Archive for the ‘Entries by Jungle Pete’ Category

Attractive Nuisance

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Tuesday, September 10th, 2013
Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron in the Trash © Jungle Pete

Attractive Nuisance

I watched a Great Blue Heron systematically survey the remains at each picnic table and garbage can in a county park in central Florida. It pulled out Styrofoam plates and disposable utensils. It poked and prodded at beverage containers. The treasure here was ironically a chicken wing that it tossed back and choked down. The bird shook its head from side to side. Clearly the bone wasn’t going down easily. When the bird stood erect again, it looked back into the garbage can for another “easy” meal. I shooed the bird away and dejectedly notice monofilament line wrapped around its foot.

There are a variety of things wrong with this situation.

  • We are a disposable society. I would estimate that nearly everything in that garbage can was used once and thrown away. Much of it – plastic cups and aluminum cans could have been recycled.
  • None of the garbage containers in the park had lids which meant that raccoons, opossums, birds and a variety of other wildlife had free access to human waste.
  • Wind could blow the garbage out. Wildlife could pull it out and from there the garbage blows elsewhere and becomes a problem for more wildlife.
  • It’s unsightly.
  • The heron was entangled by fishing line that was discarded, possible with a fish on the end of the line. If the line tightens further it could cut off circulation resulting in the loss of the limb or an infection resulting in death.
  • Herons eat, fish, frogs, baby gators…They aren’t built to swallow chicken bones. They can choke or be impaled internally.

A woman approached the garbage can and yelled at the bird, waving her arms at it as if the bird was the nuisance. She piled her garbage on the over flowing mound and walked away. Most of it stayed in the container. Until someone recognizes the problem a simple garbage can is causing, it will remain an attractive nuisance to wildlife.

Want to take a tour of the Everglades with Jungle Pete?  Visit his website for more information: www.ecosafari.com

Throwback Thursday: Flowers for Father’s Day

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Wednesday, June 12th, 2013
wildflowers

Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) © Jungle Pete

Throwback Thursday: Flowers for Father’s Day by Jungle Pete

Originally Posted June 18th, 2012

The Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve is a nine-mile long, third of a mile wide, linear strand of forest in Fort Myers, Florida. I assume the name “Nine Mile Cypress Slough Preserve” had already been taken. The 2500-acre preserve is home to a remarkable diversity of plants and wildlife, many of which can be seen on a two and half mile boardwalk.

My dad and I came out here years ago and while others were quick to speed around the circuit we stopped and sat on a bench. We watched Green Anoles flaring their dewlaps in a reptilian show of dominance. We watched a Yellow Rat Snake glide between cypress knees. We spotted a female Northern Cardinal flitting from branch to branch and we listened to a Carolina Wren belt out an unimaginably loud call for such a small bird. A couple of people walked by at a brisk pace and dejectedly remarked that there was nothing to see here. I’ve heard this complaint repeated many times through the years no matter where I go. I’m hoping they’re referring to the wildlife and not me.

I spent Father’s Day at the Six Mile Cypress this year. The rains have yet to fill the swamp and I found myself saying how little there was to see. Thinking about my visit with my father, my wife and baby stopped and took it all in.

wildflowers

Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) © Jungle Pete

Clinging to a Pop Ash, about ten feet off the dry swamp floor was a beautiful Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis). This bee pollinated epiphyte (a plant that grows on another plant) gets its name from the way the flowers dance in the wind like butterflies. The relatively common orchid blooms from May through August from central Florida south through the Everglades. The plant is not parasitic but does get support from the tree and nutrients and water from its heightened position.

We spotted five different flowers in the preserve today which is five more than I’ve seen before here. It helped to have beautiful yellow flowers cast about in the breeze but I might have missed them had I not stopped to look up and around.

I couldn’t be with my father today but here are some flowers for Father’s Day.

wildflowers

Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) © Jungle Pete

Throwback Thursday: Buffet Mixer

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Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

Throwback Thursday by Jungle Pete: Buffet Mixer

Originally Posted June 2011

Buffet Mixer © Jungle Pete

There are a variety of benefits to doing things in groups. Consider the last cookout you attended. Someone else bought the food. Someone else cooked and cleaned up. There was less risk of being eaten by a predator. Communal roosting makes sense too. Eating and roosting together makes sense for Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets and White Ibis.

