Florida: National Elephant Center

National Elephant Center Open House

National Elephant Center Open House

Elephant Trunk in Air

Elephant Trunk in Air

Elephant Eating a Pumpkin

Elephant Eating a Pumpkin

Elephant Picking Up Grass with Trunk

Elephant Picking Up Grass with Trunk

Elephant Enrichment Sign

Elephant Enrichment Sign

Hurricane-Proof Elephant Barn

Hurricane-Proof Elephant Barn

Elephant Chow

Elephant Chow

Elephants Love Oranges

Elephants Love Oranges

Elephant Treat:  Marshmallow Bliss

Elephant Treat: Marshmallow Bliss

Elephant Portrait in Black and White

Elephant Portrait in Black and White

The National Elephant Center opened its doors to elephants in May 2013 in Fellsmere, Florida (only 4 miles south of our home). The center provides both short and long-term care for elephants in need, and is dedicated to advancing elephant care in North America. An open house was held recently, which was a real treat since visitors are not usually permitted. The next open house will be held in summer 2015 (for members only – join at http://www.nationalelephantcenter.org/).

African elephants are the world’s largest land mammal (the biggest on record measured 13 feet tall at the shoulder and weighed 12 tons). Elephants are very intelligent and have excellent memories. They are social creatures that exhibit a wide range of emotion. Their soft feet and 7-foot trunks are exquisitely sensitive, and can be used to detect subsonic rumbles from elephants several miles away. Their hearing is excellent too; they can even flap their ears during hot weather to stay cool.

Trunks play a vital role in the life of elephants. A trunk is so strong that it can push over a big tree, and so delicate that it can pick up a small berry. The trunk is essentially an elongated nose and upper lip that is used for smell, taste, and even as a breathing snorkel underwater. The trunk is also used for eating and drinking. For eating, elephants use their trunks to pick up food and bring it to their mouths. For drinking, elephants use their trunks to suck up water and squirt it in their mouths. The trunk can also be used to spray water or dust onto the skin to protect it from sunburn and biting insects. Trunks can even be used to trumpet alarm calls to the herd. But most endearingly, trunks are twined together during greetings or used for caresses (elephant “hugs”). Mother elephants use their trunks to stay in constant touch with their babies – helping them, bathing them, and even picking them up to go over obstacles. A baby elephant sometimes follows its mother by using its trunk to hold onto her tail. Baby elephants have to learn how to control their trunks, and can only make little squeaks with it when they are small. And just as human babies get comfort from sucking their thumbs, elephant babies get comfort from sucking their trunks – too cute!

Currently the center has two elephants living on the 225 acre site. Twenty acres are now fenced, and the hurricane-proof barn can hold up to 9 elephants. Over the long term the facility could be expanded to hold up to 70 of these magnificent animals (it is even possible that rhinoceros could be added to the mix). Elephants at the sanctuary are free to forage and roam on the land, which includes a watering hole and mud wallow. Their natural diet is supplemented with nutritious pellets and fruit. Every day an elephant eats 165-330 pounds of food, and drinks 20-50 gallons of water.

Keepers tell a wonderful story about the first time the elephants found the abandoned orange grove on sanctuary land. The matriarch female pulled down her first orange and tasted it. She got a look of utter joy on her face, and then started gobbling down oranges as fast as she could. Orange season just started here again in Florida, so the elephants are happy!

Elephants are taught to come over to the vet daily at the barn for health inspection, and when they do so, they are given a special treat. We were told that an elephant’s idea of utter bliss is to eat a big mouthful of soft marshmallows.  Me too!  A news video by NBC’s Today Show about the National Elephant Center is at: http://www.today.com/video/today/53380016#53380016   A touching story by the PBS show “Nature” about elephant emotion is at: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/echo-an-elephant-to-remember-elephant-emotions/4489/

