Slack Tide

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Slack Tide, Treasure Island, Florida July 2020

At my favorite sunset spot at John’s Pass last week I caught a photo of slack water (or slack tide), the calm period between the change in tides. It brought to mind the song “Slack Tide” off Jimmy Buffett’s new album, Life on the Flip Side. Though Jimmy Buffett wrote these lyrics before 2020 and recorded this song in January it is fitting for this chaotic time we’re living in:

“Well we could use some quiet
We could use a little calm
Find the good in everybody
Share that “one love” balm…

I wish the whole wide world could swim along, at slack tide”

Sponge Fun

I have been avoiding touristy, crowded places (for obvious reasons) but last week I finally succumbed to my unceasing curiosity and checked out the sponge docks at Tarpon Springs. Thankfully, it was a wet visit which played in my favor as there were very few other people wandering around. Thank you, rain!

This small town along the Anclote River was founded in the 1870s as a fishing village but the discovery of sponge beds put the town on the map. Before the proliferation of synthetic sponges, natural ones were used for cleaning, art, and even contraceptives.

Surprisingly, in the early 1900s, sponges were Florida’s leading industry and the majority of those sponges were harvested and processed in Tarpon Springs. Though the sponge market has diminished over the years it left an indelible mark on the town in the form of Greek heritage.

One of the first investors, John K. Cheyney, was an immigrant from Greece and he brought over divers from the Dodecanese Islands to work in the industry. Their descendants remained in the area and it now has the highest percentage of Greek Americans in the country.

Walking along the waterfront I overheard folks speaking their cultural tongue, but of course, it was all “Greek” to me! In the future, I’d like to dine at one of the many Greek restaurants in town or perhaps I’ll return for one of the festivals.

Oh, Sh*t!

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Manatee Manure, Treasure Island, Florida July 2020

I occasionally glimpse Florida Manatees (Trichechus manatus latirostris) in the shallows as I stroll along my beach. Even if I don’t get a good visual I know they are nearby since I often find their feces on the sand. Fun fact: their poop floats!

If you have ever been out on a nature walk with me, you know I find animal excrement fascinating. There’s a whole story packed into fecal material, just waiting to be “read”.

So, I was thrilled to find this video about Manatee dung. As a self-professed “scatologist” I think Betsy Stoner and I would get along really well!

Not Alone

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Crabby, Wall Springs Park, Palm Harbor, Florida July 2020

Stopped off to explore Wall Springs Park yesterday afternoon. After a bit of a wander I settled on the bench on a fishing pier to relax in the cool air left behind by a midday storm.

Though I was the only human in the area I wasn’t alone: Anhingas were drying out in the mangroves, a Great Blue Heron patiently hunted in the mud, and Ospreys hovered overhead. They were all just as aware of my presence and kept their respective distances.

The little creature on the railing beside me, however, was a whole nother story. This Mangrove Marsh Crab (Sesarma curacaoense) wasn’t perturbed by me at all. In fact, I had to move my arm so this terrestrial crab could continue on its way!

A few minutes later, a couple aquatic mammals caught my attention as they glided through the flat water. What a lovely way to wrap up the day!

Head Shot

It was incredibly hot and humid that afternoon, in other words, it was a typical summer day in Florida. I pulled into a convenience store to purchase a refreshing iced beverage and, strangely enough, parked next to a Sandhill Crane.

Smartly standing in the shade of a small tree, the bird had no interest in leaving so I was able to snap a few photos. In lieu of sweating, the crane was gular fluttering (like panting) in an effort to cool down.

A bit of research and I learned that this is actually a subspecies, known as the Florida Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis pratensis). If it had been during the winter I would not have been able to differentiate this crane from the migratory Greater Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis tabida).

Burrower

I spent a few moments with this Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) at Little Manatee River State Park last week. I felt fortunate to have that opportunity since this terrapin is considered threatened in Florida.

Consummate diggers, Gopher Tortoises are considered a keystone species as their extensive holes are often appropriated by others. Biologists have noted at least 360 other species (burrowing owls, mice, snakes, rabbits, frogs, etc) seeking shelter in their burrows.

Last note, of the five tortoises in North America, four of them live west of the Mississippi River.

Moth Eater

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Male Northern Parula, Little Manatee River State Park, Wimauma, Florida July 2020

If you ever come across a tall, blonde woman holding a camera, looking up into a tree and muttering, “Hold still, for just one second, please.” feel free to say hello, because it’s probably me.

Not only was this Northern Parula (Setophaga americana) a tiny target, measuring just under 5 inches, but he was an extremely busy one! Hopping from branch to branch and at times even doing quick loop-de-loops in the air while in search of insects for lunch.

Males sport a chestnut breast band during the summer though the rest of the year they’re less colorful and more closely resemble females. The genus name is Ancient Greek and means moth eater, but it appears that caterpillars and spiders actually make up a larger part of their diet.

Active Aerator

I am still weirdly fascinated by these armored mammals. This evening at the park I had my first close encounter with a Nine-banded Armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) since moving to Florida.

It was a similar interaction to one I had in Texas last summer. In both instances the animals were entirely too focused on foraging to even notice me. They are known for having poor eyesight, relying instead on their keen sense of smell. This one stood up to have a “sniff” around before returning to digging. Speaking of which, note the length of those claws on the forelimbs.

Based on the diminutive size of this one, it’s safe to say it was a juvenile. It certainly was energetic in its search for food! I am particularly taken with the almost floral pattern on this one’s forehead.

First noted in the state in the 1920s, armadillos are now considered naturalized here (and other parts of the south).

Speed Demon

Sadly, my photos don’t do this handsome male Six-lined Racerunner (Aspidoscelis sexlineatus) justice. In my defense, he definitely lived up to his name! I followed him along the trail at Little Manatee State Park for about ten minutes before he finally paused long enough for me to snap a few photos.

To be honest, it seemed that we were equally curious about each other. I think he stopped to look at me – probably wondering what the heck I was doing out there in the middle of a hot, humid afternoon. I’m pretty sure he’s giving me the side-eye in that second photo!

Turns out racerunners are exceptional, unlike other species that take shelter during the hottest part of the day, this is their preferred time for activity. I suppose there is a lot less competition and even less chance of predation if everyone else is sweltering in place.