More ears and eyes means predators are at a disadvantage during a sneak attack. While roosting, huddling can conserve warmth for those with the best spots in the roost. The downside is when you head out for breakfast in the morning everyone follows. The older and experienced birds tolerate social parasitism in exchange for safety in numbers. There is a pecking order and bigger birds can dominate others in the flock.

Finding food is also easier with many eyes looking. Once located, the buffet commences. Here a flock of Great White Egrets, Snowy Egrets and a few White Ibis have found a high concentration of fish and frog eggs to feast on.

Around the outskirts of the buffet are Little Blue Herons who are exhibiting commensalism. As the Egrets and Ibis stir things up, the Little Blue Herons feed on what the rest of the birds are not interested in. Essentially commensalism is when one species feeds among others and benefits without harming or benefiting the main species. In this case the Little Blue Heron is the guy that came to the party with the friend you invited. Little Blues are twice as successful when feeding commensally as opposed to individually.

May marked the end of the dry season in Florida which generally runs from December through May 15th. As the wetlands begin to fill with water and prey species re-colonize the marshes and swamps, many of the wading birds will rely less on communal feeding and venture out to forage solo. After a long day of hunting, it’s back to the communal roost for an evening of preening and sleep. Party on.

A Murder in the Everglades

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Monday, April 15th, 2013

A Murder in the Everglades by Jungle Pete

I awoke Monday morning before the sun had risen and before the light could burn off the fog of a dream that would remain with me even until today. It wasn’t one of those dreams where you’re about to die but wake up just in time.  In this dream, I was informed I was dead, how I died and how the world had proceeded in my absence. It was upsetting to say the least.

As I headed for my commute across the Everglades I decided to cheer myself up by navigating towards one of my favorite places in the vast wilderness of South Florida. At the southern tip of the peninsula, at the southernmost frontier of the continental United States is a little place called Flamingo in Everglades National Park. The park has three main entrances: the Gulf Coast Visitor Center in Everglades City, Shark Valley Visitor Center in the heart of the Everglades and the Ernest P. Coe Visitor Center just west of Florida City. From Ernest P. Coe (named for the spiritual father of the ENP), a 38-mile road winds its way through pine rocklands and sawgrass prairies, ever-so-slightly sloping into the mangroves and out to Florida Bay.

Out here the cell service grasps for devices just out of reach. Out here I am one of a handful of humans in a four million acre wilderness. I am content.

I am treated to the site of Anhingas feeding white-feathered chicks, camouflaged by the fecal-stained, white-washed tree islands and guarded by alligators basking in the last of the dry season watering holes. As I make my way south, the road sweeps back and forth through dwarf cypress prairies, like a school of mullet chased by dolphin. Crows hop away from bits of carrion pulverized by passing cars.

I stop for a moment to take advantage of one of several spur trails. A crow hops over and is joined by a second. I retrieve my camera for the walk and suddenly there are four crows watching me, speaking to me with a nasally “gonk”. I photograph them and wonder to myself how many crows make up a murder.

 

Crows © Jungle Pete

Crows © Jungle Pete

After my walk I head south once again on what seems like an endless road. Crow after crow hops to the side of the road as I drive along. And then one doesn’t. One crow maintains its position just on my side of the yellow line, watching me approach, looking as if it’s timing its move. It doesn’t, I slow dramatically and finally the bird takes flight. A light thud grazes the upper windshield and black feathers puff like a dandelion in the wind. I circle back, park and dart for the bird lying on its back on the side of the road. I get only a few feet from the car before I am mobbed by seven crows. I retrieve a hat for my protection and on my second attempt to check on the injured bird the crows are huddled like football players around their fallen mate. When a Turkey Vultures glides over the tree line and towards the injured crow the distracted mob of crows takes off and drives the carrion eater away, enabling me access to the bird. As I return to my car with crow in hand, the mob returns with more birds, perched above me, making a ruckus unlike I’ve heard from birds before. They are yelling and they are not happy.

Was the bird just stunned? Does she have internal injuries? (For some reason I sense she’s a female). Can I get her to an animal rehabilitator? Will they care for a crow as much as I do now? As I head to Flamingo the mob of crows follows me for a distance and seems to gather members as they go. I stop. They stop. I go. They go. It’s unsettling. The crow under my shirt on the passenger seat makes a soft “gagonk” and an “awww”. I peak under to see if she is ready to fly. She’s struggling and with one last “caw” she goes limp.

