Updated: I’ve got to take
the week two weeks off from the wiki-wiki-wild-wild-web. It’s the end of the semester, and I have heaps of work to do over the next few weeks. Teaching university composition is awesome, but things do get a bit cray-cray at the end of the semester. Anyhow, I’ll have to hold off on photo-posts until after I clear the final week of classes. Floridensis will kick back in with new content on Monday 17 December!
In the meantime, here are some shots of my home territory, Ormond Beach, right at sunrise a few years back. I’m reminded I need to find more time to hit the Atlantic to watch the sun greet the day. But not until grades are done. Must finish grades first.
See you on the 17th!
The Snowy egret, Egretta thula, is a common-yet-charming species in the Florida I know and love. These smallish egrets sport bold yellow feet and equally bold yellow lores — the featherless facial areas from the base of the bill to the front of each eye. White, black, and yellow. That’s the Snowy egret in a nutshell.
You can find Snowies damn near anywhere. Though they tend to hang out mostly near water, especially along the coast, I’ve seen plenty of Snowy egrets in a wide range of habitats. I suppose if they can find something to eat, that’s good enough for them, and Snowy egrets will eat damn near anything: fish, crustaceans, snails, lizards, snakes, frogs, small rodents, worms, insects… It’s all good. Snowy egrets don’t seem to be too picky.
Outside of Florida, the species ranges throughout much of North America and down south into Central America. They are as well-adapted and durable as they are lovely and active.
In the summer of 2011, my family and I moved back from Alaska to the American southeast. Four years in Alaska proved to be enough for my family, it seems, and we decided to head back down to more-consistent sunshine, less snow, and slightly less elevation. As for the move itself, we shipped the bare essentials and irreplaceables. As for everything else? Buh-bye. It was an awesome, icy, “garage” sale in Anchorage, Alaska. When it came time to actually make the move, my wife and daughter flew down to Florida. I, on the other hand, drove from Anchorage to Florida — across the continent, hiking and camping along the way. It was, to put it bluntly, one hell of a roadtrip.
Featured here are images from Capitol Reef National Park in southern Utah. I hit Capitol Reef on Day 11 of my roadtrip from Alaska to Florida — about 4,444 miles after departing Anchorage (though, I should note, I actually cruised north to Fairbanks before eventually turning east and southward).
Southern Utah is one hell of a region. I seriously don’t know how anybody gets anything productive done while living there. Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Zion National Park… They’re all right there, right next to each other, waiting to suck you in like the desert does the rain. I’ve never seen a region so packed with incredible scenery and mind-boggling beauty. Honestly.
In the images below, you can see dark sandstones and the lighter outcrops of the Navajo sandstone “caps.” In fact, much of this region is defined and shaped by the Waterpocket Fold, a 65 million year old geologic ripple, so to speak, revealing a geologic history encompassing much of the Age of Dinosaurs, more formally known as the Mesozoic. More specifically, most of these images were photographed in the Cohab Canyon area of Capitol Reef.
The river you see is the Fremont River; the roadway traces and weaves parallel along the winding valley-like swath of the Fremont and Cohab Canyon. Pull over damn near anywhere, and you’ve got incredible sandstone formations, brilliant flora, and the Fremont staring right back at you. I could’ve easily spent an entire week in this area alone (and don’t get me started with Canyonlands, Arches, and Bryce Canyon…).
I am from head to toe a Florida swamprat, but I must admit I connected with Southern Utah (and Northern Arizona) in a way I simply did not anticipate. I spent several days (more than originally planned) in that region, bouncing my way across the state from east to west before eventually heading back south and east again. I simply didn’t want it to end. Southern Utah was so tremendously gorgeous — and this is what I felt after leaving the epic majesty of Alaska, a region known for its own gargantuan beauty.
In future Elsewhere Wednesdays, we’ll explore much more of this remarkable roadtrip from Alaska to Florida, and we’ll certainly see much more of southern Utah.
A simple set of shots for an otherwise chilly day in the temporal Here & Now. Featured here is a Great egret, Ardea alba, sporting its breeding colors (see the green in front of the eye?) at Merritt Island one March afternoon a few years back.
Great egrets are very similar to Great blue herons, Ardea herodias. Honestly, I’m not sure what’s up with “heron” vs. “egret” when it comes to herons, egrets, and their respective common names. Both the Great blue heron and the Great egret are two species of the same genus (Ardea). Meanwhile in the related genus Egretta, Egretta thula is the Snowy egret, and Egretta caerulea is the Little blue heron. So what’s the difference between herons and egrets when it comes to common names? Honestly, I’m not sure. Not a clue.
