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#NotesFromTheRiver - That's Just Ducky!

Black-bellied Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis)
Photo by Doug Little


Today, I'm starting a new series of posts on guess what? Yep. Ducks. Well, ducks and duck-like birds of the St. Johns River area. I was going to put this all in one post, and then I realized there were far too many good things to cram it all into one post. So, instead, I'm going to divide this up by species. In the next three to four weeks, I will be sharing photos and information on some of the most beautiful and interesting birds to make the St. Johns River basin home for part, if not all of, each year. I hope you will enjoy learning more about the following:

Black-bellied Tree Ducks, Now Known as Black-bellied Whistling Ducks
(There was a reason for the name, you see.)


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#NotesFromTheRiver - Whacky Wednesday (on Thursday!)

(NOTE: Thought I'd scheduled this to go live yesterday, but apparently not. Since it didn't. Eeep.
So here it is today. Enjoy!)


New Feature Just For Laughs.
After all, one can never have too many of those, right?



Does anyone else miss Gary Larson's Far Side cartoons as much as I do?
If so,
this is your lucky day. I've chosen these as a sampling of how much
fun Larson had with wild animals, and I hope you'll get as big a laugh
from them as I did, starting with one that has a bit of significance
for me. (Hint: Check back through past posts.)

Now, without further ado, I give you Gary Larson's somewhat twisted
view of wildlife and nature.

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#NotesFromTheRiver - Florida Panther Part 2

Florida Panther (Puma concolor coryi)

In last week's #NotesFromTheRiver post, I introduced the stunningly beautiful and rare Florida panther, a subspecies of the western Cougar or Puma. The Florida panther prefers life in the forests and swamps of southern Florida, and is considered an endangered species. Sightings are rare, and unforgettable. Take it from me. I saw one over 30 years ago, and the image is still burned into my brain.

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#NotesFromTheRiver - Florida Panther Part 1

Florida Panther (Puma concolor coryi )

Despite what you might think, or any rumors floating around central Florida you may have heard, I have not actually dropped off the planet. I hate to admit it, but I was slammed by another bad cold, which morphed its way into bronchitis, and knocked me on what some would call my "not inconsiderable backside." (Of course, they wouldn't call it that in my presence, if they know what's good for them. But. I digress.)

Needless to say, a lot of things have dropped by the wayside as I languished pale and pitiful . . . okay, as I sneezed and coughed, and moaned and groaned, and otherwise made a nuisance of myself. Ooops. Digressing again. Sorry. Back to the issue at hand, which is my abject apology for missing the last couple of weeks' #NotesFromTheRiver posts. I will do my best to make it up to you, in the weeks ahead, where, presumably, I will be hale and hearty and gloriously healthy once again!

Since I'm still convalescing here, I thought I'd make it easier on myself my first week back by breaking the panther post into two parts. This week, a brief overview of the Florida panther, the most glorious creature to reside in the state of Florida. (Our state animal, by the way.) While the Florida panther has been listed for many years as a distinct subspecies of the western cougar, recent genetic research could possibly change that.

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#NotesFromTheRiver - Florida Black Bear

Photo by Doug Little

Someone mentioned to me recently that bears gave them the heebie-jeebies, and were far more frightening than most snakes. As a person who isn't overly afraid of either, but respects both, I thought a post on our southern subspecies of black bear might be interesting. Hey, maybe my friend who shall go nameless (Mae) will suddenly realize she's not afraid of them at all. Nah. Probably not. But at least she might understand more about them, and that usually helps with negative feelings. So with that thought in mind, this post is dedicated to Mae, and I hope she enjoys it!


Florida Black Bear
(Ursus americanus floridanus)

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#NotesFromTheRiver - Catching Flies with a Pair of Twits

Great-crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus)

Running a day late (and always a dollar short) on this week's #NotesFromTheRiver, and I apologize, but now and then, Real Life gets in the way of my fun stuff. And posting here is always fun. Thought today, I'd do a short, but hopefully interesting, post about a pair of twits that make the St. Johns River Basin home for part of each year.

NOTE: The term "twit" refers to various smallish passerine birds, often of non-descript coloration. Yes, it also refers to some people I know, but we are going to go with the scientific, ornithological definition of the term. Okay, that's not true. It's actually the just the silly definition often used by birders, along with expressions like LBJ, or "Little Brown Job." We birders have a weird sense of humor. It's what keeps us sane while we wander up and down wooded paths, peering into dense foliage, and trying to identify tiny birds that refuse to hold still.)