Crows © Jungle Pete

Crows © Jungle Pete

There are many cultures that believe that crows are messengers from the spiritual world. Any spiritual connection I have is with the natural world so it’s difficult for me to untether this moment from my unnerving dream. Was this a message and what did it mean? Is it possible that the intelligent crow that normally moves out of harm’s way made a mistake as I had? In the end I find myself struggling to find the meaning in death and in this case one that I caused. And now I can’t help noticing crows wherever I go.

Want to take a tour of the Everglades with Jungle Pete?  Visit his website for more information: www.ecosafari.com

Throwback: Resolution

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Monday, December 31st, 2012

Originally Posted by Jungle Pete December 2011. Here’s to 2013! Happy New Year!

The way I see it, I started 2011 off a bit unfocused. The blurry sonogram image of my unborn son promised an exciting future with fatherhood mere weeks away. I certainly knew that the year would be unlike any I had enjoyed before, but my vision of what to expect was still a bit cloudy. Twelve months later I find myself scrolling through over 10,000 pictures from 2011 (I have a hard time deleting even the blurry pictures of my boy). The photos are all well organized with the nature stuff all mixed with the family stuff, just as it should be. Despite my fear that the early stages of fatherhood might impinge on my time outdoors, I look back now was resolute glee at the incredible adventures our family embarked upon even with an infant.

The result is fantastic color wheel of fruits, bibs, berries, diapers, birds, strollers, sunrises, flowers, teething rings and butterflies. Here’s to 2012. More adventure awaits!

A) Dad and Theo enjoy the Caloosahatchee Creeks Preserve, North Fort Myers, FL.
B) Wedelia (Sphagneticola trilobata) over Cabbage Palm (Sabal palmetto) frond
C) Theo reaches for a Hibiscus
D) Theo the fearless with a fake Southern Florida Green Swamp Snake
E) An abandoned alligator farm in the Everglades
F) Reflections on the sawgrass prairie
G) A call for quiet at the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples, FL
H) Late afternoon light on Slash Pine (Pinus elliottii) and Saw Palmettos (Serenoa repens)
I) Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides) draped Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) in Clermont, FL
J) Waving goodbye to 2011 over a Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia sp.) choked canal at the CREW Land Trust’s Bird Rookery Trail in Naples, FL

Throwback: Sappy Holidays – The Brazilian Pepper

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Friday, December 21st, 2012

 

Brazilian Pepper

Brazilian Pepper © Jungle Pete

 

Sappy Holidays – The Brazilian Pepper Originally Posted 12/19/2011 by Jungle Pete

As a child growing up in South Florida I had the good fortune of living on a 10-acre rural sanctuary for primates, operated by my parents. The property was covered with native Slash Pines (Pinus elliotti), Cabbage Palms (Sabal palmetto) and Live Oaks (Quercus virginiana), but was persistently threatened by the noxious weed of a tree known as Brazilian Pepper (Schinus terebinthifolis). As a human primate, I had far more freedoms than the other inhabitants and like a modern day Jungle Boy I would often take to the trees and explore. There were times when the property had become so overgrown with what some call “Florida Holly” that I could ascend into the canopy of the pepper trees and climb from tree to tree for several hundred feet.

The problem for a kid is you end up with ripped up jeans and sticky sap all over you, as well as the possibility of a poison ivy-like rash. The problem for the ecosystem is the highly invasive tree has spread throughout South Florida, establishing dense monocultures where little else grows.

Brazilian Pepper was introduced to Florida sometime in the mid-1800s as an ornamental. It grows natively in Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. In Florida it flowers from September through November and by December has fire engine red berries that express a festive spirit around the holiday season, when Florida’s native hollies had already lost their rosy red fruit. Certainly the intent upon introduction was not malicious, but 160 years later the tree is so pervasive we could easily deck the halls with boughs of pepper if only it were legal to transport it.

Fortunately the tree is not cold tolerant. Unfortunately it produces an abundance of berries that are perfect holiday snacks for birds and mammals. They digest them and poop them elsewhere with homemade fertilizer.

Every year at this time, the sight of the bright evergreen leaves and candy cane red pepper berries brings me back to my days on the sanctuary, either climbing in the trees or hacking them down with machete or chainsaw.

I learned long ago that wherever I am for the holidays, I am perfectly content to celebrate it by enjoying it with native style and tradition. This year I’ll be enjoying the sun, the sand and berryless hollies. Happy Holidays.

