Noël 2014

Photo: © 2014 Jeffrey Berger

Commonly known as a "Peace Lily," this flower is not actually in the lily family.  It is an aroid known as a Spathiphyllum.



GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba)
Location: St. Johns County FL
Photo: © 2004 Jeffrey Berger

When planning your nest egg for the best of times or the worst of times, here is a bit of savvy investment advice from a native bird. It is always best to hedge your bets by hatching more eggs than you will need. Whether breeding or investing, it is a time-honored strategy perfected over millions of years.

Most large birds - such as eagles, egrets, or herons - will produce more eggs than they are capable of raising. Since all eggs need the same time to incubate regardless of when they are laid, Mamma Egret starts incubation after the first egg is laid and continues laying her full clutch over a series of days. Thus, the first egg hatches first, the last egg hatches last, and not all chicks start life as equal opportunity egrets.

The first-born hatchling has no competition for food and grows rapidly. Chicks born later are sequentially smaller and less capable of competing for food against the older siblings. Even in the best of times, only the older chicks will survive while the youngest will waste away. During routine housekeeping, parents will toss the expired chicks overboard, which inevitably become snacks for waiting gators. This phenomenon is known as ‘brood reduction.’



Click on image to enlarge.
Photo and text:  © 2012 Jeffrey Berger

Hex, Lex, Tex and Rex are endearing names for my generic wasps pictured above. Social wasps belong to a group of insects called Vespids, known for leaving papier-mâché hexagons hanging from your eaves. The beauty of a hexagon is not just in the compound eye of the beholder. Of all geometric shapes that occur in nature, hexagons fit together perfectly with no wasted gaps, thus allowing for the most efficient use of space in pure mathematical terms. Social wasps build their nests from an amalgam of mud or wood mixed with saliva, which they fashion into hexagons with utmost economy.

When agitated or annoyed, wasps are also known for having a bad temper. Unlike the barbed and breakable stinger of bees, a ‘stand-your-ground’ wasp has a smooth stinger that can torment you repeatedly. The stinger is an adaptation of the egg-laying ovipositor, which means only female wasps possess the ability to sting.

Despite their infamous reputation - and before turning yourself into an anti-Vespid vigilante - consider the benefits of keeping wasps in your garden. Vespids are parasitoid insects that feed on garden pests such as caterpillars, grubs, and other marauding munchers of your flowers and shrubs. Some wasps even hunt black widow spiders. Thus, wasps are far more beneficial for your garden than pesticides, which indiscriminately kill the good bugs along with the bad and reap havoc on the environment.

In early spring, a solitary female emerges from hibernation, starts building a nest, and lays the first eggs. Workers - infertile females born from those eggs - will complete the nest and defend the colony. Male wasps, called drones, have no stinger and feed harmlessly on nectar. By late autumn as the weather cools and food becomes scarce, wasps die off leaving behind one or more daughter queens, which emerge in spring and start the cycle anew.

Marvels of resourcefulness and dedication, wasps remind me of our legends about angry gods who send great floods to destroy humankind. In the Eleventh Tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic, a story is told of Upnapishtim who is commanded by the gods to build an ark and save humanity:

Tear down the house and build a boat!
Abandon wealth and seek living beings!
Spurn possessions and keep alive living beings!
Make all living beings go up into the boat.

In a sense, queen wasps are the Upnapishtim of their kind. The life of a wasp is measured by a single season; yet Vespids have been buzzing around our planet for over 300 million years.



Great Egret (Ardea alba)
Photo: © 2004 Jeff Berger

For the great egret, the breeding season begins when hormones cause the bare skin around the beak and eyes to change from yellow to green. The male builds a makeshift nest and invites a female to cohabitate thus signaling courtship. The nuptial pair announce their reproductive readiness by crossing beaks and fluffing up their feathers.



Scientific name: Mycteria americana
Photo: © 2004 Jeff Berger

The only stork found in North America is an endangered bird and one of my favorites. When walking or wading, they skulk around appearing serious and grim; I call them graveyard birds. When airborn, the wood stork is a truly magnificent flier - soaring from thermal to thermal on outstretched wings spanning five to six feet across. The nicknames “Flinthead” and “Ironhead” describe the slate-grey skin covering the neck and head.

