Category Archives: Festivals & Events

FWRA 2015 Symposium

At the end of September I attended the Florida Wildlife Rehabilitators Association annual symposium in Haines City. I was fortunate enough to be granted a partial scholarship and I was happy to be able to attend the full three days of the event.

The days were packed with lectures and lessons about rehabilitating all kinds of creatures, with a focus on Florida natives. A group of veterinarians from Canada came to speak as well, so attendees got to hear about some of their special patients as well.

One of the programs I attended was about invasive species, where a few animals were brought for show and tell. The proper capture and handling of Burmese Pythons was presented, with some fun photo opportunities afterwards.

Young Tegu lizard. These invasives are a big problem in Miami-Dade, Collier, and Hillsborough counties.

Burmese Python
Burmese Python bite

Burmese Python
Holding a Burmese Python

Before the conference, I was a bit concerned that much of the symposium would be over my head, but that wasn’t really the case. The organizers did a great job of presenting different topics that would interest all kinds of skill and experience levels in wildlife rehab.

Besides the formal presentations, I really enjoyed getting to know other attendees who work in rehabilitation across the state and beyond. Meal times, plus evening activities like workshops and crafts, left attendees plenty of time to mingle while having creative fun. I made a hawk t-shirt with bleach. The perch-making workshop was very popular. Being such a newbie when it comes to rehab means that I was able to learn a lot from my fellow symposium participants as well.

perch-making workshop
Perch workshop: make and take

During the symposium I also managed to finally see my most-wanted Florida species in the wild — a Coral Snake! During the before-dinner break on Thursday night I was walking back to my room to freshen up. There were always people walking around the grounds, except for when I stumbled up on this beautiful snake. There was NO ONE to share it with! I was smiling like a total goofball, taking photo after photo of the snake (and maybe talking to it too, maybe). Coral Snakes are one of our venomous species, known to be docile and own-business-minders. So awesome!

Coral Snake
Lifer Coral Snake!!

Share the birds, share the love!
Posted in Festivals & Events, Florida, Rehabilitation | Leave a comment

IMBD at Animal Kingdom

IMBD at Animal Kingdom

On May 6th, Walt Disney World will celebrate International Migratory Bird Day at Animal Kingdom. When Arthur and I have attended in the past, we enjoyed seeing the special birdcentric displays and activities to mark the day.

If the schedule followed for the last few years remains the same, you can go to see an Operation Migration ultra-light airplane at Conservation Station, learn about bird banding by “playing bird”, find out what you can do to help Purple Martins and other native birds, and much more.

Last year there were a couple of displays at Conservation Station that I thought were pretty clever; I hope they bring them back again this year.

A model of a mountain ridge was set up to show how raptors migrate over higher elevations using thermals. There was even a little fan blowing on the display to show how the mountains impact wind direction and speed.

Raptor Migration

Raptor Migration display

There was a table set up where children could dissect owl pellets. But for anyone who didn’t want to get so up close and personal with owl barf, they had a plush owl pellet, complete with models of bones inside! This seems like a fun way to explain what owl pellets are without necessarily dissecting one.

owl pellets

owl pellet

Share the birds, share the love!
Posted in Disney, Festivals & Events, Migration | Leave a comment

January Florida pelagic fun

I had a lot of fun on last week’s pelagic trip, the final event of the annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. I managed to track where we went just fine, but I missed a couple of great birds. Oops!

Going under the causeway

Shortly after we left the inlet, the boat slowed down and we heard over the loudspeaker that there was a possible Razorbill being seen at 3 o’clock (the opposite side of the boat from where I stood). I stumbled over, but the bird never resurfaced and we moved on. I had missed the bird but at least I heard and understood the announcement.

