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Hurricane Irma Humbled Me


Her winds snapped utility poles in half causing transformers to explode with electric sparks flying and wires to break and in those moments, we were in the dark. No lights, no air conditioning, no TV and no internet. Just a blustering wind that drove rain against the window panes and that caused our roof to creak with each outburst. Tropical winds and hurricane force gusts of air made palm tree fronds shake violently and pine tree branches snap. Torrents of windswept rain turned roads into shallow rivers and yards into ponds.

The next evening, after the storm passed, I ventured out in the night to experience the peacefulness of the natural world. There was no moon, only twinkling starlight that cut through the blackness of the night. I admit, it was eerie with the absence of street lights and the sounds of cars on nearby highways. Ponds, filled with fresh rainwater, triggered frogs to croak while barred owls called out with their “Who Cooks for You” chant from distant tree tops.

It was uncomfortable without the modern conveniences, yet for the Seminole people who lived here hundreds of years earlier, it was their way of life. Chickee huts constructed of cypress trees with platforms three feet above the ground and palmetto thatch roofs, had no lights, no air conditioning, no TV, no internet. The blackness of the night was not unnerving to them, it was just another night. They drew comfort from the singing of the frogs and owls and other calls of the night.

I guess, not living in those earlier times when there was absence of the conveniences of today, I am spoiled. I do not know if I could live the way of native Americans. After a couple of days without air conditioning, Anne and I left our little town and went to a hotel that had power for air conditioning units, WiFi for internet and TV. I have greater appreciation for the people who lived in earlier times; they were resilient in the face of adversity. And yet, I am here as a result of their resoluteness. I am truly humbled by it all.


Hurricane Irma is on Its Way!

Numerous birds are at our Florida feeders engorging on the variety of seeds in the food we put out for them. Anne and I are in the process of stocking up on food too. The propane tanks are full and the barbecue and camping stove are in working order. We have also  stocked up on water and batteries.

We will probably loose our electric and the internet will go down and the cell phone service may even go out so this blog will go on hiatus until after the storm passes and services are restored.  We were in New York for Super Storm Sandy so check out my blog entry called: What do Birds do During a Hurricane?  (https://naturechirp.com/2012/11/20/what-do-birds-do-during-a-hurricane/)

For all of you in the path of this powerful storm, be safe.



The Great Egret – Symbol of America’s Conservation Movement

Anyone visiting freshwater wetlands or salt water marshes today are bound to see dozens of great egrets wading in the shallow water hunting for fish, frogs, crayfish and insects. This was not the case in the late 1800’s when plume hunters nearly wiped out this bird, other egret species and numerous wading birds.

Egret feathers, especially the breeding wisp feathers, were used in the millinery industry in New York and London where it was fashionable to wear hats adorned with bird feathers in the 1800’s. Hunters killed nesting egrets, where they gathered in rookeries, leaving the hatchlings to starve to death. This put egrets and other species on the brink of extinction.

Thanks to Harriet Lawrence Hemenway, an avid birder in Boston, the trend to wear feathered hats turned. She held tea parties for Boston’s elite to make women aware of the calamity occurring to the birds. Hemenway encouraged them not to buy these feathered hats or to wear them. Some did, some refused, but this was the match that lit a movement to ban the use of feathers in the hat industry.

Out of this drive the Massachusetts Audubon Society was founded as were other Audubon Societies that eventually lead to the creation of the National Audubon Society. The great egret became Audubon’s symbol.

A law called the Lacey Act was passed by congress in 1900 to ban the transportation of birds across state lines, but it did little to slow the decimation of the birds. A conservation officer was shot and killed by a plume hunter when the officer attempted to enforce the law. It wasn’t until 1913 when another law – the Weeks-Mclean Law was passed that put an end to the plume trade.

This led to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 which was challenged in the supreme court. The court ruled in favor of the law stating that the protection of birds was in the nation’s best interest.