Now, where was I? Oh, yes. A pair of twits. The handsome fellow pictured above is called a great-crested flycatcher, because a) he has a sort of bushy crest, and b) he catches flies and other insects, and c) he's pretty great. And by the way, the term "passerine" is fancy-talk for "perching." It denotes a very large order of birds with feet adapted for perching (3 toes forward, 1 backward) and includes all songbirds.

Sometimes the birds watch us back, you know.

I have seen great-crested flycatchers while canoeing the central Florida waterways, but I'll admit, they are easier to spot in my backyard, and I look forward to their return in late spring, each year. These guys nest in my yard, and one of the most welcome sounds of spring for me is their loud call, announcing their arrival. I call them the Threeps, because that's what their main call sounds like to me.

This "tyrant family" flycatcher is a large ( 6-8" long, 13" wingspan) and assertive one, and is usually spotted high in the canopy of trees, watching for unwary flying insects, such as moths, dragonflies, and butterflies who cruise too close. The bird will swoop out from the branch, snatch the insect out of the air, and return to his perch with his prize.


Sexes are not dimorphic. (A fancy way of saying you can't tell the males from the females). They nest in tree cavities, but will also take advantage of nest boxes located in taller oaks and other backyard trees. 

Home, Sweet Home


Eastern Phoebe
(Sayornis phoebe)


I mentioned today's post was about a PAIR of twits, and here's the second flycatcher I'd like to share with you. The bird pictured above is the eastern phoebe, so named because of his call. "Phoebe, phoebe, phoebe." Or "Fee-bee, fee-bee, fee-bee" if you aren't familiar with the spelling of the name. (Any "Friends" fans here?) This little guy is a much smaller bird than the great-crested, but it is still a tyrant flycatcher, and feeds in much the same way--darting out to snatch insects passing by, and returning to his perch to devour them. Because he tends to frequent lower shrubs and trees, often near riverbanks and lakeshores, the phoebe is easier to spot than his larger cousin. A cruise on the Naiad at the right time of year (winter) frequently results in several sightings.


Eastern Phoebe with Hungry Nestlings


The eastern phoebe isn't a cavity nester and doesn't much care for nest boxes, either, but they do manage to locate their nests in some odd places, usually on buildings, bridges, or other convenient manmade structures. You'd think the one above was in a precarious position, but apparently it all works just fine. The nests are constructed of mud, moss, and grasses, and are so durable, the birds often reuse them the following year. And the female is the homebuilder, building the nest by herself, while the male, apparently, sits around looking pretty. (Nice work, if you can get it, right guys?)


"Here I am, doing my posing. You done with the house yet, honey?"


While much smaller than the great-crested flycatcher, the phoebe is still part of the "tyrant family," and a very handsome little guy in his own right. He even has a small crest to give him that typical "big-headed" look of most flycatchers. Phoebes are spotted mostly in the winter in central Florida, while the great-crested flycatcher breeds here, then migrates farther south during the colder months, usually wintering in Central and South America.

A Happy Phoebe, Ready for Lunch


So there you have it. A short overview of two of my favorite flycatching twits. Hope you enjoyed learning a wee bit about these birds, and will keep an eye out for them. To hear their calls, check out these links:


 Great-Crested Flycatcher You Tube Video

Go here to Listen to a Phoebe Calling


Next week, something bigger. With fur. And teeth!

Stay tuned!! And remember, keep looking up. You just never know what might be watching you!

Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)


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#NotesFromTheRiver - #WednesdayWonders


After such a long, involved post last week, I thought I'd give your brains (and mine!) a rest today, and  share some of Doug's gorgeous photos. Enjoy!


Hibiscus coccineus
a/k/a Swamp Mallow , Red Mallow, Scarlet Hibiscus, and Scarlet Rosemallow

White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) on the Wing

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#NotesFromTheRiver - A Whiter Shade of Pale


Leucistic American Alligator
World's Rarest Reptile?

Finally! The post I've been most eager to share with you! Today, we are going to talk about white alligators, and the fact that they are not all the same. Oh, no. There are two quite different forms of white American alligators. Albino and leucistic. Both are very, very rare, indeed, but by far the most rare alligator (and probably the most rare reptile) in the world is the leucistic form of the American alligator, just like the one pictured above. What makes albino and leucistic alligators different from each other? So glad you asked, because that's what I'm going to endeavor to explain today. As I say, the alligator at the top of this page is a leucistic American alligator. The picture below is an albino American alligator.


Albino American Alligator

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#NotesFromTheRiver - A Whole Lotta Chompin' Goin' On!

