Where Did My Habitat Go?


Written by: Alison Drake/Marc Harris Wildlife

Marc Harris Wildlife Photograph of a mature bald eagle looking over a current development ground that was a big lake he used to frequent regularly to eat, drink, bathe and unwind with his mate.

Marc and I are very familiar with this eagle. We believe he lost his mate during a well known, horrendous prescribed burn gone bad when the tree that housed their tremendously large nest went up in flames during breeding season in 2018. His mate, the female, along with one unfledged juvenile eagle were never to be seen again. The male and an older fledgling who survived stayed around the nest area for days but eventually left their home area for good. All that's left of the once beautiful nest is just some scorched twigs. (See blog titled "Fire and Loss" 4/2018)

The mostly inseparable mated pair spent years hanging out in the once lakeside area depicted in this photo. We saw them together as they rested undisturbed at their favorite stopover,  and flying back and forth from their nest after long days of hunting and doing their daytime eagle things. We would watch them perch together on the branches of a tree once located near where you see him now. He has suffered  losses in the past year, his home, his mate and now his lakeside retreat.

He flies alone this year.

It will be next to impossible to document his life going forward since his home and daytime patterns of existence, no longer exist. When he finds a new mate we will have no idea where they will make their new home and now he will not be able to bring her to his old lake. 

We wish him well in his new life and hope he finds a new love and a safe place to start a new lifetime of families.

So long Sir.

Facts: The primary cause of loss of habitat is the clearing of land. The loss of wetlands, plains, lakes and other natural environments all destroy or degrade habitat. Habitat loss is a process of environmental change in which a natural habitat is rendered functionally unable to support the species that are present or in surrounding food gathering areas. In the process of habitat destruction, the organisms that previously used the site are displaced or destroyed, reducing biodiversity. Destruction causes instant harm to habitats and kills many species in the process.

How can we help prevent habitat destruction? For one: before building on a piece of property, learn about the natural habitat that will be impacted. There are always options to leave protected areas and sensitive ecosystems on the land to allow the wildlife to remain there for your enjoyment and their survival.

We live in southwest Florida, a state that currently has an influx of 1000 people a day moving here. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (the FWC), if Florida's population doubles during the next five decades it is predicted that about 7 million additional acres of land could be converted from rural and natural to urbanization. Of that, 2.7 million acres of native habitat will be claimed by roads, shopping malls and subdivisions. The addition of 18 million new residents to Florida alone will be a competition between wildlife and humans for land and water resources. In summary, the animals and fish that currently live in these habitats will disappear.

Marc and I are assisting the Cape Coral Wildlife Trust on their advisory panel as they move to acquire and protect large and small parcels of land for conservation of the burrowing owl and the gopher tortoise. We could use everyones help in this endeavor. We will keep you posted as these plans are put in place.

Research: FWC and National Wildlife Federation




Was this Intraspecific Killing a Result of Florida's Environmental Woes?



Near the end of Florida's rainy season is one of my favorite times to explore the forests and hidden marshes of the Everglades and the interior locations of historical woodlands for wildlife activity. A wide variety of birds and other animals like raccoons, opossums, bobcats, deer, coyotes, wild boar and even the elusive Florida panther visit parts of these ponds to forage, drink and even bathe.

I always hike in when it's dark (way before sunrise) and get set up and hidden in my blind so I blend in with the forest scenery.

On this particular morning as darkness lifted, the first shadow out in the pond was that of a reoccurring great blue heron. Once his appearance deemed the pond to be safe from visible harm a lone great egret arrived followed by a few waking eagles who began positioning themselves on pine tree branches around the perimeter of the shallow pond. 

My focus this morning was on the eagles. What were they going to do? As I had witnessed before, would they come down and steal stranded fish left by the wading birds when they all flew away as soon as the eagles began to circle above? Would they hunt the shallow water? I was waiting for more of the eagles story.

So far on the many many mornings I have been observing this active marsh, I hadn't witnessed anything but an immediate departure from all the foraging birds like the yellow legs, snowy egrets, tri-colored herons, black birds, killdeer, and more; when the eagles descended upon the pond. Lucky them. The outcome in the past, as expected, was that the pond became an eagle domain to oversee and territorialize as they so pleased. So, this morning I was waiting for some eagle action but unfortunately that wasn't the action I was going to see.


