Friday, June 26, 2009

Bog Blogging

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At a recent SNAPP meeting (our local nature photo club) Bill and Marcia Boothe announced that they'd be leading a group to the Apalachicola National Forest on Saturday to look for carnivorous plants, rare plants, and accompanying wildlife. We were invited to join in. Having a rare free Saturday, and knowing Billy and Marcia's reputation and knowledge of the Forest (, how could I pass up such an opportunity?

Gathering behind the school in Blountstown, the group then caravan'd down Hwy 65 to the Forest around Sumatra. First stop was "Billy's Bog" where we were rewarded with a wide variety of meat-eating plants - - pitcher plants, sundews, butterworts, and more. We found rare orchids, insects, and a pond. A real bonanza. Tom helped me with one photo by holding back brush and positioning some pitchers. It was challenging to make panoramic shots without photographers in the landscape, so photographers like Amy became subject matter as well.

We visited two other sites, each with special features or unique rare plants. Other than a lunch stop, we were at it all day - learning and getting to know one another. Marcia was quick with the books for keying out questionable plants. Bill pulled out his black velvet to demonstrate field-studio work. The rest of us were wow'd by it all. I drove home happy with muddy shoes, a cameraful of fresh subjects, and a re-newed appreciation for the diversity and beauty of the Forest.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Coastal Cleanup

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Coastal Cleanup is a big event each year down at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. Last time I joined with the St. Marks Photo Club to cover an assigned stretch of road. I took along a camera with a wide angle fisheye lens with the idea to make a photo like this one of George. He was my partner that day. But I hadn't anticipated what a great photo opportunity this would be. Along with the litter that marred the roadside, there were lovely clusters of flowers adorning it... and even better, insects accompanying the flora. There were the pollinators - bees and butterflies. And the predators - spiders hiding in wait for a meal to fly in. But the prize for me was a hummingbird moth that came buzzing along tasting each thistle flower. Normally a wide angle lens would be useless for such a fast shy flying insect, but today I would be lucky. I moved in very slowly, and was able to get within just a few inches of this moth... not a great photo, but a first for me, and not bad for my self-imposed limited gear.
We hauled many bags of litter back to the central collection area. There was a mountain of trash brought in that day... hundreds of workers scouring the landscape, just like the insects we had been observing. And our reward: a shiny clean St. Marks, there for all the wildlife and visitors to enjoy.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Travels with Marley

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When school let out last month, my daughter, Marley, started heading for her summer volunteer project in South America. She visited her way down to Florida from Washington DC. And then, she and I made a Florida roadtrip from Crawfordville to Miami. The plan was to be somewhat loose, visit family along the way, but also have some adventures. We brought a couple kayaks along.

The Silver River in the Ocala National Forest was our first stop.
We paddled out from the roadside park along Hwy 40 and turned upstream into the fast-flowing water. The river was beautiful as always, but quite different from previous visits... high water and tannic brown - not Silver at all - a testament to the unusual amounts of rain we've been having this spring. There were flowers, birds, and turtles galore.

Of the dozens of turtles basking on logs, we found this one turtle with these unusual markings on its belly. Is it a Florida Redbelly?

We didn't see the wild monkey troupe that lives in the forest and flood plain this visit.
(Read about them in an earlier blog, September 25, 2006 ( Here's one photo from back then.

To add to the drama of the day, just as we were about to get back to the park, the heavens let loose with lightening, thunder, and buckets of rain (making yet another contribution to the high water level). We got drenched and exhilarated.

That evening, another storm rolled over us as we arrived in Cocoa Beach.
After family visits, we headed for new territory, well, new to us: Blue Cypress Lake. West of Vero Beach in orange grove country, this enormous lake has only one road reaching its shore, at the very end of which is a sweet old-time-Florida fishcamp called Middleton's. As we paddled out through the marsh, we were greeted by limpkins and ibis... that was nice. But then, moving into the lake, we found this spot's unique treasures - - the osprey and cypress. The trees were like African baobabs standing in water... their huge twisted trunks capped by tight often flat-topped crowns and, more often than not, bedecked with a huge twiggy osprey nest. The birds circled and cried, carrying nesting material or fish. Or they stared from their porches as we passed beneath. Many of the trees were very short, so we felt intimately engaged with the birds, trees, and lake. It was a remarkable scene.

In Coconut Grove, mixed in with family visits, Marley and I walked the waterfront, one of my favorite spots in South Florida. The sailboat harbor is always picturesque, but I always try to get by the shrimp boats early enough to watch the numerous wading birds cleaning out the remnants of the by-catch.

As we walked, Marley
bubbled with excitement and anticipation as she talked about her upcoming trip to an ecological research station in the mountains of Ecuador. As the day I would drop her off at Miami International Airport at 5 AM grew near, I shared her excitement, but also the unavoidable parental angst of sending a child (yet again) into the big wide world. Times like these - just the two of us travelling easily together - are precious and held dear in my memory.