Friday, October 20, 2017

It's a wrap - spider style

Yesterday I watched a yellow and black argiope spider (writing spider, aka Charlotte from Charlotte's Web) wrap up prey on a windy afternoon.

Argiope spiders spin HUGE webs and this beautiful arachnid is no exception.  It's shimmery web stretches from a corner of our house to a white cast iron chair with a distinctive zigzag pattern in its center.

With a web stretching between the roof, wall and left cast iron chair, the female argiope spider
rests upside down in the web's center. 

While over the years I've watched argiopes catch many different kinds of insects, I have rarely observed them shrouding their prey as efficiently and quickly as this lovely lady wrapped up her prey.

Another yellow and black argiope with a butterfly catch

Below are three short videos of our most recent resident arachnid as she wrapped up her catch in a shroud of white fibers.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

4 things I never expected to see people do at the beach

Whenever I'm at the beach I expect to see the unexpected.  But usually, those unexpected finds include rare shells, interesting wildlife, a special skyscape, pretty sandcastles or mademade items like watches, sunglasses and plastic shovels that wash ashore. 

When it comes to people, most of the time I see kids (and the rare adult) doing handstands and cartwheels, tossing balls and playing games. I've spied lovers entwined on beach blankets, tai chi and yoga practitioners and even the occasional beachside wedding. 

But, over the past couple years, I've encountered a few other more unique human/ocean interactions.  Below are four things I never expected to see people do at the beach starting with a banjo-playing fellow serenading the surf.

This guy's banjo playing was accompanied by the percussive beat of rolling waves

This woman gives new meaning to 'just hanging out with a couple piers.'

People bring all sorts of things to the beach - blankets, towels, coolers, music...
But for some reason, this fellow brought a ladder

I've encountered many people doing yoga on the sand but this guy chose to do his stretches on a paddleboard just offshore

Friday, October 13, 2017

A beachside encounter in 'Plein' sight!

I almost always find something unexpected on my early morning beachside bike rides. Often those finds include interesting wildlife, plants or washed ashore items.  But recently, over a two-day period, my beachcombing finds involved Gainesville artist Peter J. Carolin participating in the 7th annual New Smyrna Beach Paint Out.

Artist blending colors with gloved hands

Much to my delight and fascination, Peter set up his extensive outdoor studio in front of SeaWoods, a stretch of beach midway between my usual starting and finishing points.

Quite a lot of gear to tote to and from the beach

On both mornings, I paused in my morning ride to say hello and ask if I could take pictures, which Peter graciously permitted.

Peter didn't seem to mind all my questions and picture taking

I'm glad he did, because not only did I enjoy watching him work, but found myself especially intrigued by his cleverly constructed work station made from repurposed items like old ironing boards, aluminum crutches and clothes hangers.  Ingenious use of castaway stuff!

Arranging his ironing board table in front of swiveling paint shelves made from crutches, clothes hangers, old glass medicine shelves and 2x4s

Below is a short YouTube video of artist Peter J. Carolin from photos taking during early morning beachside bike rides on October 11 and 12, 2017

A fun surprise!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Halloween sounds of Giant Timber Clumping Bamboo

The creaking and screeching sounds from this untrimmed, mature clump of Bambus oldhamii would be the perfect accompaniment to a midnight visit to a haunted house.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Being in the moment

Ralph and I went for a walk around the south half of our property yesterday evening.  Although we've been back from the beach for three days, this was our first chance to survey post-Irma effects in the lake and low-lying acreage.

During normal periods, this area is a meadow abutting a marsh.
Prior to Hurricane Irma the line of 6-year-old slash pines stood on dry ground.
Now the trees are standing in the middle of a shallow pond.

Same area photographed during a dry period in 2012
Look closely to see the line of slash pines just beginning to grow along the rim of the bog

Although slash pines can tolerate standing water for short periods,
they'll die if it takes months for water to recede

Our Groveland homestead is fairly evenly divided between high and low ground.  During normal periods, about half of our acreage is either wetland or lake.  The remainder is fertile upland in forest, fields and gardens. But that proportion changes dramatically during times of extreme weather.  

Hurricane Irma definitely counted as extreme weather.

The beach in November 2010 during a period of normal water levels

Our beach post-Irma - less than half its normal size

For several months prior to the storm, we’d experienced a prolonged period of drought that exposed low-lying sections of the lake-bed. My morning rows in Hour Lake didn't take as long because the lake had shrunk. Land that used to be underwater was no longer submerged.

