We live very close to Gemini Springs, a Volusia County park. The 210-acre park is located along the DeBary Bayou, a swampy finger of water that feeds into Lake Monroe and the St. Johns River. We can reach the park from our DeBary home via a leisurely bike ride of just over two miles.
I’ve been saving photos from my visits to Gemini Springs with the vague idea of making an epic blog post about this local patch. But as the folder of photos grows and grows, I am starting to think I should just let the photos speak for themselves. So this is the first post in a series, playing catch up with my July pictures from Gemini Springs. I hope you’ll enjoy this look at my new local birding spot.
Nature trail; July 9, 2011
DeBary Bayou; July 9, 2011
Snowy Egret; July 9, 2011
Fishing pier; July 9, 2011
Kayaking DeBary Bayou; July 19, 2011
Tricolored Heron seen from the kayak; July 19, 2011
The Port Orange Wildlife Sanctuary (which has an interesting lost-in-history story) is a chain of islands on the main channel of the Intercoastal Waterway. Arthur and I paid a short visit on our way home from the Marine Science Center. We spied this Green Heron flying over the parking lot and landing among some reeds in a tiny pond between the asphalt and the channel.
We spent just a few moments watching it watch the water, and I snapped a few pictures. I thought putting a few together would make a funny animated GIF. 🙂
Last month Arthur and I visited the Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet. The small center has marine life exhibits and displays. They also have facilities for both turtle and bird rehabilitation.
Welcome to the Marine Science Center!
The main building houses several (mainly aquatic) exhibits with turtles, lobsters, sharks, fish and rays. As you’d expect at such a facility, the aquariums and animal enclosures are accompanied by informative (and impressively comprehensive) signage.
Several displays are devoted to Volusia County’s Artificial Reef Program. Over 40 artificial reefs play host to aquatic life in Volusia County offshore waters. The reefs consist of the remains of ships, airplanes, and barges, large concrete rubble and other discarded construction materials, and specially constructed reef balls.
Map showing some of Volusia’s artificial reefs
If you don’t know about artificial reefs, it may sound like the county is just dumping junk in the ocean. First, the reef material is treated to remove any harmful elements. Within days of the artificial reef material settling on the ocean floor, living organisms begin to inhabit the reef. As the community expands around the growing source of food and shelter, larger, predatory fish begin to visit the reef. In time there is a thriving reef where there was once not much more than water and sand.
Reef balls were used in some of the aquariums
My favorite indoor exhibit was the stingray touch pool, occupied by cownose stingrays, Atlantic stingrays, and a few other species of fish plus some crabs and other organisms.
Stingray Touch Pool
The rays circle the pool and visitors can touch them. One particular cownose stingray was extremely endearing. It would slow down as it approached an outstretched hand, and rise up to the hand to be petted. It was a lot like a head-bump from a cat. You can see this in the final seconds of the video below.
Super-cute scritch-lovin’ cownose stingray in last seconds of clip!
As we were enjoying the marine displays, it was announced there would be a short bird of prey program in the classroom, which was a nice surprise. A volunteer gave a short informal program along with Priscilla, a four-year-old American Kestrel. Priscilla is an imprint, along with four other female nest-mates. They were raised illegally by a member of the public before being brought in to rehabilitation. She and her sisters are all non-releasable ed birds at different licensed facilities.
Priscilla the American Kestrel
Priscilla is not the only education bird at the center. Outside there are several enclosures holding permanent resident marine birds like Brown Pelicans, gulls, and a Black Stork. There are also mews with birds of prey. The resident raptors include a pair of Bald Eagles, Red-shouldered Hawks, a Barred Owl, a Great Horned Owl, a Swallow-tailed Kite, and others.
Enclosures for permanent resident birds
The Mary Keller Seabird Rehabilitation Sanctuary on site has treated over 4500 birds since it opened in 2004. Not only seabirds are taken in; over 140 bird species have been patients. While some education material and rehab information is visible to public visitors, rehab patients and other facilities are not open to the public.
The center also takes care of injured sea, freshwater and terrestrial turtles and part of their turtle hospital facilities, as well as information about the dangers sea turtles face, can be viewed by visitors.
X-rays showing fishing hook ingestion and seashell impaction
Finally, there is a short nature trail and boardwalk that leads to an observation tower. We didn’t see too much on our hot mid-afternoon walk except for a lot of big, beautiful spiders. The historic Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse is visible from the path.
On the boardwalk!
Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse
Volusia County’s Marine Science Center is a great destination for nature lovers who want to learn more about area wildlife, especially marine ecology. I am sure we will be back!
While having a look at another part of the park, we noticed a hawk swoop into a tree. Like all of my readers, I’m sure, our natural instinct is to avoid disturbing birds as much as possible while observing them. So at first I didn’t move and watched the bird for a moment through the branches. This was our view.
Now, that wasn’t a bad spot from which to admire a beautiful bird of prey, but then we realized that the hawk had perched itself directly above a large crowd of excited children. The kids were excited to meet a Disney character; we were excited to watch this gorgeous hawk in action! We walked around to have a better view and took a few more photos, and a short video.
