Friday, March 20, 2015

End of the Road?

If you were in a kayak and saw this mass of Red Mangroves, would you think you were at the end of your trip?
End of the road?
NO - it’s just the beginning.
The refuge has some really nice kayaks that are available for our use.  We have taken them out several times.  This morning’s trip was through a mangrove tunnel. 

The entrance is well hidden.  Our first time into the tunnel was with a group. We wanted to return by ourselves so that we could spend as much time as we wanted “on the other side.”
 Inside the tunnel.
The tunnel is about 1/8 mile long with lots of turns and low-hanging trees:
Mark making a turn.
It’s pretty amazing - but wait - it gets even better.  At the end of the tunnel is a truly beautiful spot with lots of birds, fish, jelly fish, crabs, and even Key deer.
 The end of the tunnel.

Teri emerging from the tunnel.
We got closer looks at the Great White Heron, and saw some Key Deer wading in the water. Red Mangrove leaves are a major food item for them, and you've got to get wet to reach them!
Great White Heron
Key Deer wading

We found our first geocache by kayak:
Geocache hanging in a Red Mangrove.
The Mangrove tunnel is the only way in and out of this amazing spot.  We were the only people here.  It was wonderful.
We saw hundreds of Cassiopea Jellyfish, also known as Upside-Down Jellyfish, they live on the bottom and are usually upside down. The first time we saw them we thought they were some type of algae, but if you watch closely or find one "tipped" you can see them pulsating.
Looks like a plant, right?
Cassiopea Jellyfish on it's side
We also saw this pair of crabs, concentrating on making more crabs. We let them be...

After about an hour in the small lagoon, we decided it was time to head back. Can you find your way out?
Look just to the left of that Snowy Egret, that’s the entrance/exit.

On our way out we encountered this White Ibis. They are really getting bright with their breeding color. 
White Ibis
Back through the tunnel and out into the Gulf of Mexico:
 Tide is coming in as we are going out.
The Gulf was calm this morning.

Teri & Mark

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Flying Jewels

Our last two blogs covered butterflies that we saw at a conservatory in Key West. Today I thought I would show some of the native butterflies we've seen in our 10 weeks here at Key Deer NWR.

Some are widespread species like the Queen and Gulf Fritillary.
Gulf Fritillary
But many are more limited in range. An example is the Mangrove Skipper, found only on the southern Florida coast.
Mangrove Skipper
The similar Hammock Skipper is a bit more widespread, also occurring in far south Texas and occasionally in SE Arizona.
Hammock Skipper
Still in the skipper family, the Florida Duskywing is found only in the southern tip of Florida and the Florida Keys,
Florida Duskywing
The Martial Scrub-Hairstreak inhabits the same range as the Duskywing above, so is limited to far South Florida. 
Martial Scrub-Hairstreak
The Great Southern White occupies much of the Gulf of Mexico coastline. We saw them by the hundreds on South Padre Island in Texas. Here we've seen only a couple, but recognized them immediately by their blue antenna clubs. 
Great Southern White
The final butterfly is a Mangrove Buckeye, which is limited to the Florida Coast. Similar to the Common and Tropical Buckeye, it is distinguished by the orange color surrounding the large eyespot on the forewing. 
Mangrove Buckeye

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Key West Butterfly Conservatory, Part 2

Time for more pictures from the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory.

The Atlas Moth is one of the largest moths in the world, with a wingspan of 10 inches. We saw a single specimen in the observatory and it was impressive.
Atlas Moth
We also enjoyed many other butterflies.

Teri spotted this well-camouflaged butterfly. It looked exactly like a dead leaf, but upon close inspection you can see the legs and antennae. It looks like one of the wings didn't form correctly on this one. 

And a few more before I go...


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Key West Butterfly Conservancy

Our time here in the Florida Keys is rapidly coming to a close, so Teri and I decided to make another trip down to Key West to visit a couple of spots that interested us.

The #1 tourist attraction in Key West is the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservancy, and since we enjoy seeing butterflies we thought we'd stop in. We have noticed that a few of the popular tourist destinations in The Keys are overpriced money grabs, but were pleasantly surprised at how well designed and maintained this butterfly observatory was.

In the foyer before entering the observatory there was some general information about butterflies and the observatory, and a few terrariums with various tropical amphibians, including this "Pacman Frog". Now I am sure that this frog was around way before the Pacman video game, but the name seems to fit this squat little fellow.
Pacman Frog
We entered the large observatory, and were immediately surrounded by hundreds of tropical butterflies. Many of them were the large Blue Morpho butterflies that we've seen a few times in Central America. But we've never seen this many, or had them so close. In fact, one of them landed on my hat!
Hitching a Ride.
They are well camouflaged when closed, but an amazing bright blue when open.
Blue Morpho Butterfly
There were a few "butterfly friendly" birds in the observatory as well, including a pair of Caribbean Flamingos that had been rescued from a breeding operation in Canada, of all places.
Caribbean Flamingo
The main attraction was a wide variety of tropical butterflies,all of which are captive bred and raised. We don't know the identity of most of these, but hope that you enjoy their beauty without a name!!

Many of the butterflies were in the Heliconia family. We've seen a couple of examples of them here in Florida, including the Zebra Heliconia (or Zebra Longwing) which is Florida's State Butterfly. 

Zebra Longwing

That is enough for today, Check back tomorrow for Part 2!


Monday, March 2, 2015

A Walk on No Name Key

No Name Key is a small island adjacent to Big Pine Key. It has only 43 houses, and most of the land is National Wildlife Refuge property. Old roads and paths criss-cross the refuge property, and are used as walking trails.

Teri and I continue to scout new "Wild Wednesday Walk" locations, and took a walk this morning on No Name Key.

Overhead we enjoyed good looks at this juvenile Magnificent Frigatebird. Adult birds have black heads, with the males losing the white "vest" as well.
Juvenile Magnificent Frigatebird
The wetlands can be great for waders, or there may be nothing at all. We've not figured out the secret of where and when to find the birds. Today we saw only a couple of White Ibis.
White Ibis
There is a wooden pier at the end of the island that always hosts a bunch of Royal Terns, and usually a few cormorants and gulls as well.
Royal Terns
A fairly common small tree in the hardwood hammocks is Blackbead. Blackbead is an important larval food plant for several butterflies, including the endangered Miami Blue. The tree gets its name from the black seeds, which are sometimes gathered and strung for bracelets and necklaces. We found these newly opened seed pods, revealing the sweet red aril which surrounds the seeds and are relished by birds.
Blackbead Seed Pod
We visited the flooded quarry and once again saw Needlefish. The sun was shining brightly and we noted that the fish had a blue iridescent color.
Needlefish pair
Temperatures here are reaching the mid 80's and it remains quite humid, so unlike the rest of the country we wouldn't mind seeing a little cooler weather!!