April 28, 2014

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

This cute little songbird is a palm warbler.  Lots of warblers exist out there in the bird world, and from what the SDP research assistant has learned, a telltale sign that one is a palm warbler is the chestnut patch on its crown.  These birds like to move around a lot, so I was rather pleased when I was able to snap this shot while one paused briefly on a branch at the birdwalk at Myakka River State Park.  Warblers are especially prevalent here in the spring.  But, with the mercury starting to rise, I suspect these guys will be migrating north soon (along with many of our two legged visitors -- the snowbirds).  By the way, while reviewing materials for this post, the SDP researcher stumbled across a niceAudubon Society webpage with terrific audio of the palm warbler's song.  Check it out here.

April 25, 2014

Sarasota Keys

Sarasota Keys

What would you think if you saw a piano placed on a sidewalk inviting you play? Would you sit down and tickle the ivories? Wait for someone else to play? A group sponsoring a community initiative known as Sarasota Keys received approval recently to place six pianos throughout downtown Sarasota with the idea that the musical instruments would encourage pedestrian engagement in an area already well known for its cultural arts.  This piano is located outside Whole Foods and, as you can see, it's been painted with colorful designs, as are the other five pianos.  I've been wanting to get a photo of someone playing one, so when I spotted this guy, Dave, poking at the keys as I was leaving the grocery store, I jumped on my chance. Fortunately, like any self respecting photo blogger, I had my camera with me and snapped a quick shot.  For those wondering, the pianos, which are spinets and are a little smaller than a traditional piano, are wheeled inside every evening.  

April 24, 2014

Hunting Mode

Barred Owl
I've been meaning to post this series of pics featuring the barred owl family since I took them a few weeks ago at Myakka River State Park. Mama owl was sitting on the ground and appeared to be in hunting mode staring and staring at the ground.

Barred Owl
 Dusk was nearing and as soon as the last of the visitors observing the barred owl family left (except for yours truly -- the entire SDP team is very dedicated), mama owl flew a short distance to the sidewalk where she pawed her wickedly sharp talons at something on the ground.

Barred Owl
She squished her cute little face against the pavement and picked up whatever it was. Perhaps a small  snake?  A gecko?  A beetle?  

Barred Owl
Mama immediately flew to a branch and fed the mystery meal to one of the little ones.  Whatever it was, it was small.  And, from the looks of it, the baby owl wasn't too satisfied with the tidbit.  As I mentioned, these pics were taken a few weeks ago.  Since then, I've returned to the nest area several times, but it appears both babies have fledged and disappeared.  (There was an unsubstantiated rumor that one of the babies was sick and died.  But, based on my observations, both little ones were healthy…and I think both left the nest.)  I'm so happy I got to see the owls when I did.  What a treat!

April 20, 2014

Stations of the Cross

Good Friday
Every Good Friday, just after sunrise, the Church of the Redeemer and the Sarasota Ministerial Association host the Stations of the Cross pilgrimage down the middle of Main Street.  It's quite a sight to see.  This year, the Church of the Redeemer's youth minister, Rev. David Bumsted, carried the cross the entire route as hundreds of Sarasotans followed and paused for prayer at 14 stations as they remembered and reflected on Jesus' journey to the cross.  When the SDP Editor-in-Chief was doling out this assignment, I actually volunteered (despite the early hour) since I've always wanted to attend.  Unfortunately, I could only make it to two stations before I had to dash off to work.  Next year, I think I'll carve out time for the whole pilgrimage.  Happy Easter!

April 19, 2014

Manatee Easter Bunny

Manatee Easter Bunny
A sure sign that Easter is near is when the manatee mailbox down the road from me is sporting a bonnet with bunny ears.  It's the Manatee Easter Bunny!  Puts a smile on my face every time I drive by.  This is similar to the Manatee Pilgrim, which can be seen at Thanksgiving, and Santa Manatee, who arrives at Christmas and was documented by SDP staff here.  Hope everyone is having a good weekend so far.

April 14, 2014

Crane! Party of…3?

Baby Sandhill Crane
This sandhill crane couple was enjoying a pleasant evening alone.  Or…were they...all alone???  Moments earlier I encountered this scene:

Baby Sandhill Crane
Junior decided it was time to snuggle up close to mama.  Really close.

