Friday, January 30, 2009

We Remember Apollo, Challenger, and Columbia

If you're a veteran of the aerospace industry, as I am, the end of January/beginning of February brings memories of the disasters that have been a part of our amazing exploration of space. What memories do you have of these events?

I was working for Chrysler Corporation in 1967, and on January 27, some co-workers and I were at The Mousetrap, a well-known watering hole in Cocoa Beach, when we heard the news of the fire in Apollo 1 cabin during a count-down demonstration test on Launch Complex 34. We lost Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee that day.

Challenger broke apart 73 seconds after liftoff on January 28, 1986. I was working at Martin-Marietta in Orlando, and we were watching from windows in the tallest building in the complex when the convoluted smoke trail signaled something was terribly wrong. Dick Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Ronald McNair, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, and Judith Resnik lost their lives.

If you live along the Space Coast, you wait for the twin sonic booms that precede a shuttle landing. February 1, 2003, those booms never came. Columbia disintegrated over Texas during re-entry, and crew members Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, Ilan Ramon, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, and Laurel Clark died.

NASA's Day of Remembrance was yesterday, January 29, and I hope you'll take time to visit their tribute page.

I lifted this photo (be sure to enlarge it) from the NASA web site, a veritable treasure trove of history and information. This quote is from President Obama's message.

Today, we pause to reflect on those moments in exploration when things did not go as expected and we lost brave pioneers. But what sets us apart as Americans is our willingness to get up again and push the frontiers even further with an even stronger commitment and sense of purpose.On this Day of Remembrance, we remember the sacrifices of those who dared to dream and gave everything for the cause of exploration. We honor them with our ongoing commitment to excellence and an unwavering determination to continue the journey on the path to the future.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Brown Pelicans, Part II

More brown pelican facts. Brown pelicans have a wing span of about 6 1/2 feet. The pouch is used to scoop up fish, but not for storing fish. The pouch capacity is about 17 pints of water. Brown pelicans nest in large colonies. Nests are usually built in low trees, but pelicans will nest on the ground if there is no vegetation. Both parents tend to the needs of the young. It takes six to nine pounds of fish each day to feed a nest of three chicks. Peak nesting period is April and May. (Photo by Matt MacQueen)

The immature brown pelican in this photo is pretty typical - overall a drab grey-brown color, with dark eyes and a white belly. It takes about three years for brown pelicans to attain adult plumage.

Just as you change "feathers" depending on whether you're cleaning the car or going out on a hot date, adult pelican plumage will change according to the activity taking place. The plumage seen on a chick-feeding adult is white head, chocolate brown neck. As you might expect, breeding plumage is flashier - this photo shows typical adult brown pelican breeding plumage of brown neck, golden crown, blue eyes, red eye skin, and a dark belly. Standard winter, non-breeding plumage includes a white neck and gold crown.

Brown pelicans love the beach – they dive for fish, float off-shore, and rest on the sand. Groups of brown pelicans will fly single file, cruising the shallows for schools of fish. And finally, no discussion of pelicans would be complete without this thought: A strange bird is the pelican – his beak can hold more than his belly can.

(Photos, except as noted, by Jim Angy. Click to enlarge. I keep forgetting to mention it - we have six digital photo albums on CDs available on our Still Nature web site, including The Nature of Pelican Island, with lots more photos and information.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Beautiful Brown Pelican

Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge is located off the city of Sebastian, Florida, just south of Brevard County. It has the distinction of being America's first wildlife refuge, created by President Theodore Roosevelt in March 1903. Every March, the Refuge hosts Pelican Island Wildlife Festival. This year's festival is scheduled for March 14, so we're going to do a series of posts about pelicans to get you ready for it.

Thanks to photographer Jim Angy, we can show you rare photographs of some of the inhabitants of Pelican Island. Access to the island is restricted to Park Rangers, but during the 1970s, Jim accompanied Dr. Herbert Kale and Warden Larry Wineland as they checked banded birds on the island, and he was able to get some remarkable photographs (on film, remember - no whining about digital sharpness). The first photo is a bird's eye view of Pelican Island flying in from the south.

Hundreds of brown pelicans return to this 2 1/2 acre island to nest almost every year. I thought you might enjoy seeing the brown pelican as a baby, a teenager, and an adult. Sibling rivalry begins early, even for brown pelicans! The white spots are fish scales from lunch (pre-digrested fish fed to them by their parents).

