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Stepping Stones

Great Horned Owl of Big Cypress

This Great Horned Owl watches from its nest in Big Cypress Swamp. PHOTOS BY BOB MCCONVILLE

Stepping Stones Bob McConville Master Naturalist Raptors…birds of prey. When we think of some of the major hunting birds in South Florida, there are a few that always come to mind. Naturally, everyone watches when a majestic bald eagle soars overhead. Red-shouldered hawks, vultures, ospreys, peregrine falcons and other such creatures also make the grade. One of the fiercest hunters in the area usually misses most top 10 lists — the great horned owl. One of the most common owls in our country, the great horned owl’s range covers most of North and South America, including an active nest in the ... Read More »

Everglades Wildlife: Closer than you Think!

Alligator basking in the sun. PHOTOS BY BOB MCCONVILLE

Stepping Stones Bob McConville Master Naturalist Bob will be appearing at the Rose History Auditorium on Jan. 21 to talk more in detail about the birds, reptiles and mammals of this habitat. The program includes a slide show of many photos he has taken and possibly a live animal or two! Start time is 7 PM. Everyone is welcome. MIHS members are free. All others are $5 and proceeds benefit the Marco Island Historical Society.   J.M. Barrie wrote in one of his books about a place far, far away called Neverland. It was a land that prevented people from growing ... Read More »

Merry Christmas from Marco’s Baby Dolphins

Darwina and Rose. PHOTOS BY BOB MCCONVILLE

Stepping Stones Bob McConville Master Naturalist Seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five baby dolphins. What? That’s not how the song goes! Well, it is this year, and all of the new baby dolphins around Marco Island deserve a golden ring. The survey team on board The Dolphin Explorer have seen five brand new calves so far this fall, with “so far” being the optimal words. Several adult females are still on our “nice” list as potential moms this season. Birthing usually takes place from September thru January in our area, so we are looking for more young every day. These ... Read More »

Florida Panthers: Their Right of Passage

Seen in the Big Cypress  Swamp, this young bobcat could be mistaken for a young panther since both can be dark in color and have darker spots. This bobcat has a very short tail while the panther does not. PHOTO BY BOB MCCONVILLE

Stepping Stones Bob McConville Master Naturalist As I watched the morning news over the Thanksgiving holiday, I learned that yet another Florida panther died on Collier Boulevard from injuries sustained by a motor vehicle. It was the 20th such death this year. The broadcast continued by stating that there are now less than 160 panthers remaining in southern Florida. Other sources place that number at less than 100. In a time when we were giving thanks for family, friends and the good things that surround us, my heart was deeply saddened. Panther, mountain lion, puma and cougar are all names ... Read More »

Novemberrrr! Cold Weather Means Feathered Friends Are Here

White Pelicans at Tigertail Beach last winter. PHOTO BY BOB MCCONVILLE

Stepping Stones Bob McConville Master Naturalist On Nov. 16, my daughter sent me a picture from Oshawa, Canada, just east of Toronto, to show me snow on the ground. I already knew that it had snowed in the Rockies a few weeks earlier. On the morning of Nov. 18, the local weatherman stated that 83 percent of the continental United States was at, or below, freezing! What’s up, Mother Nature? In mid-November? I’m aware of some of the annual migrations of birds from the North to the South, and they usually leave their northern habitats before Old Man Winter makes ... Read More »

Help Keep Dolphins Safe

Mom Sparky and baby Holly come up for air together. Holly is just learning how to breathe properly.  PHOTOS BY BOB MCCONVILLE

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist A special thanks to Naturalist Kent Morse for his contributions to this article. Kent has been studying dolphins on Marco for 10 years. The 10,000 Islands Dolphin Survey Team is on the water nearly every day of the year conducting their survey of dolphin activity in the area. It’s unfortunate that many of the mammals they have catalogued have dorsal fins that do not look normal. Most of these are oddities are the result of encounters with fishing line, leaders or hooks. In less than three years, two dolphin rescues have taken place right ... Read More »

A Tribute to My Ultimate Dolphin Lover

Emily on her 90th birthday in 2012. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

