Monday, August 31, 2009

Last light

There was quite a line of storms and heavy rain that moved across the area yesterday afternoon. In the end it starting clearing out, but left us with a beautiful sunset.

I stepped out on my balcony to capture the dramatic last light.

American Beautyberry bush

While I was at the Naval Live Oaks area yesterday, I hiked one of the nature trails...

and discovered the woods were full of American Beautyberry bushes.

I love the unusual violet-color of the berries on this ornamental plant. I discovered this plant for the first time a year or two ago at the Naval Air Station, near the Pensacola lighthouse.

I discovered that they fall into the mint family and the crushed leaves were used as a folk remedy to repel mosquitoes, ticks and ants. American Beautyberry plants are also known as French Mulberry.

You might enjoy exploring some of the nature trails at Naval Live Oaks yourself while the American Beautyberry plants are at their most showy. Naval Live Oaks is located just east of Gulf Breeze Proper on the south side of Highway 98.

WSRE at Naval Live Oaks

I snapped a few photos of a WSRE-TV crew as they were filming some of the Junior Rangers at Naval Life Oaks yesterday morning.

WSRE is working on a one-hour documentary which will air behind one of Ken Burns 12-hour, six-part series "The National Parks: America's Greatest Idea" which begins in September.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunrise at Opal Beach

"This day is all that is good and fair. It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on yesterdays."

~~ Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 - 1882)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Pensacola Beach on an August morning

A short video I took within the Santa Rosa area of Gulf Islands National Seashore this morning. The lovely white bird you will see toward the end of the clip is a Snowy Egret.

Friday, August 28, 2009

For Jake: One last hatchling

I received a call this afternoon asking if I would go out to set screens on two nests this evening: one near Navarre Beach, one on Pensacola Beach. The nest on Pensacola Beach had actually hatched/emerged last night, but it is not uncommon for there to be a few stragglers to come out the following day.

After placing both screens, I came home for about half an hour and then went out to check on the Pensacola Beach nest one last time. It was about 8:30 p.m. which, for some reason, seems to be one of the two 'witching hours' for hatchlings to emerge (the other is 2:30 a.m., go figure!). Sure enough, there was one lone hatchling, scooting from corner to corner of the screen, trying to find a way out to the Gulf of Mexico.

I rubbed my hands in the sand to scrub off or at least disguise any icky human smells which might upset him and lifted the edge of the screen. The little fella was ready to head south!

I set him down and watched briefly as he headed toward the Gulf of Mexico. There was no sign of disorientation, helped tremendously by the fact the nest was behind two beach homes which were not occupied - hence no light to confuse him. I then took him about 30' from the water, placed him on the sand, and he gave me not even one last look as he scooted to the water.

This last hatchling from the nest has a tough path ahead. There is safety in numbers when a large group of hatchlings reach the water together. This little hatchling must face the obstacles and predators all by himself. I almost teared up thinking about the odds as a wave swept in and flipped him on his back. Struggling against the pull of an outgoing wave, I started toward him. Halfway there, he righted himself and with his full one-ounce weight of determination headed out again.

I called out to him, "I christen you 'Caretta Jake', as he disappeared in the waves, remembering the 8 year old sea turtle enthusiast from Iowa I met last month. I figure if there's a chance a little boy from Iowa can grow up to be a marine biologist, then one last hatchling might make the odds too.

Shark! (?)

Close-up for Mr. DeMille.

Not such a feel-good moment was when this big fellow appeared and I think it was a shark. Blog viewers feel free to weigh in on this, give me your opinion and venture a guess what type it would be.

Here are the reasons I think it was a shark:

The swim pattern was different.

The head is elongated, not cute and round like bottlenose dolphin.

Although it's not easy to see in this photo, there also appeared to be a second dorsal fin toward the tail.

And, even more strange, I think the dolphin were chasing it away. I guess I need to research whether dolphin will go after/chase away a shark.

One minute I'm jumping up and down as the dolphin play nearby, the next I get a shiver when this big fella swims a few feet from shore and then swiftly cuts away again. Eeeek!

[In reviewing my photos, I think the second photo in the post below may also be the shark, not one of the dolphin. But that's more of a question, so click on the photos to enlarge, look at them carefully to compare, and let me know what you think.]

A surprise greeting!

What a surprise to look over and see a pod of dolphin parallel to me this morning. They were having a wonderful time body-surfing in the Gulf of Mexico.

They came in very close to shore and there were several of them.

I was so excited that I started squealing like a five year old...

Which may have been what made one curious enough to swim even closer.

Look! It's Flipper! And he's smiling at me!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Around the point

A lovely walk around to the east side of Range Point. Quite a bit of sea grass has washed up since the high tides and tropical storm, but it's still beautiful and peaceful.


