Dicromantispa interrupta

Dicromantispa interrupta

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Liberian BBC news story exposed!

Sometime the news reports are right, but this time the BBC is thick-as-a-brick wrong:

This is a story in reporter Rob Young’s mind about Liberians getting flooded by rising ocean waters due to global climate change. A brief look at the locale on Google Earth imagery, plus a tad of knowledge about coastal erosion processes and common sense, however, puts the kibosh on the whole story. Young presents the video as being about coastal fishing families in imminent danger of losing their homes from rising seas due to climate change. But look closer…

Look at Young’s featured site at lat/long N006.329642° / -W010.804113°, and while you’re at it look around along the coast to the NW and SE and into the interior from the city of Monrovia, which is where the video was taken. You can see there is plenty of land available for housing to replace the videoed slum. If you understand coastal zones, you will quickly see that the slum was constructed right to the very edge of the water. How ignorant is that? Rudimentary knowledge of coastal zones screams out that this slum was built on a coastal spit of shifting sand. How ignorant is that? Of course, the sea is nibbling away at the edge of the island, or at least one side of it! That’s what coastal barrier islands do, in rising or falling seas. Don’t Young’s editors know that?

Wait a minute! Is this really a fishing village, or is it a big city slum? Look at the fishing village just up the coast at lat/long N006.400670° / -W010.811669°. Notice all those beached fishing boats, approx 48 in number. The houses in this village are too indistinct to precisely count, but their number appears to be about the same as or a few more than the number of boats. Young’s slum OTOH has about the same number of boats (47 by my count), but that number is dwarfed by the hundreds of houses in the slum. Therefore, I seriously doubt that more than a small fraction (<10%) of the slum’s residents are fishers. In any event, it is hard to believe that there are enough fishers in the slum to support the slum. Notice that the houses in the real fishing village are set well back from the shoreline, not at all like those of the slum. Fishers know better than to build seaward of the storm tide line, whereas economic refugees from the interior do not. Notice that residential density is much lower in the real fishing village than in Young’s slum, probably because the people living in the real fishing village own their land, whereas Young’s slum residents appear to be squatters elbowing their way into the only free land available in the city!

So Young’s story is really one about a slum, created in ignorance on a coastal spit of shifting sands by people like Anna and her eight children. The very nature of Young’s presentation is one of so-called investigative reporting, but since there appears to be a complete misrepresentation of the facts in this case, I say it is not.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Wild peace

Last Sunday, after a full day in the Chassahowitzka wilderness area, the four of us took a leisurely 3:45 hr canoeing trip on the southern Withlacoochee River, putting in at the Riverside RV boat ramp in Nobleton about 0.4 mile upstream of the CR 476 bridge. The RV park staff is friendly and allowed us to leave our vehicles parked there without charge. A few park people feed white bread to the river turtles and bream from the park’s dock. Here you see a mature female peninsular cooter being chased by a smaller male. It was humorous watching her chase bread and him chase her. Some things never change.

We got a very late start due to a lapse of respect on the part of one fellow, and shortly after launching we were attacked by a pair of large, unneutered male dogs that leaped into the river and swam out toward us, barking and snarling, with the evident intent of doing us harm. Some woman on the property just stood there and watched, and did nothing to restrain the dogs or even call to them. I wanted to bean the closer one with my paddle, but could not get Bruce to steer us that way. The next day, Bruce said he called the Citrus County Sheriff’s office to complain. I intend to call on Monday to find out what the local law enforcement did about the matter. So be careful if you paddle parallel to Lamkin Street anywhere near lat/long N028.647401°, -W082.262214° in Nobleton, Florida.

Once past town, the river widens and is flanked on both sides by wide floodplain forests dominated almost exclusively by bald cypress. These now-undevelopable wetlands are about 350 – 750 ft wide, so there is no development anywhere near the edge of the river. Paddling through there it felt like wilderness, and the three small islands in its center were the perfect location to take a break. This scene along the way shows the floodplain forest, a floating mat of grass and a peninsular turtle basking. Note the three dark spots on the hinge between the turtle’s plastron and carapace; they confirm the species identification.