Within 20 to 30 days, the chicks have a coat of white down. Within five weeks, feathers begin to show through the white down, and the young birds begin to venture off the nest and onto nearby branches (shown here with parent - don't you love the heart on the kid's back?). Adult brown pelicans are practially mute, but young brown pelicans are quite vocal and make lots of squeaky sounds.
Tomorrow, we'll talk more about the adult brown pelican. Meanwhile, our thanks to Jim for these wonderful photos. (As usual, click to enlarge them.)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Impressions from the Festival

Photographer Jim and I spent Friday and Saturday at the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival, and what fun it was. I'm not a birder or a photographer, but I do dearly admire a well-organized event, and this was a dandy. Kudos to the Brevard Nature Alliance, Title Sponsor Nikon, hosting facility Brevard Community College, Nature Alliance Executive Director Neta Harris, Festival Coordinator Barbara Hoelscher, and all the board members and volunteers for a job well done. Here are a few random thoughts.

Everybody was so friendly and helpful. I can only imagine how exhausted the folks that staffed the information tables were at the end of each day, but all you saw were smiling faces and people willing help. There were security guards, but they were likewise helpful and courteous. And that set the tone for the attendees - I did not hear one complaint, folks were smiling a lot, and there was no whining!

The exhibitors love what they do and wanted to share their knowledge. These were not models selling the latest product - the people that sat in these booths for hours every day (answering the same questions for hours every day) were genuinely interested in telling you about their photos, their camera equipment, their lovely wood carvings, their gopher tortoise research, their tours, or their conservation program.

There were young people there. Both the Titusville High School and Astronaut High School Eco Clubs had tables staffed with delightful teens eager to discuss what their organizations were doing. And there were lots and lots of families on Saturday, with lots and lots of children who were treated to up-close encounters with the birds on display at the Audubon Society booth (I'd never seen a Caracara up close - how cool is that!) and the raptor exhibit. Little yellow rubber ducks given away by Reliant Energy were a big hit with the kids (we got one to send to Dr. Ducky, Curtis Ebbesmeyer) - I liked the ducks, but I especially liked the enthusiasm with which the man in their booth described what they were doing to help the critters.

There was no trash. There were plenty of recycle bins and trash cans, and people used them! I picked up one small candy wrapper during a walk out to the parking lot, but other than that, this event drew a crowd that respects the environment.

Details matter and planning is everything. Having worked in logistics organizations, I understand and admire good planning. For me, the excellent planning for this event was epitomized by the audio-visual person there at every presentation, ready to help the presenter hook up computers or whatever. Likewise, there was a room monitor for every presentation, ready to do whatever necessary to facilitate the presentation. (One monitor that I talked with said he was not a birder or a photographer, but he just wanted to do his part, so he volunteered.) Great planning and a great community effort!

Good stuff! It was great fun to find Jim's turtle hatchling photo on a Caribbean Conservation Corporation handout. Charlie Corbeil won a second-place ribbon in the photo contest for that lovely mockingbird image we used as our holiday greeting card. And if you get a copy of the Jan/Feb issue of Florida Wildlife magazine, you'll find Charlie's beautiful sandhill crane chick photo was awarded first place in their photo contest Closeup category (minus the words in our photo, but I love it with the words). Lucky for you, we can show you both photos right here!

We talked with the delightful Connie Toops and videoed presentations by Joanne Williams and Birdchick. There will be further posts about those, results from Joanne's charity drawing benefiting the Florida Wildlife Hospital, and the economic impact of this year's festival. But for now, suffice it to say that from my perspective, this was a "wildly" successful gathering. Laurilee Thompson and crew knew what they were doing 12 years ago when they dreamed up this event!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Cormorants and Anhingas

Hard to believe that it is noon and only 42 degrees! Birdchick arrived here yesterday for the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival and noted in her blog that it was as cold here as it is in Minnesota! She's having a good time, though - she's amazed that the birds in Florida seem to be more patient with photographers than birds elsewhere. I told her that they have been trained to pose for tourists - this anhinga is just waiting for somebody to take its picture!

