These Islands are for the Birds

Bird Islands

What’s on the Bird Islands? They are packed with aquatic birds.

There are three artificially created islands in an artificial lake. It is interesting because especially during the warmer months they are full with nesting birds. They appear to be favoring these areas because the islands that are separated from the mainland. Separation allows access to only those who can reach them. The birds have no problem flying in to roost, build nests, procreate, lay eggs, hatch, develop, fledge and fly away. The islands are strategically positioned along an untamed slough which acts as a natural fly-way for the migratory birds. The highly protected Bird Islands are a sanctuary located on private property and cannot be accessed without expressed permission from the management and property owners. Stepping onto the islands is done only by the grounds maintenance crew of the property.

Exerpt from Google Map of an area in a community bordering Estero Bay

Enlargement of the area called the Bird Islands.

During the wet season there may be a thousand birds flying in and out on a daily basis. Here is a general list of more than 30 varieties of birds which I have sighted on and around these islands. Others may have identified many more. These are all wetlands birds but other species fly near and around the islands.

  • Heron
  • Egret
  • Ibis
  • Duck
  • Thrush
  • Cormorant
  • Predatory birds

The islands provide local birders and wild life enthusiasts an opportunity to watch and enjoy the busy birds flying, competing, feeding, migrating and all of the activities for which the birds are known*.

The birds use all of the microenvironments on the islands from the tree tops to the swampy edges.

The birds congregate on the Bird Islands. The birds can carry out most of their activities in daily living except eating. Eating is no problem because they can easily fly to fertile areas along the slough and to the glades, shores and bodies of water well within easy distance. The additional important aspect to these places as islands is the absence of ground based predators. The birds, eggs, and chicks are vulnerable to predation by raccoons, black rats (Palm Rats), snakes, and the plethora of other ground based animals. These are missing on the islands because they are unapproachable without swimming. across the lake.

Here are some examples of the everyday bird activities on these islands.

Getting ready to nest for the night
Finding a nesting site before sundown
Great Blue Heron flying off to forage for food while the flightless chicks wait. Those little ones are not so little.
Great White Egret feeding the chicks in one of the hundreds of nests.
No privacy for mating on this island
A little crowded here on this island for the white Ibis. Sorry all the spaces are taken here!

The secondary predators are attracted to all these birds like a magnet. The alligators are attracted to these predators. The alligators eat the predating animals which in turn supports their grow to substantial size. The birds seek out the areas that are protected by the alligators. Bird droppings are rich in nitrogen and other plant nutrients therefore these areas have lush growth of native plants. This becomes a mutually supportive cycle.

  • There are other places in Florida that exhibit similar nesting activities. One of the best of them is publicly accessible. Please go to the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanible Island, Florida.

See a following blog “The Beauty and the Beast”

My best reference for bird identification is Cornel Labs at All About Birds.

#predator #birds #islands # sanctuary #Apex animal #Key Stone animal #isolation #limited access #migration #route #slough #bird activities

Sea Turtles Underwater

Earlier we looked at land based turtles and tortoise. The two most commonly found sea turtles that I have watched in the waters around Florida are the Green and the Hawksbill. They are very similar in their habitat, behavior, size, shape and coloration. For me, the distinguishing characteristic most easily spotted is the shape of their jaws. The Hawksbill turtle has the shape reminiscent of a bird with a prominent point to the upper jaw while the Green is quite rounded. There are other characteristics but they are not so obvious. I’ve seen both types swimming about in the off shore reefs of Florida and other parts of the Caribbean. These animals seem mysterious. Unless you are truly intent on watching them as they come ashore for egg laying you would not have any contact with them. The only other way to learn about them is to go underwater to look at them in their environment. They are very benign, are relatively solitary and photographing them can be very rewarding.

Green Sea turtle
Green turtle eating algae off of coral head
Hawksbill turtle
Hawksbill turtle rummaging about the coral head looking to sponge a lunch
This Green was resting under a rocky ledge. Turtles are air breathers however I have never seem them breach the surface to do that.
Green friends with benefits
Hey John! Let’s do a selfie! (Photos from Isbister)
Smile … Good work John! You got my best side. I like the white balance, composition and framing. Email a copy to me. I want it for my Facebook page.

The turtles are critically important for the health of the reef. The Greens eat the algae and sea grass, and Hawksbills eat sponges which would otherwise over grow the reefs. The Hawksbilled is endangered and the Green is threatened. There are many authorities who have written scholarly articles in juried publications.

Good resource for general information include Sea Turtle facts and the environmental importance in Oceania.