Wood storks are especially susceptable to natural and man-made events. Storms and cold spells may lead to nest desertion. Racoons may predate eggs and fledglings. Major threats to long-term survival include loss of wetlands due to development and disruptive water management practices that alter their reproductive cycle.

Like other native birds, the wood stork depends upon gators to protect the breeding colony from tree-climbing predators.



Location: McKee Gardens, Vero Beach FL
Photo: © 2007 Jeffrey Berger

What title should I give this photo?  To call it a 'Lotus Leaf' is too profane.  For Egyptians, Hindus, and Buddhists, the lotus is the embodiment of the sacred. Since the flower retracts each night and reopens at dawn, the lotus serves as a symbol for creation, death, and rebirth - for the journey of consciousness in the field of time.

Perhaps the title should invite the viewer to see a womb where the petiole ascends to the upper leaf. Perhaps the title should suggest creation inside the water droplet.  Any kid with a toy microscope and a nearby pond will tell you: Every droplet is a universe teeming with life.

In illo tempore. A scarab beetle emerges from the mud of the Nile; a mighty wind sweeps over a primordial abyss; eons of time pass in the wink of an eye as Brahma sits atop a lotus blossom. Every beginning starts with a word, a dream, a vision, a thought.

Notice the debris inside the water droplet and the vague reflection of the photographer. It reveals something about my relationship to the subject. Heisenberg might approve of these concepts:  Of observer as part of the observed system, of subjective explorations of the same phenomenon. Thoughts radiate along vascular paths to the edges of space and time.

Perhaps a title can misrepresent an image. Is my point one of certainty or doubt, of insight or incredulity? Is the title an affectation? Why not invoke the inherited symbolism of a lotus!

Sometimes a title takes our speculative imagination beyond the temporal image.



Scientific name: Anhinga anhinga
Location: Indian River Lagoon
Photo: © 2005 Jeffrey Berger

Anhinga mothers will lay an average of 3 to 5 eggs per nest spaced a day or two apart. Since incubation begins with the first egg, hatchlings will vary in age and size resulting in brood reduction.

The Anhinga has earned various nicknames depending upon how you experience one. Veteran boaters call it the “snakebird.” It earns this nickname by swimming submerged with only its neck and head undulating above the waterline like a serpent. The lack of waterproof plumage enables it to travel effortlessly underwater in search of fish, but for every advantage there is also a hitch. When soaked to the skin, the Anhinga looses body heat and must find a nearby perch to warm itself after feeding. With spread wings and fan-shaped tail feathers drying in the sun, the Anhinga earns its other nickname, “water turkey.”



Roseate Spoonbill (Ajaia ajaja)
Location: Brevard County
Photo: © 2008 Jeffrey Berger

Ahh, my favorite roseate spoonbill is back ... as pink and sassy as ever!



Roseate Spoonbill (Ajaia ajaja)
Photo: © 2004 Jeffrey Berger

Zsa Zsa is a beautiful and flamboyant bird, and the only spoonbill native to North America. The term “Roseate Spoonbill” refers to the rose-colored feathers and spatula-shaped beak. She is a tactile feeder who snatches aquatic insects and crustaceans from shallow water.

The spoonbill was almost exterminated in the last century. The demand for colorful plumes by the fashion industry had driven up the price of feathers to more than twice their weight in gold. Plume hunters armed with clubs and guns plundered the rookeries and slaughtered birds by the thousands. Today, spoonbills are threatened by the loss of feeding and nesting habitats due to unmanaged growth.



WOOD DUCK (Aix sponsa)
Location: Brevard County FL
Photo: © 2004 Jeffrey Berger

This photo of a wood duck is dedicated to my good friend, Peter Schutté, who passed away in 2005. Even after a passage of years, I still think of Peter who was a dedicated and tireless conservationist. He served on the Board of Directors of the Sea Turtle Preservation Society.