Stepping Stones Bob McConville Master Naturalist STEPPING STONES…This is the primary title of the column I write. Typically, a stepping stone is something to help you get from one place to another or from one phase in life to another as well. We have all utilized them. Sometimes, they are very obvious to us; very evident. Other times, we just happen to stumble upon them. They can be subtle or they can be earth shattering. One thing is for sure: We use them from the day we are born until the time we die. Some of the people who create ... Read More »

It’s Time to Welcome Our Flying Winter Friends

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Stepping Stones Bob McConville Master Naturalist September 21, 2014, 10:29 PM Marco Island time — The Autumnal Equinox is occurring. That imaginary line on our planet called the Equator is closest to the sun. There is an even amount of solar energy in both the northern and southern hemisphere. It is the first day of fall. Over the next few months the earth’s northern half will tilt away from the sun. Here in Florida, we will experience cooler temperatures, but further north a much colder climate will be prevalent. Some areas of the United States have already experienced snow, and ... Read More »

It’s Gator Hatchin’ Time in the Glades

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Stepping Stones Bob McConville Master Naturalist A few weeks ago I took a walk through several different areas of the Everglades, and there was a very distinct and serene quiet, a sound of silence that was not there in early summer. During the months of May thru July, I could hear the unmistakeable bellowing of male alligators trying to entice the females. Some of these boys have traveled great distances to find a mate. Now, all is calm. Courtship rituals are complete, and females are tending to their nests, waiting for the young to hatch. The males have moved on, ... Read More »

Time to Welcome Marco Island’s Baby Dolphins

You can see the body creases or "fetal folds" on this newborn dolphin. It is less than 2 weeks old. Photos by Kent You can see the body creases or and Meredith of the Dolphin Explorer

Stepping Stones Bob McConville Master Naturalist This is the first of three articles this fall about dolphin births, with updates on the new moms and calves. SEPTEMBER, 2014: Within the next few weeks a naturalist on board the Dolphin Explorer will exclaim to passengers, “Here’s one of the first of this season, a newborn bottlenose dolphin!” It is birthing season for the bottlenose dolphins in our area. The 10,000 Island Dolphin Survey Team, on board the Dolphin Explorer, will be keeping a sharp lookout for newborns this season and has already made a list of adult females that could possibly ... Read More »

What Birds Eat… The Beak Can Tell the Tale

Wood storks use “tactolocation” to find food
and can close their beak in 1/20th of a second!

Stepping Stones Bob McConville Master Naturalist Have you ever seen a reddish egret dance along the shoreline to snag a meal? How about a great blue heron sitting trance-like on a mangrove branch just one foot above the water to catch a fish? Or an osprey swooping into the water feet first to grasp its prey? There is such a variety of bird life in the Marco area, and they capture their next meals in several different manners. One physical feature can tell you something very unique about their diets. Take a look at the shape of the bird’s beak. ... Read More »

The Horses are Off — Seahorses, That Is

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Stepping Stones Bob McConville Master Naturalist “Mama, come quick!” a young girl cries. “There’s a tiny horse on the beach!” As mama and others run to the scene, sure enough there is a horse in the Marco Island sand. It is only a few inches long and sure looks like our equine friends but without legs. It is a seahorse. Seahorses are very small marine fish. Like other fish they breathe through gills. They float in an upright position and have pectoral fins to maneuver and dorsal fins to maintain balance. Most importantly, they are masters of camouflage. Just like ... Read More »

Florida Bird Migration: It’s All About the Tilt

White Pelicans migrate form north to south when temperatures become cooler. They are in our area during our winter. Below: Swallow Tailed Kites migrate from South America when that continent becomes cooler. They are in our area now until the fall. PHOTOS BY BOB MCCONVILLE

Stepping Stones Bob McConville Master Naturalist Swallow Tailed Kites are here in South Florida right now, but the White Pelicans and other migratory bird species are not. Hmmm….it seems odd that they all do not frequent our area at the same time. Why would that happen? Don’t they all come from the north to winter in our area? Don’t they all come at the same time? The answer is a resounding NO, and it revolves primarily around one factor: the tilt of the earth. Let’s refresh with some basic science classes to figure this out. The earth is in an ... Read More »

