30 January 2008

Happy Birthday!

I thought I heard rain this morning when I awoke, but it was just a very brisk breeze in the cabbage palms, scratching against each other and batting at the roof. Rain was in the forecast yesterday, but the clouds seemed to remember it's my birthday, so they're waiting til tomorrow.

I walked out to a crisp, clear sky with a crescent moon, the Big Dipper and a host of other stars. I may have spilled my tea and had to go to work, but it's still a great start to the day. Plus, drying mint tea on my car floor was pretty good! As a gift to myself, I decided to spend the day at Perdido Key -- one of my favorite places in the park.

I used to say Perdido was my favorite place til I stopped to think -- every part of the park is my favorite for a different reason.

There's the fire compound at NLO. There are so many flowers and plants, and I've only found half of them so far.

Santa Rosa has tons of birds.

On days when the road crew isn't there, I love to go survey the north shore, knowing I'll find a wide variety of plovers, some yellow legs, rails, willets, and an unpredictable assortment of song birds flitting through the marshes and remnant maritime forest (there's very little post-Ivan).

Fort Pickens has such a variety! There's Three Ponds...

There are huge stands of sand and long leaf pine,

forest hammocks, dune meadows, (this dune meadow was obviously last spring!)

open beach and the old fort.

With the differing landscape, there's a lot to hold your attention for hours. On rainy days, there are lots of places to find shelter too.

Fort Pickens also has avocets from time to time -- they're such elegant birds!

Perdido is just stunning. The dunes there are recovering well from recent hurricane activity, and the endless expanse of beach at the roads end is a great escape.

It's a monarch migration route...

A hotspot for egrets and herons...

And a popular dolphin feeding grounds. I borrowed this picture from a park visitor, Gene Bond, who shared lots of his photos with the park, hoping they'd help the park's mission ro protect these stunning places.

It's a great venue to watch the Blue Angels practice too, though they can get a little loud sometimes. I'm blessed to have a job I love so much!

29 January 2008

Highlights for Children Hidden Object...

How many Great Blue Herons do you see here?

On such a gray day, it's really hard to pick them out from amongst the branches, isn't it?

I checked on the Great Blue Heron rookery near the fort at Pickens today after my shore bird survey. Every time I thought I was done with my count, another bird took flight as it was startled by a sound, except for this one stoic mama. I have to wonder if she already has eggs in that nest!

There were tons of birds on the north shore, but hardly any on the south. Murphy's Law, since today was a south shore count. Check out my favorite gulls, the little Bonaparte's Gull, hanging out with some ducks. I love the dark winter cheek patch reminiscent of their small breeding season hoods.

The pelicans were holding court on the new pier at the Ranger Station. Can't wait til we can reopen our office there!

Strangely, this group of daisies was on the tide line at the west end -- you never know what will wash in on the tide.

With the freezing temperatures over the last few nights, these have to be fairly fresh. I wonder if someone tossed them overboard.

The ducks didn't seem too chilled by the recent cold snap. After about 5 weeks of hunting, they seem very skittish -- who could blame them? It's Darwinian survival at its best.

As soon as I returned to the fire cache, Mark sent me out to The Dock on Pensacola Beach to check out some 'oil' on the beach.

After looking it over, we think it's some kind of egg or larval marine form, but we really need a dissecting scope to see these a little better.

They almost blend in with the sand!

Anyone know what they are? The color reminds me of all the Portuguese Man O'War we've had recently, though they are smaller than any of them I've seen. We had raisin-size ones a few weeks ago, but not anything as small as a grain of sand.

Even a gray day here is stunning -- check out the Gulf of Mexico.

Guess you can tell I'm feeling better about my uncle. The surgery went well and he should be home in two weeks. I can't believe how stressful it is to watch someone you love go through all of that!

28 January 2008

Chickens in the Yard

Today was my day off, so there's no park related news. Hunting season is over though, so no more dark, cold days on the marsh. My freezing fingers and cheeks are very grateful!

Our back yard neighbors were really happy to see I was home for the day. I think they had a little more food than they are used to -- I can't resist feeding them!

They make me feel like I'm back in Key West, though these birds are much healthier than the crazy chickens there!

27 January 2008

Can the Wind be a Color? Can You Photograph a Sound?

Today was yet another chilly hunting survey with all the smart hunters home in bed. The cold weather has been very good for the ducks!

I have a lot of random thoughts when riding down the beach on my ATV. My wandering mind helps me forget that I'm in danger of hypothermia... If the wind can have a color, today it was gray.

I had my camera out for random beach photos today and paused by a snow fence. The sound of the wind and blowing sand running along the length of the fence made me pause. The shucka-schuka-schuka of sand hitting the fresh wood and the wind rattling the slats and wire are impossible to replicate.