Peter and I found this dabbler on a day excursion. It was our last outing together before he died. This photo hangs in the Capital Building, a contribution to the Florida State Art Collection in Peter’s memory.



Southeastern Lubber Grasshopper (Romalea microptera)
Location: Mount Dora, Florida
Photo: © 2007 Jeffrey Berger

At two and half inches in length, the Southeastern Lubber is the largest of grasshoppers and a common inhabitant of fields and forests. Their red, yellow, and black colors serve as a warning to predators: Don't eat me. The Lubber contains toxins that have been known to kill birds and sicken mammals.



Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)
Location: Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park
Photo: © 2008 Jeffrey Berger
For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly.
Thus wrote Ben Franklin in a letter to his daughter dated January 26, 1784. Old Ben regarded the wild turkey as "a true native American" and the bald eagle as an ignoble snatch-thief who purloins fish from honest ospreys. In retrospect, had the choice of national bird been reversed, it is hard to imagine a plump gobbler with cranberries and yams ensconced on our currency.

The wild turkey is the second largest bird in North America, and the toms are truly handsome critters with iridescent feathers. A mature gobbler may stand 4 feet tall and weigh up to 24 pounds with wings spanning 5 feet across.

In truth, both the wild turkey and the bald eagle are native to the Americas.  However, Americans cannot lay exclusive claim to either species, since both range from Canada to Mexico.



Scientific name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Photo: © 2004 Jeffrey Berger

Our national symbol is spectacular to behold. Our own State of Florida has the second highest concentration of bald eagles outside of Alaska.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas taught us that “birds can serve as excellent indicators of the quality of habitat – not just their own, but that of humans who share the land.” It was the consequence of DDT on birds that first alerted us to the dangers of DDT on human communities. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring brought the problem to public attention. DDT alters the calcium metabolism of birds causing thin eggshells, which break under the weight of nesting hens. Thin eggshells lead to years of reproductive failure. Many bird species verged on extinction including our national symbol.

Since the 1972 ban on DDT, the bald eagle has made a remarkable recovery.



White Ibis (Eudocimus albus)
Photo: © 2008 Jeffrey Berger


Golden-Silk Spider (Nephila clavipes)
Photo: © 2008 Jeffrey Berger

A common inhabitant of swamps and woodlands, the golden-silk spider is harmless to humans and beneficial to the environment.



Black Vulture (Coragyps altratus)
Photo: © 2008 Jeffrey Berger

To those of you unfamiliar with Mount Dora, Gilbert Park is a lakeside recreational area where townsfolk flock to feed the ducks and watch a sunset.

But be forewarned: Mount Dorans loathe those Addams Family pets strafing the neighborhood. They will feed any duck to amuse themselves, but sooner rid their lake of any scavenger (or refer them to Lou Dobbs for deportation).

Too bad vultures get such a bad rap. I think of them as the waste management service of road kill. Their favorite foods include flat cats, rigor mortis tortoise, and poodles with noodles.

Like our retirees, vultures are smart and thrifty shoppers who proudly declare: “Of course, we prefer prime beef, but you can’t beat carrion for availability and price.”



Sunrise over Lochloosa Lake:

Cypress trees of Orange Lake:

Photo: © 2004 Jeffrey Berger

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings made her home in Cross Creek and wrote a book of memoirs of the same name, which became a motion picture of the same name. Her American classic, The Yearling, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1939. Cross Creek is literally where you cross over from Orange Lake to Lochloosa Lake, or vice versa depending upon which way the birds fly.

Raised in a small country town surrounded by farms and woodlands, I have a special fondness for places where childhoods are spent “wide-eyed and breathless before the miracle of bird and creature, of flowers and tree, of wind and rain and sun and moon.” Perhaps this explains my interest in Nature.



Ghost Crab (Ocypode quadrata)
Photo: © 2004 Jeffrey Berger

"As we conclude our lecture, ladies and gentlemen, this fossilized specimen, estimated to be over 100,000 year old, bears an uncanny relationship to the modern crab. Yet, the question remains: Is this an example of evolution or intelligent design? What say you all?"

