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Snow in the Wetlands

All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen. —Ralph Waldo Emerson

A sweet, lone Snowy egret (Egretta thula) stands vigil in our wetlands as dusk approaches.

Snowy egrets are the American counterparts to the very similar Old World Little egrets, which are now beginning to appear in parts of the Caribbean. Along will curved plumes down their backs, their yellow lore (the area between the bill and the eyes) turns red during the breeding season. I spied this guy in the Spring — and his lore and plumage attest to the breeding time. Snowy egrets were once hunted mercilessly for these beautiful plumes, which were in high demand as decorations for women’s hats (as were the plumage of Great egrets and other birds). Their populations were drastically reduced to dangerously low levels, but they’re now protected by law in the US under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

They stalk their prey — including fish, crustaceans, insects and small reptiles — in shallow water, often shuffling their feet to flush it out into view. Snowy egrets will also stand stock still and wait, just like this guy, to ambush their next meal.

A Snowy egret in breeding plumage patiently waits for a meal in the wetlands

Watching the Divine

Stranger

by Thomas Merton

When no one listens
To the quiet trees
When no one notices
The sun in the pool.

Where no one feels
The first drop of rain
Or sees the last star

Or hails the first morning
Of a giant world
Where peace begins
And rages end:

One bird sits still
Watching the work of God:
One turning leaf,
Two falling blossoms,
Ten circles upon the pond….

(For complete poem, click here)

Deep in a swamp of the northern section of our Everglades, we spied this solitary Great Blue Heron relaxing on a fallen log. Far in the SWA Trails of the Grassy Waters Preserve — along the outer Owahee Trail — there was little to disturb her. She remained there on our return trip, hours later — at complete peace in the beautiful remnants of this most amazing and completely unique ecosystem.

Here’s to hoping that Mother Nature is gentle on Florida, and that Isaac gives us nothing more than nice winds and rains. A shift to the west would be extra kind, to provide Texas with some much-needed rain…. In the meantime, there are many brave and wonderful people working overtime in preparation for the upcoming storm — including 100+ Abandoned Dogs of Everglades Florida. This group rescues dogs, abandoned and left to fend for themselves in the harsh wilderness of the Everglades (along with cats and even horses). They provide these animals desperately needed medical attention (many are starving), and find foster and permanent homes for them. Much luck and love to these volunteers.

There’s been much talk of the upcoming oil drilling in the Arctic. Drilling creates an even stronger greenhouse effect; risks disaster to this pristine land; and disrupts whale movements with its added noise. Greenpeace’s petition has been widely distributed (see the last paragraph of the post for the link), but I thought Mr. Drost’s words summed it up beautifully. PROTECT and PRESERVE what little remains…. Enough is enough is enough.

Natureview photography

This summer the Dutch/British owned oil company Shell will start drilling for oil in the Arctic. They can do this because the sea ice has melted enough to expose the oil rich sea floors of the high north. This oil will be burned, resulting in more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and an even stronger greenhouse effect… Besides, we’ve seen in the Gulf of Mexico what can happen when something goes wrong while drilling for oil. And with the cold temperatures oil degradation takes much longer as in the warmer Gulf of Mexico.

Since I came to the high Arctic for the first time in 1999 I’ve seen islands emerge from glaciers, I’ve reached places that used to be locked in ice every summer and I’ve seen Polar Bears change their behavior because of the changing ice conditions. When I made my first visit I expected to visit a true…

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Rainbows in an Endangered Finch

In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous. —Aristotle

I captured this brave little fellow at Butterfly World’s Jewels of the Sky Aviary, the largest free-flight hummingbird aviary in the United States. It’s a most amazing, beautiful, and fairy-like place — a huge and lush flower-filled habitat of Hummingbirds, Honeycreepers, and Euphonias.

The Gouldian Finch (Erythrura gouldiae), also known as the Lady Gouldian Finch, Gould’s Finch, or the Rainbow Finch, was named for Elizabeth Gould, wife of British ornithological artist John Gould. This spectacularly-colored little bird is native to Australia, where their numbers have decreased dramatically throughout the 20th century due to habitat loss. They remain an endangered species in their natural habitat, with less than 2,500 remaining.

In 1992, the species was classified as endangered in the wild. That same year, Catwoman stuffed a poor Gouldian into her mouth in Batman Returns— some say, to raise awareness for their plight.

Catwoman eyes the Penguin’s Gouldian in “Batman Returns”

However, they’re popular birds in captivity and among breeders, which keeps their general populations higher. The delicate Gouldian Finches are difficult to breed outside of their native Australia — they demand a clean environment and excellent nutrition to survive and thrive, and aren’t suggested for novice breeders. (I personally have issues with caged birds, but wanted to include this tidbit.) While attempts at their reintroduction have proved unsuccessful, thankfully these lovely finches are the subject of a conservation program in Australia. There are currently plans to recover and conserve their natural habitats, with management guidelines discussed to educate landholders about land management, promoting the recovery program, and Gouldian Finch conservation.

Gouldian Finches gather in flocks in the wild, most likely to protect against predation. They’re highly sociable birds, but more often with other birds than with humans. Both sexes are brightly colored, with black, green, yellow, and red markings — but with selective breeding, there are now many color mutations. As usual, females tend to be less brightly colored (the males do the strutting). Gouldians bond and mate for life.

