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


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