For the rest of the trip I swear I couldn’t understand anything coming out of the loudspeaker! Sometimes other birders would call out so the rest of us could get on a bird. At one point I honestly think I heard it announced that there was an “Audubon’s Bridled Phalarope at 3 o’clock.” WTH!?

shrimp boat
Shrimp boat with no gull groupies

I missed seeing a Brown Booby that was spotted from the opposite side of the boat. I ran over but the bird was gone by the time I got word. And during a comfort break I missed seeing a Bridled Tern perched on a buoy which was apparently giving crippling views. I had seen a distant but clear Bridled Tern earlier in the trip so this miss didn’t sting too bad — even though it was a lifer. The Booby would’ve been, too. Bummer. But really, I have to save some good looks and lifers for the next pelagic, don’t I?

preparing the chum
Chopping up fish for chum

Mates prepared chunks of fish to use for chum (pelagic standard operating procedure). For most of the trip, a disgusting slop was tossed out behind the boat to attract birds.


backlit gulls
Gulls attracted to the chum

Laughing, Ring-billed, Herring, and both Black-backed Gulls followed us several miles out.

Ring-billed Gull
Ring-billed Gull

Herring Gull
Herring Gull

Great Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull

Northern Gannets joined them, and we had the opportunity to study these large seabirds in their various plumages. The previous link goes to a slideshow of fabulous gannet photos taken by Laura Erickson, who was also on the pelagic trip. I was glad to have the pleasure to visit with Laura, albeit very briefly, before we reached port at the end of the day.

Royal Tern
Royal Tern

We were also treated to nice views of Royal Terns as they soared behind and beside the boat.

When we were at about 40 miles out, but on our way back in, we slowed to release a very young Loggerhead Sea Turtle. The turtle had been in the care of the Marine Science Center for the past several weeks and Arthur had the chance to look after it during some of his volunteer shifts. The youngster was released among some clusters of sea grass.

baby Loggerhead Sea Turtle
baby Loggerhead Sea Turtle

The rest of the trip back in was rather uneventful, bird-wise. People got to chatting and I moved around the boat, talking with some of the nicest birders I’ve ever met. Bruce Anderson brought out a small collection of study skins and gave an impromptu lecture on the identification of birds like kittiwakes, phalaropes, and the like. He even had a specimen of a young Razorbill, a casualty from the recent Florida invasion.

pretty sky
pretty sky

Ponce Inlet Lighthouse
Ponce Inlet Lighthouse

All in all, it was a fun day out on the water. I got sunburned (will I ever learn?). I got one lifer. I got a bunch of new county birds (number one on eBird, baby!). I got to talk to some of the best of the best in Florida birding. Oh, and I got to meet and bird with Greg Miller. Yes, the Greg Miller.

THE Greg Miller & me
THE Greg Miller & me

Yes, it was a great pelagic trip that will be hard to beat! Until next time! Haha!

Share the birds, share the love!
Posted in Festivals & Events, Pelagic | 2 Comments

Tracking a pelagic journey

Last Monday I joined the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival pelagic trip out of Ponce Inlet. This was my second trip on the Pastime Princess, following my first pelagic back in September 2011.

I wanted to try to track the trip on a map, so I looked into how to use the GPS on my iPhone without having network connection. I learned that if the area to be visited is cached in the iPhone’s native Maps app, the GPS will be able to find the present location on the map. (I am still on IOS 5.1.1 so I was using the iPhone Maps app powered by Google maps.) The day before the pelagic, I spent a few minutes zooming in and out of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Volusia and Brevard counties on my iPhone to get as much information into the cache as possible.

There are applications that can use cached maps in coordination with GPS to make a line that tracks a journey, but I figured this might be a battery drain. So instead, I planned to drop pins on the map as we went. However, I learned just a bit too late (on the boat, at sea!!) that the app won’t hold more than one pin. I could have saved locations as bookmarks, but that seemed cumbersome.

So, plan B. I checked our location every hour or so using the Maps app. It takes a few moments for the phone to fix a location using just GPS, so I had to be patient. Once I knew that our location was found, I went to the native Compass app and took a screenshot. At the end of the day I had a list of coordinates that I plugged into a Google map when I got home.


This map shows how we went. We actually started at Ponce Inlet which is by point N, but I didn’t start taking coordinates until we turned out to sea. For the first part of the trip we hugged the coast (so from N to A).

