29 February 2008

Prescribed Burns

Having grown up with Smokey Bear's "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires" campaign, it seems strange that we now burn the forests on purpose, though I do understand the ecology and logic behind the choice. Since winds, humidity and weather are favorable this week, the Gulf Islands National Seashore is burning about 260 acres of area loaded with debris from recent hurricanes.

Fires are extensively planned for months. Teams of fire fighting and management experts have descended on the park to monitor the event.

Fire areas are outlined and surveyed for suitability before the first fire is ignited. Public safety is a primary concern for all involved. The sandy path here is actually a hiking trail, but it serves as a fire break as well.

The smoke generated can be pretty extensive!

Some of the fire plots this week were ignited using a helicopter, dropping fire into the forest.

These fires are necessary as the local habitat is a fire maintained ecosystem. Fires occur naturally here, and help maintain healthy long leaf and live oak forests. The planned fires, and even natural fires, occur often enough that they don't generate enough heat to kill mature trees, but they do clear out the underbrush and dead and down trees. Having these prescribed burns prevent larger, more damaging fires that can occur during prolonged droughts here in the Florida panhandle.

I'm not on the team, but I really don't mind. All that smoke inhalation doesn't sound like a lot of fun!

27 February 2008

Winter is Back

Winter came back with a vengeance today. With the flowers blooming and the birds changing to their breeding plumage, I was hoping winter was finally gone. The 30 degree morning, with a 20 mile an hour north wind eliminated that hope!

Still, it was quite beautiful on the beach. I headed to Santa Rosa for the day and enjoyed seeing parts of the north shore I'd never seen before. The north wind and cold weather seem to make some really low tides here.

The south shore was a blur as blowing sand from the dunes to the north was reshaping the beach, right before my eyes.

I understand the transient nature of barrier islands, but I'm still awed by the power of nature each time I see it in action. Change happens much more quickly than we imagine!

Even forests tend to move on these brutal shifting land masses. Some die from salt water inundation and wind...

While others start anew on fresh blown sands forming new real estate.

26 February 2008

Freaky Weather

Tuesday is my Monday, and I look forward to getting back to work each week. Today is the second to last day of the piping plover survey for February 25th, so I had a choice between two beaches to complete - Perdido Key or Santa Rosa. Since the weather looked iffy, I chose Perdido. Perdido takes less time as there are rarely any piping plovers there; Santa Rosa sometimes has more than a dozen.

It was a weird ride over. It started out a little drizzly til I reached the three mile bridge. The sun came out and shone on the wind tossed Pensacola Bay as I made the drive over. By the time I reached Joe Patti's, a few miles from the bridge, it was gray and stormy looking again. It continued to just be cloudy and windy the rest of the twenty mile drive.

Murphy's Law seemed to apply as soon as I reached the Perdido Key area of the park. The rain came and the wind blew, as I sat in my truck, watching new dunes shift across the roadway. Should I stay and see if it clears up, or turn around and head to the office? I had driven too far to just give up, so I read a little J.D. Salinger and waited for the rain to stop -- I'll stay out in the rain, but there was no point in starting until the rain stopped.

Within half an hour, the rain stopped. I got ready as fast as possible and headed to the north shore, not even stopping to talk to people as I wanted to get the survey done before the rain started again. The wind had died, and the weather seemed calm. I started my survey, and was happy I'd waited instead of going back to Naval Live Oaks.

By the time I was four miles into the survey, the sun was shining brightly and the clouds were drifting away. It was almost too warm for all my rain gear, but i wasn't going to get caught -- I'd stay in the gear. I stopped for a brief time at Spanish Cove to take pictures -- some of the beach plants were blooming again!

As I was trying to get some shots from underneath the plants, the clouds started moving in from the north again, and the winds blew fiercely, pushing me to the sand. I took a few more pictures and put my camera into my waterproof bag -- it was time to finish the seven mile stretch and get back to dry ground.

The rain came swift and sure, but it was refreshing. As the rains came and went, the warm, stiff breeze dried me off. For the next three hours, that's how my day went - pouring rain soaking me to the skin, brisk breezes drying me off, in an endless cycle. Rain is so much nicer when the weather isn't cold!

22 February 2008

No Photos Today

Today started with a heavy fog, warm and soupy. It was kind of nice at 5am -- no chill in the air, a still calm, the scent of summer in the humid air. It looked like a promising start to the day. After checking the weather to see that the radar looked clear, I headed out to the beach. Rain was in the forecast, but that is wrong so often that I took advantage of the relatively rain-free morning.

