Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Savanna Sandhill Cranes

I have been on the road alot this past week or so ... how do you travelers stay slim?
Road food is way too fatty, carby, megaportiony.

Let's see, since Monday a week ago, I've been in Fort Pierce for 5 days, then to St. Aug for an overnighter pond workday, then home to PFHQ, then back to St. Aug for a pond workday, and now, finally home again to PFHQ.

I know that's nothing for you jetsetters, but I have roots.

When I was in Fort Pierce, I used every afternoon to find some kind of wild place ... the natural kind that is.
My best find was Savannas State Preserve. I only visited one small access point on this long park, so there's much to return to see, but I had a great late afternoon visit there.

I had the entire park area to myself as I cruised down a bumpy (most roads are bumpy in the JEEP) dirt road to an overlook over a drying freshwater pond.
The shallow, shrinking waters were concentrating the small fish and putting them in range of wading birds like egrets, woodstorks, ibis, and herons.
Even terns were dipping into the action ... the ocean is only about a mile away.

This pond, had shrunk far from it's shores and the water seemed shallow and wadeable everywhere judging from the presence of egrets and their kin in all it's regions. The boardwalk seemed limiting and the sandy shore of the shrunken pond beckoned, so I took a stroll along the water's edge, hoping for some action.

There were large swirls and skittery small fish, so I assume a few bass were enjoying the concentrated food also.

There definitely were tilapia, although I never actually saw one in the very shallow shore waters.

I saw their evidence.
The now dry shoreline was pockmarked with huge tilapia nest craters that the receding waters had exposed. Other craters were visible in the shallow waters, one after another.

That is one thing I noticed about freshwater bodies around Fort Pierce, everyone I looked in over that week had blue tilapia in them.

Now, tilapia are the perfect aquaculture fish, but that and the dinner plate is the only place we sing their praises. They don't belong in our wild Florida waters, but they are here and here to stay unless someone comes up with a magic bullet for them.

Up here around PFHQ, we just don't see them often thanks to our cold winters ... although they are present on the state's property (University of Florida campus) which is ironic since the state makes it tough for we private guys to possess them ... even though they apparently have let them loose ...
... I'm soapboxing here aren't I?


Back to the Savannas and the birds ...

The Woodies were out feeding and they really need this type of habitat. Their feeding method is to open their bill and swish back and forth through the water. When they contact something, SNAP! The bill closes and the prey gets gulpificationized.

Obviously, this doesn't work well in deep water where fish, tadpoles, crawfish, etc are dispersed over a wide area.
It's sweetly efficient in this drying lake situation though.

This sand hill crane and her chick popped in right after I walked back out of the lake and up on to the visitor boardwalk ... after getting closeups of the crane below.

I thought I was done. I just happened to glance back to where I had just been and there they were, so I got this one shot of the two of them.

I shot a bazillion bad shots of this crane as I inched closer and closer to him. I kept expecting him to fly so each shot seemed like the last one, but moving slow and pausing often, I got to within 40 feet, and then I didn't push it anymore, as that was plenty close enough for a large bird in my Sony's lens.

He was pretty relaxed. There was lots of looking around, feeding, walking, and finally some preening in the late day light.

No, since your wondering ... I did not molest any alligators on this sojourn.

In fact ... weirdly, I did not see the first gatory face in the two hours I spent in and out of the pond.

I don't know if they saw me or not.


nfmgirl said...

Well that explains it! I've seen those craters before, and wondered what had made them. Tilapia!

Sandcastle Momma said...

Those cranes are beautiful. Interesting about the tilapia craters - I never knew they made those.

Caroline said...

Here's a new one for your science dictionary, a Sandhill crane chick is known as a colt. My guess about the one that let you approach is two-fold, it is in a refuge area and doesn't feel threatened. Secondly, it probably would stay close by because of flightless little one.
I get to see them by the thousands in migration, the Platte River is about 130 miles east and then due south about 200, but never in a new family like that. Awesome.

