Monday, March 30, 2009

Beach Trash

I'll leave it to you to decide whether the title refers to what Ann found on a recent morning beach walk or whether it refers to the morons that left this dangerous mess for others to clean up. Ann writes: Walked the beach this morning ... I was able to remove some items that might have been perceived as food for sea life had it washed back out. Also removed many, many glass shards left in a fire from the night before that would have been more of a hazard for bare feet than any Portuguese Man-of-War.

Bob Stover, Executive Editor of Florida Today newspaper, writes a Monday column about this and that, and recently he has focused on litterbugs. In today's column, appropriately entitled Let's keep it clean, he talks about the partnership between Keep Brevard Beautiful, the Brevard County Sheriff's Office, and AT&T Cellular that encourages people to report offenders. Says Bob, You can call 537-6801 or *KBB if you have an AT&T cell phone and report what you saw happen. You merely give the license number, color and make of the vehicle, and time, date and what you witnessed. The owner of the vehicle will receive a letter from Sheriff Jack Parker telling them what occurred.They are also informed that Brevard County has a litter ordinance, which imposes a maximum $500 penalty. (That's probably a lot safer and more effective than honking and making rude gestures at the litterers, which is what I tend to do.)
Along with the photos of the glass shards and aerosol can, Ann sent this picture of a balloon that a sea turtle would likely mistake for a tasty jellyfish. I may be wrong, but I believe Brevard has an ordinance prohibiting the use of balloons outside.
My pet peeve? I was raised in the Black Hills of South Dakota - throwing a cigarette butt out the car window up there would get you flogged, at the very least. Down here, drought conditions or not, it seems that nobody bothers to use a car ashtray any more - they don't want to smell up their car, apparently, but feel that it is ok to trash the environment.
There - I feel better getting that off my chest. Let's go pick up some trash!
Be sure to look at the Calendar of Events - there's a lot going on this month. I only listed events for the first couple of weeks. I'll add the rest of April as space allows.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


STS-119 space shuttle Discovery and its crew of seven touched down on Runway 15 at 3:14 p.m. EDT today at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, completing a 13-day journey of more than 5.3 million miles. According to the NASA web site, the mission was the 28th flight to the Space Station, the 36th flight of Discovery, and the 125th flight in the Space Shuttle Program, as well as the 70th landing at Kennedy.

That last number - 70th landing at Kennedy - kind of took me by surprise, even though I've been here for most of them. Two sonic booms give notice that a space shuttle is approaching Kennedy Space Center for a landing. Seventy times we've heard those booms - most of us Space Coast residents jump, then smile and say "welcome home" and go about our business. But we remember, too, the one time we didn't hear them, so it's always a relief to know that all is well and that NASA and its contractors have pulled off another success.

Job well done.

Photo credit: NASA/Troy CryderMarch 28, 2009

Mea Culpa

I was a day late and a dollar short for St. Patrick's Day this year, but I made up for it last night by being a day early for Earth Hour. (I'm still a dollar short, however.) Earth Hour is actually tonight, 8:30 - 9:30. Yahoo! has a cute logo vignette about it, and a story about Sydney, Australia being the first major city to mark the hour this year - the event actually started in Sydney a few years ago. An Orlando Sentinel story reports that Orlando will be participating - there's an interesting twist about an Orlando Utilities building that you'll want to read about.

So I'll be sitting in the dark again tonight (pay no attention to those who maintain that being in the dark is my normal state). There will be no more photos of my lighted flamingo, however.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Boom Boom, Out Go the Lights

OK, I'm 12 minutes into Earth Hour. My assumption is that the term "non-essential lights" does not include the computer - that's essential! The birds are tucked in, the dog is asleep in the middle of the bed, and the only light in the house besides my monitor is the pink flamingo in The Swamp.

I've written before about Laurilee Thompson and her Dixie Crossroads restaurant in Titusville. The exterior walls and some of the interior walls of her restaurant are covered with wildlife murals painted by Al Rao. I always envied those murals, so several years ago, I got Al to do the walls of my guest bedroom. We had just finished The Nature of Florida's Habitats digital photo album, featuring 120+ beautiful photos by Jim Angy, so I had lots of reference photos to use in planning the room. Al is one of those unforgettable characters you meet in life if you are really lucky - I treasure The Swamp and my kitchen walls (they are a whole other story that I'll tell you the next time the lights go out). My photos are not perfect, but I took them in the dark! Trust me - the murals are beauties.
I mentioned the murals are in the guest bedroom. The guest bed pulls down out of the closet. If you sleep with your feet in the closet, you wake up looking at a great white egret. Guests tend not to stay long.
Friend David called from Chicago, where he is attending a convention. I warned him about the lights, because Chicago is a major player in this Earth Hour project. I received a new Caribbean Conservation Newsletter this afternoon with a couple of statistics from 2008's Earth Hour: Chicago kept 840,000 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, and in Toronto, there was an 8.7% reduction in energy.
Earth Hour got good coverage on Yahoo! and in the newspapers, so it will be interesting to see how many people participated. I know Cactus Jack Splash will be observing the hour. Did you?

