Purple Martin Nests and Babies!

Adult Male Purple Martin Looking Out Nesting Gourd Entrance Hole (note iridescent purple feathers)

Adult Male Purple Martin Looking Out Nesting Gourd Entrance Hole (note iridescent purple feathers)

Hungry Babies

Hungry Babies

Baby Ready to be Fed - Still Partially in Shell!

Baby Ready to be Fed – Still Partially in Shell!

Hatchling Hug

Hatchling Hug

Looking through Gourd’s Entrance Hole (love the “lips”)

Looking through Gourd’s Entrance Hole (love the “lips”)

Leaf-Lined Nest Containing 5 Eggs

Leaf-Lined Nest Containing 5 Eggs

Leaf and Bark-Lined Nest Containing 5 Eggs

Leaf and Bark-Lined Nest Containing 5 Eggs

Leaf and Cedar Chip Nest Containing 5 Eggs

Leaf and Cedar Chip Nest Containing 5 Eggs

Cedar Chip Nest Containing 3 Eggs (probably a first-time nester)

Cedar Chip Nest Containing 3 Eggs (probably a first-time nester)

Frog on Nesting Gourd

Frog on Nesting Gourd

Silhouette of Purple Martin Gourd Rack and Sky:  All Tucked-In for Night (click to enlarge for details)

Silhouette of Purple Martin Gourd Rack and Sky: All Tucked-In for Night (click to enlarge for details)

Last weekend we did a nest check of our two purple martin gourd racks.  So far we have a total of 11 nests containing 49 babies and eggs!  There are also 4 more early nests that may or may not progress on to eggs within the next 2 weeks.  One nest contained a baby that wriggled out of its egg as we watched.  The baby even opened its mouth to be fed while it was still partially in the shell!  The birds seem to have their own individual nest styles. Some martin parents gather lots of leaves, some add hard red bark to the nest, and others simply lay eggs on the cedar chips provided as a base.  Each nest usually contains 3-6 eggs.  Love this time of year!  If you would like to host your own purple martins, more info is at:  https://www.purplemartin.org/education/75/getting-started/.

Big Fuzzy Anhinga Babies!

Three Fuzzy Anhinga Babies

Three Fuzzy Anhinga Babies

Feeding Time for Babies

Feeding Time for Babies

Nest of Anhinga Babies in Treetop

Nest of Anhinga Babies in Treetop

Female Anhinga

Female Anhinga

Male Anhinga in Beautiful Breeding Plumage

Male Anhinga in Beautiful Breeding Plumage

Anhinga babies are so fuzzy!  The birds are nesting in the treetops now at the Viera Wetlands, Florida.  Anhingas are also known as water turkeys or snake birds (because of the way they stick their long necks above water when hunting for fish).  The babies sleep by tucking their heads over their backs and down into their feathers.  Their parents have quite a time feeding them.  Neat birds! 

Stunning Rainbow Spider Web!

Rainbow Spider Web

Rainbow Spider Web

Colorful Banded Radius Thread

Colorful Banded Radius Thread

Sticky Spiral Threads

Sticky Spiral Threads

Close-Up of Sticky Spiral Threads

Close-Up of Sticky Spiral Threads

Spiral Threads with Round Sticky Droplets

Spiral Threads with Round Sticky Droplets

Magnified Close-Up of Web's Diffraction Pattern

Magnified Close-Up of Web’s Diffraction Pattern

Have you ever seen rainbow colors in a spider web?   We NEVER had until now.  Richard photographed a spider web from below using a zoom lens already on the camera.  Sunlight was hitting the spider web from above, and the web was silhouetted against a dark background.  Magic!  (Click images to magnify for full effect.)  Rainbow colors appeared in the silk strands of the web.   When magnified later on the computer, the effect was stunning!  The colors result from the way sunlight is scattered by the spider web strands (it acts like a prism).  Diffraction patterns result from interference of the sun’s rays with the web’s sticky silk droplets.  Truly amazing and unique!

Vultures are Important, Too!

Black Vulture Portrait

Black Vulture Portrait

A "Committee" of Black Vultures on Tree Limb

A “Committee” of Black Vultures on Tree Limb

Turkey Vulture Portrait

Turkey Vulture Portrait

Solitary Turkey Vulture on Post

Solitary Turkey Vulture on Post

Gold Egyptian Vulture Jewelry

Gold Egyptian Vulture Jewelry

Vultures are generally underappreciated birds in Florida. Two species live here – the black vulture and the turkey vulture. Both fill a very important role in the ecosystem as nature’s clean-up crew! These birds help stop the spread of disease, and their bodies actually neutralize biotoxins.

Both have featherless heads, which helps keep them clean when eating carrion. The black vulture is named for its black head, and the turkey vulture is named for its red head (reminiscent of the American wild turkey). Black vultures locate carrion by sight and often feed in groups along the road. Turkey vultures locate carrion by smell (up to a mile away!) and feed alone.

Both species are monogamous and form long term pair bonds. They have no vocal chords and communicate by a series of hisses, grunts, and woofs. Black vultures do not build nests and sometimes lay eggs directly on the ground; they take care of their babies for up to 8 months. Turkey vultures build rough nests in cooler out-of-the-way places; their babies disperse within 3 months.  

A group of vultures spiraling together is called a “kettle”. Turkey vultures have been known to soar up to 20,000 feet on air thermals without even flapping their wings. Although turkey vultures migrate, black vultures tend to stay put.

Ancient Egyptians revered the vulture and protected it from harm. Egyptian headdresses and jewelry often feature a vulture image to symbolize maternal shelter and protection.

