Sunday, November 27, 2016

Black Crowned Night Heron


Black Crowned Night Herons roost low in trees during the day and then take of around dusk for a night of hunting. I was lucky to catch this beautiful bird taking off from its daytime roost. They are unusual for herons with short stout necks and short legs. 

Typically solitary when foraging, the Black-crowned NightHeron
is most often observed at dawn, dusk, and on
cloudy days. Black-crowned Night-Herons have distinct
immature plumage and attain full breeding plumage in
their third year. Virtually worldwide in distribution, it
breeds from the northern United States and southern
Canada south to Hawaii, Peru, and Argentina.
Habitat. This cryptic species is inconspicuous at roost and
when seeking food, even though it forages during the day
while feeding young. Outside the breeding season, the
Black-crowned Night-Heron forages mostly at night,
usually wading in shallow water, and feeding on fish,
crustaceans, small amphibians, reptiles, nestling birds,
and mammals, as well as other aquatic organisms.
This species nests in homogeneous colonies, in colonies of
other waders, and, rarely, singly. Nests are formed of
dead surrounding vegetation in a marsh or built of sticks
in trees or bushes near or over water. Three to 5 bluegreen
eggs hatch in 24 to 26 days, and the young fledge
at about 42 days of age.
Seasonal Occurrence. Breeding has been reported from January through August, but the presence of young
birds in south Florida in December indicates that breeding may occur year-round there. In summer, Blackcrowned
Night-Herons are absent from most of the Panhandle. Migratory individuals appear in March and April,
sometimes as late as May. Fall migrants have been reported in September. Florida populations increase
considerably in winter with the influx of northern migrants. Florida is probably the southernmost wintering
ground for Black-crowned Night Herons from the eastern United States.
Status. Because it is a wetlands-dependent species, it is considered a Species of Special Concern by the Florida
Committee on Rare and Endangered Plants and Animals .

The statewide breeding distribution of the Black-crowned Night Heron follows the availability of wetland habitat
Most nesting colonies are located in central and southern Florida, with scattered colonies in north Florida. Howe
(1932) mentions breeding in Pensacola, but no records west of Wakulla County were obtained during the Atlas
project. No trends are currently measurable for this ubiquitous species. 
http://legacy.myfwc.com/bba/docs/bba_BCNH.pdf

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Black Crowned Night Heron

Osprey Sky Dance And Mating Calls



High Definition Audio. Amazing male Osprey Sky Dance and courtship calling right over the Backyard and low. While the male shows off his voice and stamina for over 10 minutes the female can be heard calling loudly from high in a long leaf pine tree below probably encouraging him on! Hopefully they will build a nest nearby in the coming weeks. Luckily I had just attached my new external microphone with wind screen - this was the perfect test!

Appearance:
The undersides of the toes on each foot are covered with short spines, which help them grasp slippery fish.
Habitat:
The osprey is smaller than the bald eagles that typically share the same habitats, but its five to six foot wingspan is impressive nonetheless. Adults are dark brown above with a white underside and head. Look for the distinctive dark line that extends behind the eye and the gull-like way the narrow wings are angled downward when the birds are in flight.
The osprey is found year-round in Florida both as a nesting species and as a spring and fall migrant passing between more northern areas and Central and South America. Ospreys in Florida did not suffer the serious pesticide-related population declines that occurred in other states in the 1950s and 1960s. Pesticides, shoreline development and declining water quality continue to threaten the abundance and availability of food and nest sites for ospreys.
Behavior:
Ospreys, also known as "fish hawks," are expert anglers that like to hover above the water, locate their prey and then swoop down for the capture with talons extended.
In Florida, ospreys commonly capture saltwater catfish, mullet, spotted trout, shad, crappie and sunfish from coastal habitats and freshwater lakes and rivers for their diet.
Ospreys build large stick nests located in the tops of large living or dead trees and on manmade structures such as utility poles, channel markers and nest platforms. Ospreys have adapted so well to artificial nest sites that the species now nests in areas (e.g. inner cities) once considered unsuitable. Nests are commonly reused for many years. Nesting begins from December (south Florida) to late February (north Florida). The incubation and nestling period extends into the summer months.
The osprey is listed as a Species of Special Concern only in Monroe County. Permits are required throughout the state to remove a nest for these wonderful raptors, however, and a replacement structure must be erected to mitigate the removal of the nest.
http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/profiles/birds/raptors-and-vultures/osprey/

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Osprey Sky Dance And Mating Calls

Squirrels Trash Thanksgiving Dinner Party



Backyard Gray Squirrels were invited to Thanksgiving Dinner, but it didn't go well. Most of the year they seem to be able to function, however the holiday festivities apparently upset their routine and the first guest to arrive - from above of all places - totally trashed the carefully planned seating arrangements and party favors. Talk about an entrance - well It was downhill from there!

