Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Wildlife of St. Augustine

St. Augustine, Florida is a treasure trove of wildlife. Whether it be in the scenic saltwater rivers and marshes, the tropical forest, the many cool lakes located in the area, or at the beautiful white sandy beaches, mother nature nurtures all species, unconditionally, in this part of her animal kingdom,
We are blessed to live here.

Spring is a magical time in St. Augustine. Renewed hope is in the air. Beauty abounds, fish are biting, and life is good.

Tens of thousands of baby birds are born in our county every year, but it becomes a miracle when you watch them incubate and mature into real birds in your front yard. These Blue Jay chicks survived to fly away. One sibling did not. Three out of four beat the odds.

Trees in our tropical climate grow large. Some live hundreds of years. They grow. They die. Generations after generations of birds live in partnership with them all.

Consider the plight of the Pelican.
His mouth holds more than his belican.
He swallowed a mullet
Three times his gullet.
It took him a week to get weligan!
Copyright-Gordon Hand

Egrets and wood storks do not flock together during the day while they are looking for food, but, as night approaches they return to a common, large tree. They compete for roosting space, and this time of year build nests close together. It is comical to watch them steal a neighbor's nesting material, and then get into a spat over it.

Egrets and Storks come in many colors and sizes.

Some are goofier looking than others. I'm sure I should study them and learn all of their names.

This is a small White Egret. (smaller than the Great White Egret in the first photo.)

These wild domesticated ducks hang out in a retention pond, next to a bank, on a major highway

Ospreys have an easy life in St. Augustine. This one swooped down and snatched a mullet out of the water soon after the picture was taken. By the time I grabbed my camera again, he was gone. Interestingly, when they fly away, grasping the fish in their talons, they always hold it in a head-forward position, so that it will be aerodynamically stable, creating less drag.

This Mallard hen had seven chicks tucked closely behind her. The pond is directly in front of Flagler Hospital, and on the busiest road in St. Augustine. (u.s.-1)) Almost certainly, the babies will be consumed by predators, quickly. Hawks and Ospreys think of this lake as their private restaurant. Curiously though, the Great Blue Herons consume baby ducks more often than the other well known predators. They can swallow a baby duck in one gulp. We have seen one devour a family of chicks in less than an hour. I know! That's not what some of you want to hear, but, it is the survival of the fittest, and the law of nature.

When I went to the pond to take pictures of the birds, I took a couple of slices of bread to attract them. As I began to throw out crumbs, this fellow landed on the hood of my truck, and looked at me as if to say, "Feed me! I only have one foot!" It worked. I gave him the rest of the bread.

Sandpipers are plentiful on the beach and around the fishing pier where they enjoy stealing anglers' bait. At the end of the day, along with the Seagulls, they do a great job of removing discarded crumbs, fish, and bait from the dock. Amazingly, two of these four birds are missing a foot, also.

This is a very elusive species known as a Skimmer Fish. They are attracted to fishing piers because the waves are bigger there. When summer comes we see large schools of them. They will not bite live or dead bait, but, it is great fun when you snag one. They put up quite a fight! We always practice "catch and release" with them because they are coated with oil that smells a lot like suntan lotion..

Three of our nineteen grandchildren enjoyed the bizarre face of a Look Down Fish during an evening of fishing on the river. It is never dull when the girls are around. The fish is called a Look Down because it appears that he is looking down his face toward his nose. I'm actually telling the truth this time.....or am I.

My friends and I have always tried to do our part to insure the aquatic wildlife does not get over populated.

There are plenty of sharks in the ocean and the river. They do very well, ......until we eat them. A small Nurse Shark like this one, held by my friend, is to die for. Bad choice of words! Nurse Sharks have very small mouths and teeth.
A toothless shark from Florida's ocean
Attacked a vacationing Nova Scotian.
He said, as he chewed,
"You've had it dude,
If I can get past your suntan lotion!"
Copyright-Gordon Hand
The economy is so bad in St. Augustine that when a fisherman dropped this shark off the back of his truck, the locals skinned and ate it before it hit the ground. They would have eaten the jaws too, but, Southerners have always been taught that you don't grab the last piece of food at a meal. Now, that's a true story!!

