Monday, September 29, 2008

The Case of the Missing Carcass

We went down to  St. Marks after church on Sunday. There were artists scattered about painting "en plein air", which simply means painting outside. The acrid smell of turpentine was in the air! But the smell always symbolizes creativity in the form of oil painting to me.


We saw three bald eagles, though two may have been the same. The  mature one in flight was gorgeous in the bright blue sky. The sun was shining through its white feathers.


There was an immature one circling near it. It did not have all the white feathers but still had the same form and huge beak.


This one may have been the same as pictured above. It was near the nest that can be seen from the road.


That is where I took the picture of the tree, thinking I was photographing an eagle the last time we were down there!

The butterflies were numerous along the roadside. I took these pictures last year so I did not feel the need to try this trip. There will be more the next time we go there in October as they take off from our shore on their annual migration to Mexico.




But the strangest thing was that on the way down there, B had noticed two turkey vultures on the other side of a water-filled ditch by the road. We stopped and saw that they were attracted to a black carcass. With binoculars, we were able to see that it was covered in hair and flies and some of the hair was quite long. The head nor legs were not at all visible. We looked and looked trying to decide what the animal was and decided on either a small bear or a medium-sized hog. We made note of how to find it when we came back through.

On the way back, we did stop at the spot and got out and searched and searched. But the carcass was nowhere to be found. Every once in a while, the smell could be picked up, but the carcass was gone. Our guess is that a gator had a large meal in that ditch yesterday but neither of us was inclined to wade in there to find out for sure.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Blue and Gray Day

100_4535 100_4548


We went with some friends to the Civil War Expo at Olustee Battlefield near Lake City. We have been to the battle reenactment in February a few times over the years and this was a similar event on a much smaller scale---sans battle.

There were cannons from Fort Clinch, along with uniformed soldiers to demonstrate and fire them. This particular one has been live fired at Camp Blanding.



This is the size of one projectile that could be fired.


Some gave little lectures. It was interesting to hear that sometimes history is being revised as people post on the Internet letters from family members during that period.



There were infantry drills...



And cavalry drills.




There were cooking demonstrations...



And period music and stories.



This little darling tugged at my heart as she so charmingly peeked out of her tent. The one foot on top the other was her own pose.


I was amused by the contrast of the scene below as a modern truck pulled a trailer with civil war artillery pieces on it. The monument in the park can be seen in the background, centered between the two.


There were two black men in the group: one appeared as a pastor from Massachusetts and the other had a relative who was a confederate soldier.

Another thing we noticed that was interesting was that in this relatively small group of historical interpreters, there were two men who were missing fingers on their right hand. Perhaps this is rather risky hobby.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

One More Summer Snake Tail


B was in the yard today, when two next-door neighbor ladies promised him a brownie if he would kill a snake for them. It was a three-foot moccasin coming out of our cul-de-sac by the swamp and heading up the bank for their house. B said it was not in the mood for playing games. It had none of the placid spirit of the one he and our other neighbor put in a box in May.  This one was aggressive and he got the longest hoe he has. It was all over but the pictures (and the brownie) by the time he came in and told our son and me.

This may well be the one that surprised me when I was gardening in the backyard this summer. It is about the right size and coloring.

We have been keeping an eye out for it and it may have been eyeing us back all along.


This is the third moccasin we've had this summer, but the only one killed. The first we wrote about here and we released in another swamp before we knew for sure what it was. The second was by the fence and left before B got home. B hates to kill things but I think it was the right decision. There are kids in the neighborhood. We won't go down in the swamp looking for them but the ones that are in yards pose an unnecessary risk.


This one was returned to the swamp to be recycled as hawk or other animal food.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Rhinoceros Beetle

We were walking in our neighborhood this evening when I glanced down just in time to spot a rhinoceros beetle in the edge of the grass. He was probably just coming out of hiding for an evening's prowl. (They are nocturnal.) B carried him on the rest of the walk and back home in a clean handkerchief. When I opened it at home, we saw that he has a broken leg on his left side. It was not in the handkerchief so we assume that he had already lost it when we found him.


We can safely say "him" since it is the males of the species that have the large horns on the front. These are used to compete with other males for the mating rights with females. Perhaps this one just tried to arm-wrestle instead.


The horns are also used for digging when a quick cover is needed.

Rhinoceros beetles are part of the scarab beetle family and the name rhinoceros beetle refers to one of over 300 different scarab beetles.   In parts of Asia, these guys are the focus of gambling activity, as the males will knock each other off a log in a fight.


Rhinoceros beetles have been called the strongest animals on the planet, as they can reportedly lift 850 times their own weight.

In spite of their fierce appearance they are completely harmless and can not hurt you by biting, stinging or with their horns. They are sometimes kept as pets, since, unlike their cousins, the dung beetles, they are considered "clean." They eat rotting fruit and sap.

Though his horn and beautiful mahogany color and his bright yellow eyes on the ends of stalks make him interesting, he still looks a little too much like a roach to look much like a pet.  After a visit to kindergarten, this big guy will be set free.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Wandering the Wacissa

Our younger son was home for the weekend for the first time in quite a while so this morning we took the old Grumman canoe out to the Wacissa River and put in at the main spring. It has been over a year since that boat had seen water other than rain. With two strong paddlers, I got the middle seat that I refer to as the "Cleopatra seat," as I don't have to work and can just enjoy the ride.