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Squirrels Trash Thanksgiving Dinner Party

Test of Tamron 150 - 600 mm Zoom Lens With Vivitar 2X Teleconverter 1920mm



1920 mm optical zoom lens - Tamron Auto Focus A011C700 SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD Zoom Lens for Canon EF Cameras with Vivitar Teleconverter Lens (2X4C). With special guest appearance!
This is a practical non-technical real-world test of what can expect using this setup in less than optimal shooting conditions for the vast majority of users this should be acceptable especially considering cost-benefit. Remember for every picture a professional sells or gets published they probably discard hundreds if not thousands of shots. This was just one day of examples in bad conditions.

All pictures and video were shot on a Canon T5i with the Tamron 150-600 and Vivitar 2X converter and remote shutter control. This provides an effective 1920 mm optical focal length. It was also a very windy day which has a significant impact when shooting at nearly 2000 mm. The lens was 1000 bucks with a $200 rebate and 10% cashback and the converter $75 used/recondition at Amazon so I have about 800 bucks total in this lens setup.  
None of the pictures or videos have been cropped or enhanced prior to loading into the Filmora Video Editor, of course in the process of conversion into this video there was some degradation of the imagery, but it is presented as best as can be to give you an idea of the results possible with the Tamron and teleconverter.
I set the shutter speed at 1-800 and let the camera choose the f-stop and ISO and manual focus. Autofocus will not work with the teleconverter as the video demonstrates this is to be expected and not a defect.
All of the imagery was taken in what would be considered bad to poor or harsh lighting conditions.
Of course all the videos and pictures could be improved significantly with post-processing.

The next generation Tamron lens (Tamron AFA022C700 SP 150-600mm Di VC USD G2 f/5.6-40.0) is out at around 1,300 buck with a $400 teleconverter available and this setup would probably provide incrmentally better results in poor conditions. I personally shoot mainly video and use a Canon SX60 1300mm 65x optical zoom for my workhorse, but I find the video with this 1920 mm setup more than acceptable especially in the sun. 

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Test of Tamron 150 - 600 mm Zoom Lens



Saturday, November 5, 2016

Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon)



Male Belted Kingfisher on a traditional perch hunting over the St. Johns river marsh in Florida. He's having a bad hair day due to high winds.  For a nice example of a female Belted Kingfisher see:

Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon)
With its rattling call, large crested head, and habit of
perching conspicuously, the Belted Kingfisher is familiar to
many Floridians, even those with only a casual interest in
birds. Kingfishers breed as far north as Alaska and winter
south to northern South America.
Habitat. Because it usually nests in burrows dug into
embankments, the breeding range of the Belted
Kingfisher is limited to areas of the state containing river
bluffs or disturbed areas, such as canal banks, borrow
ponds, and mine sites.
As their name suggests, these birds feed largely on fish,
but they also eat insects, crayfish, frogs, young birds,
small rodents, and berries.
Belted Kingfishers typically select clay or sand banks for
breeding. Both adults dig the burrow, using their bills and
feet. The nesting chamber is built at the end of the
burrow and may be up to 5 m (15 ft) in length, but is
usually 1 to 2 m (3 to 6 ft) long (Bent 1940). In this
protected chamber, 4 or 5 unmarked white eggs are laid
from May through July (Stevenson and Anderson 1994).
Both adults share in incubation, which takes 23 or 24
days. Young are fed regurgitant produced by their parents (Wheelock 1905) and fledge at about 23 days of age
One brood is raised per year.
Seasonal Occurrence. Belted Kingfishers are resident in Florida, although more common in the Panhandle an
north Florida in summer, and central and south Florida in winter. They nest April through July.
Status. Belted Kingfishers are rare and very local breeders in the peninsula, although more widespread and
common in the Panhandle. While many Panhandle breeding records were probably located in natural river and
stream banks, the majority of the confirmed breeding records outside the Panhandle were located in artificially
created embankments.
http://legacy.myfwc.com/bba/docs/bba_BEKI.pdf

