Thursday, July 30, 2009

Snakes Alive!

Wonder why I'm showing you a photo of an earthworm? Ha! This, according to friend and wildlife photographer extraordinaire Jim Angy, is a blind snake. Jim and his family were at his father-in-law's house when one of his kids (grown) brought this little critter to Jim's attention. It's about the size of a worm, but it has scales and is not segmented. According to Wikipedia, it's little tiny eyes are covered with little tiny scales, rendering it nearly blind, but able to distinguish light. It is most often found in Africa and Asia, but as with nearly everything else in this world grown smaller, is now found in many other places, including the back yard of Jim's father-in-law. It lives underground in ant or termite nests or similar dark, moist places, and reproduces without fertilization - the word parthenogenesis was tossed around in the Wikipedia writeup. Its diet consists of the eggs and larvae of ants and termites. There was no mention of what this little lady does for fun - we know it is a female, as parthenogenesis results in only females of the species, apparently. I read all this and find it vaguely depressing - away from home, blind, living underground, no romance ....

On a happier note, is this not one of the sweetest snakes you've seen recently? This is an immature black racer, and I think it's cute as a button. Jim got this photo at Sebastian Inlet when he was visiting Ed Perry.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Blair and the Whale Shark

The Barrier Island Center had several shark-related programs this month - indeed, their July events calendar was titled Shark Week, Every Week. I know absolutely nothing about sharks, but as blogger Florida Cracker would say, Sara N. Dippity came along in the form of an email from Dawn Witherington. In her first message, Dawn sent these beautiful photos, with just a brief note saying the pix were of Blair's encounter with a 30 ft female whale shark while doing some off-shore research work in the Gulf. When I expressed concern that someone we know and like a lot had been close enough to a shark to get these photos, she sent this explanation: Whale sharks are so big they are like buildings floating along, sheltering entire communities of other fish. Blair was no threat to the whale shark, and people swim with them all the time. They are plankton eaters with no interest (food-wise) in much else. (Be sure to click on this first photo to enlarge it!)

When I asked permission to use the photos here, Dawn added this information. The sighting was about 20 NM north of the Dry Tortugas. Blair submitted the information to a non-profit group called ECOCEAN Whale Shark Photo-identification Library (see link below). The group utilizes a computer program that can identify whale sharks by the spot pattern above the pectoral fin. His sighting has been added to the library as a new, previously unidentified shark.

For you new readers, Blair and Dawn Witherington are the authors of Florida's Living Beaches: A Guide for the Curious Beachcomber, a comprehensive field guide written by two people who know and love Florida’s beaches. Blair is a research scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. Dawn is a graphic artist and scientific illustrator - you can see her work when you visit the Barrier Island Center. As always, our thanks to both of them for sharing their formidable talents and expertise.
Reference Links:
Whaleshark Organization Library (Blair's shark is GC001)
Pure Florida (Florida Cracker's blog)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

In Memory of Carol

Today is the memorial service in New Jersey for our sea-bean friend Carol, who died too young after a valiant fight with cancer. Margie Mitchell introduced us to Carol at the 2007 Sea-Bean Symposium, and she joined us on our post-symposium beach walk. You can see a video from that walk on our Florida Beach Basics site - Carol and Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer are discussing some flotsam that Carol found on the beach.
Margie and Carol were close friends, and Margie will be at the service today. We'll keep Carol in our thoughts.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Tour de Turtles 2009

If you've watched the 2008 Tour de Turtles slideshow in the right-hand column of this blog, you know it involved affixing a transmitter to the back of an annoyed sea turtle, after which the turtle headed gratefully for the ocean, to the applause of onlookers. But this annual event is more than just an excuse for a good party - it's a combination fundraiser/ scientific exploration/ educational event for the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC). Faithful readers will remember the June 15th post about Dr. Archie Carr, the founding scientific director of the CCC, which this year marked its 50th year of sea turtle conservation efforts.

