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Monday, October 20, 2014

Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge

I arrived in SE Alabama last Thursday, after two grueling days in the car, Addie and I were glad to be free! I'm living in a 24' camper, and it's very comfortable, right on the National Wildlife Refuge! I am currently without a personal computer, an internet connection, and I'm not even allowed on the computers at work yet... so my access to blogging will be limited. I'm currently sitting in the town library, trying to get some things done...and thought I'd try to upload a few pictures!

American alligator, ~2 feet in length

Unknown species...probably a Sora or a Rail? I don't have a book in front of me. And those massive plants! What are they?!

Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge Wildlife Drive

Eastern Screech Owl in a Wood Duck nest box

The Owl's view, and my truck

My first sighting of a venomous snake. Although it was dead, it was a little disconcerting. I'm guessing a rattlesnake, even though the rattles are gone. This guy was AS THICK AS MY ARM, and about 2-3 feet in length. Impressive!

Sunset at ENWR

Red-winged Black Birds feeding on a grass of some sort.

And my favorite sighting so far! I heard a scuffling around under my camper, and of course all I had available was my phone, so the image isn't great...but this is my first Nine-banded armadillo! Such an interesting critter...

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Birding at the Dry Tortugas National Park

On September 14th, I went to the Dry Tortugas National Park which is found 70 miles west of Key West. It was a beautiful trip (albeit a bit rough going out there). After I walked Fort Jefferson, ate lunch, snorkeled, and walked down Bush Key (see previous entry for pictures), I wanted to check out a large flock of gulls and terns I saw when the boat pulled up. If you’re into birding, and want to see some rare birds, Garden Key is the place to visit, which is the Key that the Fort is built on. Within close proximity are several rookeries, including Brown Boobies, Sooty Terns, and Brown Noddies. I luckily saw all 3 of those (no pics though, it all happened so fast!), and all 3 were new species for me! In total I added 6 new species to my life list, all in one day. Pictures to follow!

I’m not sure what this was, maybe a dock? All that’s left are the iron pilons, and the birds were covering it!

Fort Jefferson on Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas National Park
Royal Tern (Thalasseus maximus)

A group of Sandwich Terns (Thalasseus sandvicensis) A new bird for me!

A Laughing Gull (Leucophaeus atricilla) and a Roseate Tern (Sterna dougallii)… and the Roseate was a new bird for me, and considered “rare” in the Dry Tortugas!

Willet (Tringa semipalmata)
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)in the foreground, and a Willet in the background. The Whimbrel was a new bird for me as well!
With a total of 6 new species for the day, this bird nerd was very happy! I’m so glad my aunt and I braved the seas and the 3 hour trip out to the Dry Tortugas National Park!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Best camera trap video of all time

Did I get your attention?

Yes folks, I'm loudly and PROUDLY making the statement that THIS video is the best you'll ever see. If you're a follower, you know I've been in the Florida Keys interning at the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key. In addition to Key deer, a smaller subspecies of white-tailed deer, we have a variety of other critters in the Lower Keys.

Watch this 30 second video (with sound!) as a domestic cat almost becomes a midnight snack for this American alligator. Yes, we have 'gators in the Keys. And this guy/gal is a regular visitor to our popular "Blue Hole", a freshwater pond with observation deck and informational panels.



To join the fun on our Facebook page, "like" the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex! The comments are....::AHEM::....interesting.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Day Trip to the Dry Tortugas National Park: I

Over the weekend my Aunt Theresa visited me in the Keys. We spent the weekend partaking in Key West culture, being tourists, and eating great food. I have been living in the Keys since the beginning of June, but I had yet to visit one of the most famous places down here, Fort Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas National Park. As you can see on the map, it’s quite the haul to get out there. It’s located approximately 70 miles west of Key West as we know it, in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s expensive to get out there ($170 for adults which includes: breakfast, lunch, passage aboard the Yankee Freedom catamaran, National Park fee, snorkeling gear, and a 45 minute tour of the Fort), but well worth the money. It’s a long day as well, starting and ending with a 3 hour boat ride. All summer we’ve had great weather. No hurricanes, no tropical depressions, just normal tropical rainstorms that are over within in minutes, then back to sun. Of course, the weekend my aunt chose to fly down here from Michigan, we had some sort of tropical system sitting on top of us dumping wind and rain. We suffered through it by eating and drinking indoors at beautiful, delicious restaurants (poor us), but I REALLY wanted to go out to the Dry Tortugas! We waited until the very last moment, late Saturday night, to book our trip. The radar was showing an OK day for Sunday. We booked it, set the alarm for 6:00 am.

