Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

Our New Year's Eve photograph is one of Jim's - a new dawn, a new day, a new year.

I subscribe to the Jacquie Lawson e-cards service. I remember when her animated e-cards first appeared several years ago - pieces of fruit flying around on the computer screen, somehow morphing into such things as a Thanksgiving turkey or a wreath or a cake. People were amazed, and the cards were forwarded many times over, with the original sender's signature, of course. A few days ago, I received notice of a new Jacquie Lawson New Year's card. The background music for the cards is the Blue Danube Waltz, and information accompanying the card explains the tradition of the Vienna, Austria New Year Concert, started during the Second World War to give the local audience hope for the future. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra performs dance music from Austrian composers, primarily Strauss. Quoting from Ms Lawson's background information, "Tickets for the concerts are highly prized, with some Austrian families reserving seats from generation to generation." (Reminds me of the Green Bay Packers fans.) The Blue Danube Waltz is always included as an encore, followed by the Radetzky March. I found them on the Internet, of course, and thought they would be a fine way to wish you Happy New Year. So turn up the volume and follow the links.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Other People's Blogs

There are some 10 million blogs. I only follow a few, but they are a very good few, and I wanted to share some of their recent postings with you. But first, we need a photo, and I'm lucky enough to have hundreds of great photos to chose from, thanks to Jim and Matt and friends. This beauty is one of Jim's - a Brown Pelican mother and baby. (As usual, click to enlarge.)

David McRee had a particularly interesting December 21st post on his Blog the Beach. He spent the day on a bird rescue trip to the Skyway Bridge State Park Fishing Pier with a volunteer from the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, documenting the problems that arise when fishermen and pelicans are after the same fish in the same space. We have our own dandy Florida Wildlife Hospital here in Melbourne, and we'll be devoting a post to their activities and an upcoming volunteer training session in January.

I was looking for Brown Pelican information, and one of the links was for a web site called South Dakota Birds and Birding! Since I was born and raised in western South Dakota and still remember those winters, I was a little sceptical, but this is a delightful site developed by a guy that loves birds. He has a FREE 2009 printable bird calendar - each month prints on an 8 1/2 x 11 inch sheet of paper, with half the page devoted to a bird photo and the other half to the calendar. I've printed out January - the bird is a Horned Lark in snow. Good stuff!

I found this next blog by serendipity. Pure Florida is mostly about the Nature Coast, a wonderful part of Florida's west coast that runs from Pasco County north through Wakulla County. The blogger (Florida Cracker, or FC for short) has a great spirit line - "If it ain't true Florida nature or Florida culture, it ain't here. At Pure Florida, we don't just admire nature ... we participate." He has a companion site, Pure Florida Food ,with recipes - it's worth a look just for the photo in the header!

I've mentioned Amanda's Veranda to you before, primarily because of her beautiful photos of the northeast U.S. and her fabulous music selection. If you want to see what the weather is like in Washington State, look at the closeups of frosted trees in her December 27th post entitled "Am I living in Antartica?" And don't miss her bird pix. Cactus Jack Splash gives us a horse's perspective on the weather there - if it's above 30 degrees, he does not have to wear his tarp!
There are others, but these are the nature/critter-related blogs I follow. I use Google Reader to list when these blogs are updated. It's a "cool tool" - let me know if you need directions (and thanks to David McRee for getting me started on it).

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Field Trip to the Beach!

We've talked before about Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (MINWR), Canaveral National Seashore, and Playalinda Beach. It was time for another visit up that direction, so neighbor John and I took advantage of the Chamber of Commerce weather last weekend, traveled up US#1 to Titusville's Garden Street, and headed east.

