Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Stinkin' To High Heaven

B and I started our walk the other evening and could not help but notice a large bunch of buzzards flying high and not-so-high over our neighborhood. With a bit of work (they won't be still, you know), we determined there were approximately fifty of them.

It sounds likes a bad sign,  doesn't it?-- to see so many vultures in your neighborhood. Actually, we see an influx of turkey and black vultures during the winter and it is not all that uncommon to see the tree tops full of them as they warm themselves in the sun on a cool morning.

I remarked that they were being drawn by the stinkhorns (those crazy- looking orange fungi) that had popped up in the bulb/rose bed out near the street. You can see from the large magnolia leaf and the sweetgum leaves that they are not very big but


they smell horrible and it doesn't take much breeze to carry the odor. They definitely attract insects, especially flies, which are their pollinators. They get that green goo (spore slime) on their legs and spread it to other stinkhorns. The odor has been compared to that of carrion.  So why not attract buzzards? All fifty of them!


Clathrus columnatus is also known as octopus stinkhorn, deadman's fingers, and Devil's nose. I love those fanciful names. Beneath the mulched ground level is a white ball that reminds me of a turtle egg. It is actually called the egg of the stinkhorn and is the fungus at its earliest stage. The orange part grows from this.


The odor will last for days. We shovel up all that we find and carry them across the cul-de-sac to the woods.


The many frogs that live there just may appreciate a few extra bugs in their neighborhood.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Not Another Snake!

Earlier this morning, B tapped on the glass doors and indicated with hand signals that I should get my camera. When I got to him, he added, "And shoes!" He said there was a garter snake outside. My first thought was, "Another snake?" Then, "It's way too cold; it's 33 degrees," having dropped over 45 degrees last night. The third thought was, "Well, this one is for Kimberlee, who likes garter snakes and lives in No-Reptile-Land in northern Alaska."

Well, it turned out to be a glass lizard. (Sorry, Kimberlee.) It had found a warm spot for the night: the ashes from our burn pile where we burned some yard trash yesterday.


I don't think it was the same one as I encountered in October. This one has a round pattern on the top of its head that is absent in the pictures of the other one.


From the looks of its tail, it is in the process of regenerating a new one. It is lighter in color and has less pattern on it.



An earthworm also recognized the relative warmth and was bravely (or ignorantly) sharing the space with a critter that might well wake up a little more and have it for breakfast.


Overhead, crows were calling and a red-shouldered hawk perched in the sunny top of an oak, screaming a warning,



so I covered the glass lizard with a few more blackened pieces of wood so as not to tempt those birds to have it for breakfast.

Monday, December 29, 2008

One Last Snake For '08

Sunday was beautiful and we headed out for a quick walk around the block before lunch. Before we could get out of the driveway, I spotted what I expect will be the last snake of the year.

Can you find it?


How about here?


Is this better?


The camou is pretty amazing, isn't it? That and the fact that it is tiny! Here is its head peeking out from a magnolia leaf.


So here it is on the concrete --which is actually where I first found it. And you were marveling at my discriminating eyesight!

100_5794 It obliged us by crawling across the very page of the snake book that had one of its relatives shown. It is a Florida red-bellied snake, Storeria occipitomaculata obscura. It's name no doubt refers to its secretive life in leaf litter.


It crawled over B's hand.


Here is the head that helps to identify it.


The white spot under the round eye is a clue. If you look really carefully, you can see the large plate-like scales on the top of the head. There is also a lighter band around the neck. There are linear stripes down the body and the scales are keeled. This little guy was about 10 really skinny inches long and that is about average, with one record-breaker measuring in at 16 inches. They are burrowers and eat snails, slugs and earthworms. While we value the latter, we are glad to share all the snails and slugs it can find.

So considering all the different snakes I have encountered this year, I think this was a good one to go out with. Out of 2008, that is---not out on a date. Though I have been out with a snake or two when I was very young, but that is another story.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Wild Goose Chase

On Christmas Eve Eve (the 23rd), we found ourselves with a beautiful afternoon and a hankering to get even further from town and the bustle that is characteristic of that day.

So we headed down to the St. Marks lighthouse to see what we could see.

We had not gone far in the wildlife refuge when I spotted a solitary white bird walking on and grazing on a dike. We stopped and I identified it as a goose. I started to walk toward it, taking pictures as I went.



Of course it was aware of me and walked in the opposite direction, but did not seem overly concerned as it still fed some. We continued in this manner for quite a ways.


Finally, it had had enough of my encroachment and flew off over the marsh pool.



I sent a picture to my expert ornithologist. He was not able to say with certainty whether it was a Ross' goose or a snow goose. If it was a Ross', which I thought was the case, it was my first. Either way, these geese are not at all common here and it was a fun few minutes of enjoying a Christmas goose that was not on a platter.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Taste of Our Christmas

It has been a wonderful Christmas, culminating in my hometown with celebrations at both my sister's home and in the home of my parents and brother. The latter reside in the same house where I came home from the hospital when I was born. There are some roots in that sand in Polk County!

B makes great green beans and that was one of our contributions to Christmas Day dinner.


Here is a sampling of the cookies. I had baked all day one day this week and made four kinds that are traditional in our house.


