Panther Island Adventures!

Panther Island is 2,800 acres of restored wetland and upland habitats situated in the northwest corner of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary's 13,000 acres. It is home to numerous plants and animals including the Florida panther and the iconic wood stork.
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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bird of the Week: Christmas Hiatus!

Hello all! I am currently celebrating the holiday season with friends and will not be able to do the bird of the week posts. Back on track after the holidays!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bird of the Week December 14: Tree Swallow

Tree swallows are winter residents of Florida. They migrate down from the northern United States and all over Canada. When in flight, they are often in large flocks, and adults can be identified by their dark upperparts, white underparts, triangular wings with greenish underwing linings, and notched tail. These aerial songbirds have short little legs (which I find extremely amusing and cute!). They feed on flying insects. Why just the other day I saw a flock of maybe 150 cruising over Panther Island marshes performing astonishing aerial acrobatics while going after insects. In the winter, they will also eat berries. I also saw a flock of about 200 swirling around above wax myrtle trees along the roadside to work. They would swarm down onto the trees and consume all the berries in a hectic frenzy! It is an awesome thing to see. 

They are commonly seen in open fields, marshes, and along woodland edges; these guys are often seen in towns as well. They form loose social colonies; tree swallows are not monogamous and males often have 2 mates at once and these vary from year to year. The nests are a small open cup made of pine needles or grass found inside of a tree cavity or nest box. They use feathers of other birds to line the nest. Normally clutch size is between 2-8 eggs that hatch after the female incubates them for 13-16 days. And the little guys hang around for 16-24 days to be fed by mom and dad before they leave the nest.
Check out some tree swallow hatchlings!
More Tree Swallow antics!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Bird fo the Week December 14: Northern Mockingbird

The Northern Mockingbird is the state bird of Florida. This songbird is common through most of the United States. They are extremely versatile and can be found nesting in suburban areas as well as a wide range of other open to partly open habitats in natural areas. They forage on a variety of things including: spiders, insects, crayfish, snails, and even lizards and small snakes on occasion. They also eat berries and fruits and will often protect a source of these from other birds like American Robins. These monogamous birds build nests low down in dense brush or trees using twigs. The nests are pretty bulky and lined with finer materials. Both sexes build the nest. The female typically lays 3-4 eggs per clutch.Once incubation is done (12-13 days) the young will be fed for 10-12 days before they leave the nest. Northern Mockingbirds are very territorial and spend alot of time singing. The songs they sing can be original or mimics of other birds as well as other animals, insects, machinery, etc. The series of songs and imitative sounds are usually repeated 3-5 (or more) times.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Bird of the Week December 7: Sandhill Crane

There are two subspecies of the sandhill crane found in Florida. At Panther Island, I see Florida sandhill cranes year-round and during the winter they are often joined by migratory greater sandhill cranes. The Florida subspecies nests in late winter into spring in Florida (and on Panther Island... a goal is to photograph and document this this year!). The nests are basically flat mats of vegetaion (dead sticks, reeds, grasses, and moss) around 2 feet in diameter. Nests are found in shallow water. These birds are monogamous and it is believed they mate for life. They don't reach sexual maturity until 2 years and can live to be 20 years old. Usually the female lays 2 eggs and then both adults incubate the eggs over a period of about a month. The young are a pretty rusty or cinnamon color that fades as they age. The little ones are able to follow their parents around within a day of hatching! Sandhill cranes forage on a wide variety of things including berries, seeds, insects, snakes, frogs, crayfish and even small mammals and birds.
For additional information go to the International Crane Foundation

Monday, November 30, 2009

Bird of the Week November 30: Black Vulture

People often do not like vultures, but I happen to think they are great! They are nature's garbage disposals. Black vultures (seen in the photo) feed solely on carrion. Every morning I am greeted by a large group of black vultures that roost in trees at Panther Island. Often they are on the ground hanging out. They use thermals to soar high overhead and can be distinguished in flight from turkey vultures by the way they hold their wings. Black vultures hold their wings flatter than the "v" shape that turkey vultures make, and their tails are shorter and flatter plus more fanned out in flight. They have white patches at their wing tips but turkey vultures do not. Black vultures also flap their wings more frequently. These guys deposit eggs (usually 2) on the ground. Instead of building nests, they use existing vegetation as cover. They will also lay eggs in hollow tree trunks or caves. Both parents work to incubate the eggs for around 40 days, and the hatchlings are fed regurgitated food from both parents. Their young fledge at about 8-10 weeks. Vultures are under state protection and it is illegal to harass them or shoot them without a permit.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bird(s) of the Week for November 23: Anhinga and Eastern Phoebe

Anhingas are often called "snake birds". These birds are year-round residents of Florida (can even be found south down to Argentina), and they are often seen perched on rocks or branches with their wings outstretched. They do this b/c they lack the oil glands other aquatic birds have and therefore need to dry their feathers. I enjoy watching them swim with their bodies completely submerged in water with their long neck and head sticking out. Sometimes I can see them spear fish with their sharp beaks. They will then break the surface and flip the meal up in the air and capture it before they finally get to eat! Anhingas feed on crayfish, shrimp, amphibians, snakes and even young alligators. They roost in trees along shorelines, and the females will construct their nests out of sticks and line it with grass and leaves. Eggs are incubated for about 30 days by both parents, and the altricial young are fed by both sexes. The males eye will become blue-green during breeding season, and the female can be distinguished by her buff-tan neck.

