Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Happy Earth Day!

Hatpins (Syngonanthus flavidulus)
Earth Day 2015 in Gainesville started as an absolutely gorgeous day. Fresh, cool air and clear blue skies. On a beautiful day like this, one must be outside! I thought it would be fitting to celebrate Earth Day by visiting one of my favorite places, the good ol' Ditch. But I got a late start because I had to finish up at work first. It was my last day at the Museum. It was kind of sad saying goodbye to everyone, but I'm really feeling ready to get on with the move. And before I actually move, I plan to visit as many of my favorite places as many times as I can, starting today!

It was hot and sunny when I finally got started in the late afternoon, so my feet were VERY hot in the rubber boots I wear to keep dry in the soggy ditch (and to give a little snake and tick protection). It turned out that I didn't really need the boots because the ditch was fairly dry. I expected it to be wetter because we had a hard rain this week. But maybe it didn't rain on that end of the county.

Tattered Buckeye
A lot of the spring flowers were spent or nearing their last days. The Purple Thistles had gone to seed, covering the ground in a snowy dusting of fluff. I had a hard time finding a Meadowbeauty that wasn't tattered and torn, and I couldn't see any Sundews. The area seemed very subdued, with none of the bright orange, yellow and purple that come later in the summer, and not a lot of insects and frogs. But a healthy assortment of sprouts reminded me of the fall colors to come. As I looked around more carefully I found sprigs of light blue Skullcap scattered up and down the roadside. Among the Skullcaps were single spiral stalks of Ladiestresses Orchids and bunches of Fleabane. The ephemeral Spiderwort flowers were spent for the day and they looked more like the wild onions that grew nearby than the brilliant blue buds that had opened this morning.

Purple Thistle Fluff (Cirsium horridulum)

Pale Meadowbeauty (Rhexia mariana)

Skullcap (Scutellaria integrifolia) next to Wild Onion

Ladiestresses Orchid (Spiranthes sp.)

Early Whitetop Fleabane (Erigeron vernus)

Spent Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis)

One lone, bright, Coreopsis shone like a beacon in the sea of green. Along the fence line I found white Blackberry blossoms and the strange flowers of Blackroot. I didn't see any of the Little Metalmark butterflies that I usually find in the Ditch. I don't know if it was because it is too early in the year or because it was too late in the day. Actually, I saw very few butterflies today--including one tired, worn Buckeye as I walked back to the car. There were plenty of mosquitoes, though. A tiny katydid nymph on a Betony stalk turned to hide whenever I tried to get closer, but its enormous antennae gave it away every time.

Florida Tickseed (Coreopsis floridana)

Blackberry (Rubus sp.)

Blackroot (Pterocaulon pycnostachyum)

Betony (Stachys floridana) and Katydid nymph

Patches of Twinflowers and Queen's Delight surprised me. I've never seen them in this ditch before. There were a few thin stalks of Bluehearts and red poofs of Heartwing Dock. The wet depressions were filled with Hatpins and Mock Bishopweed. I was happy to find a red Dwarf Pawpaw flower. I only see one or two of those each year. Bracken fern fiddleheads were everywhere. And, of course, I found a few old tires. Why do people do that?
Twinflower (Dyschoriste oblongifolia)

Queensdelight (Stillingia sylvatica)

Bluehearts (Buchnera americana)

Heartwing Dock (Rumex hastatulus)

Mock Bishopsweed (Ptilimnium capillaceum)

Dwarf Pawpaw (Asimina pygmaea)

Bracken Fern Fiddleheads

Eventually I got too hot and was ready to go home, but I always try to fit in just a few more things before I leave, so I took a quick walk through the nearby flatwoods. The flatwoods were pretty quiet too. I hardly even heard birds singing--just the call of the White Eyed Vireo and some crows in the distance. I found some nice fresh Tread Softly and a couple of dainty Damselflies. They made me think of skinny Pipefish in the Gulf as they hovered in the air just above the grass. Just when I was ready to turn around and head back I looked down and found a Savannah Milkweed in the trail. I love Milkweed and it always makes my day to find one.

Tread Softly (Cnidoscolus stimulosus)

Citrine Forktail Damselfly

Savannah Milkweed (Asclepias pedicellata)

The woods are thick with berries at this time of year--shiny blueberries, huckleberries, deer berries and pawpaw fruit--bountiful harvest for birds, deer, turtles, raccoons and all the other berry eaters. The Saw Palmettos are flowering now, too, providing nectar for bees and butterflies. Walking through the Flatwoods I felt so happy to be alive. The light breeze brushed my skin and the sweet scent of Vanilla Leaf followed me along the trail. The crickets chirped and mosquitoes buzzed and I felt utterly at peace. Everyone should be so lucky. Happy Earth Day.


Vanillaleaf (Carphephorus odoratissimus)

Sunday, April 19, 2015


Today was my last volunteer shift at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. I've been a volunteer there for about 4 years and I've sure had fun. When I first heard the radio ad asking for people to volunteer at La Chua Trail, I thought--"they let you do that? Yes!" and signed up right away. Through frosty mornings, blazing sun, clouds, rain, mud, fire ants, stubborn gators, bison and drones, our cheerful team works together every weekend from October-April, giving helpful information and talking to visitors about our very favorite place. I've loved every minute. This is not goodbye--I'll visit often! Here are some images from today.
Trail Entrance

Our Info Trailer and Welcome Station

Baby Gator in its Own Pond

Bull Gator Cooling Itself

Noble Profile

Purple Gallinules

Yellow Water Lilies--Nymphaea mexicana

American Coot

Saddleback Dragonfly

Looking Out Over the Prairie

Great Blue Heron Nests

Visitors on the Viewing Platform

Acres of Pickerelweed--Pontederia cordata

Boat Tailed Grackle

Osprey With its Talons Out, Hunting

Yellow Water Lily--Nymphaea mexicana

Common Gallinule

Pied Billed Grebe

Family of Common Gallinules

Little Blue Heron With Bullfrog Tadpole

Down the Hatch


Full Belly and Beautiful Breeding Plumage!

