Dicromantispa interrupta

Dicromantispa interrupta

Monday, August 30, 2010

47 Runs and Atsena Otie Key

Sunday was a two-adventure day, first to the braided Wekiva River Swamp south and east of CR 326 just north of US 19/98 and second to Atsena Otie Key off Cedar Key.

The purpose of the first trip was to document the wetland status of a 20-acre parcel called "47 Runs" that the Suwannee River Water Management District had misclassified as uplands and listed for sale as surplus lands. Many broad-brush maps such as my Garmin GPS maps and the USGS Quadrangle had mislabeled the parcel as uplands also, and District staff had never visited the site, so it is understandable that they might have initially gotten it wrong, but if they had taken a brief look at the property in person I believe they would not have made that mistake.

My circle of local naturalists knew from a recent visit that the parcel was a mix of mesic hammock, low hammock and bottomland hardwoods, and that the latter habitat was directly connected by surface waters to the Wekiva River swamp’s northernmost braid, so Brack and I spent a couple of hours on site collecting plant species lists and photos showing the wetland nature of the parcel. I then spent a half-day earlier this morning writing an ecological assessment of the parcel and associating the photographs with lat/long waypoints. Hopefully, Brack will be able to use our findings to convince District staff to reverse their previous stance and remove the parcel from the list of surplus properties.

In case you need any convincing, here are three photos of the low hammock and bottomland hardwood habitats:

The trip to Atsena Otie Key in the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge was made in Brack’s sea kayaks. He had rounded up a couple of paying customers through the Santa Fe College adult education program, billing it as an adventure in the prehistory and history of that island, and his grasp and explanations of same are enlightening even to an old time Floridian like me. The wind was rather stiff out of the east, but our low aspect on the water in the kayaks reduced its effects to a minimal degree, so the paddling over from Cedar Key and back was easy exercise. I joked that if we had been in canoes, we might have been blown out to a Pleistocene shoreline; it would have been a strenuous stretch of stroking.

An excellent brief history of the island is provided at http://www.fws.gov/cedarkeys/atsenaotie.html. In a nutshell, it was used by prehistoric Native Americans dating back appx 5000 years, was the site of a mill that produced cedar wood blanks for making pencils, a resort for Florida and Georgia planters and an important shipping port and is now a wildlife refuge managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. John Muir visited the place when he walked from Indiana to Cedar key, and even got a job in the Faber pencil mill for a short time and almost died of malaria there.

There is a dock and short trail on the western side of the island, the trail leading to three interpretive boards and the dock used by locals for fishing. Not far to the north from the dock is a small pet cemetery, where this marker to someone’s beloved dog can be found:

The cross on the marker indicates that the dog was a Christian. Imagine that! LOL

Brack is not only a paddling guide, but also an archaeologist by education and showed us a whelk shell that had been used by Native Americans as a tool. Notice two things: (1) the hole in the side of the shell where a stick had been driven through and tied on for a handle and (2) the very eroded, smoothly rounded pointy end of the shell indicating that it had been used (for digging, etc) long and hard enough to have been worn back 1 – 2 inches:

Here’s a close-up of the pointy end, showing its cultural erosion a little better:

The east side of the island has an old cemetery that has been vandalized, as so many other old cemeteries in Florida (and the world) have been, but their information and ambiance remain for our gratification:

Just before leaving the island, while crossing a soft sand bar we encountered various tracks including these strange ones. The individual prints occurred in side-by-side pairs and were left by two individuals traveling side-by-side, one set of tracks being almost 3 inches long and the other 2.5 inches long. Notice that there are five toe marks above the “heel” pad, no claw marks whatsoever and that some of the tracks had toe-drag marks in the leading direction. We have no idea what animal left them. Brack and I both have track mark books, and the only mammals around here that leave five toe prints on the ground are the opossum and river otter; however, the tracks are too regular to be those of an opossum and do not have any of the features of an otter. In the field, we thought at first they might be from a felid, but cats leave only four toe marks on the ground; likewise, only four toes are imprinted by canids (plus canids leave claw marks). Does anyone out there in the blogosphere have a clue as to what might have left these prints? Could it have been cucachabras? Inquiring minds want to know!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A night in the life of a redneck

Stop me if I’ve told you this story. But first, I gotta tell you that I was reminded of it by a wonderful blog I just discovered written by Lynda, called Mainly Mongoose. Absolutely, you must check out her posts (http://mainlymongoose.blogspot.com/), especially the last two or three about lions and elephants, which precipitated this posting.