First, a few facts. MINWR is a 140,000 acre refuge that shares a common boundary with NASA's Kennedy Space Center. It lies in the Atlantic Flyway and is a major route for migrating birds. It is an important part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. Some 330 species of birds use the Refuge, either as a full-time residence or a winter destination. According to link provided above, approximately half of the Refuge's 140,000 acres consists of brackish estuaries and marshes. The remaining lands consist of coastal dunes, scrub oaks, pine forests and flatwoods, and palm and oak hammocks. (I urge you to follow the above link - the resulting U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service site has lots of good, crisply written information.)
This was John's first visit, and eventually the conversation led to a discussion of water management and impoundments used as part of habitat management at the Refuge. Originally, the impoundments (dikes) were created in the 1950s for mosquito control (early Space Center workers will remember why!). The impoundments helped with the mosquito problem, but were found to be detrimental to the marsh habitat. Lots of people, government entities, and organizations collaborated to develop a good solution, and now the 76 impoundments not only help control the mosquito population, but provide food and habitat for birds and other critters. Be sure to read the impoundment link - it provides good insight into how technology and nature coexist so beautifully.
The above photo of the Great Egret in breeding plumage is one of Jim Angy's many photos from MINWR. Five years ago, we produced The Nature of Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, a photo album on a CD full of information and Jim's pictures. I'd forgotten just how good it is until I started doing some research for this posting. The CD displays only on PCs, and eventually Matt will turn it into a narrated DVD, but meanwhile, you can learn more about it at our companion site, http://www.stillnature.com/.
Eventually, John and I wound up at Playalinda Beach. If you've watched the Beautiul Beach section of our Florida Beach Basics - The Space Coast DVD, you know what a cool beach it is. I had on one of my Sea-Bean Symposium shirts and was stopped by a surfer dude who pulled a hamburger bean out of his pocket to show me. So while he and I talked beans, John took photos like this one. Just look at the varied activities going on in this one small stretch of sand - fishing, surfing, sunning, wading, beachcombing - and the shuttle facility off in the distance. Perfect!
A fine, mellow day. If you live around the Space Coast, you owe it to yourself to make the trip to MINWR and Playalinda. If you are coming to visit us, add it to your agenda. Just remember to have a full tank of gas and some snacks and water, as there are no places to buy food or gas on the Refuge.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holiday Greetings from Florida and Apollo 8 Remembered

Sometimes it is difficult to think of a Florida image that epitomizes Christmas. Luckily, Charlie Corbeil sent an e-greeting card with this photo of a Florida Mockingbird , Florida's state bird, with a wild balsam apple seed. The image lingered in my mind over several days, so I asked Charlie if I might use it for my Christmas Eve greeting card. Always generous in sharing his lovely photographs, he agreed. (Be sure to click on the photo to enlarge it.)

Forty years ago this past Sunday, Apollo 8 lifted off on a mission to orbit the moon. So many "firsts" and so many technological accomplishments, but the lingering memory is of the astronauts (Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders) beaming a television program from orbit to earth on Christmas Eve, during which they read from the Book of Genesis. They timed their broadcast to show the planet Earth hanging in the blackness of space and the surface of the moon visible in the lower left corner. At the time, the broadcast was the most watched TV program ever. In addition to our profound appreciation to NASA for its many technological achievements, we must also recognize their extraordinary sense of history and documentation that allows us to relive Apollo 8. Here, then, is that timeless greeting from the crew of Apollo 8, illustrated by NASA's photo entitled Rising Earth.

William Anders:
"For all the people on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you. "


"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness."


Jim Lovell:
"And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day."

Frank Borman:
"And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good."

Borman then added, "And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you - all of you on the good Earth."

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Paper Nautilus - The Argonauta

Butch Childers graciously gave us permission to use these photos of a Paper Nautilus shell that he found on Melbourne Beach last week. Wanting to tell you everything you ever needed to know about this creature, I began my research on the Internet. On the sea-bean web site, I discovered that the Paper Nautilus is also called an Argonaut, is a mollusk, and lives a pelagic existence in the tropics and subtropics. Although this part of the shell looks like paper, it is contructed of calcium carbonate (like most seashells) by the female for the purpose of protecting her eggs.
A good explanation, to be sure, but too clinical for such a lovely shell. So I turned to a poet and an author for help.
Poet Marianne Moore (1887 - 1972) wrote The Paper Nautilus in 1941. Much of the poem was symbolism that went over the top of my geeky head, but I understood and liked these words:
...the paper nautilus constructs her thin glass shell. Giving her perishable souvenir of hope a dull white outside and smooth-edged inner surface glossy as the sea, the watchful maker of it guards it day and night; she scarcely eats until the eggs are hatched.

And then I turned to Anne Morrow Lindbergh's "Gift from the Sea" written in 1955. This is a fine, contemplative book - I suggest you read it while sitting on a quiet beach. (It should be required reading for Baby Boomers.) Chapter 6 is devoted to the Argonauta. While the author may have taken a little poetic license, she certainly captured the essence of this dainty creature.