The prey looks to be some kind of small lizard, and the favored part seems to have been the head. Here’s a close-up of the meal before the bird really dug in. Yum!
Arthur and I visited Animal Kingdom on Thursday, September 1st, the date highlighted on the Disney Parks Blog as the day the park would be participating in IVAD. We later learned that the celebration would continue through the entire month of September.
We first visited the Rafiki’s Planet Watch part of the park, where we had a look at the educational vulture posters and materials on display. Books about vultures were available for perusing and materials like vulture skulls and feathers were also on display. Cast members played vulture fact games with kids and had a great little presentation to show the strength of vulture stomachs which involved small plastic bones and smoking vulture “acid” stomach juices.
Vulture skulls. The one with the huge nostrils in the foreground is a Turkey Vulture.
Vulture info display at Rafiki’s Planet Watch
Vulture info display at Rafiki’s Planet Watch
Next we got a big thrill when we checked the activity tables for small kids. Among the coloring pages and vulture masks we found a couple of Birdorable Vulture puzzles!!
Birdorable goodies at Rafiki’s Planet Watch before being snatched up by thousands of fans
At the Tree of Life area of the park, another information station was set up by the Lappet-faced Vulture exhibit. This included a model vulture nest and a pair of model life-size vulture wings was available for kids (of all ages) to try on.
Permanent display sign for the Lappet-faced Vulture exhibit area
Vulture info display at the Tree of Life
I’m a vulture!
At the Animal Kingdom Lodge, another information booth with more educational materials and a video display was set up and manned by a naturalist.
Vulture info display at the Animal Kingdom Lodge
Rüppell’s Vultures reside in one of the lodge’s savannas, and there were two sessions of public viewing of vulture feeding and enrichment.
The birds are trained to come feed by a visual cue – the waving of a flag. Now as it was a bit overcast and the wind was picking up, the zoologist interpreter at the viewing mentioned that the birds sometimes won’t feed in high wind or in the rain. I wonder if that’s because they would not normally prefer to fly in such conditions and therefore would not be able to find food to eat. In any case, somehow I ended up with the task of waving the flag. I managed to wave in the birds after some hard work. 😉
Calling in the vultures
We were treated to a family group of three vultures who came out to munch on some raw bones, a special meal for the birds (who usually eat rats or mice).
Om nom nom…
… nom nom nom…
… nom nom nom…
Having commemorated IVAD on our own in the past, this year it was special to have a destination where vultures were being celebrated so enthusiastically. I was impressed with the materials and information being shared with visitors of all ages at several different spots in the park and lodge. I think celebrating vultures at Animal Kingdom might become an annual tradition for Arthur and me. 🙂
cloaca bird blue jay… Seriously? Two visitors arrived here searching for cloaca last month?
shrike with impaled… I just love that someone was searching the interwebs for this! Whenever we have seen shrikes, we’ve searched for impaled prey. So far, no luck. I will squeal like a schoolgirl if I ever see it in life. Check out this great encounter with a juvenile shrike practicing the, uh, practice.
what’s that bird movie in 2011… Can’t wait, that’s what!
what is the bird with red eyes and looks like a toucan… I am very curious what this searcher was seeking. What looks like a toucan but is not a toucan?
happy crowds of biologists pictures… This makes me happy.
While visiting Gemini Springs earlier this week, I stopped to watch an Anhinga preening and drying itself in a tree.
The Anhinga is in the upper right quadrant of this picture, in the highlighted circle
As I watched, I hoped it might decide to hunt so I could observe it in the water. I just love watching snake birds do their thing. But this beauty just keep on preening.
After about ten minutes, the Anhinga started awkwardly hopping downward towards the center of the tree. It seemed to be uncharacteristically clumsy and I wondered if it could be after some prey in the tree, like a frog.
I lost sight of the bird just as it approached the bottom of the tree, which was over the water. It seemed to vanish behind the leaves. Or did it fall into the water? I approached the tree from the grassy shore, but I couldn’t see the bird.
Just as I was considering stepping into the murky water to check on the fate of the Anhinga, I saw it on a lower branch, shaking water off its body.
It was covered in aquatic vegetation, so I think it did get into the water, maybe not on purpose.
Anhingas always seem so graceful to me, so it was surprising to see this apparently clumsy individual. Of course, I don’t know what happened during the time I lost sight of the bird. Maybe it acquired prey and was satisfied with a successful hunt. From my vantage point, though, it looked like a bit of slapstick.
I left the bird to another preening and drying-off session.
This morning, Arthur and I saw what we first thought was an unfortunate roadkill opossum on the road as we drove through our neighborhood. To our shock, we saw the injured animal was still alive, and struggling to cross the road. What to do?
What would you do if you saw a Mute Swan bleeding by the side of busy highway? Who would you call if you saw a Brown Thrasher lying in the middle of a busy city intersection, dazed from a window strike? If a Great Blue Heron was struck by a car in your neighborhood, would you know what to do?