Baby Sandhill Crane
No one said it was going to be easy…or pretty…or dignified.  Face plant!

Baby Sandhill Crane
Getting to this point was such a feat, Junior flopped out for a brief respite before continuing…
Baby Sandhill Crane
I can almost hear Junior huffing and puffing, and hooching and snorting, flapping his wee wings trying to maneuver inside mama's ample wing until he located just the right spot.  As soon as he settled into position, mama nonchalantly folded her wing -- without looking behind her -- and Junior was tucked away safe, sound and warm.  Incredible!
Baby Sandhill Crane
What's also incredible is how much growing this little guy has to do.  Sandhill cranes are one of the tallest birds in the world, standing 3.5 to 4 feet high.  I'd like to thank my friend Pat for tipping off the SDP staff about this nest -- great find.  Thanks for sharing!

April 13, 2014

Construction Resumes

New Construction
We haven't seen something like this for awhile here -- new commercial construction.  And, now it appears we may have turned a corner in Sarasota with new development.  According to the sign, this   soon will be a 7-11 at Tuttle and 12th St., across from Ed Smith Stadium where the Baltimore Orioles play spring baseball.  It's an interesting location for a convenience store -- right in front of a strip mall. From the looks of the construction, it appears it also will be a gas station.  There's also a townhouse development that got underway in downtown several months ago.  And, work on an 18 story condo building is expected to start any day, also in downtown.  And, all sorts of hotels are in the pipeline:  a total of five, including a proposed Westin, Aloft and Embassy Suites.  We'll see how many come to fruition.  But, there's definitely a lot of interest in Sarasota!

The screening of 'Rich Hill' at the Sarasota Film Festival yesterday was terrific. What a good documentary -- very thought provoking.  A Q & A was supposed to be held afterward with the director, but it was cancelled because she was at a different location in Sarasota receiving a Special Jury Award from the festival.  C'est la vie.

I'm continuing to have some amazing encounters with the barred owls.  I went to the park directly from the movie theater and mama owl was in rare form.  She was hooting and hooting -- my, what a deep, hearty call she has!   Hope everyone has a relaxing Sunday on tap.

April 12, 2014


From the time I arrived at the nest area, this little one was rambunctious…very inquisitive…and ready to explore.  It seemed much more advanced than its sibling, which led some of us to ponder whether this one is a girl.  Thus, the upcoming usage of the pronoun 'she'.

While Mom roosted in a nearby tree, one of her two babies cried, bounced, bobbed, flapped its wings, walked up and down branches, and cried some more. Mom didn't seem to care.

When she paused and crouched with an intense 'I Can Do It' look,  I sensed she was gearing up for an adventure.  Something big.  Really big.  And, then...


She leaped a good distance to another tree, nailing the landing by extending her claws and tucking her wings like she had done it many times before.  (The SDP editorial board had a lively debate as to whether this photo was blog-worthy due to the poor quality; however, the storyline won.)  I thought that was her big adventure…until awhile later she unexpectedly flew to the ground -- just 10 feet or so away from me.  The light was so low I gave up on still photos and opted for video...

After her brief yet exciting adventure seeing life from the ground up, she confidently marched up a tree to a safe location.  During the excitement, I wondered where Mama Owl was lurking.  Surely, she had to be nearby.   Within moments of Baby returning safely to the tree, she swooped in and nuzzled the little one and gave her a quick once over.  Safe and sound.  So precious.  What an adventure!

April 11, 2014

Sarasota Film Festival

The 16th annual Sarasota Film Festival has been going on for the past week. More than 250 independent films will be shown this year, and directors, producers and sometimes even celebrities show up for the event.  I'm definitely no cinephile. One average, I probably go to one movie a year. (This year it was the sequel to the Hunger Games -- fabulous book, really good film.) But, I really wanted to screen at least one film at this year's festival.  With so many films to choose from, though, where does someone like me start? Well, it wasn't difficult. I immediately found a documentary, 'Rich Hill', about three teenage boys growing up in a small rural town in Missouri called Rich Hill. Apparently, it did very well at the Sundance Film Festival.  After seeing the trailer, I'm quite excited to see it this weekend.  Check it out:
A complete film guide is listed here.  When I'm not at the Film Festival, I'll be back checking on the owl family.   And, SDP got a hot lead last night about a family of sandhill cranes in the area.  The Sarasota Open (tennis) and the Shark's Tooth Festival are also going on this weekend.  So much to do this time of year.  But, first…the Friday workday! 

