Thursday, March 15, 2018

Fish fry for the long-legged waders

Before sunrise on March 9, clouds hung low over the lake:

Clouds over lake 3-20180309

The rising Sun briefly broke through the cloud cover to illuminate the Pine Bank on the far end of the Wet Prarie, but rain never materialized:

Pine Bank at dawn 02-20180309

During times of high water, the lake spills over into the Wet Prairie. Normally the water begins to recede after the end of summer. Lake levels have been unusually high for the past three years.

The entire prairie was still inundated in December, 2016

Wet prairie on foggy morning 20161208

In October of 2017 the lake remained fairly high, but the water was confined to a slough created by an ATV trail.

Margin of wet prairie 20171031

On March 6th the lakeside marshes had nearly dried up, trapping many fishes which did not escape before being blocked off from the lake. The concentration of prey attracted herons, opossums, Bobcats, raccoons and even venomous Cottonmouth Water Moccasins, which subsist largely on carrion:

Water low at Wet Prairie 20180307

It was only a few minutes after sunrise, and the sun had not yet touched a little residual pool in the Wet Prairie. It was teeming with tiny life forms as evidenced by the ripples they created on the surface of the water.

I assumed that the larger fish had long ago escaped back into the lake or met their fate with predators and scavengers. Behind, they left their eggs and offspring to await an inevitable fate. It will probably be entirely dry within a week.

As I scanned the prairie, an immature Little Blue Heron flew in and settled atop a small Pond Cypress tree:

Little Blue Heron roosting 06-20180306

The heron's plumage might look as if soiled, but it is transitioning from its white immature plumage to the dark blue of an adult:

Little Blue Heron roosting 03-20180306

The "Little Blue" flew down to the pool, now appearing as liquid gold,
reflecting the winter foliage in warm light. The heron immediately spotted its prey:

Little Blue Heron immature 06-20180306

Little Blue Heron immature 05-20180306

I recognized its catch as the tiny fry of the introduced Mayan Cichlid, one of the most common fish species in south Florida canals and lakes:

Little Blue Heron immature 04-20180306

This fish is noted as a protective parent, defending its eggs and fry for several weeks, until their offspring grow to about 2 cm (3/4 inch).  These babies appear to be a bit larger and were probably abandoned when the adults either escaped to open water or perished  in the isolated pools or were taken by predators.

Little Blue Heron immature 02-20180306

Native to Mexico and Central America, Mayan Cichlids are a good food source and most likely escaped from south Florida fish farms about 30-40 years ago.They can survive low oxygen levels but succumb if temperatures drop to near freezing.

A Tricolored Heron suddenly flew in to join in the feast:

Tricolored Heron 04-20180306

Tricolored Heron 03-20180306

Tricolored Heron 01-20180306

Tricolored Heron 02-20180306

The two species fed together amicably:

Tricolored and Little Blue Herons 01-20180306

= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =

Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Our World Tuesday by Lady Fi

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday) by NC Sue

Linking to ALL SEASONS by Jesh


Please visit the links to all these memes to see some excellent photos on display


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Exotic lunch for Florida herons

On the first of March a "Semi-SuperMoon" set over the lake in our local Wounded Wetlands. It was about 226,137 miles from Earth, while January's "Super Moon" was nearly 5,000 miles nearer. This was unfair to February, which had no full Moon at all, while January and March each hosted an extra (Blue) Moon. On average, this happens only in non-Leap Years, once about every 25 years--  and I missed celebrating my half birthday as well, for the 60th+ time! 

Semi-SuperMoon setting 01-20180301

Today's post begins and ends at Shark Valley in Everglades National Park.

Back in May, 2009 I took one of my favorite photos at Shark Valley. I was not sure of the identity of the fish which this Great Blue Heron had caught, but Internet friends identified it as a Jaguar Guapote, native to Nicaragua in Central America.

I learned from Wikipedia that it is a food fish "and is also found in the aquarium trade where it is variously known as: the jaguar cichlid, managuense cichlid or Managua cichlid, guapote tigre, Aztec cichlid, spotted guapote and jaguar guapote. It grows to 55–63 cm (22–25 in)."