Floating into Istachatta and its riverside development, the river narrows and we scooted quickly along. From that small town all the way to the SR 48 bridge take-out are only two small developments, mostly set back from the river’s edge. The remainder of the paddle is wild peace, with nothing but clean water, tall trees and plenty of fish and wildlife. Only occasionally did we encounter another boater. Lake Annie, another widening of the river, is an oxbow feature on a north-south alignment. As we entered it from the south, we could see a small cloud of turkey vultures circling amid the vestiges of the day’s last thermal.

The north end of the lake had large several cypress trees and snags supporting a few hundred more vultures. They were coming in to roost for the night from miles around, first approaching and then circling, and finally landing beside others either on the east side of the river or the west. I wondered how they made their choice of sides? Why would one go over here and the other over there? Wouldn’t it be safer if they all settled in together? But as we came closer, we could see that the east side held only black vultures and the west side only turkey vultures. Yep, birds of a feather flock together. Here’s a snag full of black vultures:

But which side of the river is better from a vulture’s perspective? Is one side better or was the choice made at random by the first few vultures? I do know that turkey vultures get up earlier in the morning. On a number of cold days in south Florida last winter when I was on site before first light in order to see which trees the caracaras emerged from (nested in), I had ample opportunity to learn in what order avian scavengers would get up in the morning. First are the blackbirds and crows, second the caracaras and eagles, third the red-shouldered hawks, fourth the turkey vultures and last to wipe the sleep from their eyes were the black vultures. Is it possible that the west side of the lake gets earlier sunlight and thus warms up before the shadier east side, and thus assists the turkey vulture’s early rising on a winter’s day? Or is the east side better for unknown reasons and the vastly more numerous black vultures ran off the turkey vultures?

Eric and Rodolfo:

Saturday, November 21, 2009

You know what happens when you don't kill large animals?

While working in the veg garden this morning, I tossed a few beetle larvae and earthworms out into the lawn behind me. The next thing I knew, this red-shouldered hawk was sitting in a sweetgum about 8 ft from me watching the garden ground intently:

As usual, I did not make a second eye contact and ignored it until my camera was loaded for bear, so it relaxed and let me take a few pics. Thank you, Bird.

I really need to get back to the garden, but my sandhill crane was impatient this morning too, so I am of a mind to stand aside while they gorge for winter. There must be something else I can do around the place for a while...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Chassahowitzka Canoe & Bike & Hike

Saturday we arose well before sunup and grabbed breakfast. Dealing with the new permit system and chatting with the 4th generation local who explained the new permits to us at great length cost us almost a half-hour. Oh well, it was a cultural experience. We then launched two canoes at the Chassahowitzka River boat ramp. We paddled about two miles east along this beautiful, spring-fed, fish-filled stream, gratified at being able to get so close to wood storks:

Once we reached the Gulf of Mexico salt marsh, the river turns south and flows through its estuary. The floristically neat thing to me about the trip thru the salt marsh was the giant leather fern, so incongruous among needlerush and saltgrass. I suspect it makes better cover for wildlife than Juncus and Spartina, as it is much denser in growth form:

We continued another 2.6 miles to the head of Ryle Creek where it reaches Zebrafinch Road. People tie their boats to the cabbage palms lining the creek banks and then step out of their boats onto a mess of decomposing wooden pallets reminiscent of a jumble of “pick-up sticks.” The pallets and separate planks are in good to rotten shape, and the word “precarious” came to mind when navigating the narrow pallet path. But don’t get me wrong! I bless the nice people who took the time and effort to bring the pallets out there. Otherwise, it would have been a very muddy slog through the salt marsh to the road.

Zebrafinch is an elevated dirt and limerock causeway that runs through the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, and is used by hikers, bicyclists and hunters. The road is a little bumpy, but it is hard packed and relatively easy to ride on, and quite beautiful:

There is a hunter sign-in station at the landing, and we signed in even tho we weren’t hunting. We knew we were going to be a long way from home and out late at night under a moonless sky. From there, we biked (yes, we carried bicycles in our canoes) 2.6 miles south on Zebrafinch and then east at a tee another 1.8 miles to a short, almost hidden trail road that goes less than a hundred feet to a scenic sinkhole pond:

Over the next (too) few hours we biked around there and points south, and several times stashed bikes and walked into the swamp seeking features that on aerial photos looked like sinkhole ponds connected by a karst stream named Blind Creek. It is a clear blue, spring-fed stream that emerges from the aquifer into the shade of the dense Chassahowitzka Swamp forest and then runs several miles through the forest before plunging back into the aquifer. The stream and sinkhole ponds – a string of pearls in a black velvet swamp – point toward Blind Spring at the edge of the salt marsh. Cave divers have explored some of these sinks but have endured incredible hardships slogging their bulky, heavy gear through the swamps. The few accounts I have read indicate little or no underwater cave has been found yet, but I dunno, cave divers are pretty thorough and very discrete.