I'm glad I went out at dawn. The beach was cool and damp, with flocks of shorebirds silently awaiting my approach. I finally found 'my' Bonaparte's Gulls -- I hadn't seen them at Fort Pickens or Perdido Key and was worried they may have left for their breeding grounds while I was in Delaware. They really are elegant for gulls, and that's saying quite a lot!

I tried to doa bird survey on Santa Rosa yesterday, but was completely rained out -- I couldn't see five feet in front of my face. Today was a little better. The fog made things difficult at first -- my glasses and my binoculars both collected thick screens of condensation until the sun finally burned through the fog around 9. I was pretty optimistic, and with good reason. I actually finished the entire 7 mile south shore before night fell again... As I neared the Navarre gate, the sky turned black as a new moon night, and the rain started again. At first, it was soft, large drops that plopped gently against my hat and rain gear. By the time I completed my survey and headed to the post-Ivan blacktop remnants, the rain had taken on the qulaity of flying nails, cutting through my cap, my layers of raingear and finding sneaky ways around my glasses. The nearest shelter, open-sided picnic pavilions at Opal Beach, were three miles across open beach, lit with lightning and pelted with shards of windblown rain. It was summer again.

After nearing Opal Beach, I decided to keep going to my truck, another 4 miles away at the west gate. I had coffee and a heater in there! The rain gentled along the way and the warm winds helped dry me off. Warm rain is so much nicer than the icy winter rains of the past few months. I almost didn't mind being soaked :) After spending a few mind-numbing hours cleaning up data at the office, I really wished I had toughed out the rain and stayed on the beach, at least until the thunder made my boss hunt me down.

Tomorrow looks lovely -- maybe I can get the north shore finished then!

20 February 2008

Another Day in Paradise

It was a stunning day in the park, cloudy in the morning and clearing by noon. Even the clouds were happy though... It was a great day to be a ranger.

The pelicans agreed. What a great life they have, floating on the thermals and hanging out on the beach, lazily reaching for a fish when they're hungry.

Barnacles had washed up on the west point, in sight of a pod of feeding dolphin.

Tellins and other clams dotted last night's high tide line.

Too bad most tourists don't walk this far in their quest for souvenirs.

Even the ghost crabs came out to play.

The only dark spot were the numerous tire tracks over the dunes west of the Ranger Station. I don't know who was driving in such sensitive areas, or if they're aware of how destructive that is for the beach. Without healthy dunes, there is no island, no defense for the mainland, and no place to play in the gulf.

I'd rather see the beautiful sea and sky on foot than destroy it with reckless behavior. This place is a gift for all of us. Maybe you'll come share it someday soon too.

19 February 2008

Back at the Park

My week off was rather stressful, and the drive was really long, but it was worth it to see family and friends up in the frigid north. I'm so grateful to be back at work though -- how many people can say that? It seemed as if even the trees welcomed me back with open arms.

It was great to see Gabe and the dogs -- I promised not to post any more pics since I took them before anyone was dressed for the day. Megh may pay me back for that one day!

I spent my first day back at Perdido Key, counting the birds and surveying the coasts for turtle and marine mammal strandings. All is well, at least at PK -- I'll check out the rest tomorrow and Thursday.

While there were no strandings, there were lots of fun things on the beach.



and a bouquet -- there must have been a wedding on the beach!

I missed being here -- at times, it seems like a selfish thing, to work at a job I love so much, but I'm still here. I appreciate the peace and beauty of this place -- it is truly a wonderful gift.

18 February 2008

Driving through the South

Driving from Delaware to North Carolina was uneventful -- I've taken that drive dozens of times. The drive from North Carolina to Pensacola was a little harder. I was ready to call home and cry by the time I arrived at the Florida/Alabama border. It's such a depressed area. If you're born here, and want to grow beyond the borders, how do you find the resources?

Just some random thoughts as I was passing through...

As I was getting ready to arrive in the Atlanta area, I was looking for a good way around it. Interstate 285 isn't good, nothing really is. The best way through Atlanta is through Atlanta. Much like life -- the fastest way is best, even if it may be painful.

After leaving Atlanta, I headed further south on 85 towards Lower Fayetteville Road, I drove over the crest of the hill. It seemed as if there was cross traffic on the interstate. In reality, it was an overpass, visually lowered by it's placement at the foot of the hill.