Lights Out for Earth Hour

Go dark tonight for Earth Hour! World Wildlife Fund is asking individuals, businesses, governments and organizations around the world to turn off non-essential lights between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. tonight to make a global statement of concern about climate change and to demonstrate commitment to finding solutions.
The Earth Hour web site identifies a variety of social networking events in which you can participate - upload a photo, write a blog, take a video, tweet.
A story in the Orlando Sentinel reports that 84 countries will participate in this second Earth Hour and that McDonald's plans to dim the lights in some of the golden arches (mostly in the Midwest).

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Cabbages and Kings

(Please note that I've used so many links in this post that I put them all in a list at the end so you would not have to keep flipping back and forth - or even worse, leave here and not come back!)

In our February 28 post, we talked about the Blue Fleet - a term used when such ocean drifters as blue buttons, man-of-war, blue glaucus sea slugs, purple sea snails, and by-the-wind sailors wash in to shore. Friend Margie, Beach Coordinator for the City of Cocoa Beach, is on the beach daily. Last Monday was a cloudy, dreary day, but she sent these photos of a purple sea snail and the following report: I finally found one of these beauties today! A cold, gray, windy, unpleasant day on the beach, but being out there has its compensations. :) It occurred to me that we had used a closeup photo of the purple sea snail in our February post, so there was no size reference. Margie's photo of the snail in the wrack illustrates just how small it is, and how easy it would be to overlook it if you were just casually strolling along the beach.

Margie's closeup shot illustrates just how beautiful this little sea creature is. (I called it a violet sea snail in the February post - I'm not certain which is correct. Anybody?)

The next day, Margie sent more news: Blue Fleet arrived in force up this way today. I've never seen so many by-the-wind sailors. Portuguese man-o-war are coming in thick, too. I spent a lot of time answering tourists' questions about them this morning. I found two more purple sea snails, really tiny ones. I'm sure I missed quite a few more.

(Interestingly, an Internet search turned up only one hit on Blue Fleet that was related to our topic, and that was some photos in a Flickr album. Sounds to me like a scholarly paper is needed. )

Florida Cracker (Pure Florida blog) is on an alligator kick. He's done a couple of very interesting posts about Payne's Prairie and Alachua Swamp that include some fine gator photos, and he says he's going to start a Pure Alligator blog one of these days soon. I'll let you know if he does. This photo is one I took on a trip to Viera Wetlands - note the pretty yellow bands characteristic of young gators. FC has a particularly lovely shot of a baby gator on its Mom's back.

David McRee (Blog the Beach) was quoted several times the other day in a Fox News story. David is a life-long Floridian that knows and loves the beach, and he's particularly passionate about beach safety. I wrote a while back about his free beach safety e-book, downloadable from his BeachHunter web site. It should be required reading for all beach-goers!

I was so pleased when another blogging friend, Cactus Jack Spash, described our blog thusly: great information about people working hard to protect wildlife through positive action and education. That's a fine definition I'll use often, and I'm adding it to the criteria for a Conservation Hero. When you go to the Cactus Jack Splash site, be sure to read her post about Sundance, the miracle calf - some charming photos. In the links below, I've included one to the predecessor story of the miracle calf - a good tale.

Pure Florida
Blog the Beach
Fox News: How to Keep the Beach From Hitting You Back
Cactus Jack Spash
The predecessor miracle calf story from Cactus Jack Splash

Sunday, March 22, 2009

When you're up to your eyeballs in alligators ...

When you're up to your eyeballs in alligators, it's hard to remember that your objective is to drain the swamp!
This is one way to fish.

A nice, relaxing bath if you are prepared to ignore the critter in the first photo.
As always, thanks to Jim Angy for sharing his expertise and his fabulous photos.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ursula, Earth Hour, and Ulumay News

A reminder to join us at the Ulumay Historical Marker Dedication Ceremony Saturday. See our Space Coast Eco Ulumay field trip report for directions.

