EnviroQuest

Photography by Larry A Lyons

Wildlife of Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

Happy 100th Year Anniversary to the National Park Service responsible for managing and preserving the national parks, monuments and reservations of the United States. Yellowstone, being the first national park, was declared a national park in 1872. The U.S. army was originally responsible for managing and protecting the park until the formation of the National Park Service in 1916.

Bison Silhouettes

‘Yellowstone Bison’ © Larry A Lyons

Two previous posts described the landscape and the geological features of ‘Yellowstone National Park’ and ‘Grand Teton National Park’. Both of these national parks are a part of the ‘Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’.

This post provides a “glimpse” into some of the more iconic wildlife species that inhabit this diverse ecosystem. The intent is not only to provide awareness on some of the behavior of these animals but also to further assess our understanding on the importance of maintaining and developing adequate buffer zones surrounding our national reserves. This is essential for sustaining wildlife populations within a healthy and natural ecosystem for future generations.

Geysers and Steam Vents Galore

Geysers and Steam Vents Galore’ © Larry A Lyons

The core of the ‘Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’ (GYE) is Yellowstone National Park. This ecosystem extends well beyond the boundaries of our first national park encompassing approximately 22.6 million acres. It includes the Grand Teton National Park, state parks, portions of five national forests, three wildlife refuges, Bureau of Land Management holdings, private lands, and tribal lands. It extends from the northwestern region of Wyoming into Montana and Idaho. Federal government agencies, state governments, tribal governments and private individuals are responsible for managing this ecosystem.

The GYE has been recognized as a model of an extremely important concept known as “Ecosystem Management”. Ecosystem management involves a complex and long-term process that serves to conserve the integrity of natural resources and wildlife populations. It encompasses some of the following objectives:

  • Sustaining healthy wildlife populations from apex species (e.g., gray wolf, grizzly bear, cougars) to iconic and prey species (e.g., elk, bison, pronghorn, moose) to the hundreds of other animal and plant species that are an integral part of this ecosystem. It requires maintaining a delicate and complex balance between species and an understanding of the carrying capacity of this ecosystem for each wildlife population.
  • Protecting public and private lands that will continue to require curtailing and controlling the expansion of human development.
  • Learning to co-exist with wildlife.
  • Continue to secure crucial habitat that will provide an appropriate buffer zone for the sustainability of this ecosystem for future generations.
  • Protecting and restoring vital rivers, lakes and streams. Healthy aquatic systems are not only essential for maintaining the health of the GYE, but the headwaters for three critical river systems – the Missouri, the Columbia, and the Colorado – begin in this ecosystem.
  • Protecting endangered or threatened species.
  • Requiring and utilizing scientific knowledge to process management decisions and objectives.
'Oxbow Bend' © Larry A Lyons

‘Oxbow Bend’ © Larry A Lyons

The collaborations of people, institutions and organizations are absolutely critical in managing and achieving all of these goals. Park rangers are the core wearing many different hats including protecting the reserves, insuring that people maintain a safe distance from the wildlife, rescuing wildlife, and being a great resource of information for the public.

Bison Calf Rescue

‘Bison Calf Rescue’ © Larry A Lyons

In addition, there are several ‘key’ non-profit and grassroots organizations – including, ‘The Greater Yellowstone Commission’, and ‘Defenders of Wildlife’ – that have been instrumental in defending and advocating the importance of this ecosystem. Indeed, the complexity and patience of addressing all of the diverse human interests and priorities is as challenging as developing, managing and administering an expansive and vital ecosystem.

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

‘Grand Canyon of Yellowstone’ © Larry A Lyons

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The ‘Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’ is home to over 50 species of mammals and 300 species of birds. All images herein were captured within Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Let’s start with the ‘Majestic Elk’ and begin to get a perspective of the importance of ecosystem management.

Majestic Elk 2

‘Majestic Elk’ © Larry A Lyons

Elk have been living in Yellowstone for more than 1,000 years and at one time they ranged across most of North America. Today they live mostly in western North America, particularly in mountainous landscapes such as, Yellowstone and the National Elk Refuge located in Jackson Hole Valley within the Grand Teton National Park.

There are between 30,000 to 40,000 elk within several different herds living and migrating within the GYE. They tend to migrate as large herds into areas of higher altitude in the spring once the snow has receded and then return to lower altitudes or valleys in the fall before the harsh winter commences. These migrations are necessary to move into areas where forage is more accessible. Elk forage on native grasses, tree bark, flowering plants, and tree sprouts, particularly aspen and willow sprouts.

Majestic Elk

‘Stands Nine Feet Tall’ © Larry A Lyons

A decline of elks for some of the herds has been recorded. This decline is being attributed to a number of factors including the predation by the re-introduced gray wolf, predation by a greater bear population, food quality, climate, harvesting by hunters, and drought related impacts on pregnancy and survival. Hence, scientific investigations become necessary to understand not only the carrying capacity (i.e., the proper balance of food sources and habitat for sustaining a population) within the GYE, but also to understand the complex interactions that affect a wildlife population.