Eric, Bruce and I had each assembled a veritable library of maps of the place before we left. We had color aerial photos, topographic maps at scales identical to the aerials, several versions of the topos, national wildlife refuge maps and state wildlife management area maps, not to mention the maps on two GPS units. I had also established waypoints at critical road and tramway junctions and major karst pond features, loaded them into my GPS unit and printed them on my aerials and topos. We were loaded for bear, mind you, not because there are bear out there, which incidentally there are, but because we wanted to avert a death march.

We knew ahead of time we would have to cover a lot of ground to see even a small fraction of the major karst features out there. In planning for the adventure, we were estimating maybe 10 miles of canoeing, another 10 miles of bicycling and 2 miles of hiking, all in a short winter day. We knew we would have to paddle back in the dark, so we brought headlights and spare lights. Indeed, the paddle home was so dark we might have made a wrong turn or two if it were not for the GPS. The final tally was 9.2 miles canoeing, 9.4 miles biking and 2.1 miles hiking, totaling 20.7 miles.

The Chassahowitzka Swamp appears to be a young forest, with dominant trees being less than 18 in dbh and only 60 ft or so tall. Tree species is relatively high in this pastiche of habitats. The “drier” portions are still low hammocks, supporting diamondleaf oak, water oak, live oak, swamp chestnut oak, southern red cedar, American holly, persimmon and more. The swamp proper may have several dozen species of trees; I spotted bald cypress, sweetbay, pumpkin ask, popash, swamp tupelo, water hickory, cedar elm, Florida elm, red maple, dahoon holly, corkwood, red buckeye and others. Epiphytic bromeliads, ferns and orchids are abundant. There was also a species of ladies’ tresses orchid blooming:

The best way to more thoroughly explore the Chassahowitzka karst would be to camp out there over a long weekend, but that is illegal.

Eric Zamora took the photo of the orchid; all others are mine.

Tuber Flower Harvest

Earlier this year I planted four tubers of Jerusalem artichokes in the veg garden, ranging in size from medium to small. One photo shows a single flower on a plant top that sported dozens of flowers. The other pic depicts today’s harvest, altogether weighing a tad over 12 lbs. Gotta go get some recipes!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Potts Preserve Recon

Friday the 13th four of us rendezvoused at Potts Preserve on the southern Withlacoochee and set up camp at a riverside pavilion. Surprisingly, we had the campground to ourselves the whole weekend despite temps in the 55F – 80F range under nearly cloudless skies. Hauling canoes and bikes around meant we arrived a little late in the afternoon, but still got in a good little 5-mile bike ride on a trail at Potts. The property was acquired as a groundwater protection measure, with habitat protection an added benefit. The Lake Tsala Apopka must have once been a fantastic complex of ponds, lakes and all kinds of wetlands, plus innumerable upland peninsulas and islands of sandhill and flatwoods habitats. It now is a mess of pea green water and cattails, old trailers and lawns.

But Potts Preserve is different. It’s nice. We had time late Friday to bike a 5-mile loop trail northward from our campsite, getting back to camp after dark. Not a moon in the sky, but stars aplenty to see by even along the forested riverside trails. The path closest to the river is in good to excellent shape. It is a mowed trail road for the most part with limestone rocks paving low spots. The rocks are, as I remember, in the 2” – 3” size range rather than the usual mealy limerock that one normally encounters. Only in a spot or two are they liable to roll your wheels, because they have been smushed down into the soft hydric soil by heavy equipment. Overall, it is a fine trail to take a leisurely bike ride. We heard tree crickets, leopard frogs, barn owls and possibly a great horned owl.