 Eastern phoebes are flycatchers that winter in Florida and are often seen in open woods and along woodland edges. They also like to perch on fences, utility wires, and treetops. At Panther Island, I often see them catching insects on the fly (their primary food) or feeding on berries. They build their cup-shaped nests in man-made structures now but used to use niches in natural embankments. Nests are made from mud, moss, and plant materials, and it is the female that builds them over a period of 7-10 days. these guys are very common cowbird hosts.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


My apologies for not getting a bird of the week up this last week. So coming soon, two birds of the week!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Recent Panther Island Sightings

 While in the field working one day, I walked by this spider clutching its prey.

 Recently I spied a beautiful purple gallinule in one of my marshes! This shot was actually taken a couple of years ago, but I wanted to share this little guy!

Great Blue Herons are one of the animals that keep me company year-round at Panther Island.

Bird of the Week for Nov. 9: Osprey

Osprey are raptors that are found year-round in Florida. These graceful birds are found near open water that contains fish (including Panther Island!). These awesome anglers are able to hover above the water while searching for prey. Once located, they swoop quickly down to grab their prey out of the water with their powerful talons. One really cool adaptive trait they have is spines on the undersides of their toes. Can you guess why that would help an osprey hunt?? It helps them hold onto slippery fish! Osprey nests are bulky stick nests located on the tops of large trees (dead or alive) and manmade structures such as utility poles. These nests are often reused year after year.
Historically, the osprey was listed as endangered back in the 1950s;  the pesticide DDT played a large role in the decline of these birds. However, in 1972 after large public outcry DDT was banned in the US. Osprey have made a successful comeback, and the osprey are not listed as an imperiled species in Florida.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Bird of the Week for November 2: Crested Caracara

The crested caracara is a threatened species found year-round in central-southern Florida. These beautiful raptors were once common in the prairies but their numbers have gone down as their preferred habitat has been developed. They will often nest in  cabbage palms about 12 m up. the nest is often made of loosely woven vine with a depression in the middle. Clutch size is usually two eggs although three eggs do occur. Both ma and pa participate in incubation which lasts about 28 days. Thee little ones fledge at about 8 weeks. I often see adults along the road searching for prey or eating carrion, but over the last year I have seen them with more frequency foraging along the northern boundary of Panther Island! If you look at their legs, they are longer than those of other raptors and their feet are different as well! They have talons but their feet are flatter. This allows them to more easily run and walk. They are easily identified by the naked face, crest on the head, long neck, and heavy bill. When upset or feeling threatened they will atually raise the crest!

For additional information, check out the link below!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More Wildlife from the Bird Survey...

Eastern Cottontail rabbits off the side of the road.

I was trying to sneak closer for a better shot and spooked these birds foraging in the shallow wetlands. There are two species here, the ones higher up are glossy ibis and the other two are Sandhill Cranes!

Bird of the Week for October 26: Eastern Meadowlark

The melodious call of the Eastern Meadowlark is one of my favorite sounds at Panther Island. Even the most tiring day can be brightened by these pretty birds. These birds are found in open grassy habitats (such as fields, prairies, and meadows) and eats  insects and seeds. The females build the nests by themselves on the ground by weaving grasses into the surrounding vegetation. Now I typically hears these guys before I see them, but once I hear them, I can zone in on where they are. And often I see one perched on top a tree in an open field or even precariously swaying on the top of a grass mound!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Bird Monitoring Project

Last week, I began a series of "point count surveys." Basically I go out just before sunrise and I go to the same 6 points and walk the same route between these points 2-4 times in a year. And at each point, I write down all the birds I see and hear and distances from me to these birds in a 5 minutes period. It is really difficult to learn all of the birdsongs and little noises birds make, but the view is amazing! I got this shot just as I was starting the survey.

I also came across a garter snake in the road at the very end of the survey.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bird of the week: October 19, 2009

          This little bird entertains me year-round. I often see them in my mesic and hydric pine flatwoods as well as flitting around the cypress swamps. I love watching them forage for insects, insect eggs and even insect larvae! Have you ever watched a bird hunting insects? It can be hard to follow them because they can move so rapidly after their prey. They are such adept little flyers they even take insects on the wing. One of my goals this year is to photograph a nest. They make little cup nests out of materials like grass, leaves and spider silk and often cover them with lichens. Both parents help with incubation which takes 13 days, and then both parents help to feed the young over the next 2 weeks. If you look closely, you can see the white eye-ring which can help you tell this little songbird apart form others. Hopefully you'll see one of these guys in your neck of the woods soon!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sunflowers Galore!

Fall at Panther Island brings fields of sunflowers blooming. Their scent floats softly on the breezes, and the sunflowers feed small birds and mammals. It seems each year there are larger fields of these happy bright flowers. And I look forward to their return every year!

Monday, July 13, 2009

A day of research

One of the cool things I get to do on occasion is assist researchers interested in Panther Island. Currently, there is a graduate student doing some vegetation survey work. And today we managed to trudge through and document vegetation types and their densities along three transects at different sites. And of course...we were greeted in the morning by a beautiful black racer hanging around in the tree right where we parked the work truck! So not only do I get to learn more about the plants on the property I manage, but I get to "hang" out with some pretty nifty critters!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Gators on parade!

Today's adventure began with my awesome interns helping me tackle some nasty invasive grasses. The target species were: West Indian marsh grass (Hymenachne amplexicaulis), torpedo grass (Panicum repens), barnyard grass (Echinochloa crus-galli), and coast cockspur (Echinochloa walteri).

Monday, June 29, 2009

Background Information

Panther Island is a part of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. It is located in the northwestern corner of the CSS boundaries and is unique because it used to be agricultural and cattle lands that have been restored! We have a myriad of critters there. Here are a few pictures form the past two years.