Throwback: Bat Sniffer

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Monday, December 17th, 2012
Mexican Free-tailed Bat

Mexican Free-tailed Bat © NatureShare

Originally post December 2, 2009 by Jungle Pete

I like a faint smell of skunk, a gentle waft of monkey musk and even an odiferous breeze of bat. Don’t get me wrong, I like traditionally pleasant scents too. Orange blossom. Honeycomb. Fresh mown grass. But when I smell the distinct pungent perfume of the chiropterans I can’t help but get all aflutter.

Bats belong to the Order Chiroptera and number well over 1000 species. Considering that there are roughly 4000+ known species of mammals in the world, bats account for at least one quarter of them. Florida is home to 13 species of flying mammalians yet I was starting to think they had all disappeared. Since 2007, I had seen only one bat. One. But on a warm fall October evening, that would change.

The bridge over Judd Creek in Fort Myers Florida harbors a natural wonder. The underside is full of bats. The double lane concrete structure bridges a narrow gap on the mangrove-lined tidal creek and every evening at dusk, motorists whizz by unaware of the 1000+ bats that emerge for a night of insectivorous snacking.

To witness this spectacle, we kayaked to the bridge before dusk and like clockwork, the first of the bats began to gracefully dive from their concrete roost as the light faded. The expansion joints on the belly of the bridge are spaced perfectly for the two species of bats that roost here. In fact Mexican Free-tailed Bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) roost exclusively in manmade structures in Florida. On the other hand the Evening Bat (Nycticeius humeralis) is more often found roosting under loose bark or in dead trees but they have been known to roost in the bridge as well.

Normally it would be tough to identify one species of bat from another in flight but Mexican Free-tails are unique. They have brown to grey fur and a twelve-inch wingspan but most notably they have a tail that extends out beyond the uropatagium, a membrane that typically connects the hind legs and boney tail.

As the bats plunge and ascend, swirl and dive again, the six foot gap between bridge and creek fills with hundreds of elegant, swarming bats and the evening breeze bellows a fantastic scent of bat musk. Often confused for the smell of guano or bat droppings, the pheromone helps bats identify one another. The swirling mass begins to separate and one by one the bats zip off into the night.

I gently float with a subtle current, watching a wisp of a blackened wind trail off into the darkness leaving me in the lightless night with an ephemeral aroma of bat.

Throwback: Stuffed

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Monday, December 10th, 2012

Common Gartersnake eating a Green Frog

Having just returned from a Thanksgiving vacation in Massachusetts, I had hoped to write about something uniquely New Englandy. To me the greater Boston area is all about clams, lobsters, shorebirds and cranberry bogs. Granted it’s a narrow, stereotypical view but if I could expand my limited expectations then my trip would be a success.

Unfortunately I only spotted a few dumpster gulls and a couple of Deer Ticks (Ixodes scapularis). I probably should have gotten out more. But you know how Thanksgiving is. It’s all about the thanking and the eating and despite picking up a cold on the plane ride up (thanks open air sneezer in seat 24A!) I still managed to eat more than any normal person should at any given meal. It’s a funny thing, I don’t need to eat so much. I just want to and this makes me wonder how much joy a snake gets when it consumes a feast much larger than it appears it should.

A few years ago I was leading a summer camp in Vermont. A couple of kids heard a strange noise in the woods, called me over and we discovered a Common Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis) eating a Green Frog (Lithobates clamitans). Several kids were horrified but for the most part there was great interest in the likelihood that this slender snake could eat this wide-bodied and seemingly unflappable frog. The snake meticulously maneuvered its ever widening mouth to position the frog into an easy transition down its throat.

Once in the intestine, the gartersnake has the ability to elevate its metabolic rate, increase enzyme activity and blood flow to the digestive system and increase the mass of the intestine, liver and kidney to aid in removing and storing nutrients from its prey. It can just as quickly reverse all of these functions and revert to normal conditions. Ultimately the quick digestive process prevents a snake from slithering about with a large meal in its belly.

No such luck for me on Thanksgiving. My digestive system is used to a pattern of thrice-a-day feedings and I had clearly overwhelmed my system. Happy Belated Thanksgiving.

