Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sugar-coating Spring

It does not snow here. or not very often. When we have heavy frost like we had this morning, it is about as close as we get. A few weeks ago, we had heavy frost and S took her bundled-up kindergartners out in the schoolyard to examine the beauty of frost. Each went armed with a magnifying glass. They would not have been more excited if it had been snow! Each brown leaf had been edged in crystals. The grass crunched under our feet. We even discovered a wheelbarrow with a large sheet of ice in it: fascinating stuff! We were able to find water in solid, liquid and vapor forms, one of our more difficult kindergarten concepts for five-year-olds to grasp.

I did not have my camera that day, to my regret. This morning when I discovered we had a good frost again, I made sure to take it along to school. I was able to get a few quick shots before my official work day began. Spring is further along now and there are various winter weeds popping up in the grass.

B and I searched and searched to identify this one and came up empty. Any ideas, readers?





Mexican Poppy, Vetch, and Henbit


Even that devil Florida Betony has  charm when it is sugar-coated.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Old Plank Road

Depending on the road conditions, Old Plank Road can be our favorite route to the lighthouse from our house. The road is fairly straight and since we live directly north of the lighthouse, it is definitely our most direct route. The pavement runs out at the county line, but thankfully, we have a paved option at that spot. Today we stuck with the dirt road. But after a rain and the big pickups have been playing on it, it becomes more than our spines and 2-wheel-drives are up for. Today it was actually not too bad as the road grader had been at work recently and the coast did not get the rain that we had this week. Still, there were the interesting spots.


Old Plank is a road through forests that in many places are simply older planted pines. Cypress domes are sprinkled along the way. Few homes are seen but there are signs of hunt camps. Today, we came upon a fresh hog head in the ditch.


We saw two deer, and lots of tracks. Some were quite large. This is S's size 8 shoe for reference.


This is the road where we saw the black bear last summer.

In the fall, we gather wildflowers from along the roadsides: goldenrod, liatris, corn snakeroot, swamp sunflower, ironweed, ageratum, coreopsis, asters, saltbush, and rabbit tobacco. These flowers attract butterflies and there are plenty to enjoy.

Another of the resources found along the road is chert, the stone that is found locally that has been used as firestarter and arrowheads and spearheads.


B is holding a forged iron striker that when hit on these rocks, sends off a spark which can be used to start a fire.

There are springs along the way that feed into the St. Marks River. The first one that we pass is at the intersection with Natural Bridge Road. It is known as Rhodes Spring. We used to walk along the stream there but now it is private land that is part of the Tallahassee Ranch Club: a ridiculous name for a housing development, as it is not in Tallahassee, it is not a ranch and with only a couple of houses, how can it be a club? Now we admire the spring from across the fence. The feeding spring is actually upstream. The water under this duckweed is going down the drain and will resurface some ways off and eventually make its way to the river.


The second, we come to very close to the end of the road at Newport. This one is called Newport Spring or, sometimes, simply Sulphur Spring for the mineral and its odor that pervades the place. The water flows from a fissure in the limestone at the base of the concrete wall. This is a hangout for locals but this morning, we had it to ourselves. Guess it was early.


To their credit, there is very little litter though the place is popular.

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These theater seats have been there for years.

We do not go in the water as it is reported (by the State) to have a high bacteria count---and it looks like it.

Another popular spot is called the Bog where trucks and Jeeps come to play in the mud.


Old Plank Road has an interesting history---but that is for another day.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Friends In High Places

This afternoon, B was working on his storage shed when he came upon another creature that had come to call the place home. In December, he had caught a large rat in there. Today's inhabitant was this fine gray treefrog. It was perched on a rafter under the roof.


It had the most beautiful camo markings: Realtree, don't you think?

B. put it on some Plexiglas so we could see its underside.


For all his camouflage above, when he stretched his legs, a brilliant golden yellow flashed. Have to wonder at the purpose of that.


Before we had finished taking its pictures, it got a little friendly with B.



And with all the rain we've had and (as David pointed out) all the mosquitoes we will get, we'll take him and all his friends to share our property.

When It Rained, It Poured

We need the rain. Goodness knows we do. The lakes, creeks, rivers, and ponds all show the lack of it we have had for months on end. I don't know that the amount we got this week was actually predicted though. At school, S's kindergartners faithfully keep record of all rain in our rain gauge outside our classroom. They are used to half an inch or less. When they came in Friday morning and found the gauge overflowing at 5 inches from the day before, they were beside themselves. Supposedly, we had 6 inches in less than 24 hours. At our house, we opted for a new rain gauge. This was all collected in one week.