Elk Bugling 2

‘Elk Bedding Down’ © Larry A Lyons

The antlers of a bull elk can reach four feet above its head so that the animal towers nine feet tall. Bull Elks retain their antlers through the winter, but the antlers are shed in the spring. They begin to grow new antlers soon after in preparation for the late summer breeding season.

Elks have a defined rump area with a short tail. Bull elks will dig holes in the ground where they will urinate and roll their body. A male elk’s urethra points upward so that urine is sprayed at right angle to the penis. The urine soaks into their hair giving them a distinct smell to attract cows.

Elk Perfume

‘Elk Perfume’ © Larry A Lyons

Bull elks have a very distinctive and loud screaming sound known as ‘bugling’ that can be heard for miles. It is an iconic sound to be heard for miles away in the fall. Females are attracted to the males that bugle more often and have the loudest sound.

Elk Bugling

‘Elk Bulging’ © Larry A Lyons

During the mating season, mature bulls compete for the attentions of the cow elk. A bull elk will defend his harem of 20 cows or more from competing bulls and predators.

Harem

‘An Elk Harem’ © Larry A Lyons

Cow elks do not have antlers and are 60% smaller than mature bull elks. They do grow in a thick coat of hair in the fall for insulation during the severe winters.

Female Elk and Calf

‘Female Elk and Calf’ © Larry A Lyons

Gray wolves, bears and cougars, and coyote packs are considered the primary predators of elk. Here a large grizzly bear was seen feeding on an elk.

Grizzly Feeding On Elk

‘Grizzly Bear Feeding On An Elk’ © Larry A Lyons

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This photographer did not get the opportunity to capture any gray wolf images during this particular expedition, but the story of the re-introduction of the gray wolf provides a miraculous example of reviving not only an endangered species, but also resulted in immensely improving the overall health of the entire ecosystem.

There were no gray wolves in Yellowstone in 1994. Wolves were reintroduced back into the greater Yellowstone area in 1995 and 1996. There are now over 500 descendants living in this ecosystem. The return of the wolf population within the GYE has resulted in restoring the habitats that have been seriously declining. This decline was primarily attributed to the elk becoming overly populated since wolves, being their primary predator, were not present. The overpopulation of elk caused the decline of habitats by the overgrazing of woody tree stands of aspens, cottonwoods and willows. However, once the wolves were restored back into the GYE, the elk numbers began to decline and the tree stands began to recover. This further resulted in a number of other benefits including an increase in beaver populations that resulted due to the increased presence of willow trees that are needed for beavers to survive. Beaver dams contribute an important component to this ecosystem. The dams not only reduce erosion along river banks, but also create ponds and marsh habitats for moose, otters, mink, wading birds, and a diversity of aquatic organisms.

Beaver Dam On Snake River

‘Beaver Dam on Snake River’ © Larry A Lyons

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Coyotes have become quite adaptable in all sorts of habitats and landscapes and are spread throughout North America.

Coyote

‘Coyote’ © Larry A Lyons

The coyotes residing within GYE tend to be amongst the largest coyotes within the United States ranging is size from 30 to 40 pounds (13 to 18 kg).

prowling Coyotes

‘Prowling Coyotes’ © Larry A Lyons

Coyotes have a keen sense of smell and eyesight. They can run up to 40 miles (64 km.) per hour. They will hunt rabbits, rodents, fish, frogs, and even deer. Coyote packs will even prey on elk calves or weakened adults. They also will feed on insects, snakes, fruit and carrion. They will form packs, particularly in the fall and winter, for more effective hunting. Wolves and cougars are coyotes’ main predators.

The coyote population within the GYE has decreased since the re-introduction of the gray wolf, which is primarily attributed to competing for habitat and prey and also being preyed upon by wolves. However, the suppression of coyotes has resulted in an increase of their prey including rabbits, mice, and young deer. This increase of coyote prey has resulted in improving red fox populations. Indeed, an ecosystem with a healthy food web is bloody, complex, and natural.

Stalking For Prey

‘Stalking For Prey’ © Larry A Lyons

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Moose are well suited for the Yellowstone ecosystem. Moose’s long legs allow them to adapt to the deep snow conditions in the winter and allows them to wade into aquatic environments to browse on aquatic plants (i.e., water lilies, duckweed) but their primary food source are the leaves and twigs of the willow trees.

Bullwinkle's Lady

‘Bullwinkle’s Lady’ © Larry A Lyons

However, moose populations have been seriously declining since the 1990’s. Climate changes and heat stress caused by global warming, poaching, reintroduction of wolves, and parasitic diseases are factors that may be attributing to their decline.

Moose are solitary animals that do not form herds. This female moose (cow) has been growing in a thick layer of fur in preparation for the upcoming and harsh winters in the GYE. Their mating season is in the autumn and the cow can be heard grunting in search of a mate. Cows are pregnant through the winter with a gestation period of about 8 months.

Female Moose

‘Female Moose’ © Larry A Lyons

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Mule deer are indigenous to western North America deriving their name from their large mule-like ears. The buck sheds its antlers in the spring and then begins to grow new antlers in preparing for the fall mating season. The antlers fork as they grow. The primary predators of the mule deer, besides humans, are the gray wolves, coyotes and cougars.