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Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon)


Gulf Fritillary or Passion Butterfly




Gulf Fritillary or Passion Butterfly

Beautiful Gulf Fritillary or "Passion" Butterfly - bright orange catches your eye and the 3 little white dots on each fore-wing are the clincher. Watch for a guest appearance by a spider!
The Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae (Linnaeus), is a brightly colored butterfly common across extreme southern portions of the United States. At home in most open, sunny habitats, it frequents roadsides, disturbed sites, fields, open woodlands, pastures, yards, and parks. It is a regular in most butterfly gardens, including those in more urban settings.

The Gulf fritillary occurs throughout the southern United States southward through Mexico, Central America and the West Indies to South America. In Florida, it can be found in all 67 counties. The butterfly undergoes distinct seasonal movements each year. Adults move northward in spring and form temporarily breeding colonies throughout the southeast. Individual vagrants may occasionally reach into the central U.S., but rarely into the Midwest. Starting in late summer and continuing through fall, huge numbers of adults migrate southward into peninsular Florida. Adults overwinter in frost-free portions of their range.

Adult: The Gulf fritillary is a medium-sized butterfly with elongated forewings. Adults have a wingspan range of 65 to 95 mm. Females are generally larger than males. The sexes are dimorphic. The upper surface of the wings is bright orange with black markings. Females are somewhat darker and more extensively marked. The forewing cell contains three black-rimmed white spots. The undersides of the wings are brown with elongated silvery-white spots.
http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/bfly/gulf_fritillary.htm


Sunday, October 2, 2016

Coyotes Barking and Howling



The sounds or calls of what I think is a pack of Coyotes barking and howling way down in the valley below as I'm walking above the house in the morning. I have only heard these crazy sounds once before - fortunately I had my cell phone handy this time. They have never shown up on my night vision camera traps,  there used to be foxes in the yard all the time - but they are gone this summer and we have a lot of rabbits so I don't think many higher predators other than bears live right nearby. There are a few domestic dogs in the area, but they don't sound like this and I'm no coyote expert by any means so if anyone has any other ideas about these howls and hyena-like barks I'm open to suggestion.



Coyotes Barking and Howling

Chipmunk Cluck Cluck Wood-Knocking Sounds



Cluck - Cluck or Knock - Knock on wood sound or calls echoing loudly through the forests and mountains - these incredible sounds are made by Chipmunks and seeing is believing! After three years of documenting these loud sounds that carry for 100's of yards through the forest and suspecting they were from Chipmunks, but not knowing how they could be so loud I've finally caught the little ones in the act. They put a lot of effort into these calls with full body involvement. This loud calling typically starts in late summer - here in the Great Smoky Mountains it was August 29th. These calls have absolutely nothing to do with a warning call after seeing predators such as hawks as some scientists have concluded in limited studies mostly in the northeast, but likely have everything to do with Chipmunk communication, perhaps territory. These sounds will echo through the forest sometimes for hours with several joining in especially in October. Because Chipmunks are so small and the forest so vast it is very hard to actually find the source of these loud wood-knocking noises, but today I got lucky with one sitting on a pile of rocks at the forest edge - the Chipmunk seemed to enter an almost trance-like state for a few minutes.
Here are the previous recordings in the deep forest - you can imagine how hard it is to find an individual Chipmunk:

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Chipmunk Cluck Cluck Wood-Knocking Sounds

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Blue Cohosh


Blue Cohosh is a beautiful plant when the berries turn ripe in late summer. This was a large patch in the Great Smoky Mountains that covered a hillside. Noted for its medicinal properties it's roots are used to make various mixtures. “Cohosh” is from the Algonquin Indian word meaning "rough," and it refers to the appearance of the roots. The root is used to make medicine.
Blue cohosh is used for stimulating the uterus and starting labor; starting menstruation; stopping muscle spasms; as a laxative; and for treating colic, sore throat, cramps, hiccups, epilepsy, hysterics, inflammation of the uterus, and joint conditions.