Looking from bow to stern while we
were still docked. Notice the bank of
black clouds in the direction we would be
We arrived at the Yankee Freedom III terminal, and boarded the boat with 100 other passengers, hoping and praying that we would have smooth sailing. As we pushed off, the sun was still shining, and we sat on the top deck soaking in the rays, and enjoying the breeze. Within minutes though, it started drizzling, and the water started rolling, and we were only 10 minutes into a 3 our trip. It was rough, to say the least. Pouring raining and whipping winds made for a very rocky trip, and people all around us were heaving. It wasn’t exactly the calm, relaxing, tropical tour I had hoped for. My aunt and I were strong though, and made it through without getting seasick. As we approached Fort Jefferson, the clouds did part and the sun did shine. Approaching the Fort, all I could think was that we were going back in time. I thought about how long construction projects take in 2014, and this Fort was built between 1846 and 1875, with something like 16 million handmade bricks from Pensacola, Florida! There were no high-speed ferries, or freshwater, or electricity out there then. Even now, freshwater and electricity is limited. This feat of construction is impressive. Click here for more information about the history and culture of Fort Jefferson.

Approaching Fort Jefferson within the Dry Tortugas National Park

My Aunt Theresa in front of Fort Jefferson. Sadly, my version of this picture got lost somehow!

The architecture was beautiful throughout the Fort.

From the second level looking towards the Harbor Lighthouse.

From the top of the Fort looking towards Bush Key, which is attached by a land bridge.

Bush Key
While the history is interesting, and the Fort itself is beautiful to walk through, and learn about, I was really interested in birding while I was visiting. Bush Key, as shown in the last picture, is home to two species of birds that almost exclusively nest here! Both the Brown Noddy and Sooty Terns call Bush Key home, and I was very fortunate to come at just the right time, the tail end of their breeding season. Bush Key has been closed off to visitors all summer, but the day before I visited, the beach reopened for visitors to walk. My aunt wasn’t interested in birding, so she went to tan on the beach, while I got out my camera and headed down the shore.

Unfortunately, I did not get any pictures of the Noddies or Sooties. There were just a few, and they were kind of soaring on the wind high above. I wasted 5 minutes trying to focus my camera to have *proof* that I saw them, but gave up. Who do I need to prove it to, right? :) Here are some other critters I saw while walking.

I believe this to be a house gecko (Hemidactylus mabouia), unless someone else can suggest something else!

Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)

Unknown crab species

Ghost crab (Ocypode quadrata)

Land hermit crab (Coenobita clypeatus)

Assorted shells and coral bits that had washed up in the wrack line.
I realize this entry is getting lengthy, so I will come back with Part II in a few days. Enjoy the pictures, and start planning your trip RIGHT NOW!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Camera trap pics from Big Pine Key

All summer I’ve been camera-trapping here on Big Pine. Here are some cool images from the last round!

Key deer doe

Virginia opossum (considered invasive)

Keys raccoon

Key deer doe

Two mice or rats of unidentified species… hanging out together. I’m not sure what they are, but I do have an idea of what they’re doing!
Key deer buck

House cat
Keys raccoon

Green iguana

The bane of a camera trapper. Vegetation blowing in the breeze.

Key deer doe and fawn

Curious fawn

Keys raccoon

Green iguana

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Nonnatives vs invasive species

My posts concerning the Florida Keys have all been fluffy and full of pretty pictures and cute animals. I’ve decided that for this entry, if there’s anyone out there reading this, then I will teach you something!

I want to discuss native/nonnative/invasive species. I live in an area that is warm– nay, HOT, all year round. There is this general rule, that the closer you get to the equator, the more diverse the flora and fauna is. As far as American soil goes, I’m pretty much as close to the equator as one can be (OK, fine Puerto Rico is closer, but I’m talking STATES here people). Let’s define these terms, shall we? Then I can be on my way and get to the cool pictures I’ve been wanting to share with my blogosphere friends.

(I’ve kind of gleaned these definitions from various sources, and recollections from undergrad courses, and mushed them into the following…and I’m speaking to North America)

Native: those species present pre European settlement
Nonnative: species introduced intentionally or unintentionally post European settlement
Invasive: species that have a negative impact on the economy, environment, and/or human health.