New Hatchling Awaits Arrival of Two Siblings


Which is correct? "Let's eat gator," or "Let's eat, Gator?" Actually, in this particular case, the answer is both. Along the St. Johns, it's an eat or be eaten world, for sure, and that holds true for Florida's apex predator, the American alligator. From the moment they hatch to their very last breaths, alligators are always chomping or being chomped, and today, we are going to take a look at their very dramatic life cycle.

Courtship for Florida alligators begins in early April, with mating usually occurring in May or June. From mid-August through September, the yellow and black striped babies starting hatching, thus beginning their perilous journey to adulthood. Like most baby animals, they are ridiculously cute at this stage. See?

(He's smiling at you. Smile back!)


A Lily Pad Makes a Good Resting Spot for This Striped Cutie

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#NotesFromTheRiver - Only In Florida: Alligators Part 2

The Ol' Swimmin' Hole, Florida Style 

Hi, Everyone! Yep, I'm back with the next post in my series about alligators. Figured we'd have a few laughs this week . . . or gasps, depending on your point of view. Here are a couple of "Only In Florida" photos. Yes, I know American alligators range much farther north/northwest than Florida, but something tells me, most, if not all of these pictures were taken down here. Enjoy!

You'd probably expect to see alligators like this when you visit the Sunshine State.


Or even like this, just hangin' out on the river.
(Photo by Doug Little)

Speed Bumps: We do them differently here.
If you live in Florida, you have to be prepared for the unexpected traffic hazard.
Like the occasional sunbathing alligator, soaking up rays from above, and heat from the pavement.
(Hint: I'd drive around this one, if I were you.) 

And I'd also swing wide around this mama and her babies, or as we call 'em,
Florida ducklings.

And honestly, you might want to take up another sport.
One hardly ever sees gators on a basketball court.

Mostly, I'd advise yielding the right of way to alligators pretty much all the time.


Like Here . . .

And definitely here . . .

And even HERE. (Yes, I know it's your driveway, but do you really want to argue with him?)
Just be very careful when the doorbell rings!

"Ding-dong. Avon calling. Honest."

"Open the door, I said!"

"Be that way, then. I'll just wait right here, shall I? You've got to open the door some time."

"In the meantime, don't think any other salespeople are getting by me!"

"Wait! What if I go around back? There's got to be another way in."

"Rats. This isn't working. Guess I'll just try the neighbors."

"Well, heck. Neighbors didn't answer the door, either.  Might as well head back to the pond,
and see if the anyone else has a better idea."

And it looks like they did!

Okay, folks. That's about as much silliness as any of us needs for one afternoon.
Next week, those precious little alligator babies I talked about last time, and lots of good gator trivia of a more serious nature.

Until then, keep on looking up, but now and then, look down, too. You never know what might be at your feet.
I'm just sayin' . . .



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#NotesFromTheRiver - The Gators and I Are Back. Somewhat.


Hello, Friends! I'm happy to report that I'm officially allowed to do a wee bit of work each day, as I progress (slower than a turtle in a mud puddle) toward full recovery. Believe me when I say I wouldn't wish this bug on anyone. Okay, maybe there IS that one guy . . . he knows who he is . . . but other than HIM, nobody else. It's been weeks since I've been able to do more than cough, blow my nose, and moan and groan. (Might as well go for broke when you're that miserable, I always say.) But the good news is, I can spend a few short periods of time at my computer again, so I wanted to touch base with you folks, before you forget all about #NotesFromTheRiver.

On my last real post, I focused on the differences between the American alligator and the American crocodile. Starting next week, I'll be giving you a lot more information on alligators, since they are the reptile most associated with Florida, and very, very common in the St. Johns River Basin area. Along with some excellent photography (much of which will be pictures Doug Little has taken from on board the Naiad), I will be talking about the following:

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#NotesFromTheRiver Update & Apology

Just want to let everyone know that I returned from my Charleston trip sick, and my uninvited “bug” is lingering much longer than I had hoped. While I am vastly improved over last week, I’m most definitely not back at 100% and my doctor keeps telling me rest is what I need most right now.

Apparently this is one mean, miserable cold/flu/bronchitis/pneumonia/vicious thingie, and shaking it takes a long time. With that in mind, I’m going to try to behave in a way that will make my doctor proud of me, and stay in bed (or at least bundled up in the comfy chair) for a few more days.

Please don't give up, though. #NotesFromTheRiver will resume weekly posts just as soon as I'm able to handle them, I promise, hopefully by next week! Thanks so much for your patience.

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#NotesFromTheRiver - Gone Fishin'!

Okay, I've really gone to Charleston to celebrate my grandson's 4th birthday, but it was too long to fit in the post header! I'll be back Monday night, and will continue my series of posts on alligators on Wednesday. Until then, here's a wonderful photo to whet your appetite, taken by Doug Little. I'm calling it The Odd Couple. Enjoy!

