Category Archives: Museum

Crane Point Museum and Nature Center

Crane Point
Panoramic view from Crane Point

During the weekend of December 7, Arthur attended a sea turtle rehabilitation conference in Marathon. Lucky me, I got to tag along and amuse myself for a day and a half in the Middle Keys. On Saturday, I spent nearly the entire day at beautiful and historic Crane Point, a rare wild space.

A trail at Crane Point

The first settler on the current Crane Point property was George Adderley, who came to the Keys from his home in the Bahamas in 1902. He built a traditional Bahamian stone home where he lived with his wife, Olivia, and their adopted daughter. Adderley made his living by sponging and making charcoal from wood. Adderley’s restored home still sits on the property, in the area where a small settlement known as Adderley village once stood.

Adderly House
Restored interior of George Adderley House

The Adderleys lived on their property until 1949, when they sold the mostly untouched land to Francis and Mary Crane, a wealthy couple from Massachusetts. The Cranes built a modern Art Deco-style home on the property, and added a few exotic trees and shrubs. For the most part, though, they left the hardwood hammock and other native habitats untouched. The Cranes lived on the property they renamed Crane Point until 1979.

Crane House
The Art Deco style Crane House

Today the 63-acre property is owned and managed by the Florida Keys Land and Sea Trust. Along with Adderley’s home, the site is also host to a history and nature museum, the Marathon Wild Bird Center (a bird hospital), the original Crane house, a replica Florida Cracker home which holds a collection of natural artifacts, and more. There are interpretive nature trails leading from the museum and gift shop to the end of the property as it reaches into Florida Bay. Visitors can explore the trails and attractions at their own pace. It’s a good idea to start any visit with a viewing of a short documentary on the history of Crane Point.

Cracker House
Natural artifacts in the Florida Cracker house

This Way
Follow the pelican to the Marathon Wild Bird Center

Oliver is a permanent resident at the Center

This Green Heron is also a permanent resident at the Center


I really enjoyed my visit to Crane Point. While not particularly birdy, I had a good time walking along the trails and reading the interpretive signs about the unique trees and plants found there. From the Point I saw a small Nurse Shark swimming in the shallow water. As I scrambled up the rocks to get a better look at the shark, I was extremely surprised to see an octopus working along the rocky edge of the island. I sat on the rocks for a good half hour waiting for the octopus to emerge; they have such amazing camouflage and are so clever I realized the creature may have slinked past my view out in the open and I may have missed it!

Wyland Mural
Detail of a Wyland mural on the Crane Point museum building

Boardwalk trail

I wasn’t done exploring by the time noon came around. I left to have a quick lunch at a nearby deli and returned in the afternoon to have a proper look at the museum and to walk the trails again. I saw even fewer birds than I had in the morning. I did get to see a pair of young raccoons slinking along the mangroves and further down the trail an agitated squirrel conveniently pointed out a corn snake slithering around a mangrove tree at about eye level. I spent more time at the Point, sitting at a picnic table in the Crane House gardens. There I had my best looks ever (but no photos) of a Magnificent Frigatebird, an adult with a bright red throat patch. It had a fish in its beak and was being chased by a couple of gulls. As I relaxed in the garden, Green Iguanas roamed around the Crane House grounds. I had a chance to photograph them as they sunned.

corn snake
No friend to the squirrels

Immature Magnificent Frigatebird

Green Iguana

Crane Point is a wonderful piece of wild Florida in the Middle Keys and well worth a visit. I’m sure I’ll be back again!

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New Life for the Everglades Wonder Gardens

The Everglades Wonder Gardens in Bonita Springs is an old Florida roadside attraction. The Gardens opened in the 1930’s and operated as a botanical garden, zoo with both exotic and native wildlife, and animal rehabilitation center until April 2013.

Everglades Wonder Gardens
Charming hand-painted signs are found outside and inside the park

The park closed briefly this spring, but a new lease was arranged by a local wildlife photographer, John Brady, who aims to save and modernize the attraction.