For the casual bird watchers (like myself), it is sometime difficult to distinguish between a double-crested cormorant and an anhinga. I talked with Jim Angy about it, and he graciously explained a few things. One of the first things I wanted to know why the cormorant is called double-crested. Jim suggested I ask Charlie Corbeil if I could use his straight-on shot, and sure enough - there are the two tufts! (Photo by Charlie Corbeil)
The cormorant and the anhinga are about the same size - approximately two feet long, with a wingspan of about four feet. The pelican, cormorant, and anhinga are related, and all have four webbed toes (instead of three like other waterbirds). The cormorant has dark brown or black feathers, a hooked bill, and an orange throat pouch. You can see the hooked bill in Jim's photo - that bill feature dictates how it obtains its food. It dives for fish from the water's surface, flips the fish in the air, and swallows it head-first.
The male anhinga is black with silver patches on its wings (see top photo). The female has a brown head and neck. This closeup of a male anhinga in nuptial plumage shows its sharp, pointed beak that allows it to spear fish.

You'll often see cormorants and anhingas perched with their wings outstretched, like the anginga in the first photo. This is because these birds do not have oil glands, so their feathers are not waterproof. Since they dive underwater for food, they can get waterlogged - hence the need to sun themselves to dry off.
(Photos by Jim Angy except as noted. Be sure to click to enlarge.)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Space Coast Birding Festival and Connie Toops

Connie Toops is, as we speak, leaving her home in North Carolina (hopefully ahead of the predicted ice storms), headed for the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. There she will lead field trips and present seminars, one of which focuses on her favorite bird - the bluebird. I asked Connie for information about herself and her Festival activities and got a particularly interesting email reply from her. This is obviously a talented woman who loves birding, photography, and sharing information with others - the perfect attributes for a presenter at the Festival!

Connie is the author and principal photographer of nine nature books, including Bluebirds Forever, and she tells us that the seminar she'll give at the Festival, Bluebird Trails Across America, is a fun-and-fact-packed primer for bringing bluebirds into your backyard or a nearby park. This program is scheduled for Friday and Saturday, January 23 and 24, 4:00 - 5:00 p.m., $5.

She goes on to note, The other subject I will be teaching is how to make backyard habitats friendly to all sorts of wildlife, and then how to make spectacular photographs of these creatures. This program - Attracting and Photographing Wildlife in Your Back Yard - is a combination of a classroom session and a field trip. The classroom sessions are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, January 21 and 22, 3:45 - 5:15, $35. The field trip are scheduled for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, January 22, 23, and 24, 7:30 a.m. - 12:00 p.m, $60. (The field trips are to the yards of two local backyard habitat hosts - one noted for its songbirds and one for their butterfly garden.) Connie wrote, I’m bringing several different types of photo blinds that field trip participants can try out. I’ll be showing field techniques such as identifying and arranging photogenic perches where birds will land near your camera, how to use flash to highlight good photos, and what types of foods and water features draw wildlife in front of your lens. I’ll also be available to answer general photography questions and advise participants on what specific plants and techniques may work best in their own yards.

Connie offers workshops on these topics at Lost Cove Farm, the 128-acre mountainside wildlife preserve she and her husband live on in western North Carolina (looks like heaven to me!). She admires what the Festival offers to residents and visitors - a unique opportunity to learn and try these techniques during the festival, at reduced prices and in a setting tailored for lots of hands-on experience. I’m very excited about the upcoming week of programs, and I look forward to meeting lots of folks who share the love of all wild creatures.

We certainly look forward to meeting Connie, and thank her for sharing her time, enthusiasm, and these photos of the Carolina Chickadee and her home in summer, landscaped to attract butterlifes and hummingbirds.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Death of an Eagle Lady

Charlie Corbeil sent a note yesterday about the death at age 85 of Jean Keene, the Eagle Lady of Homer Spit, Alaska. Some Internet research revealed that Ms Keene was a true character - a former rodeo stunt rider (her hair and her horse were dyed the same red color) and truck driver, she moved to Alaska in 1977. She worked in a seafood plant and brought fish scraps to her mobile home to feed the eagles that wintered in Homer. According to the obituary in the Seattle Times, the number of eagles drawn to the Spit increased each year. So did the number of photographers! This activity was not without its detractors, and eventually the City of Homer banned the feeding of certain critters (including the eagles), but granted Ms Keene the right to continue feeding them through 2010.

The obituary notes that "Ms. Keene's passing leaves the city in an awkward fix. With hundreds of eagles loitering on the Spit, a sudden halt to feeding could bring starvation or an invasion into local backyards, federal biologists say. It's likely too late in winter for them to go elsewhere." We'll hope for a reasonable solution.