Friday, February 15, 2008

You Never Know 'Til You Go

Got home early from school, so we went to St. Marks. It wasn't a "St. Marks Day" (cold, clear and windy) but the opportunity was there and we are glad we went.

We started down Old Plank Road, but the washboard washout was proving a very rough and slow-go, so we went back and drove the paved road. Once at St. Marks, we discovered the final stage of a control burn on the west side of the road. Stumps were still smoldering here and there. On the way out in the almost dark, that smoke had settled densely on the road. We looked then for glowing embers, but were not rewarded. There had also been recent fire on the east side further down the road.

There was water in the Stoney Bayou #1 pool for the first time lately. We guess that means the dike repair is complete for that pool.

There were hardly any people down there, but lots of birds. We saw a beautiful northern pintail duck that was too far to photograph with our camera. A black-necked stilt was in the same situation, though the sun shining on his pink legs was stunning. A flock of mallards had their green heads shimmering in the same light. There were northern harriers and osprey and white ibis and greater and lesser yellow legs and the million little sandpipery birds in at least 3 sizes that still elude our identification. And sand gnats (no-see-ums)! On the return, just after the lighthouse, we saw a big raccoon rambling through the salt marsh in a high step. (Does that keep the sand gnats off of him?)

The sun was beginning to set and the pines turned pink.


Just as it was getting too dark for the camera to work well without the tripod, B. spotted a spotted bobcat, hunched down and hunting. It was right at the edge of the pavement and watching the brush intently.


We inched forward, taking pictures as we went. Then it stood up, showing its large size, and walked toward us.


And then it crossed the road in front of us and was instantly swallowed up by the tall, brown vegetation, though we could hear its rustling for a while.


It was the best observation we've ever had of a bobcat in the wild--and it was pretty cool! It was as exciting as seeing the black bear on Old Plank Road last summer.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine Turkeys

My drive to school each morning is nine miles of country roads over rolling hills and over the top of the highest hill in Tallahassee. This hill is the site of the old 17th century Spanish mission, San Pedro y San Pablo de Patale. Each time I drive it, I am self-trained to always look down the long drives on the north side. There, if I am very lucky, I will see the wild turkeys that feed in the edges of the woods. I see them just often enough to keep me looking. Today, I got a Valentine gift: the turkeys were there when I was coming home! There were but three; sometimes there are close to a dozen. But today, I had my camera and got this somewhat fuzzy shot from quite a distance.100_1729

For more information about the mission:

Monday, February 11, 2008

Frog Blog

Yesterday as I was getting ready to sit down and rest a bit after pulling vines in the yard, I discovered my seat had already been taken. I make it a habit to check to see what I am sitting on. (Once it was a rattlesnake, but that's another story!) On the inside where the leg meets the chair seat, was a large Treefrog.  It took some doing to convince him that I did not want to share the chair and that he needed to rest elsewhere. I took his portrait and then B took him to a spot by the faucet away from the deck. 100_1695

He was  bigger than your everyday Treefrog and when we tried to ID him, we were not able to conclusively do so. Thanks to the marvels of Google, we found the UF Wildlife Extension Florida frogs page:

This information was still inconclusive, but made us wonder about whether it might be the dreaded Cuban Treefrog: that invasive exotic species that may well end most of our variety of herps and some reptiles, as it is, apparently, the velociraptor of the frogs, eating everything --and lots of it. The map showing how widely it has spread in Florida, did not show the panhandle but that does not mean it could not be here. On the web pages, there is an email address for a frog specialist. He promptly responded last night that it is a native Squirrel Treefrog, that can be found in a variety of colors and patterns. The specialist wrote that he believes it is only a matter of time before Cuban Treefrogs are here and that we should stay alert for them. We have so many different kinds of frogs, toads and lizards around our place.  I would hate to have only one kind. Se habla frog?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Small Spring Break

Spent some time working in our yard today and then rewarded ourselves with a quick trip to a city park, A.J.Henry Park. We were a little surprised to find that spring has arrived there in the woods by the small lake. The trilliums (see Winter Woods entry) were blooming and many trees had tiny new leaves. The maples' winged seeds that we wrote about in Seeing Red, had opened up and dropped and were gracing the boardwalk. They were like little valentines: so lovely!


There were many birds in and around the water: white ibises, grebes, great egrets, bufflehead ducks (or perhaps, hooded merganzers)and a kinglet. I was able to get two shots as an anhinga took off from his perch.