Mule Deer

‘Mule Deer’ © Larry A Lyons

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Pronghorns are found in the western United States with the highest number of pronghorns can be found in Wyoming within the Yellowstone ecosystem. Pronghorns are herbivores consuming grasses, flowering plants and sagebrush. They like open plains, fields, grasslands, deserts and basins. Their eyes are quite remarkable in that they can pick up movement three miles away allowing them to spot predators (coyotes and wolves) at some distance.

Pronghorn Overlook

‘Pronghorn Overlook’ © Larry A Lyons

Both males and females have horns referred to as pronghorns. The female has a pair of short horns on the top of the head, while the horns of the male are 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm) long. The male horns have unique characteristics with the horns pointing backwards along with a short prong extending in the front of the horn.

Male and Female Pronghorns

‘Male and Female Pronghorns’ © Larry A Lyons

Pronghorns breed in late summer or fall. A male pronghorn will establish a breeding territory with a group of females and will breed with multiple females. The male keeps a constant vigilance over his harem and is quite aggressive about protecting the harem. If a female wonders off, the male quickly corrals the female back. Vocalization and body language of the male dictates a strict social structure.

Pronghorns Mating

‘Pronghorns Mating’ © Larry A Lyons

After mating, the females will be pregnant throughout the winter and will give birth in the spring.

Pronghorn Harem

‘Pronghorn Harem’ © Larry A Lyons

Pronghorn antelope is considered the fastest land animal in North America with speeds up to 60 miles/hour (96 km/hr). Pronghorns will migrate long distances (150 to 200 miles one way) between summer and winter feeding grounds. Their migration is a perilous journey being threatened by vehicles, impassable fences and development. The creation of wildlife corridors that can reduce the conflict between animals and people is an ongoing challenge and objective of the National Wildlife Federation and other affiliates.

Pronghorn Vocalizing

‘Pronghorn Vocalizing’ © Larry A Lyons

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An important lesson was learned in regards to managing bear populations in Yellowstone over the past several decades. Prior to 1969 bears were attracted to developed areas of Yellowstone National Park by the availability of human foods either as handouts or garbage. The bears essentially relied on these human food sources instead of foraging naturally. Then in 1970 an intensive bear management program was activated that included strict regulations prohibiting the feeding of bears. The intent was to restore the bears back to foraging naturally. However, it took awhile for the bears to learn to hunt and forage for themselves. In the interim the bears became more aggressive particularly in camps. Evidently, it seems that this necessitated in euthanizing over 100 bears that almost created near extinction of the grizzly bear population. In 1975 it was listed as a threatened species. In 2007 the grizzly bear was removed from the endangered species list. The grizzly bear population within the GYE is estimated being between 300 to 600 bears.

Grizzly Bear

‘Grizzly Bear’ © Larry A Lyons

Grizzly bears are omnivores having a very diversified diet of plants and animals. They will prey on large mammals including elk, moose, mule deer, and bison. They will feed on trout and a variety of small mammals. They also will consume berries, insects, tubers and grubs (insect larvae). Bears need to build-up their reserves in preparation for their winter hibernation. Here this mother and cub were foraging for grubs in a ravine.

Learning The Ropes

‘Learning The Ropes’ © Larry A Lyons

Mother and Cub

‘Mother and Cub’ © Larry A Lyons

The hump on their shoulders is a distinctive characteristic identifying a grizzly bear. Mother bears rear their cubs for two to three years. Female bears will try to avoid male bears since they can be a danger to the cubs. This mother with its cub was just checking that the photographers and onlookers at the top of the ravine had no intentions of moving closer.

Grizzly and Cub

Mother and Cub Grizzlies’ © Larry A Lyons

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Nearly 300 species of birds have been sighted within Yellowstone Park, of which 150 species nest in the park. Some of the resident populations of birds in Yellowstone include trumpeter swans, common loons, American white pelicans, sandhill cranes and bald eagles.

Eagle Close-up

‘Bald Eagle Close-up’ © Larry A Lyons

Bald eagles can often be seen perched along riverbanks waiting to prey on fish. Their wingspan can reach up to 7 feet (2 meters). In 1995 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service downlisted the bald eagle from an endangered species to threatened for the GYE.

Bald Eagle Takeoff

‘Pursing A Trout Dinner’ © Larry A Lyons

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Somewhere between 30 and 60 million bison roamed North America around 1850. Then they were slaughtered almost to extinction. The quest to settle the American West caused this massive slaughter of the bison. It evolved from the commercial hunting and slaughter of the bison for their hides, from the development of railroads heading west, from settlers wanting to transform the Great Plains used by the bison for farming and ranching, and from the settlement of U.S. Army forts. All of this resulted in restricting the Native American Tribes of the Great Plains whose livelihood was dependent on moving with the migratory herds of bison.