#turtles #Hawksbill #Green #sea turtles #Caribbean

Alligators

Fully matured alligator in the bush at Shark Valley. The open mouth makes cooling easier.

Alligators are wild and dangerous animals and should be regarded with extreme caution. This hazardous characteristic may be part of their attraction. The species has been in existence almost unchanged for tens of millions of years. They are survivors even in the face of human encroachment in their space. Because of human activity the survival of the alligators is threatened. Despite the apparent stillness they can react very quickly. They eat meat and can take down an adult deer, otter, turtle, raccoon, iguana another alligator or anything else which comes its way in a short distance reach. The bulk of their diet is probably rats or mice. This is our fresh water apex predator. This posting is a prelude to a posting that will later describe a relationship of the alligators and a specific bird nesting location.

Every morning I look out to the pond at the house and see the local “gator” cruising the surface of the water with just the eyes and nose above the surface. On occasion, they will haul themselves out to lie on the grass usually within 20 feet of the bank. If it sees a person it quickly slips back into the water. Obviously the alligator in the pond is not the same throughout the season because it is variable in size however there they are very territorial. Usually only one at any time be seen. On rare occasions a larger one will walk out of the water and cross the street, perhaps to find a more solitary place to or to find a mate during mating season.

Alligator eyes and nose criusing on pond in front of me. The rest of it just disappears.
Adult alligator lying in the open grass, eyes closed, to keep warm in front of my house. Let sleeping alligators lay.

Alligators are aquatic reptiles which live on and near the ponds, creeks, streams, swamps or just about any other piece of water. They tolerate brackish water but not oceanic salt water. They are ectothermic (cold blooded) and regulate their body heat by sunning or shading, breathing, resting in the water.

They are relatively solitary, meeting to mate in late spring. Occasionally one can hear the slapping and bellowing of a male in the swamp at night as it tries to attract a female. After weeks of gestation the female may lay as many as 60 eggs in a ground based nest approximating the water. The nest is covered with a blanket of leaves which hold the heat of the day. The hatchlings break through the shell and emerge after three months. The new born are vulnerable and protected by the mother from predation for as much as a year. The survival rate to maturity is about 15%.

They have complex social lives in the wild about which very little is known. Much of their behavior studies are based on observations of captive animals. The maturation stages are egg, hatchling, juvenile, sub-adults, mature.

American alligator Identification marks:

  • Blunt nose
  • Black in color
  • Upper teeth show when mouth is closed
  • Yellow marks on young
Sharpening its hunting skills in the rough of Six Mile Cyprus preserve. This jeuvenile eats fish, bugs and worms.
A clutch of nesting immature alligators with orange markings in the rough of Shark Valley. The temperature over the last month has been in the mid 90 F degree so they are probably all male.
Young alligator with yellow markings; Shark Valley
Still small but maturing with loss of orange marks. Top teeth show when mouth is closed. At the Wonder Gardens
Mature Florida alligator. A long time captive at the Wonder Garden was replaced with a new bunch.
As I walked about my Florida neighborhood I saw this beautiful 11 foot male sunning on the edge of the water. It was one of two resident in the larger lake. This one is pictured on the header of this site because it represents the primitive, untamed wilderness so close to our lives. Only the males grow to this size.

Later we will compare alligators and crocodiles both of which can be easily seen at the Naples Zoo.

Alligators appear to be so primitive and powerful; and they are. Awesome!

See these references from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for a more comprehensive description:

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#Alligator #primitive #teeth #yellow marks #ectotherm #predator #apex predator

Turtle, Tortoise and Keystone Species

Turtle vs Tortoise:

There are three names for similar animals which live in our region of Florida. The general name for these reptiles is Terrapin (The mascot of the University of Maryland). The specific names are turtle and tortoise. 

I invariably see two varieties of these reptiles: Smooth Soft Shell and Gopher

Every day I spot a Gulf Coast Smooth Soft Shell turtle. (Apalone mutica calvata) I see them swimming and sunning themselves in and about my yard. Their behavior is interesting to watch. They swim just below the surface of the water and extend their heads to breath for a few minutes. The head and neck extension may be up to 8 inches. The body diameter may be up to a meter. The pointed nose is easily identified. They beach themselves on sunny days alone or in groups of three to eight and may spend minutes to hours on land. They usually stay close to the shore and quickly run or slide back into the safety of the water with little provocation. Their eyesight seems to be very good and can spot a threat from at least 30 feet. Note that I used the term turtle to describe them because they are aquatic, have flat shells and wide feet with long claws that are good for swimming. The color of their carapace (upper shell) ranges from brown to green. They may be prey to the alligators and they may predate on the smaller aquatic animals.

