Monday, 31 May 2010

Back in Blighty

The safari is home safe and sound - well unsound actally with a badly pulled muscle in the lower back - can't stand, sit, walk, lie down or drive - sort of in a lumbago limbo!!!!
At least we've managed to identify the butterfly at the top of the last posting as Common Buckeye - other butterflies seen but not captured included Vicerory/Monarch? Gulf Fritillary, Zebra Heliconian, Palamedes Swallowtail, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and Zebra Swallowtail, dedtails of these can be found here.
No other news, can't get to the Patches...
Where to next? Off for more pills and potions
In the meantime let us us know if the back of your outback is OK

Friday, 28 May 2010

The end is nigh

The safari dipped a Manatee today, which Wifey managed to spot in the murkey waters. We did net our first butterfly though...which was nice, but not one of the over sized ones they have in these parts.
Not identified this little lizard hanging around the dock yet - have to wait til we get home now.
And the best bit of our trip - Wifey gets to fulfil a lifelong ambition and sing one of her favourite songs with a proper Cajun band in the proper 'South' - epic stuff - what's more this place is owned and run by close relatives of the great Leon Wilkeson of Lynryd Skyrnryd fame and his memorablilia is all over the shop. We were treated to excelent renditions of Sweet Home Alabama and, of course, Freebird.
Wifey went down such a storm that the other guests started asking for requests - great memories!
Where to next? Back to cold wet and windy Patches with very fond memories of the people and wildlife of this part of NW Florida - you gotta go a long way to beat a Swallow Tailed Kite!
In the meantime let us know who's singing in your uotback.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Well hello there Bald Eagle

The safari is struggling for pics today, and not for want of trying!
This little Jumping Spider was fun - he waves his two white 'boxing gloves' at you in a very intimidating manner.
Went out on the boat trip as promised, all they way out to the Gulf of Mexico - fortunately no sign of any of BP's missing oil here...yet...although the Rangers and everyone else aree really worried that the leak isn't being sealed quickly enough and the slick will reach the coastal wetands of Florida all to soon. Beyond these low keys is the open Gulf. We had a tern species here which looked more like Common Tern than Forster's Tern due to its dark wingtips but with the boat moving quickly we couldn't pin down an ID
Also seen here was a Yellow Crowned Night Heron which was miss ID'd by our guide...oops as Black Crowned Night Heron, but I guess we'll let him off as he didn't have bins and was steering the boat as well. A fine male Red winged Blackbird hit the notebook as the next new species for the trip.
All the while the skipper was telling us to check the tops of the snags (dead trees) for the Bald Eagle, especially as we approached its somewhat huge and impressive nest - as one of our fellow sailors put it - "you could have a party up there!" But sadly we didn't see the parents and the youngster(s?) were well hunkered down out of view.
Wereb we despondent at not seeing America's iconic national bird, well yes a little (wonder if they get persecuted like poor old Scotland's iconic 'National' bird the Golden Eagle?). But what was to come was unexpected and more than made up for it - a mother Bottle Nosed Dolphin and here calf feeding in the shallows - brilliant sighting to round off an excellent trip on the river with more Ospreys than you can shake a stick at and even nore Turkey and Black Vultures circling in the pure blue ether on the rising thermals - epic stuff.
On the raod back to Temporary Camp we did a bit of road-kill spotting and managed to identify a couple of Armadillos, a Racoon (which apparently visit our garden at night - must be very quiet when the do as we haven't heard anything 'suspicious' yet) and a chunky black snake about a yard long, which stinks to holy hell and back, is probably a Brown Water Snake .
Where to next? More boaty riding perhaps along with a patch walk early morning.
In the meantime let us know who wasn't home in your outback today.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Everywhere's shut

The safari has been out enjoying the sunshine again today. Last night we were waiting to be served in a restaurant a 10 foot long Alligator swam past the window - not something you see every day back in Blighty! This was the third place we had tried cos we work on European time for eating and in this part of America everywhere shuts up shop horribly early by comparison.
Today we had a road trip up country across the County Line to an old (by local standards) fishing village. That too was mostly shut!
The Brown Pelicans gave a good show with their attendant Laughing Gulls. Also seen was a Reddish Egret and a Louisiana Heron.

At one point we had eight Ospreys in the air together along with a few Turkey Vultures too.

(Barn) Swallows were nesting beneath the pier and Boat Tailed Grackles hopped around the dock.
A last look at Laughing Gulls for you.
Best bird in the book was seen today replacing Mediterranean Gulls and Moorhens as the safari's favourites - Swallow Tailed Kites! Saw several while driving but couldn't find any to photograph unfortunately; no wonder they are the logo bird of the Florida Birding Trail.
Where to next? More boaty rides comin up tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know what has become the new favourite in your outback.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Not so mellow yellow

The safari has been on a boaty ride down the creeks this morning - no early Patch walk today. We had our first Anhingas of the trip, what a weird and wonderful cormorant they are.
This nice club-tailed type of dragonfly landed on the deck of the swamp boat. Once again we have no idea as to which species it is.
A walkabout gave us this fine darter type dragonfly.
We also saw a myriad other species including a red one which was the smallest dragonfly we've ever seen - smaller than our damsels back home!
These pale depressions are the nests of a fish. The males are in there guarding the eggs, look at the bottom middle depression in the top right you can just make out the fish if you look at your monitor at an angle and squint hard.
Florida is all about the big stiff, never mind your 4" long Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (which we haven't come across yet) its the monsters like these that get yer juices flowing. This one is easily bigger than the boat we were on.
This one might have been bigger still but in the murky water we couldn't see the rest of his(?) body.
You wouldn't want to fall in. This one was a bit skinny but still about 10 feet from nose to tail.
The babies are cute in their stripy pyjamas but don't be fooled by their helpless little squeaks if you pick one up; mom can hear that nearly half a mile away and will come running to rescue her little nipper...
Wifey picked out this tiny Green Heron, barely the size of a Moorhen.
Again we didn't see many reptiles, other than the obvious, but this one was using the link fence to display from - he has a vivid red throat flag but when the camera pointed at him he went shy.
The other biggy in this part of the world isn't another reptile but a mammal, or giant stepping stone - the Manatee. What gorgeous gentle giants, so placid and almost graceful.

