Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Blue Fleet

When an email from Blair Witherington arrives with an attachment, you know it's going to be good. In Blair's words: Dawn and I went out late yesterday afternoon (Thursday) for only about 45 minutes before dusk, and we found six species (blue button, man-o-war, by-the-wind sailors, blue glaucus sea slugs, and two species of purple sea snails). The Glaucus are captivating animals. We put them in water with the by-the-winds, and in a matter of minutes the little blue slugs were munching on the tentacles of their aquarium mates. We also found several sargassum nudibranchs among their namesake golden algae. It takes a keen eye to spot those. There are also some ram’s horn squid shells drifting in. The wrack was not thick in Floridana Beach, but we did find one Mucuna and a starnut palm.
Blair sent along these two photos - the first is of the Glaucus atlanticus (blue glaucus sea slug), and the other is of the Janthina janthina (violet snail). Once I saw the photos, I knew why the subject of Blair's email was Blue Fleet is in!
We've spoken before of the beautiful blue glaucus sea slug in our December 16, 2008 post. The violet snail is also pretty cool - the foot of the snail secretes mucus that forms the raft of bubbles upon which the snail drifts in the ocean. Both feed on such yummy tidbits as by-the-wind sailors (jellyfish), known more formally as velella velella (sounds like a '70's song to me). When I was researching by-the-wind sailors, I found a link to friend David McRee's BeachHunter site, in which he describes numerous jellfish. In his entry about the by-the-winds, he includes the following quote from The Nature of Florida's Beaches, written by our late friend, Kathy Katz: "About half of them are 'left handed'...their sails are set opposite to the other that during violent storms, half will be carried to shore to provide food for beach creatures while the other half will survive to continue drifting." Doesn't Nature have some glorious schemes?

In a follow-on email, Blair included this photo of two blue glaucus feeding on a by-the-wind, and this additional information: Search where the recent swash lines are pushed up. On the beach, Glaucus are puckered up like individual bright blue peas. All that we found (~10) were alive and unfolded gloriously when placed in seawater.

Our thanks to Blair for sharing his photos and his knowledge, and especially for his ability to describe a glaucus as a bright blue pea! As we've said many times before, Blair and Dawn's book, Florida's Living Beaches: A Guide for the Curious Beachcomber, is a must-have.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Turtle Talk

Sea Turtle Preservation Society volunteer Ann Zscheille called the other night to say she was on her way to deliver a rescued juvenile green sea turtle to the Marine Science Center (MSC) in Ponce Inlet. (Bear in mind, this is 90 miles away.) Tammy from the MSC met up with Ann at the Center and started treatment immediately. The following is Ann's writeup:

We have large colonies of these juvenile green sea turtles that forage off the coast of Brevard County. There are large numbers of them near the Trident submarine basin, around the Jetty at Jetty Park, Cape Canaveral and also from South Patrick Air Force Base to Indialantic. The reason there are so many in the Satellite Beach/Indian Harbour Beach area is because we have a near-shore rock reef that supports all sorts of plant and animal life. Since the green sea turtles eat mostly plants, there is plenty of food there for them (such as grasses and algae). I call the rock reef their "preschool", as most of the turtles there are estimated to be about 4 or 5 years old. They are all about the same "dinner plate size" and for the most part are very healthy young sea turtles.
We have many stranding calls for these young turtles in north and central Brevard County. Many of them wash ashore entangled in monafilament or are caught on a fishing hook, as they seem to have developed a taste for shrimp bait! In Dec. 2007, we picked up and transported 21 of these turtles that were alive, but incapacitated by the red tide event we had that year. We also had a large number that washed ashore dead.

This particular turtle, "Ursula", is unique in that she had no signs of injury or entanglement. She did have a large number of big barnacles and hair algae on her carapace. This is an indication that the this turtle was probably sick, as barnacles and algae typically do not grow on their carapace unless they are swimming slowly. When I picked her up, she felt colder than usual for a sea turtle and was quite lethargic. (Ursula was named after STPS volunteer Ursula Dubrick. Ursula was very willing to come down to the office at 5 pm to assist me in the transport of this turtle. She drove, while I watched over the turtle. Ursula had been on call earlier in the day for another possible transport and yet didn't hesitate for a minute to participate in getting the turtle to the MSC as quickly as possible. )
The report from MSC yesterday was that she had a low blood glucose, which is very typical for a sick sea turtle. They use up a lot of glucose just trying to swim. She survived the night after receiving fluids and glucose and being kept warm. We will keep track of her progress and hopefully she will recuperate and be released back near where she was picked up.
(Just got this report in from Tammy: Ursula is still very much in critical condition. We started tube feedings this morning and she is in very shallow water. She was started on antibiotics yesterday for upper respiratory infection. We are monitoring her glucose levels very closely. Not to much more to say about her at this point. It's up to her now. We have been very 3 days we have gotten in 4 live greens, 4 live loggerheads, and 1 dead loggerhead.)
Ann adds some reminders: If you find a sea turtle stranded on the beach, Do NOT put the turtle back in the water. If you are fishing and catch a sea turtle on a hook, do not attempt to remove the hook as it may become further imbedded. If the turtle is entangled in monofilament, do not attempt to remove it. If you are in Brevard County, call the Sea Turtle Preservation Society, 321-676-1701.