After a heavy storm this Smooth Soft Shell turtle was wandering in the street gutter in front of the house. After this photo session it turned left and headed into the pond.
Note the right foot with webbing between toes and sharp claws; great for swimming and moving up and down the banks.
Smooth Soft Shell on the alert a.nd ready to escape into the water

Less often, I observe another Terrapin in the lightly wooded areas and fields while walking about especially at Barefoot Beach Park. The Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) is a land-based reptile. This tortoise digs holes in exposed sandy soil with a single opening from 10 to 20 cm in diameter and in the created burrow they lay their eggs. This is the only tortoise native to Florida and it is environmentally critically important. Although they have a 40-to-60-year life span, their reproductive rate is low. The female may not reach reproductive capacity until it is 10 to 20 years old.  They may lay approximately 6 eggs at the entrance of their extensive six foot deep, 12-foot-long burrows. The annual success of a clutch is only 10%. The Gopher Tortoise is relatively small, with a compact ball-like shape. The hard shell has lightly textured plates. The feet are small and have short broad claws and those in front are especially suited for digging.The Gopher tortoise is a keystone mutualist.

The Gopher Tortoise are important to the environment for several reasons. Their digging aerates the soil. More importantly, the burrows provide essential shelter for the survival of hundreds of other animal species like snakes, mice, voles and frogs. These other species, called commensals, use them for shelter and nesting. This is even more vital during and after forest fires where the shelters protect the otherwise exposed animals and without which they would not survive. The entire ecosystem and related species would collapse without the Gopher tortoise. A term applied to this importance is “Keystone Species”. When you see these tortoises, please help to protect them and their environment. Don’t backfill their dens, don’t step on the apron of sand around the entrances to their dens, don’t mow the grass near the den, don’t run them over, if possible, don’t build on their territory. If you want to support the survival of hundreds of other species, thousands of animals and an entire ecosystem, leave them alone.

Gopher tortoise from Barefoot Beach Park Florida
Gopher tortoise in the Estero park butterfly garden in Bonita Bay, Bonita Springs, Florida
This captive tortoise resides in the Wonder Gardens in Bonita Springs. Epicollect 5 observation #8. Note the heavy osteoderms in its carapace and markings on its head and legs.
This red footed tortoise is a member of the gopher genera but not a native to Florida. This clutch of tortoise were probably captive pets originally from Central or South America. It is a sought after pet species but is now illegal to import because they are an endangered species.

For more information on these subjectrplease link to University of Florida, box turtles, Turtle owner

I hope that you can distinguish between the turtle and the tortoise. Here is a chart of compared characteristics.

CharacteristicTurtleTortoise
EnvironmentAcquaticDry
FootLong webbed toesShort
CarapaceFlatterRounder
Longer livedShorterLonger
Compared Terrapin characteristics

Keystone Species:

It is extraordinarily important to understand and discover Keystone Species. To leave no doubt about understanding what this means I have added the following links which I encourage you to investigate. 

“A keystone species is understood to be a strongly interacting species whose top-down effect on species diversity and competition is large relative to its biomass dominance within a functional group. This definition links the community importance of keystone species to a specific ecosystem process.” LINK

For vivid examples of the role of keystone species in an ecosystem go to these linked sites from National Geographic and the Ecologic Society, and Wildlife habitats.

https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/keystone-species/

https://www.nationalgeographic.org/article/role-keystone-species-ecosystem/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/earth-and-planetary-sciences/keystone-species

Link: https://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol7/iss1/resp11/

Report gopher tortoise locations using this apphttp://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/gopher-tortoise/app/.

We will discuss other turtles in subsequent postings including those living in fresh, brackish and swamp water as well as sea fairing species.

#Tortoise #Turtle #Soft Shell turtle #Gopher tortoise #Keystone species #Mutualist #Terrapin #Ecosystem #commensal #mutualist #Epicollect5 Observation 8

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Dahlias in Florida? Nope. Dahlias in Fulda

While in Florida you rarely see Dahlias. These flowering plants are just not tolerant of the heat, rain and insects of our summer months. None the less I find them amazingly beautiful. The plants grow from tubers that originate from the species found in the cool, moist highlands of Mexico and Central America. However, they are now widely cultivated. I became familiar with them when I resided in Michigan. We grew them in our garden and even then they required special care for winter protection. The following images are my photographs made while in Fulda, Germany. I had forgotten how surprisingly beautiful these flowers are. I wanted to share them with you in case you have not seen them in a while. I hope that you appreciate them as well.

