for all of the managed animal species at The Wilds.

And of course, the star of the day- was this baby Southern White Rhino and her mum.

.......................... "Oh, I hear... birders!"
This little gal had everyone fonding over her. It is hard to believe something that will become so large can still be so doggone cute. In fact, it seems some folks had a hard time controlling themselves!

Zookeeper Dave, looks as though he would like to say... Ladies, please step away from the Rhino, step away!

Great fun, good birds and a bonus rhino. Life is good.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Raining Iguanas

The recent cool temps in the Miami area had the locals in a tizzy. Most homes and apartments have no heat, what-so-ever. Normally the tropical climate makes it nearly impossible to live without an air-conditioner, but several days last week with highs in the 40's and 50's set all kinds of new cool-weather records.

And this is where the iguana comes in. Behold the non-native reptile common in the pet trade, and food source to some South American peoples. Like other invasive species, they have escaped captivity and found the local area rather hospitable. Their populations have swelled to numbers which negatively impact the flora and fauna of southern Florida and the Keys. It seems the iguanas have really taken a liking to Florida.

Only iguanas don't like the cold. In fact, they go into a torpor when the temps drop into the 30's. And as the lizard-like tree inhabitants chill out, they drift off to sleep, which in turn cause them to lose their grip on limbs. Hence, raining iguanas. Recently media covered this cold snap on the national news, and the iguanas found lying on the ground.

So what happens when someone collects a car-full of frozen iguanas, and then they all thaw? Yeah, follow that news link above to find out!

JJ Soski discovered this iguana flat-out beneath some shrubs on Biscayne Key. Was it in total torpor, or had this one passed on to death? It showed no signs of rigor mortise, but JJ protested that rigor mortis reaches maximum stiffness after 12 hours, and gradually dissipates after that. Yes, JJ is full of these bizarre and unusual scientific facts, it seems to be her specialty.

We decided to place the guy back under his tree in case he did survive the big sleep. But, interestingly enough, several birding groups were advising folks to kill the iguanas if they were found. What? Does that seem a bit harsh?

Iguanas are an invasive species, one that many parks do try to control. Some say they crawl about eating the eggs and young of native birds. Others claim iguanas eat the Yellow Nickerbean, Caesalpinia major the host plant to the federally endangered Miami Blue butterfly. Since they are mostly herbivores, there may be some fiction mixed in with the facts. Either way, it does seem strange to go about saving invasive species, and yet I could not bring myself to do it harm.

Our policy was not to interfere and let Mother Nature take her course; she is a whole lot smarter than me.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Miami: Nice.

I'll not be watching any more cop shows featuring the crime in the fair city of Miami, Florida. I prefer to focus on the natural history and scenic portions of our southern most state, as I just deposited my youngest offspring there for a six month stint at the Miami Seaquarium.

Even with the recent record low temperatures, the beauty of the generally tropical climate speaks for itself.

What's not to love about a state whose native plants include the coconut palm, Cocos nucifera? Palms are the icon for vacations with sunshine and beaches, a promise Miami delivers. This photo of a cruise ship at harbor was taken from downtown Miami, where the waterfront park was designed to drink in the ocean view.

The coast along Virginia and Biscayne Key offers a spectacular view that continues on to the panoramic view of the city. These keys are accessible by boat or a causeway (just like Cedar Point, kids!) from downtown Miami, and offer several Florida State Parks known for wildlife and birding. We ventured out to discover the Bill Bags Florida State Park and its "No Name Cove."

A closer look at the shoreline rubble shows is it comprised of the surface bedrock called Miami Oolite (aka Miami Limestone), which holds Florida's geologic seashell history in a composite material. Even with colder temps (in the 50's) there was much to see and do in Miami with incredible plants and animals to discover.
Stay tuned for the iguana adventures!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Botanizing at 80 MPH

After Saturday's GMAS meeting, my daughter and I scuttled out the door and headed for the south- about as far south as you can head in the U.S. without hearing a "splash." Tomorrow's final goal is Miami, Florida.