To report injured manatees, dolphins, or whales, call Florida Fish and Wildlife: 1-888-404-3922.

We thank Tammy for her photos, her expertise, and her dedication. Needless to say, Ann, Tammy, and Ursula (the volunteer) are high on our list of Conservation Heroes! Ursula the sea turtle is in our thoughts.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Public Displays of Affection! Tsk Tsk

Did you see what those young whippersnappers were doing, standing right there on top of a tree, kissing - in PUBLIC? In MY day ...

This is another of Jim Angy's pictures - he took this of the great horned owl that's nesting in a planter at the Brevard County Government Center in Viera (Florida). The planter has been cordoned off with yellow police tape to protect the bird and anyone who might venture too close.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ain't Love Grand?

May I kiss you goodnight?

Well, I guess so ...

Aaaah - you make my topknot flutter!

(Photos by Jim Angy)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Field Trip! Field Trip!

Do you remember when you were in grade school and the teacher announced a field trip? Yesterday morning, I had that same quiver of delicious anticipation when I headed to Ulumay Park Wildlife Sanctuary on Merritt Island.

A bit of history. Originally home to Ais Indians four centuries ago, the land was designated a Brevard County Park in 1970. In 1993, the Brevard County Historical Commission dedicated the Ulumay Wildlife Sanctuary as a historical landmark. In July 2008, the Environmentally Endangered Lands Program purchased property adjoining the park, and about a year ago, Friends of Ulumay organized to preserve and enhance the natural resources of the Ulumay Wildlife Sanctuary. What a role model of collaborative effort for the common good!

And on December 17, 2008, The State Bureau of Historic Preservation, working with the Brevard County Historical Commission Manager Stephen R. Benn and Friends of Ulumay Vice-President Jack Lembeck, announced the designation of the Ulumay Wildlife Sanctuary as a Florida Heritage Landmark. The Landmark marker will be dedicated at the Ulumay entrance on Saturday, March 21st at 11:00 A.M.

Enough history. It was a beautiful Florida day, and my guides were Vince Lamb and the aforementioned Jack Lembeck, both core members of Friends of Ulumay, and Charlie Corbeil, whose photos you often see in these blog posts.
To get there, turn north onto Sykes Creek Parkway at the Steak and Shake across from Merritt Square Mile. Travel one mile until you see a row of these road signs. Turn in, and park along the dirt road. This 1,200 acre Sanctuary is in the middle of Merritt Island housing developments, but once you get into it, it's as quiet and remote as any wilderness.

Vince, Charlie, and Jack are standing by the gate you'll see shortly after you turn in. This is the entrance to the trails. Once you are inside, turn to the left for a four-mile trail or to the right for a two-mile trail. (The trails are not a loop, so when you get to the end of one of the trails, turn around and come back to the entrance.) You can ride your bicycle or just hoof it. Since the Sanctuary is located on Sykes Creek, if you are a kayaker, this is a wonderful destination.
Midway through the four-mile trail is a rustic viewing tower. The great blue heron on the top rail is optional! You'll see a variety of birds (this IS Florida, after all), but my favorite "find" was a black racer snake sunning himself.
This is a great place to go to "get away from it all" without having to travel far, buy a ticket, or stand in line. There are no bathroom facilities, and you'll want to take water and wear a hat. Jack and Vince tell me the mosquitoes are fierce there in the summer, in spite of mosquito control efforts. (Again, this IS Florida, and the Sanctuary is bordered by water.)
Please take the time to look at the Friends of Ulumay web site that Vince has developed, and if you're local, consider getting involved with the organization. These folks are certainly on my list of Conservation Heroes!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sea Oats, Mulch, and a Little Piece of Heaven

Sometimes, a place just feels "right" - for me, one of those places is Beach Place Guesthouses in Cocoa Beach. I was reminded of this when I stopped by there the other day to chat with innkeepers Hernando and Joseph. The grounds are landscaped with "Florida native" plants, and I snapped this photo of sea oats waiting to be planted. The sea oat has roots that go far down in the sand, and that makes it an important dune stabilizer. This plant is so critical to our beach habitat that the Brevard County Natural Resources Management Office and Keep Brevard Beautiful, Inc. collaborated to bring beachside residents the 6th Annual Bargain Sea Oats Sale. Pickup day for the plants was February 7, and friend Paula Berntson from the Natural Resources Office Environmental Programs reports The sea oats sale was again a great success. We had 45 residents and 3 cities purchase and plant 18,432 sea oats.