There are in the beach world certain rare creatures, the "Argonauta" (Paper Nautilus), who are not fastened to their shell at all. It is actually a cradle for the young, held in the arms of the mother argonaut who floats with it to the surface, where the eggs hatch and the young swim away. Then the mother argonaut leaves her shell and starts another life. .... Almost transparent, delicately fluted like a Greek column, this narcissus-white snail shell is feather light as some coracle of ancient times, ready to set sail across unknown seas.
Our thanks to Butch for sharing his lovely gift from the sea.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Mole Crabs (aka Sand Fleas)

As part of our recent beach walk at Sebastian Inlet after the Sea-Bean Symposium, Ed Perry was kind enough (and quick enough) to catch some mole crabs to show Izumi. Here's the video Matt shot. Be sure your sound is turned up, and watch at the end as the little critters find some damp sand, then burrow in rear-end first, disappearing as if by magic.

video

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Beautiful Blue Glaucus Sea Slug

If you asked a child to invent a creature and describe its lifestyle, you might wind up with something like this blue glaucus sea slug. According to Blair and Dawn Witherington's book, Florida's Living Beaches, "The blue glaucus floats upside down (foot up) due to an air bubble in its stomach. " Cathie Katz spoke of the blue glaucus in her Nature of Florida's Oceans book thusly: "A glaucus is a mollusk with no shell. The inch-long glaucus floats upside down, clinging to the underside surface of the water. They eat the tentacles of toxic creatures such as blue buttons, absorbing the poisonous cells to use for their own defense. "

Some folks walking the beach yesterday found this little beauty. Fortunately for us, their efforts to identify their find eventually led to Margie Mitchell. Margie's job as Beach Coordinator for the City of Cocoa Beach frequently involves rescuing distressed birds, and she was on her way to the Florida Wildlife Hospital with a couple of birds when she received the call. She detoured to the house where the USO (unidentified swimming object!) was being kept in a bait pail and took the pail with its occupant to the Wildlife Hospital to be photographed. She also called Ed Perry and Jim Angy and described this blue creature to them - they identified it as a blue glaucus sea slug. (Ed also reminded us of the entry in Cathie's book.) Margie eventually returned the little guy to its finder, who named it Fred and said he planned to set it up in a salt water aquarium. (Photo courtesy of Sue Small, Florida Wildlife Hospital)

Christopher Boykin is a sea-beaning friend who works for the State of Florida on the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative. His comment when he saw the photo expresses my thoughts exactly: "I’m in love with this creature. So cool. It looks like an alien. The Latin name is Glaucus atlanticus. Glaucus was a Greek sea god, and how cool would it be to have the word atlanticus in your name? What a freakin’ neat sea critter!"

Update: Margie uploaded the photo of the blue glaucus to a List Serve, and amongst the comments returned was the following from Judie C. , with a link to a wonderful photo gallery: "What a fabulous find! You might like to have a look at:
http://www.imagequest3d.com/portfolio/index.htm#
and then click on Surface Drifters. Peter Parks has done a lot of the photography here in Bermuda, and we all have a great time searching the beaches and floating Sargassum for these amazing critters."

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Birders' Paradise

Just as Space Coast hoteliers and businesses eagerly await the return of seasonal visitors and tourists escaping the frozen north, nature lovers in Brevard await birding season. The recent Migration Celebration at the Barrier Island Center heralded the return of migratory birds to Brevard County, and preparations are in full swing for the annual Audubon Society Christmas bird counts. In January, the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival in Titusville will provide thousands of visitors with an array of lectures, tours, and exhibits. And luckily for us, popular bird hangouts will provide opportunities for "wow" photographs like this one Wayne Matchett captured during a trip to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge last birding season. (Be sure to click on the photo to enlarge it - it's a pure joy to look at closely.)

The above sites, as well as the Space Coast Birding web site, will provide you with a wealth of information. We'll have more bird count and Festival information in future postings. Meanwhile, put January 21 - 26 on your calendar.

By the way, if you are planning to visit Brevard County, be sure to check out the Space Coast's official tourism web site. It's a well-maintained site that offers excellent logistical information for use in planning your visit. You will, of course, also want to order your copy of our Florida Beach Basics - The Space Coast DVD before you come!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sea Oats

In the Plants and Other Beach Life section of the Florida Beach Basic - The Space Coast DVD, we speak of sea oats. The sea oat has roots that go far down in the sand, and that makes it an important dune stabilizer. It is a protected plant species, and it is illegal to pick it or damage it in any way. (Photo by Jim Angy)

This plant is so critical to our beach habitat that the Brevard County Natural Resources Management Office and Keep Brevard Beautiful, Inc. are collaborating to bring beachside residents the 6th Annual Bargain Sea Oats Sale. While supplies last, you can purchase liner size sea oats in packs of 96 for $48. Paula Berntson of the Natural Resources Management Office sent us this photo so you can see what the pack of 96 looks like. Plants will be at least 12 inches high. You must order and pay prior to January 30, and pick them up on Saturday, February 7. Planting guidelines and pre-hydrated planting gel will be provided.

Additional information and the order form can be found here.

Here's a "glamour shot" of sea oats, so you can see that indeed, they are as lovely as they are useful. Again, this is a Jim Angy photo. Click to enlarge.

