Thursday, October 30, 2008


Just a few more mostly unrelated thoughts from last Sunday's trip to St. Mark's Wildlife Refuge.

It was a beautiful day: cool, clear and windy. This is one of our favorite stops. A dike runs from the road between wet areas and down to the spill-dam at the East River.


At the spill-dam, we stopped and watched two adult bald eagles, who were also out enjoying the afternoon. With my camera, they are almost impossible to photograph. So after a few bad shots, I photographed the watchers instead.


At the end of the road is the lighthouse at the Gulf. The tide was still coming in and there was plenty of beach for that spot. While that is not a great deal, sometimes there is none.


The butterflies were most numerous along the dike down here.


Also down there, we found the salt-tolerant prickly pear in full fruit.


B and son tasted one and found it ripe and very juicy with lots of seeds, reminding them of pomegranate.

Every trip is an adventure: never two the same.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Slow and Steady


We walked down a dike to explore a little at the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge on Sunday afternoon and stumbled upon (almost literally) this box turtle. I believe it may well be a Florida Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina bauri , or a  Terrapene carolina major. If we had stopped to count the toes on the back feet, we could know for sure. Maybe next time!


Have to wonder what is going on with the carapace. Maybe a predator. Whatever it was, several of the scutes were missing.

When we came back, it had decided to move around a bit. The length of its neck was a little surprising.


You can see how the scutes grow and expand similar to tree rings, and can be used to determine a turtle's age. There are well-documented cases of box turtles living 50 years or more. The scutes are made of a material similar to keratin, like our fingernails. The missing scutes have been replaced by bone. Under this, the turtle's ribs and spine are fused to the shell.


I was fascinated by its eyelids. They close primarily UP when it blinks. I read that since this one's eyes were more brown than red or orange, it is probably a female.


And so the year of reptiles continues!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Have a Nice Flight!


It is the end of October and the monarchs and cloudless sulphurs and gulf fritillaries are noticeably more numerous in their fall migration. The route takes them right through our area.  Saturday, the St. Marks Refuge held their annual butterfly festival. We were not able to attend because it was a home FSU game and our guys are committed to do parking as a scout fundraiser. But we do not rush down there when there are crowds, anyway. So we had scheduled our trip down for Sunday.

It was cool and windy and sunny. We have seen more butterflies in the past, but it was still worth it to go, especially right down on the dike along the Gulf where the salt bushes can be depended upon to collect the monarchs for one last feast before they take the leap. That is, they begin their flight across the Gulf to Mexico where they gather for the winter in unbelievable numbers.






Of course, a little goldenrod nectar, for variety, is always nice, too.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Gator Nation

Our younger son had not been to St. Marks in a while, so we made a trip down there after church.

It was sunny and cool and it is a good place to see alligators. We saw several sunning themselves. But the highlight of the trip was the grand finale, when we stopped in the visitor's center on the way out. We went out on their little deck above the pond and there was a little gator.


While I was taking pictures of this one, our son spotted a mama gator and her babies nearby. There are three babies in the picture below.


Her babies were much smaller than the other. They still had their baby stripes. They were about a foot long. Some of them were making their little squeaking calls.


We counted a dozen baby gators of at least two hatches, since they were two sizes.

Mama appeared to be dozing as her babies practiced feeding themselves on minnows. In this picture below, one was on her nose and one was eating algae off her back.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Glass In My Eyes

I saw another little rat snake this week.

So when I was gardening and something long and slender caught my eye, I thought, "Not again! Not another snake!" and that turned out to be true. The pretty-patterned reptile was actually a glass lizard, sometimes called a glass snake, though.


One difference between snakes and lizards is that lizards have moveable eyelids. You can see the eyelid below.


This is an Eastern Slender Glass Lizard, Ophisaurus attenuatus longicaudus. What a great (Latin) name! They can grow to 42 inches! I guess that is the "long" part in his name. The "glass" in the glass lizard name comes from its curious ability to break off its tail when grabbed by a predator. The tail then shatters like glass into many pieces.

This one was tucked down in a Cherokee rose that is about as thorny as a rose can be, but apparently the scales provide protection. I never saw all of it but I would be very surprised if it was more than about 20 inches long.


I read that each tiny scale on the top and bottom of the critter has a little bone in it which makes the lizard very stiff. In fact, since it has no legs, it could not move at all without the lateral groove that runs its length on the sides. The groove has flexible scales. In the picture above, I think you can see this beginning at the head as a softer looking area where the pattern also is less distinct.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

In the Midst of Royalty

Every year, I bring in caterpillars into my classroom to raise into butterflies. This year we had four gulf fritillaries and our last one was a monarch. After observing the former making their chrysalises that are dull brown and irregularly shaped, the bright green one with pure gold spots that the monarch made was a surprise for the children.

I did not bring my camera to school until it had already shown signs that the metamorphosis was almost complete. The bright green shell begins to dull and then lose its color and turn transparent. You can begin to see the pattern of the wings within. You can still see the gold spots, though.


The following day, when we came in, the chrysalis had lost all of its green. Around 10 o'clock that morning, one of the children let out a squeal that they had discovered that the butterfly had emerged.


It clung to the chrysalis for hours. Initially, it is so wrinkled from its tight little former home, that it is a little alarming.

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Gradually, it will begin to pump blood into its wings and they will straighten out.




The next morning, we released it in our garden outside our room. It took off before I had a chance to click one more shot.