The County also sponsors a native plant give-away program for beachfront residents. Some of the plants available are beach elder, native inkberry, sea grapes, and silver saw palmetto. For more information, call Paula at (321) 633-2016 ext. 52431.

Speaking of native plants, I got an interesting email the other day from Kari Ruder, owner of Naturewise, a terrific Florida native plant nursery. Kari helps folks create sustainable, Florida-friendly landscapes, and one of these days, we'll talk about her heirloom vegetable plants. Anyway, Kari is pre-selling FloriMulch, a highly insect-resistant mulch made from the exotic invasive Melalueca tree. These trees invade our wetlands and displace native plants and wildlife, so turning them into useful mulch is a great use for them! Order and pre-payment deadline is March 7. When you visit her web site to learn more about the mulch and her products and services, be sure to sign up for her monthly newsletter. It is beautifully done.

Getting back to Beach Place Guesthouses - where else can you cook your pizza by the ocean in pizza oven designed in the style of Antoni Gaudi and eat it on the deck shown below!
(I typically talk about critters and the environment, not places and businesses, and these folks are not paying me to talk about them - I just admire good things done well, and Naturewise and Beach Place Guesthouses are first-rate!)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Breaching Whales and Conservation Heroes

The Marine Resources Council (MRC) refers to Cindy Dolaway as a conservation hero - she was the Council's 2006 Right Whale Volunteer of the Year and was honored by Disney in 2007 for her "tireless conservation efforts with both the Right Whale Monitoring Program and the Sea Turtle Preservation Society." (She was one of only nine honorees woldwide!)

Luckily, Cindy is also a friend that lets me know when something whale-related is going on, so I was delighted when she sent an email with photos of a breaching Humpback whale off our coast. The photos were taken last week by Arnold Dubin, local photographer and Newsletter Editor for the Camera Club of Brevard, and he graciously gave me permission to share them with you. (The photographers amongst you will know what a thrill it must have been to photograph this magnificent creature rising from the sea!) Be sure to click to enlarge to photos.
The term "breaching" refers to the whale leaping out of the water - Wikipedia has an interesting entry on breaching and notes that Right , Humpback, and Sperm whales are the most prodigious jumpers. (Somehow, the description brought to mind Shaquille O'Neal dunking a basketball, but that's probably because the NBA All-Star Game is on in a few minutes.)
In her email, Cindy said that there have been 26 Right Whale calves born in the southeast this winter (a very good year), but most of the mom/calf pairs have stayed to the north of us. (MRC Director Julie Albert just emailed me to say that it's up to 31 calves now this year - tied for the record!)
The Marine Resources Council has an automated phone system that sends out a recorded message by Julie when a whale is sighted off our coast - email for more information. The whale hotline is 1-888-979-4253.
Check out the American Cetacean Society web site for descriptions of the various whales - there are some interesting fact sheets, and a link so you can listen to the whale sounds!
I really like that concept of "conservation hero" - I know others that would qualify, and I'm sure you do too. Let's think about that.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Ann's Valentine and a GBBC Reminder

Friend Ann (Sea Turtle Preservation Society volunteer extraordinaire) sent us this photo and email today: This morning I walked the beach and received a really neat "gift from the sea" - coquina in the shape of a heart. I couldn't believe it happened on Valentines Day!! I decided to write a little message in the sand using the heart. Whenever I find something like this on the beach, I feel like the sea is sending me a gift (as Anne Morrow Lindberg notes in her wonderful book). It makes me think I am being rewarded for removing the many not-so-nice gifts we (mankind) give to the sea.

A reminder - don't forget to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count sometime between now and end of day Monday.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Pay Attention! Happy Valentine's Day!

Several titles came to mind - Tough Love? The Look of Love? Whatever you want to call it, Jim Angy's photo of a sandhill crane with a perfect heart says Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Armadillos have a foot fetish?

