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This post will be short on words, long on pictures. We saw a bunch of animals while in the park which is as expected. With only a 200mm lens I didn’t have the reach to even get a shot at many of them (I’m looking at you, wolf) and many that I did get from extreme distance don’t make for compelling photos (mama and baby bighorns, several bears, etc.). Others I got so many excellent shots that it’s hard to whittle them down. I captured so many of the coyote that virtually walked right up to me that it is truly difficult to choose. I should always have such problems.

This elk was just hanging out to welcome me on my first morning walk into the park. Yellowstone NP 6/17/19

And this elk stopped by for dinner. Taken from the front seat of the RV. Gardiner, MT 6/21/19

Mama and baby Griz. I could have used a longer lens since this was about as close as this city boy was going to get. Yellowstone NP 6/20/19

Fun fact: both male and female bison have horns. Yellowstone NP 6/20/19

Fun fact #2: the baby bison are called “Red Dogs”. Yellowstone NP 6/20/19

Getting side eye from a bison was a new experience. Yellowstone NP 6/20/19

This was NOT taken with a long lens. I thought I was going to get up close and personal with this coyote. Yellowstone NP 6/20/19

Looking for lunch. Yellowstone NP 6/20/19

At least for us they weren’t. They were $18 for the two of us, and totally worth it.

We went camping up near Gainesville a few weeks ago to celebrate what we thought was the breaking of the long Florida summer. We were … mistaken. It was hot and humid with mosquitoes threatening to carry us away. This is not exactly an inducement to go hiking in what can accurately be described as swampland, so we hit the internet to see what else we could do under more comfortable circumstances. And by “comfortable” I mean “air-conditioned.” Gainesville, for those of you who don’t know, is the college town for the University of Florida. We discovered that it has both a Natural History and Art Museum on the campus (next door to each other, in fact) so we decided to get all cultural and check them out. Patti also read that the Natural History Museum had a butterfly garden that had received rave reviews so we put that on the list. Turns out both museums have free entry, but the butterfly garden cost $10 per person, $9 for Florida residents. We coughed up the $18, went through the airlock doors (to prevent the butterflies from escaping) and HOLY COW!

Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL, 10/10/15

Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL, 10/10/15

As soon as we walked in, we saw the photo to the right: a woman taking a selfie had a butterfly land on her screen. They were landing on kids, cameras, plants, railings, everywhere. There were thousands of them and they were beautiful. The actual walk through the garden isn’t very long, but we found ourselves just loitering about watching them, and watching the kids watching them. It was totally worth the price and an extremely enjoyable experience. It was also a LOT better than sweltering in the October Florida heat.

PS: I’m writing this on November 1st and we’re still waiting for things to cool off. <sigh>

Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL, 10/10/15

Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL, 10/10/15

Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL, 10/10/15

Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL, 10/10/15

Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL, 10/10/15

Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL, 10/10/15

Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL, 10/10/15

Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL, 10/10/15

Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL, 10/10/15

Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL, 10/10/15

Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL, 10/10/15

Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL, 10/10/15

DCF 1.0

On a spring night in 2002, Patti drove from our house across the causeway to an appointment. When she turned off the car, she heard a strange sound coming from the engine compartment. It wasn’t a meowing, more a weird squawk. When she popped the hood, she discovered a 5- or 6-week-old kitten had hitched a ride on top of a brace under the hood. That’s how Nikkie (or Nicky, or Nikky, or whatever) came into our lives.

We named her after the William Powell character in the Thin Man movies. Her “sister,” adopted shortly after Nikki adopted us, was named Nora after the wife in the same movies. From the very beginning she was a bit on the odd side, which is saying something if you know anything about our feline partners. She was extremely shy. We have many longtime friends who have never laid eyes on her except for perhaps a quick flash as she ran to her safe spot under the guest bed. We had a cleaning lady for a couple of years who only glimpsed her now and again. When we would hit the road, sometimes for many weeks, the cat sitters would only see her if they knew where to look. She would come out into the common areas if people were staying the night, but only reluctantly. We were her humans and that was enough for her.

Nikki and Nora tolerated each other and were friendly enough, but not close. They seemed to divide the feline chores about the house. Nora is our huntress, tracking and killing the many lizards on the back porch (which she then eats, sometimes followed by a nice puke). Nora also tracks and locates spiders for me to remove, much to Patti’s disgust, and one time presented us with the still-twitching front half of a black snake that somehow got into the house. Nikki showed little interest in the hunt, but she was our protector. When one of the neighborhood cats presented themselves at our bedroom sliding door, she would attack. She never seemed to learn that there was glass in the way, but she got an ‘A’ for effort.