I was 15 years old and living in a trailer on the Westside of Jacksonville, Florida on the very outskirts of town near Cecil Field, a Navy base. By outskirts, I mean that beyond our little trailer and clapboard neighborhood there was nothing but pine flatwoods, cypress and gum swamps and blackwater creeks. It was a fine place for young male hellions such as my friend Danny and I, ‘cuz there were plenty of snakes and bream to catch and bobcats to watch zinging across dirt roads at night in front of headlights. I don’t believe that I have ever before or since lived in a more wildlife-abundant place.

One of the neighborhood fathers had constructed a treehouse in the flatwoods not too far from where we all ordinarily slept, and it was palatial as far as most treehouses go. No, it wasn’t a Disneyesque Swiss Family Robinson McMansion, but it beat the pulp out of any other treehouse I ever got to play in. The man had found four stout pines growing in almost a perfect square, and had built a 6-sided wooden box about 8 ft off the ground among them. It had 4 walls, a door and 3 windows in addition to the requisite floor and roof. The walls were lapboard and the plank roof was covered with roll roofing (rock-covered asphalt felt). The door could be latched from inside as could the storm-shuttered windows. He was a good father.

The event happened on the first night we camped out in it, natch! Some of the kids didn’t have sleeping bags and it was cold, so they brought carpets to roll up in. I am not joking about the carpets – this was not an affluent neighborhood. We had a little campfire downstairs and cooked up some marshmallows and hot dogs before turning in. Boy, were we cool! No parents were present to lord it over us and we were sooooo confident in our independence. Of course, all the neighborhood dogs were present too. Hey, they were not about to miss a campout with kids and weenies!

As the evening wore on, we got sleepy and decided it was time to lay our heads down, so up the ladder we went and settled in for a good night’s sleep. The dogs were made to stay below to “guard” us, a job they took seriously, I’m sure. We battened down the hatches by closing and latching the door and shutters, said our prayers, chattered for a few more minutes, and then as the little ones drifted off, we elders shut up and lay awake listening to night sounds. There were katydids, tree crickets, nighthawks and chuck-will’s-widows sounding off for the evening, and all was really quite peaceful and well with the world.

Suddenly, the dogs started barking. At first, they only barked curiously, alertly, but after a short time began barking in a more worried timbre. This soon segued into a fearful, whiny barking that subsequently evolved into out-and-out yelping, and the next thing we knew the dogs were haulin’ ass outta there, crying in complete fear as they ran and stumbled, probably not even looking back. We heard them disappear into the distance as each one found its own way home, every dog for itself.

Gulp! It was a pitch black night with no moon, and it was even darker inside the treehouse. Every kid in there had platter-eye syndrome. No one was asleep. The little kids were muttering and whimpering quietly, and quite frankly, the hair on the back of my neck stood on end for the first time in my life. One of the little kids then mustered, “Buford, look outside and see what it is!” “Right,” I thought, “you would pick me.” But I was the oldest and nearly a man, so I knew that was right. OMG megagulp! I quietly slipped out of my sleeping bag, fumbled around and found my flashlight, slunk over to one of the shuttered windows and slowly opened one side of it, put the flashlight on top of my head so that the tapetum lucidum in the intruder’s eyes would reflect back at me, and panned the ground around.

And then I saw it, or rather saw them, a pair of eyes looking back at me from perhaps 20 ft away. They were about a half-inch in diameter, appx 3 inches apart and perhaps a foot off the ground. Then they disappeared and I slammed the shutter shut! And latched it. The beast neither tried to climb the stairs (as far as we knew) nor did it ever make a sound and we saw nothing of it any further that night or otherwise. To this day, I do not know for sure exactly what I saw, but firmly believe it could only have been a Florida panther.

The treehouse was dismantled the very next day, and we were never again allowed to camp overnight in those flatwoods.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Botanical Gardens at Asheville

I just discovered this wonderful place on the local campus of the University of North Carolina. Why is it such a great place? Let me count the ways…

The parking lot is in two sections, one being small and tree-shaded and the other being a sunny overflow area. There were only a few vehicles other than mine, so I was able to park in the shade – a nice touch.

Going into their gift shop before seeing the gardens proper, I met a nice lady volunteer who immediately pointed me to their book section. I wanted a book on NC wildflowers because I had earlier found a blooming roadside vine that my Southeastern wildflower book didn’t have, and figured that, as long as I was going to be spending a lot more time in NC, I needed a local flora book. They had several, so I bought Justice, Bell and Lindsey’s Wildflowers of North Carolina. Much to my chagrin, it did not have the plant I wanted identified, but out of the back rooms came Jake, a local naturalist who was able to finger the plant and also gave me a personal tour of some of the resources at the headquarters.