In honor of this beautiful, endangered, and brave little finch, may you have an equally bright weekend!

Gouldian Finch (Rainbow Finch)

Courtship Colors

The next time you look into an animal’s eyes look deep and long. You will see their inner beauty and feel their living soul. —A.D. Williams

The Tricolored Juveniles and the Tricolored Adults of our Florida wetlands have been highlighted; and now…. A most lovely Egretta tricolor displays his brilliant breeding colors. During courtship, these already beautifully colored herons become even more vibrant: the eyes turn a striking scarlet, and the otherwise long, pointed yellow bill turns blue. Breeding plumage involves filamentous plumes on the head and neck, and buff plumes on the back.

The juxtaposition of the deep scarlet eye against slate blue feathers is perfect; Nature needs no retouching.

Tricolored Heron in Breeding Colors, Florida Wetlands

Sunbeams Forever

I don’t usually delve into personal issues, but I had to honor her. And I won’t harp on those sad, unfortunate souls who dumped her in a sparse Florida field abutting alligator-infested lakes, to fend for herself. There are many of these, and I’d rather not give them the power of my words — I’ll bestow that upon the efforts of the rescue groups and individuals doing so much for the abused and abandoned animals of the world, in countless ways. Rather, I’ll thank whoever abandoned her, for bringing us together. Confused, starved, covered in filth, and physically broken — but still desperate for human affection.

She quickly grew to thrive in the alpha role of the household, not thoroughly appreciating the new rescues, but always maintaining a calm, steady, and queenly presence…. “You know, death in the animal world isn’t seen in the same morose light as death in your world. Just let them be; they’ll make their ways fine and dandy on their own,” she seemed to say, in her haughty and gorgeous half-Maine Coon self. Of course, if they came to me, I couldn’t ignore their plights.

But on the first day of the glorious month of June, I bid farewell to my little princess after 17 years — how old she was exactly, I’ll never know. Nineteen? Twenty? She was fully grown when we pulled her out of that overgrown field; an abandoned housecat surviving major injuries during her fight for survival, including broken legs — which we thank Cosequin and Adequan for their help in easing her pain — but which would prove to be too much at the end of her long life. And after surprising everyone, in beating diabetes and stalling kidney failure (with the help of insulin and natural treatments) — the final straw would prove to be a stroke or brain tumor, creating mental confusion, a personality shift, and even more pain and weakness to her already damaged legs — quickly prompting us to make a most loving decision. It never gets easier. They’re a part of our family, and it’s our responsibility to honor them in these most precious moments, as quickly as possible. I’m ever-grateful and thankful for my vet, who makes house visits to perform this final transition, in the comfort of the animals’ surroundings.

My darling girl, Puss-puss, may you forever bask in sunbeams, pouncing freely on objects unawares. And while there may now be more space on the bed (“perpendicular” was her favorite position), I thoroughly expect your expansive and ethereal self soon enough…. As fellow bloggers Pat Bean and Whitebird so perfectly re-quoted recently:

 “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” —Dr. Seuss

✿ ♥ ✿ ♥ ✿ ♥ ✿ ♥ ✿ ♥ ✿

Love is life.
All, everything that I understand,
I understand only because I love.
Everything is, everything exists, only because I love.
Everything is united by it alone.
Love is God, and to die means that I, a particle of love, shall return to the general and eternal source. —Leo Tolstoy

Princess Puss

Princess Puss

Season of the (Red) Snake

It’s apparently the season of the red snake. We just encountered our first Corn Snake / Red Rat Snake (oddly enough, for its commonality) — and most recently, on a brief excursion to photograph butterflies in the northern section of the Everglades, I nearly stepped on this lovely young Orange Rat Snake at dusk. He was none too happy with our presence, and my undivided attention to his colorful mug.

Also known as the Everglades Rat Snake or Glades Rat Snake, this species is known for its calm nature (in captivity) and wide array of bright colors, making it another favorite with snake keepers. While many areas are host to the Everglades Rat Snake, Florida has a particularly high concentration — the species derives its name from the Everglades region in South Florida, where it’s said to have originated. Although prone to aggression if feeling cornered or threatened (like many animals, unsurprisingly), they are NOT dangerous, and spend much of their time in hiding — in crevices, tucked into knotholes, burrowing into holes, on trees (including palms), or on treetops (they’re great climbers). Like many Florida snakes, they’ll quickly flee to the water should they sense danger on land. They can reach lengths of 4 – 6 feet, although a few have been reported up to 7 feet — making it one of the longest snakes in North America. A single clutch can include between 7 – 27 eggs, hatching in July or September. As the snakes mature, they change from a blotchy grey to orange or sometimes red, with four standard stripes resembling their background color — with striking red eyes and a matching red tongue (the red eye can be seen in this picture). Their natural habitats are grasslands, wetlands, and swamps.

Whenever we see snakes around our home, they’re usually non-venemous; and we ensure that they’re protected from lawnmowers and the like. Snakes keep rodent populations down — and if you live anywhere near water, you realize how large water rats can become. Snakes are our friends! If you or someone you know is afraid of them, gently relocate the snake and / or its nest. We once had a large Brown Snake manage its way into our inside closet (how, we’ll never know). Believe me, I’d — and by “I,” I mean the male — would rather have relocated that Brown Snake than a water rat.

Everglades Rat Snake, or Orange Rat Snake in the Florida Everglades

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