29 December 2007

Grey days on the marshes

I awoke again today to sheets of rain, lightning and the rolling drum line of thunder. I ached to stay under my covers, warm and dry instead of arising to greet the day at 0500. I'd agreed to be on Perdido Key at sunrise to see if there were any hunters today before heading to Santa Rosa -- tomorrow will be the reverse. I've been wet for two days now, and wonder if I will ever be dry again.

There were brief periods of cool mist instead of rain in the flat early morning light. In the distance, the Pensacola Light burned through the shrouded morning to remind one and all that we were in a safe harbor. Even the birds seemed more at ease in the mist, but that was likely as a result of the hunters staying home in their beds... They're not as crazy as biologists!

I couldn't capture the flight on film as it was raining at the time, but I took away this image:

A race of Canada Geese, startled by the noise of the approaching ATV took flight, flapping their wings in the stiff northerly breeze and paddling furiously at the wave tossed bay as they rose, in a single, sinuous line, over the misted Pensacola Bay.

28 December 2007

Bhutto Assassination

The world has lost a tremendous light in the darkness today. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto has me sick to my stomach. I don't understand violence. For centuries, man has advocated war as a means of achieving a peaceful world, and it baffles me. How can this be effective?

We each have within us so much potential for beauty, truth and light. Whether we're beggars on the street, or cronies of the rich and famous, we're all essentially the same. Muslim or Christian, Atheist or Wiccan -- what unites us is stronger than what divides us. There is no true separation aside from that we create in our own deluded minds. We diminish our worth, our experience of life, love and joy in this world, when we fail to recognize the beauty of the other.

Why does the ego insist on creating class distinctions, racial divides and religious righteousness? Are we better off, living in our isolated cocoons, than we would be if we were truly connected and alive? If we all understood our interconnection, would war, violence, or murder even be possible? What would such a world look like? How would we feel to be free of stress, worry, want and terror?

We all have concerns. These self-involved obsessions cut us off from each other, and we create our own unique realities. I worry that I intimidate people when I look at them. If I don't have my 'blinders' on, separating me from the world around me, I SEE people -- I don't just glance at them. I'm a lightning rod for human emotion, positive and negative, everywhere I go. I've been that way for as long as I can remember; it can make a crowd a tiring and noisy place to be. I see the pain, happiness, and inner turmoil. I see past the facades into souls; that can be scary for both the viewer and the viewed. I've never seen a soul that was evil -- I've seen some that make poor or irrational choices, but these are mostly based on fear. Fear of being hurt, of not having enough, of not surviving, of not achieving, of falling short. Rarely have I see true malice. I don't know if it really exists. There are evil acts, but most are borne of misunderstanding, confusion, pain and self-defense. It's understandable to a degree, but still no excuse for violence.

I'm not sure where this monologue is leading other than to rail against another light, another hope for a more peaceful world, that has been extinguished before its time. Martyrdom may inspire, but what a terrible price to pay.

I imagine a different world. A world where we look at the other and see our selves. A world where love is more powerful and available in every heart than the pain and fear that blocks its light. I imagine this world that way. I imagine it becoming a place we all can call home.

I know this seems to deviate from my usual nature girl blog, but it's really all part of the same ethic. I don't believe conflict is ever the answer. There's enough pain in the world without deliberately creating more. Love is more powerful than hate.

26 December 2007

Christmas (posted a day late)

Christmas in NW Florida was indeed a chilly day, though we didn't have any snow. It was surreal, just like a day off without any holiday trimmings this year. I mailed gifts to my family, gave a few things to local friends before Christmas and spent some time helping a friend get his shopping finished, but it didn't feel at all like the holidays. Somehow, spinach and salmon don't feel like Christmas dinner. At least the weather is beautiful, and I did actually take a day off ;)

Time Capsule

I spent a good portion of this morning at the Fort Pickens Ranger Station, hunting around for satellite location data for Shelly and Sandy, two loggerheads tagged at the park several years ago. It was like walking into an office that stood still while life moved on in the distance. The last day is marked on the wall by the visitor's entrace, just in case anyone forgets what flattened the park...

There's evidence that those in the offices beat a hasty retreat. Garbage bags cover old computer components, boxes and paperwork are strewn across the floor, spilled coffee mugs roll on desktops, cans of cat food, labels faded by years of intense sun, stand by an east facing window, magazines, unopened mail, random rain jackets and gum wrappers, bug repellent and family photos weave a crazy trail through recent history.