Today's scenery pretty much consisted of Georgia and the upper regions of Florida. Because this trip has a fairly tight time frame, I have refrained from much binocular use and have contented myself with whatever I can see at 80 miles and hour. Yes, she has a bit of a lead foot.

Georgia sported the first bits of green on our trip, as the snow has reached all the way into Tennessee. And while the day time temps have been hovering in the high 30's, it is not all that bad.

We drove past several pecan groves, fairly recognizable even in the winter. The delicious Pecans, Carya illinoinenses are members of the Juglandaceae family. They require a warmer climate than we have in Ohio, and Georgia is well-known for their pecans and pecan pie. Hopefully, we can stop long enough to sample some!

Photo courtesy of Flicker- we were driving too fast to get my own! More from Miami later...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Passion for Seeds

This time of year, gardeners longingly browse seed catalogs and dream of summer flowers. Seeds are a huge part of my life and those who know me well can attest to my addiction to seeds. Yes, I am a seed hoarder. Admitting this is the first step to recovery. Only, I hope I never recover.

Perhaps it was the buckeye seed in my grandfather's desk drawer that first fascinated me. Smooth and round in my little hands, how I wished I could find my own! Or my childhood neighbors, bent among the rows of stretched-out string and neatly hoed gardens- planting their vegetable seeds: peas and corn. It was always the flowers in front that I liked best; row of four o'clocks, with seeds that look like little black hand-grenades!

As an adult, I have no control, my coat pockets are filled with seeds. Berries from a silky dogwood, pods from a rose-mallow, wheat-like heads of prairie grasses. My car's cup holders carry the overflow. Long stalks bearing the fruit of sedges, hardened pod from a Kentucky coffee tree, cap of an odd acorn, I can't help myself.

Seeds are the miracle of life: Nature's Microchips. These fascinating carriers of genetic coding come in every shape and size imaginable. No wonder I am enamored with them.

If you find seed fascinating too, be sure to click on the link above to an essay from the Wall Street Journal. George Ball, head of Burpee seed, makes a convincing argument for the future. Invest in seeds.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Citizen Science

Welcome back to the Weedpicker's Journal for a fabulous New Year!

January's ice and cold has been no surprise to those of us born and raised in mid-Ohio farm country. We even took advantage of the snow on Friday, January 1st by celebrating my friend Janet Creamer's birthday with a little cross-country skiing. But the weather was so bone-chilling cold, I didn't have the camera out to document any of our fun!

Saturday the 2nd was our Annual Mohican Christmas Bird Count and good friends Marc Nolls, Mike Edgington and Chad from Akron U. teamed up with Janet and I. Much of our territory is farm country and this scenic rural home, complete with antique windmill, provided the first American Kestrel of the day.

Farms play an important role for bird conservation, as an open field with fresh manure is the best place to find Horned Larks, Snow Buntings, or Lapland Longspurs. We were treated to a flock of Horned larks as they foraged seed in this field. Their distinctive yellow faces and little feather "horns" set them apart from more common-looking sparrows.
And due to the excessive cold and wind, much of our route was driving cross-country checking the woodlots and "poaching" the birds from an occasional front yard feeder.

Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos were joined by a stunning White-crowned Sparrow as they forage together under a home owner's feeder. Finding one of these zebra-striped heads among the basic browns gets me excited every time! They were a rare treat indeed.

Counting the birds is not just a way for crazy people to pass the cold months in Ohio. It is actually an important part of the "Citizen Science" data being collect throughout the country by regular folks like you and me. Backyard birdwatcher are providing valuable information about the wintering trends of birds and their changing numbers. Cornell University collects this information and studies the impacts of climate, urbanization and other factors impacting bird populations.

If you would like to learn more about E-bird, or Project Feeder Watch, I hope you'll join Steve McKee and other Greater Mohican Audubon members at Gorman Nature Center on January 9th at 2:00 PM.