View Larger Map

This may be a very roundabout way of tracking the trip, but it worked great and I was pleased to see for myself how we went. Trip leaders often give out a very general idea of how the boat will travel, or the final mileage and approximate distance from the shore, but I think it’s neat to see more precisely how we traveled. The total journey from port to port was about 123 miles; at our furthest point we were about 48 miles offshore. And of course I was most pleased to see that we did not travel into Brevard waters, as was first indicated! 😀

Share the birds, share the love!
Posted in Festivals & Events, Pelagic, Space Coast Fest | 1 Comment

Celebrating Vultures: IVAD 2012

IVAD 2012

Back in September Arthur and I visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom to celebrate International Vulture Awareness Day (IVAD), as we had last year. This year, most of the activities were found at the Rafiki’s Planet Watch area of the park.

There were displays about vultures, including information about vulture restaurants. In addition, the long-standing mystery of the Jungle Book vulture species identification was finally solved.

IVAD 2012

IVAD 2012

Jungle Book Vultures

At Rafiki’s Planet Watch there is a special medical exam room which allows for public viewing. Appropriately, the veterinary procedure scheduled for that morning was a routine exam on one of the park’s Rüppell’s Griffon Vultures.

Rüppell’s Griffon Vulture

Rüppell’s Griffon Vulture

A small outdoor stage hosted a short program with an education Black Vulture named Beaker.

IVAD 2012

Vultures can normally be found elsewhere in the park, too. Over at the Flights of Wonder show, we watched Audrey, a young Andean Condor, fly over the audience. Here she receives a treat from a handler. Sometimes a young King Vulture named Elvis makes an appearance.

Andean Condor

And then there are always wild vultures, soaring over the park on any given warm, sunny day.

Kettle of Black Vultures

That’s how we celebrated IVAD this year, but I should confess — I celebrate vultures as often as I can. Yesterday I celebrated by handling a Turkey Vulture patient at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey for the first time!

Thank you to my fellow volunteer Robert for taking this photo!

IVAD 2012

Share the birds, share the love!
Posted in ACBOP, Disney, Festivals & Events, Zoo | Leave a comment

Red-cockaded Woodpecker relocation & monitoring

After observing the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers during the early portion of last week’s field trip (see post Looking for Red-cockaded Woodpeckers in Ocala NF), we returned to an abandoned cluster of woodpecker cavities to learn more about how biologists study Red-cockaded Woodpeckers and how they establish new, active clusters.

Monica Folk, our field trip co-leader, is a biologist specializing in endangered species. She worked to reintroduce Red-cockaded Woodpeckers (RCWOs) in the Disney Wilderness Preserve, which now has a sustainable population.

The heart of establishing a new, successful cluster of RCWOs is the artificial nest cavities. Since it takes a male woodpecker up to 4 years to complete one cavity, biologists give the birds a head start by installing pre-made cavities into living pine trees. The cavities are made of solid cedar wood. A woodpecker-sized hole is drilled downward into the wood and then a panel is placed on top to close the box.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker nest box
Cedar nest box with PVC around the opening and wire reinforcement on the front

The hole is cut out of the front and then fitted with a piece of PVC pipe to prevent other woodpeckers (Red-bellieds and Pileateds, primarily) from taking over the box. If this happens, the box is “blown out” and will no longer be used by the RCWOs. Wire mesh is also added to the front of the box to prevent predation and damage by other woodpeckers.

Old RCWO nest box damaged by other woodpeckers

Chainsaws and crowbars are used to carefully cut out the hole in the living tree. The outside of the box is covered with adhesive and then the box is pounded into the tree. To make the cavity more attractive, hammer holes are pounded around the cavity opening to release resin. Once a bit of sawdust is added to the box, it’s ready to house a RCWO.

resin holes
Using the back of a hammer to make holes around the artificial nest cavity

Damaged cavities can be replaced, and cavities used by other species (Eastern Bluebirds and Carolina Chickadees are two species that may use abandoned RCWO cavities) can be cleaned up to make them attractive to the woodpeckers once more. During the demonstration, Monica used a shop vac to clear out bluebird nesting material from an otherwise fine nest box.