Click. Clack.
Clickity clack.
Click. Clack.
Clickity clack.
So say we all



American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)
Location: Everglades
Photos: © 2007 Jeffrey Berger

Like icebergs, there is more to a submerged gator than meets the eye. So how big is this one, you ask? Introducing Swampcracker’s First Law of Gator Measurement:

Since every inch of jaw is equivalent to a foot of gator, estimate the distance from the tip of the snout to the eye sockets in inches and translate into in feet. For this gator, ten inches from eyes to snout means a total estimated length of ten feet.

Despite having a fierce reputation, alligators are harmless to humans until they reach 8 feet.  However, you should NEVER FEED a gator. Once accustomed to handouts from humans, they become a nuisance and must be sacrificed.  Remember: "A fed gator is a dead gator.”



Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Location: Longpoint, Melbourne Beach
Photo: © 2004 Jeffrey Berger

American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)
Location: Indian River Lagoon at Sebastian
Photo: © 2004 Jeffrey Berger

Our ubiquitous Brown Pelican has often been described as solemn, dignified, comical, and pompous. When pouched bills are pressed against breast, I think of them as pterodactyls masquerading as English butlers.

It is easy to tell the difference between our year-round Brown versus the migratory White, which visits our coasts only during the winter months. Our full-time resident sports a yellow crown and white neck ascending from its gray-feathered body. In contrast, our visitor from the North is a much larger bird with bright white feathers and black wingtips, visible only in flight.

When feeding, Brown Pelicans are spectacular plunge-divers that capture their meals with a splash. In contrast, American White Pelicans forage in groups, surrounding then scooping prey into their bills while swimming.

Whether small or large, native or visitor, here is a fitting tribute for all pelicans:

A wonderful bird is a pelican,

His bill will hold more than his belican.

He can take in his beak

Food enough for a week;

But I'm damned if I see how the helican.

(The Pelican by Dixon Lanier Merritt - often misattributed to Ogden Nash.)



Scientific Name: Anhinga anhinga
Location: Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Delray Beach
Photo: © 2007 Jeffrey Berger

As anhinga fledglings grow older, they reach into their parent's throat to retrieve solid food. Meanwhile, other siblings wait their turn.

Most birds lay their eggs, not all at once, but over a series of days. Since all eggs need the same time to incubate, hatchlings are born sequentially. Thus, the first egg hatches first, the last egg hatches last, and not all chicks start life as equal opportunity birds.

The first-born hatchling has no competition for food and grows rapidly. Chicks born later are consecutively smaller and weaker. Presumably, the first-born fledgling is the one feeding.



Scientific Name: Porphyrula martinica
Location: Wakodahatchee Wetlands
Photo: © 2007 Jeffrey Berger

About the size of a chicken dipped in poster colors, the Purple Gallinule is not easy to find. In fact, those colors are a sublime example of camouflage.

The cool blues and purples of the undercarriage mimic the colors of sky reflected in water. Viewed from above, iridescent greens and olives mask the colors of marsh vegetation.

Oversized feet give it the agility to walk over and through marsh vegetation with ease. Nature’s attention to detail is incredible!





Scientific Name: Ixobrychus exilis
Location: Wakodahatchee Wetlands
Photo: © 2007 Jeffrey Berger



BROWN PELICAN (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Location: Wakodahatchee Wetlands
Photo: © 2007 Jeffrey Berger


Scientific Name: Egretta thula
Location: Wakodahatchee Wetlands
Photo: © 2007 Jeffrey Berger

Just as I released the shutter, this agile egret snatched a damsil fly quicker than a blink. Double-click on the image to see an enlargement. One of my favorite shots.



RED-SHOULDERED HAWK (Buteo lineatus)
Location: Everglades
Photo: © 2007 Jeffrey Berger

Known for aerial acrobatics, the red-shouldered hawk always gets my attention. Common throughout Florida, they live in hardwood forests adjacent to wetlands where they dine on amphibians, crayfish, and small reptiles. Populations of red-shouldered hawks have declined due to clear-cutting of forests. Listen for KEEE-a. KEEE-a. Then look around.