They have won our hearts and become our favourite mammal by a very long mile, and much better views than the Dugong and calf we saw in WA a few years ago.
The morning started beautifully along the creeks but there were so many biting Yellow Flies it made the day almost unbearable at times - jeez they hurt and seem somehow to be attracted to repellent!!!
A good sighting in the creek was a Soft Shelled Turtle. It's about 2 feet long, much of that is neck which has nostrils placed right at the end of its snout like a snorkel for submerged breathing.
In the clearer spring waters sea fish travel upstream and can easily be seen -this one is a Snook. A species we seen on angling programmes back home.
As the morning turned to afternoon the clouds started to roll in and the humidity increased. A short thunderstorm ensued but it feels like it might be back for another blast later this evening.
Wood Ducks are one of Wifey's favourite birds and it's not really difficult to see why.

We prefer the more unusual White Ibis - it just doesn't seem right to see such a large long legged bird hopping around the canopy like a passerine.
Yesterday we mentioned we hoped to see some Yellow Necked Sliders - well we did, quite a few!
Some as big as dinner-plates.
Where to next? Somewhere without biting things might be nice but somehow we don't think will be possible! Bring on the snakes...
In the meantime let us know if there is anything big enough to tip over your boat in your outback.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

A right ticking off

The safari set off just after dawn on a short section of the Florida Birding Trail. Loads of DEET had been applied but the biting things were only just kept at bay. This is a 'small' Horse Fly just outside our mesh 'safety cage - hence the blurriness. it is about half as long again as those at home, but was only half the size of those out on the Rook Trail. Fortunately they were powered by a 5l V8 and you could hear them coming - the Cleggs we are familiar with = frightened of - at home are silent little b*ggers. Another fortunate thing about the big beasts this morning is that they seemed to have a territory or patch so when we reached the end of it they didn't follow any further and there was a few minutes respite until we reached the next horror's patch. In the meantime the Mosquitoes were still whining around our ears.
Worse was to follow - when we got back to our Temporary Camp we discovered we were covered in American Dog Ticks - yuk, yuk and double yuk. Brings a different meaning to the phrase 'Tick 'n run'!
The trail itself was very pleasant but hard birding. A Pileated Woodpecker battered the living daylights out of a tree somewhere in the woods, sounded like someone taking a jack-hammer to the trees! A pair of Red Shouldered Hawks = Buzzards - did buzzardy things over the tree tops.

In the thickets we could hear birds but they were darned difficult to spot and you really didn't want to stand still in one place too long. Those 'nasties' soon homed in on you once stationary. but the lovely Tufted Titmouse was found and a pair of Northern Parula Warblers entered the notebook while the too brightly coloured Yellow Throated Warbler was found to be well camouflaged against the bright foliage and even brighter sky.

There don't seem to be too many wildflowers out at the moment but this red thing was easily spotted along the side of the road up to the start of the trail.
At the trail head we heard one of the few calls we've learnt on our trip so far and seeking out the nearest dead tree soon found this superb Red Breasted Woodpecker. A pair of Cardinals were hopping about here too but managed to elude the camera - bet they do all hols.
Picking up Wifey we did the touristy things - found a Mall, shopped til we dropped then went sight-seeing. Eventually we found Pete's Pier home of many a Manatee, but we only saw Ospreys!
The search for Manatees and Alligators (passed a sign on the trail this morning warning people not to molest the 'gators - well I don't know what those people we up to but I certainly wouldn't dream of doing such a thing!) continued and we eventually found somewhere that does boaty rides - so one evening later in the week it'll be All hands to the pumps! Aye aye Cap'n' again.
Wifey doesn't make it on to the world wide interweb very often but here she is looking all Southern Bellei n her hat about to spell out M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I. No that's not our hire car - ours is the dull grey one one behind Wifey and it doesn't have a 4.8l supercharged V8 - more's the pity.
Had a Belted Kingfisher fly low in front of the car here, along with some unphotographable Laughing Gulls and several, flushed by a boat before we could get a pic, Brown Pelicans, along with this Great Blue Heron.
Lots of creeks like this one in the area. Should get some Sliders (Yellow Eared Terrapins) and Water Moccasin snakes before too long hopefully. Heard our first scuttling lizard today but couldn't find it in the deep bush. Plenty of infuriatingly over-colourful but far-too-fast butterflies too.
Where to next? - dunno, maybe back to the Rook Trail but not without at least three layers of DEET applied to all bare skin and clothing too.
In the meantime let us know what bites in your outback.
Outside there are three Fish Crows doing our fruit in! They have found something that might be an owl and have been mobbing it relentlessly for well over two hours now. Whatever it is tries to move trees but they just follow it. A couple of Scrub Jays were also in the racket making for a while.