It needs to be on its way, after all, for the fall migration is underway and it is a long flight to Mexico where they gather for the winter.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Scouting for Food

B had a visitor at boy scouts this week. He was out of uniform and he didn't have much to say. But they took him in anyway and B ended up bringing him home to meet me. He knew I'd like him-- and he was right.


This big boy is the caterpillar for the Imperial moth, a big yellow and brown moth. We read that it will eat pine needles and other leaves and so we put some in but have not actually seen it eat. I took him to school on Tuesday and we had such a wonderful time examining him with magnifiers. I showed them pictures of what it will grow into after it pupates in the ground for months. We don't really have the attention span for that and will not try to keep it very much longer. One of the boys suggested that I take pictures to have on our computer slide show that runs as our screen saver. How could I refuse such a reasonable request?

I have yet to find the eyes, and not for lack of trying. I do know which end is which! His face (on the left) is one only a mother could love! See the fine hairs all over his body?


He measures right at 3.5 inches.


Somewhat sadly, I believe those white spots (that are not the sphericles) are wasp eggs. I have read of that happening. Wasps lay their eggs on a large caterpillar that then serves as the host food for those larvae when they hatch: they will eat him. Sphericles, by the way, are the slightly larger spots that are almost yellow in a row down his sides, that are used for respiration.


Now that he had been documented (though he still looks like an alien), we will set him loose in the school yard. There he can continue to scout for food.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Moon Shine

Last week there was a huge harvest moon. B accommodated my wish to try to capture a decent picture of it. We chased it down the highway to try to get away from objects that were undesirable for photos, such as power poles. Use your imagination and the tree border kinda, sorta resembles the southeastern coastline. Work with me here!


We finally came to a clear field.


Now tell me the man in the moon wasn't wearing sunglasses!


It made our bedroom so bright. We live out of town, and this brightness was quite noticeable.

When I went to school the next morning, there it was again. It still had not set in the west. We sure got our money's worth that night.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Tall Timbers Turns 50

In northern Leon County just south of the Georgia line, lies Tall Timbers Research Station. To be exact, some of the approximately 4,000 acres extend into Georgia. This afternoon they were celebrating their 50th anniversary.

There were exhibits and children's activities and a tour of the original home there.


Nice view from the rose fence. The lawn runs down to Lake Iamonia.


We enjoyed an hour long wagon ride around some of the property. The open woods were full of fall wildflowers.

One of the main focuses of their research there is fire ecology. Our younger son has been participating in this as one of two interns for the past several weeks and is about half done.

Today we saw a demonstration of a prescribed fire.100_4736

The different stages of the burn were described and their purposes explained.

This is a tool for lighting a spreading line of fire. It is called a drip torch.


This ATV is used when monitoring. The bag on the front contains water and has a sprayer.



No kidding.


This burn was allowed to char only about an acre. The benefits are many. "It reduces fuel load that can increase wildfire risk. It suppresses hardwoods that can discourage some endangered wildlife such as some sparrows and gopher tortoises, as well as  quail. It encourages new growth of native plants and is key in the nitrogen cycle," says our son.

I learned a lot about the actual methods of burning: some of the precautions and strategies.

We got to see where he has been living and thought his drive was just lovely.


To learn more about prescribed fire:

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Midlife Crisis

We went to a garage sale this morning and I came away having bought a kayak.

It was B who saw it first, hanging on the wall in the garage: a 12 foot, dark green Old Town.

Now, five dollars is generally my limit for garage sale expenses, so this was an extravagant purchase.

I know several women who enjoy kayaking. There was a time when I thought I might be more comfortable in a kayak than in a canoe and actually talked about getting one. Somehow that managed to take a back burner to other activities and expenses.

So today, when we spotted a bargain, we called our kayak consultants: our sons. They quickly agreed we should get it. And so we did.

It looks really pretty in turquoise in the picture below. However,it is actually dark green.



I'm calling it my midlife crisis so the sticker that names it a "Loon" seems rather appropriate.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Kolomoki Cookin'

If you are cooking with guys, you can pretty well assume that at some point there is going to be fire involved.


Just because I tagged along on the camping trip and was the only female in the lot, do not start thinking that I cooked, because I did not. The guys did it all. I made a few contributions, such as gathering of foods for the table and buttering about 26 pieces of bread for toast but that was about it. Oh, and I stirred the chili once! The adult leaders and the scouts did all the rest of the cooking.

We had a fabulous breakfast on Saturday of 16 scrambled eggs, 2 packages of bacon, 2 pots of coffee, OJ, and grilled toast with jelly. There was nothing left over but OJ.



For lunch they cooked hamburgers and hot dogs. Shortly thereafter, supper was begun: a large dutch oven full of Billy's chili. It simmered the rest of the afternoon over the campfire. Don't even consider that this was a Hormel product; this was the real deal.


One of our younger leaders is a blacksmith and made the iron rack and s-hooks that hold the pot. It is important to adjust the height of the pot above the coals to achieve the correct temperature to simmer the chili without scorching it.

Keep stirring!


Almost done!


And gone! It didn't stick!


B has perfected the baking of cobbler in a dutch oven with coals over and on top of the pot. On this occasion, it was peach cobbler.


He used canned sliced peaches and Jiffy yellow cake mix for the top. This was the first time he had used parchment paper to line the dutch oven. It made for easy cleanup. This pot was empty quite quickly, too.


B and the co-leaders have done a very good job of working with their scouts to ensure that they will never go hungry for lack of skills.