Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Invest 93

Invest 93 is just beginning to enter the Gulf of Mexico, but surface winds are already kicking up the surf.  You can see how fast the wave are rushing to shore.  Current wind gusts tonight are around 22 mph.  Another 5 mph or so and it will be time to break out the long pants to avoid being sandblasted.

Hopefully this is not something which will affect our remaining sea turtle nests, but the Ft. Pickens nest I was screening tonight was only 36 ft. from the waterline when I left.  If the waves (and tides) get higher, it could be a problem.


The Mystic Krewe of Nereids held their annual Splash! party at Paradise this past weekend.

Splash! is a fundraiser for the Mystic Krewe of Nereids and part of the proceeds from this event go for breast cancer awareness, a cause which is very important to this all-female krewe.
We love our Mer-Ducks! You did notice these were not your average ducks, right?
Surely you're familiar with the Flip-Flop fling.

The dunking booth is a big favorite at Splash!
Choose your water-weapon! 
Ladies checked out the sunhats and pins available at the Krewe of Nereids tent.

That's right, Sissy.  Take 'em down!  Show no mercy!
Some fabulous bathing beauties in their vintage swimwear.
Morrie Drees raking in the money for the Nereids at dunking booth!
Lovely little Alana is stylin' again this year even when she's learning to fish.  She's a mermaid-in-training.
Melanie Waite, Carleen Wheeler, and Bobbie Cunningham found a temporary dry spot to hide out.  Never expect to stay dry at a Splash! party.
The Terminator!
The Nereids have lots of games available for the kids at Splash! and make sure they have a great time too.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Cownose Rays

Schools of Cownose Rays were all along the shoreline yesterday morning at Ft. Pickens.  At first I saw some movement from the corner of my eye and thought it was a shark feeding, but then realized it was the wingtip of a ray. They move fast, but I was able to get ahead of them and get just a few seconds of video

This might be a good time to check out the Pensacola Beach pier and perhaps spot them from that vantage point.  It's really amazing to see them gliding through the water, especially if you're lucky enough to see a larger school.

The lumbering loon

[You may double-click on the video above to watch it full screen and prevent the cut-off on the right. Afterward, click ESC on your keyboard to go back to normal viewing]

I've had a few calls and e-mails in the past month from people concerned about injured birds on the beach. So far, without exception, I've learned that the bird in question has been a common loon which came ashore to rest.

Yesterday I finally managed to capture a bit of video showing a Common Loon stumbling and lumbering its way back toward the water. Once you watch this you will understand why folks would think the loon has a leg or wing injury, when actually their legs are set back so far on their body that they can only manage to wobble about on land.

In the water, loons are very strong swimmers and divers. They also have four basic calls, which you may listen to by clicking HERE.   Mostly what I hear from the Common Loons on the beach are the beautiful 'Wail' and the 'Tremolo', the Wail being my favorite.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunrise at Opal Beach

I enjoy my early sea turtle patrols, but even if I do not find tracks/nests, I am often treated to beautiful sunrises on the beach. 

This morning I covered the Santa Rosa area of Gulf Islands National Seashore and was treated to this brilliant display just before dawn.

Life if good!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Sunset for Andrew

After driving to the Point (the western tip of Santa Rosa Island where the old fort is located)  to screen a sea turtle nest a couple evenings ago, I stopped to watch the sun slowly sink into the horizon over Perdido Key and Pensacola Pass. 

It made me think of our friend Andrew Diller who left Pensacola for the Washington D.C./Arlington, Virginia area just last week, and how much we are going to miss him.  Andrew was the Florida Sea Grant Marine Extension Agent for the Escambia County Extension Service.  He is a marine biologist and was also one of our very dependable sea turtle patrolers at Perdido Key. 

Even more important was the major role Andrew took in educating the public on how beach lighting impacts our sea turtles and their nesting.  He helped with workshops which offered lighting options to beach residents and worked with condominium homeowners associations.  It was through his guidance, with the assistance of Jim Cox and Lois Hausman, that one of our larger complexes, Portofino Island Resort, retrofitted parking garage lights in all five of their towers with 'turtle-friendly' amber bulbs, as well as changing their balcony lighting from bright white to amber. 

Next time you are on the beach, note the difference in the lighting at hotels and condominiums which have the new turtle friendly lighting and those which still use bright white light.  It's an amazing contrast and you will be able to see we still have a long way to go in regard to changes. 

Our sea turtle conservation efforts may actually be paying off, however.  After several years of dwindling numbers, we are having record high numbers of sea turtle nests this year, and hope this is the new trend. The Santa Rosa area of Gulf Islands National Seashore has 23 nests, Ft. Pickens area has 17, Perdido Key area has almost 30, but Pensacola Beach itself has only 12 sea turtle nests - another example of how lighting impacts sea turtles which are scouting out darker areas of beach to come ashore and nest.