The river was flat calm and more free of vegetation than we had seen it in a while.


We saw many birds and I took many shaky, terrible pictures from my Cleopatra seat.

We saw only two alligators, quite a few turtles, 3-4 turkeys (and on the drive home, 5-6 more), and of course lots of fish in the clear, cool water. The water was so cool in fact that as the morning grew warmer, the inside of the aluminum canoe began to sweat like crazy, pooling in the bottom.

We went down to Cassidy Spring. It was quite clear. The lighter area is the bottom between two deep holes. There were larger fish coming and going from the holes.



We went up to Big Blue Spring. Here is the entrance run up to it off the main river.


The spring itself was cloudy with sediment flowing up and the bottom could not be seen anywhere. There were two sunning platforms. We only remembered one.

We took a different way back to the main river. That was where we scared up the turkeys that were roosting high above our heads. I took two terrible pictures of one of them.

All along the banks, the cardinal flowers were just beautiful. We have one in our butterfly garden, but I had no idea that they could flourish IN the water.


The wild rice was also putting on quite a show.




The pollen was floating on the water.


The rice was not ready for eating. We would like to try that sometime.

We cut a few stalks of pickerel weed flowers and in so doing found the pink eggs of apple snails attached to their leaves and stalks.


This web caught the eye of our son.


By the time we headed back upstream, the clouds had moved in but a gentle breeze at our back helped blow us toward the landing.


A damsel in distress? Or just hitchin' a ride?



We had a great time. Now to see the pictures I WISH I had taken, go to Peggy's photos are simply stunning---especially when you consider that she takes them in her kayak.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

From the Floods Came the Frogs

This week in our neighborhood, we have had a plague: the roads are covered in tiny frogs. There are thousands of them. You can not walk--- much less drive--- without hurting a herp. We went around the block early this morning, tiptoeing through them. They have great camouflage on the asphalt.


There were places where they were noticeably absent and then you would look ahead and see the pavement moving.


Yesterday morning when I went to school, our driveway was full of them. Today there are only a few; but down the road there were lots.

We noticed that the frogs were on the roads, not in the grass. We guess that the grass, while it offers concealment, also presents too much resistance and tiny foods can more easily be found on the pavement.

It surprises us that we have not seen birds or other animals eating them. Perhaps the variety of food offerings since the rains is so vast that these are not the preferred menu item. Even the large skink that has taken up residency in our garage did not seem impressed with the little frogs that had ventured in there. So at this point, cars are their main predator.

Only a couple of them would stay still long enough to have their picture taken.

"At least B's arm hairs offer something to cling to!"



Palm reading frogs:

"So let's take a look at your lifeline and your heart line.....hmmmm.... I see...."


I sent an email with a couple of pictures to an extension agent for identification but have not heard back yet. We think they might be Greenhouse frogs. Those are unique in that they have no tadpole stage: they hatch tiny frogs straight from the eggs.



Larvae Update:

Mosquitoes are hatching in the jar, daily.

We have one caterpillar that made its chrysalis last week.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Larvae, Larvae, Having a Party!

At lunch today, we noticed that the wet seed (from the recent monsoons) was coming out of the openings of the bird feeder and was piling up on the tray. Curious about this, B went to investigate. He easily found the source: weevils!


Some mama beetle has come and laid her eggs in the birdseed and they have hatched---big time!

I caught some of them as they were pushed out of the holes by the other weevils.


I now have a jar with several of them and their seed food. This is the larval stage. We shall see if they will make their pupae as we observe them at school.

Apparently from what I read, there are about 8 moths and 40 beetles that infest birdseed and other grains. Because I can see the snout on these big guys, I have ruled out moths.



At the same time, I noticed a large planter box needed to have a small amount of  rainwater removed. Instead of pouring it out on the ground, I poured it all into a jar. Sure enough, there were mosquito larvae of varying sizes. In the picture below, you can see one on its way up for air. It is just right of center: a small diagonal line in the water. They have little snorkels that they use to breathe from the surface but they feed on the bottom. So they go up and down the water column making for interesting observation. We will keep the lid on the jar because the larvae will be pupating and then hatching into full adult mosquitoes in no time at all. I saw there are some that have already become pupae.


Later, we stopped by a field where we have seen passion vine growing. This time of year, we knew we could most likely find some orange caterpillars eating the leaves. We were rewarded. I picked some of the vine and put it in water at home. There were two large, almost mature caterpillars, 2 very small ones and 1 teeny one. I think there were also unhatched eggs: I will look carefully tomorrow with my students.


I have an aquarium with a screen top that I will put this all into. When the caterpillars (also larvae) get ready to make their chrysalises, they have a tendency to wander, so the enclosure, keeps them where we can see them make their next stage. Every year in my classroom, we have  some kind of caterpillar that we raise to be a butterfly. These will be  lovely Gulf Fritillaries. Below are pictures I took last year.



It is going to be a very exciting day in kindergarten, come Monday.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Raining Cats and....What?

B went to check the rain gauge after a Gustav shower and found this swallowtail stuck inside.


Does anyone know how to calculate the displacement of a butterfly?


After pouring out the water, B assisted it by inserting a thin stick. The butterfly walked down the stick to freedom and flew away. I have a rain gauge at school. I have removed anoles, beetles and frogs, but never a butterfly. I can't quite picture how it came to be in there.