Slippery When Wet

When I arrived at Highlands Hammock State Park yesterday afternoon it was humid and 90 degrees. Not surprisingly, there weren’t a bunch of people out and about. It was muggy but I was excited to explore one of Florida’s oldest state parks.

There were about a dozen short trails to choose from so I decided to hike them all. Though, coming from the rugged terrain out west, I don’t really consider this flatland stuff to be hiking. As I strolled along I kept noticing pops of color in shades of red.

The biggest issue of the day was water. Some of the trails were flooded but it wasn’t deep or flowing, so I happily splashed along. By the time I was halfway through, I was glistening (women don’t perspire, right?). I was grateful for the cloud cover until it started to rain. Not just a gentle, soft drizzle but an actual downpour.

Thank goodness I brought my rain jacket! Darn shame I left it in my car, in the parking lot at the other end of the park. On the upside, I did have the entire place to myself for the rest of the afternoon. The downside? I was soaking wet and chilly (the storm had dropped the temperature into the 70s), and there was water in the lens of my camera (here’s hoping it dries out soon).

Regardless, I had a lovely time wandering through this special, protected area.

Summer Storms

The weather down here is temperamental this time of year. I have three weather apps on my phone to help me plan my day. Most afternoons there are towering clouds and sometimes it drizzles, rains, or even downpours. The precipitation doesn’t bother me, I don’t mind getting wet.

It’s the lightning that concerns me. Florida is the lightning strike capital of the country, averaging 223 per square mile. And considering that lightning can travel at least 12 miles from the storm, I’m cautious to say the least.

Even though the weather can interfere with my beach walks, it certainly makes up for it with some striking sunsets!

Fantastic Phenomena

Ready for the Night
Movement Makes the Magic Happen!
Stir It Up!

After learning about the nearby fluorescent, bioluminescent waters last year I had to patiently wait for all the right factors to align (warm water, new moon, time off, cooperative weather, and synchronized schedules with friends). Luckily, everything worked out just right last night!

Katie, Lori, Arlene, Al, and I paddled out of the tiny Safety Harbor marina around 9:30pm (roughly an hour after sunset). I was eager with anticipation and it didn’t take long before we were all oohing and aahing over the mesmerizing display.

The light show is courtesy of millions of minute dinoflagellates (Pyrodinium bahamense) which emit a blue light when disturbed. The water was calm, a large ray flitted under us, dolphins swam by, and we were the only paddlers on the water. Though the camera on my phone barely captured the phenomena, it was magical. Thank you phytoplankton (and friends) for lighting up the night!

Night Swimmer

I was a bit surprised to see this snake swim by last night at John’s Pass. Sadly, after much fruitless searching, I still haven’t any idea exactly what it is. It certainly looked like a capable swimmer that knew how to hunt for food. Did you see it bump the algal clump (in the middle of the video), in an attempt to dislodge any hiding prey?

According to my research, there are not any sea snakes native to the Atlantic Ocean (and thereby, the Gulf of Mexico). Though there have been sightings of sea kraits and Yellow-bellied Sea Snakes in the past few years.

One hypothesis suggests that ships are responsible for these new visitors. It is possible that the snakes were suctioned up with ballast water in other tropical waters and then accidentally released here when the weight was no longer needed. There is documentation that other species have been introduced in this manner.

No matter what it is or how it got here, it certainly looked quite at home!

Not Trash!

I’ve been picking up litter ever since I was little, it’s a hard habit to break. After all these years, I have a good eye for spotting trash and other oddities (things that seem out of place).

During the summer months, it’s fairly common to find curved, plastic-like structures on the beach. I will admit that my first summer here I presumed they were some kind of marine debris. Maybe from a fishing vessel? So, into the trash they went.

Last year, I didn’t pick them up. I still didn’t know what they were but I had a feeling that they were some sort of natural phenomenon. I was curious about them (but obviously not enough to take the time to photograph or research them).

A couple months ago, I was delighted to randomly come across an article that explained these strange shapes were not trash but were, in fact, egg casings created by the Shark Eye Moon Snail (Neverita duplicata). I tucked that important information away and waited for summer.

Last week I found my first egg casings (or sand collars) of the season. Each one contains thousands of eggs carefully secreted by the female snail into a protective, gelatinous structure. After a quick photo shoot, I carefully buried them back in the sand.

It takes them about six weeks to hatch so hopefully next month there will thousands of veligers floating in the water!