See you next week!

NOTE: April 14 - I'm home, but managed to catch the world's worst cold/flu. Children's birthday parties are hazardous to your health! I promise I'll be back, as soon as I can remain vertical for longer than ten minutes. Thanks for being patient!

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#NotesFromTheRiver - What A Croc! (Or is it?)

Gator Eats Croc!

Today, I'm starting the first of several posts on the American alligator, or Alligator mississippiensis.  Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be sharing some fantastic photos and some interesting information that might be brand new to many of you. But the very first thing on my agenda is this: Alligators and Crocodiles are not the same animal. Nope. And I know there is some confusion about this, because I live in a state filled with alligators, and visited by tourists from many other countries who frequently refer to them as crocs. Even folks who realize gators and crocs are two different reptiles, often don't know how to tell them apart. Therefore, I thought explaining how to do so would be a good place to kick off this series. The animal above, by the way, is an alligator, not to be confused with a crocodile. The shoe above is a Croc, also not to be confused with a crocodile. Now let's get down to  some comparisons that might actually help you distinguish between these two large predators.

The Difference is Mostly in the Head

As you can tell from the above photo, the alligator on the left has a broadly rounded, duck-bill shaped nose. The crocodile on the right has a narrow, much more sharply pointed nose. For me, this has always been a dead give away (pardon the phrasing.) There are other scientific differences, and different configurations of teeth, but my motto in identifying almost anything is to look for the easiest to spot clue. I think the head shape is the one. But what if you aren't standing directly over the reptile in question, able to get a view like this? Good news. They aren't the same color, and they have different profiles, too.

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#NotesFromTheRiver #WednesdayWonders

Female Anhinga

Today feels like a day for images, rather than words. With that thought in mind, I'm sharing some of Doug Little's wonderful photos taken on the St. Johns River.
Hope they bring you a smile today!

Thirsty White-tailed Deer

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#NotesFromTheRiver - Cottonmouth!

Florida Cottonmouth or Water Moccasin
(Agkistrodon piscivorous conanti)

When I was a kid, I once saw a movie (yes, movies did exist way back then!) set in a swampy area that was meant to be Florida, as only Hollywood could depict it. There was a dramatic scene wherein characters were trying to wade through waist-deep black water, and they were attacked--yes, attacked--by several water moccasins at once, and much shouting and snake biting and flinging away of serpents went on. I have no clue what the movie was, who starred in it, or anything else. I can, however, still picture that utterly ridiculous scene, which I knew to be utterly ridiculous even at that point in my life.

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#NotesFromTheRiver - When Is a Little Blue Heron NOT a Little Blue Heron?

When It's a Calico Heron, That's When!

Last week, I posted about the differences between little blue herons and tricolored herons, but the post didn't go into nearly enough detail on either of these two wonderful birds. For one thing, I never even mentioned the basic statistics on size, wingspan, nesting habits, and range of either bird. Today, I'm going to rectify that with more information on the Little Blue Heron. And yep, that's one above, even though last week's post showed little blues looking like this:

Adult Little Blue Heron

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#NotesFromTheRiver - Tricolored Heron - What's In a Name?

TriColored Heron and Little Blue Heron
(All Photos by Doug Little)

When I first began birding, lo those many years ago (50, but who's counting), tricolored herons were called Louisiana herons. I don't know why that was changed, but since the common names for many birds change as often as the weather, I have my theory. Don't tell them I said this, but I firmly believe ornithologists don't have enough to do, so every few years, they go through their bird lists and randomly select species to rename. And to be fair, it does keep us birders on our toes. So, the charmingly named Louisiana heron became the (possibly) more accurately named, tricolored heron, for better or for worse. I love them no matter what they're called.

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#NotesFromTheRiver - Wednesday Wonders - #wwwblogs

Sandhill Crane & Chick
(All Photos in this Post by Doug Little)

I thought it would be nice to have an occasional post featuring the best (or at least my personal favorite) photos by Doug Little. Because I think his work is wonderful, I'm going to call these special posts Wednesday Wonders. Light on narrative, but BIG on beauty. Here are today's first Wednesday Wonders. Enjoy. And, as always, all comments are appreciated, and all questions will be answered, to the best of my ability. 

Florida Black Bear Napping on the Banks of the St. Johns River

Tri-colored Heron (Background) and Little Blue Heron (Foreground)

Honkin' Big Ol' Gator Snoozin' on the Shore

Bald Eagle, Keeping Watch

Purple Gallinule 

Purple Gallinule Chick (Note the huge feet, designed for walking on lily pads.)