Throwback: Graffiti Artists – The Double-crested Cormorant

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Monday, December 3rd, 2012
Cormorants

Double-crested Cormorants © Jungle Pete

Throwback: Graffiti Artists – The Double-crested Cormorant by Jungle Pete

Originally posted December 11th, 2011

There is no shortage of disparaging labels cast upon the Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus). The heavy-bodied, diving piscivore has been called a nuisance, a villain, a monster and a fish terrorist, mostly by fishermen and mostly undeserved. I call them nature’s graffiti artists. Their roost is their canvas. Their feces and cloaca are their paint and paintbrush.

The name cormorant comes from the Latin “corvus” and “marinus” or Raven of the Sea. Considering the large congregations of birds that roost together, the fish-eating cormorant is seen as a threat to anglers and the fish they seek. While studies have shown this threat is often exaggerated, cormorants can have an impact on the vegetation they roost upon as well as the other species that might inhabit the same trees (and usually lower than the canopy-loving cormorants).

Over the last few decades, the cormorant population in North America has dramatically increased, a heralded consequence of the ban of the harmful pesticide DDT. Like most fish-eating birds, cormorants suffered the effects of the chemical that bioaccumulated through the food chain and resulted in their inability to lay eggs with sufficiently calcified shells. Cormorants, eagles, osprey, pelicans and others would attempt to incubate their eggs and crush them instead.

Here in South Florida I have seen a colony of 40-50 cormorants routinely roosting in the same Pond Apple (Annona glabra) trees and over time, the acidic feces they leave behind has defoliated the trees. The herons and egrets that might have nested here are forced to find a more suitable location.

In the 10,000 islands of the Everglades National Park, the cormorants, with hooked beak held high, sit upon the channel markers and leave the tell tale white washing upon the signs, inadvertent artistry that remains on display when the cormorants fly off and then swim for a meal.

Call them vandals of vegetation if you must, but I prefer to look at the droppings left behind as a clue as to who was here when the bird is not.

How to Photograph Really Large Spiders (If You’re an Arachnophobe)

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Monday, November 26th, 2012

Huntsman Spider © Jungle Pete

How to Photograph Really Large Spiders (If You’re an Arachnophobe) by Jungle Pete Corradino

This is a Huntsman Spider.

The Huntsman Spider is a very large spider. This is not a good photograph of a spider.

1)    If the spider is in your home, make sure you have created an escape/panic/freak out route. Open a sliding glass door. Blow out candles. Pick babies up off the floor.

2)    If you intend to dispatch the subject after the shoot, make sure your method of destruction is suitable for your enclosure. Baseball bats, whether aluminum or wood are inappropriate.

3)    Use a tripod with a remote to avoid violent, nervous shaking.

4)    Consider a fast shutter speed and a zoom lens to stay as far away as possible.

5)    Kill first, ID later is not an option with spiders. They curl up or even disintegrate. Respect nature. Escort the natives outdoors. Humanely dispatch the invasive species.

The Huntsman is an invasive species, native to Asia and now found throughout the Gulf States and California. Their colloquial name is “Banana Spider”, having most likely arrived in the U.S. with banana imports. They are often confused with Nursery Web Spiders (Pisaurina mira) and the infamous Brown Recluse (Loxosceles recluse) which can inflect a seriously harmful bite. The Huntsman is distinguished from similar spiders by brown “false eyes” on the cephalothorax.

Huntsman Spider © Jungle Pete

The female Huntsman Spider (Heteropoda venatoria) has a body nearly an inch long and carries a white egg sack underneath the body. Both males and females have hairy legs that make the arachnid the size of an average man’s hand. They are ruthless hunters and are valued for their appetite for roaches. The preference is to have them as the first line of defense on the outside of your house.

This one must have hitched a ride down from the attic with the Christmas ornaments. My wife came into my home office, held up eight fingers and pantomimed tiptoeing. I interpreted this to be “it’s eight o’clock, be quiet and don’t wake the baby.” Nope. Eight-legger in the ceiling corner of the bathroom.

The Huntsman has been known to inflict humans with a bite that resembles a harsh bee sting. It’s better if they’re outdoors. This one had three strikes against it. I don’t like hairy-legged spiders. It’s an invasive species. It’s in my house.

The Huntsman is a speedy little devil and any time wasted on photographic endeavors could result in its escape. I have no interest in allowing a hand-sized, biting spider free in my home with my child. So I snapped a quick picture of the beast gobbling the half dollar-sized “good” house spiders before “capturing” it with a web broom. In this case the Huntsman became the hunted.