Large swaths of exposed lake-bed 

Bog buttons growing in dry, cracked lake-bed

During the first few years we lived here, I remember worrying when it rained too much or when it didn't rain enough. But now, after 25 years of lakeside living, I've come to a better understanding, a realization of sorts of the way things work. No matter what we might want or expect, landscape is never static. Water levels constantly change as do the type of plant and animal life responding to those weather-influenced fluctuations.

Now, instead of feeling anxious about things beyond my control, I do my best to simply accept. To savor the seasonal ebb and flow of the world outside my window. In high times and low times and all times in between, my goal is simple: With awe and fascination, strive to be in the moment. To accept the present as the gift - the extraordinary gift - it is.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Friday, September 15, 2017

Can't get out! Spiderweb has us trapped!

I was in the kitchen working on my second cup of coffee when I heard my husband shout to me from the hallway on the west side of our house.

"Come quick!  And bring your camera!"

Not one to miss what I assumed would be a wildlife encounter since Ralph was calling from the room leading to his vegetable garden, I wasted no time heeding his command.

I'm glad I did because a large, colorful yellow and black argiope spider (Argiope aurantia) had woven an incredibly broad and beautiful web across our house's western exit.  

From where we both stood looking out through the door's 9-pane windows, Mama Argiope's 2-inch long body hung upside down smack in the middle of its web's distinctive zigzagging center.

Ralph reaches through the partially open door to stick his hand behind a large and lovely lady spider

The black and yellow argiope is a species of orb weaving spider also known as a yellow garden spider, golden garden spider or writing spider, but it can also be called 'Charlotte,' because the spider in E.B.White's classic children's book, Charlotte's Web, was an Argiope aurantia.

Charlotte the spider's message written in her web

Although quite harmful to insects - argiope spiders dine on whatever flying insect unwittingly becomes entangled in its sticky web - orb weavers present no danger to people. Quite the opposite. Argiopes are a gardener's friend because their diet often contains pests that would otherwise damage plants.

Unfortunately, that positive attribute isn't enough to dispel its unpopularity. Although Ralph and I appreciate spiders, most people don't.  As Wilbur the pig demonstrates in the dialog below, despite his friend's beneficial contributions to society, Wilbur finds its eating habits less than endearing:

[a fly lands in Charlotte's web]
Charlotte: Just a minute, Wilbur.
[she climbs up and wraps the fly]
Charlotte: He'll make a perfect breakfast for me.
Wilbur: [shuddering] Ooooh. You mean you eat flies?
Charlotte: Why, certainly. I eat anything that gets caught in my web. I have to live, don't I?
Wilbur: [nervously] Why, yes, of course. Do they taste good?
Charlotte: Delicious.
Wilbur: LECCH!
Charlotte: Course, I don't really *eat* them, I drink their blood. I love blood.
Wilbur: [gasps] Oh, please don't say things like that.
Charlotte: Why not? It's true.
Wilbur: But it's *cruel*.
Charlotte: Well, *you* can't talk. You have your meals brought to you in a pail. Nobody feeds me. I live by my wits.
Wilbur: It just seems an odd sort of diet.
Charlotte: Do you realize that if I didn't eat them, bugs would get so numerous, they'd destroy the earth? Spiders are really very useful creatures.

As Ralph and I stood inside looking out, it dawned on me that the only way to get into the garden without damaging the spider's web was to duck down and scoot under it, which I promptly did.

From the outside looking in through the open door

Once outside, I noticed that the female argiope was not alone.  Curled up in an upper corner of the web was a male argiope, much smaller than the female, as male spiders tend to be.

Ralph points to the male argiope all curled up and waiting for an opportunity to mate 

Like their human counterparts, male web weavers spend much of their life in search of a partner with whom to mate. When they finally find a female of their species, they build themselves a tiny web in a corner of the female's web and try to entice her with music made by plucking the web's glittering strands. Each vibrating pluck of the strings sends a message that the male hopes will entice the female spider to engage in a bit of amorous action. However, unfortunately for the male, there's no happy ending. Once coitus is achieved, the male spider dies and will likely be consumed by its so-called partner.

Spider - man

Below is a video I took of the spider - of both spiders - in the web outside the hallway door leading to Ralph's vegetable garden. 

Read more stories about Argiope spiders by clicking on these links

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Another early morning at the beach

Ralph and I arrived at New Smyrna Beach yesterday afternoon and I couldn't wait for morning to get back on my bike, ride down to the ocean and watch the sunrise.