I was involved in these scenarios and more as a volunteer with FCWR. Being familiar with wildlife rehabilitation in the Chicago area, I knew who to call in case of animal emergencies. But I came across plenty of concerned citizens who were frustrated by the time they got in touch with someone who could help them and their distressed animal. Unfortunately, police departments, emergency services and local governments don’t always know the closest rehabilitation centers. If you start calling random government agencies, you might have to play phone tag, while your injured animal is waiting for urgent care.
If you believe that birders are more observant than the average person, you might also believe that birders are more likely to come across situations like the ones listed above. Judging from emails sent to a few state listservs I’ve followed in the past, birders might be in a better position to find and help injured wildlife, but they don’t always know what to do or who to call. So prepare yourself, and write down some numbers or add them to your phone. Think of all your non-birder friends out there too… who are they going to call when they find an injured bird? It might just be you – so you better be ready. The time you save by being prepared may mean life instead of death for an injured animal.
Now that we’ve moved to a new area, one of the first things I did was look up local wildlife rehabbers and note which species or families they help. I’ve added their contact information to my phone and to Arthur’s phone. I’ve made note of the addresses, too, since cellphone reception isn’t the same everywhere. In our case we’ve noted several that are close to the places we’ll frequently visit. We’ve entered them with the “last name” Wildlife, so we don’t have to remember individual center names and they are all easy to find together in our contacts.
Besides noting contact info for local rehabbers, I spent a few moments looking over the websites of my local groups. Rehab centers are almost always underfunded, and understaffed, relying on the hard work of dedicated volunteers. Becoming familiar with how different local groups work may help me and potential wildlife rescues in the future.
And it helped us help the opossum this morning. We turned the car around and Arthur got on the phone with our closest mammal rehabilitation center and prepared the cardboard animal carrier we keep in the car. I put on a pair of gloves and grabbed a blanket to gather up the injured opossum and transfer it to the carrier. (Besides noting the phone numbers, we take the extra step of keeping a few pieces of equipment in the back of our minivan to recover injured birds or animals.)
Here are some wildlife rehabilitation directory sources. They might not have the most updated information on every listing, so it’s a good idea to be sure the organizations you find are still in operation. Often a simple Google search will give you an idea of the rehabber’s status.
In the United States, unless its a holiday weekend, feature movies are traditionally released on Friday. Movies often have their best weekend during the first week of release, and a lot depends on the competition they face during that first weekend. So as birders anxiously await the release of The Big Year on Friday, October 14th, let’s see what else is coming to theaters on the same weekend.
Trespass is a thriller starring Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman, and directed by Joel Schumacher. Like The Big Year, Trespass so far doesn’t seem to have an official site or any trailers in circulation. Will audiences go for a big-name thriller over big-name birding comedy?
Footloose is a remake of the 1984 hit musical of the same name. Footloose already has an official site and has several trailers in circulation. I suppose this movie has a very different target audience from The Big Year.
The Thing is not a remake but rather a prequel to another 1980’s hit (John Carpenter’s film of the same name). The horror flick already has an official site and trailers to view.
The independent horror Killer Holiday is also slated for October 14th. I would guess this might have limited release, but I’m not sure. This movie has no official site but an official Facebook page instead.
Finally, the Spanish drama The Skin I Live In will open in New York and Los Angeles on October 14. This Sony Classics title was directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Interestingly, artwork for the movie includes Audubon’s iconic American Flamingo painting, which can be seen on the official site.
“Flights of Wonder” is a live show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom that uses free-flighted birds from all over the world. Arthur and I attended a performance on a recent visit to the zoo / theme park.
While waiting in line outside the outdoor theater, a cast member came out to talk with the crowd along with an avian ambassador, a Great Horned Owl. I spent an inordinate amount of time looking at the handler’s rather thin glove and one of the owl’s talons resting precariously on the cuff of said glove. Eek.
Great Horned Owl with small-gloved handler
The show takes place in the Asia-themed part of the park, and the stage was made to look like an Indian ruin.
Flights of Wonder stage set
The performance began with birds like macaws, hornbills, toucans and others flying across or walking on the stage to a short narration about birds of the world. The birds flew from the sides of the stage and from holes in the stage itself. This first part starred birds alone; it was a few minutes before the human host came out.
A free-flighted Grey Crowned Crane wowed the crowd
Throughout the rest of the program, different bird species were introduced, and we got to see more amazing free-flying (or free-running) birds, as well as some (somewhat) natural behaviors. For example, a Seriema came out and smashed a plastic figure on the ground several times. In the wild, these birds will beat prey like lizards on rocks before consuming them.
A couple of audience participation bits were cute but an added cast member for comedic relief really fell flat with me; the beautiful birds were enough “entertainment” for me. The audience seemed to like it, so if they get the show’s message of conservation, it’s all fine with me.
Free-flighted Scarlet Macaws and handler with Spectacled Owl
The final bird of the show was a Bald Eagle (who stayed on the glove). Handlers also came out with a Bateleur and a Spectacled Owl, who remained on stage for the audience to have a closer look.
Handler with Bateleur (a species of eagle)
“Flights of Wonder” is a sleek show with a great variety of beautiful birds and a clear message of conservation. If you don’t mind some cheesy entertainment with your birds, you’ll probably enjoy this show, as I did.