I felt as if I was disturbing a memorial, and apologized to the room as I dug through the debris in my hunt for the elusive data. Once I unearthed the priceless paperwork, I headed back to my ATV to return to our temporary office. Traveling by ATV in late December with a box of paperwork is less than ideal, but three years post-storm, there still isn't a road out here. How have we allowed this to happen to one of our national treasures? Have we sunk so low in our quest in the middle east (for what?) that we our trashing our own country? What a waste...

Thankfully though, this retreat into the recent past reminds me of how much better things are today than they were three years ago -- at least we have an office (in a garage, but hey, it's dry and has heat!). The road closure has been great for the birds, though the sea turtles continue to struggle. The lost dunes, flattened landscape, light pollution and frequent flooding make it nearly impossible for nests to survive, even when they are present. There's a lot of work to do, and not just in the box of paperwork now sitting at my feet.

18 December 2007

Red and Yellow and Pink and Blue... Why am I so blue?

Literally, blue... and shivering, and dressed like the Staypuff marshmallow man, dipped in NPS green ink. I know it's 42, but my body thinks there should be a (-) in front of it... I am not built for winter!

These lovely, though dangerous, purple-blue jellyfish were all over the beach today at Fort Pickens. How can something so beautiful be so deadly?

16 December 2007

Winter is Back...

Yesterday, it was so muggy by mid-afternoon, in the high seventies, that we had some severe thunder storms. It was a nice reminder of summer, as the whole week has been. This morning, I awoke to 30 mile an hour winds and 45 degree weather, and I had to get up to be at the beach by sunrise for hunting patrols. Why did I agree to work today? Oh, yeah, I remember, Christmas bills...

The sky is quite stunning, as if to make up for the bite in the wind. Fingers of light reach down from heaven...

I'm a little worried about the beach... We'll see if I'm a human popsicle by noon!

13 December 2007

Nudes in the Forest

The day started out as expected -- at work early, getting ready to meet our volunteer who was helping with gopher tortoises for the day. Once she arrived, we headed into the woods north of the Naval Live Oaks compound to search for a burrow that hadn't been located in a while.

Ann and I spent a beautiful December morning tromping through the woods until we got to the newest fire trail. Pine chips were still strewn across the fire break, as my boss prepared the area for a prescribed burn in a few months. Walking down the path towards the north shore, I was stunned to see a Ford Explorer parked along the coast. Was that a park vehicle? The only way to tell was to check the tags, so I approached the SUV to check for federal tags -- the driver had handicapped Florida state tags. While noting this, Ann and I witnessed the driver skinny dipping in the Sound. Not a normal sight in the middle of a national park. Rather than approach the naked man on our own, Ann and I called Law Enforcement to deal with the issue.

We never did find that gopher tortoise burrow -- maybe we were too blinded by the earlier sighting.

10 December 2007

A Grinch or a Procrastinator?

I realized today that I have purchased exactly one Christmas present... and I don't know if I have the budget for anymore, but I love to buy gifts for people. Not many know it, but Christmas is my favorite day of the year. Circumstances usually keep me from celebrating with friends and family, and keep me as a wall-flower when i do, but I am like a little kid. I really just want to see that smile on someone's face.

Which brings me to my current dilemma... If I do drive to my sister's for Christmas, I can't afford to buy anyone anything (including groceries for myself for the next month). If I don't go, I can probably get a gift or two for my roommate and the intern at work (my roommate is my co-worker). However, I don't really know who they are or what they would want. How do you buy gifts for people you don't really know? Other than work, we share nothing in common -- we're completely different in every respect.

I looked for gifts for them all weekend, but I don't want to buy a gift just to buy a gift. I want to find a perfect gift for them, and I am completely lost. I think I usually go into debt this time of year, and this year, I'm really trying to stay out of that trap. The work situation looks dismal, and it won't be better while GWB is in office. I still can't afford to go to law school, and my book remains unpublished, so things are really tight. Knowing me, though, I'll go out and hunt for gifts until I find just the right thing for everyone... I can't resist the Christmas spirit!

08 December 2007

Foggy and 72?

This morning didn't dawn until 9am -- I know because I was on the beach in dense fog by 0600. Two opposing bank signs, on either side of the road on the drive to Perdido Key indicated it was either 68 or 72 when I passed them just before 6 this morning. Isn't it December? Wasn't it about 30 two nights ago? No wonder I feel sick!