Florida’s McKee Gardens: Flower Power

Purple Waterlily with Purple Center

Purple Waterlily with Purple Center

Beautiful Green Reflection on Waterlily Pond

Beautiful Green Reflection on Waterlily Pond

Yellow and Pink Waterlilies Together

Yellow and Pink Waterlilies Together

Purple Orchid

Purple Orchid

Mutated Bicolor Waterlily (yellow and peach)

Mutated Bicolor Waterlily (yellow and peach)

Frilly White Waterlily Flower and Heart Shaped Leaf

Frilly White Waterlily Flower and Heart Shaped Leaf

Tall Purple Waterlily

Tall Purple Waterlily

Dark Pink Waterlily with Yellow Center

Dark Pink Waterlily with Yellow Center

Yellow Waterlily Beside Textured Leaf

Yellow Waterlily Beside Textured Leaf

Red Skimmer Dragonfly on Purple Waterlily

Red Skimmer Dragonfly on Purple Waterlily

Pink Angel's Trumpet Flower

Pink Angel’s Trumpet Flower

Frilly Lavendar Waterlily

Frilly Lavendar Waterlily

White and Pink Waterlilies Together

White and Pink Waterlilies Together

Voodoo Lily

Voodoo Lily

Banana Flower with Fruit

Banana Flower with Fruit

Blue Skimmer Dragonfly on Purple Waterlily

Blue Skimmer Dragonfly on Purple Waterlily

Infrared Image of Coconut Palm

Infrared Image of Coconut Palm

It has been a beautiful year for flowers at McKee Gardens.  There is always something in bloom.  Come and visit sunny Florida – the weather is perfect!

Florida: Birds Pretty in Pink!

Spoonbill Walking

Spoonbill Walking

Spoonbill Pose

Spoonbill Pose

Spoonbill Feeding

Spoonbill Feeding

Spoonbill Wing Stretch

Spoonbill Wing Stretch

Flamingo Light Pink

Flamingo Light Pink

Flamingo Light Pink Closeup

Flamingo Light Pink Closeup

Flamingo Dark Pink

Flamingo Dark Pink

Flamingo's Dark Pink Feathers

Flamingo’s Dark Pink Feathers

Flamingo Face

Flamingo Face

Flamingo Feeding

Flamingo Feeding

Florida has two large pink birds that you might see when visiting – spoonbills and flamingos. Both get their pretty pink color from carotenoids in the shrimp and algae they eat.  The more carotenoids they eat, the pinker they get!

Roseate spoonbills are named for their spatulate-shaped bills – they are the pink bird you will see in the wild. Spoonbills feed by touch, and swing their bills back and forth through the water to find food. Their sensitive bills instantly snap shut on small fish, insects, and crustaceans. They can be found throughout the state, especially near coastal mangroves in central and southern Florida. Places we’ve seen spoonbills include Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (in the mangroves along Black Point Drive); Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge; nesting in the wild at both the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Gatorland (in Kissimmee); and various other places including the Viera Wetlands, Orlando Wetlands, and the Sarasota/Tampa area.

Flamingos are usually seen in formal exhibits, but a wild group of 147 birds was discovered living in western Palm Beach County in May 2014. It is believed they migrated from their native breeding range in the Caribbean and Mexico. Long ago there had been a small breeding population deep in the Everglades, so scientists hope the birds get reestablished in the state.  A flamingo feeds by holding its bristle-lined bill upside down as a scoop to sieve out brine shrimp, algae, and other aquatic organisms from the water. Flamingos are an iconic symbol of Florida, and can be seen at many zoos, wildlife conservation centers, and theme parks (in summer they can be seen on their mud-cup nests at Disney’s Animal Kingdom).