In March 2007, Charlie and Rod Ostoski (another fine photographer from Brevard County) spent a week in Homer with The Eagle Lady, photographing eagles. You can see some of the results of Charlie's efforts in his photo gallery and Rod's photos in his gallery. Rod took this photo of Charlie and Ms Keene, and Charlie passed along this remembrance: I looked at my notes from that trip and found a quote from her. "Someone asked me if I ever ate eagle and how did it taste? I said it was better than swan but not as good as spotted owl." She called the eagle poop on the condo roofs...Freedom Frosting. She was a great lady.
Debate if you wish the advisability of feeding wild critters, but mourn the loss of an unforgettable character.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Space Coast Birding Festival and Birdchick

One of the experts coming to the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival is Sharon Stiteler, also known as Birdchick. She explains her attraction to birding thusly: I was given a Peterson Field Guide when I was seven years old and snapped. I love birds and it's just the way I'm wired. Her goal is to show the world that you can be a birder without being a geek!

Sharon's Birdchick Blog is one of the highest-rated birding blogs on the Internet. Fortunately for those of us that want to know how she does that, she's presenting her Blogging: The New Nature Journal seminar on Friday, January 23, 2 p.m. - 3 p.m. ($5) and on Saturday, January 24, 9:15 a.m. - 10:15 a.m. ($5). Her presentation will include how to start a blog, techniques you can use to enhance your blog, and a guide to some birding and nature blogs that are out there. I'm so looking forward to that seminar - her blog is really cool. (Actually, today, her blog is not only really cool, it is really cold. Sharon lives in Minnesota, and her posting this morning noted that it was -21 degrees Fahrenheit when she woke up. She still managed to record a cute video and smile while doing it. Follow the link and wander through some of her posts - she has a delightful, irreverent sense of humor. And she digiscopes!)

Her other seminar is City Bird, Country Bird Housing & Feeding, also on Friday, January 23, 12:45 - 1:45 p.m. ($5) and Saturday, January 24, 10:30 a.m. - 11:30 p.m. ($5). This is based on her book (City Birds, Country Birds), and she'll talk about how to attract birds no matter where you live.

In her spare time :), she'll be participating in the Pelagic Birding Offshore New Smyrna Beach field trip, the South Brevard County field trip, the Viera Wetlands field trip, and the Refine your ID Skills field trip.

When she's not birding or writing or appearing on radio shows or speaking at wildlife festivals, Sharon is a part-time park ranger for the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. And she keeps bees.

I'm really looking forward to meeting Birdchick - anybody that puts Disapproving Rabbits on a t-shirt (and writes a book about them) is my kind of people!
Be sure to check the Birding and Wildlife Festival web site for late-breaking news regarding updates.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Armadillos, Levees, and The St. Sebastian River Preserve

Our thanks to Charlie Corbeil for this interesting photo of the full moon, taken in the early-morning fog. That was some moon! (Click on photos to enlarge.)

Neighbor John called the other day to suggest a field trip to the St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park in nearby Fellsmere. It was a beautiful Florida day for something like this - mid 70s, sunny - great idea. This turned out to be a "recon" trip - the Preserve is such a treasure, and there is so much to talk about, this post will be just an overview - with promises of more later.

First, some facts. The Park is located in Brevard and Indian River Counties. The north entrance is off Babcock (County Road 507), just north of the C-54 Canal (about 10 miles south of Palm Bay Road). The south entrance is off Fellsmere Road (CR512), 1.8 miles east of I-95. The Preserve is a 21,956 acre property owned by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the St. Johns River Water Management district. Florida Park Services manages the property. Habitat is primarily pine flatwoods and supports such critters as southern bald eagle, bobcat, river otter, deer, wild turkey, red-cockaded woodpeckers, scrub jays, wood storks, etc etc etc - a nature lover's paradise. There are trails that one can explore on foot, by bicycle, or on horseback. You can canoe, boat, and fish. There's a primitive camping facility. The park is open from 8 a.m. to sundown, 365 days of the year. The visitor center is open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Follow the above link for more information.