This is the view that greeted me as I biked onto the hard-packed, rain-soaked sand this morning shortly before sunrise, just after high tide. Dark, heavy clouds hung low over the water but in the distance, a strip of brightness lit up the horizon like a brazen flare.

Heavy, dark clouds, and yet there was light...

As I biked south, streaks of pink light streamed across the still-dark sky.

Looking southward instead of east, I inhaled morning calmness along with the view.  Few people were out and a slight breeze kept the sand fleas away as long as I kept moving.

More pink light filtering through the cloud cover hinting of illumination soon to come. While I usually focus on the ocean view or north-south vistas as I bike along, this morning I paid attention to the westerly sky where random clouds received a dash of color.

A spot of light in the western sky

When I reached the stairway at Watts, I stopped to juggle but once I stopped moving, the sand fleas or no-see-ums zeroed in on my body, forcing me to cut short my morning stretches and juggling practice and run down into the ocean to take a quick dip in the warm and soothing brine.

Before heading back to my sleepy husband, I paused to write a few messages in the sand.

We all have a choice...

My sunrise beachside bike ride always gives me hope...

Before arriving back at 27th Avenue, I stopped to take a video of two cormorants in the shallow water.  Cormorants are not birds I normally associate with the beach. I see snowy egrets (like the one in the video) all the time as well as willets, pelicans, plovers, gulls, terns and great blue herons.  But this morning was the first time I noticed a pair of cormorants - birds I normally see at our Groveland lake - in the ocean.  As I watched them in the water, I couldn't help but wonder if they were frolicking or feeding. Most likely, the latter, but maybe (I like to think maybe) just a bit of both?

By the time I left the cormorants, the sky was much brighter than it had been when I started out. I was now almost back to where I began with just a couple more images to capture before leaving.

Looking north toward 27th Ave Beach

Despite it being a Saturday morning on Labor Day weekend with dense cloud cover starting to give way to speckled light, few people were out on the sand. That won't be the case in a couple hours when this same stretch of beach will be blanketed with beach-goers on holiday.

A lone seagull perched upon a pier

Gulls may be noisy, greedy, unpopular birds but I never tire of seeing them, especially when they stand on a pier surveying a domain that's as much (maybe more...) theirs than ours.

Watching that gull on a still-quiet morning on what soon will be an extremely busy beach day, reminded me that the world belongs to us all - the large and the small, the winged, wingless, clawed, scaled, finned, furred and feathered.

It's ours to protect, not to neglect.  It's ours to preserve, not to destroy. It's ours and, hopefully, it's their world too, for as long as we share and take care for its many wonders.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Savor the moment

I've always thought of myself as a lake person more than a beach nut. Yet, over the past few years, my fascination and enjoyment of time spent by the ocean has grown immensely.

I look forward to the time Ralph and I spend in New Smyrna Beach with eager anticipation. I love my early morning bike rides, combing the beach for treasures - and I always find something - new birds, crustaceans, plants and animals to discover, learn about and appreciate.  Together, they add up to complete joy and excitement.

This morning, as I try to do whenever we're at the beach (and we're here more and more often each month) I got up early, made myself a to-go mug of hot, buttered coffee, packed my juggling clubs, camera and towel into my improvised bike carryall and pedaled off to the ocean to catch the morning light.

This was my view when I got there

A sight worth getting up early for

The sun was hidden behind a bank of low-lying clouds but rays of light appeared nonetheless. I'm always encouraged by old Sol's ability to penetrate even the darkest sky. Inspiring determination!

It was almost dead low tide, which meant there was a flat, expansive stretch of hard sand - perfect for riding on with my three-wheel recumbent.  Waves were gentle, almost non-existent.  I rode steadily along anticipating a relaxing swim once I'd pedaled a couple miles.

A shadow-selfie of me in my fun cycle

Once I was south of Hiles, I stop biking, sipped some coffee - still hot! - and took out my clubs.  My club juggling has definitely improved thanks to these early morning practice sessions on the beach. There's something about juggling on the beach that I really love. Especially at sunrise when the only ones to see me make mistakes are a few uninterested snowy egrets, pelicans, royal terns and the occasional walker, biker or beachside jogger.