This second annual CCC Tour de Turtles: a sea turtle migration marathon, is a three-month-long event that tracks 10 individual sea turtles from 10 different locations leaving their nesting beaches as they "race" to be the first to complete the marathon (1,628 miles from their nesting beaches). Each is swimming for a cause to raise awareness about a specific threat to sea turtles. Corporate sponsors and partners are featured on the CCC website, where a very clever map shows the progress of each sea turtle. Last year, our Belle 'o Brevard came in at second place, traveling 1180 miles to Delaware.
Brevard voters this year picked Bree Varda as a name for our sea turtle "contestant." Consider this your engraved invitation to join the release festivities on Friday, July 31, at the Barrier Island Center in the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge. CCC and University of Central Florida researchers will attach a satellite transmitter on a loggerhead sea turtle starting at 8 a.m. (The turtle will have been detained the night before, after she has deposited her eggs. She will not be happy.) Amongst other things, this is an excellent opportunity to see one of these magnificent critters up close and personal. (That red stuff on her shell is not blood - it's the epoxy used to attach the transmitter.)
The Barrier Island Center is located on Highway A1A, about 4 miles to the north of Sebastian Inlet, or about 14 miles south of the Melbourne Causeway. Be sure to wear a hat and take water - it will be hot and it will be sunny - trust me! It is, by the way, FREE!
If you can't attend, you can watch the action live via a webcast on
A Silent Auction and Social is scheduled for Thursday night, 30 July, 6:00 p.m. at the Center - I've seen a list of some of the silent auction articles, and there are some dandies. Green Turtle Marketplace (how appropriate is that!) is catering light appetizers. Cost is $15 for adults, $10 for children. You can purchase tickets online at or call Rocio at 352-373-6441. We had a great time at last year's event.
At last year's release, I burned the top of my head. So for Friday morning's release, remember the hat and water advise. This is great fun - you'll leave with a smile on your face when you think of Bree hitting that water!
Reference links:

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Skimmer Chicks - So Far, So Good

The skimmer chicks hatched over this past weekend, and Margie filed this report last night. As of this morning, there are at least 2 chicks in evidence. They are, at the most, 5 days old. Of the three of us watching them, one saw four, one saw three, and one saw two, or so each of us thought. Phyllis had a spotting scope, so we got a good look at two of them - they were running around quite a bit. I tried some photos, both with a zoom and through the scope. I don't have a good photo yet, but expect to get some soon as the chicks become more active. In the meantime, here's a long zoom photo of two of the chicks. Can you spot them in the blue circle I put around them in the photo? They are only a few inches tall, perfectly camouflaged against the sand, and don't have a long skimmer bill yet. (Click on photo to enlarge)
Thanks to Margie for keeping us up-to-date, and to Phyllis for her diligence in protecting the nests and their occupants.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Love Handles

We speak often of sea turtles nesting and eggs hatching, but have you ever stopped to think of the difficulties involved in the sea turtle mating required to produce these fertile eggs? Round, slippery shell? Ocean waves? Never fear - Mother Nature has provided the male sea turtle with "spurs" on his front flippers that he hooks into the female's plastron to provide stability. On one of his early morning beach walks, Jim Angy happened upon a lovely green sea turtle returning to the ocean after nesting and got this perfect picture of the holes left in her shell during mating - one over each front flipper. (Click on photo to enlarge)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Scrub Jays and Space

You know it's going to be a good day when your in-box holds an early morning email with photos attached from Vince Lamb. Vince is a scrub-jay expert, skilled nature photographer, Florida Naturalist, volunteer extraordinaire, and a nice guy! In response to an out-of-state friend's question, I'd asked Vince about the best time to observe our scrub-jays. He sent the following reply, accompanied by the two photos you see here. Florida scrub-jays are great any time of year. From May until September, the juveniles are detectable by the brown heads, although that effect fades by September. Some breeding behavior like sharing food can be observed in March and April. Scrub-jays are hard to find when it is windy or rainy. They do not start feeding until approximately 30 minutes after sunrise and find a roosting place for the night a half hour before sunset. They seem to take a siesta around noon in the heat of the day. Many of the seasonal differences are more important to people than the jays. Hiking in Florida scrub is nicer in late October than mid July.

