Sunday, October 25, 2009

Taking a Break

I make lists of things to do. Last week, as I was making my to-do list, I realized that blogging had moved from "want to" to "have to."

When I returned to the workforce in July (I'm a technical writer and spend most of my days hunched over a computer), I knew it would interfere with my blogging. I've tried various approaches - getting up at 5:00 in the morning to write (aargh), writing three or four posts on Sunday and then publishing them during the week. But the fact remains that something from which I have derived so much pleasure in the past now feels like just more work.

So I'm taking a blogging sabbatical, so to speak - a break until that day when I think - Wow! I can't wait to write about that!

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Eyes Have It

After my fairly casual explanation of Matt's beautiful alligator eyeball photo, Blair sent a more accurate description and this photo of a Cuban tree frog's eye. One of the great things about Blair is his ability to make scientific stuff understandable, as you'll readily see in the following:

Most of what we see in Matt’s astounding photo is the alligator’s iris. Like many animals, alligators have an iris that is reflective (like a mirror) as well as pigmented. When we stare into an alligator’s eyes with the light directly behind us, we get the same effect we see in highway reflector studs illuminated by our car headlights. Some of the pattern is from vessels supplying the iris. Note the vessels and coppery reflectance of the Cuban tree frog’s eye.
This iris reflectance keeps unwanted light (like from the bright sun) from entering the eye. At night, another reflector that alligators have actually enhances the light available for them to see. This reflector is the tapetum lucidum, right behind the retina. It’s what makes alligator eyes shine red at night, a time when their pupils are wide open.

I hope you will remember all this the next time you find yourself staring into an alligator's eyes!

A kind neighbor made sure my little Italian Greyhound princess did not go without food while I was spending long days at the sea-bean symposium, and I gave her Blair and Dawn's book, Florida's Living Beaches: A Guide for the Curious Beachcomber, as a thank-you. She is totally captivated and has started a list of people she plans to buy copies for.

As always, our thanks to Blair for sharing his expertise and his photos.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Here's looking at you, kid!

Matt MacQueen took this beautiful closeup of a juvenile alligator eye. Matt and I both did some research to see what caused the unusual eyeball pattern and came up with zilch, so we asked Blair Witherington what he thought. Blair opined that it was not related to the age of the gator so much as it was to the amount of outside light being reflected back out of the inside of the alligator's eye, back-lighting the maze of blood vessels in the eye. (If you search on alligator eyeballs, you get hits for one of my favorite sayings - When you're up to your eyeballs in alligators, it's hard to remember that your objective is to drain the swamp!)

That explanation is good enough for me, and I know I love the photo. (Click to enlarge)

Friday, October 16, 2009

14th Annual

The 14th Annual Sea-Bean Symposium is off to a great start. We had good crowds today, with standing room only for the presentations. In this first photo, Ed Perry is finishing his presentation about beach walking - Ed is a life-long resident of Brevard County, a Park Ranger, and a confirmed beach rat, so he knows whereof he speaks!

In the afternoon, STPS Volunteers Ann and Adrienne tag-teamed to talk about sea turtles of Florida's East Coast and the Sea Turtle Emergency Response Program (STERP) that we've told you about. Adrienne is holding the bucket that STERP volunteers carry to collect washbacks. These two ladies started this successful and innovative program, and in its second year, there are 189 volunteers that can be rallied by a phone call in case of a washback event.
Tomorrow is the Bean-a-Thon in the morning, Blair Witherington speaking at 2:00, and Curt Ebbesmeyer speaking at 7:45 (after the Bean-a-Thon winners are announced). Good fun!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Haiku, anyone?

This wonderfully peaceful sunrise photo by Charlie Corbeil simply begs for a haiku. I'm a technical writer with a limited imagination, but here's my shot at one - I hope some of you fearless readers will provide more fitting verses. Meanwhile, click on the photo to enlarge it, then meditate!

reeds in the sunrise
another day beginning
and the game is on

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Rescue of Wilbur the Washback, Continued

Yesterday's post spoke of Wilbur washing up on our beach, far from his home in the Sargasso, and luckily being rescued by a Sea Turtle Preservation Society STERP volunteer. Wilbur and his fellow washbacks were transported in the snazzy STPS truck shown here to the Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet, the nearest facility licensed to treat sea turtles.

Once there, Wilbur was greeted by Tammy, a sea turtle rehab specialist and one of our conservation heroes. Her exam showed that Wilbur was exhausted and dehydrated, but otherwise in good condition. Wilbur then:

got weighed (Wilbur weighed 24 grams, or .87 oz),

got measured (Wilbur was 5.6 centimeters, a little over 2 inches) ,

got fluids (ouch),

and joined his friends for lettuce and a little "rest and relaxation" so he can build his strength back up. Then he'll be ferried back out to the Sargasso and released, hopefully to lead a long and peaceful life.

A lot of people made a difference in the life of one little turtle - our thanks to them and to animal rescuers everywhere. Special thanks to Ann for sharing her story and photos.