Once the requisite number of cavities are set up within a cluster area (10 acres or so, depending on habitat), and the required and desired number of clusters are set up within a reintroduction area, site biologists may receive juvenile birds from established breeding sites. Retrieving birds is a very involved process which requires a lot of prior research and contingencies for a myriad of possible scenarios come “kidnapping” day.

net for capturing Red-cockaded Woodpeckers
A long net is telescoped up to the opening of a RCWO cavity

Birds are captured using long, telescoping nets. The net is placed over an active roosting cavity once the bird is inside for the evening; the tree is disturbed (tapped or shaken) to get the bird to fly out again, this time into the net. The RCWO flies out and eventually lands at the end of the long net. It is then safely removed from the net and then placed into a special box.

RCWO transport box. Notice rainbow-colored “sleeve” which helps prevent escape

The box has a cloth “sleeve” attached around the top. The sleeve allows biologists to open the wooden box and reach in to remove or replace the RCWO without the bird escaping. During the relocation process, the birds are captured at or after sundown, and sleep the night in the box. The next day, starting at sunrise, the birds are hand fed (!!) 3 prey items (ie crickets) every 45 minutes (!!), until sunset. It’s odd that these wild birds will readily accept food in the hand, but their natural biology has them eating nearly constantly every waking moment, so their hunger must override any fear they might have of humans.

Shortly after sunset, the birds are relocated to their new habitat. One young female and one young male are placed into a new cluster. Each bird is put into a cavity, where it sleeps for the night. A screen cover is placed in front of the opening to ensure the RCWO remains inside its cavity until the next morning. The cover is removed remotely from below with a string attached to the screen. RCWOs typically vocalize at waking, and keep in contact with their cluster-mates throughout the day. With this habit, the new birds are able to find each other at first light and hopefully begin foraging and/or exploring the new territory together.

peeper scope
Monica holds a “peeper scope” in retracted position

The woodpeckers are monitored during the breeding season. In the past, biologists had to climb ladders as tall as 40 feet in order to look inside nest cavities. Nest monitoring takes place every 7 days and a biologist may have several clusters to check – that’s a lot of climbing! Today biologists may utilize a “peeper scope” — a camera set up on a long telescoping pole with a monitor or viewfinder at the bottom. The scope is raised up to the level of the nest and gently poked inside.

peeper scope in nest hole
Peeper scope peeping inside a nest cavity

RCWOs may lay up to four eggs. Incubation begins after the second egg is laid; the eggs hatch after just 11 days of incubation. The nest is usually in the male’s cavity. The female will incubate during daylight, where she is fed by the male throughout the day. The male incubates at night (which makes sense — the eggs are in his cavity, after all!).

peeping at a peeper scope monitor
No eggs, just nesting material from an old bluebird nest

Biologists check the nest cavities for eggs. Depending on the number of eggs found, they can calculate when hatching may occur. This is important to know, since the chicks develop quickly. Eleven days after hatching, the chicks are still featherless, but their legs have already grown to their full size. This is when the chicks are banded.

The procedure for retrieving the chicks for banding seems a bit tricky. The nest cavities are permanently installed in the tree; there is no hand-sized opening. Biologists climb up on a ladder and use a small, delicate plastic “noose” to gently pull the chicks, unseen, out of the nest. A simple mirror on a stick is used to check that all hatchlings have been removed from the nest. The chicks are carried down to the ground, banded and measured, and then gently returned back to the nest.

Monica shows the small plastic noose used to extract the chicks

RCWOs at the Ocala NF sites we visited are fitted with five bands each. Three color bands are on one leg, while the other holds the metal federal band and one color band. This means the birds can be monitored without further capture and RCWOs that branch out to new territories can be identified and followed.