It was still slightly dark on the pond and the sun had not risen above the cloudy horizon when I watched a small juvenile great egret come in for an attempted graceful landing. He flew over a few groups of other content feeding birds and landed a few feet away from the statuesque adult great egret. Within two seconds the adult great egret immediately jumped on the juvi and began delivering death blow jabs to the young one's beak. Each thrust sent out loud crack sounds through-out the pond. The adult pummeled the small egret over and over and even stood on top of him as he buried the young one's face, beak and wings into the dark mud.

The juvi never made a sound, never fought back. The take down was sudden and vicious. The other birds in the pond ignored the violent attack and the eagles stayed on their branches and watched. It seemed to be over in one or two minutes but I just couldn't wrap my thoughts around why the adult killed the juvenile when there was no argument or human perspective motive.  Especially when there were lots of other birds sharing the pond (over 20 other egrets and herons) peacefully.

The adult great egret eased about 8 feet away from the juvi's lifeless body and that's when three snowy egrets walked over and just tepidly looked at the scene in curiosity. Then they flew off.

Next thing I saw was the juvi lift its head. Holy crap I's still alive! Unfortunately the adult saw that too and rushed back over and began jabbing the injured bird until it went lifeless again. What is going on I thought? It was like the adult was enjoying torturing this bird. The adult would stand over the small egrets body and if it tried to get up and escape, it was immediately stabbed in the head and smashed back down into the mud.

In my deduction of philosophy and the belief that you don't interfere with nature I remained hidden but did not take any further photographs of the macabre interaction that had unfolded right before my eyes. This entire event between the adult and the juvenile was bizarre. It appeared as if it was a senseless killing because the juvi had twice tried to leave the adults territory but was strangely tortured. 

Then, if I thought I hadn't seen enough or witnessed a tragic rarity in wildlife, the tiny looking juvi shockingly rose up in a pitiful third attempt to slink away from the adult great egret. I was on my way out of the blind when I was shuddered to stillness by what happened next. The great blue heron who had been on the sidelines the whole time was now seemingly coming in to challenge and stop the great egret from any more violence. It was amazing. While the great egret's attention was now fully focused on the great blue heron stalking towards him, the sadly deteriorating juvi gallantly made its one last walk to get away from the pond, with its last ounce of dignity.

Simultaneously, the great blue heron went beak to beak with the great egret. They stood in a duel-like formation with their necks stretched out as far as each could go. Eye to eye, beak to beak, the great blue heron striding toward the great egret made the egret back away and leave the pond area.  

What could have caused the rare violent episode in the marsh that morning?

I believe we owe it to ourselves and to all wildlife to help find answers to stop habitat destruction, contaminating pollutants and human negligence from destroying our global ecosystem. Alison & I are in the process of creating a non-profit organization to continue to help educate and document the rarities and beauty of wildlife behavior while we still have wildlife to view in its natural habitat. Time is definitely ticking away for the beautiful creatures that depend on this earth for survival. 

(All photographs are straight out of camera and ©MarcHarris/MarcHarrisWildlife. All rights reserved.)

The Hard Life of a Sandhill Crane



Under Dad's wing, this week-old sandhill crane colt feels safe enough to swim and paddle around its marsh home...happy to be out of the thick woodlands it had to trudge through all day. It's just a part of this little birds daily training. It's a day-in-the-life of a sandhill colt which is always grueling, exhausting, educational and not always successful.

This is the second year in a row I have monitored this specific mated pair of sandhill cranes raise their young. Their chosen nesting area is really good for safety, more so than the many other cranes using this wetland marsh. But to get to dry land where the young build strength and learn to forage and survive there are many directional paths to choose from.

Last year this Mom & Dad chose the most dangerous route that led them to a deep stream crossing near an alligator den. Sadly Dad lost his rambunctious favorite and was not the same the rest of the season. They carried on and raised one colt and I was there the day it took its first of many flights. Family of three, job well done.

Almost two weeks ago these parents began nurturing and training two new born healthy looking colts. Alison and I monitored a full day trek just days ago of this new family of four. Thus far they have outsmarted the gator. Oh yes, the gator is there, slipping under its gator hole and skimming the banks and laying in wait for its next avian meal. But this smart Mom and Dad have selected a brand new route into the woodlands which has so far eluded crossing the deep river parts where the enemy lies. 