Jim and Matt attended the pre-opening party for the Brevard Zoo's new Paws On exhibit last night and had a wonderful time. Paws On opens to the public on Saturday, February 14, and Jim assures me that children are going to love all the activities. Their spirit line of Build, Explore, Spash, Touch give you an idea of some of the exhibit's features - water play, an aquarium featuring animals from the Indian River Lagoon, animal fort building, and a new animal petting zone are just some of the attractions. Later, I'll do a proper posting and a slide show with the photos that Jim took, but I just could not wait to share this one with you. One of the areas in the exhibit lets you visit with four very friendly armadillos that apparently love to untie shoes and sniff your ankles - judging from Matt's expression, they must have cold noses! What fun!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The American White Pelican

At the end of January, we did a couple of posts about brown pelicans and spoke about Pelican Island and the upcoming Pelican Island Day celebration March 14. You'll recall that the brown pelican is a year-around resident of our area and frequently nests on Pelican Island.

The American white pelican is a winter visitor to Pelican Island, but it does not nest there - it breeds on lakes in such places as Minnesota, Canada, and northern California. Unlike the brown pelican, white pelicans don't dive for food - they dip their large bills into the water while swimming. They often feed in large groups, moving fish into shallow water for easy pickings.

As you can see in this photo, white pelicans are considerably larger than brown pelicans - nearly twice the size. Cornell identifies the white pelican as one of the largest birds in North America. It has a wing span of about nine feet, vs the six-foot wing span of a brown pelican. Fortunately for the smaller brown pelican, they all get along with each other!

The first two photos are by Jim Angy, but this last one is by Jim's son, James, a University of Central Florida graduate lucky enough to learn about nature and photography from his talented father. Jame's great shot shows the white pelican's black flight feathers as it skis in for a landing. (Be sure to click on photos to enlarge.)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Great Backyard Bird Count

If you're a birder, if you're not a birder but would like to be, or if you just want to have a little fun, plan to participate in The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) February 13 - 16. The GBBC is a joint project of Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon Society.

The GBBC encourages bird watchers of all ages and levels of expertise to participate in this annual event designed to "create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent." It's easy - you count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more of the days of the event, February 13 - 16 (Friday through Monday of the Valentine's Day weekend). Count the greatest number of individuals of each species that you see together at any one time. Enter the results in GBBC web page. There's forms and full instructions on the GBBC web site. Particularly interesting is a link to a regional bird checklist. This being Florida, our checklist is a humdinger! There's a photo contest and a participation certificate. This is a particularly kid-friendly event, and the web site has plenty of kid-related information.

If you participate, please let me know what you did and how you did, and send pictures ( so I can share your experience with our other gentle readers. This should be fun!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Climate Change and Sea Turtles

I can't believe it has been nearly a month since Matt and I attended a particularly interesting Sea Turtle Preservation Society meeting where long-time friend Duane De Freese, Ph.D. spoke about climate change and sea turtles. First, a full confession on my part. I attempted to video Duane's talk, and I failed miserably. I'm sorry that I don't have good video clips to show you, because it was an excellent presentation. Duane could read the phone book and hold the audience's attention - he's a skilled, knowledgeable speaker, and a heck of a nice guy.
A bit about Duane. He's a marine biologist with a B.S. degree in Zoology from the University of Rhode Island and M.S and Ph.D. degrees in Marine Biology from Florida Institute of Technology. His bio is impressive, but in my mind, his most important job was serving as the first program director for Brevard County's Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) Program from 1990 to 1998. He defined and structured a program that continues to make Brevard a leader in protecting its natural habitats. Among his many projects, he led the effort to secure a donation of the old Chuck's Steak House Restaurant property on the south beaches from the Richard King Mellon Foundation in the early 1990’s, with a vision for the EEL Program to build a barrier island center for conservation and education. The dream was fully realized in 2008 with the opening of the EEL Program Barrier Island Center.
His presentation at the Sea Turtle Preservation Society meeting reflected his focus on ocean conservation, climate change, sea level rise, and Florida's ocean and coastal economy. His message was a pragmatic one - the oceans and their living resources are an engine that drives the economy and quality of life of Florida and the nation. He warned that climate change is a complex, real issue, and that we need to mitigate, adapt, and be prepared for surprises, but he did not send us home to have nightmares. Instead, he listed postive actions we can all take - keep an open mind, be involved, support coastal land acquisition, learn to renourish beaches better, and support such organizations as the Sea Turtle Preservation Society.
Since I messed up the video, Duane was kind enough to provide me with some photos. The first is one of him on a waterway he is fighting hard to protect - the Indian River Lagoon. This one shows (left to right) Dr. Llew Ehrhart (Godfather of sea turtle research in Brevard County), Paul Tritaik (former refuge manager at Pelican Island and Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge) holding a sea turtle, Jack Hanna , and Duane.
A Space Coast Climate Change Initiative Forum is scheduled for Monday, February 9, at the Brevard Community College Melbourne Campus, 7 - 9 p.m., FREE. Duane is a member of the SCCCI Task Force. I hope you'll take the time to wander through the SCCCI web site and get involved. I'll see you at the Forum!