Buddies? Only Until Dinnertime. 

Absolutely Stunning Photo of a Wild Turkey

A Happy Meal for the Great Blue Heron. Not So Much for the Wee Fishie.

And there you have our first Wednesday Wonders post. You, too, can see these lovely birds and animals, and take your own fabulous photos. Just come on down to Highbanks Marina, in DeBary, Florida, and book a tour aboard the Naiad. Best two hours you can spend in all of central Florida, I promise! Book your reservation right here on this website. You'll be glad you did.

See you next week with a new #NotesFromTheRiver!

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#NotesFromTheRiver - Favorite of the Month - Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus)

Photo by Doug Little

I thought it might be fun to do a series of some special friends' favorite birds, animals, and plants seen along the St. Johns River, starting with wildlife photographer  and Mentor Man Extraordinaire, Doug Little. Doug says his very favorite bird is the gorgeous and graceful swallow-tailed kite, and it's very easy to see why. They are certainly my favorite raptor (bird of prey), and a bird almost everyone considers breathtaking.

The largest of the North American kites, swallow-tails have black upper parts which contrast perfectly with their white head and shoulders, and the white wing linings.

There is no mistaking this bird in flight. Nothing else moves with the same grace and agility, and has that deeply forked tail, which can reach 15" to 16" long. Swallow-tailed kites range from 19" to 25" inches in length, with a wingspan of 45 to 50 inches, perfect for their particularly buoyant flight. With slow, deep wingbeats, they steer using that deeply forked tail. They are not only graceful in flight, but the most extraordinarily nimble and acrobatic of all raptors. Feathered poetry in motion!

The diet of the swallow-tailed kite consists of large insects, lizards, nestling birds, and snakes, which they snatch right out of the tops of trees. They also really, really like frogs.

Once the bird has snatched their fly-by meal from the treetops, they generally eat it on the wing. You can see that this guy is doing just that. He brings his feet forward, and his head downward, et voila! No need to look for a landing place.

Of course, some meals are meant to be shared. The kites take their insect, or snake, or lizard, or . . . frog! . . . and return to their roosting or nesting spot,

where they share . . .whatever it is . . . it with their mate! 

Of course, if they have young on the nest, they share their fresh-caught kill with them.
(As you can probably tell, FROGS are not very fond of swallow-tailed kites! Go figger!)

Not only do kites eat on the wing, but they also drink that way, too. They swoop low over the water, dip their head down, and take a sip. (Did I mention how incredibly agile and graceful they are, especially for such large birds?)

A group of kites can be called a brood, a kettle, a roost, a stooping, or a string. I'm going with kettle,
because a "kettle of kites" is so very alliterative. (We writers think about things like that, you know.)

As you can see from the range map, swallow-tailed kites are found mostly in Florida, or parts south, though their range does spill over into the southern parts of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and, just barely, into Louisana. They are here during their breeding season, and once the summer has drawn to an end, the kites migrate back to South America. (Can't stand those freezing Florida temperatures, I guess.)

This pair of kites hasn't built a nest yet, but they are exhibiting lovely courtship behavior. How can the female resist such courtly treatment? Once he's won her heart and she's accepted his favors, she will lay 1 to 3 creamy white eggs, marked with dark brown. And after 28 to 31 days, here's the payoff:

Okay, so he's not quite as cute as the limpkin chicks from last week, but hey. He's going to be one of  the most beautiful birds in the world when he grows up! In the meantime, his doting parents will feed him loads of grasshoppers, dragonflies, lizards, and . . .you guessed it . . .FROGS! 

If you want to see swallow-tailed kites, the best place to look is UP. Whether alone, like this one,

or by the "kettle," like these,

you're most likely to spot them high overhead, effortlessly "kiting" along on the breeze.

If you're really lucky, you might see one "stooping." Probably spotted a tender morsel in a treetop that he'd like to have for lunch. Oh, heck. Why don't I just say it? He's obviously lookin' for FROGS!

A couple more pictures for you, because, BEAUTIFUL!

And that about wraps it up for this week. Hope you've enjoyed seeing Doug's favorite bird, up close and (sorta) personal. In another month or two, those of you in Florida might want to start sky-gazing. The kites will be arriving and settling down to raise their young. The Orlando Wetlands area near Christmas, Florida, is an excellent place to see them in large numbers. It's truly an unforgettable sight, believe me. You can watch them for hours, but be prepared . . .

. . . some of them will no doubt be watching you back!

Until next week, don't forget to keep your eyes open. Otherwise, you miss
out on cool stuff like the invasion of the swallow-tailed kites! 


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