Jacki said...

We have Sandhill Cranes everywhere here in Central Florida, especially this time of year. I did a whole thematic unit on them with my first graders and they ate it up. One day we were outside on the basketball court and a family of them walked within 5 feet of us. It was great because we were contained behind a fence, so we could view them safely (and I mean safely for the birds, not for my kids!), plus I had PROOF that my students could stay quiet for an extended period of time! It really was something magical - they were enchanted by those big birds!

Aunty Belle said...

gulpificationized ?

Now thas' a two dollar word iffin' I ever heered one.

This were jes 'a real fine post--lovely walk along wif' ya--an' I never knowed thar was a Savannahs park. Mighty fine.

Since school was out, youse been busier than ever.

Cydney said...

Hey Pure Florida,

Love your blog, read it everyday! Just happened to notice that your links for our Cracker Horse and Cracker Cow are not current. Here are the up to date sites - http://www.floridacrackerhorses.com/index.htm and http://crackercattle.org/. Thanks for keeping the net connected to our states unique horses and cows!

Pablo said...

Are those the same sandhill cranes that appear in the millions up in Nebraska? If so, thanks for taking good care of them.

lisa said...

My hubby is gone all week long and only home on weekends and he isn't slim (sorry honey). He is lucky because he can say it is his wifes cooking that makes him alittle chubby.(I send his meals with him) It is neat to see the pictures of the sandhill cranes.

edifice rex said...

People have to be TOLD not to molest or entice a gator?? WTH? lol!

Great crane shot too!

Carol said...

thank you for not molesting the gators. Nice Sandhill Crane.


Dani said...

WOW! Those are gorgeous pictures!
You totally rocked it!

Rurality said...

That sound the Sandhill Cranes make is one of my favorite bird sounds. :)

Floridacracker said...

Tilapia nests really are craters compared to our native bluegill and shellcracker beds!

Tilapia are mouth brooders too, so they carry the eggs and even the tiny fry in their mouth for protection. Pretty cool fish ... in the right location.

Never knew that. I like it.
Did you get some of that hail and bad weather last weekend?

I think a unit on Cranes is a wonderful idea and way to to grab the teachable moment! Your kids will remember that close encounter for a long time.

I have to speak loudly and use big words so people think I know what I'm talking about.
Glad you came along on this walk!

Thank you so much for that update! I will fix those links tonight. I noticed recently that my tides links seem to be dead also! Glad you enjoy PF!

Yes, and thank you for sending a few back to us each year.

He's a lucky guy to take REAL food out on the road! Glad you liked the crane shots!

Sad isn't it?

We both kept our distance.

Thanks! I'm glad you approve! :)

Me too ... that and pileateds.

Deb said...

Now I'm convinced...I must make a birding trip to Florida to see all those wonderful shorebirds! Although I see sandhill cranes all the time around here. Nice photos!

Kathy said...

Lovely photos! We're heading to Florida in the AM. Well, myself and 2 of my kids. Oldest is playing in a baseball tournament in Panama City Beach. I can't wait to get back to the beach.

Miz S said...

Have I ever come to your site and not been either entertained or taught? I don't think so.

Floridacracker said...

Don't you have a band trip at some point?
I'm sure there will be lots of free time ... LOL!

Good luck with that tournanment! The beaches there are pretty amazing and it looks to be plenty hot!

Floridacracker said...

Miz S,
Man, I hope not. :)
Pressure's on now ...

thingfish23 said...

Tilapia and peacock bass are ubiquitous in our canal systems down here. Bring on the magic bullets, please.

Charles said...

You said you were in Ft.Pierce so I thought Savannas State Park was there. However I Googled it and this park is in Port St. Lucie which is north of Ft. Pierce. Nice photos and blog. Anything travel related I love. I live in Sarasota and will be visiting the east coast of Florida in mid 2011. I can't wait. All the best.