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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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bird of the Week Jan. 25: Belted Kingfisher

The belted kingfisher is an aerial marvel. These guys are often seen hovering over water before plunging headfirst in after prey! They feed primarily on fish but will also eat insects, crayfish, frogs, and even berries. While they are year-round residents of Florida, they are typically seen more often at Panther Island during the winter months. Almost every day I am greeted along the canal by one or more of these pretty birds. Actually, this is one of the few bird species in which the female is more brightly colored than the male! When they breed, they actively defend a territory against other kingfishers. Their nests are actually burrows that they build into a sandy or clay streambanks. Both parents excavate using their bills and feet. Both parents incubate the eggs for about 24 days. The young are then completely reliant on their parents for food until they fledge after about 3 weeks. Their rattling call is distinct and often keeps me entertained while i am working in the field near open water areas.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Random Beauty from Panther Island

Dusky pygmy rattlesnakes are often seen throughout Panther Island. Young snakes of this species have a yellow-greenish tail tip. These guys only get to to be between 12 to 24 inches long but they are thick-bodied. Their rattles are small and hard to hear... it sounds like an insect buzzing actually! They are VENOMOUS so be careful!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Bird of the Week: January 18: Swallow-tailed Kite

Every mid-February, I am greeted by one of my favorite birds. Swallow-tailed kites spend the fall and winter in South America before migrating back to the United States where they are found only in the southeast with most of them in Florida.
These graceful flyers are aerial hawkers that consume insects and small animals like snakes, lizards, frogs, and even small birds. I am always amazed to see one skim the branches of a tree and come away with a lizard or some other prey in its talons. They form monogamous pairs and build nests out of small sticks woven with Spanish moss. They prefer tall cypress or pines but due to habitat loss are often forced to use the flimsy branches of the invasive Australian pine tree. Because of the flimsiness, nests are susceptible to falling in high winds. Both parents incubate the eggs for about 24-28 days (but mama does most of it!). The semialtricial young will then be fed by both parents and stay in the nest for around 36-42 days.They are easily identified in flight by their black upperparts and contrasting white head and underparts as well as their forked tail which opens and closes like scissors as they swoop to and fro. Their call is also distinct, and they keep me company throughout the summer with their cries and aerial acrobatics. Before they migrate south, they will often gather in large communal roosts and then one day they are gone, off to South America.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Bird of the week Jan 11: Great Egret

Great egrets are the largest white egret within their range; these common birds were once hinted for their beautiful plumage. During breeding season, they have long lacy plumes that develop on its back and that extend down beyond their tail. They are a fully protected species that has rebounded since the days of the plume hunters. These guys nest and roost in mixed colonies in trees (with herons, other egrets, ibis, etc.). They tend to hunt alone though (but are often seen with other species in the area) and forage in shallow waters or grassy marshes. They move slowly looking for prey such as crayfish, fish, frogs, snakes, and large insects. They are monogamous breeders and incubate their eggs together for 23-26 days. The young stay in the nest for 21 days and are fed by both ma an pa.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Bird of the Week January 4, 2010: American White Pelican

The American White Pelican is one of the largest birds in North America with a wingspan up to 9.5 feet. They spend their summers on inland lakes in the NW US and into Canada. They migrate south for the winter and some even make the trek all the way to Florida. One cool behavior they have is a cooperative behavior where a flock works together to "herd" fish into shallow waters and then scooping them up (I witnessed this first hand while in Yellowstone National Park one summer).  Their pouches can hold up to 3 gallons of water! This large bird is monogamous and forms large colonies on the ground where they build their nests. Both sexes incubate the eggs for 29-36 days with the young then fed by both adults for 17-28 days. The young  then will form groups called "pods" after fledging. During this time, the adults continue to feed them. When they are 9-10 weeks old, they will make their first flights! These guys were also valued during the late 1800s for their plumes albeit they were in as much demand as herons or egrets.