She was a picky eater, so when we changed their food a couple of months ago for something more suited to older cats she only picked at it at initially and started losing weight. Since she was a solid cat we didn’t pay much attention, but she kept on losing until we finally became concerned. We scheduled an appointment for after our return from a trip to Annapolis, but when we got home she was weak so we took her to the animal emergency room. I won’t go into the experiences of the next two weeks. All I’ll say is that we had a very sick cat. Very sick.

Last Friday, September 4, we put Nikki to sleep. While it was totally the right decision (both the vet and the vet tech agreed that it was time), it was obviously a difficult one. Although Patti and I had discussed this moment and were “prepared,” we really weren’t. An important part of our family is no longer here and we have a hole in our universe that is completely disproportionate to her physical presence. The three of us are (very) slowly coming to grips with our new family dynamic. We’ll get there.

But our “special snowflake” still has her claws embedded in our hearts and always will.

IMG_0030 - Version 2 IMG_0037 IMG_0056 - Version 2 IMG_4127

"Gonzo", Eastern Screech Owl, Viera, FL, 4/11/15

“Gonzo” Eastern Screech Owl, Viera, FL, 4/11/15

"Owliver", Great Horned Owl, Viera, FL, 4/11/15

“Owliver” Great Horned Owl, Viera, FL, 4/11/15

"Bella", American Kestrel, Viera, FL, 4/11/15

“Bella” American Kestrel, Viera, FL, 4/11/15

The weather here in East Central Florida, unlike much of the rest of the country, has been extremely pleasant for the last few weeks. Cool evenings, warm days, clear skies. We’ve been trying to take advantage of this while we can since we know the heat is on the way. Now, I understand that for many of you, anticipating heat is a luxury that you can’t begin to think about while snow blowers and shovels are in what must seem like constant use. I’m just here to tell you that although it’s still the midst of a dreary February where you may be, spring will still show up just as the sun rises in the east.

So, with that in mind, here are some shots from our last couple of weeks. Consider them when the snow continues to pile up and know that that too shall pass.

Rich Grissom Memorial Wetlands Viera, FL 2/9/14

Rich Grissom Memorial Wetlands
Viera, FL 2/9/14

Rich Grissom Memorial Wetlands Viera, FL 2/9/14

Rich Grissom Memorial Wetlands
Viera, FL 2/9/14

Turkey Creek Preserve Palm Bay, FL 2/16/14

Turkey Creek Preserve
Palm Bay, FL 2/16/14

Turkey Creek Preserve Palm Bay, FL 2/16/14

Turkey Creek Preserve
Palm Bay, FL 2/16/14

Turkey Creek Preserve Palm Bay, FL 2/16/14

Turkey Creek Preserve
Palm Bay, FL 2/16/14

Grills Melbourne, FL 2/9/14

Grills
Melbourne, FL 2/9/14

Last Sunday was another gorgeous winter afternoon in Florida so Patti and I decided to head out to the Viera Wetlands for a walk. The Wetlands is a series of manmade ponds used to naturally treat wastewater prior to its release into the St. Johns River system. These ponds are surrounded by berms topped with gravel roads that can be driven, biked or walked. They are also a huge attraction for gators, otters, raccoons and, primarily, birds. Many, many birds. We go out there a few times a year, but it seems that we always, without intending to, end up taking a walk there on the weekend that the birders descend upon Brevard County.

Each year thousands of birders congregate in Titusville, which is just up the road from us and is considered the gateway to the Kennedy Space Center. This area is a major stopping point for many different species of migratory birds, as well as being the year-round home for many others. These birders come down to spot birds that are not common where they live. It seems that there are three major spots for these folks to wander about with their cameras, binoculars and life lists: the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge (co-located with the Space Center), the Brevard County dump (who knew!) and the Viera Wetlands (technically the Rich Grissom Memorial Wetlands at Viera). What this all means is that a) we saw lots of birds and b) we saw lots of birders.

Now, my knowledge of birds is, for the most part, confined to the fact that they have wings and tend to crap on you at the beach (ask Patti about this, she’s an expert). I can identify a few species by name but normally it’s just: “Look: a bird!” Faithful readers of this blog may recall that when I needed an identification of a specific bird of prey, I contacted my friend and Audubon member, George, for help. (See here for that story.) So, for the education of all of us, let’s put him to the test.