Discarding fanny packs and cameras back at our vehicles, we hopped back on our rusty steeds and pedaled south and back out the preserve’s entrance a half-mile to Turner’s Fish Camp. On the river, Turner’s has outdoor and indoor seating, a juke box and a bar and a grill, and karaoke on Friday night! Yeehah! A local fellow named Marvin (stitched on his work uniform) kicked it off and sang several more times during the evening. Our expedition photographer, Eric, sang A Boy named Sue, and Eric’s buddy Rodolfo sang something from Stevie Ray Vaughn that sounded gravelly, like BB King. Another fellow sounded I swear just like Johnny Cash, and a young woman did Coal Miner’s Daughter and some others. You can laugh at karaoke if you want, but it is real people singing from their hearts. Bruce kept buying, well, ordering pitchers, so after all that and a smoky fish camp jook dinner we were quite properly prepared to get up before the crack of dawn for Saturday’s real, planned adventure.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Shoal Pond

Shoal Pond in Big Shoals State Park was what Bruce suggested this morning. I was surprised but pleased, as I had been trying to get him and some other woods buddies out there to show them some of the things I think I remember seeing 20+ years ago. My small environmental firm in the 1980s was contracted to make a pilot study of 6 properties that the water management district (WMD) had bought with conservation funds. Our findings were to be used to plan follow-on ecological surveys for several dozen more tracts along the Suwannee, (northern) Withlacoochee and Alapaha Rivers. I even got to name a natural Florida habitat type, “Suwannee Scrub,” which is known only from Withlacoochee and Suwannee River floodways.

It was an exciting prospect for me and my young company, and as it turned out several of the tracts chosen for the pilot study contained superlative features. The enormous water hickories and cedar elms near Wannee, for instance, are to die for or at least cry for. I remembered Shoal Pond as a large wetland with complicated floodplain-derived and karst-modified terrain. I remember a bog forest that would exhibit pressure waves at the ground surface when jumping up and down on it. It was remote, trails didn’t go near it, and visiting it was for the hard core. Well, ahem, we are the hard core, but we weren’t on today's 11-mile track. Yesterday’s 15-mile bike and hike put a drogue on me, and Bruce was dragging too from vestiges of the flu.

The main trail system is a loop, which we biked counter-clockwise starting at the Little Shoals Entrance to the park. The blue trail is well marked and runs through varied forest types ranging from xeric uplands to pine flatwoods to floodplain. Some of the flatwoods habitat looks like excellent red-cockaded woodpecker foraging habitat. Part of the trail is along the Suwannee River on the crown of the natural riverside levee, thru saw-palmettos and gnarly xeric shrubs. From the levee, you can see the river on one side and an extensive flatwoods on the other that has been burned within the last year or two. The pines in the burned area are now dead snags, and it looks like a woodpecker’s paradise: this tree is a grocery store, that one for a nest cavity and the one over there to drum on. Was this an uncontrolled fire? Bark beetle outbreak? Hurricane damage?

The trails we traveled today were in pretty good shape except for a few that had been recently disked and turned into fire lanes. I don’t know why some people think it is ok to call a fire lane a bike trail, unless they are deliberately trying to be mean. Disked fire lanes are sandy wallows, are hard to maintain a bike upright, have innumerable stobs to jar the cartilage out of your joints and are neither fun nor exercise. The disked stretches are located far enough along the trails that you feel committed to the direction you are headed, and you hope the disking is just for a short way, so you persevere. Why doesn’t management place a notice on the kiosks advertising that a bike trail has just been disked? They have several kiosks up with lot of educational information, plus maps and booklets, so adding warning notices would be easy.