I don't carry a recorder with me, just my camera - I guess I could have filmed it for a few seconds, but the waves would have been louder than this gentle rhythm. Why can't we see sound? Certainly it would be visible if we could see the sound waves.

The road project is well underway at Opal Beach, which is why there's so much sand fence around. It's a symbolic fence placed at intervals to define the corridor for all the construction vehicles. The road should be open within the next few months. I wonder how the birds will react.

Someone sailing at the Santa Rosa area had a pretty bad day recently -- this boat is very firmly aground, and looks a bit worse for wear. Who do you call when you need to tow a boat? Does SeaTow handle things this well ashore? This boat is in far too fragile an area to reach it by land -- I can ride an ATV down this beach at low tide, but at high tide, it's all marsh. My ATV certainly is no match for this lovely boat anyway.

When I arrived back at the office to thaw for a few minutes, my sister called -- they're taking my uncle in for his bypass and carotid artery surgery as I write this. I thought it would be later this week, but my uncle is happy it's today -- waiting was really hard for him. I expect to have good news late this evening.

26 January 2008

Clover and Gracie

Another cold, rainy Saturday at the office inspired me to go check on our two live strandings from this year -- meet the girls...

Clover is a green sea turtle with dislocated hips and a broken pelvis. When Mark and his sons rescued her, she was tiny and dark green.

Jennifer, Monica and I took her to the Gulfarium for rehab that very day. In the seven or eight months she's been in Destin, she's doubled in size, and lightened a lot in color. They're not sure what's causing that -- they are modifying her diet to see if they can change it. They may try to correct her badly healed hip/pelvis injury at Mote Marine Lab, but haven't yet. That will determine whether or not she is 'permanently disabled' and unreleasable.

Gracie, a large female Kemp's ridley, lost a flipper and had some severe cuts from fishing line entanglement. She was covered in barnacles, algae, worms and other marine organisms.

Grace Periera and her family brought the turtle to the Coast Guard Station in Pensacola on New Years Eve, where Jennifer and I picked her up for evaluation and care. Gracie is now doing very well -- she's swimming eight hours a day in a heated pool, diving and resting a lot. The staff at the Gulfarium removed her barnacle load (it can slow down a turtle!) so her carapace is clean and clear. So far, she's refusing to eat and is about ten pounds underweight for a Kemp's of her size. We're hoping she'll be released and continue nesting for many more years.

The people at the Gulfarium are wonderful! They always willingly take on any injured sea turtle or dolphin we rescue from the park or Pensacola Beach. What a fantastic resource! This lovely loggerhead is another animal they're caring for after a boat strike damaged her carapace. As a permanently disabled turtle, she'll be a permanent resident at the Gulfarium. They deserve all of our support for the great work they do!

25 January 2008

What's This Strange Thing in the Sky?

There was a very bright white thing in the sky today. After days of rain and bone-chilling gray winds, I almost forgot what a sunny day looked like. With the worry and stress of this week, the weather fit my mood. It was wonderful to see such a good omen today though as my uncle finally has his cardiac cath and we get a better idea of how things will proceed from here.

I missed a lot of great photos today, but the birds were still great therapy after a heart-wrenching week. There was a plump little piping plover bullying the snowy plovers on a mudflat near the asphalt mountain. I couldn't capture him as he raced around, flapping wings and diving at other birds, seeming to claim his territory. In a calm moment, he might have looked like this plover, but he was more sleek and pudgy:

Two lesser yellowlegs were hanging out near the asphalt pile too -- Mark doesn't believe they're still here, but I see them every week... One of them wrestled with a small fish while I watched -- it's strange to see a fish travel down the birds neck!

I didn't have my camera out to capture the two bald eagles at the west end of Fort Pickens today either. I'll still take it as another sign from above that all will be well at home.

I promise to get back to more Park and sea turtle based discussions soon!

21 January 2008

Moving Day

Jennifer left for her new USDA job on Thursday, which left me hanging around for just a few more days. I moved out today to a place in Gulf Breeze Proper. I still think I should just sign a lease and get my own place, but I'm worried that I may leave sooner than planned, especially since my Mom's twin, Paul, had a heart attack on Sunday. I feel a real need to be closer to my Mom in case she needs someone to lean on, or someone to drive :)

I've only met one of my new roommates, but he seems really nice. Everyone's running around today because of the MLK holiday, so it was a good day to move. I didn't know if anyone was here when I arrived and all the bedroom doors were closed, so I tried to move in silently -- it's not as easy as it sounds! Doors slam, books tumble to the ground, over packed boxes break. It wasn't until I'd left and returned with my second (and last) car load that I realized no one was home... I can be overly considerate!