George: what are the birds below, besides wonderful to watch?

Rich Grissom Memorial Wetlands Viera, FL 1/26/14

Rich Grissom Memorial Wetlands
Viera, FL 1/26/14

Rich Grissom Memorial Wetlands Viera, FL 1/26/14

Rich Grissom Memorial Wetlands
Viera, FL 1/26/14

Rich Grissom Memorial Wetlands Viera, FL 1/26/14

Rich Grissom Memorial Wetlands
Viera, FL 1/26/14

Note the meal in his/her beak Rich Grissom Memorial Wetlands Viera, FL 1/26/14

Note the meal in his/her beak
Rich Grissom Memorial Wetlands
Viera, FL 1/26/14

Rich Grissom Memorial Wetlands Viera, FL 1/26/14

Rich Grissom Memorial Wetlands
Viera, FL 1/26/14

Animal Kingdom, 7/21/13

Animal Kingdom, 7/21/13

A few weeks ago we went camping at Disney’s Fort Wilderness (camping being a relative term at Disney). Now, camping anywhere in Florida in July is not something we normally do, but we had family coming in from Baltimore that had rented a cabin there for the week and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to spend some time with them. On one of the days we were there we joined them for a day at Animal Kingdom. Patti and I had been there once before many years ago and I knew that this was a target rich environment for photography. So I threw the long lens onto the Canon and off we went.

Our expectations were met. It was hot, as July Florida is, it was crowded, as Disney any time is, and I got plenty of good photos of various critters. I read somewhere on the Internet of a photographer that never tires of Animal Kingdom because the animals are always different. I would certainly agree with that, but at $90 a pop I won’t be making a regular habit of shooting there. Still, we had a great time wandering the park with our family and getting the chance to experience a bit of Disney with a 12 year old boy. 

(Happy now, Bill?)

Note the second cat in the background. Animal Kingdom, 7/21/13

Note the second cat in the background.
Animal Kingdom, 7/21/13

Yes, he's making a rude gesture. Animal Kingdom, 7/21/13

Yes, he’s making a rude gesture.
Animal Kingdom, 7/21/13

Animal Kingdom, 7/21/13

This guy is resting on the back of another hippo. There was a whole bunch of them piled together.
Animal Kingdom, 7/21/1

Animal Kingdom, 7/21/13

Animal Kingdom, 7/21/13

Animal Kingdom, 7/21/13

Animal Kingdom, 7/21/13

Animal Kingdom, 7/21/13

Animal Kingdom, 7/21/13

Animal Kingdom, 7/21/13

Animal Kingdom, 7/21/13

Cooper's Hawk, Rockledge, FL 2/24/13

Adult Cooper’s Hawk, Rockledge, FL 2/24/13

The Gray Cat and I were standing on the screen porch checking out the back yard the other day when a big brown hawk swooped by. He (she?) was about 10′ out and no more than 2′ off the ground and moving at a pretty good clip. He ended up sitting on a pole in my neighbor’s yard so I ran inside, grabbed the camera and went back out. I thought the shots came out OK, but he split to the power line after only a few. The image to the right is heavily cropped; megapixels to the rescue, but click on it to see it full-size. Nice. I liked it enough to want to post it, but I wanted to know what I was showing, so I emailed a copy to my buddy, George, and asked him a simple question: what is it?

George, as well as his partner Maureen, is an avid bird watcher. He lives in urban Baltimore and rural Virginia, regularly alternating between the two places.  Many times I’ve been with him as he’s driving and he’ll gyrate in his seat pointing out some avian as we slow and weave. He and Maureen even went to Cuba with the Audubon Society for a bird census. If anyone could answer me, he could do so pretty simply and straightforwardly: “Why that’s a <insert bird here>”. A few words and done.

Nope.

I received 2 emails back-to-back asking questions: “was it in FL?”, “how big’s the pole?”.  Then I got my answer. And a few words:

———————–

Well, it is a Cooper’s Hawk, Accipiter cooperii. That was my first guess since it is the most common accipiter on the East coast from Florida to New England. Adults measure 16-17 inches and that jives with the scale (I actually scaled your full photo with my architect’s scale 🙂

It could have been a Sharp-Shinned Hawk if it were 3/4 of that size but they are less frequent. Likewise it could have been a Northern Goshawk if larger (X 1 1/4) and you took the photo in GSMNP. Goshawks don’t go down to Florida though. They are a sensible bird.

