Monday, June 16, 2014

Life on Big Pine Key, FL

SUNY Cobleskill graduation 
May 10, 2014

Life has been crazy this past month! On May 10th, I graduated with my Bachelors degree in Wildlife Management from SUNY Cobleskill. Rewind back to the week of Thanksgiving last fall, I started applying for jobs and internships to begin immediately after graduation. I watched my friends and classmates snag awesome opportunities all over the country, and I felt left out and disappointed. I felt like I was lacking somehow, and that all this work and energy was for naught. I know, kind of dramatic, but 6 months of rejection will make you think the worst of your abilities!

Finally, finally, FINALLY I got the call: Would you like to come on board??? And lucky, lucky, LUCKY me, it was for an internship in the Florida Keys! The Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex Ranger, Kristie, interviewed me on a Thursday, and hired me on a Monday. Within 5 days, I was on the road and I made it down here on June 9th. It was a quick transition from hanging out in my college town, empty of friends, trying to figure out my week/summer/life, and trying to budget my limited funds to stuff whatever I could into my car, and heading 1,500 miles South!

I’m working as a “Visitor Services” intern in the Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge office on Big Pine Key. This is the most commonly visited refuge, out of the other 4 refuges in the Keys. Key West NWR, Great White Heron NWR, and Crocodile Lake NWR are the remaining refuges that make up the complex. Hey, check us out and “like” us on Facebook! You’ll see some of my pictures and writing from time to time as well as some awesome wildlife pictures –> Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex .

Ok, you’re all here for pictures. So I will post pics of the critters I’ve run into so far, and in subsequent entries I will elaborate on the natural history of some. I hope you enjoy!

The first animals are the famous Key deer. These guys are the same species of white-tailed deer found in Northern/Eastern United States and Canada. They are a subspecies. I’ll get into all of that later, but for now: notice their SIZE and how TAME they are!

A Key deer (Odocoileus virginianus clavium) buck checking me out. You’ll notice how close I am to these deer. They are very conditioned to be in close proximity to people, unfortunately, but they do make for nice photos.

Key deer fawn

I was exploring the refuge the other day, and sat on a stump when these two walked right up to me, to check me out.

No zoom. They were looking for a hand-out, which unfortunately many people have probably fed them before. This makes them less “wild” and more susceptible to getting hit by a vehicle, because they’re often fed from cars.

This is a refuge vehicle I was using the other day, and as I was walking to the car, the pair followed me and cut between me and the car. Begging for treats!

Signage is EVERYWHERE to warn visitors and residents to watch their speeds, and that it is unlawful to touch or feed the deer.

A Florida box turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri) found rummaging in the yard in front of my house.

A six-lined racerunner (Cnemidophorus sexlineatus), a VERY speedy lizard!

An anole lizard, specific species unknown. Likely a brown anole (Anolis sangrei). This guy is probably a male, and he’s showing me his dewlap trying to scare me off!

I found a Mediterranean house gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus) in…the house! The poor guy was very easily caught because I think he was dehydrated and starving, but also slowed down because of the AC. I released him outside, but I found him dead later. This is an introduced species to the Keys.

Mediterranean house gecko

Sea turtle nest site on Bahia Honda State Park beach.

Sea turtles nest along the shores of the Keys, and nests are taped off. I hope to be able to see live sea turtles and hopefully snorkel with them while I’m here!

This is an interesting bird. I believe this is a Würdemann’s heron. This is a controversial bird-nerd topic, and I’ll be sure to discuss more in a later entry. For now, this is a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) with a white head :)
Assorted shore birds. To be honest, I’ve not taken the time to ID them. I just thought I’d share, as they are happily feeding in the sea grass at low tide!
This was a *SPECTACULAR* capture, I thought. I believed I had photographed a rare species, the Bahama Mockingbird (Mimus gundlachii). After submitting my sighting to eBird, and conferring with some people here, and my orno professor from Cobleskill, everyone agreed this was in fact a juvenile Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) that had yet to molt into it’s adult plumage. Not as exciting as I had hoped, but neat nonetheless.
And my final picture to share, the Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)! I believe we have a nesting pair at a popular visiting location on the Key Deer NWR, which is really neat! These guys more often hang out in the Everglades than the Keys.


  1. First, huge congratulations , love the capping photo, is that what it is called up there? and Florida, I have blog friends down there, do you or would you like a contact name? And your last 2 photos, super, I can see we are going to get some wonderful shots of what you are working with there. I'm really so happy for you, all good things eventually happen, Cheers, Jean.

  2. Congratulations on the job! Love the photos!

  3. Congrats on the new position!!! What a big change but I bet you'll have fun getting to know a whole new ecosystem! GREAT photos! I love the deer, but it is too bad that they are so tame.


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