The sons love my sweet potato casserole--topped with pecans, not marshmallows!-- so I made that.

Mama, who is 91 years young, made the yeast rolls: all 26 of them.

Here was the "kids' table." The kids are no longer kids but they got the porch table as it took three tables to seat everyone.


Those roots in the sand I mentioned are citrus roots. On Christmas Day, five went to family-owned (and maintained) groves to pick fruit.


One of our favorites is the pummelo. They are similar to grapefruit: pink on the inside and sweet. They are much larger than grapefruit and are a traditional food to celebrate the Chinese New Year.


So now we are back home and having to do some extra activities to burn up a few of those yummy, yummy calories.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Another Gator Grad

Two sons: two Gator graduates in four months.

Our younger son walked for his Bachelor's degrees in August.

Yesterday, we again served as the proud parents, witnessing our older son receive his Master's degree in Science from the School of Forestry at the University of Florida.

The words on his graduation hat are reflective of the focus of his thesis in fire ecology.


He completed the research and the coursework in two years to the month. He really stayed focused and made excellent grades and we could not be more proud.

His undergraduate degree was earned at Florida State University here in Tallahassee. For the benefit of anyone outside our state, UF and FSU are serious rivals. We could not resist taking him garnet and gold flowers (FSU's colors)  to remind him of his roots, so to speak.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Wish List

I recently attended a faculty meeting where participants were asked to write their responses to "All I Want For Christmas." Answers varied from winning the lottery to a safe delivery of a new baby to their own children getting along during the two week break. Aside from "whirled peas" (world peace) I was unable to come up with something to put down, so I didn't. But it got me thinking of some things I would like and the result is here, with this disclaimer: My mother is a poet, I merely write rhymes.

           Wish List

Tent with no leak

Bed with no squeak.

Attic with no mouse.

Order in our house.

Tub with no stain.

Back with no pain.

My umbrella, unbroken.

Ugly words, unspoken.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Moon and the Coon in the Tree

So this morning before I went to school, the door bell rang. This is such a rare occurrence but as I had heard the door close as B went out, I assumed it was he trying to get my attention. It worked. When I opened the door, I saw a large racoon on the hickory near the house. In the picture below, you can just barely see its head about head high.


The light was not quite bright enough and the flash did not reach, so the pictures vary some.

If you look carefully you can see the moon behind it.



But the flash reflecting in its eye looks similar to a full moon, too.


After a few minutes of eyeing each other, it decided to come down.


It was rather amusing to see it climbing down head first.



Then it righted itself....

(This one is furry and fuzzy; it was on the move)


and came on down.

It peeked around at us......


And decided it was time to move on.....


Through the garden, of course!


Saturday, December 13, 2008

If Bigger is Better, This is the Best

Last year, we did not get a Christmas tree up. We were in full preparation for the January wedding. We decorated and we celebrated, we just didn't get a tree up. Our six foot artificial tree of say a dozen years, had given up the ghost and so it went to Goodwill. I spent time looking before and after Christmas for a replacement, but have yet to find it, partly because the ones I have liked are in a price range I can not rationalize.

So this week, B and I picked a day before the rains arrived to go to a local Christmas tree farm to make our selection. We had been to this place a couple of years ago with the sons and had a good time. The process this time was much more low key--- but successful, none the less. This guy is trying to sell his sand pines that are not as popular as some of the other varieties and so he prices them twenty bucks, no matter the size.  Some have gotten too large for him to keep pruned, like the one we selected. It almost had a Charlie Brown Christmas tree look in places, but we thought it had potential.


B made quick work using the bow saw the guy provided to cut it.




The guy has a shaker he put  the tree on that shakes off any loose needles. Then we loaded it up. Here you start to get a clue of its size.


B put it up while I was at school the next day.


It scraped the ceiling so we topped it down about a foot and then pruned a number of branches to improve its shape.


The ladder was required to decorate the top third of the tree.


None of the garland we had was close to what was needed for this big tree, so this year, there is none.


But the simplicity is just fine with us. The finished tree measured 10'3". Maybe bigger is better this year.

Friday, December 12, 2008

You're Guana Love It!

The gap in posts just reflects that 'tis the season life gets crazy. Our life is no exception, but in keeping with my effort of moderation, some activities have to be more flexible in order to maintain sanity.

Last weekend we spent time with our son and daughter-by-marriage in St. Augustine and there-abouts. On Sunday we had a nice little visit out to Guana State Park and Wildlife Management Area. This son had spent quite a bit of time working out there before he started grad school but we had never been there. It is closer to Ponte Vedra than not.

We especially enjoyed the education center. It is a beautiful facility. I was particularly interested in a wonderful mural frieze in the hallway. Someone had depicted different ecosystems in Florida. 100_5598

Coincidentally, my school did the same thing in our media center a few years ago, with the children doing most of the research, art planning and work. It was a huge project and a very satisfying one.

The ceiling in the main display hall had all kinds of large models of Florida sea creatures. This is a right whale and calf. It was probably a life-size model.





Here (below) is part of a large ray. These were all so large it was hard to get all of anything in one picture.



This place is definitely worth a look.

Before lunch, we took a short hike in woods that remind us of Cumberland Island.

We came upon  two armadillos that were going about their business of grub-huntin as though we did not exist.


It was a fun place!