There have been many species of wildlife decimated at the hands of mankind. The great auk, a large flightless bird, of the islands in the northern circumpolar region was killed off by over-zealous hunters for food and trade. It disappeared by the mid-1800’s. The passenger pigeon, was massacred by the millions for sport and food. It disappeared by 1900. It is a trend that still occurs today with the killing of the black rhino for its horn and the poaching of the lowland gorilla.

Only through the efforts of caring, compassionate people will these species survive. Thanks to Harriet Lawrence Hemenway, the great egret and its cousins bounced back to healthy levels for who is now the future generations of the past.

“Only if we understand,  can we care – only if we care, will we help – only if we help, shall they be saved.” – Jane Goodall.

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Warning! This is Gruesome and Nauseating!!!

Eastern gray squirrels are frequent visitors to our backyard bird feeders here in central Florida.  One day in early August, a squirrel appeared full of what I thought were cancerous growths on its body. The growths were large, dangling enlargements that protruded an inch or so from the pelt of the squirrel. Despite its “diseased” state, the squirrel seemed healthy and spry.

After a little research I discovered something quite gross – a good news, bad news outcome. No, it was not cancer, but with bot fly larvae. The bot fly is a bumblebee-like looking fly that uses the squirrel to host its larvae.

The adult fly lays eggs on the twigs and branches of the vegetation that squirrels live in and when larvae hatches, they attach themselves to the squirrel that brushes up against them. The larvae enter the squirrel via the mouth, nose and anus where they find their way to the sub-cutaneous tissue of the animal. Once in the skin, the larvae make a hole in the skin called a warble and align themselves with their heads buried in the squirrel and abdomen at the skin’s surface where excrement is passed. The last thing a bot fly wants to do is to kill its host so it sucks just the lymph fluid, not the blood, for nourishment and does not damage the muscle or other important tissues.After four weeks, the larvae falls to the ground where it burrows into the soil and pupate to undergo metamorphosis. It emerges as an adult bot fly to start the cycle over again.

The squirrel usually survives and the warbles heal over time unless it is inundated with too many warbles. I only saw this squirrel a couple of times at the feeder and hope that it did fine once the bot fly larvae dropped from it. It makes me think twice before bushwhacking through brush to capture pictures. That is for sure!


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“Man of the Forest”

The title of this blog is the Malaysian translation of the word orangutan. The Bornean orangutan is one of two orangutan species that lives in Southeast Asia. The Bornean orangutan, pictured here lives in the tropical rain forests of Borneo. This Asian ape’s diet is mostly fruit, but insects and leaves add to its diet. It is an arboreal ape living in the tree canopy where it makes nests from branches to sleep in. Once numbering slightly over 288,000 individuals, the its population has decreased to an estimated 104,000 and is predicted to drop to 45,000 by 2025 due to habitat loss from human activities. This orangutan is listed an endangered species due to this trend. Efforts to support genetic diversity of orangutans in zoos and in the wild through the Orangutan Species Survival Plan will help to prevent this species from becoming extinct. (Photographs from Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo that participates in the Survival Plan.)



Nearly Extinct!

A 98% decrease in the population of the gharial, a fish-eating crocodile on the Indian sub-continent, makes this species critically endangered. Once nearly 10,000 of these crocodiles inhabited the quiet murky waters of the rivers in India, Bhutan and Nepal, but are now reduced to about 200 from over-hunting, habitat loss and the construction of dams and irrigation canals. There are two protected areas in northern India where this crocodile lives. Will this be enough to prevent the gharial from going the way of the mastodon??? Only through conservation efforts will this species be brought back from the brink of extinction. (Photograph taken at Tampa’s Lowery Park Zoo.)

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The Exquisite Scarlet Ibis

One of the most stunning wading bird is the world is the scarlet ibis, a South American bird of wetlands, shorelines and mud flats in South America’s estuaries, bays and rain forests.

It probes the shallow waters, mud and plants with its curved, slender bills eating crayfish, shrimp, insects, frogs, crabs, worms and small fish. The carotenoids in some of what it eats, especially shrimp and red mollusks give this ibis its brilliant red color.

Although some local populations have disappeared, this bird maintains a stable population and hopefully, enough wetlands and rainforests will be protected to support this beautiful bird.

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