It was a nerve racking day's journey as I followed the family (loosing track of them for expanded amounts of time) and would spot them on a trek that was meandering along the river banks and crossing dirt paths to avoid what they experienced last year.

All I can say is wow. I couldn't have felt more proud for the family and their survival instincts. These two colts are under the wings of two, more educated parents. I wish this family safe passage where ever they go.

CONCLUSION: The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission made it illegal to feed sandhill cranes. Many are killed on Florida roads while walking through neighborhoods for human garbage and feed in yards. There is the threat of predation to the young colts by cats and dogs. And young cranes have died from pesticide poisoning. Florida sandhill cranes have an abundance of natural food in the wild. For your safety and theirs, it's never a good idea to them.

photo ©MarcHarris/MarcHarrisWildlife 2018


Fire and Loss


Wow, where do I begin? And how do I convey what I found over Easter weekend 2018 at an Eagles nest that I visit only occasionally. Straight out what I found was a burned up forest.

This nest is home to a mating pair of bald eagles with eaglets in the nest. (I posted a story on these two eagles on my Instagram page November 17th, 2017 - just about 5 months ago).

This nest pictured above, prior to this photo, was literally undetectable from almost anywhere in this forested site. It took me days of hiking around to find it for the very first time. To preface, I was in this dense locale photographing and attempting to document a pair of great horned owls with two newborn owlets in an old abandoned shabby pine tree nest. I would watch, in a territorial power play, the eagles fly an east-west pattern near the owls nest daily. It made me wonder where the eagles were living. With snake books and hiking gear I set out on a trek to find the eagles. Hidden in a remote low lying area I finally spotted a camouflaged, mega-huge, sturdy nest built high up in a tall pine tree full of green pine needles, canopied and lush. These eagles had found their utopia. These parents were alone deep in the woods and any movement near their nest sent them blaring out alarm calls. Photographing the nest was never an option so I decided to only check in on them for personal updates like, after severe storms, hurricanes, breeding season, to make sure they were there and safe.

So you can only imagine my horror when I arrived at the burned out pine land forest. As I walked in closer, which was a breeze now, I photographed the fully exposed nest. No canopy, burned trunk, bare branches...I waited and waited for any sign of life and then with an Oh My God feeling, a juvenile head popped up from the darkened diminished pile of twigs. Amazing I thought! Within a half hour, one parent made a fly by. I took a couple documentary photos and left them to be.

I don't know who was responsible for this burn but the loss of wildlife in this acreage is heart breaking. A coyote den, a rose-breasted grosbeak nesting area, many migrating species feeding on grasshoppers and other insects, and small ground animals are all gone. Including the ground nest of the mating pair of great horned who had owlets.

Life in the wild is mighty tough and humans aren't helping like we should. 



What's a whirley bird?


Belted Kingfisher/Florida Everglades


This belted kingfisher has been plunging for his breakfast from the edge of a marsh lake I've been sitting on for a while this winter. He only shows up within camera range - before sunrise. Zips in eats and then zips out. It's rare for me to have the opportunity to have him perch, even for a second or two, right next to me. I kinda dig the dewey twilight infused spider web spun on the twig he scoping from.


Other than's a kingfisher. Sitting. But take my word for it, not for long. He sped away as quickly as he sped in.


A fleeting forest flier finding fish.


He's like a tongue twister, whirlybird.


Well not really a whirleybird but who remembers that word???


Now that's a word I haven't heard in forever.

But 'kingfisher'...that's a word I'll say for always, endlessly, for all time. 


#conservation #conservationphotography #wildlife #nature #kingfisher


Our Only Native Stork in North America


North American Wood Stork

This bald headed Southeastern United States wading bird in all its glory and bizarreness hasn't really been given its due appreciation, in my humble opinion.

Relating to this bird with pure emotion, and also in character with my adoration and respect for all wildlife, I see this bird as beautiful.  Look at this creatures prehistoric looking head, it's awesome and awkward at the same time. And because the wood stork has gotten sort of a bum rap in the "good looks" gene pool, no doubt undeservedly, I decided to feature all of its loveliness and make him the cover photo of my 2018 Wildlife Calendar.