I still haven't finished unpacking -- my largest suitcases are still in my car. At a minimum, I need to put together a few boxes to take to Delaware on my next trip north. Given the news of this weekend, I think that trip will occur as soon as I speak with my boss tomorrow,. No point in unpacking those suitcases just to take them back to Delaware.

Sorry there's no park or nature news here, other than the gorgeous flowers out front of my new home -- it's just a day to move.

19 January 2008

Underwater Again

Every time Mark schedules me for a hunting survey, it's an underwater hunt for hunters. As I woke at 0430, I could hear the gentle wash of rain against the cabbage palm outside my window. It's a soothing sound on those rare days when I can stay home with some hot tea and a good book, but there aren't many of them! If I were less enamored with my job, I would have rolled over and called in sick. I am such a geek!

I tried to dawdle at the office, hoping that either the rain would clear or the temperature would rise with the sun. Neither seemed to be in Mother Nature's plans today, so I loaded an ATV, hopped in a truck and headed to Santa Rosa. Arriving at that park area, I was immediately soaked through when I unlocked the gate. No worries though -- with 14 miles of beach to cover, I was destined to be drenched anyway! There were, of course, no hunters. They were all at home, warm in bed. Smart men.

Perdido Key was the same story. At least the ATVs got a really good rinsing, and the ducks got a day off. Hunting in the park is only open until the 28th, so the season is almost over. I'll have to talk to Mark about his survey schedule -- maybe we should have just picked the days based on weather instead of trying to pre-plan.

The rest of my day is back to Pensacola Beach lighting. Since we can't just appeal to the public and get the lights changed, my new method is to personally invite all property managers and owners to one of our two upcoming Sea Turtle Lighting Conferences/Workshops, offer sea turtle talks and maybe some hatchling release invitations later in the season. Tourists love that stuff! My theory is that they'll have a harder time saying no to my face, and they certainly can't ignore me. I only have a short time left here and I have goals to meet. The turtle season last year was the worst ever -- there's no where to go but up, and I'm doing all I can to help make that upswing a reality.

Now that work is done, the sun still hasn't come out, but it's not raining. I think it's still a great day for a book -- I got two from Amazon yesterday: new sea turtle books from Frank Paladino and Carl Safina. I can't wait to snuggle up with a good read!

17 January 2008

Looking Up at the Gulf of Mexico

We finally finished the forest transects today, which was great! Yesterday, I thought I was going to get hypothermia, playing in the woods in 42 degree rain. It isn't so bad when you're moving, but when standing still, my joints were all freezing. It was impossible to write, especially while holding a metal clipboard... The seedling area had mushroomed from 24 trees last year to nearly a thousand, and every one had to be identified and measured in the driving rain. What fun! Today dawned gray and dreary, but there was no rain. When we arrived at PICL 8 (Pinus clausus plot 8), we were elated to see that it was so sparse. We finished the plot in three hours, after disturbing this patient woodpecker for the entire time.

Once we finished the plot, I abandoned Jennifer and Angela to do a PIPL (piping plover) survey on Fort Pickens. Drainage ditches from the rain yesterday made parts of the north shore completely impassable, and there were few birds and a dead beaver. I didn't even know we had beavers at Fort Pickens! The biggest adventure was just trying to find a way to drive an ATV down the beach. I failed to find safe passage past the buildings at Fort Pickes, so I had a pretty long walk to finish the survey -- it was a beautiful afternoon for a stroll and the walk helped me thaw a bit :)

I checked out the tree removal in the campgrounds and the trash removal at Battery Worth. The trash pile is just vanishing -- it was great to see the progress! It gives me hope that the park may indeed open again soon.

It's just amazing how much trash a storm throws up on the beach. It makes it very clear how much we consume, and dipose, in this society. There has to be a better way!

When passing by the road, I wondered how they were going to manage it. The surf was fairly large today, but was knocked down by the northerly winds. Even so, I could clearly look up to the Gulf of Mexico while riding along the road about three miles into the park. How can we build a permanent road that's not above sea level? Quite a challenge to maintain that one! It would be better for the turtles and the birds to just leave it as it is.

Riding back, the south beach was loose and wet and my ATV kept getting bogged down, so I decided to try the corridor -- bad choice! I managed to get the ATV sunk to the axle in more loose, wet sand. Eventually, one of the construction workers from the tree/trash removal came to the rescue. I'm a scrappy lady, but I can't pick up an ATV all alone. Next time, I'll stay on the beach!

In all, it was a fun day, though I still can't figure out what this was doing on the North shore...

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?