Category Archives: Offbeat

Leucistic Turkey Vulture

Our time in the Florida Keys was over. We were heading home after Arthur’s turtle conference in early December, taking US1 across the Keys back to the mainland. We were speeding along Lower Matecumbe Key when I spotted a white mass perched on a telephone poll.

Leucistic Turkey Vulture

Leucistic Turkey Vulture

We turned around for a better look. It was a nearly all-white Turkey Vulture!

Leucistic Turkey Vulture

Oh my goodness, how unusual and beautiful! I was oohing and aahing. ๐Ÿ™‚

Leucistic Turkey Vulture

Quite a few feathers look to have some brown on them, so this bird is not an albino. A Turkey Vulture with normal plumage would have a red head just like this bird does.

Leucistic Turkey Vulture

This beauty was not my first leucistic bird, but it was my first leucistic vulture, and my first leucistic bird in Florida. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Posted in Florida, Offbeat | 5 Comments

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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Posted in Art, Florida, Museum, Offbeat | Leave a comment

Ecdysis & Exuvia

I am not holding a crab in this photo. I am holding an exuvia.


I found this exoskeleton at Canaveral National Seashore. I was looking at a huge horseshoe crab shell when I almost stepped on this neat little thing. Ecdysis is the process of molting the exoskeleton in invertebrate species. I wish I knew what kind of crab this specimen came from.

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Posted in Florida, Not Birds, Offbeat | Leave a comment

Mystery Leftovers

Arthur spotted something on the railing as we were walking along the boardwalk at Lake Ashby the other day. “What’s that red thing?”

mystery pellet
Click on any of the photos to embiggen via Flickr.

A pellet, that’s what! I wanted a closer look so I picked up a stick and went back to the pellet for a little dissection. It was reddish-orange. It looked like there was some shell or exoskeletal-type material. And crab legs?

mystery pellet

There were two tiny round white shells. At first it seemed like the bulk of the red-orange stuff was plant-based, but as I sifted through it seemed more like it all consisted of crustacean exoskeleton. That makes sense… plant stuff would more likely just pass on through, I suppose. There were quite a few tiny crab legs.

mystery pellet

mystery pellet

mystery pellet

mystery pellet

I wish I had taken a photo with a coin or something to show scale. I guess the intact pellet was about 5cm long.

The pellet was in a very exposed area, on boardwalk railing over Lake Ashby. I took this picture after opening up the pellet — see the reddish area on the railing?

Lake Ashby boardwalk

Here’s another view of the boardwalk at Lake Ashby.

Lake Ashby boardwalk

So my big question is: what bird cast this pellet? I had a few guesses so I looked up some species accounts on Cornell’s Birds of North America Online (BNA). In many species, information regarding pellet-casting is not mentioned or it is acknowledged as being unknown. What would eat a bunch of crabs and then hang out on an exposed boardwalk railing long enough to produce a pellet?

After checking the species accounts of several duck species (not much data or no pellet-casting), various water birds (Double-crested Cormorants tend to cast pellets at roosting sites), and a bunch of waders (Great Blue Heron pellets tend to have hair in them; Tricolored Herons eat mostly fish; etc), the pellet-casting data of the White Ibis kind of jumped out at me: Non-digestible hard parts, such as fish bones, arthropod exoskeletons, and crayfish gastroliths are cast in pellets.. Did someone say crayfish gastroliths? That’s what those little white “shells” in the pellet appear to be. I can’t be sure, but White Ibis seems to be good candidate. We saw a few Little Blue Herons during our walk, so that species was my first guess, and I still think that is also a likely candidate. Both species of Night-Heron are also possible. I would love to hear suggestions from anyone else, though. Have you ever found a pellet like this one? Do you know who cast it?

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Posted in Mystery, Offbeat | 1 Comment

Fooling Birders

Beware, internet surfers – today is April Fool’s Day. Birders are not immune to being played for fools, if these pranks from years past are any indication.

The exciting headline Extinct Carolina Parakeet Rediscovered in Honduras appeared on April 1, 2009. This one came complete with a news release from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which added authenticity to an unbelievable discovery. If you fell for this one, you were certainly not alone!

Last year Ted Floyd revealed a list of ABA Checklist Changes that had some birders just a bit freaked out. The list highlighted crazy splits, maddening lumps, and major, unprecedented changes to the ABA Area.

Also last year, blogger tai haku broke the story of ESPN’s entry into the competitive birding market: Email from ESPN: the “American Big Day Birding League.”

Bill of the Birds had a great prank last year, too, when he revealed a major change at BirdWatcher’s Digest: Our New Name!. The magazine was to be rebranded Wild Bird Watcher’s World (and Blooms).