2 of My Trailer Buddies, Helene and Dave

Friday, April 17, 2015

Santa Cruz, Part 1--How Much Nature Can We Fit into One Week? (A Lot!)

After all the upheaval in the past few months, I feel like things are starting to settle down. I'm getting comfortable with the idea of a big move. In fact, I have to admit that I'm looking forward to it! Things are moving smoothly into place and now I have a little time to think, so I am tidying up loose ends and taking care of things like unposted blogs! So let's take a trip back in time...

At the end of December, my family converged on Santa Cruz, California for a holiday reunion. When we arrived in California, the weather was cool but dry. It had been rainy the week before, but it cleared up while we were there. We were happy that the rain cleared for us because we had outdoor plans. Unfortunately for Californians, who are in the worst drought on record, the rain hasn't returned. One selfish benefit of the rain was that we were allowed more showers and toilet flushes than we had originally expected. Drought is serious business. But we were still stingy with water and practiced the old "if it's yellow, be mellow, if it's brown, flush it down" rule of water conservation and limited showering (probably a little "TMI").

When I awoke the first morning I was still on East Coast time, so I took advantage of being an early riser (a rarity for me) and walked down the street to the Neary Lagoon Park before the rest of the group was ready for our day's excursions. I wrote about visiting this wonderful urban wetland park last January. I just never tire of finding sanctuaries like this in the center of busy cities. Everyone needs a little refuge. I read that this one was visited by a Mountain Lion last fall, so next time I'm in Santa Cruz, I'll keep my eyes open for big paw prints! Neary Lagoon runs right through the middle of Santa Cruz and when I visited it was bustling with birds ready to greet the morning. In the course of a half hour walk along boardwalks, I saw, among other things, a Townsend's Warbler, a Bushtit, a Black and White Warbler, a Western Scrub Jay, Pied Billed Grebes, many Robins and Mallard Ducks, and an Anna's Hummingbird. It was a great welcome back to Santa Cruz!

Townsend's Warbler, right where I left him last year!

Puffy Bushtit

Black and White Warbler

Western Scrub Jay

Robin Redbreast

The Noble Mallard

When everyone was dressed, fed and ready, we headed to Wilder Ranch State Park, just a short drive away. What I really want to do when I visit a new place is check out the wildlife and plants. I haul my backpack full of camera gear everywhere and I want to use it! Luckily for me, my family is interested nature and hiking too, so it didn't take much convincing to get them to go to state parks and take other active outings during our week. My sister-in-law is a huge geocaching enthusiast, so she quickly found that there was one hidden on the trail to the ocean cliffs. And while everyone else was exploring the geocache and signing the log sheet, I was examining the neat pile of innards that was lying on the trail. I don't know what they came from, but I figure some predator tossed them aside, opting instead for yummy flesh. There were no other bits lying around to give hints about what, when or why.

The Geocache


After a short walk, we reached the cliffs and looked out over the water. The ocean is so big and it always makes me feel so small. The warning sign on the edge reminded us that change here is constant. The fault slips a little here and a little there and the waves pound unceasingly, re-forming the coastal landscape. A few days later when we visited another beach, someone actually fell off of one of the cliffs. We didn't see it and were never able to figure out exactly what happened or if the person survived, but the helicopter, ambulances and emergency teams let us know it was a serious accident.

View from the Trail

It's a Long Way Down

I scanned the horizon for spouts from whales or jumping dolphins. No whales or dolphins (that day!) but I could see hundreds of birds, mostly Cormorants, Seagulls and Brown Pelicans out on the rocks. Nearby there were big, fat Harbor Seals, enjoying the morning sun. Surf Scoters bobbed in the waves and Oystercatchers patrolled the rocks looking for shellfish morsels. On the way back to the car I heard a funny sound and found a pair of Meadowlarks popping up and down in a bush. Our best find of the day was the White Tailed Kite hunting overhead. I had no idea what it was but its fluttering actions seemed familiar somehow. I should have recognized it as a kite, but I just wasn't thinking that way. I thought at first it was a gull, but my mom kept insisting that it was some sort of raptor. She was so right! Proof, once again, that you should always listen to your mother.

Mostly Cormorants

Brown Pelicans

Seals and Gulls

It's a Rough Life--Harbor Seals Sunning
White Tailed Kite

Pop Go the Meadowlarks!

When my parents moved to Santa Cruz, I was surprised to learn that there was a major Monarch Wintering spot right down the road from their house. I had thought (incorrectly) that the Monarchs all wintered in Mexico. Over the years I have learned that there are several populations of Monarchs (even some in Florida) and the ones that live West of the Rockies overwinter in the Eucalyptus trees of coastal California. The Monarch Watch website says that the California Monarchs make up over 5% of the world population, so these are important sites. In boom years, Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz has had as many as 100,000 Monarchs sheltering there. So, one day we took a trip to Natural Bridges because we heard that there were still some butterflies clustered in the trees. Sadly, the numbers were very low this winter. Drought, deforestation, lack of habitat and many other factors contributed to the low numbers (I read that the local Steller's Jays have developed a taste for them). I saw the one cluster in the park and it was still breathtaking. But we were told that we were seeing only a fraction of what would normally be roosting there. Numbers in the park were up to 7500 after being even lower in years past. I can't imagine what the world will be like if we lose these wonders.

Wintering Monarchs
Next up, part 2--Giants...