Manatees Escaping Cold Water

“It's been colder here in central Florida than the norm and that is cause for the manatees to huddle in the little canals to keep warm," writes Laura Cairns in sharing with us these photos of those large, gentle, 8-to-14-foot-long cousins of elephants that are Florida's state marine mammal. "This small canal [the Satellite Beach canal] backs up to a neighborhood and is a popular place for them to huddle when the daytime highs are only in the 50s. As you can see in the pictures in the comments, they pack in there pretty close to keep warm.”

Here are some of the manatees gathering in the warmer waters of the Satellite Beach canal in central Florida. Photo shared with The Naturalist's Notebook by Laura Cairns

Manatees can't survive for long stretches in water that's colder than 68 degrees, so they're crowding into canals with water reported to be in the low 70s. These herbivores (sometimes called sea cows) are a threatened species (controversially downgraded from endangered in March 2017) whose numbers fell to a few hundred by the 1970s because of habitat destruction, boat strikes, pollution and other human-driven factors. Thanks to efforts to protect them, their numbers have risen to more than 6,000 in Florida, but those same human threats continue. 

Photo shared with The Naturalist's Notebook by Laura Cairns

Photo shared with The Naturalist's Notebook by Laura Cairns

Photo shared with The Naturalist's Notebook by Laura Cairns

Photo shared with The Naturalist's Notebook by Laura Cairns

Have you seen or photographed a manatee? Let us know (photos welcome). Many thanks to Laura for sharing her shots. —Craig Neff and Pamelia Markwood

Birds of Costa Rica and Panama

“This summer I was fortunate enough to spend one month in Costa Rica followed by one month in Panama," writes John David Curlis in sharing the wonderful photos in the slide show below. "When I wasn’t assisting with teaching [tropical ecology] or conducting research [on lizards], I spent just about every waking minute looking for birds. As you might expect, it’s not hard to find some truly amazing ones down there in the tropics. Here’s a sampling of some of my favorites—hope you enjoy!"

We've put John David's identifications of the birds in the caption with each shot. Species include everything from a Lesson's motmot and a great curassow to a golden-hooded tanager, a purple-throated mountain-gem and a fasciated antstrike. What a treat to see them. Many thanks, John David.

Roseate Spoonbills in South Carolina

Once victims of their own beauty—plume hunters nearly eradicated them from the U.S. more than a century ago in the fashion-driven slaughter of wading birds that eventually led to the founding of the Audubon Society—roseate spoonbills have rebounded along the Southeast and Gulf coasts. though they're still a threatened species in Florida. They hunt for crustaceans, some of which provide the pigment for their pink plumage, by swinging their heads side-to-side in shallow waters. Many thanks to Lisa Barnes for sharing these wonderful photos with us from Huntington Beach State Park in South Carolina. (Take note of the wood stork, itself a threatened species, wading with a spoonbill in one of the photos.) 

What's a Patagonian Dragon?

"I thought you might like this rather rare find I came across the other day in Chilean Patagonia," writes Roxanne Schinas in sharing her photo of this remarkable insect. "I was walking on the seemingly sterile surface of a glacier when I noticed a prehistoric-looking creature floating in a puddle of meltwater, and at first assumed it must have been dropped by a bird.

Photo of Patagonian dragon shared with The Naturalist's Notebook by Roxanne Schinas in Chile

Photo of Patagonian dragon shared with The Naturalist's Notebook by Roxanne Schinas in Chile

"Actually this is a creature known as the Patagonian dragon, a very primitive insect which spends its entire life within the glaciers of the Andean Southern Icefield: the only wingless member of the stonefly family, it has high concentrations of glycerol (antifreeze) in its blood, and feeds entirely on the particles of algae growing in minute crevices in the ice. Since this part of the world is inaccessible and uninhabited these insects are very understudied, and I was very lucky to come across one which had ventured out of the ice."

The first insects evolved almost 500 million years ago, so seeing a type that's old even by insect standards—and survives in and on glaciers—is amazing. Who needs mythological animals when the planet is filled with so many astounding real ones? Many thanks, Roxanne!

A Thrush from Bangladesh

Recently we were excited to receive the first photo shared with us from Bangladesh, a densely-populated, Iowa-sized country that was known as East Pakistan before it won its independence from Pakistan in 1971. Today it is home to 160 million people, more than 460 bird species and 89 types of mammals, of which 31 are endangered, critically endangered or vulnerable. “This is a photograph of an orange-headed thrush that I took in Dhaka, Bangladesh last year," writes Ihtisham Kabir in sharing his beautiful shot. "It is fairly common, but not easily visible because it stays in the underbrush.”

Photo of orange-headed thrush shared with The Naturalist's Notebook by Ihtisham Kabir in Bangladesh

Photo of orange-headed thrush shared with The Naturalist's Notebook by Ihtisham Kabir in Bangladesh

Learning about nature in other countries is not just fascinating, but also important in coming to understand the astounding but threatened diversity of life on Earth, a home that we share—or rather, need to learn how to share—with an estimated 8.7 million other uniquely evolved, irreplaceable species of flora and fauna. It's uplifting to find people on the other side of the planet who love nature and science as we do. "We have other birds such as masked finfoot and Indian skimmers," Ihtisham adds. "I will send you photos once in a while.... Love your page."

Zebras at the Waterhole

“Three's a crowd," writes Karen Blackwood of Eagle Eye Safaris in sharing her photo with us from Kruger National Park in South Africa. "As prey animals, zebra are always wary at waterholes. They can't see much with their heads down, nor can they smell predators while drinking. Slaking their thirst is a leap of faith, but there's always one keeping watch, helping to keep the herd-mates safe. Please take a look in full screen for details you might miss at a glance, and we hope you enjoy them as much as we did!" Anyone else seen a zebra in the wild? Thanks, Karen.

Photo by Karen Blackwood at Kruger National Park in South Africa

Photo by Karen Blackwood at Kruger National Park in South Africa