By 1883 nearly all of the bison were gone. Only a few dozen plains bison survived and were provided refuge in the 1870’s upon the formation of Yellowstone National Park. However, poaching of the bison persisted. It was the Lacey Act of 1894 that allowed stronger punishment for poachers. No more than 25 bison remained in 1902. Today’s Yellowstone bison are the descendants of those 25 ‘wild’ bison.

'Bison Roaming Free' © Larry A Lyons

‘Bison Roaming Free’ © Larry A Lyons

Today most bison are managed as domestic livestock. It is primarily the Yellowstone and the Jackson Hole bison herds that have retained their ‘wild’ status. A ‘wild’ bison population is one that roams freely within a defined conservation area, where the loss of existing genetic variation is mitigated with sufficient animals, and is subject to forces of natural selection (e.g., predation, harsh environmental conditions, mating, searching for food).

Bull Bison

‘Bull Bison’ © Larry A Lyons

Unfortunately, the ecosystem management efforts for these remaining ‘wild’ bison populations have been inadequate in a manner that will provide long-term sustainability. The two Yellowstone bison herds in Yellowstone National Park and the Jackson Hole herd in the Grand Teton National Park are not only restricted to staying within the boundaries of these two national parks but are also severely restricted in the total numbers allowed to roam freely in these parks. The two sub-herds in Yellowstone are being maintained at 3,000 individuals and the Teton herd is maintained at 600 individuals.

There has been a severe lack of tolerance for wild bison to roam outside of the parks within the GYE primarily because of the potential concern of spreading the bovine brucellosis disease. This disease is a spillover disease from cattle to elk and bison and now spills back from elk to cattle. It is the rigorous management actions of keeping cattle and bison spatially and temporally separated that have eliminated the transmission of the disease from bison to cattle. It is this realization that reasonable management practices can effectively control the potential spread of brucellosis between cattle and bison that is beginning to allow a greater tolerance for Yellowstone wild bison to roam beyond the park.

After years of campaigning by many people and organizations to allow wild bison to expand within the GYE, the impasse has been lifted to the extend that will allow Yellowstone’s wild bison to roam in some 400 square miles outside the park. This area establishes year- round bison habitat as well as tolerance areas north and west of Yellowstone National Park into the state of Montana.. It is considered a major first step that should curtail the hazing and killing of bison around Yellowstone. It is a huge win for wild bison.

'Mother and Calf Bison' © Larry A Lyons

‘Mother and Calf Bison’ © Larry A Lyons

Bison are nomadic grazers that roam grassy plateaus in the summer but in the winter finding suitable areas to graze particularly during extended periods of deep snow conditions is challenging particularly if their area to roam is restricted. When grazing in the winter, they swing their large heads from side to side to clear the snow to feed on the grass.

'Bison Grazing' © Larry A Lyons

‘Bison Grazing’ © Larry A Lyons

Bison are massive animals. The bull (male) bison stands 6 feet (2 m) tall and weighs up to 2,000 pounds (900 kg) while and the cow (female) bison weighs about 1,000 pounds (500 kg). Both the bull and cow have horns curved upward that are retained for their life span. Young bison entering their first winter have a high risk of dying. About 20 to 40 of every 100 first-year calves may die from accidents, winter exposure or predation.

In spite of their size bison are very agile. They can run 35 miles per hour (55 km/ hr) and can jump over objects 6 feet (1.8 meters) tall. You must not approach them too closely. As the Greater Yellowstone Coalition has stated about bison, ‘They’re wildlife and they deserve to be treated as wildlife”.

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The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) has the largest concentration of wildlife within the continental United States. The abundance and the distribution of these wildlife species depend on their interactions with each other and on the quality and extent of their habitat. The development of reasonable buffer zones is absolutely essential to conserve the integrity of our natural resources and wildlife populations.

The re-introduction of the gray wolf, the return of the grizzly bear from near extinction, the proper control and sustainability of elk populations, the establishment of wildlife corridors to allow the migration of the pronghorns, the continued effort to provide adequate habitat for the ‘wild’ bison populations to prosper are a testament to the resiliency of nature if we apply sensible ecosystem management practices. It is bringing ‘wild’ back into the ‘wilderness’.

Scientific investigations and monitoring needs to be continually funded to understand and assess the carrying capacities and health of the wildlife populations within the GYE. These studies are also necessary to understand how climate change is and will be affecting the GYE. We must continue to learn to co-exist with wildlife. We must never forget that we are the custodians of the natural world.

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Resources:

Buffalo Field Campaign (http://www.buffalofieldcampaign.org)

Defenders of Wildlife (http://www.defenders.org)

Greater Yellowstone Coalition (http://greateryellowstone.org/)

National Wildlife Federation (http://www.nwf.org/wildlife/wildlife-library/mammals/pronghorn.aspx)

National Park Service (https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm)

Yellowstone, National Geographic Magazine, May 2016

Yellowstone Science (https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/yellowstone-science.htm)

Yellowstone Bison: Conserving an American Icon in Modern Society, Edited by P.J. White, R.L. White, D.E. Hallac, Yellowstone Association and Yellowstone National Park, 2015.