Dahlia garden in front of the cathedral of Fulda, Hesse, Germany - 85023081
Stock photo of the summer dahlia garden in front of the cathedral of Fulda, Germany.

If you are familiar with these blooming plants from your experience in the Northern States or elsewhere then, with special care, there is an opportunity to grow and enjoy Dalias in Florida.*

There are many Dahlia varieties. for a large list with pictures go to the link Gardenia. Also see Dalias compared at this Gardenia comparison link. I intended to look up the names of the flowers shown, however, there are more than 20,000 different varieties and it was impossible for me to check out the exact characteristics to name each specimen.

Here are a few recent examples of the blooms I saw. View the slide show by letting it play or by clicking on the arrows.

*Yes! You can grow Dahlias in Florida. Please visit the blog site of Growing Kindness by Ellen Tongson. I believe that she has all of the information, supplies and plants necessary to start and maintain your own beautiful flowers in Florida.

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#Dalia #Tolerance # #color #Fulda

Lorikeets

If we explore birds of color in our view of brilliant chromatic displays then Rainbow Lorikeets are a must.

These friendly feathered friends are members of the same family as parrots and therefore have some of the same features. These include colorful, clever and communal. When we look at the feathers the same physiology and mechanics apply as we have seen in previous postings. Rainbow Macaw and Rainbow Lorikeets same color scheme but only peripherally related.I guess that birds of the rainbow don’t eat from the same bowel.

Is there any color in the rainbow thais not represented here ? The answer is yes! See the discussion on bird vision.
As you can see it is about 10 cm plus tail and has a full green Dorsal plumage. The underside is more colorful and quite polychromatic iridescent.
Here is a good example of typical highly social behavior where the birds congregate while roosting. The variations in the colors are within normal limits.

The rainbow Lorikeets are native to Australia. The males cannot be detected by humans without genetic testing or other more in evasive inspection. They have great human speech mimicing capabilities. They are usually kept as pets and as non-native species must beconfined to prevent predators and from escaping into the wild.

These guys are just fun to watch.

Now think about the feathered dinosaurs. Can you imagine that all of the bipedal Dinos had primitive feathers that were just as colorful as these birds of today.

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#Lorikeet #Feather #Color # #Behavior #Song #Speech #Pets

Peacock Feather Display

Here is a phenomenal presentation of bird feathers that are not from parrots but are none-the-less spectacular. The behavior accompanying the feathers includes raising the fan tail, strutting around the area, facing the female and then shaking the tail rhythmically to make the dots dance.

This albino peacock freely ranges around the Wonder Gardens. His feather display is so dramatic against the black background. The white appearance does not seem to inhibit this fellow. He dances and displays his feathers just like his more colorful cousins.
This standard peacock free ranged about the Wonder Gardens property. The variegated spots in this fantail are eyes that flash with refracted iridescence. The Green perfectly matched the lawn colors making the blue features the dominant attraction. The four outermost “eyes” accentuate the perfect symmetry of the fan.

Check out the previous blog on blue feathers. The cause of blue color applies here too.

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#peacock #dancing fantail #eye spots #mating behavior #albino #

Pheasant Mating Feather Display

Here is some interesting behavior of a male Red Golden Ornamental Pheasant. It was mating season for him and he was interested in both female pheasants that were confined

Full view of the magnificent colors of the Red Golden pheasant strutting about his surroundings
Lateral view of the male pheasant with neck extended and collar feathers fully extended as he begins to pursue the female.
Portrait view of the male pheasant showing the collar display feathers at rest on both sides.
While chasing the female the male pheasant extends only one side of the collar feathers displaying them to the female

The use of feathers is emphasized in this male dominated exhibition. Apparently the female pheasant was unimpressed by the display while I watched for more than 30 minutes. After watching them chasing all about the 20X40 arboretum we all were tired and settled down to do other things.

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#ornamental pheasant #pheasant #mating behavior #feather display

Feathers of a Bird Together They Stick

Let’s look at one parrot feather. Since blue is my favorite color we will look at a blue feather. They are so colorful but what is their source of color? There are two possibilities. The color may be intrinsic, based on pigmentation, or it may be the result of structure causing refraction of light. Intrinsic color would be found if the structure of the feather would be examined microscopically using transmitted or incident lighting. The simplest thing to do is to look at the feathers with the microscope.

I made two questions for the observations.

  • Is the feather one piece or is it made of multiple repeating parts that attach to one another forming one.
  • What is the source of the color in the feather where it appeared blue on the outer most surface (dorsal side) and yellow on the inner most side (ventral surface)?
  • I expected that under the microscope the feather might be simply dark grey. If it were blue then the color would be derived from refraction. If it were colorful (polychromatic) then the color would be intrinsic mineral or organic pigment.

