Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tour of the Matanzas River


Here is something you don't see every day - a bunch of Roseate Spoonbills roosting together in a tree. It was almost comical to see. Usually you see big birds like this gracefully wading around in the water looking for fish. They are too big to gracefully perch in trees.

There are 7 spoonbills here - the pink blob at the right end is actually two spoonbills. The bird in the water toward the left is a Tri-Colored Heron (aka Louisiana Heron). You can see his main color of gray and his white belly in this photo, but he is too far away to see the third color, which is a reddish patch at the top of his throat.

We saw this very cool sight in St. Augustine, Florida, on a pontoon boat tour on the Matanzas River. Along with these and many other birds, we also saw lots of dolphins. The boat had a hydrophone, so we could hear the clicks of the dolphins along with those of "snapping shrimp".

Snapping shrimp (aka pistol shrimp) have the amazing ability to snap their claws so quickly that they produce a bubble that makes a loud snap when it pops. This snap is loud enough to stun small fish that swim by, which the shrimp then grabs and eats. It is as if the shrimp is shooting the fish, hence the name pistol shrimp.

Other highlights of the trip were the mullet fish jumping out of the water all around us, and the beds of "spitting" oysters. No one seems to know for sure why mullet jump so much. A couple of theories are to increase their oxygen intake, or to escape from larger fish who are trying to catch them.

As for the oysters, they spit as part of their feeding process. They take in a "mouth" full of water, filter out the nutrients, and loudly spit out the water high into the air. Besides putting on a fun show, they are also serving an important purpose by cleaning the water.

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