Such good news about Ursula, the stranded juvenile green sea turtle rescued three weeks ago by Sea Turtle Preservation Society volunteers Ann Zscheile and Ursula Dubrick and rushed up to the Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet for rehab. Our update one week ago (see March 12 post) was discouraging, but tonight I received the following email from MSC employee Tammy: Ursula is doing great!!!! She is eating on her own :) And today was her last tube feeding. We are going to see how she does just on food....Keep your fingers crossed. You can also say that Ursula is in deeper water now! She currently has a roomate that goes by the name Martin. He came in as part of this epidemic going on - he too has started eating, and we dropped his tubing.
Our thanks to the crew at MSC for their competent, compassionate care and especially to Tammy for her photos and for keeping us informed.
According to my Live Earth newsletter, On March 28, at 8:30 pm local time, one billion people will go dark for Earth Hour. World Wildlife Fund is asking individuals, businesses, governments and organizations around the world to turn off their lights to make a global statement of concern about climate change and to demonstrate commitment to finding solutions.
The same newsletter noted that Sunday, March 22, is World Water Day, an international day of observance and action to draw attention to the plight of the more than 1 billion people around the world that lack access to clean, safe drinking water.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A day late and a dollar short!

It's not that easy to come up with a St. Patrick's Day bird (other than the obvious green heron, and that's too easy), but Jim had done it. Unfortunately, the day somehow totally escaped me. I want to share the photo with you anyway, as it is so beautiful. What a lovely creature with such amazing colors - just enough green to keep him from getting pinched! I'll never call anybody turkey again.

If you have not ventured over to our companion site, Space Coast Eco, today would be a good day to do it - just finished a post on rain barrels. This barrel is one that Margie and I saw during our adventure to Enchanted Forest (see the field trip report in the Eco blog also). Now if we could just get some rain!

Faithful readers will remember the blue glaucus photo and story that Blair Witherington sent us (you unfaithful ones can read about it in this February 28 post). That reminded Dr. Duane DeFreese of a blue glaucus story from his young and foolish days, and he graciously gave me permission to share it with you thusly. I did my MS and PhD on sea slugs, and it is one of my favorite species. I found my first one during a northeast storm in the early Fall of 1978. The surf was incredible, large and breaking way outside. As the always curious scientist, I was shaking out Sargassum as I waited for a set wave, and 6 specimens fell out of the weed. The iridescent blue was amazing as most drifted down and away from my grasp. I was able to grab one specimen. I was so excited about the find, I thought I needed to bring one back to the lab and Dr. Kerry Clark at FL Tech for a taxonomic ID (I had never seen Glaucus atlanticus before). I got the bright idea that if I popped one in my mouth, I could catch a last wave in without losing the specimen. I waited for a set wave, popped the Glaucus in my mouth, and took off. Within seconds, my mouth started to tingle and then burn. By the time I hit the shorebreak my mouth was on fire. Turns out that Glaucus, like many nudibranchs, eat cnidarians and are able to retain some of the stinging cells (nematocysts) from the cnidarian in a functional state so that they are able to reuse them in their own defense. By the time I got to the lab, my hand was itching and my mouth was swollen for about 24 hours. The cool thing was that the specimen survived for months in the lab aquaria with Sargassum and small man-of war supplied as food. The lessons learned for a young field biologist : DON'T put anything in your mouth you don't know is safe and eatable. Don't handle any species in the wild that you are not familiar with (even if they are really small and pretty). Even the very small critters can do you great harm! Dr. Clark was impressed by both my enthusiasm and stupidity...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Space Shuttle Discovery from another angle

In last night's post, I used a NASA TV photo showing Discovery lifting off just after sunset. But the good thing about shuttle launches is that you don't have to be at the launch facility to get great pictures. Friend Wayne took these beautiful photos from his driveway and gave me permission to share them with you, along with his descriptions. This first photo shows the shuttle rising into the dusky sky.

Vapor trail, nearly red, white, and blue. Lowest part is in darkness, middle part is in setting sun, upper part in full sun.

Close-up of sunset part of vapor trail

Solid rocket boosters falling away like tossed cigarettes (FYI - according to Wikipedia, each solid rocket booster is 149 feet long and 13 feet in diameter. At launch, each weighs 1,300,000 pounds. They are recovered and reused.)

There was some concern today over some space debris, but no avoidance maneuvers were required, and docking with the International Space Stations is set for 5:13 p.m. tomorrow (Tuesday).

Our thanks to NASA and its contractors for a perfect mission thus far and to Wayne for sharing his photos and his interpretations!

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Discovery's crew of seven is on its way to the International Space Station after a successful liftoff tonight. There were some equipment issues this past week that delayed the mission, and the window of opportunity was slamming shut, but the picture says it all! (Photo credit: NASA TV)

Today is the Ides of March. According to Wikipedia, in Roman times, the Ides of March was a festive day dedicated to the god Mars. In more modern times, the term is best known for the date that Julius Caesar was assassinated. Fortunately, NASA did not let this influence their decision to launch!