To assist in observation, I used a microscope with cell phone camera which was already described in an earlier post. The two lenses used were 4x and 10x. These low power lenses are sufficient to give useful results. Incident and transmitted white light was used for illumination. No polarization was used.

These are paired photos of the same feather showing opposite sides with incident lighting

Fig 1. Parrot feather, top side, incident white light
Fig 2. Parrot feather, bottom side, incident white light
Fig 3. Feather anatomy: The calamus(quill) is the end of the rachis (center shaft(. Originating from the rachis are the inner and outer vanes made of barbs and barbules.
Fig 4. Microscopic 10x view of feather anatomy, top side, incident light.
Fig 5. 10X microscopic view of feather bottom side. Incident light.
Fig 6. 10x microscopic view of feather top side. Incident light.

Note that the barbules and the rachis are darker brown pigment suggesting the presence of melanin pigment and not blue. The apparent blue color is derived mostly from refraction caused by light interacting with the structure of the feather not by pigment. The yellow is most likely derived from a carotenoid pigment. The barbs refract the incident light and thus constitute the majority of the color.

Fig 7. 4X microscopic view with light reflected from the front of the feather. The barbs appear blue because of refraction of light from the barbs which act like a prisim.
Fig 8. 4x microscopic view with light transmitted through the back of the feather. It lacks blue because there is no refraction.

Parrots produce psittacofulvins, a type of red to yellow pigment that’s not found in any other type of vertebrate. These include carotenoids which are yellows and reds, malanoids which are browns and blacks and porphyrins which produce pinks, browns and greens in some birds.* The porphyrins may also fluoresce.** Blue color is the result of iridescence (additive interference), non-iridesence (destructive interference) and defraction. It is not the result of pigmentation. Interference and refraction are physical behaviors of light as it passes through certain media.***

Bird feathers are made of repeating barbed structures that can stick to one another like VelcroTM. The interlocking is very efficient. It is sufficiently strong to withstand the forces of gravity and flight generated by the bird. If some become disengaged they can be physically reconnected through the grooming process of preening. They are resistant to unzipping even when wet. However when wet, the air filled spaces can obviously entrap water. The weight of trapped water may be sufficient to destabilize aerodynamics and probably jeopardize the flight parameters of weight and balance. It is the repeating structural make-up of the feather that bends the light and allows it to fluoresce and at the same time permits flight.

The barbs are colored on the multiple surface areas. Apparently the color in the material contributes to the strength of the vane. Melanin and carotenoids improve the strength. This would suggest that birds with variegated color have strength distribution consistent with the colors. Colors are also helpful in bird identification by people. They are also important in bird-to-bird display for mate selection and for territorial dominance display.

Note how the barbules are partially zipped together. This zipping and unzipping can be repeated with preening
Fig 9. This transmitted light photomicrograph of the dorsal view of the feather shows how the barbules are partially zipped together. This can be zipped and unzipped with preening. It also shows that the barbs are not blue when viewed by transmitted light.

In summary the answer to the color source question is both intrinsic and refracted light. The blue coloration in the feathers here is the result of optical interpretation of pigments and refracted light. The structure and color of the feather are directly related.

We will see the effects of viewing feathers under ultraviolet light in another posting.

We will look at the cormorant like Anhinga as they dive for fish in another posting.

*Cooke et al. Genetic Mapping and Biochemical Basis of Yellow Feather Pigmentation in BudgerigarsCell, 2017 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2017.08.016

**Cornel lab/bird academy/articles/ how birds make colorful feathers

***Irridesence

#bird blue color #refraction # feather photomicrograph #rachis #barbs #vanes #melanin #carotenins #porphyrins

Parrot Heads

No. No. No. This is not about Jimmy Buffet music fans. It really is about parrot profile pictures. While wandering about the Everglades Garden here in Bonita Springs Florida I had the opportunity to visit with my friends the parrots. In an omage to them here is a collection of some of their portraits. The birds seem to want to have their photos made. I think that the colors are breathtaking. The combinations of chroma, hue and value are so bold and vivid. The juxtaposition of these colors seems so uninhibited. The mixed patterns of texture with color is unexpected yet perfectly appropriate. We will explore them in greater detail later. Now, I’m simply allowing them to show off in their portraits.

Admittedly two of these are cacatoo but all are approximately the same size. Additionally, I have not included the parakeets or lorikeets. However, I think that this small sample is a good day’s feast for the eyes. Enjoy!

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#parrot #coccatoo #feathers #colors #hue #chroma #value #texture

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