We started at the Visitor Center, staffed by a charming volunteer named Sandy. Sandy is one of our seasonal residents, hailing from Minnesota. While we were there, a couple from Texas came in, here for just a day while attending a family event. They found the Preserve on their Great Florida Birding Trail map, and reminded me that Texas was the first state to create birding and wildlife viewing trails. They were eager to see a swallowtail kite, but Matt tells me that not too many have made it to Florida yet this year.

We drove down the main dirt road that runs beside the C-54 Canal levee (a road that can only be described as "washboard"). I don't know enough about levees (yet) to speak intelligently about them, but aesthetically, they are pretty cool! You Washington State and Black Hills of South Dakota readers will laugh at the photo, but for a flat-lander Central Floridian whose idea of rolling hills is a golf course, this was a big hill! The photo is one I took from the bottom of the levee bank looking up at Neighbor John standing at the top.

Neighbor John has not lived in these parts for long, and it is interesting to see things through a new-comer's eyes. For example, we had to stop so he could take photos of an armadillo - most Floridians would not stop for that, but he reminded me that folks other than Floridians read this blog. This would be a nine-banded armadillo, and one of its more interesting characteristics is that genetically identical quadruplets are born in each litter. They are prolific diggers and are considered a pest by most Florida homeowners. We thank John for making us stop and for providing us with this delightful photo (I alternated between sitting in the car and yelling at him to leave the poor critter alone).

The rowing teams for Florida Tech practice in Canal 54 and host events there, and as luck would have it, when we climbed to the top of the levee and looked down, there was a boat full of students practicing (I suspect my terminology is wrong), with their coach motoring away beside them.

All in all, a delightful way to spend an afternoon.
P.S. If you're lucky (like me), you have somebody that blogs about your old home town and high school days. This weather cam from Deadwood, South Dakota was on his blog the other day - take a look.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Florida Panther

This photo is one of Jim Angy's, and it gives me such pleasure that I keep a framed copy on my refrigerator door. (It also makes me think twice before getting into the ice cream.) In the interests of full disclosure, Jim wants me to tell you that the photo was not taken in the wild.

A glimmer of hope - according to a report by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Florida panther population is now about 100, compared to an estimated 35 in the 1990s. The above link leads to a particularly interesting and well-done site, full of good information and images, and I hope you'll take some time to wander around in it. (I liked the Credits page that lists all the people who collaborated in developing such a good web site. Primary web development was provided by the Askew School Web Development Group at Florida State University.)

In my previous post, there was a link to Laurilee Thompson's speech at a 2005 Mosquito Lagoon Conference in which she talked about life along the Indian River Lagoon in Titusville during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s - fascinating reading. No panthers, but plenty of fish stories! Today's Good Stuff quote was pulled from that speech. Do any of you have stories to share from that time?

In the Week That Was in the blog world, Robin Chapman has a great posting about an unusual character (Mr. Con R.I.P.), Florida Cracker (Pure Florida) has a fabulous photo and recipe for a chicken and sausage dish, David has a terrific post in his Visit Florida column for any of you planning a trip to Sanibel, Cactus Jack describes the havoc wreaked by 100 mph winds, and Amanda has a heartbreaking story about an abandoned mother horse and her colt.
Tonight's full moon will be the biggest and brightest of the year - should bring out the best in our photographer friends (and werewolves).

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival

When Laurilee Thompson launched the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival in 1997 to showcase our unique nature, wildlife and technology, it attracted 211 attendees (Jim and I amongst them). Its reputation and attendance figures have grown exponentially, and this year's 12th annual event is expected to draw several thousand attendees. The five-day schedule (January 21 - 26) is jam- packed with seminars, workshops, field trips, and social events. The Exhibit Center in the "Gymnatorium" at Brevard Community College's Titusville Campus will be loaded with exhibitors specializing in nature and wildlife, birding, photography, optics, and nature-tourism. (Some events are free, some have fees and require pre-registration. Check the Program. Entrance to the Exhibit Center is free.)

There are some high-powered presenters at this event, and over the next few weeks leading up to the Festival, we're going to feature some of our favorites, starting with Joanne Williams. Joanne leads photo tours and safaris to exotic places and has pictures you will simply drool over. When you follow the link to her web site, the first thing you want to do (before you get lost in her photos) is sign up for her newsletter - it is a treat in itself! Joanne, Jim, and Matt are friends, and the first photo is one that Joanne took on one of her adventures with "the boys" during a visit to Brevard County. Joanne calls this photo "My Prince."