Cruickshank Sanctuary in Rockledge is a good place to spot a friendly scrub-jay. You can read more about the Sanctuary in the March 3 post on my Space Coast Eco blog.
Don't these pictures bring a smile to your face? Many thanks to Vince for sharing. Be sure to visit his photo web site - see Reference Links below.
I'm not much for retrospection, but this is "do you remember" day here in Brevard County, as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of man's first step on the moon. I was working in Titusville for a defense contractor on a wire-guided, shoulder-mounted, anti-tank missile system. My son Charlie was nearly five years old, and we lived in Cocoa. Co-worker and good friend Chickie Stucka (RIP) had come over for dinner. We played cards with Charlie until his bedtime, then played cribbage while waiting for the big event. We watched the grainy image on my little tv - probably a black and white model? Florida Today had only been in business a few years, and they did a great job of covering everything. Their coverage of this anniversary has been excellent also, and they've set up a pretty amazing web site for it. Be sure to follow the link below. (Photo Credit NASA)
I guess a little retrospection is OK, so about 10:58 tonight, I'll be thinking of those "good old days."

Reference Links:
Space Coast Eco (Cruickshank Sanctuary post)
Florida Today (Moon landing site)
NASA (Apollo 11 - Celebrating the "Giant Leap")

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sea-Beans, Sea-Turtles, and Sundays

Time flies when you're having fun, and moves pretty briskly when you're just messing around, too. We're only three months away from the sea-bean symposium; it's October 16-17 this year, so mark your calendar. David McRee found a sea coconut on his gulf coast beach and did a nice post about it and the symposium on his Blog the Beach (see Reference Links below). While David would not expect to find a sea coconut on his side of Florida, it is one of the most plentiful sea-beans on our Atlantic coast. Sea coconuts are about the size of a golf ball and covered with a brown, black, or grey husk. They grow in clusters of two or three on palm trees in the tropics and float up to our beaches via the Gulf Stream. (This sea coconut photo is one of Matt MacQueen's.)

A couple of weeks ago, I ventured up to Port Canaveral with friends Kirby and Bev Collins. You can read about it in my Space Coast Eco blog. Be sure to watch the slide show - there's some nice photos of the juvenile green sea turtles that call the Port home. With my slow old camera, I got a lot of photos of water where a turtle had just been, but Kirby took some great pictures and shared them. Kirby and Bev do an excellent tourist destination site called Places Around Florida (see Reference Links below) and live in Cape Canaveral, so they were the perfect guides. This is one of Kirby's photos - be sure to click to enlarge it.

All continues to go well with the nesting black skimmers and the space shuttle, so other than frequent severe weather bulletins, it's been a fine week!
Reference Links:
Blog the Beach (David McRee's blog - see the July 18th post about his sea-bean find)
Places Around Florida (Kirby and Bev's site)
Space Coast Eco (my field trip to Port Canaveral)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Liftoff - the Sixth Time Is the Charm!

STS-127, Space Shuttle Endeavor, carrying a crew of seven, lifted off from Kennedy Space Center at 6:03 tonight, after five previous attempts were foiled by equipment issues or weather. This is a 16-day mission with five spacewalks to complete construction of a laboratory. As always, our appreciation to the astronauts, NASA, and the many contractors involved for pulling off yet another successful launch and to Mother Nature and the east coast seabreeze for keeping the storms inland. (Photo courtesy of NASA TV)

Reference Links:

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Beach Stuff

First, an update on the nesting skimmers. Margie reports that people seem to be respecting the perimeter tape she has put up - she'd like to make their area bigger, but she has to leave room on the east side for people to pass by at high tide. I asked about raccoons predating the nest, and she said there are lots of raccoons in the area, but so far the parents have been able to protect the eggs. The first egg reaches the 21-day mark this weekend. Margie will report any events, so I'll keep you posted. In researching this, I came across an interesting story about Dow Skimmer Day. It seems that Black Skimmers have been making a now-retired limestone parking area at Dow Texas Operations Plant A their home almost every summer since 1968. Great story - be sure to follow the link below. (Skimmer photo by Jim Angy)

