I’m in a bit of a stasis-mode on Floridensis right now. I have tons of (awesome) work flowing on my end of the wires, and I need to conserve my energy a bit, stay a bit focused — at least until it warms back up and the reptiles come out to play. I’m expecting a fantastic spring for wildlife, hiking, and all that jazz, so I’ll save my photo-blogging energy-mojo for that.
In the meantime, I’ll still post some photos here and there on my 500px account. If you enjoy photography, 500px is certainly a fantastic site to drift through and around. There are some tremendous wildlife/nature photographers doing their thing in that community. If you’re interested, here’s a link to my account page:
Alright, I’ll be back in a few moths or so. I suspect by mid-March (if not sooner), I’ll be itching to get back to Floridensis and all things Florida wild!
As the push of time obfuscates 2018 somewhere behind the wake of the New Year, it’s time to once again get rolling with Floridensis. Kicking off the new year, here are a bundle of snappy-type shots of a number of Roseate spoonbills (Platalea ajaja) observed (as they often are) at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Brevard county.
If you think about it, this is the bird that should be the mascot for the Florida Lotto, not the Caribbean flamingo (as impressive as they may be, too). Whereas Caribbean flamingos are only seen every now and then (usually in south Florida), Roseate spoonbills have a bit more presence in central Florida. They can be quite common along the marshy coasts of Brevard county. You’ll often find them wading in the shallows, slicing through the water for some snacky-goodness with their moniker spoon-bills.
A strange-yet-graceful species, perhaps — and one that’s pretty easy to see from a distance. Those pinks can really pop out from afar!
In Florida (and elsewhere, of course), you’ll find much more than epiphytic plants such as the Resurrection fern growing atop the limbs and branches of our oak trees. One particularly nifty and cool organism you’re likely to find on Florida’s Live oaks and other bark-laden trees is the Christmas lichen, Cryptothecia rubrocincta.
Generally speaking, you can think of a lichen as a kind of fungi, only it’s a fungus that lives in relationship to an algae or a cyanobacterium. Any specific species of lichen is a singular biological system, an “organism,” but it is really a biological system comprised of multiple organisms functioning together as a singular system. People often call lichen species “lichenized fungi.” Beyond that, the biological systematics of lichenized fungi are far beyond my pay grade. Flying caribou make more sense to me.
The Christmas lichen is so named for its bright red wreath-like trim. It’s often quite circular in appearance, though the lichen photographed here were a bit erratic and less spherical than you may find otherwise. Christmas lichen tends to stick out somewhat among the more traditionally-green lichens and the typically-brown hues of oak tree bark. Bright reds make for remarkable figure-ground contrasts on all that vegetative base coloring. When it comes to green and red, every day can be Christmas in Florida (but not so much with the powdery white snow stuff).
Following up on our last post, the Carolina green anole (Anolis carolinensis) is no longer the sole species of anole lizard quietly scratching out a living amongst the flora and foliage of the Floridian peninsula. The Cuban brown anole, Anolis sagrei, is an extremely adaptable and resilient non-native species. They’re now perhaps the most-commonly-seen reptile in the state of Florida.
While Carolina green anoles are a bit more adapted to living among the branches of Florida’s foliage, Cuban brown anoles are adapted to scampering about on the ground and among low lying vegetation such as shrubs and bushes. Interestingly, the Resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides) patches adorning so many of Florida’s Live oak (Quercus virginiana) branches seems to be an interesting transitional zone. In short, it works very well for both Cuban brown anoles and Caroline greens.
As we saw previously, the Resurrection fern is a non-parasitic, epiphytic plant that grows atop other plant matter. Though not limited to Live oaks, Resurrection fern can be very common when you have large, sprawling branches such as those of Quercus virginiana. Because their branches are so big, thick, and sprawling, Live oaks create a kind of elevated system of micro-habitats at every possible degree. When you have a really big Live oak, such as this one (the Fairchild oak in Ormond Beach, Florida), their branches can even grow down into the ground and emerge elsewhere. Thus, the trunk of the tree is not the only gateway to the Resurrection fern gardens above. This is beneficial to Cuban brown anoles, of course, as it creates more on-ramps, if you will, directly connected to their ground-level climes.
I typically see younger Cuban brown anoles tuckered throughout Resurrection fern. This kind of micro-habitat seems to be a safe(r) area for them to make their way into the business of life. Whereas the larger Cuban brown anoles are more daring on the open ground and tend to dominate the lower trunk-range, if you want to find young Cuban brown anoles, look for thin, whisy bushes and low-lying Resurrection fern gardens.
In Florida, habitats are typically somewhat… jumbled. Such is the certainly the case in these photographs. Here’s the breakdown:
First, you have a rather large Live oak tree (Quercus virginiana). Specifically, this is the Fairchild Oak in Ormond Beach, a somewhat famous and rather long-lived chunk of tree matter. Growing atop many of the Fairchild’s branches are sheaths of Resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides), an epiphytic, non-parasitic plant that essentially grows atop other plants. Finally, quietly scratching out a living within the Resurrection fern micro-habitat is a young Carolina green anole, Anolis carolinensis, doing its best to survive, grow up, and eventually reproduce.
Truly, one of the joys of plugging in to the natural world around you is realizing how much stuff is happening right in front of you, just above you, and even below your own feet. In a region such as Florida, every square inch is in play when it comes to the game of life — sometimes hidden in otherwise-plain sight.
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!