The raw and bleeding red clay earth exposed beneath floating docks in north Georgia stood as testament to the crippling drought in the region. How much is too much? When do we learn that the earth has limits, and we're rapidly approaching them? The parched, normally teeming lakes were a poignant reminder of our reliance on a healthy ecosystem and our responsibility to help maintain it.

The Florabama border was truly the most depressing though. The Police said it best -- "Another industrial ugly morning, the factory belches filth into the sky". The only difference here is that it was close to sunset. The factory smoke must create some vibrant pinks, reds and yellows in the dying light, but what a price to pay. How does breathing that air affect your health? It can't be good.

It sounds like a I had a dreary trip, but I didn't. I watched the seasons change as I drove, from snow in Delaware to budding trees in Atlanta. Strangely, Florida wasn't in bloom. I wonder if that had to do with the factories, or if Atlanta had an early spring due to the drought. It was good distraction from everything I had on my mind. I'm looking forward to spending a day on the beach tomorrow, clearing all the cobwebs and dust from my soul. It should be a great day!

12 February 2008


I definitely know I'm not in Florida -- it started snowing while I was getting my hair cut this morning. It's great to be home, but I wish it was about twenty degrees warmer -- that's not too much to ask for mid-February!

And yes, Aunt Liz, part of the reason I'm in Delaware is to get my hair cut. A very small part, but it's a benefit to being here...

10 February 2008

Homeward Bound

I'm leaving Florida for a week, which is tough as the weather has been gorgeous lately. I need to see my mom and my uncle, to really see how they're coping with recent changes. Along the way, I'll get a chance to see my sister, Megh, and her family. It will be great to be with family again, even if it's only for a short while...

05 February 2008

Message in a Bottle

I wasn't going to post today, but it was such an extraordinary day that I have to write. It was 68 this morning when I woke up, and foggy for hours. It felt great to be back on the beach enjoying it instead of shivering in pain, just trying to get my job done. I forgot what it was like to not hurt. In all, it was a pretty fun day!

I started the day doing a piping plover survey on Santa Rosa. The birds were hard to identify in fog so thick it made it impossible to wear my glasses, and nearly impossible to use my binoculars, but it was warm and that made all the difference in the world!

It was easy to see this wasn't a bird:

While trying to find my way around some dead trees west of Opal Beach, I ran into scattered piles of rusty metal.

The Navy used to use the park as a firing range, dropping bomblets from planes post WWII. These remains and unexploded shells may not be very dangerous, but I worry about all the tourists that visit the park, not knowing its history, so I called law enforcement.

DOD is out in the park now cleaning up the beach. I wonder how many park employees and others walked by before I did. Why didn't it get noticed and taken care of earlier? I'm hoping it was simply uncovered by recent wind activity and that no one would choose to ignore this stuff. ***

Once I got to Fort Pickens, I knew things would be better til I ran into this. You can't tell, but it's a dead dolphin:

A crazy great blue heron claimed a perch on an osprey pole:

A sunken boat emerged from the sands:

And a bottle was cast ashore on the Gulf coast -- that was the best part of the day! At first, I thought it was just trash in the bottle.

I spent a little time working on it, and uncorked this memory from the glass time capsule:

The picture itself was pretty old -- a fuzzy black and white with the blue ribbon photo-shopped into the image. The bathing suits also seem more modest and less colorful than what we wear today.

I wish I knew where the bottle went in the water. The cork reads 2006, so I know the message isn't very old, but it would be fun to learn where it came from!

Where are these young swimmers now?

*** The DOD responded and destroyed these remnants in a controlled explosion that same afternoon. I hope that's the last of those remains in the park!

04 February 2008

Shoreline Park

The weather here was springlike again today. Highs reached the mid-seventies before the skies clouded up in the early afternoon. It was great to have such a beautiful day to just be...

I haven't spent much time exploring where I live since I'm always out and about at work. I decided it was time to change that, at least while it's warm enough to enjoy being outdoors.

This is such a peaceful place to live. Sitting on the dock, listening to the water lapping underneath soothed all the raw edges off my too-many-cups-of-coffee-this-morning nerves.

A young girl walking with her mother identified these yellow thorny blossoms as dewberries. I haven't seen them before, so I'm looking forward to seeing the fields in bloom, and tasting a new fruit. They're the same genus as raspberries, so they must be edible!

I don't remember seeing flowers on the raspberry bushes at home as a child, but then, I may not have been looking for anything until the berries arrived. Odd that I do remember seeing flowers on the blackberries...

I can't resist taking pictures of the tree beside my car when I pop out of it. I still don't know what this is, but it's beautiful!

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?