There are some exciting environmental changes going on around Pensacola Beach. Emerald Coast Utilities Authority (ECUA) began their recycling program in January of this year; Santa Rosa Island Authority added recycling bins at Casino Beach and hopefully will add more in other areas if the first step is successful; and older bright white street lights to the turtle-friendly amber lights (drive down Ft. Pickens Road one evening and see the difference). Now, Portofino has nearly completed its conversion to turtle-friendly lights.

Toward the end of June I discovered that Portofino had begun the retrofit process. I started going out occasionally at night or before my early morning patrols to document the changes, even though I didn't have all the equipment or expertise for night photography. Below are photos where you can see the difference at Portofino as the project progressed.

The initial bright florescent lighting in the Portofino parking garages contributed to the disorientation of nesting turtles and hatchlings on the east end of the Pensacola Beach.

Even from a distance, the towers were beacons of light.

But by July most of the parking garages had been retrofitted with the new lights and big changes could be seen. [Due to the exposure of the photo above, the amber lights appear a bit brighter than they actually appear.]

Balcony lights were also changed and replaced with the amber bulbs. Yellow, amber and red lights are part of the spectrum much less disruptive to sea turtles.

There are still a few outside parking lights which have to be changed out and there is still the long process of educating residents about the effect their interior lights have on the beach, but the change at Portofino is dramatic. Coming across Bob Sikes bridge at night, you hardly even notice the towers at night...and that's a good thing when it comes to turtles and light pollution.
Other beach towns such as Hilton Head have ordinances that require residents to shield or turn off any lights visible from the beach after 10:00 p.m., May 1 - October 31st! (You may learn more about their Lights Out for Turtles program by clicking HERE.)

There are many people who have worked hard to get these changes implemented at Portofino and developers who have been open-minded and willing to make them happen. I only know a few of them:

Andrew Diller from the University of Florida, Lois Hausman, Jim Cox, and developer Robert Rinke. From a Gulf Islands National Seashore volunteer, a B.I.G. thanks for your help in making these turtle-friendly changes!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Terns at Ft. Pickens - Redux

I was able to track down a local expert, birder extraordinaire Lucy Duncan, and she was able to provide a tern translation, if you will, for yesterday's tern video. Once I read it, the scenario - which I'm seeing frequently in the bird colonies now - became very clear! You'll have to ignore the raucous calls of a loud sea gull out of camera view, though you see his shadow flying over a couple of times. Here is Lucy's wonderful translation of the interaction I captured:


Youngster: "I'm here. Feed me, feed me now. I'm here. Don't forget me! Now! I'm hungry. Why don't you feed me? What? Why? Huh? you expect me to go out and get my own fish?"

Adult: "It's time for you to do it yourself. I'm not going to be around all your life, so get used to it."

Youngster: "I don't know how. You're not fair! Feed me, feed me, feed me."

Adult: "Scram, I'm scratching. A tern has to be careful how they look, you know."

Youngster: "But Mom-om-om, I'm hungry! I'm here!"

Adult ignoring the kid: "Just go try. See? Little Sammy's doing it. Go on. Scram."

Eventually the juvenile catches on, and prompted by hunger, starts fishing on its own.

Thanks, Lucy!

I'm really going to miss patrol days at Santa Rosa and Ft. Pickens where I have the privilege of seeing bird colonies, spectacular sunrises, and dolphin activity. There is only a month left to go, if that.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Splash dogs!

I am so excited to see that Splash Dogs will be coming back to Pensacola next month! You can watch them compete at Bartram Park, just across from Seville Square where the Pensacola Seafood Festival will be taking place September 25 - 27. Be sure to look for exact days and times.

In case you've forgotten what the event is all about, check out some of my photos from last year by clicking HERE.

Chasing butterflies

Look who was in my yard this morning! I was chasing this lovely monarch butterfly all around the pentas, in sun and in shade, trying to catch a good angle for a photo.

I planted two pots of red pentas this year, hoping to attract butterflies, but I just learned that white pentas does even better! Click HERE to read about it.

Meeting of the Turtlers

Last week a meeting of the Gulf Islands National Seashore sea turtle patrol/volunteers was scheduled for Saturday afternoon in Perdido Key. It was my first time to attend one of these functions, but it turned out to be a lovely event and I was able to match a lot of faces to names I'd only seen on reports and in logbooks.

Awards were handed out for milestones in volunteer hours. I was so proud of my friend, Melanie Waite, who received the President's Volunteer Service Award and a gold pin for 1,000 volunteer hours with the sea turtles! She has been part of the program for seventeen years! What a role model! Now if only she received credit for her travel hours, she probably would have received a platinum award. It takes Melanie an hour (one way) to drive from her home in Pace to the beach on patrol days!

