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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.)

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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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