A Gecko. You know! The insurance guy! They're everywhere!

We're likely to see a gator anywhere, even on the golf course.

Perhaps, it is not a good day to rake the leaves!

Usually, alligators sun themselves within a few feet of the water. I have, however, seen them crossing some pretty major roads. They sometimes travel away from their normal habitat during mating season, or seek water during a drought. I took this picture of this fellow on Tuesday, next to a small lake. They are worthy of our fear, but MOST of the time they are as afraid of you as you may be of them.

Dunes at the beach are unique due to the eco-system they create.

If you look closely, (perhaps expanded) you can see a gopher tortoise at the entrance to his den, basking in the afternoon sun. After a tortoise has burrowed out his den, a normal occurrence is for snakes and other varmints to move in, as well. They coexist very comfortably.
As I approached for a better shot, he quickly retreated underground.
I now present the most unusual, and most feared animal in Florida. It not only has adapted, but has evolved. I'll explain.

This tale I tell is strange, but true!
You know I wouldn't lie to you.
Deep in a Florida cypress wood
A gator and a scorpion stood.
Nose to nose, eye to eye!
My, oh my, sparks did fly!
These were not sparks of confrontation,
Rather, sparks of adoration.
She loved his stinger; he, her chomp!
Their blushing faces steamed the swamp!
Alligator, scorpion, in the bog!
Courtship on a hollow log!
Sir Scorpion claimed a bride that June,
And, with his gator, honeymooned.
I guess you know what happened next.
I'll tell it straight, with no pretext.
Fire was lit! Smooched a bit!
Ten new babies, mean as spit!
Ms. Alligator and her Scorpion
Produced a brood of Alligorpions.
The parents thought their young precocious,
But, mind my words, they were ferocious!
See them romp, sting and chomp!
Alligorpions ruled the swamp!
The "baddest" gorpion in the brew,
Soon loved a rattler. It is true!
Rattlesnake, gorpion in the bog!
Courtship on a hollow log!
Floridians now speak of "creepy thangs".
With stingers, teeth, and deadly fangs!
They speak of gators, snakes and scorpions,
And, FEAR those Diamondback Alligorpions!
Copyright- Gordon Hand
I apologize for the missing animals that are a big part of our lives. The raccoons, deer, armadillos, rabbits, foxes, wild turkeys and hogs, frogs, etc. that I did not have the opportunity to shoot this week. All shots plus the video below of our favorite live bait, finger mullet, were taken with my Kodak Easy Share point and shoot. There were plenty of squirrels around, but I will not try to compete with Jen's great photos of her pet. They are terrific!
Have a great week before Easter. The baby mullet in the net will. I released them all.....alive!!!


  1. Cool shark pic! ...looked like a giant catfish!

  2. good job dad! The pics remind me of life that goes unnoticed most of the time. Love your poetry.

  3. Super photos. And I loved your commentary.
    Enjoyed your humor as well as your "life facts" (18 grandchildren?).

    My husband now wants to try some Florida fishing.

    That skimmer looks like a trophy for someone.

    I agree on squirrels, though I did shoot one because he was there and in danger. But no one can compete with Jen's big fat squirrel.

    Thanks for a wonderful trip around your town.

  4. Love all the birds !!! Lots of unique looks there :) And of course the fish too, coming from an island I can relate to 'catching the big 'un '

  5. Loved the nest shot, and before hitting play on the video, I thought it was a jellyfish - maybe I need new glasses! You have an abundance of wild birds that are beautiful and colorful!

  6. WOW Gordon!!!! I can't choose a favorite!!!
    It's between that fancy egret with the crazy hair-did and those babies in the nest.
    That snap of your grandchildren is priceless, priceless, priceless :)
    I am loving the music that you've added to your blog dude. Can I call you dude....Butler and Bagman love it when I call him that and I only reserve it for you awesome special kinds of guys.
    Did you say 18 grandchildren?????? I bow to your awesomeness and I must saw that some of the very best life memorie's that I have include my own Papa.

    Steady On Dude
    Reggie Girl

  7. I'm so happy to not live in a place with alligators. For some reason they just freak me out. It just seems weird that there's stuff out there that can eat you while you're taking a walk. That's really wrong!