So how was your weekend? We had stunning weather here in Florida. Friend Charlie Corbeil went to the Pelican Island Wildlife Festival. His entry in the Photography Contest won Best of Show AND Viewers Choice (it was the sandhill crane chick nestled in its mother's wing we showed you in our January 25 post). My son and his wife ventured from their home in Orlando to Forever Florida to try out the new zipline. It will be the topic of a blog posting soon, but suffice it to say they had a great time. Friend Wayne went back to Cruicksank Sanctuary, where he got this dandy photo of a honeybee on Pennyroyal. The pollen it has collected is stored on its hind leg.

Wayne also sent this photo of St. John's wort. Look closely, and you'll see a crab spider hiding in the plant. When Margie and I were on the tour of Enchanted Forest last weekend, our guide mentioned that Port St. John was named for this plant.

I ventured up to Cocoa yesterday to visit Kari Ruder's Naturewise establishment - I got heirloom tomato seedlings to plant in my growbox this next week, as well as a beautiful head of hydroponic lettuce, complete with roots. I put it in a vase of water out on the screened-in porch. In theory, this lettuce will continue to grow. I'll be doing a complete post on this field trip over on our Space Coast Eco site in a couple of days.

And last but not least, today was Selection Sunday for March Madness and the brackets are set. I'm rooting for the North Dakota State Bison. I know that might seem odd, but they made it to the big dance in their first year as a Divison 1 team, and that deserves support!

Good weekend, capped off with a GREAT launch.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Just another day in paradise ...

Friend Margie is the beach coordinator for the City of Cocoa Beach, so she's out there every morning bright and early. She just sent this lovely photo, along with a note: Spring! The beach is spectacular right now. Beautiful sunrises, clear rolling surf, blue sky, and high 70's temps.
She added a few words about people leaving trash, but in the interests of good public relations, I won't include them!
It promises to be a beautiful weekend on the Space Coast - clear skies, low 80's, fluffy clouds - and there's lots going on, so get out there and enjoy yourself!
(Our thanks to Bertie Higgins for a song title that so perfectly describes Margie's photo.)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ursula Update

Nearly two weeks ago, we wrote about Sea Turtle Preservation Society volunteers Ann Zscheille and Ursula Dubrick transporting an ailing stranded juvenile green sea turtle to the Marine Science Center (MSC) in Ponce Inlet at night. MSC employee Tammy Langer met them at the Center and started treatment immediately. Ann named the turtle Ursula. Since that time, Tammy has given us updates on Ursula's condition - at one point, she was quite encouraged, but then Ursula took a turn for the worse. This is Tammy's most recent description of condition and treatment: Ursula is still critical and in guarded condition at this time. Her glucose level has not stabilized so we are having to give fluids as necessary. She is still getting tube fed 3 times a day and she is not eating on her own. Her antibiotics continue and she is still in shallow water so that she can push up on her front flippers for a breathe of air if she needs to.

Tammy included the photos shown here. (Just look at that beautiful face!) We owe people like Ann and Ursula (the person) a debt of gratitude for their unceasing efforts on behalf of sea turtles and Tammy, Michelle, and the rest of the crew at MSC for their competent and compassionate care of our critters.
We'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sea Turtles - The Lost Years

Dr. Blair Witherington's presentation at the Sea Turtle Preservation Society meeting last week was predictably terrific. Blair is is a research scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and an internationally recognized sea turtle expert, so he knows his sea turtles inside and out. Amongst lots of other things, he described the newborn hatchlings' frenzied swim out to sea and how long they can survive on the egg nutrient they are born with (about 3 days). The "lost years" theme considered what these little critters do between the time they leave shore as newborns and when they return as mature adults (10 to 30 years, depending on species).

It turns out that much of what is known of sea turtles is fairly new knowledge. Blair talked about an experiment he was involved with several years ago as a graduate student that really captured my fancy - I asked him to share his photos so you could enjoy it also.

Blair and his buddies wanted to follow a hatchling to see where it went and "how it made a living", so they crafted the little raft shown above, equipped it with a red LED, attached it to a hatchling, hopped in a boat, and followed the hatchling pulling the lighted raft for three days! (That would be a YouTube video these days, and the hatchling would be named Surfer Dude.)

Long story short, eventually hatchlings need to be around sargasso (shown above), where they can find the food they like, rest a lot with their front flippers tucked on top of their back and their back flippers protecting their little butt against nibbling fish, and generally hang out and "make a living" while they eat and grow and hopefully survive.

