Skimming Skimmers and Paddling Grebes
What is a Public Use Intern?
I suppose some of you may be wondering what it is exactly that I’m doing here in Florida. Well, here are a few pictures:
Sometimes I get to help out at festivals, which are quite fun. We set up a booth and people come by and we tell them about the refuge and some of the awesome animals we have here. The kids get to make a stamp bookmark, and I usually have them touch the bobcat and otter pelts and compare them.
Yes, those are giant ants on the table. No, they are not real, no, we don’t have ants that big on the refuge, and no, they’re not for sale. Everyone comments on the ants, that’s what really brings people over to our table.
Sometimes I help with school programs and we get to hang out with Florida Scrub Jays. They are very curious, and will come land on your head or hand if you hold it out, looking for peanuts. The biologists have trained them to enter traps in order to band them for monitoring purposes. The traps are baited with peanuts, so the jays get a treat for their hassle.
Sometimes I’m allowed to go out with the biologists and do fun biology things, like help restore scrub habitat. As Mike, the head biologist, was explaining to me when he kidnapped me and forced me to help him fill a spray tank, no one has been really successful at restoring scrub, which is a problem for wildlife managers trying to help the scrub jays and other species that depend on scrub habitat. The area we were working in used to be a grapefruit grove, but they are trying to make it
For us, this meant planting seeds in the hot sun in a quarter-acre plot. It was actually quite fun, and there were scrub jays hanging out nearby watching us, and lots of fun birds flew overhead. Also, a man on a motorcycle rode by blaring “Uptown Girls,” which I then got stuck in everyone’s heads (going on a week now).
The field we planted with scrub plant seeds.
Here we all are hard at work. This is what most of the morning looked like, hanging out in a barren field and contemplating the scrub.
Sometimes I hobnob with famous birdy people. Here I am at the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival with two other Merritt Island NWR volunteers and Richard Crossley (in the black shirt). He was the keynote speaker at the festival this year, and because I was helping to sell his books I had the chance to hear him speak and got him to autograph my copies of his books, The Shorebird Guide and The Crossley ID Guide (came out just last year). We chatted for a bit, he’s a fun guy. Also takes fantastic pictures of birds.
Same birding festival, different day, with Kevin Karlson. He is a co-author of The Shorebird Guide, and also autographed my copy. Another fantastic photographer and birder, and also fun to talk with.
Sometimes I hobnob with snakes (this happens a lot, actually). This is Buddy, our education snake. We hang out together a lot, he’s my bud. The other day I had him out at the Visitor Center, showing him to some of the visitor. Buddy decided he wanted to crawl into my shirt, and did so, going up my right sleeve. He was across the front of my chest before I noticed, so I tried to pull him out via the front of my shirt. He was having none of that, and kept aiming for my other sleeve, like he was going to crawl all the way through. This doesn’t really bother me, but I’m aware that quite a few other people are not fond of snakes and the idea that I would even hold him is disturbing, so I tried to excuse myself from the people I was talking to so I wouldn’t bother them too much. I also wasn’t entirely sure I would be able to get him out of my shirt without taking it off, so I figured I probably should do that in the privacy of the back office, or the restroom. The people I was talking with didn’t seem to mind, in fact the woman starting taking pictures of me with a snake up one sleeve and part of his mid-section out the front of my shirt, his head moving back and forth under my shirt on my other shoulder.
I should have asked her to send me a copy, I’m sure it looked pretty funny.
This is a yellow rat snake we fished out of the trashcan so it wouldn’t bother the visitors. After the photo op, we released it back into the palmettos.
Rat snakes are generally very docile creatures, and all of the ones I’ve handled have been quite friendly. They generally like climbing around my person and going through my hair and belt-loops, which can be interesting, having a live snake-skin belt. This is one of Buddy’s favorite activities when I’m not paying attention. He also likes to go through my braid or pony-tail, so I have to undo my hair to get him out.
If you didn’t have enough of the creepy-crawly, here are some toad pictures! This is a spadefoot toad that one of the biologists brought to show us. He found it in the fire garage, and thought that might not be the best place for a toad to live.
Only a few more weeks left here in Florida, so I’ll try to get more pictures up soon!
Defecating River Otter “Made My Day.”
|Resting for the big event|
|Lifting the tail|
A birder and ornithologist, she jumped at the chance to internship at Merritt Island. “People come from across the country to see the birds here,” she said. “There are fantastic opportunities to see some fantastic birds.” She admits there was an additional consideration in her internship choice— “Spending the winter in Florida was also pretty appealing.”
|Taken from the backseat, before Sam opened the truck door to let me out. That is Sam’s hair and beard in the rear-view mirror, not mine.|
|Time to head back to the bushes|
Cinammon Teal in Florida!
There has been a Cinnamon Teal at MINWR for the past few days now, and no one really knows what it’s doing here. Cinnamon Teal are normally found in the western part of the U.S., and this time of year they should be wintering in Mexico, Central and South America. According to the Merritt Island bird list, the last time a Cinnamon Teal was seen here on the refuge was in 2000.