In foods, the roasted seeds of blue cohosh are used as a coffee substitute.

How does it work?
It is thought that blue cohosh might have effects similar to the hormone estrogen. It also may narrow the vessels that carry blood to the heart that can decrease oxygen in the heart. Caulophyllum thalictroides, blue cohosh a species of Caulophyllum (family Berberidaceae), also called squaw root or papoose root, is a flowering plant in the Berberidaceae (barberry) family. It is a medium-tall perennial with blue berry-like fruits and bluish-green foliage. It has been used as a medicinal herb by American Indians. Many Native American tribes, and later European herbologists and mid-wives, would use this herb in conjunction with other herbs and fluids for abortive and contraceptive purposes.
From the single stalk rising from the ground, there is a single, large, three-branched leaf plus a fruiting stalk. The bluish-green leaflets are tulip-shaped, entire at the base, but serrate at the tip. Its species name, thalictroides, comes from the similarity between the large highly divided, multiple-compound leaves of Meadow-rue (Thalictrum) and those of Blue Cohosh.

It is found in hardwood forest of the eastern United States, and favors moist coves and hillsides, generally in shady locations, in rich soil. It grows in eastern North America, from Manitoba and Oklahoma east to the Atlantic Ocean.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caulophyllum_thalictroides
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Blue Cohosh

Blue Cohosh


White Baneberry - "Dolls Eyes" Plants That Can Kill You!


Plants that can kill you! White Baneberry ripens in late August and eating only a few berries can induce cardiac arrest and death. Fortunately it has a rather creepy look about it with a characteristic black dot at the end of each white berry that gives it the name "Doll's Eyes" and should say "beware"! In very small quantities it has been used as a herbal remedy in the past by native Americans. Here is some more information:
White baneberry Facts
White baneberry is herbaceous plant that belongs to the buttercup family. It originates from the eastern parts of North America. White baneberry can be found in deciduous and mixed forests and dense thicket. It grows on the fertile, moist (but well-drained), acidic soil, in the partial shade. White baneberry is listed as endangered in Florida and vulnerable in New York due to over-exploitation of the wild plants. People cultivate white baneberry in ornamental purposes because of its decorative flowers and long-lasting berries.
Interesting White baneberry Facts:
White baneberry has erect, multi-branched stem that can reach 1.5 to 2 feet in height and 3 feet in width.
White baneberry produces large, thrice divided leaves (composed of three leaflets) with toothed edges. Leaves are green colored and alternately arranged on the stem.
White baneberry develops small white flowers arranged in the form of dense, globular clusters (raceme) at the end of the branches, above the leaves. Flowers contain both types of reproductive organs (perfect flowers).
White baneberry blooms from April to June. Flowers emit rose-like fragrance which attracts small insects (such as European snout beetles) which are responsible for the pollination of this plant.
Fruit of white baneberry are white berries arranged on thick, red stalks. Fruit ripens during the summer and autumn and remains on the stem throughout the winter.
White baneberry propagates via seed and division of the root.
White baneberry is also known as "doll's eyes" because of its white berries with prominent black spot that look like eyes of porcelain dolls.
All parts of white baneberry (especially berries and root) are poisonous (contain cardiogenic toxins) and they should be avoided.
Typical signs of intoxication are nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, blisters in the mouth, burning sensation, confusion and headache. 2 to 6 baneberries contain enough toxin to induce cardiac arrest in children if they accidently swallow them. Luckily, berries has unpleasant, bitter taste and they are rarely consumed on purpose.
Common name "white baneberry" refers to the color of the fruit and high content of cardiogenic toxins in the berries (bane-berries).
Even though white baneberries are toxic for humans, birds can consume these berries without any visible side effects. Birds eliminate undigested seed via feces and facilitate dispersal of white baneberry in the wild.
Native Americans used root of white baneberry in treatment of menstrual cramps and symptoms of menopause and to alleviate cough, common cold and rheumatism.
Infusion made of leaves of white baneberry was used to stimulate secretion of milk in women in the past.
Native Americans used juice squeezed from the white baneberries as a source of poison.
White baneberry is perennial plant, which means that it can survive more than 2 years in the wild.
http://www.softschools.com/facts/plants/white_baneberry_facts/1958/

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White Baneberry -  "Dolls Eyes" Plant