Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Florida's songbirds

Spring is in the air and the Florida birds are all chirping about the great weather. From the time I wake up until I close my eyes at the end of the evening, I can always hear a variety of birds in my back yard. Although they don't always get along with each, I appreciate each and every one of them for their beauty, musical notes, and for making my backyard a lot more interesting. Florida grasshopper sparrows are small, short-tailed birds, about 5 inches long and weighing less than one ounce. This not so drab sparrow is mostly black and gray with some brown streaks on the back. Underneath, it is light gray or buff color with no streaking. Feathers at the bend of the wing are bright yellow and there is an orange patch in front of the eyes. A white stripe marks the top of the head. The male’s primary song is weak and grasshopper-like, giving rise to the bird’s common name.

Like most Floridian backyards we have some Florida scrub jays, with one dominant male that visits my bird bath almost every afternoon. The Florida scrub-jay is a 12-inch-long, blue and gray crestless jay that lacks the white wing spots and tail feather tips of the more common and widespread blue jay. A necklace of blue feathers separates the whiter throat from the gray whitish forehead. The tail is long and loose in appearance, and the back is gray.

The song of the wood thrush is so beautiful it inspired Handel to write a piece of music in the bird's honor. There is no more lovely a sound than the loud, flute-like song, ending in a trill, of this songbird.  The wood thrush is large and plump, reddish-brown above and whitish below, with large dark spots on its throat, breast and sides. It has a bold, white eye ring and its tail is short. It is often tied to shade-grown coffee plantations in South America for winter survival, since it requires shady areas. Spring brings it returning to North America to breed in moist deciduous forests.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Nature Spot of the Week: St. Joseph Peninsula State Park

St. Joseph Peninsula State Park in Florida is truly a dream come true for Floridian nature lovers! The park is teeming with wildlife and marine life. Noted as an excellent birding area with sitings of 209 species currently recorded, it is a premier location in the eastern United States for observing hawks during fall migration. Many species can be seen including the endangered peregrine falcon. The monarch butterfly is also on the wing in autumn, making its long migratory journey from northern states to wintering sites in Mexico. Shore and wading birds are in abundance throughout the year. While the best area of the park to observe birds is along the beach and bayshore, the sandpine scrub, pine flatwoods and dunes offer protective habitat. The shallow waters of St. Joseph Bay are alive with a variety of marine life. Frequently encountered are bay scallops, hermit, fiddler and horseshoe crabs and octopi.

A long barrier extending north between St Joseph Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, this 2516 acre park will appeal to a wide range of interests. Its miles of fine natural beach are good for swimming and fishing. With miles of white sugar sand, this park has one of the top rated beaches in the United States. Sunbathing, snorkeling, and swimming are popular activities along the Gulf of Mexico and St. Joseph Bay. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy camping, fishing, hiking, and bicycling. From offshore, canoeists and kayakers can take in a superb view of the high dunes and sand pine scrub. The fall is best for catching large redfish, sharks, bluefish, and flounder, while spring is excellent for pompano, whiting, and speckled trout.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Floridian Nature Nature Spot of the Week: Henderson Beach State Park

Henderson Beach State Park has one of Florida's greatest natural assets, sugar white sand beaches. The centerpiece of this park is the expansive white-sand beach that provides a variety of different experiences, from swimming and sunning to dolphin watching and shelling. Swimming is permitted at Henderson Beach State Park but lifeguards are not provided. However, swimming safety flags are posted each day in order to help visitors determine whether or not they should swim. Surf fishing is permitted at the park with the proper license. Anglers can expect to catch pompano, flounder, catfish, redfish, whiting, and a few other species. Two large pavilions allow for picnicking and grilling. A playground is the first stop on our nature trail and is sure to be a success with the kids. The nature trail provides visitors a rare glimpse of the coastal dune ecosystem and abundant wildlife and is pet friendly.

The most common  dolphin in Florida waters is the bottle-nosed dolphin. Bottlenose dolphins have robust, powerful bodies that are blue-gray on top with lighter sides and bellies. This dolphin has an unusually short and stubby beak, hence the name "bottlenose". The bottlenose dolphin  has more flexibility in its neck than other oceanic dolphins. As adults they are typically six to twelve feet long, and live both inshore and offshore along temperate and tropical coasts worldwide. Dolphins breathe air at the surface of the water through a single blowhole located near the top of the head. They need to breathe about every two minutes, but can hold their breath for several minutes. Their blow is a single, explosive cloud. Feeding behaviors for the bottlenose dolphin are diverse, primarily involving individual prey capture, but sometimes involving coordinated efforts to catch food, feeding in association with human fishing, and chasing fish into mud banks. Bottlenose dolphins eat a wide variety of food, consuming more than 20 pounds of mullet, sheepshead, pinfish, flounder and marine invertebrates each day. Male bottlenose dolphins reach sexual maturity at about 10 years. Females reach sexual maturity at about 5-10 years. The gestation period is 12 months. Calving can take place year-round with peaks in some areas during spring and fall. Calves nurse for over a year (12-18 months), and stay with their mothers for 3-6 years learning how to catch fish and other important tasks.

In 2001, volunteers helped build a 3/4 acre nature trail at Henderson. The trail winds through a number of different kinds of vegetation including sand pines, scrub oaks, and dune rosemary, also known as coastal scrub. The trail climbs the park's gently sloping dunes and to the top of a particularly high dune that is the remnants of a bunker built decades ago when the military made use of the area around Henderson Beach. This vantage point provides great views of the park and the Gulf of Mexico.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Floridian Nature Vacation Spot of the Week: Sebastian Inlet State Park

Sebastian Inlet State Park is a Florida State Park located 10 miles south of Melbourne Beach and 6 miles north of Vero Beach, Florida. The park lies on both sides of the Sebastian Inlet. In 2006, it was the sixth most visited state park in Florida. Wildlife is abundant in the park, and the casual visitor can reasonably hope to see ospreys and many species of shorebird. Sea turtles nest in the park, and visitors during the summer may make reservations for a nighttime foray to observe nesting Loggerhead Turtles. 
Sebastian Inlet State Park is the premier saltwater fishing spot on Florida's east coast, this park is a favorite for anglers nationwide for catching snook, redfish, bluefish, and Spanish mackerel from its jetties. Surfing is also a popular recreation and several major competitions are held here every year. Three miles of beautiful beaches provide opportunities for swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling, shelling, and sunbathing. Canoeing and kayaking in the Indian River Lagoon are also favorite pastimes. Visitors can relax with a stroll down the mile-long Hammock Trail. Waterfront pavilions and picnic areas are great for family outings. The park mainly provides leisure activities, particularly fishing from both its Atlantic and Indian River shores; fishing jetties extend from both sides of the inlet into the ocean. There are facilities for swimming, surfing, snorkeling and scuba diving from the 3 miles of Atlantic beach. Boats can be launched into the Indian River, and there is a marina complex at the north end of the park. Camping is permitted in designated area. Sebastian Inlet State Park is a must visit for Floridian nature lovers!
Sebastian Inlet is also where this picture was taken.  I found this on FWC's Facebook page and they said the photo was supplied by John Bailey, who took this amazing picture. He reportedly spotted a bobcat staring into the water at Sebastian Inlet State Park last evening while he was taking a stroll. He realized the cat was transfixed on a shark feeding on smaller fish. Suddenly, the bobcat leaped into the water atop the shark and dragged it ashore! Bailey took the photo and the cat dropped its catch and ran into the forest.