So, Andrew, this sunset is for you, in addition to many thanks for your amazing contribution to our beautiful beaches.   Hopefully anyone who reads this will make their own contribution toward turtle-friendly lighting on the beach by clicking HERE to read more about the subject and implementing changes of your own.  You may also want to read another informative article which was written by my supervisor, Mark Nicholas, Head Biologist for the Florida District of Gulf Islands National Seashore:  "Light Pollution and Marine Turtle Hatchlings".

[Andrew, I'll also give you a laugh by telling you I was standing in the surf and it was washing the sand out from under me as I was taping the sunset, hence the occasional jerky moves on a tribute to you which I meant to be much more moving. ;-)]

Monday, August 15, 2011

Osprey at Ft. Pickens

One of the great things about patroling at Ft. Pickens in the summer is being able to observe osprey.  Many of the tall pine trees which died in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan have had their bleak skeletons claimed as prime nest sites by both osprey and herons in this area of Gulf Islands National Seashore. 

As much as I enjoy watching osprey, I rarely have an opportunity to photograph or get video of them.  On the occasion I do, the quality is not the best because not only am I a distance from them, they are usually flying and I'm driving a UTV!  Not prime conditions to capture a moving target with my camera.

Last Sunday, however, I did manage to get a small amount of footage of an adult osprey taking a break from fishing and resting on a long piece of driftwood.   He even ruffled his feathers for me once!  Also note the dragonflies darting about at the beginning.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Observation Tower at Ft. Pickens

Unfortunately the Observation Tower at Battery 234 in the Ft. Pickens area of Gulf Islands National Seashore is now closed to the public.  But, it still looks lovely at sunrise from my vantage point.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

June Grass

June grass has made an appearance again.  For the last couple of years it seems to have been washing ashore later in the summer.  [Click HERE to see photos of the thick mats we experienced late summer 2010 at Langdon Beach.] 

June grass is actually a species of algae called Cladaphora, which doesn't look so bad on the beach from a distance, and when there is only a small amount of it.  It looks a bit like someone threw out a bucket full of lime jello!  As it becomes thicker, however, and accumulates, it begins to look more like pea soup washing up, and smells about as bad.  (My apology to those who thoroughly enjoy split-pea soup) 

We have been lucky not to have as much of it as they are experiencing to the west of us, in places like Walton County.   The good part is that generally you can move a half mile or so down the beach and not see any evidence of it. 

We never know how long the June grass will be with us, sometimes a couple of weeks, sometimes longer.  It seems to work its way all along the Gulf Coast eventually.  It may be a nuisance, but it isn't harmful.  A north wind can come along and push it offshore, so you never know if or when you may see it in the water this time of year.  It could be gone tomorrow.  It's just one of those interesting events we deal with on the island.

Best storm photo

I received permission from Dave Holifield to share this incredible photo he took at Bands on the Beach Tuesday evening.  I thought it was the best of all the storm photos which were taken that night not only because the location is so easily identifiable with the iconic Pensacola Beach water tower and the Casino Beach pavilion in the background, but it puts the viewer right in the middle of the action.  The freakish storm has caught the crowd off guard.  It truly did sweep across us rapidly.  

Thank you for sharing your photo, Dave!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Stormy weather

Now that nests are hatching, I seem to be on the beach every night either screening or nest-sitting.  Last night I had three to check on at Ft. Pickens and thought I had plenty of time to complete my rounds after watching the weather and double-checking the radar. 

This system, however, was not the normal variety and swept across the island with a vengeance.  I pushed the pedal to the metal on my old UTV as I hightailed it from just east of the Point, trying to get back to the Ranger Station at Ft. Pickens as the lightning came closer and closer.  The sky would have made any Hollywood producer very proud!

I made it to my own vehicle and headed out of the Park as the front descended, stopping long enough to get this photo.  The sky turned black as midnight as clouds descended like a giant alien spaceship.  

I'll take a little less drama in the future, thank you very much!

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Amanda's special patrol

Sea turtle patrolers never know what the day will bring for them.  Sometimes it's fair weather, soft breezes, and lots of birds to watch while we make our trek down the beach, scouting for sea turtle tracks which may lead us to a new nest.  But, we aren't always so lucky, and yesterday morning, Amanda, who patrols the Santa Rosa area on Mondays, woke up to thunder, lightning, and rain.

Amanda was scheduled to stop and remove screens off of three nests before beginning her patrol.  Considering the amount of lightning, it was a rather harrowing task to run from her car, out to the beach, and set each screen aside.  The beach is not a safe place to be during a storm and sometimes we just have to wait it out!

After Amanda was able to begin her patrol, she realized that she had forgotten to remove one of the screens from a nest she checked.  Fear will do that do a girl! ;-)  So she focused on completing the east side of her patrol and hurried back to take care of SR 6021, the nest still screened, before the sun popped out and clouds cleared.  Sun and heat can quickly put hatchlings in a state of distress, which is why it is so important for us to monitor a nest carefully.