Great Blue Heron Catches Cichlid 20090528

I could not believe that the heron would be able to swallow it!

Great Blue Heron Ready to Swallow 20090528

Great Blue Heron Swallows Tilapia 20090528

Great Blue Heron Swallows Tilapia 2-20090528

Hypostomus plecostomus, also known as Algae Eater or "Pleco," is a popular aquarium fish from South America which has been introduced into Florida waters. They  are not venomous, though they do have sharp spines that could cause injury if they are handled carelessly. This was the second time I photographed a Great Blue Heron eating one at our back yard lake.

Great Blue Heron with Plecostomas sp 4-20120606

A drama played out in the same lake after I noticed that a Double-crested Cormorant had caught another  large exotic Plecostomus. The 9-10 inch fish struggled vigorously in the bird's beak, its spiny fins fully extended. I do not know how long the fish had been in the cormorant's grasp, but I watched intently to see if the bird could succeed in swallowing it, or whether it might get stuck in its gullet or esophagus. I watched for about 7 minutes and took poor photos from some distance. The bird won!

Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) vs Plecostomus 20110925 103439AM

Cormorant vs Plecostomus 20110925 103854 AM

Last month I had the wonderful opportunity to meet up with three Internet friends from New Jersey, my home State. Dave was flying into Miami and Kurt, who now resides in Central Florida, met him at the airport. We planned to meet at Shark Valley before noon, so I headed over earlier. Len, who had driven down from New Jersey, joined the three of us. Although we had not planned to spend much time there, it was so interesting that we stayed well into the afternoon. There were phenomenal photo opportunities:


 American Alligator 20180209

...Black-crowned Night-Herons (this one appears to be performing a soft-shoe dance)...

Black-crowned Night-Heron 03-20180209

...but the stars of the show were truly exotic. Florida is home to more than 300 species of exotic fishes. They resulted from intentional and accidental releases from such diverse sources as fish farms, pet trade breeding facilities, spilled shipments and of course, family pets which were freed when it was time to move or they grew too big or were too nasty for home aquariums.

Interestingly, one exotic species, the Pike Killifish was "of importance to medical science as research animals. It is interesting to note that the introduced population in south Florida stems from the release [in 1957] of pike killifish that were the subject of a medical research program whose funding had been terminated." REF: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Further, the FWCC itself released Butterfly Peacock in 1961 "to control other non-native fishes." It is now a very popular sport fish.

The waterways at Shark Valley were teeming with fish, some native but many were "immigrants." Exotic Walking Catfish and Brown Hoplo gulped air from the surface of a canal while herons and Anhingas took advantage of so many opportunities to capture them.

A Great Blue Heron speared a Walking Catfish:

Great Blue Heron with Walking Catfish 001-20180209

After subduing it by repeatedly swinging it down against the ground,...

Great Blue Heron with Walking Catfish 002-20180209

...the heron made several attempts to swallow it, head first,...

Great Blue Heron with Walking Catfish 003-20180209

Great Blue Heron with Walking Catfish 004-20180209

...and finally succeeded:

Great Blue Heron with Walking Catfish 005-20180209

Great Blue Heron with Walking Catfish 006-20180209

Great Blue Heron with Walking Catfish 007-20180209

A female Anhinga captured a Hoplo. A type of catfish, it is robust and has exceedingly sharp spines under each fin. Yet, it somehow went down:

 Anhinga with fish 03-20180209

Anhinga with fish 01-20180209

Anhinga with fish 02-20180209

Anhinga with fish 07-20180209

We did not leave Shark Valley until mid-afternoon, and I felt wiped out by the heat to the point that I feared heat exhaustion might set in. I drank plenty of water and rested in my air-conditioned car for several minutes. Although I felt fully recovered, I thought it best to part with the others, who were heading to Big Cypress Swamp and planned to look for snakes after dark. It was a great day but enough was enough!

= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =

Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Our World Tuesday by Lady Fi

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday) by NC Sue

Linking to ALL SEASONS by Jesh


Please visit the links to all these memes to see some excellent photos on display