Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Changing of the Birds

Beautiful Male Double-crested Cormorant 
Beautiful Male Double-crested Cormorant

Many have experienced the breathtaking beauty of the Cedar Keys' sunsets, but far less have enjoyed the captivating "changing of the birds" as the sun sets. This comparatively seldom-seen encounter, though, creates a memory for a lifetime. And, great news: one can catch this awe-inspiring occurrence during this time of the year!

So, what is this "changing of the birds"? Well, in the evening, as some folks relax along the shores, decks, and bridges of Cedar Key in order to enjoy the beautiful sunset, they do not know that hundreds of ibises, egrets, and herons are taking flight from Cedar Key's Piney Point to Seahorse Key's Gardner Point to turn in for the night. At the same time, a night heron here and there will return to Cedar Key from Seahorse Key so to start its nocturnal feeding. And, as lines of birds come in to Gardner Point, and speckles of night herons leave the island, Magnificent Frigratebirds either sit together in its trees or circle high above appearing to watch the evening event.

The skyway between Seahorse Key's Gardner Point, the closest point to Cedar Key, and Cedar Key, especially Piney Point, becomes a incredibly busy highway during the golden hour, while Seahorse Key echoes with a symphony of thousands of birds. And, the experience of this conjuncture sends chills up one's spine.

Of course, one could view an episode of this from certain points in Cedar Key, but the entire event is best captured from the water between the two Keys, closer to Seahorse Key's Gardner Point where the birds' chorus can be heard. One wonderfully relaxing, yet educational way to enjoy this experience is to travel via Captain Doug Maple's Tidewater Tours Sunset Tour, especially during high tide. During his tour, one can sit back on a pontoon boat while being guided by a very knowledgeable birder.

The Sunset Calls the Ibises Home
The Sunset Calls the Ibises Home
While on Captain Doug Maple's Tidewater Tours' Sunset Tour, we watched as hundreds of Ibises flew home to Seahorse Key for the night.
White Ibises
Eudocimus albus
Captain Doug Maple
Tidewater Tours
Sunset Tour
5/21/10
8:03:59 PM

The Call of the Wild
The Call of the Wild
The Ibises are called in by the setting sun.
Captain Doug Maple
Tidewater Tours
Sunset Tours
5/21/10
8:06:51 PM

The Call of the Wild
Captain Doug Maple
Tidewater Tours
Sunset Tours
5/21/10
8:06:58 PM

 Comin' At Ya!
Comin' At Ya!
We were blessed this night while on the Tidewater Water Tours' Sunset Tour with Captain Doug Maples. There were many playing dolphins, flocking birds, and colors in the sky.
Bottle-nosed Dolphin
Captain Doug Maple
Tidewater Tours
Sunset Tour
5/21/10
7:30:33 PM


Friday, May 14, 2010

All In An Hour Walk In Cedar Key

The Ring-billed Gull and the Horseshoe Crabs
The Ring-billed Gull and the Horseshoe Crabs
Larus delawarensis
Limulus polyphemus
Cedar Key City Park Beach
Cedar Key, Levy, Florida
4/4/10
4:33:52 PM

We went out to the Cedar Key City Park Beach today so that I could snap a few pictures of Horseshoe Crabs that are now gracing the beaches of Cedar Key. Since the first Full Moon with High Tide, the "crabs" (actually more closely related to spiders) have been gathering at High Tides at the beaches to "mate" and lay eggs. The males, much smaller than the females, attach on to the back of females, and then fertilize the eggs as she lays them in the beach sands. As many as 12 males will group around a female as she lays the eggs. Hundreds of them crowd the beaches (about March 1st to July 1st) for this activity.

A resident and frequent observer of the Horseshoe Crabs, Tom Liebert of Kayak Cedar Keys, said that as the tide is coming in, the "crabs" face the beach. As the tide begins to level, they face parallel with the beach. And, as the tide just begins to recede, they face out toward the water, ready to go back to the Gulf.

After I felt I had enough shots of the Horseshoe Crabs, our friend Tom also reminded us to try to find the owls' nest at the cemetery. He had mentioned them before, and was also the one to tell us about the Horseshoe Crabs. So, we ventured over to the Cedar Key Cemetery, and, this time, found the owls' nest quickly. I began "shooting" pics of the nest made of sticks, when I finally saw a young Great Horned Owl on a nearby branch with its head turned to watch me. It still had white downy patches.

Then, after leaving the cemetery, I decided that it would be nice to go try to find the Swallow-tailed Kites another friend had told us were nesting next to Cabin Road off the South Gate of the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge off of 347 in Chiefland. We had driven only a short distance into the South Gate Entrance of the LSNWR when my husband spotted what we know now to be a Florida Cottonmouth Snake that was sunning itself on the dirt road. We stopped, and I snapped several shots from across him and out his window. Then, as terrified as I am of snakes, I got out, and snapped some more from about 4 or 5 feet away ... obviously, I didn't know what it was at the time!

Then, we drove to and down Cabin Road. As we were driving, we noticed things moving all around us ... Fiddler Crabs. I got out, and was able to get close enough to snap some pics. There are many in Cedar Key, but I never get close enough for a fair picture.

Anyway, we drove as far as we could, but no Kite. So, we began driving back when I spotted my first Swallow-tailed Kite! Yay! I didn't get a picture of it, but was excited nonetheless. So, onward toward the exit we went. We left and began south on CR 347 when we saw another Kite flying above us. We stopped, and this time I was able to snap some pics. After we traveled further, we spotted a third Kite, as well.

So, homeward we went....
Atlantic Horseshoe Crab
Atlantic Horseshoe Crab
Limulus polyphemus
Cedar Key City Park Beach
Cedar Key, Levy, Florida
4/4/10
4:44:15 PM

Atlantic Horseshoe Crabs at High Tide
Atlantic Horseshoe Crabs at High Tide
Limulus polyphemus
Cedar Key City Park Beach
Cedar Key, Levy, Florida
4/4/10
4:53:37 PM

Juvenile Great Horned Owl
Juvenile Great Horned Owl
Bubo virginianus
Cedar Key Cemetery
Cedar Key, Levy, Florida
4/4/10
5:30:44 PM

The Owl, the Nest, and the Incidental Ibises
The Owl, the Nest, and the Incidental Ibises
Bubo virginianus
Eudocimus albus
Cedar Key Cemetery
Cedar Key, Levy, Florida
4/4/10
5:32:33 PM

Florida Cottonmouth....
Florida Cottonmouth....
Agkistrodon piscivorus conanti
South Gate, off CR 347
Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge
Chiefland, Levy, Florida
4/4/10
5:58:22 PM

Face to Face With A Venomous Snake
Face to Face With a Venomous Snake
Agkistrodon piscivorus conanti
South Gate, off CR 347
Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge
Chiefland, Levy, Florida
4/4/10
5:58:43 PM

Eye to Eye with a Florida Cottonmouth
Eye to Eye With a Venomous Snake
Agkistrodon piscivorus conanti
South Gate, off CR 347
Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge
Chiefland, Levy, Florida
4/4/10
6:00:47 PM

Fiddler Crab
Fiddler Crab
Uca
Cabin Road
South Gate, off CR 347
Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge
Chiefland, Levy, Florida
4/4/10
6:08:44 PM

American Swallow-tailed Kite
American Swallow-tailed Kite
Elanoides forficatus
CR 347
Fowler's Bluff, Chiefland, Levy, Florida
4/4/10
6:31:20 PM