Everglades Wonder Gardens entrance

While in transition, the park re-opened on June 15th. Arthur and I paid a visit on June 24th. Many of the park’s larger resident animals had already been moved to bigger accommodations at other Florida parks. During our visit we noticed that animal enclosures were being opened up or transformed into new exhibits. Some permanently injured birds and both native and exotic turtles and tortoises remain from the old days, along with a flock of flamingos. New animals were also moving in; a small flock of fancy domestic chickens had arrived the day prior to our visit. The park grounds hold onto a lot of old charms while the updates improve life for the resident animals and transform the park into a more modern attraction..

pythons to orchids
An enclosure formerly used for Burmese Pythons will house orchids

fancy chickens
Fancies getting used to new digs

Arthur exploring

resident birds
Non-releasable native birds have a permanent home at the Gardens

Empty enclosures

Flamingos have been a fixture at the park since it first opened

12-year-old Double Yellow-headed Amazon Murphy
Murphy, a 12-year-old Double Yellow-headed Amazon

small gators
Small gators in the gator pool

gator closeup
Gator detail; photo by Arthur de Wolf

butterfly garden in progress
Butterfly garden in progress

The small gift shop and museum were in transition, too. A portion of the exhibit space displays Brady’s beautiful Florida nature photos, while old kitschy specimens and other educational displays remain.

Photo gallery

Gallery and shop

gator crash
Gator crash!

Museum space

Reptilian skulls

Specimen jars

Taxidermy above the main entrance

An old map of the grounds revealed the large number of animals on display in the past. Older exhibits and resident animals included wild boar, black jaguar, rattlesnakes, a Bald Eagle, an otter pool, Black and King Vultures, a deer yard, and more.

Everglades Wonder Gardens
Old hand-drawn map of the park (above is several digital images roughly stitched together; click to see bigger @ Flickr)

A grand opening is planned for this fall. Read more about the Everglades Wonder Gardens at Visual Ephemera. Watch for news and learn more on the Everglades Wonder Gardens website and Facebook page.

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The Field Museum’s newly refurbished Hall of Birds

The Field Museum’s fabulous Gidwitz Hall of Birds reopened after a long refurbishment back in September. I visited in October with my family. This was just about three years after our previous visit, and the exhibit looked fantastic.

seabirds with wall projection behind

birds & projection


Paradise Tanager
Paradise Tanager

world raptors
vultures, kites and falcons of the world


The birds were all cleaned up, and the exhibit was modernized with interesting wall projections, interactive screens, and a great short video about birdwatching, featuring local birders and some birding celebrities.


American eagles
Golden Eagle & Bald Eagle

world birds
waders and Andean Condor

owls; notice Snowy Owl skeleton at bottom center

Bird of Paradise
Birds of Paradise displaying

wall projection

new touch screen
new touch screen

video screen shot

A Passion For Birds video from The Field Museum

The birds all looked great, but it’s always more interesting to see them in a natural kind of pose or surrounded by the type of environment you’d expect to find them.

Chimney Swift nest
Chimney Swift nest

Horned Lark at nest
Horned Lark at nest

Piping Plover nest
Piping Plover nest

rest & reflect
benches at the end of the exhibit

The Field is a spectacular museum with a lot of interesting exhibits, but we usually linger in the bird hall the longest. It’s always great to see Sue, too.


Yep, everything about the Field is outstanding!

no comment!

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Key West’s Audubon House

Audubon House, Key West
Audubon’s Brown Pelican detail

The Audubon House in Key West is a bit of an odd attraction. The home was built in the late 1840s by Captain John Geiger, a pilot who became rich by salvaging vessels that wrecked along the Florida Keys. The home was saved from demolition in the late 1950s and eventually became a public museum, dedicated to commemorate John James Audubon’s visit to Key West. That visit took place in 1832, when the artist apparently met with Geiger and other Key West notables. He could not have visited the house, but he may have been on the grounds.