Location: Wakodahatchee Wetlands
Photo: © 2007 Jeffrey Berger

Cooters and gators, oh my! Welcome to the Wakodahatchee Wetlands, a popular nature preserve located just off Jog Road in Delray Beach.  For an enlarged view, double-click on the image and count them all.


GREEN HERON (Butorides virescens)
Location: Wakodahatchee Wetlands
Photo: © 2007 Jeffrey Berger

A mighty temper for a tiny critter. When annoyed or disturbed, the green heron leaves behind a chalk line (a stream of white excrement) as it flies away. In a manner of speaking, it is the way a bird throws you a bird. So be especially polite around the little green heron.


PIED-BILLED GREBE (Podilymbus podiceps)
Location: Wakodahatchee Wetlands
Photo: © 2007 Jeffrey Berger

The pied-billed grebe is the epitome of cute. When scared or threatened, they dive under water like miniature submarines. During the Plume Wars, grebes were hunted for their insulating feathers, called “grebe-fur.” Although protected, populations continue to decline due to habitat loss.


LITTLE BLUE HERON (Egretta caerulea)
Location: Merritt Island NWR
Photo: © 2004 Jeff Berger

TRICOLORED HERON (Egretta tricolor)
Location: Wakodahatchee Wetlands
Photo: © 2007 Jeff Berger

The little blue and tricolored heron are sometimes mistaken for each other. The little blue is the smaller of the two. Notice the gray bill tipped with black and dusty-green legs. The tricolored heron is the larger and more slender bird. Look for a rufus-colored line running down the foreneck. In addition, the tricolored heron has yellow facial skin and legs.



Photo: © 2007 Jeffrey Berger

No, this is not a one-eyed Jabba the Hutt. Guess the right answer (please use comment button below).



Scientific name: Phalacrocorax auritus
Location: Everglades
Photo: © 2007 Jeffrey Berger

Emerald-green eyes, plus an ability to change the shape of the eye lens, give the cormorant the ability to see under water.



Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
Photo: © 2006 Jeffrey Berger

Originally a native of Africa, the cattle egret colonized the New World sometime during the last century. Cattle egrets earn their name by feeding on grassland insects that have been disturbed by grazing animals.

In other parts of the world, they are known as “buffalo egrets” or “rhinoceros egrets” depending upon what kind of grazing ungulate they choose to follow. In Florida, they tag behind farm machinery in pursuit of grubs and insects. How about calling them “Tractor Egrets” instead of “Cattle Egrets?” Although non-native, this bird is considered beneficial by keeping insect populations in check.

During the mating season, plumage will change from bright white to buff-orange around the head, nape and back. Brett & Lucette represent a nuptial pair.



Common Green Darner (Anax junius)
Photo: © 2003 Jeffrey Berger

Dragonflies have been buzzing around marshes and meadows for 300 million years. Since they eat mosquitoes and other biting insects, I am always glad to see them around. I found this darner in my garden perched on a firebush tree. Hurriedly, I grabbed my camera and tripod in hopes my visitor would pose for me. My hope was not in vain.

Some people believe the souls of the departed return as dragonflies. If true, I could not help but wonder who this visitor to my garden might be. A date stamp offered a clue: February 22, 2003. My father would have been 81 years old on this day.


Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway)
Photo: © 2005 Jeffrey Berger

A member of the falcon family, the crested caracara is a dapper raptor who gets my vote for the best-dressed bird north of Lake Okeechobee. He has a ruddy orange complexion and sports a white tie and tails, a sash of brown Glengarry plaid, and a black toupé. I was fortunate to capture Uncle Quigley in chiaroscuro.

A versatile feeder, the caracara will hunt for prey like a raptor or dine on carrion like a vulture.

The caracara is listed as "threatened" in the State of Florida. The current population is estimated to be less than 400 birds. Since their natural range is comprised of pasteurs and prairies, their future fate is solely in the hands of ranchers and private land-owners.