It was fascinating to learn about Red-cockaded Woodpecker biology and monitoring. Life bird + learning cool biologist stuff = big win!

NOTE: I’ve composed this post from information that Monica shared with us during the field trip; hopefully I’ve gotten the facts straight but obviously any factual errors here are strictly my own.

Share the birds, share the love!
Posted in Banding, Endangered, Festivals & Events, Florida | 2 Comments

Looking for Red-cockaded Woodpeckers in Ocala NF

On Friday, September 28, Arthur and I attended a field trip at the Clearwater Recreation Area of Ocala National Forest. The trip, part of the inaugural Wings & Wildflowers Festival, was to look for Red-cockaded Woodpeckers and learn about how biologists study and conserve this endangered species.

Ocala NF trail
A part of The Florida Trail that crosses into Ocala National Forest

We began our walk out to a Red-cockaded Woodpecker (RCWO) “cluster” just after sunrise. Along the way, trip co-leader Monica Folk told our group about RCWO ecology, family groups, and nesting behavior.

RCWOs are somewhat unique in that they are cooperative nesters. Just about 8% of bird species are known to be. Cooperative nesting means that offspring from previous nesting seasons may stay close to their parents and help raise subsequent broods. Young females are usually the first to branch out from the extended family, much like Florida Scrub-Jays (also cooperative nesters, also endangered).

RCWOs are also unique in that they are the only species of woodpecker to make their cavities in living pine trees. The birds roost in individual cavities at night, so a family group consisting of 4 birds should normally have at least four cavities within its territory (the cluster). The males excavate the cavities and it takes up to four years to complete one cavity. Active cavity trees can be identified by small holes bored around the cavity entrance. RCWOs create these little wells which cause the tree to exude resin; the resin helps protect the cavity from predatory rat snakes.

Shiny resin

RCWOs have a lot of other specific habitat requirements in order to successfully nest. The type of vegetation found in the ground cover, wildfires and forest rejuvenation, and even tree fungus (!) are just a few things that come into play.

Red-cockaded Woodpeckers like to nest in the same kind of trees humans cut for timber on a mass scale in the last 150+ years. Habitat loss has resulted in the RCWO population currently estimated to be 12,500 individuals, which is about 1% of its original population.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker habitat
Looking for RCWOs in suitable habitat

Biologists are helping RCWOs by preserving suitable habitat and identifying potential future habitat, and by introducing birds into areas fitted with artificial nest cavities (more about those in an upcoming post). Our walk brought us to an area fitted with a few artificial cavities where a lone male was known to live. The male was associating with a female who was thought to roost elsewhere (a commuter!). So when we came upon at least three individuals actively feeding at the cluster, it came as somewhat of a surprise. One of the birds was clearly exhibiting the begging behavior of a juvenile, indicating nesting success at the site.

The sun was behind the birds as we watched them, but I managed to take a few record shots. Our binocular views were much better; we were able to drink in this new life bird.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

The below video isn’t in focus but you can see two RCWOs scooting upwards, with debris from a third bird falling below. They move around the trees, tearing off pieces of bark to find insects below. We were watching them have breakfast. Listen to their cute squeaky toy call, too.

In my next post I’ll share some of what we learned about how biologists establish new clusters and monitor the birds. Hint: some of it involves really tall ladders!

Artificial RCWO cavity

Share the birds, share the love!
Posted in Endangered, Festivals & Events, Florida | Leave a comment

Teacher vultures

I recently started learning to handle birds at my new volunteer gig at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey. It’s very interesting to me how the equipment and procedures are a bit different than what I learned at Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation. I have started working with the handsome American Kestrel Newton, who I got to handle on the glove for a couple of hours at a program two weeks ago. Oh, it was such a joy for me to hold this precious little avian ambassador and talk with visitors during the event.

Since today is International Vulture Awareness Day, I’ve been thinking about vultures on the glove. None of the vultures at ACBOP are glove trained, but that may be for the best in my case, since I don’t have the best track record with vultures. The first time I tried to handle Junior the Turkey Vulture I ended up with a little scar on my hand. Don’t get me wrong, I love vultures, just love ’em, but after ACBOP’s Uff-da went after my ankle, I think the feeling is not quite mutual.