It’s important to note as well, that not all nonnatives (or sometimes referred to as introduced species) are invasive, and sometimes natives can becoming invasive.

A male Ring-necked Pheasant, seen in the
Finger Lakes region of NY. Photo credit: Art Kirsch
Here are some examples: the Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) ranges across North America, and was brought here in the 1880′s from Asia, as a game species (All About Birds: Ring-necked Pheasant). Back in those days, this was common practice, and in some parts of the world it still is. This bird is a popular upland game bird hunted by many, but it’s not a species that has not become invasive. In fact, in New York for example, the population isn’t as abundant as hunters would like, so there’s a Pheasant Propagation Program. An example of a invasive nonnative species in NY, is the Eurasian boar (Sus scrofa Linnaeus). They are aggressive, compete for food with native species (black bear, Turkey, white-tailed deer), and they can destroy crops and agricultural lands. This is not a species NY wants on it’s landscape. For more info: NYSDEC: Eurasian boar.
Ok, so the point of all that information, was to provide you, the reader, with some definitions and information. I really wanted this posted to be all about the cool reptiles and amphibians I’ve seen in the Florida Keys. Unfortunately, many of the “herps” down here are nonnative and invasive. Here’s what I’ve seen, by order of discovery!

*Please note that my classifications of what is invasive, may be incorrect. This is information that I’ve learned living and working here, but may differ by opinion, agency, and location.

Six-lined racerunner (Cnemidophorus sexlineatus sexlineatus), NATIVE, No Name Key, FL, June 2014
Brown/Cuban anole (Anolis sangrei), NON-NATIVE/INVASIVE, Big Pine Key, FL, June 2014

Rough green snake (Opheodrys aestivus), NATIVE, Big Pine Key, FL, June 2014
Green iguana (Iguana iguana), NON NATIVE/INVASIVE, Big Pine Key, FL, June 2014

Cuban treefrog (Osteopilus septentrionalis), NON NATIVE/INVASIVE, Big Pine Key, FL, June 2014
Mediterranean gecko (Hemidactlyus turcicus, turcicus), NON NATIVE/INVASIVE, Big Pine Key, FL, June 2014

American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), NATIVE, Big Pine Key, FL, June 2014
Florida softshell (Trionix ferox), NONNATIVE, Big Pine Key, FL, June 2014

Southern leopard frog (Rana spenocephala), NATIVE, Big Pine Key, FL, July 2014

Juvenile ashy gecko (Sphaerodactylus elegans), NON NATIVE/INVASIVE, Big Pine Key, FL, July 2014

Key ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus acricus), NATIVE, Big Pine Key, FL, August 2014

Eastern narrowmouth toad (Gastrophrynae carolinensis), NATIVE, Big Pine Key, FL, August 2014

Green anoles (Anolis carolinensis carolinensis), NATIVE, Big Pine Key, FL, August 2014
*Note, these individuals are copulating in this picture. The female is smaller.

-Tokay gecko (Gekko gekko), NON NATIVE/INVASIVE, Big Pine Key, September 2014 (Look these guys up on YouTube... they TALK!)
Other reptiles observed, but lacking photos:
-Southern black racer (Coluber constrictor priapus), NATIVE, Big Pine Key, FL June 2014
-Atlantic green turtle (Chelonia mydas mydas), NATIVE, Open ocean in Key West NWR, June 2014
-Black spinytail iguana (Ctenosaura similis), NON NATIVE/INVASIVE, No Name Key, June 2014
-American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus), NATIVE, Key Largo, FL, July 2014

Many, if not most of these reptiles/amphibians, were released pets at one point. This is not only illegal, but unfair to that individual critter. The way someone once described this scenario to me, is to imagine yourself naked, without ID or money, and suddenly finding yourself in a foreign country. Now try to survive. Oh, and by the way it might snow and freeze on you! Other ways animals are finding their ways around, are as stowaways. As kids, my mom found an anole in BJs, in Albany. We don’t have those types of lizards in NY, nor does BJs have a pet department. A shipment of plants from a nursery in Florida had recently come in. Guess which kid got a free pet lizard that day?! This happens on cargo, freight, boats, cars, trains, etc. regularly.

The point of this entry was not to bore you with definitions, but to share some of the neat slimy and scaly wildlife I’ve seen this summer. It’s all cool to me, and I learned most of these guys in the herpetology course I took last year at SUNY Cobleskill. I just hope no one ends up in my car for the drive back to NY the end of this month!