We've had some pretty wicked storms this past week, and lightning struck and killed a tourist on Melbourne Beach. David McRee did an excellent post about it in his Blog the Beach, and included tips on what to do/not to do in storms. I've talked about David's free e-book before, but this being beach season, let's talk about it again. This 70-page beach safety ebook is free to download from his web site (see links below). According to David, it has been downloaded by tens of thousands of people. It is also being used in a state park summer beach safety program as an educational tool.
I'm on a sea-bean listserve, and this week there was this correspondence from a gentleman in Malaysia - I was beach combing along familiar seeds …debris fronting the South China Sea on the east cost of peninsular Malaysia last weekend. Imagine the excitement when I came upon my very first encounter of Grey Nickars. Funny thing is… I have been on this stretch of beach many times previously all these years but never did come upon them. Prior to this discovery, the only cherished ones I had in my collection were sent to me many years back by the late Cathie Katz, polished and even raw ones still in pods. (Nickernut photo by Matt MacQueen)
As I tried to wrap my mind around the South China Sea and Malaysia, I thought of how much Cathie Katz would have enjoyed blogging! She died too soon in 2001, but her last book, Nature a Day at at Time, was kind of like a blog-in-a-book. Her July 11 entry is about the damselfly, kin to the dragonfly. Cathie had a thing for the dragonfly, and every year at the sea-bean symposium, a dragonfly appears at some point, buzzing around the room to be sure that all is going well. We always take note of the visitor and call it Cathie, of course.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

It's summertime, summertime, sum sum summertime

I took this photo while on a recent field trip to Port Canaveral. Is this a good day at the beach, or what? (Click to enlarge.)

I believe the lyrics to summertime, summertime, sum sum summertime are by The Jamies. It's not deathless prose, but ... it's summertime!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Nesting Skimmers

It is to be hoped that the crowded beach and fireworks did not disturb the ground nesting black skimmers located in Cocoa Beach. Friend Margie (beach coordinator for the City) had found two nesting pairs late last month during her morning patrols, but we decided not to draw attention to it. Now, Margie reports: the Species Conservation Planning Section of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (regional office in Ocala) is working with the City of Cocoa Beach to help protect the birds. They are quite excited about it.

We have staked off a pretty good-sized area around the two nests, and each of the nests is individually staked off inside the larger buffer zone.

If all goes well, the 6 eggs should hatch in a week or 10 days or so. Fingers crossed at this point. One of the guys at FWC said this is the first ground nesting colony in Brevard County he's heard of.

The black skimmer is listed as a species of special concern in Florida, and like the least terns we posted about recently, loss of habitat has driven skimmers to nesting on rooftops. We'll hope for good things for these nests.
Margie and her trusty camera will keep us posted. (Click on photos to enlarge)

Friday, July 3, 2009

A good beach story

Ann is on the beach daily as part of her Sea Turtle Preservation Society volunteer efforts, so she sees things that us mainland-bound folks don't. This week, she discovered Chuck, a camera-shy retired fireman who does cool sand sculptures early every morning while he and his wife are in the area. Chuck said it was ok to use the photos of his creations on here, so Ann snapped a photo of the lobster one day, then went back the next day to capture the mermaid. Check out the jewelry and seaweed hairdo on the mermaid - pretty clever! (Click on photos to enlarge.)

We've had problems lately with people digging deep holes in the sand and leaving them - a hazard for beach-goers and sea turtles. Ann was quick to report that Chuck is a responsible beach- goer. He does the sculptures right about at the tide line. He uses a garden type shovel, but the sand he digs up is wet sand down low where there are no turtle nests, and he does not leave a hole. He and his wife are only here for a couple of more days, so the folks around Ocean Landings in Cocoa Beach won't see any more of his scuptures for a while. Meanwhile, we thank Chuck for his artistic talents and Ann for spotting and photographing his creations.

Enjoy the 4th, and remember to give thanks for our freedom and the folks out protecting it. (I'm using Robin Chapman's antique postcard again because I think it is so lovely.)