Anyway, vultures are part of raptor education programs and are glove trained at centers all over the world. Here are some cool photos I found on Flickr of vultures on the glove, in flight programs, or educating the public in zoos. Thanks to the photographers for sharing their photos with a Creative Commons license.

Eurasian Griffon on the glove | Vulture by Maurice Koop

Turkey Vulture
Turkey Vulture on the glove | Turkey Vulture by Michael @ NW Lens

White-backed Vulture flight program | 2008-07-06-13h26m55.IMG_2116le by A.J. Haverkamp

American Black Vulture on the glove | Vulture by RichardGlenSailors

Andean Condor being fed
Hand feeding an Andean Condor | Andean Condor being fed by San Diego Shooter

Vera takes off
Lappet-faced Vulture flight program | Vera takes off by *Pete

Palm-nut Vulture in jesses | Sailing by patries71

Rodney - Hooded vulture
Hooded Vulture flying to glove | Rodney – Hooded vulture by piX1966

Cape Griffon Vulture in your face | Ybgvt_1b by gvgoebel

Jack Hanna ~ rare Egyptian Vulture
Egyptian Vulture with celebrity zookeeper | Jack Hanna ~ rare Egyptian Vulture by something.from.nancy

Rüppell's Vulture
Rüppell’s Vultures at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge | Rüppell’s Vulture by Powered By Birds

David with the White Headed Vulture
White-headed Vulture on the glove | David with the White Headed Vulture by Richard Towell

Felix the Vulture
Cinereous Vulture on falconry perch | Felix the Vulture by RCanine

Greater Yellow-headed Vulture on the glove | 2008-03-15-13h14m52.IMG_3562e by A.J. Haverkamp

King Vulture on the glove | IMG_8945e by A.J. Haverkamp

California Condor portrait
California Condor at the zoo | California Condor portrait by San Diego Shooter

cincinnati zoo vulture feeding
American Black Vulture goofing off | cincinnati zoo vulture feeding by Paul J Everett

Share the birds, share the love!
Posted in ACBOP, FCWR, Festivals & Events, Rehabilitation, Zoo | Leave a comment

Social and curious sun-lovers

Black Vulture

Well, hello there! Long time no blog. We lost our beloved cat Arby on Monday after about eight weeks of slowly deteriorating health. It’s been a tough summer. I’m so ready for fall! Bring on September — which happens to start off with International Vulture Awareness Day on the 1st.

I find vultures endearing for several reasons. These pictures of Black Vultures, taken at Hontoon Island State Park back in June, show three of those reasons.

They are social.

Black Vultures

They are curious.

Black Vultures

They love the sun.

Black Vultures

How are you celebrating IVAD this year? Arthur and I will visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom (the park celebrates on the 5th), as we did last year. If you can’t get enough of vultures, you’ll probably like what we’ve done over at Birdorable – check out the new Birdorable vulture landing page.

Share the birds, share the love!
Posted in Behavior, Birdorable, Festivals & Events | 1 Comment

Saturday: Back to School @ Audubon

A fun program is coming up this weekend at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland. The Back to School Bash is happening this Saturday, August 18th.

Besides activities like Bird Olympics and Conservation Station, there will be a Meet & Greet area where, if all goes to plan, I will be introducing this gorgeous fellow to kids of all ages.

Newton, ACBOP’s education male American Kestrel

This event is free, so come on out to Maitland this Saturday from 10am to 12pm and learn about Florida’s magnificent birds!

The Audubon Center for Birds of Prey, located in Maitland, Florida, treats up to 700 birds of prey each year. You can follow them on Facebook here. This post reflects my own experiences as a volunteer; any errors regarding the Center and their patients or permanent residents are purely my own. Further, any opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ACBOP.

Share the birds, share the love!
Posted in ACBOP, Festivals & Events | Leave a comment