Audubon House, Key West
Audubon House exterior from the garden

It’s a lovely home, restored to how it may have been during its prime in the mid 1800s. The rooms are furnished with period furniture and Audubon prints. The link to John James Audubon may be a bit tenuous, but we did enjoy our visit back in September. It’s always nice to see original Audubon prints, anyway.

Audubon House, Key West
Dining area, ground floor

Audubon House, Key West
Arthur looks at prints

Audubon House, Key West
VIP first guest

Audubon House, Key West
Upstairs bathroom

Audubon House, Key West
More prints

Audubon House, Key West
Audubon’s American Coot

We had a brief guided tour of the first floor of the house, with a self-guided tour of the upstairs gallery rooms and of the lovely gardens.

Audubon House, Key West
Audubon’s Florida Keys birds are on display on the third floor

Audubon House, Key West

Audubon House, Key West

If you are planning to visit the Audubon House, be sure to print out this coupon to save $1 on your admission. Hours and prices can be found at the link, too.

Audubon House, Key West
John James Audubon and blogger reflection

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It’s Not Rocket Science

Last week Arthur and I visited the Nature and Technology exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSCVC). We hadn’t been inside the exhibit space for quite a while; access to it had been restricted during construction projects related to the new Atlantis exhibition building. Nature and Technology is across from the Rocket Garden; notice the reflections in photo below.

Nature and Technology

The first part of the exhibit is devoted to early human interactions with the area now known as the Space Coast. Native American history, pioneer life, citrus farming techniques, and other topics are covered via posters and artifact displays.


The historical exhibits weren’t familiar to us from previous visits, and we later learned that it and the rest of the Nature and Technology exhibit had recently been updated. For the nature portion, a short boardwalk runs through several of the different habitat types found on Merritt Island. Each habitat is accompanied by informational signs, materials to mock up the particular habitat, and stuffed animal specimens.

nature walk

While the mock nature walk is fairly standard on first glance, we noticed some unfortunate errors and inconsistencies on the new signage. The first one we noticed was a three-time loser.

Lagoon poster

no, and no

Northern Pintails

MOTTLED DUCKS are not BLUE-WINGED TEAL (photo) are not NORTHERN PINTAILS (specimens). The specimens and photo are all quite lovely; shame they are not marked correctly! The specimen marked (3) is a GREAT BLUE HERON, so just the photo, which depicts a TRICOLORED HERON, is in error there.

The next thing that jumped out at us was a sign which read, well, see for yourself:

Gull ID help

Maybe I am being extra nitpicky by letting this bug me on two levels: 1) there’s no such thing as a Sea Gull and 2) why are they going generic on the signs, suddenly? My first guess is that this is a Lesser Black-backed Gull (yellow legs) but I suck at gulls so that guess isn’t worth much… Help from the Flickr Bird Identification Help Group suggests this is a Great Black-backed. Anyway, here is the accompanying specimen:

Gull ID help

Pink legs, pink beak with black tip — first winter Ring-billed Gull? (Thank you to Flickr user Fool-On-The-Hill for ID assistance)

The non-specifics continued down the nature walk.

Flatwoods poster

At least the accompanying specimens matched the pictures. A RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER and a RED-SHOULDERED HAWK are perched beside their corresponding numbers.

I think it is absolutely wonderful that the KSCVC has such an exhibit devoted to the amazing wildlife found on the property at Merritt Island. I always enjoy the video they play on the bus tours that highlight the refuge, and I especially love how excited everyone is when the driver pauses the video to point out the ginormous actual Bald Eagle nest that can be seen from the bus during the drive back to the bus depot. In the exhibit, the specimens and habitat displays look great. It’s unfortunate that some of the items are mislabeled. Arthur and I mentioned it to staff at the information desk as we were leaving, and our comments were taken very seriously. I don’t know if they will be able to change the signs any time soon, but with our season pass you can bet we’ll drop by the exhibit again and have another looksee.

Bald Eagle
No complaints about this gorgeous Bald Eagle on display

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Meeting a kestrel, petting stingrays, and other fun at the Marine Science Center

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.

Marine Science Center
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.

Artificial Reefs
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
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
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.