It turned out that the plant is Clematis terniflora, an invasive exotic from Asia. Jake related some growth and kill-attempt experiments he had done on the plant, and folks, it’s bad. You almost can’t kill it and it grows faster than kudzu! Cry your eyes out over this beauty:

Anyway, off I went with my new book under my arm to tour the place, and it was with sublime joy that I discovered that this botanical garden is totally dedicated to native plants. There were coneflowers, sunflowers, Solomon’s and false Solomon’s seals, at least 3 kinds of violets, blue curls, cardinal flower, and numerous species of shrubs and trees. Most of the flowers were in my new book, so I was able to read about them and compare the pictures to the real things!

Blessedly, there were more identification labels on the plants than I have seen at any botanical garden in any of my travels. Each label had the common and scientific names plus family names. Many of the more common plants were identified by several labels scattered throughout the garden so that, if I forgot a name, and I did, I was able to see it again and sometimes again and again.

And it wasn’t as if they had only a few specimens of each plant. Oh no! They often had hundreds of each species and the beds are packed with them, although some of them were indeed rare. In most botanical gardens, rare plants are kept unlabeled and in inconspicuous places where you wouldn’t ordinarily look for them to protect them from thieves. Well, I am sure they did some of that, too, but a few rare species were prominently displayed and labeled, and furthermore, when a roving gardener saw me paying special attention to one plant that shall remain unnamed, he (ahem) obviously recognized that I was a special person and sidled up to me to tell me about some more rare plants that he knew I might otherwise miss. What a nice man.

In deference to protection of the rare flora, I shall relate only one of those, Franklinia alatamaha, a plant that I have been looking for all my life, and now that I am 62 I have finally gotten to feast my eyes on it, say Hallelujah!!! I know of a few other botanical gardens where it supposedly occurs, but it was always hidden when I visited. Franklinia was discovered by John and William Bartram in 1765. William retrieved seeds in 1777, germinated and brought them to flower and named the genus after Benjamin Franklin. William remarked that he never saw it growing anywhere but the original 2- to 3-acre site where he and John had found it. Its last verifiable sighting in the wild was in 1803, and all the specimens in the world are descendants of the seeds collected by William Bartram. It is said to be commercially available, but I have asked about it in maybe a hundred plant nurseries throughout the Southeast but have received only blank stares in return. So please, kind folks, if any of you know where I can score some nursery stock, run don’t walk to your emailer and inform me! Oh, incidentally, not only did I get to see the beast, it was in flower and I got a decent photo of it:

I can die now.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Fathers and Daughters

I’m in a frisky mood tonight and I just ran across a blog post about a father-daughter day, so I was reminded of a fathers-and-daughters story of my own. FAIR WARNING!!! This one is not for the easily offended (but it is about nature).

Picture us on a company field trip. We performed biology field work in a miserably cold winter wind all day long. We were windburnt, poison ivied, dehydrated, hungry and just plain whupped from the cold and the rough terrain. All day long we had used hand clippers on our hands and knees to tunnel through greenbriar and poison ivy thickets rather than hack our way with machetes. We were really very tired and stupid by evening, so you can hopefully understand our slowness to comprehend things. You should also know that the city was a coastal tourist town, and the biggest convention there that day was one for new-car dealership owners. Thus, there were a lot of lonely, middle-aged, rather affluent men in town without their wives. Got the picture?

Stupefied, we returned to the hotel that evening, showered and stumbled downstairs to the hotel restaurant below for dinner. We ordered our food and were having before-dinner drinks on our client’s dime, and I’m not talking about iced tea. Of course, that made us even stupider, but what’s your point? Cindy glanced over at the table next to us and noticed that there was a pair of beautiful young women sitting with a pair of fat, middle-aged men, and she said, “Oh look, there’s a couple of fathers and daughters having dinner together!” The rest of us discretely looked over at the foursome and allowed as how, yes, they did make a nice pair of fathers and daughters, and then returned to our own conversation and libations.

But something nagged at me a bit about the scene, so I looked again and saw one of the women lightly slap the hand of one of the men that had gone where it shouldn’t have gone in a restaurant, and it was then that I noticed that the dining room was filled, literally filled with “fathers and daughters.” I kid you not, that room had a hundred alluring, fetchingly dressed young women sitting with a hundred fat, middle-aged new car dealers, and with the glee that only a 25yo tipsy bachelor can muster, I pointed this out to my group. The look on Cindy’s face as she realized what was really going on was absolutely priceless – a kind of a shock that turned to horror that eventually relaxed into exuberant humor!

Myrtle Beach, Virginia sure has a lot of starlets.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Chassahowitzka Swamp in August

I couldn't raise the troops for a trek into the Chazz Swamp, so I went there solo on Saturday. It's about a 1:45 hour drive thanks to all the schlocky podunks from Inglis on south to just north of Thresher Road where one turns west to enter the Chazz WMA. The limerock road you turn into is actually named Indigo Road, but there is no sign for that at US 19. I paid my three bucks and drove on in. The goal was to get an idea of the terrain north and east of where I have been before, to check out the so-called Sink 311A that was named by some cave diver and to look for more karst features yet unknown to me. Here is what my 5.1-mile dayhike looks like on Google Earth:

Some of my buddies have the idea to camp out in the swamp while on a 2-day wander around the place. I tried to convince them of their folly but they just called me a wuss. Harumph! These photos, which are typical in every way of the Chazz Swamp, should convince anyone that camping there in tents and sleeping bags is an odd idea.

But there are some neat things to see there, like cabbage palms cloaked with shoestring fern (Vittaria lineata).

And a view of the clear waters of Blind Creek with snags and three young alligators sunning themselves.

And Pool 8 (dunno its Christian name), with its limestone ledge above a sheer drop into cool, deep water.

And this pair of unidentified blue mushrooms that have emerged from below thick leaf litter to look like alien blue eggs in a cupped nest.

People talk all the time about cypress knees and debate what their function is, but I am just as pleased at the knees of other tree species like swamp tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica var. biflora) and sweetgum (Magnolia virginiana).

Did you notice the deer bones scattered to the right of the knees? I did not notice them until stooping down to snap the shot.

There was plastic flagging everywhere I went out there, red, orange, blue and candy-striped, plus three plastic balloons. So much for wilderness! OTOH, there was very little sign of feral pigs, perhaps because there is so little food for them this time of year. Other interesting biota seen included a striped mud turtle (Kinosternon bauri), beau coups corkwood plants (Leitneria floridana) and a terrestrial Habenaria orchid, possibly H. odorata, which we have seen blooming out there before.

Lastly, the prescribed burns that the State is conducting in the pine flatwoods and sandhill habitats are doing great things! Oaks and slash pines are being killed back, allowing for an abundance of ground plants for gopher tortoises to feed on. The burns will eventually result in a greater abundance of the large-seeded longleaf pine. Many of the herbs are in bloom and support diverse pollinators, and the longleafs will provide sustenance for the threatened fox squirrel. Gopher tortoise burrows were abundant, and goldenrod provided great swaths of cheerful color. I didn't even mind that I was soaked in perspiration and swamp water by the time I returned to the truck.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Swimmin' with 'gators and spiders, oh my!

Ok, lately I HAVE been having fun. One recent afternoon included swimming in a swamp braid of the Wekiva Spring Run where it crosses CR 326 in Levy County. A quick look at the situation where some of my buds were cooling off will give you an idea of the place:

Of course, you have to be totally unafraid of alligators and cottonmouths to swim here. Bruce, Bill, Jon and I did so, but Lisa deferred. Um, you also should be unafraid of giant spiders:

That tree it is on is appx 4.5 inches thick. Trying to id the beast, I found a site that has several fishing spider photos and the similarities are great. Thus, I think it is a Dolomedes in the family Pisauridae, otherwise known as fishing spiders, probably neither D. albolineatus, the white banded fishing spider nor D. triton. I found a video of a D. okefinokensi adult female, but the abdominal dorsal pattern is wrong and their femme does not have a white perimeter band:

Pesce on SpiderIdentification.org suggested it might be D. tenebrosus. Their pic, of a male, is very similar but does not have the white perimeter around the central black spot on the cephalothorax that ours has. That could be explained by gender difference or by individual variation? Unfortch, a bugguide.com range map does not depict it as being in Florida, but that map is obviously gappy. Various web sites claim it is North America’s largest spider. Davesgarden.com (http://davesgarden.com/guides/bf/showimage/2447/) has a bunch of D. tenebrosus pics, but all show brownish specimens without the white perimeter band. Our specimen is grayish.

The NC website has a pic of Dolomedes scriptus, and it is almost a dead ringer for our octopedded monster, except that theirs is a little browner and has a less obvious white perimeter band around the dorsal black spot:
http://www.carolinanature.com/spiders/spider2624.jpg. OTOH, the Wikipedia entry for that species depicts and describes a white stripe down the sides of the animal, in full conflict with the Carolina site. Egad! Will the real D. scriptus please stand up!

Interestingly, fishing spiders crouch on top of the water with the two hindmost legs anchored to a floating leaf or whatnot, and then plunge downward into the water while still holding onto the leaf to grab their prey, usually a fish or invertebrate, but I bet they will also take small frogs as their African relative, Ancylometes rufus, is shown to do in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zv7YSEIOxwo&feature=fvw. Male fishing spiders are known to tie up the females with silk prior to mating. Hey, bondage is what I’d do if my ladies were bigger and hungrier than me!