Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sanibel's Crocodile

Sanibel Island has one crocodile, that is a female, that some folks call Wilma. It is said that she was first seen here around 1980. She was captured a couple of times and trucked down to the Everglades, but each time she made her way back to Sanibel again. (I've said it before; there's just something about this place.) It is believed that she is the northernmost crocodile in the Western Hemisphere.

She may now, be around 11 or 12 feet in length, weigh over 500 pounds and is only seen a few times each year. Most reports are that she's been in Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. That makes it a thrill just to get a glimpse of her. One year, she wasn't seen at all and was thought to have died, much to everyone's relief, she appeared again.

In the Spring, she makes a nest and lays eggs. Since there is no male here the eggs are not fertilized. The story I have heard, is that when she realizes the eggs won't hatch, she has actually stolen alligator babies. When she later discovers that they aren't crocs, she gives them back. It's sad that her mothering instincts are going to waste.

Just a couple of weeks ago, a friend called to tell me that they had seen Wilma make a nest and lay her eggs,just across the street from their home. They called authorities and they quickly arrived to put a chain link fence partially around that area, with hope of deterring people from getting too close to the nest, which in turn could cause Wilma to feel a need to protect it. They watched as she layed the eggs and said she appeared to be in a trans like state during that time.

When I was past there 2 days later, I didn't see her, but they had seen her swimming in the pond near the nest. Last I talked to them, they say she's there keeping an eye on the eggs. They sent these pictures for me to share. :-)

The American crocodiles, once near the brink of extinction because of hunting and habitat loss, now flourish so at the tip of Florida, that they've been downgraded, in this state from endangered to threatened status by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. An estimated 2,000 crocodiles are thought to be in the wild in South Florida.

She is directly on the nest, laying her eggs in these photos.

Now I have to add a final note to this story. This is the email sent out from SCCF today:

Ding Darling Refuge and SCCF Honor the Crocodile

On Tuesday, January 26, our one and only saltwater crocodile on the island was found dead on the East River Trail at SCCF, possibly a victim of the lengthy cold of January.

There will be a gathering in her honor on the SCCF porch on Thursday, February 4 at 3 p.m.. Bring your crocodile stories and toast her with a glass of Gatorade.

In her 25 years plus on Sanibel, she helped define our community as one dedicated to living with wildlife, even the big, beautiful, scary ones. She was unique in her 11-foot length (large for a female) and the northernmost of her species in Florida. Her guess-timate age was 40 - 60 years.

Her stories will always be told at SCCF and the Refuge. A plaque will mark her final resting place on East River Trail.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Brown Pelican Performance

I watched what I believe was a male brown pelican, showing his bright, breeding colors. He dove right in front of me to scoop up a fish. A sea gull flew over to wait for him to empty the water out of his pouch, thinking it might be able to steal the fish. It was quite a performance. I was surprised when I got home and looked at the photos. I hadn't realized how big their throat pouch gets when it's full of water. That was amazing! The photos also revealed that this particular pelican had a leg band. It would be interesting to know it's history.

The brown pelican is the smallest member of the species. There are four subspecies of brown pelicans, two of which reside in the United States, the eastern brown pelican and the California brown pelican. The brown pelican is the only pelican that is a plunge diver, and can dive from as high as 65 feet in the air to catch marine fish.

Females are identical to males but are slightly smaller. These are the only dark-colored pelicans. Non breeding adults have white or yellowish head and neck and grayish brown bodies. Breeding birds have dark hind neck and a yellow patch on fore neck. Immature pelicans have a white neck rather than a dark red one. Brown Pelicans can reach lengths of three and a half feet. Wing spans can be nearly eight feet long. An adult will weigh from 5 to 8 pounds and eat 3 to 4 pounds of fish per day.

In this area, they breed throughout the year; only in spring in northernmost part of their range. The nest locations vary from a simple scrape on the ground on an island to a large stick nest in mangroves or low trees. Twigs and grasses are brought by the male to the female for her to construct. They nest in colonies, usually on islands. The female lays 2 to 4 eggs, late winter or early spring, that are incubated for four weeks by both the male and the female. Young usually leave the nest in 9–11 weeks and sexually mature at 2 1/2 to 3 years of age. In favorable conditions a pelican can live to be 30 plus years old.

Click photos to enlarge.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Lunch On the Coast of Sanibel Island

Brown Pelicans

These were immature brown pelicans fishing for their lunch. As soon as they spotted a fish, and did their awkward dive, the sea gulls flew all around them trying to steal lunch for themselves. They were putting on quite a show, as were the Royal Terns with their diving.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Big Love for Tiny Dog

Once again I post my tiny, Great Grand Dog. This time it is to wish you and yours a 'Happy Valentine's Day'.

Katy is such a cute little pup. But, that's not all...she has the most wonderful personality that has won all of our hearts. Katy was a Christmas Gift to my Grand Daughter by her husband, over two years ago.

Of course, Grand Daughter took her immediately to show her Mom & Dad. They instantly fell in love with Katy and since she was such a tiny tea cup Yorkie, they nicknamed her 'Katy Bug', which has become her name now.