 

 

 

African Exhibit – New Location

The African exhibit has moved to the Pemberton Library in Browns Mills, New Jersey. More than 50 images are displayed including the wildlife and the people. Descriptions about each image are also provided with this exhibit.

The exhibit will be hanging until December 30th. Come and check it out at your leisure.

pemberton-library-half-sheet

South Of The Border Exhibit

You are invited to the opening reception of “South Of The Border”, a photographic exhibition presented by three photographers – Patricia Worley, Joanna Patterson and Larry Lyons. The opening reception is  on Friday, October 7th from 6:00-8:00 p.m. at the Hansen Warner Gallery Space, 6 South Main Street, Medford, N.J.

More than 60 images are on display. This exhibition takes you to the Pantanal Wildlife Reserve, Machu Picchu and Sacred Valley of Peru, Chile, Argentina, the Amazon and much more. Check out the announcement for other receptions.

south-of-the-equator-flyer

A Melange of Feathered Friends

This is the final post of a three part series of a Florida field trip that this photographer co-coordinated for the South Jersey Camera Club members for the purpose of photographing birds and their behavior. The field trip was conducted over a five-day period in the beginning of March. The first post entitled, ‘Spring Has Sprung: Busy, Busy Birds’, visited the Venice Rookery with an amazing diversity of birds courting, mating and raising offspring. The second post entitled, ‘Spring Has Sprung: Birds of Prey’, traveled to various locations in southwest Florida to photograph birds of prey nesting and caring for their offspring. This post provides a melange of birds captured when visiting the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge and the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.

The Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge consists of 6,400 acres of mangrove forest, submerged seagrass beds, cordgrass marshes, and hardwood hammocks located on Sanibel Island. This refuge provides an important habitat to over 220 species of birds.

Here is just a sampling of birds photographed at Ding Darling starting with the ‘Reddish Egret’. The ‘Reddish Egret’ is considered the least common heron in Florida. The population of this heron was almost eradicated due to plume hunting during the 19th century. The species has never fully recovered with the current population in the United States of only about 2,000 pairs primarily residing in southern Florida, along the Gulf of Mexico, and Texas.

Reddish Egret- Breakfast Time

‘Reddish Egret- Breakfast Time’ © Larry A Lyons

The feeding behavior of the ‘Reddish Egret’ is captivating to watch. It leaps sideways and quickly changes directions in shallow waters searching for small schools of fish to feed upon.

Reddish Egret- Down The Gullet

‘Reddish Egret- Down the Hatch’ © Larry A Lyons

White Pelicans only spend part of their year in Florida. They migrate to their wintering grounds to coastal areas of Florida, Gulf of Mexico and southern California. In March and April they migrate to inland lakes in flocks to their breeding grounds as far north as Utah, Idaho, Minnesota and Canada.

Pelican Gathering

‘Pelican Gathering’ © Larry A Lyons

The ‘White Pelican’ is considered one of the largest birds in the United States with a 9-foot (2.7 meter) wingspan.

Landing Gear Down

‘Landing Gear Down’ © Larry A Lyons

This pelican was rigorously fluffing its wings and having a bath.

Bath Time

‘Bath Time’ © Larry A Lyons

‘Blue-winged Teal’ are long distance migrants with their territory throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and northern South America. The can be found wintering in Florida and will migrate northward in the spring to breeding grounds.

Blue-Winged Teal

‘Blue-Winged Teal’ © Larry A Lyons

This ‘Tricolored Heron’ is standing absolutely still, not necessarily to get photographed, but waiting for prey to approach it. Its’ prey consist of small fish, crustaceans, and aquatic insects. It is a remarkably slender bird with long beak, neck and legs.

Tricolored Heron

‘Tricolored Heron’ © Larry A Lyons

The ‘Tricolored Heron’ is common along the coastal habitats of the Southeastern United States.

The ‘White Ibis’ is a wading bird residing in the deep South. It is one of the most numerous wading birds in Florida although the population has been declining in recent decades due to the loss of feeding and nesting habitats.

White Ibis

‘White Ibis’ © Larry A Lyons

The ‘Little Blue Heron’ is another bird that resides mostly in the deep southern United States and Mexico. It looks much like a Snowy Egret when it is young, but molts to the dark slate-blue plumage as an adult.

Little Blue Heron

‘Little Blue Heron’ © Larry A Lyons

This ‘Juvenile Yellow-Crowned Night Heron’ was stalking prey along the bank. These birds are often active at night. It is interesting that this species shows up several times in fossil records with the earliest fossil record being 2 to 2.5 million years old from Sarasota, Florida.

Juvenile Yellow-Crowned Night Heron

‘Juvenile Yellow-Crowned Night Heron’ © Larry A Lyons

The ‘Wood Stork’ is considered one of Florida’s ‘signature’ wading birds. It is classified as ‘threatened’ by the State of Florida and federal government due to the destruction and degradation of the wetlands.

Wood Stork

‘Wood Stork’ © Larry A Lyons

This alligator is a resident of the Ding Darling Refuge. Here this gator was basking in the sun to control its body heat. Adult gators enjoy a diet of fish, snakes, turtles, small mammals, and birds.