Joanne will have a booth in the Exhibitor Center, will be leading two field trips (January 22 and 23), and will present a 2 1/2 hour FREE lecture entitled "From Frame to Frame" in the auditorium on Saturday, January 24, from 2:30 - 5:00. I especially appreciate that Joanne is sponsoring a Charity Drawing during her presentation to benefit the local Florida Wildlife Hospital, which cares for and rehabilitates injured and homeless birds and animals. You can purchase your tickets at her booth for $3 or at the presentation for $5, and she's got some great drawing prizes (search the Program for Florida Wildlife Hospital).

I asked Joanne to talk a little about the focus of her presentation (pun intended), and got this reply.

This year's presentation will be quite different for me, as compared to years past. This year, I've been asked to give a presentation highlighting how exactly I manage to get the shots I do. What my methods are, and how I travel to make the opportunities happen. Leading my photographic tours to various parts of the world helps put me and my clients in shooting range of some of the most unique critters and scenery found anywhere on earth. Also, living in Florida, my own personal playground has made me spoiled with all there is to photograph. There is a lot of effort that goes into putting yourself in a new location with exotic birds or rare animals, but the photographic rewards are vast! I'll be discussing some of the basics of photography and covering what it is that I do to get 'hang-on-the-wall' art, and I’ll attempt to show the audience how they can manage to increase their skills and abilities by following some simple guidelines & techniques. You can find out how to quickly grow your portfolio with 'keepers', whether you're in the rain forests of the Pantanal in Brazil or your very own backyard! A great deal of time & thought has gone into this year's presentation, entitled, "From Frame to Frame: The Journey of an Image", and we'll travel from the first click of the shutter to the final tap of the nail in the gallery wall! We'll also be heading out into the field for a workshop where I'll be able to cover some tricks in a first-hand experience, so be sure to sign up and join us!

Joanne's photo of a leopard in a tree was taken in Kenya at Lake Nakuru, and the charming Dancing Sifka Lemur photo was taken in Madagascar. Click on the photos to enlarge - beautiful!
We look forward to seeing Joanne again, and we're especially eager to hear her "tricks of the trade."

Monday, January 5, 2009

A Good Day to be a Great White Egret

Photographer Jim Angy stopped by today with some new pictures to share - real dandies. Jim has been photographing Florida wildlife for over 35 years, but in addition to his considerable technical skills, he has an extensive knowledge of his subjects and a real rapport with many of them. (I frequently tell him he has better critter skills than he does people skills, but in thinking about it, that's not really such a bad thing!)

The first photo is of a Great White Egret catching a pig frog. Jim took this at the Viera Wetlands location that we discussed in our last posting. I'm fond of pig frogs and have a picture of one on my wall, but even so, this makes for an interesting photo.
This second picture reminds me of the old joke about the dog that chased cars and finally caught one but did not know what to do with it after he caught it. Jim tells me that the Egret flew away with the frog in his beak, so we'll never know if or how he managed to swallow it. (Click on the photos to enlarge them.)

A new year, and things appear to be getting back to pre-holiday normal. Please notice a couple of interesting meetings that I've listed in the Calendar of Events. This coming Thursday, Dr. Duane DeFreese is speaking about the effects of climate change on sea turtles at the Sea Turtle Preservation Society meeting. Duane is such a compelling speaker - you won't want to miss this.
The Monday, January 12, meeting of the Conradina Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society features Blair and Dawn Witherington, authors of Florida's Living Beaches, speaking on Florida's Beach Plants: Thriving on Catastrophe.
In the blog world, snow is still falling in Washington (Amanda added Frank Sinatra's Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow on her music listing today), Florida Cracker mused about rivers of his childhood on his Pure Florida blog (that triggered a lot of childhood memories for several readers), Birdchick posted a funny video on Prairie Chickens, and Cactus Jack is back wearing his tarp because of the cold weather.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Room With a View