Raptor mews

Education Birds
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.

Turtle Rehabilitation
Turtle rehabilitation

Turtle x-rays
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
On the boardwalk!

Ponce Lighthouse
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!

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Natuur Museum Brabant

Back in August, we visited the Natuur Museum Brabant in Tilburg, the Netherlands. I was really impressed by the bird collection and other displays in this small provincial natural history museum.

Natuur Museum Brabant

A large part of the permanent exhibit features common Dutch wildlife, especially that found in Brabant. This includes an impressive number of birds – and rather small numbers of everything else, really. Notice the pet dog (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel?) and domestic sheep bolstering the mammal numbers.

Natuur Museum Brabant

Natuur Museum Brabant

In another room, there was an interesting display depicting several species that were extirpated from the Netherlands, and recent reintroduction efforts. For example, the last breeding pair of Ravens was found in south Limburg in 1944; 200 Ravens were re-introduced in the natural area Veluwe over a period of 20+ years.

A temporary exhibit on reproduction and sexuality was pretty interesting, with a couple of bird-related tidbits that stood out.

First, it was neat to see a side-by-side comparison of male vs. female size in a couple of raptor species. In birds of prey, the female bird is almost always larger than the male.

Northern Goshawk
Northern Goshawk

Eurasian Sparrowhawk
Eurasian Sparrowhawk

Next, it was kind of fun to show this duck display to my cousin- and mother-in-law. And I thought crazy duck genitalia was common knowledge! 🙂

Natuur Museum Brabant

The caption below reads in part: Record penis: Most birds have no penis. But if they do have one, boy do they steal the show. This Argentinian Stiff-tailed Duck has a penis nearly a half meter long.

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Through the Grande Galerie de l’Evolution, darkly

Following our stroll through the Jardin des Plantes, we entered the Grande Galerie de l’Evolution. The Galerie is a major natural history museum, and features hundreds of animal specimens and dozens of interesting displays. Four floors of exhibits are arranged around the main gallery located on the ground floor.

Grande Galerie de l’Evolution

The lighting is extremely dim, making some of the displays hard to read and all of them difficult to photograph.

Grande Galerie de l’Evolution

Many of the animal specimens aren’t covered, which makes an exciting initial impression. Visitors can get up close to the animals, but so can dust.

Grande Galerie de l’Evolution

One neat display called “Birds of the Tertiary” showed the fossilized remains of several early bird species. The Tertiary Period was 65 million to 2.6 million years ago.

Birds of the Tertiary

Scaniacypselus, related to modern swifts (none of my other shots of captions came out)

Birds of the Tertiary

Birds of the Tertiary

Birds of the Tertiary

If you look for information about this museum online, you’ll find a lot of sites recommending it as a place to bring children. While the exhibits were pretty neat, the museum was a bit stuffy and lacked the type of hands-on exhibits usually aimed at kids. After a while the dark conditions wore us down so we kept our visit relatively short.

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Fatten up and go!

During our recent visit to Holland, I had a free afternoon on my own in Leiden. I visited one of my favorite museums in the world, Naturalis, the national natural history museum of the Netherlands. The museum is always a treat to visit, but I really lucked out because one of the special temporary exhibits was an excellent study of bird migration.

The exhibit, Opvetten en wegwezen (Fatten up and go!), was presented in one large exhibit room. There were cases of mounted birds arranged by average migration distance. Information provided by each case showed the route each of the birds takes during migration.

Migratory Birds
Display case with short-distance migratory birds

Fatten Up and Go!
Display cases with migratory birds

Migration Routes
Migration routes of birds that travel through the Netherlands

Between these cases were various migration topics explained, like how birds navigate, the dangers birds face during their long travels, and how they prepare for the journey.