It's still rather foggy now at lunch time, and likely will be all day. Tomorrow, they're calling for a high near 80. Just wish this weather would last!

05 December 2007

The Plover Cafe and the North Shore Hoodlums

Today is piping plover survey day -- we do them on the north shore of our three beach areas the 5th, 15th and 25th of every month (+/- 2 days). I was at Santa Rosa today, which is undoubtedly the best!

On the mudflat just east of Opal Beach, there were at least 50 plovers -- Snowy, Piping, Semipalmated and Black Bellied. I kept losing count, unsure of which I'd already seen and which had run across my field of view again and again.

This picture isn't very clear (I still need that 300mm zoom), but it gives an idea of how many were running around.

At least one of the snowy plovers was the bully of the north shore -- he, she or they would swoop down on feeding piping plovers, scaring them into flight. One really scrawny snowy plover bent down low to the ground, as if creating an avian battering ram. He, or she, then sprinted towards the feeding piping plovers til they ran or flew. It was pretty gutsy for the little guys to fight like that!

Here's one charging...

And the big piping plovers flying away in fear, or is it annoyance at the skinny little SNPL that's charging them?

One angry plover was loaded down with "jewelry". I wonder how the extra weight changes the flight, running ability and feeding demands of this hollow-boned little beauty.

The chatter of the plovers was constant, as they were dipping into the mud, searching for food. I stood still at the edge as they swooped, ran and fed around me, learning to accept and ignore my benign presence. It was really an amazing day! What sad thoughts can occupy your mind when you're stuck in a gaggle of gossiping plovers?

04 December 2007

Freezing in the Florida Fall

It's 35 degrees this morning. I don't know how low it got last night, but this is ridiculous! Winter doesn't start for three more weeks, and I'm at the beach in Florida. Isn't there a law against that? Maybe I need to move back to Antigua. Suddenly, the pay there seems much more appealing!

I'm not sure what the day will bring yet -- I'm headed out to one of my favorite spots in the park at Perdido Key to try to count plovers. I really should go to Santa Rosa, but maybe I'll have time for that this afternoon. Santa Rosa always has TONS of plovers, even the endangered piping plover on it's wintering feeding grounds. The road crews out on that section make it a little less fun though -- I'm used to being about the only person on the seven mile stretch. Now, I have an audience of a hundred every time I go to the beach to do my job. They must think I'm nuts, riding around on my ATV in the rain, in the wind, in the red tide. I am nuts, because after that, I'll go for a manicure. I am one complicated little woman.

03 December 2007

The Day of Blue Green Clay

Well, today was my day off and I finally had the time to get my hair done. It's been so neglected in all the fuss and bother of sea turtle nesting season, red tide, red tide strandings, etc. I was so embarrassed when I walked in -- it had been six months since I last saw Saiko, and I couldn't make it to her salon (in Delaware) so I had to visit one here in Florida. Not a good way to make a positive first impression!

I realized, a few months ago, that my hair got tangled in the metal grating of the mule everytime I drove it on the beach. I actually had to work to free my ponytail a few times before I wised up and braided it. It ruined my ends... Six months in the the sun, salt and intense sunlight wasn't good for my color either. What a mess! It's a good thing I've been able to wear a hat lately!

The fashion gods are already laughing at me due to my lack of winter wardrobe. I wonder what they think about my hair. I am a huge fashion don't these days, and that's so not who I am. I'm debating driving all the way to Delaware to pick up some of my winter classics, but I really dread the drive. I think I dread being such a dud all winter even more -- I love my cashmere sweaters, my pashminas, my boots and winter coat collection, my fall and winter fun pants (lots of Alica and Olivia quirkiness for weekends!). For now, I'm stuck with Park Service green and some diesel and seven for all mankind jeans. What's a girl to do? At least an hour with a vibrant blue green clay hair mask, the color of the local sea, took care of the hair problem!

29 November 2007

Another Stranding...

There was yet another stranding today. Sabrina Bowen came out from NOAA to help me. We did a pretty complete necropsy and reviewed some of our recent strandings. The one we had Saturday, the Dwarf Sperm Whale, was pregnant. How sad.

There's really not much to say; the red tide continues to take it's toll on the marine life in the area. The best we can do is learn as much as possible from each stranding.

It was great to spend time with someone who does this all the time -- I finally felt like I was really learning EXACTLY what we're supposed to do. Onward and upward!