I’ll save solving that mystery of common nomenclature for another time. Right now, I just want to think about how awesome Merritt Island is in early spring. I wouldn’t mind trading places with this
heron egret for a day. Bask in the spring sunshine and let my freak colors fly.
Alright, alright, alright.
Perhaps the Eastern narrowmouth toad, Gastrophryne carolinensis, is an apt species to introduce to Floridensis on the heels of the Thanksgiving holiday. It is, after all, a remarkably plump, little amphibian. I don’t know about you, but I too feel a bit plumper than usual. it was a good Thanksgiving.
When thinking of frogs and toads, people tend to think of any given species as being either a toad –or– a frog, as if that’s an either-or binary. In reality, Order Anura (within Class Amphibia) features a number of related-yet-distinct families. Family Bufonidae, for example, consists of the “true toads” you probably already know about and have seen. Family Hylidae consists of the “tree frogs,” and Family Ranidae consists of the “true frogs.” There are plenty more. This species, the Eastern narrowmouth toad, is a representative of a distinct family, Family Microhylidae. Despite its common name, the Eastern narrowmouth is not a “true toad.” So what is it? It’s a narrowmouth!
Eastern narrowmouths are small, bulbous, terrestrial amphibians that spend much of their time buried somewhat within loose soil or under surface matter. They come out and are a bit more active at night and after nice, sustained rains. Though not as slick and smooth as most frogs, they also do not have the dry, warty skin so commonly exhibited by their “true toad” brethren. They are truly in a family of their own.
In these photos, you can get a sense of the Eastern narrowmouth’s ridiculously tiny head and mouth. Seriously, this species packs quite a girth at the hip — especially when contrasted with its relatively tiny head. In short, they’re adorable, but also quite good at doing what they need to do: hunt for ants, termites, and other small arthropods in loose soil. It’s always a delight to come across an Eastern narrowmouth (usually hidden beneath a fallen log or under a sheet of wood in the forest).
The Striped crayfish snake, Liodytes alleni, is a small, reclusive, non-venomous, and mostly-aquatic species. I don’t see them all that often in central Florida, though they’re certainly common enough. Unlike their larger cousins, the Nerodia watersnakes, crayfish snakes tend to stick closer to the water. They come out more frequently in spring to mate and warm up in the sun, but in the cooler months you can also find them snagging warmth from Florida’s roadways at night — an unfortunate behavior given its meager competition against the wheels of a vehicle.
I found several wounded Striped crayfish snakes on this particular nocturnal November jaunt. This individual looked like it was clipped by something, but it seemed in mostly-okay shape. I suspect it recovered and survived. The snake was quite active and alert. A few of its brethren, on the other hand, most certainly did not recover. Hopefully this one learned to stay the hell off the roads at night!
With Thanksgiving about to land upon us, and with November starting to give way to the impending crush of December, let’s skip back to April of 2009 in southcentral Alaska. These are photographs of Portage Valley within the Chugach National Forest region near the edge of the Kenai Peninsula. Looking back, it still blows my mind that these photographs were taken in April. Spring comes a bit late in Alaska.
Portage Valley terminals at Portage Lake and Portage Glacier. In the bottom photograph, you can see Bard Peak standing guard over the frozen sheet of Portage Lake — my favorite lake to photograph in Alaska. Portage Glacier is not actually visible in any of these photographs; I’ll save that post for another time.
During my four years in Alaska, I noticed a bit of a pattern. I called it “April is the Cruellest Month.” By mid-April, southcentral Alaska often thawed out quite a bit —to the point of even kicking in some new spring growth— only to be hit again by a massive April snowfall. Seriously, this mid-April snowfall would be epic. It wouldn’t last for too long, but my god it would snow. Fresh white powder on everything. One final parting shot from the receding winter.
Though the Florida Swamprat in my soul may have liked to piss and moan about this mid-April snowfall, I always found it remarkably beautiful and exciting. Mid-winter snow in Alaska can be a bit icky. Grey stuff. Worn, weathered. Gross even… Then, by April, most of that grey stuff would melt away, and Alaska would then drop a thick coat of shimmering white stuff on damn near everything — a final coat of glistening white to remember the past winter by. Try as I might, I couldn’t complain. It was so damned beautiful. And deep!