There was, of course, much more to Blair's presentation than this, but I had never given much thought to how scientists figured things out, so this is the part I liked the best. The idea of riding in a boat on the open ocean for three days with your eyes glued to a red light on a little raft being pulled by a two-inch hatchling pretty well boggled my mind.

Our thanks to Blair, as always, for sharing his intellect, his humor, and his photos.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Atlatls and Enchantment

It was a perfect Florida day for a field trip, and friend Margie and I headed for Titusville and The Enchanted Forest Sanctuary for the Florida Archaeology Month Kickoff Event, sponsored by the Florida Public Archaeology Network, (FPAN), The Enchanted Forest Sanctuary, the Indian River Anthropological Society (IRAS), and the National Park Service, Canaveral Seashore. Neither Margie nor I had been to The Enchanted Forest Sanctuary prior to our visit today - what a beautiful place. (It will be the subject of future posts, both here and as a field trip on our Space Coast Eco blog.)

The various organizations sponsoring the event had tables of artifacts and information and experts willing and able to answer questions. I was particularly looking forward to the atlatl demonstration, and soon we treked up the Sanctuary trail, following Dave McDonald, President of the Indian River Anthropological Society.

An atlatl (at-lat-al) is an ancient hunting weapon - a launching device used to propel spears and darts. Dave had a quiver full of what he referred to as "child-proof" spears that he used for the demo, and within a short period of time, he had spectators successfully throwing these things with the aid of the atlatl. (I have to confess that describing this whole thing is proving to be very challenging - if you'll look at the photo, imagine the lady using the leverage of her arm to pitch that dart-like spear thingy resting atop the atlatl she is holding firmly in her hand. Click to enlarge the picture.)

This last photo is one Margie took of Dave, who was able to explain this whole concept a lot better than I have, and who could also make the spears go a very long distance!
The audience ranged in age from little kids to grandparents, and all seemed to enjoy the demonstration - Dave's explanation was clear, and he made it possible for everybody to participate. Good stuff!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Cabbages and Kings

"The time has come,' the Walrus said, "To talk of many things: Of shoes -- and ships -- and sealing wax -- Of cabbages -- and kings -- And why the sea is boiling hot -- And whether pigs have wings." (The Walrus an the Carpenter, Lewis Carroll)

Just read this on Birdchick's blog and wanted to share the good news: President Obabma has restored rules requiring U.S. agencies to consult with independent federal experts to determine if their actions might harm threatened and endangered species. Here is the Washington Post story about it.

Hard to believe it is March already. Last night's Right Whale notification call from Julie Albert at the Marine Resources Center was the last automated call of the season. I'll let you know when the newsletter with this season's statistics is published.
We're anxiously awaiting news of Ursula, the rescue sea turtle we spoke of last week. Meanwhile, there's some great news about Sandy, the injured Hawksbill from St. Croix that we've talked about from time to time (see November 20 post). The Turtle Hospital issued the following update on Jan 30, 2009: Sandy has been moved out of her treatment tank and into the shallow end of the main pool. This will allow her to adjust to swimming and diving with only 3 flippers.
Jim, Matt, and I are looking forward to Blair Witherington's presentation at Thursday night's Sea Turtle Preservation Society meeting. With Blair's knowledge, wry sense of humor, and skillful presentation techniques and with Dawn's graphic arts capabilities (and matching sense of humor), their presentations are entertaining, beautiful, and educational. The meeting is at the Melbourne Beach Community Center (MASNY Room), Melbourne Beach, Florida. The doors open at 7:00 p.m., and the meeting starts at 7:30. Blair is is a research scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (try putting that on a business card) and an internationally recognized sea turtle expert. He is the author of Sea Turtles: An Extrordinary Natural History of Some Uncommon Turtles, and he and Dawn are authors of Florida's Living Beaches: A Guide for the Curious Beachcomber and a smaller book, Florida's Seashells. The meeting is open to the public.
Friend Margie and I are headed to Titusville on Saturday (March 7) to attend the Florida Archaeology Month Kickoff at the Enchanted Forest Sanctuary . I think Matt may join us, as he is interested in learning more about atlatls (a spear thrower used by early Native Americans).
The Saturday after that (March 14) is the Pelican Island Wildlife Festival in Sebastian, and Gobyfest is March 21. (This Gobyfest logo is one of Dawn Witherinton's creations, by the way.) It's springtime in Florida - let the Festivals begin!
I don't have any cabbage or king photos, but I thought that Jim's manatee photo fit the spirit of Lewis Carroll's poem.