#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.

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#NotesFromTheRiver - The Limpkin

Limpkins on the St. Johns River
Photo by Doug Little

As you can see from Doug's beautiful photo above, limpkins (Aramus guarauna) are striking, though somewhat shy, long-legged waders, often considered marsh birds. While they somewhat resemble the white ibis in size and overall shape, they are more closely related to rails and cranes, at least if you are the type to judge by skeletal remains and DNA. I don't have access to those things, so I'm just going to accept the latest data available, and consider these guys little cousins to our sandhill cranes, standing about 25" to 29" tall, with a wingspan of 42".

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#NotesFromTheRiver - Eastern Coral Snake


Emily Dickinson famously referred to a snake as being “a slender fellow in the grass.” The eastern coral snake is that, for sure. Very slim, and not a particularly long snake, either, they none-the-less have garnered an enormous reputation. Much of that reputation is exaggerated, or just plain wrong. In today’s post, I’d like to shed some light on this most beautiful of reptiles, in a balanced way that I hope will sort out some popular misconceptions, and give you a quick lesson in the easiest way to tell coral snakes apart from their completely harmless mimics. 

First, the basics. The eastern coral snake, Micrurus fulvius, is an elapid, rather than a pit viper, like all other venomous snakes in the United States. That means, it is closely related to the cobras, mambas, and sea snakes, having neurotoxic venom, which attacks the nervous system. Pit vipers have hemotoxic venom, which attacks the blood. Coral snake bites cause an interruption in communication from the brain to the rest of the body, and can result in cardiac and respiratory failure, with suffocation often being the end result. So right from the get-go, coral snakes are set apart from all other snakes in North America.

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#NotesFromTheRiver - Meet the Author Eco Tour, January 14, 2017

Captain Dooley keeps an eye out for last minute arrivals.

One of the best things about becoming a writer, besides all the havoc I get to wreak in my characters' lives, is finding opportunities to get out and meet new readers, at various events around central Florida. And none of the lovely events I've done, from slide shows, to afternoon teas, to chatting with local book clubs, is more fun than an afternoon with St. Johns River Eco Tours. Saturday, January 14, was just such a day. I've been lucky enough to go out on the Naiad many times over the years, starting way before I wrote my first book, and it's always an exceptional event. Being invited along on a tour to do a reading from one of my books is even more fun. At least for me. Hopefully the rest of the passengers enjoy it, too. (So far, none of them have put me off the boat along the way, so I'm taking that as a good sign.)

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#NotesFromTheRiver - Manatees, and Sea Cows, and Mermaids--Oh, My!


Our Meet the Author Eco Tour on Saturday was so much fun! For those of you who were unable to attend, the day was positively beautiful, with puffy, white clouds scattered across an impossibly blue sky, and a cool enough breeze to keep us all comfortable. We had a full boat load of friendly, engaging passengers, and we spotted lots of alligators, all the usual wading birds, and at least two manatees. Unfortunately, we were having so much fun, we forgot to take pictures! (If you were along, and have any you’d like to share, please let me know. I’ll be happy to post them.) 

We’ve talked briefly about alligators, and last week’s post featured barred owls (which we did not spot this time around), but we haven’t yet had a chance to talk about that perennial favorite, the Florida manatee. Until now.

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#NotesFromTheRiver - Barred Owl



"Who cooks for you? Who cooks for YOU-aaallllll?" 

Some of you may be familiar with the entity that shrieks out this phrase in the middle of the night, often right outside your bedroom window, while others of you are probably scratching your heads. I can assure you of two things: 1) I didn't make it up, and 2) it is actually a remarkably apt attempt at putting the call of the barred owl, Strix varia, into words.

Barred owls are among my favorite birds, which is one of the reasons I’ve chosen to focus my second Notes From the River post on them. I hope you’ll enjoy reading along, and perhaps learning some things you didn’t know before. (And hey, if the text gets boring, you can always just admire the wonderful photographs, most of which are courtesy of St. Johns River Eco Tours’ own Doug Little, wildlife photographer extraordinaire.)

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#NotesFromTheRiver - Welcome

Welcome to #NotesFromTheRiver! My name is Marcia Meara, and I'm one of those increasingly rare Florida natives, you've heard tell about. (There’s me, and some guy up in the panhandle, I think.) I not only was born here, I’ve lived here just about all of my life, and I’ve spent a good portion of those years hiking and canoeing the woods and rivers of central Florida. Those experiences—combined with several years of volunteer work, back in the day, with both Florida Audubon and the Central Florida Zoo—have given me an undying love of the St. Johns River Basin and all the critters contained within. Except maybe hairy-legged spiders, but that’s a topic for another day!

#NotesFromTheRiver will be a way of sharing some of the beautiful sights and interesting facts I’ve discovered over the years, many while aboard the Naiad. My thanks goes out to Jeanne Bell and Doug Little for asking me to be part of their new blog, and my hope is that this weekly feature will be something everyone can enjoy, no matter their personal level of knowledge or experience about this part of our state.

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