Alligator- I Eat Wings

‘Alligator With It’s U-Shaped Snout’ © Larry A Lyons

Perhaps we should let this gator know which birds are protected. And perhaps this gator provides some protection benefits for the birds from predatory mammals.

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The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is a very tranquil sanctuary with an extensive boardwalk to transverse though this wetland. It is not to be missed. This sanctuary is part of the Western Everglades in Southwest Florida. It consists of approximately 13,000 acres and is primarily composed of wetlands and includes the largest remaining virgin bald cypress forest in the world. The National Audubon Society has been ultimately responsible for acquiring, protecting and maintaining this sanctuary.

Not only is the sanctuary important for a variety of endangered or federal or state listed birds including the Wood Storks, White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Tricolored Heron, but also for protecting a variety of other species including the Florida panther, American Alligator, and Florida Black Bear. Several rare plants are also found at this sanctuary including the Ghost Orchid.

Crocodiles also inhabit this sanctuary. The primary physical difference between crocodiles and alligators is the shape of their snout. Crocodiles have long and pointed, V-shaped snouts and alligators have rounded, U-shaped snouts.

Croccodile

‘Crocodile With It’s V-Shaped Snout’ © Larry A Lyons

‘Anhinguas’ primary habitats are cypress swamps, rivers and wooded ponds. This pair of ‘Anhingua’ was attending to their nest.

Anhinguas Attending To Nest

‘Anhinguas’ © Larry A Lyons

There were a number of songbirds to view including some very common ones. The lighting on these birds is a photographer’s dream.

Cardinal

‘Cardinal’ © Larry A Lyons

Gray Catbird

‘Gray Catbird’ © Larry A Lyons

Then there was the exquisite ‘Painted Bunting’ in full display. The ‘Painted Bunting’ breeds in the coastal Southeast and south-central United States.

Painted Bunting

‘Painted Bunting’ © Larry A Lyons

Florida is a very seductive place to visit for a number of reasons and that would include another seductive sunset at a beach in Naples. So, here we are being seduced again, as the brown pelicans roost for the evening.

Another Seductive Sunset

‘Another Seductive Sunset’ © Larry A Lyons

 

 

 

 

Wings Exhibit – An Invitation

You are invited to the opening reception of “Wings,” a photographic exhibition presented by the South Jersey Camera Club (SJCC) on Tuesday, July 12th from 6:30-8:00 p.m. at the Hansen Warner Gallery Space, 6 South Main Street, Medford, N.J.

This unique exhibition captures the peak of the nesting season in Southern Florida. The 65 images feature a wide variety of birds building or enhancing nests, courting rituals and raising chicks which were taken during a recent photographic field trip in March 2016.

The five day excursion lead by SJCC Field Trip Coordinators, Pat Worley of Medford Lakes and Larry Lyons of Woodbury, focuses on prime birding areas in the Cape Coral area including Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island; Venice Area Audubon Rookery and Corkscrew Sanctuary.  The group photographed various species including the Burrowing Owl, Painted Bunting, Eagles and various types of Egrets and Herons all in the beauty of their natural environment.

In addition to Worley and Lyons, the other members of the club participating include Bob Chappell, Karen Crisfulla, Albert Galanti, Susan Chilkotowsky-Kain, Fred Lambert, Susan LaPierre, Kathleen Lapergola, and Cindy Mezick.

Fler Option 4 web

Spring Has Sprung: Birds of Prey

This is the second post of a three part series of a Florida field trip that this photographer co-coordinated for the South Jersey Camera Club members for the purpose of photographing birds and their behavior. The field trip was conducted over a five-day period in the beginning of March. The first post entitled, ‘Spring Has Sprung: Busy, Busy Birds’, visited the Venice Rookery with an amazing diversity of birds courting, mating and raising offspring. This post travels to various locations in southwest Florida to photograph birds of prey nesting and caring for their offspring.

Bald Eagle Portrait

‘Bald Eagle’ © Larry A Lyons

The Bald Eagle is another success story on the importance of banning harmful chemicals, such as the pesticide known as DDT; enacting laws such as the federal ‘Endangered Species Act’; and providing appropriate measures of wildlife management. In Florida there were only 88 active nests in 1973. Now there are more than 1,300 nests documented as a result of all of these initiatives.

One of these nests is situated high up in a tree in the northern section of Fort Meyers, Florida. Adult ‘Bald Eagles’, known as Ozzie and Harriet, have been coming to this nest since 2006 residing in the nest between the months of October and May. This eaglet was stretching its wings waiting its turn to be fed.

Can I Fly Yet?

‘Can I Fly Yet?’ © Larry A Lyons

Feeding The Eaglets

‘Feeding The Eaglets’ © Larry A Lyons

‘Burrowing Owls’, no bigger than 10 inches (25 cm) in height, live underground in burrows. They dig out tunnels in sandy soils often within residential communities, particularly vacant lots preferring areas with low ground cover. Burrows extend for 4 to 8 feet (1.2 to 2.4 m) underground. This pair of owls was guarding its burrow.