Accipiters are “bird hawks”…as their main diet is birds (but they will also take lizards and the like, so that Cooper’s is probably loving it in your backyard) I occasionally see them on our property in Rappahannock County. They dash in from the woods in a burst of speed and snatch a bird from our bird feeders then fly off. Even had a Cooper’s frequenting my back yard when I lived on Pilgrim Rd. in Baltimore. They are everywhere. Awesome predator. They can dart through woods with amazing speed and maneuverability due to their feather design…something to watch! I’ve had the good fortune to witness it several times. Mother Nature’s original stealth fighter.

I know, I know…This is probably more information than you need or want to know…and don’t get me started talking about Buteo hawks. Caption the photo as an adult Cooper’s Hawk.

————————–
He can talk like that about trees, too.
George, 1/14/12

George, 1/14/12

Sand Hill Crane, Moss Park, Orange County, FL, 11/11/12

We went out last weekend to break in our new travel trailer. We had originally planned to go to Jetty Park in Cape Canaveral three weeks ago, but Tropical Storm/Hurricane Sandy screwed up those plans for us. She ended up screwing a lot of things for a lot of people, so we’re not complaining too much. Instead we headed out to Moss Park, a local favorite of ours. It’s an Orange County park nestled between Lake Hart and Lake Mary Jane with a relatively recently remodeled campground. New, clean bathrooms, spacious sites and wide roads that are very easy to maneuver on. (Unless, of course, you’re having a heart attack. We were camping here last Presidents Day when I was suffering from what turned out to be my “cardiac event”. I could not back my trailer into an extremely wide site to save my life, even with the help of a kind neighbor. Looking back I was certainly “cognitively impaired” from the event…at least more impaired than normal. Feel free to insert jokes here.)

One of the things we like about this place are the critters that stroll through at all hours of the day. Deer, racoons, armadillos, Fox Squirrels and turtles have all made appearances. The most common critter in the campground is a protected bird: the Sand Hill Crane. They are tall, noisy birds that stroll around their habitat like they own the place which, in a sense, they do. They are protected in Florida and it’s common to see road signs warning of their presence and to find traffic stopped, even on major roads, while they stroll across the street. They are everywhere at Moss Park and we have had many experiences with them. (They also serve the function of an alarm clock, honking to each other VERY LOUDLY at dawn.) This trip I put on one of my better lenses and got some very nice shots.

Oh, we also had a nice weekend roughing it with the new trailer. Sitting outside with a beer in my hand watching the NFL on the HD TV mounted on the side of the Winnebago was out of character for me, but certainly appealing in its own way.

PS: Be sure to click on the pictures to look at them full size. A couple of them are pretty cool.

Sand Hill Crane, Moss Park, Orange County, FL, 11/11/12

Sand Hill Crane, Moss Park, Orange County, FL, 11/11/12

Young Buck, Moss Park, Orange County, FL, 11/11/12

Cruising, Moss Park, Orange County, FL, 11/11/12

Roughing It, Moss Park, Orange County, FL, 11/11/12


The other day my boss had the Division over for a picnic/party.

Not this kind of cat

Burgers, dogs, beer (or, in our case, rum): the normal summertime shindig. He lives in a rural area in East Central Florida where there are lots of farms, groves and horses. We had a good time meeting people’s spouses and kids in a relaxed setting.

A woman in our group happens to live very close to my boss. Her family has been involved for the past several years with a cat rescue program. Now, we’re not talking tabby cats here, we’re talking big cats. Very big cats. At one point late in the afternoon a bunch of us drove down the street to her house and strolled into her neighbor’s back yard where these cats are kept. I was glad I had my good camera.

These folks have a huge cage in their backyard, just beyond the pool (this is Florida after all). Behind three layers of chain link fencing are two 400 pound tigers. They are, to say the least, impressive. Particularly after a couple of adult beverages. Before we were allowed into the inner enclosure we were warned to not stick our fingers through the chain link fence. As if THAT was going to be an issue. The reason was not in fear that they’d be used as a snack, but that these tigers are pretty much like any other cat in many ways. Cats like to rub against things. Four hundred pounds of cat rubbing against fingers stuck through fence equals broken fingers.

No fingers were harmed in the making of these photos.

Mims, FL, 6/4/11

Mims, FL, 6/4/11

Mims, FL, 6/4/11

Mims, FL, 6/4/11