I went out yesterday morning with some of the volunteers to see if it could be spotted. We met up with three other birders/photographers, and between the six of us we found it (and by that I mean one of the others found it while I was busy watching the Black Skimmers– pictures to come). I tried to take a few pictures through the spotting scope, but every time I clicked this happened:
|The Cinnamon Teal is the one in the middle, with its head underwater.|
So I decided to take a video instead, because then I wouldn’t have to worry about my timing. That, and we had to go pick up a fire truck for a school program later that morning, so we didn’t have much time to mess with taking pictures.
The Cinnamon Teal is the reddish-cinnamon colored bird in the middle that keeps putting its head underwater. There are quite a few Northern Pintail swimming about in front of it, and a couple Blue-winged Teal snoozing behind it. The black on the side is because I took the video through the spotting scope with my little point-and-shoot, and I’m still learning the ins and out of digiscoping (taking pictures with a camera through a spotting scope, i.e. using it as a big lens to get pictures of far away birds that otherwise would be little specs).
I also took pictures of the fire truck, and I got to ride in it. It smelled like smoke, and was basically just riding in a big white truck with lots of extra buttons I wasn’t allowed to touch.
USFWS fire trucks don’t have sirens, because they don’t exactly need them to fight forest fires and manage controlled burns. The animals already know to get out of the way, they don’t need a siren to tell them something’s burning. They’re smart like that.
|Cary, a volunteer, demonstrating the fire hose|
The kids loved the program, and hopefully they learned a little bit about controlled burns as well as all the animals that depend on scrub habitat.
|Some of the school group and a chaperone, their teacher, and volunteers Cary and Betty Salter (in fire-fighting garb) and volunteer Bill Nunn|
And we are go for launch
One of the perks of living on Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is that NASA shoots up rockets in your backyard. Tonight I went out and watched the launching of the Atlas V Mobile User Objective System 1 satellite. The MUOS 1 is a military satellite, which will “improve ground communications for U.S. forces on the move” ( from the Kennedy Space Center website).
It’s a pretty spectacular sight, and I managed to get a video. I apologize for the shakiness, I’m not very good at holding still.
If you listen closely you can hear the countdown on the radio. There is an AM station that follows the launches and talks directly to the Air Force and NASA people involved with the launch. It’s very interesting to hear what they do to prepare, and to know what’s going on, especially if there is a weather delay, as there was last time I went to watch a launch.
The large building is the Vehicle Assembly Building of the Kennedy Space Center.
A Trip to Viera Wetlands
It seems like every other day I hear someone talking about all the great birds they see at Viera, so today we finally went. Though we missed the Crested Caracara and the Black-bellied Whistling Duck, we did see some other pretty cool birds, including four Limpkin (a life bird for me!)
Here’s my list for the day:
- Blue-winged Teal
- Green-winged Teal
- Ring-necked Duck
- Hooded Merganser
- Pied-billed Grebe
- Double-crested Cormorant
- Great Blue Heron
- Great Egret
- Snowy Egret
- Little Blue Heron
- Tricolored Heron
- Cattle Egret
- White Ibis
- Glossy Ibis
- Wood Stork
- Turkey Vulture
- Bald Eagle
- Northern Harrier
- Common Moorhen
- American Coot
- Sandhill Crane
- Foster’s Tern
- Belted Kingfisher
- Loggerhead Shrike
- Tree Swallow
- Palm Warbler
- Common Yellowthroat
- Savannah Sparrow
- Red-winged Blackbird
- Boat-tailed Grackle
Not too shabby for starting at noon and getting rained on multiple times, not to mention putting up with some pretty gusty winds. I also put together a short video with some of my pictures/videos I took today:
In case you’re interested, here’s the link to the Viera Wetlands website:
Viera Wetlands- Home
On the way home we passed this sign. Unfortunately, we were too late to discover what the PMS problem is, but it must be pretty good since this is the second part. I can’t imagine what two sermons on this topic would entail, but I’m sure it’d be enlightening. Or something like that.
A Day At the Beach
|Not where I sat. I have no idea how this got out here, or what it’s from.|
|Nude willet: acceptable. Nude old men: not so much.|
You learn something new every day…
|Patrick, one of my fellow interns, showing off and shooting one-handed. He’s had some experience.|
|Meghan taking her turn. She, like me, had never fired a gun before.|
|Picture proof I actually did it!|
|Trish heading into the mangroves|
|Mary and Betty|
|Someone had anchored this plastic chair in the middle of the mangroves, probably to sit in while they fished. The water is only a few feet deep, and the chair is sunk into the muck.|
Greetings from Sunny Florida!
|Stupid toilet-paper holder.|
|The Vehicle Assembly Building. It’s so tall that when they first built it clouds formed at the ceiling, they had to install fans. I think they used to assemble space shuttles and rockets in there.|
|Some weird golf-ball thingie, there might be some kind of radar or satellite in there, I’m not sure.|
|And they mean it too. The guard at the pass booth has a gun, I hear. I wouldn’t know, I’m not authorized to go on NASA property yet.|
|Sunset from one of the impoundment roads|
|Two great egrets|
|One of the roughly 5,000 gators on the refuge. This guy (or gal) is probably about 10ft long.|
|A northern mockingbird reading one of the signs along Black Point Wildlife Drive. The birds here are smart!|
|Painted buntings, male (on left) and female (on right). There are three pairs that frequent our feeders.|