The Rescue of Wilbur the Washback

I've written before about Ann, Sea Turtle Preservation Society volunteer extraordinaire. Ann's passion is sea turtles in general, and hatchlings and washbacks in particular. For the non-turtlers amongst you, a hatchling is a new-born. Hatchlings are born with a yolk sack that provides their source of nutrition as they head out on their 20+ mile swim to the Sargasso weed line, where they will make their home for several years. Washbacks are baby turtles that have already started or completed their swim to the Sargasso, using up their yolk sack, and have been washed back in during a storm. They lack the strength and food source to swim back out, and that's where Ann and her STERP team come in. Ann developed STERP (Sea Turtle Emergency Response Program) two seasons ago. Now, during a washback event, STERP volunteers are mobilized via a phone call to find these little critters so they can be transported to the Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet for evaluation, rehab, transport back out to the Sargasso, and release.
Ann will be talking about STERP during her Friday afternoon presentation (2:00) at the 14th Annual Sea-Bean Symposium. Meanwhile, she's provided us with some photos to use as a preview. This is Part I - we'll do Part II tomorrow.
In this first photo, a STERP volunteer prepares to search through the wrackline (the seaweed that has washed up) for washbacks. Remember that these are just little critters, a couple of inches long, with protective coloration - sort of like finding a needle in a haystack. Volunteers are not allowed to use sticks to poke through the seaweed, so this is a back-breaking work of love.

And here's Wilbur, washed ashore during a storm. Ann describes his state of mind thusly: Everything happened so fast, Wilbur is dazed. Where is he? What happened to the ocean? Then Wilbur begins to recognize where he is. He is back on the beach amongst the seaweed. Without water, the seaweed traps Wilbur even more. He is exhausted, hungry and dehydrated. He no longer has the energy to crawl back to the ocean, much less to swim 20 miles back to his safe haven in the sargassum. The birds are searching the seaweed for food. The sun is beating down on him.

Wilbur is one of the lucky washbacks - a STERP volunteer will find him, put him in a bucket with a nice damp towel, and transport him to the Marine Resource Center in Ponce Inlet. What happens there will be the topic of tomorrow's post.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cathie Katz, The Sea-Bean Lady

(Note: Long-time readers may recognize this as an updated reprint of a post I ran a year ago, prior to our 13th Annual Sea-Bean Symposium. New readers, I'd like you to know about Cathie.)

The late Cathie Katz was friend, mentor, and muse who wrote wonderful books (including The Nature of Florida's Beaches), started an international organization of sea-bean lovers called The Drifters who hold the annual Sea-Bean Symposium, and inspired all who knew her.

Cathie lost her battle with cancer in 2001, but she left a legacy of books, friends, and traditions. Shortly after her death, Ed Perry led the effort to have a sea-bean named in her honor, and the common name for the Canavalia nitida shown here is now Cathie's Bean. (Photos by Jim Angy)

Cathie and Jim Angy were close friends, and Jim provided the photographs for some of Cathie's book covers. For her memorial service, he wrote a poem titled The Nature of my Questions that began with these words:

"Considering how vast the shoreline truly is …
What wind, what current, what tide

Allowed us to end up on this same beach?
In a sea of strangers, how did we become such close friends?"

Our 14th Annual Sea-Bean Symposium will kick off Friday, October 16. We'll see close friends, many of whom have attended every symposium, either as a visitor or a speaker/exhibitor, and we'll make new friends who will be amazed at just how warm and friendly this event is. And we'll take time to think of Cathie. She loved the beach and everything on it, and credited her first sighting of a sea turtle laying eggs with changing her life's direction. Knowing her changed ours.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A chamber of commerce weekend

We have had a touch of Fall in the air this past week - one morning, it was actually down to 63 degrees when the little princess and I took our before-dawn walk. Still getting into the high 80s during the day, but at least there is hope for moderation here soon.

Meanwhile, it was a beautiful weekend. Cocoa Beach had its first airshow, and it was apparently a huge success, with some 30,000 folks crowding onto the beach each day to watch such events as the Golden Knights skydivers, an F-22 Raptor, a water rescue demonstration by the 920th Rescue Wing from Patrick Air Force Base, and a variety of other airplane related performances. Margie sent these pix, with this note: Perfect day to watch loud airplanes over the water. :)

Friday, I attended a meeting at the Brevard Zoo and snapped a few photos of little kids having a simply wonderful time in the Paws On exhibit. I hope this picture gives you an idea of just how carefree an environment this is. We'll talk more about the Zoo later, probably in our Space Coast Eco blog, but it was such a lovely day in such a delightful place that I wanted to share the feeling.

I hope your weekend was similarly mellow, wherever you are. Blog the Beach friends David and Sue spent their weekend getting married, so best wishes to them!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

If it has legs ...

... don't put it in the ocean!

Margie found this beautiful little gopher tortoise on the beach early yesterday morning. What, you may well ask, is a gopher tortoise doing on the beach? Blair and Dawn Witherington's book, Florida's Living Beaches, tells us that gopher tortoises dig burrows in sandy scrub habitat, including coastal dunes, and that they may wander onto beaches, but rarely feed there.

Margie adds: There are some living in the dunes here and there. I've seen them wandering on the beach before. The unfortunate ones are misidentified by beach-goers as sea turtles and "helped" into the ocean. This little guy today was pretty far from the dune line when I saw him. He was down in last week's dried wrack, right next to a big ghost crab hole. At first I thought maybe the crab had dragged him there and he was injured, so I picked him up to see. He was ok and tried to run away, so I could see all his legs were working fine. At that point I figured I might as well "help" him get home, so I took him up to the dune line and put him down near a bay bean plant (sometimes called a beach pea), which is when I took the photos. When last seen, he was motoring west into the thick dune, using his sturdy little legs. (Be sure to click on the photo to enlarge it - baby gopher turtles are such pretty little creatures.)

As luck would have it, Jim has this photo of a loggerhead sea turtle hatchling, posing near a railroad vine. Good looking flippers, handy to have when swimming. (Click on photo so you can see the fancy white trim on his little flippers.)

The moral of this story is, if it has flippers, it's a sea turtle. If it has legs, it's not, and don't put it in the water!