It hardly looks like the same bird with the sunlight on the feathers differently. It is a wonder they can cling to such a small branch with those big webbed feet. They must have a lot of bones in there to be able to wrap them around that way.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Arrowheads and Atlatls

We spent most of the day at the Stone Age and Primitive Art Festival at the Ochlockonee River State Park, about an hour south of here. We took B's boy scouts to the event. Many of the exhibitors travel together to different events such as this. They are demonstrating flint-knapping, which is the art of chipping stone into tools. There were other craftsmen with baskets, pottery, carved wood, atlatls, as well as, archeologists from the State there. The boys got a chance to throw the atlatls and learned it is not as easy as it looks. The styles of atlatls ranged from very primitive to fairly high-tech. Atlatls have been used universally to propel spears and we were told they pre-date the bow and arrow. The spears run from about 5 to 7 feet; the lengths are used for different purposes. A publication stated: Acting as an extra segment of the human arm, the atlatl generates forces ten times greater than the unaided human arm. There is a physics lesson from prehistoric man!



Everywhere in the camp you heard the sound of the "chink, chink," as  stone hit stone to create arrowheads and spearheads. Others used a chipping method. Our local material source is not flint, but agatized coral and chert. We have collected this at times over the years for flint and steel fire starter kits. Today we saw flint from all over the country. One of our Venture scouts wanted a picture of this hand-crafted knife with a carved deer antler handle.


Along with these interesting tools and crafts, there were interesting people whose passion this is. Very interesting. We heard one little kid say, "He's a caveman!" And he was wearing skins and was barefoot. Some went for authenticity.

Others presented their research. Archeologists shared castings of mastodon and saber tooth tiger bones and a fine collection of points found at Wakulla Springs and area rivers.


Can't go to a park without a hike. First we checked out the point, where the Dead River comes into the Ochlockonee River.


Then we hiked through the pine woods.


This picture is one I took at this park a year ago when we took the scouts camping. It shows the Dead River at low tide at dawn when a forest fire had smoked up the sky.


Sunday, February 3, 2008

A Weed By Any Other Name... Is a Wildflower

Have just returned from picking some of my favorite wildflowers: wild radish (or jointed charlock, as it is sometimes called) that is in the mustard family. It is Raphanus raphanistrum,from the Greek, meaning "appearing rapidly" which refers to how quickly it grows from seed. Linnaeus named it in 1753. Originally from Mediterranean Europe, it is now found around the world,including Australia and South Africa and in 42 of the 50 United States and most of the counties in Florida. It is found in disturbed areas, fields, and roadsides, growing about 2 feet tall. Resistant to herbicides, some list it as an invasive species. It is hard for me to imagine trying to kill it.

One reason I love it so much is for its amazing variety. Today we picked at least six different colors.








Kept full of water, this large bouquet will last for a week or more but it will "snow" all over the table as the old blossoms drop and the new buds open. It is worth it, for all its beauty.

WHO, Part II

In the previous entry, we mentioned going to the WHO, the Wildlife Heritage and Outdoor Festival at the St.Marks Wildlife Refuge. There were a number of exhibits, including this one by the Jefferson Longrifles, showing a (mostly) period-correct (1640-1840) camp-site.



The turkey in this dutch oven was almost done.


They had brought along their black powder rifles and we tried our hands at throwing "hawks," small hatchets, at a playing card on a big log. 

On the drive to the lighthouse,itself, we passed what may well have been the biggest gator we have ever seen. We estimated his length to be 10-11 feet.  He was across the canal from us and we figured the water was cold, but none of us were willing to stretch the tape to check his measurements anyway. He was covered with dying duck weed but his eye had a look of arrogance.


He put the "wild" in the wildlife festival.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Inside Story


For over 30 years, we have been trekking down from Tallahassee to the lighthouse at St. Marks. A few years ago, I was able to take my first picture of it from the seaside from our son's boat. That was pretty cool. Today "marked" another St. Marks first: we got to go inside the keeper's house that is attached to the light tower itself.


The picture above was taken last November. Today the place was absolutely crawling with people, who like us had come for the WHO, the Wildlife Heritage and Outdoors Festival. We have never seen it so populated.

The shuttered windows were open and I took pictures from the inside.



The stairs to the top were not open to the public, but the entrance was.



There was a blueprint of the lighthouse.


It shows the double wall that tapers from 4 feet thick at the bottom to 18 inches thick at the light. A previous lighthouse there had had a solid wall which weighed too much to support itself, and cracked and was taken down.


(The teacher in me cringed to see the typo in the next to the last line.) The mother of our friend (in the scout shirt in an above picture) went to school with the Gresham daughters.


The front door: nice view.

100_1579 has good information and history of the lighthouse.

In the scheme of things, our 30 years of observation has been brief. This lighthouse has stood on this site for 166 years, a testament to the builders and keepers of St. Marks. If these thick walls could talk, we'd get the real inside story, the real story of the people who lived and worked here.