Florida: Port Canaveral and Jetty Park Beach

Back View of Iridescent "Sail" of Exploration Tower

Back View of Iridescent “Sail” of Exploration Tower

Exploration Tower Entrance

Exploration Tower Entrance

Top of Exploration Tower

Top of Exploration Tower

Exploration Tower at Sunset

Exploration Tower at Sunset

Color Wand Lit Path Around Tower

Color Wand Lit Path Around Tower

Exploration Tower at Night

Exploration Tower at Night

View of Port Canaveral from Top of Tower

View of Port Canaveral from Top of Tower

Recycled Art in Tower Atrium

Recycled Art in Tower Atrium

Recycled Glass Jellyfish in Atrium

Recycled Glass Jellyfish in Atrium

Recycled Glass Mobile

Recycled Glass Mobile

Ron Jon Surfboard Display in Tower

Ron Jon Surfboard Display in Tower

Cruise Ship Departure Past Jetty Park

Cruise Ship Departure Past Jetty Park

Jetty Park's Wide Sandy Beach

Jetty Park’s Wide Sandy Beach

Kitty Cat Drawing on Sand

Kitty Cat Drawing on Sand

Jetty Park's Long Fishing Pier

Jetty Park’s Long Fishing Pier

Dolphin Swimming by Pier

Dolphin Swimming by Pier

Seagull and Waves at Sunset

Seagull and Waves at Sunset

Seagulls Flying Overhead

Seagulls Flying Overhead

Vintage Poster of Jetty Park

Vintage Poster of Jetty Park

If you visit Central Florida, be sure to stop by Port Canaveral and Jetty Park near Cocoa Beach on the Atlantic Ocean. Exploration Tower acts as a Welcome Center for the area. The building opened in November 2013, and is meant to evoke the image of a sailing ship. The architecture is stunning, especially at night. From the tower’s 7th floor Observation Deck there is a bird’s eye view of Port Canaveral, Jetty Park, the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and NASA to the north. It is an excellent place to view rocket launches (check schedule at: http://spaceflightnow.com/tracking/index.html).  Info about visiting the tower is at:  http://www.explorationtower.com/.

A fun thing to do is to watch the cruise ships go out to sea. They exit the port past Jetty Park, with people waving and cheering all the way. Popular times to watch are Thursday and Sunday afternoons around 4 pm (a full schedule of departures and arrivals is at: http://www.portcanaveral.com/cruising/ships.php).

Jetty Park’s wide sandy beach is especially nice for families. It is popular year round. If you walk onto the fishing pier, be sure to look for manatees, dolphins, and sea turtles in the water below. You’ll probably see egrets and pelicans “fishing” too. And don’t forget to bring bread to feed the seagulls – it is a family favorite. More info about visiting Port Canaveral is at: http://visitportcanaveral.com/.   Details about Jetty Park Beach and Campground are at: http://www.jettyparkbeachandcampground.com/park_index.

Wildlife Cam: Pumpkins, Raccoons, and Turkeys!

Raccoons and Pumpkins 1

Raccoons and Pumpkins 1

Raccoons and Pumpkins 2

Raccoons and Pumpkins 2

Raccoons and Pumpkins 3

Raccoons and Pumpkins 3

Raccoons and Pumpkins 4

Raccoons and Pumpkins 4

Raccoons and Pumpkins 5

Raccoons and Pumpkins 5

Raccoons and Pumpkins 6

Raccoons and Pumpkins 6

Raccoons and Pumpkins 7

Raccoons and Pumpkins 7

Turkeys and Pumpkins 1

Turkeys and Pumpkins 1

Turkeys and Pumpkins 2

Turkeys and Pumpkins 2

Turkeys and Pumpkins 3

Turkeys and Pumpkins 3

Turkeys and Pumpkins 4

Turkeys and Pumpkins 4

What a joy to see what pictures are waiting for us when we download them from the automatic wildlife camera!  It’s such a treat every time.  I placed some pumpkins outside for a Fall theme, and the raccoons and turkeys are having a wonderful time out there.  In fact, if you look closely, you’ll notice that the turkeys have been eating the pumpkin on the right!