Scientific Name: Anhinga anhinga
Location: Green Cay, Delray Beach
Photo: © 2006 Jeffrey Berger

I found this anhinga preening herself in the warm light of a setting sun. That pointed bill, those ruby-red eyes, and nut-brown feathers that almost look like fur, so I lingered awhile ...



Double-Crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)
Location: Cross Creek
Photo: © 2004 Jeffrey Berger

Like the anhinga, the double-crested cormorant is also an underwater swimmer that will find a perch and spread its wings to dry in the sun. Cormorants form large nesting colonies along with anhinga, egrets and herons.


WHITE IBIS (Eudocimus albus)
Location: Cross Creek
Photo: © 2004 Jeffrey Berger

The nomadic white ibis is experienced in massive flocks like star clusters in the Milky Way. I found this flock foraging the grasses and sedges of Lochloosa Lake.

The ibis has bright white feathers with black wingtips and stands about two feet tall. The ibis is a tactile feeder that will use its thin orange decurved bill as a probe, sweeping it from side to side in shallow water. With the first touch of food, the bill snaps shut. The ibis nests near freshwater because their young are salt-stressed on marine cuisine.



Great Egret (Ardea alba)
Photo: © 2005 Jeffrey Berger

According to Greek mythology, Dryads were a class of nymphs who presided over trees and forests. Like all nymphs, they represented a reverence for nature. Unlike nymphs, Dryads were considered mortal because they perished with the trees that sheltered and sustained them. The wanton destruction of a tree was considered an act of impiety against the gods and subject to punishment.

Today, many native birds come under the protection of state and federal laws. Despite these protections, some native species remain in steep decline. Why? Laws that protect birds from direct threats such as hunting and poaching do little to protect them from indirect threats such as habitat loss. Deprived of shelter and sustenance, many bird species will continue to decline in future years. How? Drainage of wetlands for agriculture or real estate development, wasteful water management policies, petrochemical pollutants, and the relentless encroachment of civilization into natural habitats, as examples.

The name "Dryad" captures the essence of a moral and spiritual dilemma, i.e., economic exploitation and waste in conflict with Nature.





American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)
Location: Cross Creek
Photos (above): © 2004 Jeffrey Berger

Florida is the birthplace of John Archibald Wheeler, the theoretical physicist who first coined the term “black hole.” What is the relationship between back holes and alligators, you ask? As this correspondent has often observed, Floridians have a morbid and peculiar fascination with large predatory reptiles, and black holes are the ultimate gators in the Universe. Black holes are long dead stars at the center of galaxies, so named because nothing - not even light - can escape their gravitational pull. Yet, black holes represent the ying and yang of cosmic death and rebirth. Our sun, the planets, and the elements of life are born from the detritus of long-dead stars.

The relationship between black holes and galaxies is like the bond between gators and birds. Nesting birds know instinctively that the patient and silent alligator offers a definitive defense against tree-climbing predators such as possums and raccoons.  In exchange, alligators know with equal instinct that tasty fledglings drop from treetops. Gators may be fearsome predators but they also make welcome protectors. To protect the breeding colony, nesting birds prefer the company of gators. Thus, gators play an vital role in the ecology of our wetlands.


Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
Location: Everglades
Photo: © 2004 Jeffrey Berger

Whether stalking prey or defending territory, Bill’s bill can be a formidable weapon. Great Blue Herons spear their prey with a quick thrust of their long beaks. They can even scare off a gator. If you find an injured Great Blue, it is not recommended to rescue this bird by yourself. Call your local wildlife rescue center.


Scientific name: Ardea herodias
Location: Sebastian Inlet State Park
Photo: © 2003 Jeffrey Berger

Great Blue is the largest heron in North America. Also called “blue crane” by locals, the Great Blue Heron stands four feet tall and has a seven-foot wingspan. When stalking prey, this long-legged wader will stand motionless for long periods of time and strike suddenly with lighting quick reflexes when prey comes within range.