April 7, 2014

Happy Family

Well, I couldn't resist going back to visit the barred owl family!  They're absolutely fascinating to watch. We have so much material that the SDP Editor-in-Chief lifted our standard guidelines and today we're having a Monday Special, posting not one but three photos plus a video. 

I arrived at the park early in the evening Saturday when the sun was still up (these owls, though, like to roost in the shade, so it will forever be a lighting challenge with them).  Two other photographers as well as a very pleasant local couple were on hand watching the family.  The adult owl (we're all assuming it's the mother) didn't seem to mind us at all. (This is a stark contrast to the behavior of red shouldered hawks which will dive bomb interlopers until they leave the nest area.) The mama owl sat in a tree by herself, and at one point flew to a branch just 10-15 feet from me.  Isn't she gorgeous?!  Her markings blend right in with the tree and surrounding area.  She didn't appear upset that her two little ones were crying for dinner in two separate trees nearby.

This fuzzy little guy was making most of the racket. Absolutely adorable, isn't he?! I can't help but smile looking at him.  He was quite curious, craning his head down to watch those who were watching him.  At one point, he even splayed his entire fluffy body on the branch and peered below to see what was going on.

And, this is mama with the other little one.  She flew over for a visit and the baby seemed fairly content since she was so close.  That is, until its sibling would cry (as you can hear on the video below) then, occasionally, this one would join the pathetic cacophony wondering when dinner would be served. 

It's amazing something so fuzzy and cute can make such a screeching sound. The SDP crew is having a great time with this family.  So much, that we ended up going back last night too.  We have oodles of pics to go through…including some close encounters with mama and one of the babies. It's remarkable to experience this young bird of prey family up close and in the wild.  An added bonus to all this has been meeting a really nice couple who are locals and are as excited about observing the owl family as I am.  Welcome to SDP, Janie and Joe!  Hope everyone has a terrific Monday.

April 6, 2014

Wild Boar

This is the family of wild boar I spotted at Myakka State Park Friday night and mentioned to a birding couple (who in turn tipped me off to the awesome family of barred owls). Usually, the boar are off the beaten path, deep in the woods rooting around in thick palmettos or tall grass, so they're not easy to see. Rarely do they lift their heads from their foraging, which makes it challenging for us wildlife photographers to get a snout shot.  (See post about the SDP Editor-in-Chief's 2013 "Snout Edict" here.) So, I was surprised to see this family in the open right off the main road in the park.  (The little off white blob left of center is a baby boar.)  They were at least 75-100 yards away and as noisy as can be...ripping, chomping and snorting at the ground. The distance was good for safety but not so good for executing that perfect snout shot.  One of these days, I'll capture it.  

April 5, 2014

Who Goes There?

I spotted this adult barred owl and baby (hiding behind the leaves to the left) last night at Myakka State Park after getting a hot tip from a nice birding couple visiting from Delaware. We met at the birdwalk, where it was relatively quiet as far as birds go, so I tipped them off to a small group of wild boar that I encountered earlier on my way through the park. After chatting some more about birds, our conversation wrapped up and they were saying goodbye. And, that's when a distinct thought popped into my head: 'Ask them about the highlight of their birding trip.' So I did. The man's eyes shot wide open and he exclaimed, "The barred owls! Oh, the family of barred owls we saw! Here! Today! At the park!" Next thing you know, they gave me perfect directions to the nest, saying "One good tip deserves another." Isn't that something?!  When I arrived at the nest, the light was low and the owls were eating. (I was a bit shocked to see them devouring a bird carcass, since I thought barred owls stuck to a strict diet of small mammals and reptiles. But, my trusty "Birds of Florida Field Guide" confirmed that they do indeed eat small birds.  Ah, life in the wild.) I maxed the ISO on my Cannon at 3200, and managed to squeak out a couple of shots when they weren't moving.  A return visit with better natural light is now on my to do list!  Have a great weekend.