When it comes to peninsula Florida’s three most-dominant inland watersnake species, I was three-for-three on this one particular night in Miami-Dade county. In addition to the Florida banded watersnakes (Nerodia fasciata pictiventris) and Florida green watersnakes (Nerodia floridana) we’ve already seen in this series, I also came across a couple of healthy Brown watersnakes (Nerodia taxispilota). I’m always happy to see a Brown watersnake.
Entirely non-venomous, the Brown watersnake is sadly often confused as being a venomous Florida cottonmouth (Agkistrodon conanti). It is also prone to basking in foliage hanging over bodies of water (which cottonmouths don’t generally do), so when you hear stories of snakes falling into canoes and kayaks, there’s a decent chance it was a Brown watersnake. Though this has yet to happen to me personally, I hold on to hope. I can think of nothing better than being rained on by half a dozen Brown watersnakes.
As for this little skipper, it was another nocturnal road-cruiser basking in the relative warmth of the mid-November roadway. After a few quick shots, this sub-adult Brown watersnake quickly retreated back into the adjacent brush — a little farther away from the threat of automative impact.
Following up on our last post, here’s the second of two sub-adult Florida green watersnakes I found adjacent to one another on a lonely south Florida roadway well after the sun had set.
If you spend some time checking out photographs of various watersnakes throughout the Floridian peninsula, you might recognize that the Florida green watersnake is the least variable of our local species when it comes to coloration and patterning. Florida greens tend to look just like, well, Florida greens.
While Banded watersnakes and Salt marsh snakes can sport a variety of colors and patterns and Brown watersnakes can appear rather dark or light, Florida greens are eerily similar to one another. Occasionally you’ll come across a reddish/orangish variant, but most of the time Florida green watersnakes are olive brownish/greenish watersnakes. The only other variation I see (beyond general wear-and-tear) is “beefiness,” so to speak. Youngsters are usually slimmer, and older snakes are usually rather robust. This is true of watersnakes generally. Sometimes, however, you’ll find a surprisingly slim adult or an unusually robust youngster. In this case, we have an appropriately slim sub-adult sporting a fairly impressive meathead noggin’ — partially because it’s defensively posturing against the lumbering hominid with the magic Nikon box.
This youngster was one of two sub-adult Florida green watersnakes I came across laying next to each other on the side of a road in south Florida. Both appeared quite healthy. Both seemed rather content with the cool thickness of the November evening air. Photographing them separately, however, was tricky. It can be a bit difficult to quick-shoot one writhing snake at a time. Once engaged, they tend to want to get away (as is natural, of course). In our next post, we’ll check out the other (slightly-larger) sub adult.
Not all snakes you find on Florida’s nighttime roads have fallen victim to vehicular mayhem. Thankfully. I came across this young (non-venomous) Florida banded watersnake (Nerodia fasciata pictiventris) chilling near the edge of a road — free, for the time being, from harm’s way. I was happy to watch it slink into the grassy stretch alongside the road, back to safer terrain, but I’m sure it’ll eventually be drawn back out into harm’s way. Rolling the dice.
An unfortunate and sadly unavoidable byproduct of spending so much time looking for snakes while trolling Florida’s roadways after the sun sets is that you inevitably come across snake after snake that’s suffered at the hands (or wheels) of humanity. Such was the case with the beautiful Red rat snake, Pantherophis guttatus, also known commonly as the Corn snake.
I found this young corn resting cluelessly at the edge of a roadway a few hours after sunset. It had clearly suffered some sort of trauma to the head, but it was still alive and still somewhat alert. It’s jaw structure was quite brutalized, however, so I’m not sure if it recovered. Perhaps. Snakes can be remarkably resilient, but this one seemed rather out of it. Further, while its right eye was intact, its left eye had also been damaged quite a bit and was clearly no longer functional (I skipped that photograph). If I had to hazard a guess, perhaps it was clipped by the edge of a car or smacked by a motorcycle; I saw many roadkills on this same road (and others) throughout the evening.
I usually don’t photograph injured or maimed snakes —at least not when they were likely tanked out by a vehicle–, but it’s good to note and remember that our roadways are shared by more than other drivers. It’s good to remember to slow down and share the roadway — especially after the sun sets to the west of Florida, when so many organisms are drawn to our darkened roadways.