Caves of the Yucatan Peninsula and Florida

Bob and Cathy explore an underground  cavern in Mexico. SUBMITTED PHOTO

STEPPING STONES  Bob McConville  Master Naturalist In early June of this year, my wife, Cathy, and I took the opportunity to visit the Yucatan Peninsula area of Mexico. The marine life and geology of this region are positively fascinating. In addition to snorkeling with whale sharks — the largest fish on the planet — we ventured inland to Mexico’s jungles to learn more about the ecology. What we found was absolutely surprising. This portion of the peninsula sits right where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Caribbean Sea. The closest land mass is Cuba, and just north of that is ... Read More »

Swimming with the Largest Fish on Earth

The mouth of this whale shark is nearly 4 feet wide. It filters plankton and small fish from the sea water to obtain protein. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

Stepping Stones Bob McConville Master Naturalist This column is dedicated to Marine Biologist James Livacarri, whose passion, knowledge and smile deeply in spire tens of thousands of visitors to Marco Island. May your seas always be calm, and may the road rise up to meet you. May all of your journeys be pleasant, and may you and your family remain continually blessed. Thank you, my friend! I couldn’t believe my eyes! Our boat was right along side the largest fish in the world. The captain cautiously edged the vessel forward until we were about 30 feet in front of the ... Read More »

Snakes of Big Cypress Swamp

Young Cottonmouth, Big Cypress Swamp

Stepping Stones Bob McConville Master Naturalist When I am not at work on Marco Island, I absolutely love giving tours of the Big Cypress Swamp. I mean I really LOVE it!!!! There are several diverse habitats in that area, and they support a wide variety of wildlife. People are positively fascinated to hear the facts about ‘gators, ‘crocs, hawks, eagles, owls…..and snakes. I try to emphasize in my columns that there is an order to things on this planet, all the way down to the smallest ecosystems. Every plant, tree and animal serves a purpose, even the creepy, crawly things. ... Read More »

The Gulf Stream: A Migratory Highway

A newborn loggerhead, less than 2-inches long, gets ahead start towards the Gulf Stream current that will take it thousands of miles before returning to Marco Island 20-plus years from now. PHOTO BY BOB MCCONVILLE

Stepping Stones Bob McConville Master Naturalist Over the next few months, there will be a lot of attention given to the loggerhead turtles that nest on our local beaches. Not so much fuss will be made once the eggs have hatched, but many people are very aware of the absolutely magnificent, nearly impossible journey that these youngsters take. It is nothing short of a miracle. Some of them will catch the Gulf Stream current just off our shoreline, grab a transfer into the Atlantic Ocean and continue up the coastline until they turn east toward Europe and Africa. But they ... Read More »

Dolphin Explorer: 8 Years of Research

PHOTO BY Kirk Gardner

Stepping Stones Bob McConville Master Naturalist Over here is Halfway, an adult female bottlenose dolphin and mom to at least four calves. Over there is one of our dominant male pair bonds, Hatchet and Capri.” These are common refrains by naturalist Kent Morse and marine biologist James Liviccari on board the Dolphin Explorer. With 16 years of experience between them studying the bottlenose dolphins in and around Marco Island, these two professionals not only identify the area mammals but they recognize certain behaviors and traits of many individuals. With eight complete years of survey data in their hands, some amazing ... Read More »

On the Road Less Traveled With the Swallow-tailed Kite

A Swallow-tailed Kite seen near Shell Island Road. PHOTO BY BOB MCCONVILLE

It was a typical drive home from work on April 22 when I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, a bird flying. Its movement was a bit different than other area birds, and then I saw its tail. I smiled, and said to myself, “They’re back.” I am, by no means, a professional birder, but seeing certain species at specific times of the year helps me understand that there is an order on this earth — a system that has been in place for thousands of years. This was my third such sighting of this particular bird this ... Read More »

Before the Calusa, Who Was Here?

Calusa Fishing People. COURTESY OF FLORIDA MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY

Stepping Stones Bob McConville Master Naturalist Just about everyone who visits this area is aware of some of the recent native American inhabitants of South Florida. The Calusa indians controlled the waterways from the Florida Keys as far north as Tampa Bay. The Seminole and Miccosukee roamed the inland areas and the Everglades while even more tribes settled other regions of the state. In fact, when Christopher Columbus first came to this part of the world, it is estimated that there were more than 300,000 natives in Florida. Many of these Indian nations did not have a written history, and ... Read More »