28 November 2007

Gopher Tortoises and Sea Turtle Friendly Lighting

We spent most of today traipsing through the woods in an endless search for gopher tortoises. We did actually find one new burrow, about 15 feet off the trail, and not buried under fallen trees, Smilax vines etc.

We finally got in to talk to people about lighting! We've set a few ideas in motion regarding the whole project, and I'm starting to feel as if I know what's happening. Not really, but it's a start.

27 November 2007

Tangled Gull Anyone?

I spent most of the day today searching for a gull tangled in fishing line. Thankfully, I also had time to do a south shore bird survey and replace about 20 poles on the road, otherwise, my day would have seemed fruitless. I couldn't find the bird...

I did find this lovely tug and barge set up nosed onto the north shore, however. I wonder how they plan to get off later?

25 November 2007

The Weekend has Arrived...

I was a little wrong about yesterday. We did spend a few hours on the boat, looking for hunters in the Santa Rosa area of the park. We had to pull the boat from the water a little early though as law enforcement called to let us know about a whale stranding on Pensacola Beach.

We're still not sure if it's a Pygmy or a Dwarf Sperm whale -- we're waiting on genetics from s skin sample. There were pleats in the lower jaw, typical of a dwarf spermwhale, but the dorsal fin didn't seem quite right. There weren't enough teeth still in the lower jaw to determine, and it's length fit both species, so all we know is that it's a Kogia spp.

There's a storm brewing today -- the skies are gray and cloudy, and there's a cold front moving in. Though it's only 10 degrees above freezing, we're supposed to have severe thunder storms today and tonight. It seems so surreal!

24 November 2007

Flowers and Trees

I really meant to post this yesterday... I spent a fanastic work day on Perdido Key, doing bird surveys, searching for coyote and fox dens and just having a blast. I took so many pictures! The beach was a symphony of sound and color.

There were cloud-flowers:

and fallen trees:

tree rattles in small groups (these came out a little fuzzy as they were shaking in the north wind):

and in thunderous chorus:

a green "Dr. Seuss" tree:

and sea oat whistles:

Christmas trees:

and Christmas colors:

fields of gold:

and plants of wind-blown lace:

Holly berries:

crashing waves:

and brilliant sunshine.

That almost looks like a well-decorated tree... It's amazing what you see when you're looking up at the skylight instead of down at these feet of clay.

The seven mile beach was practically empty due to the chilly weather, but that made it even better!

Today, I'm going out in the boat with my boss, Mark, to survey hunters on Perdido and Santa Rosa. It's only 42, so it's going to be quite a wake-up call!

Make a wish...

21 November 2007

Happy Day

I can't believe it's been almost three weeks since I posted! I've been so bogged down with negativity at work, uncertainty about whether to accept the offer to stay, ad infinitum, that I forgot to take pictures and post. Even a few minutes in the field with my camera capturing in interesting cloud formation, a butterfly or a new plant pushing through the hurricane debris, lifts my spirits tremendously. Makes me wonder why I don't remember to do so on a daily basis!

That said, I have almost 200 random pictures from the last three weeks that I'll post some of over the next few days.

For now, I'm just posting this great cloud in a beautiful blue sky. It's raining today, and the red tide is back, so this cheers me up!

OK, I lied -- these sea stars washed up on Fort Pickens last week in a mild red tide. The images were just priceless. I really need to get a good camera.

02 November 2007

Picture Day

Fall is here, momentarily, the red tide has dissipated, and the day dawned clear and bright. It was still winter weather, for me, til about 10am, but it was gorgeous by 2 -- in the high seventies, with lots of sun, sea breezes and great birds and flowers everywhere. For some reason, I took lots of pictures looking up -- the sky was just stunning. After a week tromping through the forest trimming fire trails and gopher tortoise fencing, it was great to be back on the beach!

The Spanish Bayonet is in bloom at Fort Pickens. It's rare to find it, and there are several in a clump by the old fort. It's so much fun to wander around there now -- most of the post-Ivan repairs are complete, but the road is still breached in two places so few visitors venture out to the fort. The 14 mile round-trip hike is a little much, even in the cooler fall weather. Here's some of what they're missing:

I don't know what this is, but I seem to be attracted to yellow flowers. Maybe it's my constant need for a pick-me-up, to try to see the brighter side of things. I need it especially now that my job is ended (thanks GWB...). Somehow, things always work out for the best -- and sights like these help me believe it when things seem scary.