Monday, December 8, 2008

More About the Right Whale

The Right Whale Volunteer News, Summer 2008 issue, published by Julie Albert, Program Coordinator of the Marine Resources Council Right Whale Monitoring Program, provided a wealth of information about the program and the whales. I learned that peak time for sightings is typically mid-February, but in the 2007-2008 season, it was late January. An above-average 19 calves were born during the 2008 season in the southeast region (South Carolina to Florida). In addition, another 135 right whales, mostly juveniles, were tentitively identified. There were 689 reported sightings.

The newsletter listed 151 volunteers (including our own Cecelia Abbott, conchologist extraordinaire) who reported whale sightings and noted that because of these efforts, the MRC was able to inform commercial and military ships of the whales' whereabouts. An interesting map pinpointed critical habitat and reported sightings. Brevard is part of the critical habitat, although we don't get the quantity of sightings that Jacksonville and points north to Savannah get.
Harbor Branch Oceanographic supports the program and manages the Protect Florida Whales specialty license plate program. According to the newsletter, "The license plate program has contributed $200,000 to the effort ... something to spout about!"

Saturday, December 6, 2008

GO GATORS!

I know, this is not beach news. But what a great ballgame! The Florida Gators have defeated Alabama 31-20 for the SEC Championship. I look forward to the National Championship game and a second Heisman for Tim Tebow. Go Gators!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Give Birds a Rest!

We're so used to seeing birds flying that we might forget they need to rest every once in a while. If you've watched the Beach Birds section of our Florida Beach Basics - The Space Coast DVD, you know we ask that you don’t let children run up to birds on the beach. As the northern birds begin arriving for their winter vacation here, it is especially important that we give them time and space to recover from the long trip down. Friend David (http://www.blogthebeach.com/) spoke of this in his blog the other day, and gave us permission to share this photo he took during a Thanksgiving trip to Fort Desoto Park. Our Brevard County beach signs tend to be more sea turtle related, with rip current signs thrown in for good measure - I don't think I've ever seen a bird-related sign.

Curt Ebbesmeyer has told us that flotsom can float in the Atlantic gyre for years, but David sent a story about a message in a bottle that is an extreme case:

NORTH HALEDON, N.J. — A message in a bottle tossed into the ocean off Barnegat Bay has turned up in North Carolina — 39 years later. The note was sealed in a Schaefer beer bottle. It was dated Aug. 17, 1969 and read: "If found notify the North Haledon Fire Co. .2." Mark Ciarmello and his 3-year-old daughter found the bottle along a beach in Corolla, N.C., in October. That's about 400 miles from where it was released. The Downingtown, Pa., resident says he got on his cell phone, called North Haledon and e-mailed photos of the bottle to the firefighters.No one is sure who tossed the bottle. But firefighters suspect it was during one of the many fishing trips that they used to take years ago.

I'm looking forward to the Migration Celebration and the Barrier Island Bash this weekend - should pick up lots of new information to share with you. Plus, Ann Zscheile is off to a sea turtle rehab conference this weekend at The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, and she has promised to take photos of Sandy the Hawksbill rescue turtle and give us a first-hand report of her progress.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Right Whales

The Barrier Island Center is having a Migration Celebration on Saturday, December 6, from 11:00 to 3:00 to celebrate the end of hurricane season, the beginning of the right whale and shorebird migrations, and the beautiful fall weather! There will be presentations in the theater, shorebird viewing and oyster mat making on the observation deck, a guided hike on the sanctuary trail, live animals, eco-arts, storytelling, and live music. Although the event is FREE, Center folks are requesting that you bring donations of dried black and pinto beans to help hurricane victims in Haiti. All donations will be sent directly to Haiti to those in need. (Photo by Wayne Matchett)

This got me to thinking how little I know about the right whale, so I asked Cindy Dolaway for help. Cindy forwarded a hot-off-the-press release from the Marine Resource Council (MRC) that is just jam-packed with good information and a list of free classes one can attend to become a whale spotter.

We'll have more information and, with luck, some photos in future blogs, but I wanted to alert you to this week's classes (see link above for more details):

Tues, Dec 2, 12:00 - 1:00 (brown bag lunch), Lagoon House, Palm Bay
Thurs, Dec 4, 6:30 - 7:30, Wild Treasures of Brevard County, Mims
Fri, Dec 5, 12:00 - 1:00, Fisherman's Landing Park, Grant-Valkaria
Sat, Dec 6, 10:00 - 12:00, Ormond Beach Public Library
Sat, Dec 6, 1:30 - 2:30, Barrier Island Center, Melbourne Beach

A piece of trivia for you - according to Wikipedia, Right whales were so named because early whalers considered them the "right" whale to hunt.