Anyway, moving on, a side trail led down to the river and this strange thing:

I think it is a fossil, and is in 30-odd million year old limestone. It looks to me like a shell covering interior structures. I have forwarded the pics for identification to an invertebrate palaeontologist friend who works at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. It is relatively easy to access the river in a number of places, especially at the two shoals. The river’s level is down such that Little Shoals and Big Shoals are pretty rocky. I’d judge the Big Shoals to be a bumpy grind for any canoe or kayak right now, altho Little Shoals is a swift, neat little paddle. There were half-dozen small groups of people out there, but the place is large enough to ensure solitude.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sanchez Prairie (Saturday's Serengeti)

I got an early start today, arriving at the San Felasco SP bicycle trailhead and scooted off about 0930, following Cellon Creek trail to the power line and southward. Always before I have passed the barn where the dairy used to be, but this time I veered west a little to check it out and the large sinkhole close by. The sink was dry and without any limestone showing, but they say there is a barn owl in the barn, and I spotted this 2m yellow rat snake on a log nearby:

I thanked the snake for letting me see it and warned it about the owl, and then headed on southward following a bike trail thru an old field growing up in young loblolly pines and sweetgums, and Spanish needles (Bidens pilosa) galore. My pants and shoes, and exposed socks, snagged quite a few of their centimeter-long, half-millimeter wide seeds that have two 3-mm retrorsely barbed spines on one end. The spines stick into clothing and then the barbs start ratcheting the needle deeper into the clothing when you move, and soon you are being jabbed by few little needles here and a few more there. You stop and pick the worst of them out, being thankful for the short rest, and then move on.

Down the Tung Nut Depot trail, I rode thru a beautiful deciduous hardwood bluff forest to the north edge of Sanchez Prairie west of the powerline and stashed the bike. Now for the real fun - moseying. I walked pretty slowly counter-clockwise along the edge of the big wetland polje, with the bluff forest on my right. Coming to the northwest corner of the ponded water, I walked to within less than 10 meters of a nearly 3-meter alligator because I didn’t see it. I was looking upward at a flock of migratory yellow-rumped warblers that were being scolded by local Carolina wrens and Carolina chickadees, and I guess the big ‘gator figured it wasn’t in too much danger, for it only slowly did a U-turn in its muddy slide and languidly slithered into the water under a floating mat of frogbit. There are times when I’m glad we don’t have top carnivores like lions and hyenas around here. I thanked the ‘gator and moved on.

I explored the uplands to the west of Sanchez Prairie. Boring young pines and such, they are, and the patch of Spanish needles of the world! Oh, man, I came out the other side with major needles stuck below the belt. They were burrowing thru two layers of socks into my ankles, so I had to take 20 to pull them off. Mr. GPS then logged more sinkholes and ravines while walking back to the prairie’s southwest corner. There was a family of feral pigs, a sow and 6 young ‘uns just uphill of the prairie in a moist ravine. Check out this hog wallow in a seepage spring creek:

I am in awe over the huge amount of wildlife I saw today. I am going to list it and you aren’t going to believe it. There were two yellow rat snakes and two alligators. This smaller ‘gator is only about 2 meters long:

I ran across 4 or 5 (they backtrack and confuse me) families of feral pigs, each having 5 – 7 members. They forage mostly on moist to wet ground around the prairie’s perimeter and up the centers of larger tributary ravines. Here is a photo of the edge of a pond within the prairie:

Notice a couple of things here, first the countless pig tracks in the mud just up from the water’s edge. Second, there is a meter-wide open waterway between the mud and floating frogbit. Can you see the alligator track on the left, moving away from the camera and then cutting left into the vegetation? That waterway at the water’s edge is maintained by alligators slowly moving around at the water’s edge. You know what they say? “Don’t turn your back to the water!”

Along the edge of the pond where numerous small tree trunks <15 cm diameter emerge thru the stagnant, duckweed-covered tannic waters there were wood ducks. I don’t know if I was just flushing the same few repeatedly, like egrets flush while you’re canoeing down a river only to land a few hundred meters downstream where they will just flush again, and again, as you continue to float down. Otherwise, I might have seen 75 – 100 wood ducks in the space of a half-hour. Then the dickey birds were everywhere, and blackbirds were massing in an open-canopy part of the wetland forest where 3 destructive hurricanes came thru here several years ago. This picture will give you some idea of the damage the ‘canes did:

I doubt I have ever seen so many whitetail deer in a single day in my life. Did I see 50? Did I see 100? I never did start counting, but here are 3, there are 5, around the next bend are two groups of 4 and 5, and on and on. You know what you get when you don’t hunt big animals? You get deer all over the place, and they are sort of tame, too. If my path took me directly toward one, it would casually bound a few steps to the side and then stop, chow down on something green and then flick its ears at me, but they were not afraid. I just walked on by them, pointedly not making eye contact.