I decorate him with favor for returning to southwest Florida to breed after a about a two year absence. Welcome back my featherless headed friend. 

In this photographic image this wood stork is enjoying a little late afternoon sunshine after a day of dining on minnows, frogs, and crayfish from what I could tell. Leading the troop, he began exiting a grassy marsh pond with a flock of friends and family who were gingerly lagging behind. This gave me the perfect opportunity to capture this ones style and essence as they all silently retreated into the shadows.

©Marc Harris/MarcHarrisWildlife   

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The Dance of the Sandhill Crane


There are several theories about why Sandhill Cranes dance. The most widely accepted theory is that the dance is a mating ritual. 

However, even Juvi's have been known to join in on the fun.

Maybe that's the real answer...they dance because it's fun.


©Marc Harris/MarcHarrisWildlife   

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Sandhill Cranes Mate For Life

The majestic sandhill crane.

This 2017 breeding season many sandhill cranes made a Florida inland marsh their breeding home. There were rock island beds to keep their nests relatively safe from coyotes, bobcats and other ground predators but the attentive parents still had many dangers to face every day.

I set up my hidden blind area at the rounded tip of a land jetty that allowed me to observe one particular mating pair. Their colorings were significantly different as well as their nesting behaviors so it was easy for me to tell them apart whether they were together or one of them was off taking a break from the two eggs they were caring for.
On March 31st the eggs hatched and two colts were born. Within 8 to 12 hours both little ones were being led away from the nest by the parents, across the muddy marsh to begin their rigorous struggle and perseverance for what would be a life of survival. The first trek to the edges of the marsh bank for the two tiny birds was amazing. With Mom and Dad urging them forward they would drop from exhaustion but the family bond of encouragement made them stronger as they struggled through the muck in preparation for life in the wild. 
The siblings bonded immediately and at four days old when the weaker of the two was having difficulty keeping up, the stronger one would rush to the rescue and insist the little one keep moving. It was incredibly touching to watch the dynamics and the roles they assumed as one family.
Every morning at sunrise the family left the nesting site for long treks through the forest. 
As of April they had one surviving colt that was doing quite well despite the fact that it was the weaker and smaller of the two hatchlings. I watched it start to fly just a little to keep up with the parents. The family of three made it through the season and I returned often to witness the love, knowledge and survival skills they imparted upon their colt as she grew into her legs and became as beautiful as her Mom and Dad. 
As this noble and elegant family continues to make their way through life I hope to see them again soon.

Bald Eagle Behavior



An apparent female bald eagle was enjoying her meal while her mate circled above to keep nearby vultures and other birds of prey from interrupting her. Meanwhile, in the skies above, a juvenile bald eagle showed up with interest in joining in on the feast. The male eagle immediately began chasing the juvenile in an aerial showdown. This left the female unattended and I witnessed her begin to scream and scream. 

I patiently watched from the pine flats. When the male returned just moments later she decided she was over the whole scenario and flew off.

As I moved on, looking behind me, no other bird had mustered up the courage to pick up where this regal hunter had left off. 

I thought to myself, just give them time.


Photo ©Marc Harris/Marc Harris Wildlife



Where Have All The Ibis Gone?


I speak more specifically about the American white ibis. Genus: endocimus albus; Family: ibises and spoonbills.

Most common in the deep southern regions of the United States, the white ibis is one of the most numerous wading birds in Florida. Adults are mostly white with black tipped wings, red face and legs and a very distinctive downturned pink bill.

Originally found in numbers reportedly as high as in the thousands across the Everglades, the white ibis has turned to urban life all over Florida in order to adapt. Their population is much lower today than in past decades due to loss of feeding and nesting habitats.  In spite of the perils they face they can be seen everywhere from backyards, golf courses, parks and shorelines, looking for insects or probing for prey. But the question I still ask myself most is... will they return to the subtropical wilderness of the Everglades or will they continue to exist as a social bird among people?

Photo title: "White Ibis Sunrise"

Photo location: Coastal region of Southwest Florida

Photo description: Ibis in flight, silhouetted against a shoreline morning sunrise with the water's reflection capturing the peach colored sky painted by Mother Nature.

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(I personally recommend the matte paper)

©Marc Harris/MarcHarrisWildlife

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