Since hatchlings had actually emerged from SR 6021 the night before, it was very possible a few stragglers were going to make their way out in the next couple of days.   And, upon Amanda's arrival back at the nest, probably half an hour from the time she had checked it earlier, two little hatchlings had indeed surfaced and were impatiently awaiting to be set free. 

Amanda quickly pulled the screen, put the hatchlings in her tote, and carried them down to an area about 15 ft from the water.   But, suddenly the hatchlings spied the rough surf and seemed to say to themselves, "Yikes! Those are some big waves", whereupon they did a U-turn, and crawled right back toward her! 

Amanda kept turning the hatchlings back toward the Gulf, but finally had to move them closer to the water.  The damp sand seemed to finally trigger the appropriate response and they quickly made a bee-line for the surf and swam into the frothy waves.

Amanda stayed to check and recheck the beach, making sure the little guys weren't washed back ashore and grabbed by predators like ghost crabs - who always seem to be waiting for a tasty hatchling snack.  (Arrrrghhhhh, bad crabs!)  She then said a farewell to the tiny turtles she had named Stormy and Skye due to the stormy morning on which they made their appearance  (yes, some of us do bestow names on the scouts and stragglers) and wished them luck on their journey.

Congratulations, Amanda!  Job well done!

Amanda's story is dedicated to Ryan, his sister, Alli, and cousins Marin and Nathan in Minnesota; Jake and his brothers in Iowa, Claire in Alabama; Meagan and Lauren in Louisiana; Gavin and his little sister Sophie in Michigan,  and all my other young blog followers who love our sea turtles and spend their time on the beach learning more about them, as well as helping to keep our beaches clean while they are here!  It is through their enthusiasm for sea turtle conservation that these endangered marine creatures may survive!

[Photos by Amanda Moomey]

When Pigs Fly

My sister-in-law JoAnn visited recently and she never comes empty-handed. She always pulls out some unique gift which she's found in an out-of-the-way shop - or perhaps an out-of-the-way aisle in a department store where treasures are buried behind a stack of pillows, rugs or pottery.   I was completely enchanted with this little watering can she presented me!  I still stop to admire it every day!

If you had told me when I was a little girl that I would be living in this paradise, it would have seemed like an impossible dream...sorta like "when pigs fly..." Now I can look at this little fellow, chuckle a bit, and say, "Yes, they do!"

Monday, August 08, 2011


The beautiful sandcastle I photographed on the beach yesterday morning is probably gone today, but I love discovering them and appreciate the work people put into building them.   It always puts a smile on my face.

Take time to enjoy the beach, build a sandcastle of your own, lay on your back and look for funny animal shapes in the clouds.  Relax.  Take a deep breath.  Listen to the surf.  There will always be deadlines and shopping lists and commitments in one form or another, but a postcard I once had proclaimed, "You'll never look back and wish you had spent more time at the office." 

"Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

~~ Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemons)

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The Sea Turtle Nest

If you look closely, you can see a sea turtle nest discretely tucked away in the dunes and the tracks of a UTV going past it. Each morning the patroler on duty will stop at every nest in their area to check for signs of predation. It's fairly common to find ghost crab holes around or near nests and a patroler will quickly fill them in. Ghost crabs are one of the worst predators of our sea turtle nests.

After 50 days or so gestation, patrolers will begin listening to a nest for sounds of scratching by placing their ear to the sand near the egg chamber.  Don't worry, we put a towel or sheet down first!  It can be a bit funny when tourists happen by and are concerned we've passed out or gone to sleep on the job.  Believe me, nearly every patroler has such a story.

It's hard to miss the sound of hatchlings digging their way to the surface!   And, as the sound gets louder, we know the hatchlings are close to emerging.  Once they become active, the nest starts being screened and supervised during the night. 

Several hours before hatchlings emerge we will see evidence of a 'cone' - a small depression in the sand immediately above the egg chamber.  When we see coning, we go on high alert.   Bio-techs and volunteers are almost always present to help the hatchlings make their way into the Gulf of Mexico and protect them from disorientation (heading away from the water and toward areas of light pollution) and predators.

This is turning out to be a record breaking year for sea turtles nests in our area of Gulf Islands National Seashore. After years during which the numbers of nests have steadily dwindled, and especially coming on the heels of the oil spill which was devastating to us last year, this has generated so much excitement for the Park and for all those who have a passion for these endangered marine creatures.

Monday, August 01, 2011

The big-eyed cutie!

I finally managed to get a photo of this young, big-eyed cutie which I've been seeing in the Ft. Pickens area of Gulf Island National Seashore. Does anyone out there know what it is? Actually, I had to verify it with one of our former bio-techs, but it is a Yellow-Crowned Night Heron.

If you'd like to see what this juvenile night heron will look like as an adult, click HERE.