You also get pigs all over the place when there’s no hunting. The pigs would snort and stampede when they caught wind of me a few meters away, but when I neither chased nor shot at them they would stop, turn and face me, and watch as I walked on by. They never mess with me, pigs. Smile for me the next time you hear a beerbelly counting coup about how a hawg attacked him with “tushes THIS BIG!”

Oh, I almost forgot: Do you know why there was so much wildlife out there today? Acorns. Everywhere around and within Sanchez Prairie above the waterline is dominated by oaks, mostly diamondleaf oak (Quercus laurifolia), but also shumard oak, swamp chestnut oak, water oak and live oak. The bluff forest also has abundant pignut hickories that are dropping a moderate hickory nut crop this year. Wood ducks, feral pigs and whitetail deer depend heavily on mast (nuts) this time of the year. It is a seasonal crop, and perhaps they come from all around the nearby countryside to harvest the bounty that Sanchez Prairie has to offer. I know I do, thank you.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Blues Trace

Yesterday, I returned to San Felasco State Park with Bruce for a 10.3 mile bike and hike to nail down some karst features that are impossible to locate from topo maps and aerial imagery, and to have some fun. Blues Creek heads up just north of Millhopper Road in Gainesville, FL near the SE corner of the park. It drains surface waters during wet seasons and is kept wet by discharge from seepage springs during most of North Florida’s dry seasons (spring and fall). Blues Creek travels north from its origin through a moderately steep ravine dominated by a mature forest composed of mixed, semi-evergreen hardwoods. Shade from the forest canopy that the creek is embedded within is so dense that most of these woods have little brush, giving a park-like ambiance to the area.

Parallel to Blues Creek for a short distance is a karst valley that I will call Blues Trace until I learn what FDEP calls it. The valley is really a ragged line of deep, steep sinkholes that pond water up in serious or quickly-repeated storm events. This is one of the longer and deeper sinks, with Bruce for scale:

Blues Creek travels northward until it reaches a swamp forest, where it then flows within a wider, shallower, braided channel clockwise around the south side of the swamp. There are at least two blind valleys that extend to the south and west off the creek channel beside the swamp. The eastern blind valley has walls that are steep but climbable if you are healthy, and a floor of wet sand and mud, and logs galore. Blues Creek today runs through the western blind valley and sumps into a series of crevices at the base of the valley’s limestone walls that are too small to enter. Here is a portion of this very beautiful karst valley:

When it come to Florida karst scenery, it doesn’t get any better than that. We saw a 3ft long cottonmouth the last time we were here. Of course, the moccasin never threatened us. I have also seen downy nestling vultures hiding among these rocks several times over the years, and Florida tree fern (Ctenitis sloanei) maintains a small, possibly its northernmost Florida population in this valley (the USDA has records only as far north as Hillsborough County although I have seen it well north of that occasionally). The terminus of the valley has walls that are too steep and clay-slick to climb, and we didn’t want to do that anyway due to its splendid fern cover. You have to backtrack to get out of there. The only other people I have ever seen wandering around waaaay off-trail in the park were a couple of fellow naturalists at this spot. The place is a subtle magnet to my kind.

A major lineament (bedrock fracture) connects Alachua Sink in Payne’s Prairie to Hornsby Spring. Dye tracing has proven that several stream swallets only a mile or two north of this lineament connect to Hornsby Spring via underground conduits. These include Cellon Creek Swallet at the head of the San Felasco bike trailhead, Mill Creek Sink (an NSS-owned cave diving site) and another sink I don’t know the name of that used to channel the General Electric battery plant’s acid waste into the Floridan Aquifer. Sanchez Prairie almost certainly drains into that system – its swallet is almost dead-on the lineament. Blues Creek Swallet almost certainly feeds into that lineament too, as it is also only about a mile north of the lineament. Furthermore, Blues Creek Swallet may make the connection to the lineament via Blues Trace. Unfortunately, the known caves in this part of the lineament’s cave system have ceilings at 190ft to 220ft below the aquifer’s water level and there is plenty of overburden available to plug any solution pipe that might open up along Blues Trace, so it will take a dye trace to answer that question.