For those who don't know; my Daughter was diagnosed with Breast Cancer six years ago. She has had several recurrences over that period of time. On Katy Bug's first visit to meet my daughter, she climbed in her lap and stayed there. On the next several visits, she would do the same or lay right beside her. Very quickly it became obvious to Grand Daughter that Miss Katy Bug would rather stay right there. :-) So, even though she loves Katy, she loves her Mother even more, so that is where Katy Bug lives. She stays right by my Daughter's side, even goes to doctor appointments, treatments or wherever Daughter might be. That is what I call a real 'Valentine'. :-)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Turkey Vultures

Since Turkey Vultures were the center of attention last week on Sanibel Island, due to a fish kill in a lake at the Dunes Golf and Tennis Club, I decided to use it as my Camera Critter this week.
I have photos and a video taken in that neighborhood; during the time the Turkey Vultures were abundant.
Due to some reports that the vultures were chasing a golf cart etc. I started searching for information about the vultures and found it pretty interesting.

Turkey Vultures were given their name because their featherless red head gives them the appearance of a turkey. The Turkey Vulture has a body length of 24 - 25 inches, a wingspan of 5 - 6 feet, and weighs 3 1/2 - 5 pounds. There is an important reason for their bald head. When eating carrion, it often has to stick its head inside the carcass to eat. A feathered head would catch some of the meal, along with bacteria. After mealtime, it perches in the sun to bake off whatever bits that might be clinging. Its plumage is primarily dark brown. In flight, the undersides of the flight feathers appear silver or white.
The males and females are identical in appearance. Their vocalization is limited. They can only utter hisses and grunts, usually grunting when they feel threatened or during courtship. Their length of life is not known for sure. The oldest living vulture on record is 33 years.
Turkey Vultures raise one brood a year, consisting of 1 to 3 blotchy-looking eggs. Their nests (are indentions scratched out in the soil and are usually in caves, hollow logs, on the ground, or abandoned barns and sheds that provide safe hiding places. Both parents share the incubating (38 to 41 days) and caring for the young, which have pure white down and dark grey faces. The young fledge 70 to 80 days after hatching.
The bird’s range extends across much of the continental United States, into Central America, and throughout most of South America. Birds in the northern limits of its range migrate south as far as South America.
Turkey Vultures are almost entirely carrion (the carcass of a dead animal) eaters and feed on medium-sized dead animals. These birds use their sight and acute sense of smell to find food during low level soaring flights. The smell that attracts them is mercaptan a gas product of the beginnings of decay. (This is the same gas used in natural gas to make it easier to detect leaks. Vultures have been used on many occasions to detect leaks in gas lines.) These birds do enjoy eating some plant matter as well.

Circling vultures does not necessarily indicate the presence of a carcass. They could be circling to gain altitude for long flights, searching for food, or simply playing. They do not eat live animals and they will not hurt pets or children. Their preference is fairly fresh meat, and avoids rotten meat if there is anything else available. They also prefer the meat of animals that eat mostly plants and avoid animals that eat meat. The vulture’s waste is actually a sanitizer, because their uric acid is so strong that it kills bacteria. This is because of their diet.

Turkey Vultures fly with their wings in a V shape. They’re very graceful in flight, and are one of the most skilled gliders in North America. Flapping their wide wing span is very laborious during take offs. That makes them vulnerable to predators and cars. These vultures most commonly gather into flocks of 30 to 50 birds, but sometimes more than 500. When migrating, they seek out thermals, bubbles of warm, moist air that rises from the surface on calm, sunny days. The vultures know that if they find a thermal and circle within it, they’ll get a free ride. This way they can travel long distances without having to flap their wings. A flock of vultures is called a venue and a flock circling in the air is a kettle. A kettle will ride a thermal until it weakens and then peel away, seeking the next one. The thermals die out when the sun begins to set, and the vultures must come back to earth.

Turkey Vultures can be found throughout the entire United States, north into Canada along the east and west coasts, and south into central South America. They prefer open areas, but can be found almost anywhere.

Just in case you are ever tempted; :-) it is illegal to keep a vulture as a pet.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Endangered Wood Storks

A few days ago, I looked out the window and there were six Wood Storks (also called Wood Ibis)landing on limbs of a large, dead tree. It is very encouraging to see so many of the storks here on the island because they are on the endangered species list.

The Wood Stork is one of the largest wading birds in North America and the only Stork in the U.S. The adults stand a little over 3 feet, with a wing span of over 5 feet. It is white with a bald and grayish head. It's tail, legs and the flight feathers are black. The bill is pale yellow, curves downward and grows to around 9 inches long. On average they weigh around 7 pounds. Their weight limits their flight distance, but they can be rather acrobatic when they are descending. As these birds were landing on the tree limbs, their long legs made them look a little awkward to me. :-) They had a little trouble keeping their balance because their weight made the limbs bounce up and down. I kept watching, expecting a dead limb to break, but none did.

They prefer to live in wetlands, feeding in fresh, brackish, or salt water. They prefer to feed in shallow water by submerging their beak 2 or 3 inches in the water and feeling for fish passing by. Their nests are built very high in the tops of trees or shrubs and they like to nest in colonies. Females lay up to 5 eggs and both parents incubate the eggs for around 30 days and care for the young. Their diet consists of fish, crayfish, amphibians, snakes and young aligators.

It is understandable that Sanibel Island is a good home for the Wood Storks because it is a National Wildlife Refuge and Bird Sanctuary. Everything they need is here.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Magnificent Eagle

We see many eagles here on Sanibel. This one kept coming back to the tree behind the house today. Each time it would break off a twig and fly away with it. I assume that it will be a part of a new nest. How privileged I am to be able to watch these beautiful birds.