As the realtors will tell you, it's a buyer's market right now. Charlie Corbeil caught this charming Great Blue Heron couple looking for a new home in the Viera Wetlands. Be sure to click to enlarge the photo - there are some great details in here (my favorite is their little ponytails). Follow this link to Charlie's photo gallery - he has some beautiful photos from far-away places, but fortunately for us, he lives in Brevard County and visits the local Viera Wetlands often. More formally known as the Rich Grisson Memorial Wetlands at Viera, the wetlands are a popular site for birders, photographers, and eco-tourists. Since it is fully accessible by automobile, its popularity has brought the usual problem - stupid drivers. A few years back, only a few local photographers (Jim and Charlie amongst them) wandered around out there. As Charlie says, "gone are the days."
You may recall that Charlie provided us with the Holiday Greetings card featuring a mockingbird eating a balsam apple, so I challenged him to photograph one of his bird friends drinking from a martini glass for a suitable New Years Eve greeting card. Even Charlie could not pull that off, but he did send this beautiful photo of a Red Shouldered Hawk , again from the Viera Wetlands - just look at that gorgous face! (Look at the Hawksbill turtle in our previous posting to see where the Hawksbill got its name.)

Charlie also belongs to Friends of the Ulumay Wildlife Sanctuary. An excellent article in yesterday's Florida Today reports that the Sanctuary has been designated a Florida Heritage Landmark - only the second site in Brevard County to get that designation. Congratulations to all involved!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Ann's Trip to The Turtle Hospital

An earlier posting spoke of Sandy, the Hawksbill sea turtle injured by dogs on a beach in St. Croix, flown to Miami by American Airlines, and undergoing surgery and rehabilitation at The Turtle Hospital in Marathon. Her right front flipper was amputated, and damage to other flippers was severe.

Sea Turtle Preservation Society (STPS) volunteer extraordinaire, Ann Zscheile, traveled to a rehab workshop in Marathon in early December, where she presented a lecture on the STPS Sea Turtle Emergency Response Program (STERP) and attended workshops and seminars on topics ranging from turtle barnacles to the sea turtle gastro-intestinal system. Fortunately for us, she brought back photos and a first-hand report on the hospital, the rehab workshop, and Sandy the Hawksbill, as follows:
The Turtle Hospital in Marathon has been the flagship for caring for sick and injured sea turtles. At one time, you could stay at a motel on the grounds of The Turtle Hospital on a visit to the Keys. That was all changed by Hurricane Wilma in 2005. The surge from the gulf almost put the hospital out of business - it destroyed expensive equipment in the hospital and flooded the pool and all of the tanks outside. Fortunately, they were able to save all of their sea turtles - some of which were not releasable and were permanent residents. With help from the turtle license plate emergency fund and the support of many concerned turtle lovers, the hospital was restored and is now in full operation. The motel is no longer available for visitors, but there are some nice places to stay nearby. The hospital is a must see for anyone taking a trip down the Keys. You can arrange to go on a tour of the facility through the office. (Photo from The Turtle Hospital web site. The Turtle Hospital is located in Marathon, Florida, in the heart of the Florida Keys, on Overseas highway at mile marker 48.5, Bayside.)

While at the hospital, we were allowed to visit the holding facility pool and tanks with either long- term resident turtles or turtles currently undergoing treatment. We particularly wanted to see Sandy, as she was the subject of an earlier posting on your blog. It was both awesome and sad to see this large hawksbill sea turtle in her tank. Hawksbill sea turtles are in the middle of the size category for all 7 species of sea turtles in the world. They rank 4th in size after the loggerhead sea turtle. It is rare to see such a large hawksbill, as the species as a whole has been brought almost to the brink of extinction due to overcollecting. The hawksbill shell is amazingly beautiful and is the source of the "tortoise shell" that was used in the past for jewelry, combs, etc.

Sandy was attacked by dogs on the beach after coming ashore to do her part in helping her species survive. She had already laid her eggs in the sand and was on her way back to the ocean when the dogs attacked her. The right front flipper was so badly damaged that it had to be amputated, and she is missing almost 2/3 of her other front flipper. Both hind flippers were damaged also. This means that she will never be able to nest again. In fact, she will never be able to swim freely in the ocean again.

On the last day of the conference, we were treated to the release of one of their patients -Duke. Duke is a very large loggerhead sea turtle who came in lethargic and with an elevated blood sugar. He was one of the several turtles that received insulin treatment. As he was released near the Seven Mile Bridge, he was given the admonition that The Turtle Hospital staff gives to all of their turtles upon release: "Don't Come Back."

These are Ann's photos. The first is of Sandy, and the second of Duke, who is obviously ready to hit the open seas!

Our thanks to Ann for providing us with this positive note on which to start 2009, and a salute, as always, to Ann and those like her for their tireless efforts on behalf of our planet's critters.