Florida: We Like Alligators

Young Alligator Face

Young Alligator Face

Big Gator in Swamp

Big Gator in Swamp

Pair of Alligators:  Foot on Face

Pair of Alligators: Foot on Face

Alligator Hug

Alligator Hug

Toothly Face in Pile of Alligators

Toothly Face in Pile of Alligators

White Leucistic Alligator

White Leucistic Alligator

Gator Torso Vibration During Mating Display

Gator Torso Vibration During Mating Display

Egret Riding an Alligator

Egret Riding an Alligator

Vintage Postcard:  Big Joe Alligator

Vintage Postcard: Big Joe Alligator

Vintage Postcard:  Alligator Quartette Singing

Vintage Postcard: Alligator Quartette Singing

Vintage Postcard:  Alligator Chorus

Vintage Postcard: Alligator Chorus

Vintage Alligator Orange Fruit Crate Label

Vintage Alligator Orange Fruit Crate Label

In Florida we live with the largest reptile in North America –the American alligator.  I was surprised to learn that a published study in 2013 documented their use of tools.  It was found that during nesting season some alligators balance sticks on their heads to lure birds looking for nesting material.  Mid-April to May is prime mating season.  Courtship displays include head slapping, torso vibration, and bellowing (the sound travels for quite some distance).  Alligator mothers are devoted to protecting their eggs, and stay with their young for up to a year.  Their toothy “smiles” contain about 80 teeth.  Worn teeth are replaced with new ones, so an alligator can go through 2,000 teeth in a lifetime!  Occasionally an alligator visits our pond, but eventually it moves on to a new gator hole.  Alligators have always attracted the interest of tourists, and their images have been used for logos, mascots, and throughout pop culture.    Alligators are an important part of our Florida ecosystem, and we enjoy having them around. 

Florida: Orlando Eye Complex

Orlando Eye Observation Wheel

Orlando Eye Observation Wheel

View at Top of Wheel

View at Top of Wheel

View East with Lockheed Martin in Foreground. On a clear day without haze you can see east to Atlantic Coast and VAB at Kennedy Space Center.

View East with Lockheed Martin in Foreground. On a clear day without haze you can see east to Atlantic Coast and VAB at Kennedy Space Center.

View of Big and Little Sand Lakes Looking West Toward Orlando Theme Parks

View of Big and Little Sand Lakes Looking West Toward Orlando Theme Parks

View Looking West with Round Dome of Spaceship Earth Visible at Disney's Epcot

View Looking West with Round Dome of Spaceship Earth Visible at Disney’s Epcot

Zebra Moray Eel at SEA LIFE Aquarium

Zebra Moray Eel at SEA LIFE Aquarium

Wolf Eel Guarding Ball of 10,000 Eggs

Wolf Eel Guarding Ball of 10,000 Eggs

Green Moray Eel

Green Moray Eel

Queen Triggerfish

Queen Triggerfish

Lookdown Jack

Lookdown Jack

Goliath Grouper

Goliath Grouper

Grey Reef Shark

Grey Reef Shark

Giant Pacific Octopus

Giant Pacific Octopus

Green Anemone in Pacific Rock Pool

Green Anemone in Pacific Rock Pool

Moon Jelly

Moon Jelly

Steve Jobs Figure at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum

Steve Jobs Figure at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum

At 400 feet tall, the Orlando Eye is the tallest observation wheel on the East coast of the United States. It opened in 2015 and offers a beautiful 360 degree view of Central Florida. Thirty glass enclosed air-conditioned capsules are suspended from the wheel and slowly rotate at 1 mile per hour, completing the circle within 20 minutes. The wheel is lit up by 64,000 LED themed lights at night.

Other activities at the Orlando Eye Complex include the SEA LIFE Aquarium and Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. The aquarium is active in the local community with marine conservation, rescue, and protection. Madame Tussauds’ brand has been in business for over 200 years. Each wax figure in the museum takes up to 8 months to complete, and is accurate down to the placement of each hair on the head. Clothes that the figures wear are either donated by the celebrities or accurately reflect what the celebrity owns. It is a fun place to visit, especially with guests. More info is at: https://www.officialorlandoeye.com/

Florida in Winter

Sebastian Beach Ocean Waves

Sebastian Beach Ocean Waves

Black Skimmers Sunbathe Flat on Sand

Black Skimmers Sunbathe Flat on Sand

White Ibis at Lagoon

White Ibis at Lagoon

Laughing Gull with Mouth Open

Laughing Gull with Mouth Open

Pink Spoonbill and Blue Water

Pink Spoonbill and Blue Water

Lesser Scaup at Backyard Pond

Lesser Scaup at Backyard Pond

Tricolor Heron with Purple Eyes

Tricolor Heron with Purple Eyes

Great Blue Heron with Windblown Feathers

Great Blue Heron with Windblown Feathers

Bald Eagle and Black Vultures Near Home

Bald Eagle and Black Vultures Near Home

Alligator in Pond

Alligator in Pond

Double Rainbow Over Backyard

Double Rainbow Over Backyard

In Florida we enjoy an outdoor lifestyle year round.  Although it may get chilly from time to time when winter cold fronts blow through from the north, the weather usually warms back up to 70°F within a few days.  That means we go outside and enjoy the beach, gardens, and wildlife. 

Florida is home to over 500 species of birds, which makes it one of the top birdwatching destinations in the world.  Our local birding and wildlife festival is the largest in the nation!  Info about the festival is at:  http://www.spacecoastbirdingandwildlifefestival.org/   Come on down and enjoy nature in the Sunshine State!  

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