Our hosts, Jay Bonanno and his gracious wife, Debbie, opened their beautiful Grande Lagoon home to the 'turtlers' for the meeting and get-together. This is just part of the fantastic view they have of the Perdido Key area of Gulf Islands National Seashore!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

At civil twilight

The sky was awash with beautiful shades of rose, mauve, peach, and dusky blues this morning before dawn (also known as civil twilight), as I neared Pensacola Beach, about forty minutes into my patrol.

The water can often reflect the soft colors, as can the sand for a brief time after daylight.

Turning around and toward the western tip of the island where the old fort stands, I looked back for one last shot.

So beautiful and peaceful. Life is good.

Turtle Patrol at Ft. Pickens

It was a beautiful day at Ft. Pickens and a far cry from the scene this time last week. The air was cool and dry like an autumn day. The wind was out of the north, flattening the surf. Tropical Storm Claudette cut into the beach in places, creating small tidal pools like the one above -- which the birds are tremendously enjoying.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A ray of beauty

"Flowers... are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty out-values all the utilities of the world."

~~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1844

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Perfectly themselves

"Love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image... otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them."

~~ Thomas Merton (1919 - 1968)
[Note: My thanks to Lucy Duncan for providing the source for this lovely quote. I was very disappointed when I first posted it, unable to provide the author. It's defintely worth clicking on the link to read his interesting life story.]

Pilfered Pete!

Well this is sad news. Word just went out that Peg Leg Pete's pirate was stolen last night. It would take a lot of work, time, and a large vehicle to get away with the pirate. Surely someone saw something!

The owners want him back, as do we! No questions asked -- just let someone know where he is so he can come home where he belongs!
UPDATE: It was just announced on the 5:00 p.m. news that Peg Leg Pete is home! Woo hoo! It will be interesting to hear the details.

The Dune

Poor lonely dune. It sheltered a re-located nest earlier in the season. Once again wind-cut, wind-swept.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I send thee a shell

"I send thee a shell from the ocean-beach..."

Bird's-eye view

What difference a few weeks can make! Look how big the heron chicks have become. Just imagine the bird's-eye view they must have of the Gulf of Mexico from their nest.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Tropical Storm Claudette

I thought my blog visitors might like to see some of the photos I took around noon today. Ft. Pickens closed at 4:00 p.m. yesterday afternoon, but I discovered they re-opened this morning and hurried out to see how a couple of sea turtle nests fared overnight.

In the Ft. Pickens area of Gulf Islands National Seashore, rain was very heavy at times and the surf had kicked up quite a bit.

I was pleased to see Nest FP 8131 had held up. Though probably a bit washed, the elevation may allow it to drain quickly and hopefully we'll see a good hatch in mid-October.

High winds were sending blasts of sand across the road.

Leaving the park, I saw the lifeguard truck nearby, watching for anyone getting too close to the water. You'd think that would not be a problem today, but you'd be wrong. I actually saw a couple of dozen people out there! Being blasted with sand is uncomfortable at the least, but when winds are this high the beach is a risky place for people who wear contacts or children. Eyes should be carefully protected!

On the other end of Pensacola Beach, Santa Rosa area of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, things were more calm and there were only a few sprinkles of rain off and on.

The Gulf was dramatic, but the roads seemed fine except for a covering of sand in places. Blue skies would even peep through occasionally.

A group of pelicans flew by and I stopped for a shot.

If you click on the photo you can see the towers of Portofino in the distance as I head home for the day.

Welcome to Pensacola Beach!

I have neglected to post a photo on my blog of the new Welcome to Pensacola Beach sign erected on the east end of Pensacola Beach several months ago. Shame on me.

When I contacted the Santa Rosa Island Authority to ask about the sign (which I love), I was told the concept was Buck Lee's and that SRIA carpenter, Paul Harvey, had made it himself. What a great job!

Mr. Harvey and another employee, Michael Chappardi, erected the sign. Other employees - Adel Tomasek, Robbie Gropp and Richard Fuller - were responsible for the landscaping. In the words of Mason Kilgore, Director of Public Works, "In reality, it was team effort."

But it gets even better when you hear about the cost of the new sign. Materials and ornaments for the project were purchased from Lowes and the combined cost of landscaping and materials came to $414.74. The labor was $400.00, so total cost for the sign was only $814.74. Compare that to the welcome sign just past the toll booth, which was purchased in August of 2000 at a cost of $7500.00-- nine times the cost of the new sign! Significant savings, indeed!

So, there you go! When you have good people, great ideas, and team effort, life is good and we all benefit!

Big waves

We have some pretty big waves today after Tropical Storm Claudette came ashore about 40 miles east of us last night, near Ft. Walton Beach. I'm just glad it didn't come any closer.