No Trespassing

‘No Trespassing’ © Larry A Lyons

The Florida burrowing owl is classified as a “species of special concern”. This means burrows, owls, and their eggs are protected from harassment and/or disturbance by state law.

Burrowing Owl Portrait

‘Burrowing Owl On Watch’ © Larry A Lyons

The installation of T-perches near the owl burrows is often provided. These perches provide the owls with an elevated view that aids in looking out for predators. The T-perches also make the burrows visible for operators of lawn mowers.

Watching Over Nest

‘Watching Over Burrow’ © Larry A Lyons

Unlike other owls, Burrowing Owls are active during the day. They have a diversified diet feeding on small mammals (moles and mice), insects, birds, amphibians and reptiles.

Burrowing Owl On The Prowl

‘On The Prowl’ © Larry A Lyons

This wise old ‘Great Horned Owl’ was watching over an owlet living in this tree. Two nests of these owls were observed within a suburban community of Cape Coral that was no more than two blocks apart. It is one of the most common owls in North America. They live in a broad range of habitats from deserts, forests, tropical rainforests, cities, parks and suburbs. Like the burrowing owl, it has found a way of adapting to suburban sprawl.

The Wise One

‘The Wise One’ © Larry A Lyons

Great Horned Owls take life-long mates and will raise the young together. It does have a varied diet that can include small to medium sized mammals (foxes, rabbits, raccoons, rodents, etc.), amphibians, birds, fish and reptiles. This owlet is only a few weeks old and still covered with downy feathers.

Owlet

‘Owlet’ © Larry A Lyons

The osprey has become the symbol of how nature can recover from environmental atrocities. Osprey populations were decimated from the 1950’s to the 1970’s because of the widespread use of an insecticide, known as DDT. Once DDT was finally banned in 1972, recovery of the osprey population began. A previous post entitled, ‘The Osprey Comeback’, provides more information about the how DDT caused the extermination of the osprey populations. The biology and reproduction cycle of the osprey is also provided in this previous post.

Osprey Portrait

‘Osprey Portrait’ © Larry A Lyons

The ospreys were quite active in building their nest. This nest was situated on an osprey platform in the Ding Darling Refuge in Sanibel Island and nesting begins as early as March. The male ‘Osprey’ brought the remainder of a fish to the female who was attending to constructing the nest. Ospreys mate for life and often return to the same nest year after year.

Room Service

‘Room Service’ © Larry A Lyons

Stay tuned for the final post of this series that will visit birds and other wildlife at Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge and the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.

 

Spring Has Sprung: Busy, Busy Birds

This is the first of a three part series of a Florida field trip organized by the South Jersey Camera Club for the purpose of photographing birds and their behavior. The field trip was conducted over a five-day period in the beginning of March.

This first post will present images captured at the Venice Audubon Rookery in Venice, Florida. This rookery is a 14-acre park with a man-made lake. The lake has a small island that is made of mangrove trees and shrubs. A first glance of the island does not particularly provide a significant impression, but a closer examination reveals an incredibly busy habitat. This small island that is probably no longer than 50 yards (46 meters) and 20 yards (18 meters) wide displayed an astonishing level of activity including courting, building nests, mating, and feeding the newborns by an assortment of bird species. Nesting at this rookery can begin as early as December and last through May.

Great Egrets are often the first birds to begin nesting in an area, which often precipitates the nesting activity by other bird species. Great Egrets are the symbol of the National Audubon Society.

Pair of Great Egrets

‘Pair of Great Egrets’ © Larry A Lyons

This elegant bird stands between 37 and 41 inches (94 to104 cm) and has a wingspan of 52 to 57 in. (131 to 145 cm).

Nest Building

‘Nest Building’ © Larry A Lyons

The male will begin to construct the nest from sticks and twigs before it pairs up with a female. Both sexes will work together to complete building the nest.

Egret Courting

‘Egret Courting’ © Larry A Lyons

During breeding season, long plumes grow from their backs that are displayed for courting.

Great Egrets were hunted for their plumes almost to extinction in the late nineteenth century. This resulted in some of the first laws to protect birds in the United States. It was the reason the Audubon Society was originally formed to bring attention to that slaughter.

Great Egrets Mating

‘Egrets Mating’ © Larry A Lyons

Broods of one or two are produced. Here the two siblings are licking the beak of an adult for nourishment from regurgitated fish by the adult. The nesting period lasts for 21 to 25 days.

Great Egret Siblings

‘Great Egret Siblings’ © Larry A Lyons

The Anhinga is predominately a southeastern bird in the United States preferring Cypress swamps, wooded forests, and freshwater marshes. The female Anhinga has a pale brown neck and breast while the male is green-black overall. The long thin pointed bill is used for spearing fish.

Anhingas have a variety of courting behaviors. Here they are pointing their beaks up in the air and were maneuvering their snake-like necks between each other.

Anhingas Courting

‘Anhingas Courting’ © Larry A Lyons

The Anhinga nest is mostly built by the female with the male supplying the materials.