Display on the timing of migration behind more bird cases

“Natural dangers” display behind more bird cases

Fatten Up!
The different fat levels in a Barn Swallow as it prepares for its journey

There were also several points where current bird research being conducted in the Netherlands was explained. A written interview with the involved scientists was shown, along with supplemental media. Here, the current work being done with Eurasian Spoonbills is explained by Ornithologist Tamar Lok. Small text (click to see full size at Flickr) reads, “The protection of birds in the Netherlands started with (Eurasian) Spoonbills. The Naardermeer was declared a nature reserve for this bird species. Later on, more marshes and coastal areas were declared protected.” I had no idea that the spoonbill was a ‘spark bird’ for Dutch bird conservation!

Spoonbills in the Netherlands
All about Eurasian Spoonbill research in the Netherlands

I was particularly interested in bird banding endeavors. A short video showed how Barn Swallow researchers work, and I was kind of wowed by the amount of birds caught in their nets.

Barn Swallow banding
Lots of Barn Swallows in mist nets

The last bird cases were reserved for the birds with the longest migration routes. The final bird was the Arctic Tern, with a migration journey of 15,000 kilometers.

Arctic Tern migration
The Arctic Tern travels over 9,000 miles during migration!

Arctic Tern at Naturalis
Arctic Tern, the migration champion of the exhibit

Opvetten en wegwezen will continue at Naturalis through February 20th, 2011. I highly recommend it!

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Birds of the Field Museum

On September 26th we visited the Field Museum in Chicago to attend a free lecture given by the author of The Curse of the Labrador Duck. As a gift to the birding community, early registrants of the lecture were allowed free admission to the museum for the day, so we took the day off and arrived early for our first visit to the Field in several years.

Stanley Field Hall
The Stanley Field Hall at the Field Museum. You can see Sue in the foreground.

We spent most of our time on the lower level, visiting several of the outstanding wild animal and bird displays, including Bird Habitats, World of Birds, Nature Walk and North American Birds. Here are some of my favorites from the day.

Several large displays showed world birds in native habitat. Since I’ve got a thing for birds that build weaver-type nests, I especially enjoyed seeing the Village Weaver display. From the accompanying text: “This weaver-bird gets its name from its habit of nesting near native villages. Its own colonies or “villages” sometimes contain 100 nests.”

Village Weaver
Village Weavers

The Montezuma Oropendulas became my new favorites. What a wonderfully-named bird! From the accompanying text: “In common with many related species, Oropendulas breed in compact colonies. The carefully woven nests of grass are destroyed and entirely re-built each year. Oropendulas are inveterate thieves. Even the birds of a single colony must guard against robbery of nesting material by their neighbors.” Cheeky.

Montezuma Oropendula
Montezuma Oropendulas

There were also smaller cases showing other bird species in their (sometimes former) habitat.

Golden Eagle
A Golden Eagle brings prey back to the nest

Flamingos tend to their young on impressive mound nests

Passenger Pigeons
Passenger Pigeons. There’s a photo in of a huge flock of these once-abundant birds in the background.

The Field also has cases and cases showing birds of the world as well as a huge selection of the birds found in North America.

>Birds of the World at the Field Museum
Birds of the World displays

Birds of the World
Birds of the World display, including kingfishers, hornbills and hoopoes

Birds of the World
Birds of the World, including a Horned Guan

North American Birds at the Field Museum
North American Birds displays

Woodpecker display case
Acorn Woodpeckers on display

A mirror is mounted on the back of the case to show all sides of the Flicker’s plumage

This display, Variation is the rule in nature, presented several different study skins of the same bird species to show how birds vary depending on factors including geography. The bottom of the display holds 12 different subspecies of Song Sparrow. Downy Woodpeckers, Towhees and Canada Warblers are also used. An accompanying informational sign explained study skins: “Birds used in this exhibit are made into study skins. These study skins, in which the head is in line with the body, wings folded, and feet crossed, are conventional for museum study. The method permits easy filing of specimens, available for study. The label, tied to each specimen, is very important. On it should be written the place and date of collecting and other available data.”

Bird variations
Variation is the rule in nature

Notice the white throats of these Towhees

Variation is the rule in nature

After visiting the bird and wild animal galleries, we enjoyed Glen Chilton’s Labrador Duck lecture and got our copy of his book signed. It was a great day out at the Field Museum!

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