I think this may be a variety of holly. There are two in the region -- the thorny American Holly that's a Christmas staple, and the unthorned Yaupon Holly, which is abundant in the sandy forests of the south. Legends indicate that native Americans used holly berries (Ilex vomitoria) to poison their enemies -- if you eat enough, you can get quite a bellyache!

The birds were out in force today too. A few days ago, I announced, to no one in particular in the office, that I wanted to see an avocet. Today, I saw six! There were black bellied plovers, sanderlings, and assorted other peeps in attendance as well.

As always, the stately Egrets and Great Blue Herons stopped by as well... I can never resist taking a picture when they're around. Wish it were a more attractive marsh, but it's a new wetland, courtesy of Ivan and Dennis, that's still maturing. Hurricanes can help maintain wetlands, prevent them from being developed, and create habitat for all these lovely animals.

It's wonderful to see how well the shorebirds and migrating waterfowl utilize the new habitat. I wonder what will happen to them when the road re-opens.

31 October 2007

Happy Halloween!

It's been a very strange day here, and a strange few weeks. We're still getting lots of strandings, though now it's marine mammals and sea turtles -- I had one today at Perdido Key. I lost my keys in the sand, nearly got in an accident, got hit in the face with some high speed black flies (courtesy of added ATV forward motion), got chased by a brown pelican, and generally, had an eerie experience in places...

This is a sad photo -- I never put strandings on here, and that seems odd as I spend so much time on them lately. This turtle had no apparent injuries or anomalies -- likely, it was just a victim of the red tide. It's a respiratory irritant for them too. This loggerhead (Caretta caretta) was about the fifth turtle in ten days.

Yesterday, we had a live stranding of a snapping turtle on the north shore at Fort Pickens. His eye was injured, and he was in too salty a place to survive, but these are hardy critters, so we just moved it to a brackish marsh near the old fort. Our fingers were the major concern -- these turtles will snap one off if you place a hand too close to it's jaws!

A great blue heron on the north shore of Perdido today had nothing better to do than pose for the camera, so I got a few good pics. They do seem to pose professionally at times.

Otherwise, life isn't very Halloweeny today...

26 October 2007

A Full Moon Morning

I slept late today -- I didn't get up til 6! It's weird to say that... Once I did finally greet the chilly day, I regreted staying abed so long -- the stars and full moon in the crisp pre-dawn air were gorgeous. I really long for my cashmere collection though -- next month, when I'm back in Delaware, I know I'll wish I was still here... Strange how I can never fully appreciate the moment I'm in. I'll have to work on that.

24 October 2007

It's Raining Sunlight

It didn't rain today, though fall arrived overnight. Temperatures dropped thirty degrees, and the high was in the 50s. Anyone who saw me on the beach must have thought I was nuts in my sweatshirt, three raincoats and borrowed winter jacket. I don't do cold well... I can take a desert in the summertime, but anything below 80 really chills my bones. Even the sky looks cold.

The red tide is still apparent, but very much lessened. I could see and breathe on the beach after six hours, though I was a little numb from the cold. There have been no new dead fish today, and only one dead dolphin yesterday. That's bound to happen for a while still as the effects make their way up the food chain. It just breaks my heart every time I have to necropsy a dead marine mammal or sea turtle. My one consolation is knowing that the person assessing them, me, is someone who really cares about the sea and the health of the animals in it.

The birds were out in full force -- it was a great day to be back on the beach, as long as you're dressed for the face-numbing north wind. Even the sanderlings were huddled together for warmth. Any venturing out on their own for a little food were fluffed up and bent over like hunchbacks, bracing against the breeze. Taking field notes with unfeeling fingers was difficult -- it's a good thing no one reads my notebook but me!

It seems odd to have autumn without the leaves changing and falling to the ground. The palm fronds simply bow to the north wind, the birds huddle for warmth and the sand and wind whip along the bay, but that's all that announces the arrival of a new season. Fall doesn't last long here in the deep south, but it's a welcome change from the red tide weather of last week!

International Coastal Clean-Up!

The 2008 Coastal Clean-Up on Santa Rosa Island was a great success, but we can work together to make everyday a Coastal Clean-up Day... Help us keep our beaches beautiful!

For details on the 2009 coastal clean-up efforts in Pensacola or in your area, or other ways you can help, click here.

Hello World!

Hello World!
Which way to the sea?