By now, readers of 10,000 Birds must know they need to be on their toes on April Fool’s Day. Last year they got us with an unbelievable giveaway opportunity: Win a Free Trip to Thailand! In 2010 Corey revealed a shocking overseas birder conspiracy: Short-toed Treecreepers Do Not Exist. And in 2009 Corey reported seeing a Pileated Woodpecker in Queens, complete with photo documentation.

Google has been offering up pranks on April 1st for years. They featured birds in an early prank: Google’s PigeonRank was revealed on April 1, 2002. The search engine’s cruelty-free method of determining page rank uses trained pigeons to recognize objects regardless of spacial orientation. It’s all very complicated.

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Posted in Funny, Offbeat, Pop Culture | Leave a comment

My visitors came from *where* in January 2011?!?!?

Two years ago I started a fun series of monthly posts sharing strange and funny search terms that I found in my Statcounter log. The series was on hiatus last year but I’m bringing it back for 2011. Here are some of the more interesting search terms that brought visitors to this site during January 2011. You can see previous posts in this series here.

As usual, some typos made me chuckle. Some of these are probably genuine errors in spelling, which kind of makes me sad. Is “squirrel” really so difficult? Apparently so, judging from these search terms: funny squrls; sqiurel pictures; funny squirles; funy squerrl; and funny squrel pictures. Pigeon is also a tough one, but Google was able to direct pigeion; pidgeons; pegions to the right search. Did you mean pigeon? Other goofy typos of note: magnicient frigatebird and stylealised bird.

Following last month’s aflockalypse (mass bird die-offs), about which I did not blog, several visitors arrived via related searches anyway: amsterdam dead birds; 100 penguins dead; birds found dead in argentina; dead birds in argentina; birds dead in netherlands; and dead birds in india.

I know this visitor did not find what s/he was looking for here: what movie saidwhere do birds go when it rains?. I know where the birds go, but I don’t know what movie is being sought. Another (I’m assuming) disappointed visitor came via the search museum in united states with display in january of 2011,of world class stuffed birds,also artist from other countries?where. I’m disappointed too – I couldn’t find anything about this in Google but it sounds like an interesting exhibit. Finally, I hope the person searching for exhibition of pigeons in chicago eventually found what they were looking for, because I know they didn’t find it here.

On the other hand, I was delighted to see a lot of visitors coming after searching for information about the Bald Eagle Watch at Starved Rock State Park, which inspired an updated and modestly popular informational post. These searches also made me smile, because they certainly did come to the right place for what they sought: tufted titmouse and chicago area and crow behavior in snow.

Searches related to Magnificent Frigatebirds were represented as usual: frigate bird testosterone; frigat bird in oil; friends in danger frigate bird; are magnificent frigatebird threatening; food chain of a magnificent frigate; and magnificent frigatbird banding.

Last month had two disturbing, related searches: golden eagle as pet and where can i [buy] a northern cardinal bird. Uhm, please don’t search for that. You can’t have either of these birds as a pet, for a lot of reasons. One being it’s illegal.

And as for my favorite search of the month, that goes to difference between shrike and carolina chickadee pictures. Seriously? Chickadees and shrikes aren’t really that hard to tell apart, are they?

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Posted in Offbeat, Search Terms | Leave a comment

Turkey antics

Throughout the summer, a turkey in Chicago’s north suburbs made the news by blocking traffic and gaining fans. The Lake Bluff Turkey, known as Sparkles (among other nicknames) has over 300 fans on Facebook. The formerly wild Wild Turkey was finally captured by Wildlife Control in early August. When I was searching Google for Wild Turkey information the other day (unrelated to Sparkles) I was surprised to see how popular our local star turkey really is, according the Google’s auto-complete search suggestions.

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Posted in Illinois, Offbeat, Search Terms | 1 Comment

Raptor robots

The following video profiles two companies that are marketing raptor robots. The machines are being marketed to airports as bird deterrents.

The Spanish company Bird Raptor Internacional has produced a model airplane painted to look like a Peregrine Falcon. In the clip, the “falcon” flies by a flock of gulls, who quickly disperse. I wonder if the falcon paint job had anything to do with it, though. Would they disperse if a regular model airplane flew closely over them?

A Dutch company has developed another robotic bird, but the GreenX model Bald Eagle actually flaps its wings! Developers of this model see it being used in nature films or as a spy plane. I think they should market to model airplane enthusiasts – I mean, what a cool toy!

Read more about the robo-raptors here.

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Posted in Funny, Netherlands, Offbeat, Science & Tech, Spain | 1 Comment