Florida: Return to Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Extremely Rare "Booger" Bromeliad (Globose guzmania)

Extremely Rare “Booger” Bromeliad (Globose guzmania)

Ant Plant (tuber gives ants a home and sweet sap; in return the ants protect and fertilize the plant)

Ant Plant (tuber gives ants a home and sweet sap; in return the ants protect and fertilize the plant)

Anthurium with Yellow Spathe

Anthurium with Yellow Spathe

Dove or Holy Ghost Orchid (Peristeria elata).  Endangered in Wild; National Flower of Panama.  "Bird" is in Center of Flower.

Dove or Holy Ghost Orchid (Peristeria elata). Endangered in Wild; National Flower of Panama. “Bird” is in Center of Flower.

Zygopetalum Orchid

Zygopetalum Orchid

Pink Tropical Lily (Amaryllis species)

Pink Tropical Lily (Amaryllis species)

Beautiful Lined Leaf

Beautiful Lined Leaf

Pitcher Plant (Nepenthes rafflesiana)

Pitcher Plant (Nepenthes rafflesiana)

Pitcher Plant (Monkey Cup)

Pitcher Plant (Monkey Cup)

Pitcher Plant with Gold Lip

Pitcher Plant with Gold Lip

Bamboo (World's Biggest Grass and Strong as Lumber)

Bamboo (World’s Biggest Grass and Strong as Lumber)

Banyan Tree (one tree expands into a "forest" with aerial prop roots that grow down to soil from branches)

Banyan Tree (one tree expands into a “forest” with aerial prop roots that grow down to soil from branches)

Hugging Tree Sign with Row of Bromeliads "Hugging" the Top

Hugging Tree Sign with Row of Bromeliads “Hugging” the Top

Hugging Tree Sign Describing Epiphytes

Hugging Tree Sign Describing Epiphytes

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is an excellent place to see rare and beautiful plants in Sarasota, Florida. The gardens are gorgeous! The organization is dedicated to botanical research, education, and conservation. The Tropical Conservatory houses rare bromeliads and orchids from around the world that bloom year round. The gardens specialize in epiphytes – plants that cling to other plants and have no roots in the ground (such as bromeliads, ferns, orchids, and pitcher plants).  After you finish visiting the garden, it is only a 5 minute drive across the causeway to Sarasota’s white sugar sand beaches and Mote Marine Laboratory. More info is at:  http://selby.org/  A previous post is at:  http://naturetime.wordpress.com/2012/09/05/florida-marie-selby-botanical-gardens/  An interesting article about exotic Asian tropical flowers and pitcher plants is at:  http://factsanddetails.com/asian/cat68/sub435/item2425.html

Fascinating Dung Beetles

Large Florida Dung Beetle in Hand (yes I will pick up just about anything)

Large Florida Dung Beetle in Hand (yes I will pick up just about anything)

Baby Dung Beetle on White Sandy Trail (combed antennae are extremely sensitive to smell)

Baby Dung Beetle on White Sandy Trail (combed antennae are extremely sensitive to smell)

Dung Beetle Doing Headstand Pushing Mushroom Cap Backwards

Dung Beetle Doing Headstand Pushing Mushroom Cap Backwards

Burrowing Owl Family

Burrowing Owl Family

Did you know that Florida has dung beetles? We saw this Canthon species of dung beetle on a sandy trail at the Sebastian Buffer Preserve. “Tumblebugs” are nature’s ultimate recyclers, and they make the world a better place. They push and roll vegetable matter or round balls of dung into a hole they dig underground (thus aerating and fertilizing the soil). They reduce fly populations and disease by burying waste. Without them cattle ranchers would be in a heap of trouble.

Dung beetles push their food backwards with their hind legs, which makes them look like they are doing headstands. They can easily push 50 times their weight, and are one of the few insects that care for their young. They’ve been around since the age of dinosaurs, and can orient themselves using the Milky Way.

Florida burrowing owls often place dung or pieces of rotting fruit around their burrows (which is tool use). It is believed they do this because it attracts dung beetles – their favorite snack! Egyptians considered scarabs (a kind of dung beetle) to be sacred. They believed a scarab pushed the round ball of the sun across the sky.

%d bloggers like this: