Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Catch of the Day

I went fishing this weekend. My friend Brandon and I went to Prairie Creek, which is along the Hawthorne Rail Trail. It's a dark creek that drains Newnan's Lake.


Actually, when I ride on the trail, this boardwalk is my turn-around point.


I caught a fish!!! It was a large catfish. I was very excited.


It doesn't look that big in this photo because Brandon has large feet. And it's flopping around.


We gave it to the dude who was fishing next to us. I don't eat fish and Brandon didn't want to skin it, although he said catfish are "good eatin'." I'll take his word for it. (He didn't catch anything.)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Who Made Dat Scat?

The other day Kim and I were walking to our building from the parking lot when I noticed this spoor. We knelt down and studied it, and then Kim took a photo.

If you look carefully at it, you'll see lots of wiry fur. My hypothesis is that it's from a gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus). We've all seen them running in this vicinity (although I've said before I think they're red foxes; I vacillate about this), and foxes are omnivorous, enjoying meals of small rodents.

Kim thinks it's raccoon poop. But I can now say that I've done extensive research on animal droppings, and it seems that raccoons usually use one latrine spot for pooping, while foxes drop it on the run to mark territory. Fox poop is also said to have "a characteristic twist" (whatever that means), and I think this poop could fit that description.

I would have thought it would be much easier to find satisfactory photographs of animal waste on the Internet. I am disappointed in you, Internet.

A Walk in a Creek & the Woods

A couple of weeks ago I went for a walk with a friend in the Sweetwater Preserve right at the southern city limits of Gainesville. The 125-acre property was recently acquired by Alachua County Forever, our awesome county land conservation program that I volunteer with.


We were going to walk on the trails, but as we stood looking at the creek I thought back to my childhood and thought maybe we could recreate the feeling of those endless hours watching turtles, crawdads, minnows, tadpoles, and frogs and searching for shark's teeth, arrowheads, and anything else of interest.

We took off our shoes, rolled up our jeans, and climbed down the least-eroded part of the bank into the creek.


The water was low, and we sloshed downstream in shin-deep water.


I hoped we'd see a snake. This is perfect water moccasin habitat. Not that I want to encounter a moccasin -- just see one.


But the creek was a disappointment. The banks were severely eroded.


Tiny pieces of broken glass were embedded in the sand. Trash snagged in exposed tree roots. It was depressing. And the thing is, you could tell that glass and trash wasn't dumped there. It had washed there from upstream. (More on this later.)

The only life -- the only life -- we saw was an invasive nine-banded armadillo. No snakes. No minnows. No tadpoles. No turtles. No birds!!

Disheartened, we decided to try the woods. We climbed out of the water and went walking barefoot on the trails.


And guess what we saw?


Nothing. No life. Except, of course, nine-banded armadillos. The best part of the walk was the autumn color.


So, what gives?

Gainesville is covered by a network of creeks, many of which have been paved or built over. One of my best friends is the creeks coordinator for the city. She told me that the remainder are so polluted that they can't be saved. Evidently, our sewage treatment plant dumps treated wastewater into the creeks. This water is full of nutrients, which suck all the oxygen out of the water, starving plants and animals. This is totally legal.

Gainesville's stormwater, on the other hand, is not treated. Anything on the streets, sidewalks, etc., that gets washed or dumped or thrown or blown into storm drains goes straight into our creeks.

I still remember the day my creek died. I was about ten. I grew up playing in Hogtown Creek in a less-developed part of my neighborhood. One day, we noticed houses were being built along the creek. The development was to be called "Mill Pond." There was no pond, as far as I know. What there was was a clear, healthy, life-filled creek. And they built right up to the edge of that creek.

One weekend a friend and I rode bikes down there to spend a few hours catching minnows and tadpoles, and the creek stank. The water was filled with green slime, and the sand along the edges was orange. There were no animals, no fish, no invertebrates. I tried going back a few times, but nothing ever changed. I figure that development company threw some new lawns out, applied a bunch of fertilizer, and whatever was extra just washed into the creek, killing everything that was there.

When I wrote the city about how sad my recent visit to Sweetwater Creek made me, I was advised to wash my hands after playing in my hometown's creeks. Apparently, I could catch any number of feces-related diseases.

Sometimes, a walk in the woods isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Walk to the Prairie

A couple weekends ago I went for a walk on the Bolen Bluff trail in Payne's Prairie Preserve State Park with my friends Gabe and Amanda, their kids, and Gabe's mom. We were looking for wild horses.

Where's Waldo?

There were three -- two dark, one white -- and they grazed in the forest alongside the trail. Then they crossed the path about thirty feet in front of us. It was pretty cool! The horses were shaggy and mostly ignored us, although one was acting pretty sketchy. I think she was young.


I don't know how many wild horses are on the Payne's Prairie. The prairie used to be managed as a cattle ranch, so there are still old dikes, and evidently these are the descendants of cracker horses.


After a mile or so, the trail leaves the hammock and enters the prairie; it follows an old dike. The view is beautiful, especially at the end of the day. Another half-mile or so down the trail there's a low observation tower. You can stand on it and look for marsh hawks, bison, and other prairie wildlife.


Unfortunately, we had to turn around as soon as we reached the prairie, because the park closes at sunset, and the rangers can be very strict about enforcing it. They'll lock your car in the parking lot and call the sheriff's office to come get you. Which means you get a ticket for trespassing. Of course, by the time we dragged the kids out of the woods, a ranger was waiting for us. She was not happy. I don't think she has kids (or friends with kids?), or maybe she would have been a little more understanding. Or maybe she was just hungry or something.

Here's what the Florida State Parks Web site has to say about the Bolen Bluff trail. It's much more poetic than my description:

"The 2.6 mile roundtrip trail is named after a family of pioneer settlers who lived on the south rim or bluff of Paynes Prairie. The trail leads to a wildlife viewing deck after it passes beneath the shady canopy of a hardwood forest dominated by large oaks -- the most impressive of which are southern live oak. Other species of oaks as well as sweetgum, hickory, palm, magnolia and holly trees flourish along the trail. In Florida, communities of broad-leaved evergreens or hardwood-dominated forests are called "hammocks." This name probably originated from early native Americans that inhabited the region. Hammocks grow on high well-drained soils and thus provide an ideal habitat for a large diversity of animal species including Virginia white-tailed deer, wild turkey, bobcat, gray fox, barred owl and raccoon.

Located halfway along the loop-trail is an open, grassy knoll-- Bolen Bluff. The bluff affords the visitor a scenic vista of the low-lying freshwater marsh, wet prairie and open water of Alachua Lake. From the bluff a 0.5-mile spur-trail heads out onto the prairie basin along an old earthen dike. During the 1920-30's, the Camp family constructed an extensive system of dikes and canals into the vast wetland to reduce the flooding and thus create drier conditions for cattle ranching. In 1970 the Camp Ranch was sold to the State of Florida establishing the first state preserve in the Florida Park System.

Today upland areas once cleared for agriculture and cattle grazing are slowly returning to their previous hammock state.

The trailhead is accessed off of US 441 south of Gainesville. Open daily 8 a.m. to sunset. Foot and bike traffic."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Thanksgiving Dinner

I'm late, but oh well.

Thanksgiving was fun. Lots of people, good food, etc.


I ate a lot of vegetables, but actually did not overeat. I only had one plate of food.


(And a bowl.) I made white bean and leek cassoulet with baked-in biscuits. I screwed up the biscuits; me and dough do not get along. I'm not sure what a cassoulet is, except I think it's a type of stew. It was so-so. I probably won't make it again.


As per usual, I didn't eat any dessert, but someone complained last year when I didn't show the options on the blog. This is what I call "the dooky roll." It's yellow sheet cake rolled up with jelly, whipped cream, and chocolate, or something like that. Everyone loves it. I don't think I've ever tried it, although my parents make it a lot. This time there are raspberries on top. I love the way raspberries melt in your mouth like little fuzzy jewels. I think I was 22 before I ever had fresh raspberries. My life has not been the same since.


I think this was apple pie. Didn't try it.


My mom is a great hostess, and has a flair for making everything both beautiful and welcoming.


My parents have gotten in the habit of buying fresh flowers every week. It adds a really nice feeling to the kitchen.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sorry!

I have photos from two weekends ago that I want to post. I just haven't had a chance yet. Tomorrow, perhaps.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Quick Update

I have not abandoned ye olde blog. I will be taking photos again (first item of business: Thanksgiving dinner) and posting stuff soon, as Kim has replaced the missing shutter release button on my camera! Reader, that sassy crafter replaced it with a thumbtack! And it actually looks like the real thing. Amazing.

In other news, Georgia saw a red fox (Vulpes vulpes fulva -- I like saying that ten times fast) at work yesterday. I have seen a fox there before, but it was at least a year ago. When I told Tom, he said he saw two foxes there a few evenings ago! I think they live in the woods near our building -- the woods which are, like, thirty feet from the busiest road in town and only about twenty acres. (OK, I admit I am terrible at measurements and such. I'm estimating. Maybe I will try to find out exactly.) One of these days, I might have to go exploring on my lunch hour...

And I have been remiss in recognizing a very special birthday. My blog is now over a year old -- fourteen months, to be exact. If I could hold my blog in my arms, I would have someone take a photo of us and post it on Facebook. That seems to be the trend among my friends and their spawn these days. And lord knows I try to fit in.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Austin

The trip to Austin was fun.

We ate lots of delicious Tex-Mex cuisine.



We visited old friends. One of Rayne's friends collects, grows, and sells cacti and other succulents. He had multiple greenhouses filled with the most amazing plants! Of course, the only time I nearly tripped was in the cactus greenhouse.






We wandered around some shopping areas. My favorite store was called Uncommon Objects, and was the coolest antique store I've ever been in. Each area of the store presented a perfectly arranged tableau.



Austin has loads of unique, progressive shops, like this one, that sells all environmentally friendly products for the home. We saw their products (paper towels, toilet paper, and hand soap) in nearby restaurants.

We also went to Barton Springs, the famous (and gigantic) spring in the middle of the city. Actually, the spring area was created by the systematic damming of the Colorado River, so it's actually a spring run that's been cemented in. We went swimming -- in November! The water is sixty-some degrees. It felt wonderful.



On another day, in a different part of the park (and river), we went canoeing (actually, it's a reservoir called Lady Bird Lake that was created by another dam). By this point the shutter button had fallen off my camera (I'm hard on these things!), so I didn't take photos. But it was a magnificent day. We paddled in the late afternoon light up the river, toward the downtown skyline. We saw the new, "green" city hall, and slid under a bridge right as a freight train went by.

The rumors are true: Austin is a pretty cool place. (I'll get a new button for my camera soon.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Just Call Me "Director"

I just found out that I'm on the board of directors of a newly formed non-profit organization my friend Alex is starting in the Virgin Islands. That is, I knew I would be on the board of directors, but I just found out we are officially formed! It's pretty exciting. Alex is a master scuba diver, urban planner, and environmental scientist extraordinaire. She created the organization, Nautical Farms, Inc., to grow coral in order to repopulate the decimated reefs of the U.S. Virgin Islands and simultaneously conduct environmental education, which as far as I can tell doesn't really exist down there. It's going to be awesome.

I was generously given a digital camera by Mindy, and I'm stoked to start using it. I haven't taken any photos yet, because I've been too busy. But this weekend I'm going to Austin, and I'm planning to see some of the nature-y stuff around there. I've never been to Austin. The last time I was in Texas I was hospitalized for the first time ever, so I've avoided the state since then. This trip should be more fun.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Summer, We Hardly Knew Ye

OK, I admit I'm only a little sorry summer is over. I was tired of sleeping in my living room -- especially because I recently bought new, soft sheets that I wanted to enjoy on my bed -- and there is nothing I despise more than roaches, which thrive in the heat and humidity. Plus I'm tired of wearing the same thing all the time and I want to start riding my bike to work more, which I refuse to do from about June to September.

But it is a little bittersweet to say goodbye to fresh Silver Queen corn on the cob, field peas, and boiled peanuts, not to mention a quiet college town (the students came back at the end of August).

That said, the past couple of weeks have brought us beautiful weather here. Some kind of cool breeze floated down from Canada, bringing with it clear, crisp skies and mild temperatures (the 70s). As a final farewell to summer, this weekend I went with Rayne to the Ichetucknee Springs State Park, at the north end of the river. It was idyllic. I wasn't in a great mood when we got there, but by the time we left I felt completely, utterly, blissfully happy. Not to sound hokey, but I think there's something really healing in those waters, and I don't mean the nutrient-fed algae.

After we were done swimming, we sat on the ground near the spring, enjoying the sunlight filtering through the trees and the hypnotizing turquoise of the water. I idly noticed a slight rustling in the nearby erosion-exposed, leaf-covered roots of tree on the shoreline. Curious, I kept watching, eventually seeing a snake slide silently into the water. S/he swam rapidly along the bottom toward the spring run. It was so cool! I've only ever seen a snake swim at the surface of water. Two bass chased it, either trying to scare it away or catch scraps from its meals. It was about four feet long and skinny, with dark-gray or brown blotches all down its body. I think it was either a brown water snake or midland water snake.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Poaching Hawks

This year I've noticed an unusual preponderance of hawks in Gainesville. Everywhere I go, it seems, I hear them screaming, or whatever it is called, or see them circling or perching. There's at least one hawk that lives near my house, at least one in my parents' neighborhood, and a couple in another neighborhood where I spend a lot of time.

But the best hawk-watching is at work. I have a large picture window in my cubicle that looks out onto a sort of yard outside our building. A pair of hawks lives nearby, and they like to hang out on the telephone poles, telephone wires, and trees right outside my window, cleaning their beaks, ignoring angry swooping mockingbirds, and turning their heads 180 degrees. They eat insects at the base of the poles and fly around looking for rodents or whatever. They're magnificent.

Photo by Kim

I think they're red-shouldered hawks, and I'm pretty sure they're a mated pair. Their nest is near the top of a pine tree near our parking lot, about 70 feet up. I don't have any [poached] photos of the nest, but I thought I'd mention it anyway. Around May I heard some chicks peeping! But I never saw them fledge. I wonder what happened to them. Did they make it? Do they live nearby?

Photo by Kim

I have a theory about why hawks are so ubiquitous in Gainesville this year. Here it is: This fall there was a huge crop of acorns, bigger than anyone I know from North Florida can remember it being. I postulate that the population of squirrels therefore exploded, and that the hawks chowed on the squirrels, meaning more of them mated successfully, and more of those chicks survived. Anyway, it's all I got.

Photo by Jen

I never "got" birdwatching until a couple of years ago. Before that, I was all, who cares about birds? But there's nothing like living in L.A. for two years to remind you what's so amazing about North Florida. A couple of years ago I started spending a lot of my free time canoeing on various Florida rivers and paying close attention to wildlife. The more I learned, the more in awe of birds I was. There's something very satisfying about paying careful attention to the plants and animals of a place. I'm not sure I can articulate it more clearly than saying it just makes me feel more alive.


Note: I still don't have a camera, as you can see. These photos were poached from my co-workers. (Thanks!) Until I get another digital camera, I'll try to keep the blog up as much as I can with other people's photos.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Sad News

I think I finally managed to break my digital camera. The blog is on a hiatus until I win the lottery.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Also...

Kim just showed me how to stitch a panorama together in Photoshop. If you click on it it gets bigger.


In this photo I am standing with a "world famous" banana daquiri at some weird tourist trap called Mountaintop, which is, you guessed it, at the top of a mountain.

That's Magen's Bay down below, and you can see the side bits of some hurricane (Gustav?) blowing quickly through in the background. Magen's Bay, incidentally, is named after the daughter of some famous Florida guy named Fairchild (can't figure out his first name...). The Fairchilds, who created the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in South Florida, lived in St. Thomas, or had a house there, and have bequeathed a large swath of property to the government of the U.S. Virgin Islands to preserve in perpetuity. Alex said this land is actually totally neglected -- there is no management plan -- and no public outreach and education, which is sad.

Back, with Gills

I have returned from my trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands.


I visited my friend Alex, who lives on St. Thomas. She is a scuba instructor and got me my open-water certification!

Scuba diving is amazing. Breathing underwater and coming close to all of these otherwise inaccessible plants and animals is indescribably cool.


video





We also went snorkeling about three different times, once after we took a kayak out in a bay on a beautiful day.






It's unbelievably beautiful there.



Then I left. :(


Thanks, Alex and Ed!