Anhinga Nest Building

‘Anhinga Nest Building’ © Larry A Lyons

The Anhinga does not have oil glands for waterproofing its feathers like most water birds. So it is often seen sunning itself to dry off its wings.

Anhinga Sunning

‘Anhinga Sunning’ © Larry A Lyons

The ‘cousin’ to the Anhinga is the cormorant that also was attending to a nest at the Venice rookery. Cormorants have shorter tails, shorter and blunter bills and do not have the silvery wing patches like an Anhinga.

Double-Crested Cormorant

‘Double-crested Cormorant’ © Larry A Lyons

Flying over the Venice rookery was a flock of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. The geographical range for these ducks extends from South and Central America with their most northern range in the United States being Texas, Louisiana and Florida.

Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks

‘Black-bellied Whistling Ducks © Larry A Lyons

The Great Blue Heron is the largest heron in Florida measuring between 42 and 52 inches (107 to 132 cm). It spite of their majestic size they only weigh 5 to 6 lbs. (2.3 to 2.7 kg). They build large platform nests made of twigs and lined with leaves and grasses. The male brings the nesting material to the female who builds the nest.

Different aged- generations of these herons were being reared at nests on the island. Here the adult identified by the black plume extending beyond the back of the head, the blue-gray back and wings and the back plumes in alternate plumage was busy feeding an immature heron. The immature heron has brownish to gray upper wings, lacks back plumes and lacks the black plume extending from behind the eye.

Adult and Juvenile Great Blue Herons

‘Adult and Juvenile Great Blue Herons’ © Larry A Lyons

The young herons will take to flight by the time they are 45 to 55 days old. However, the immature herons are not as proficient at foraging and will return back to the nest to get additional nourishment from an adult. This will go on for about 2 months after fledging.

Immature Heron Being Fed

‘Immature Heron Being Fed’ © Larry A Lyons

Both sexes share in the care and raising the young. One of the parents is always present during the first 3 to 4 weeks. Feeding the young is primarily regurgitated fish.

Great Blue Heron Chicks

‘Great Blue Heron Chicks’ © Larry A Lyons

Check out the long toes of the Common Gallinule that allow this bird to walk atop soft mud or floating vegetation while foraging. This newly hatched chick is being cared for by an adult. Newly hatched chicks have spurs on their wings that aids them to climb into their nest.

Common Gallinule With Chick

‘Common Gallinule With Chick’ © Larry A Lyons

One, two, three, four – photography is all about being at the right place at the right time. Number One: This Brown Pelican took flight from the island directly towards the outer bank of the lake where this photographer was standing.

Brown Pelican Inflight

‘Brown Pelican Inflight’ © Larry A Lyons

Number Two: It then immediately plunges its beak into the water with its throat pouch wide open to trap the fish.

Brown Pelican Capturing Prey

‘Brown Pelican Capturing Prey’ © Larry A Lyons

Number Three: It then proceeds to drain the water from its pouch.

Brown Pelican Draining Pouch

‘Brown Pelican Draining Water From Pouch’ © Larry A Lyons

Number Four: And then it swallows its catch.

Brown Pelican Swallowing Prey

‘Brown Pelican Swallowing Prey’ © Larry A Lyons

All four images were taken during a period of 22 seconds.

Black-crowned Night Herons spend their days mostly perched on tree limbs or concealed among foliage. They forage in the evening and at night.

Black-crowned Night Heron

‘Black-crowned Night Heron’ © Larry A Lyons

Sunset over the Venice Rookery provides another surprising event. Hundreds of birds fly into the rookery to roost during the night.

Sunset Over Venice Rookery

‘Sunset Over Venice Rookery’ © Larry A Lyons

This is one very, very busy rookery. Spring has sprung in Florida. Stay tuned for the next post ‘Spring Has Sprung: Birds of Prey”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Award: An Image from the Amazon

This image entitled, ‘Doing Laundry In The Amazon’, was awarded ‘Best of Show’ by the Photographic Society of America (PSA) within the interclub competition for projected images. It was submitted on behalf of the South Jersey Camera Club competing with more than 30 other camera clubs.

Doing Laundry In The Amazon

‘Doing Laundry In The Amazon’ © Larry A Lyons

This image was captured from a dugout canoe on a tributary of the Amazon River when visiting the city of Iquitos, Peru.

Award Announcement – Snowy Owl

This image entitled ‘Snowy Owl’  was awarded second place in the juried photographic exhibit held at the Medford Arts Center in Medford, New Jersey.

Snowy Owl copyright

This image along with 35 other amazing images are on display at the Medford Arts Center until March 18th.

Medford Arts Walk Exhibits- An Invitation

Tonight (February 18th from 5 to 7 p.m.) is the final receptions for three separate  exhibits held at Medford, N.J.

The Medford Arts Center is presenting a juried Photographic exhibit with a wide diversity of photographic images contributed by New Jersey Photographers. There are over 35 images on display.

The “All About Nature” exhibit held at the Hansen Warner Building is also a juried exhibit by the very talented South Jersey Camera Club members. There are over 60 images on display.

Stop by this evening.

February ArtWalk on Main