The birds don't seem to mind if I drop clubs while practicing my juggling

After juggling for a bit - got up to 50 throws this morning - I went for a swim.  The water was absolutely perfect!  Warm and gentle and delightfully salty.  I almost hated to get out.  But I did and I'm glad I did because if I hadn't, I might have missed seeing the hermit crab crawling across the sand inside the biggest moonsnail shell I've ever seen!

Below are two short videos of the moonsnail-occupied hermit crab making its way across the sand:

When it comes to shelling, New Smyrna Beach is no Sanibel Island.  Sure (shore?) there are a few shells here and there but usually none of them are anything special. But sometimes - maybe because of the tide or weather - many kinds of pretty shells wash ashore.  That's what happened this morning.

A few of my morning finds

Thanks to all the shells I kept spotting from my low-riding recumbent (a perfect bike for shell-spotting) it took me much longer than usual to make it back home to Ralph. Usually he joins me but this morning he needed a little extra time to rest before starting the day.  But that's okay. We'll have another chance tomorrow and if there's one thing I've learned about being at the beach it's that everyday there's something new to discover at the ocean.  Can't wait to seer what the next day will bring!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

How to tell good eggs from bad

How to tell good eggs from bad

A bad egg will float.  Throw it away.
A good egg will sink to the bottom and rest on its side.
A so-so egg will sink to the bottom and stand on its pointy end. Use it soon!

Whenever Ralph brings back chicken and duck eggs from our neighbor's flock, I clean them off in the lake. I put them in a colander and set them in the shallow water by our beach to soak while I settle down beside them.  

A colander full of eggs fresh from our neighbor's farm sits in the lake waiting to be scrubbed clean

As soon as I arrive, I'm surrounded by a school of curious minnows eager to check out this potential new source of food.

Minnows are especially interested in a glob of dried yolk on one of the chicken eggs 

Before scrubbing the dirt and feathers off of the eggs, I test them out individually by placing them one at a time in the lake.  If an egg lays on its side on the bottom it's fresh.  If it stays on the bottom but points upward instead of resting on its side, that means it's getting old and should be eaten soon. However, if it immediately floats to the top, that tells me the egg is too old and should not be eaten at all.  Two of the eggs from this batch were floaters.  I threw them out into the deeper water knowing that some critter - maybe an alligator or a raccoon - would find the eggs and gobble them up.

Maybe a young gator will eat the rotten eggs

To clean the eggs, I use a brush given to me by my friend Maria Moniz. Although the brush, made by Full Circle, is actually meant as a potato scrubber, it also works extremely well at cleaning the dirt off eggs.  Before long I had a bowl filled with brown chicken and white duck eggs ready to take inside.

Clean eggs ready to refrigerate until used

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Best pineapple ever!

What's bright yellow, sweet and juicy? The best pineapple ever, that's what!

And I grew it myself!  

Wahoo!  Look what I grew!

This wasn't the first pineapple I've grown - far from it - but it was certainly the biggest, the juiciest and the sweetest one yet.

A bowl full of sweetness!

What makes one pineapple better than another?  Each one I've grown has come from store-bought fruit.  Just your typical grocery store pineapples.  It could be the soil or location, weather conditions or a combination of those factors that enabled this most recent pineapple to develop into such a large and tasty fruit.  I suppose I'll never know for sure.  What I do know, is the delight I've found in growing (and eating!) my own pineapples.

The mother plant behind me has two more suckers on it
that might develop more fruit 

If you haven't tried growing one yourself yet, give it a try.  Pineapples are among the easiest fruit to grow.  Simply cut off the top of a store-bought fruit and place it in a scraped away spot of soil.

Lobbed off top ready for planting

Pineapples can be grown in a sunny spot or in the shade.  I've successfully grown them in both.  The pineapple top doesn't need to be buried deeply.  It doesn't need any special soil. Pineapples, which are in the bromeliad family, are no-fuss plants.  Once one has been set in the ground its only requirement is to be left alone.

To learn more about growing pineapples, check out my post from last August:

Pineapples - easy to grow, yummy to eat

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Birds or pesticides? Which would you choose to control pesky insects?

Scroll down to watch video of a downy woodpecker eating insects on bamboo

Poisonous sprays aren't the only way to prevent small sucking insects like mealybug, aphids and scale from damaging plants. Birds can eliminate insect infestations too.

As long as plants are not treated with noxious chemicals, birds like this female downy woodpecker will take care of plant-bothering bugs for you.

Female downy woodpecker feeding on miniscule insects

Mealybug, aphids and scale all excrete a sticky substance called honeydew that quickly becomes infected with the sooty mold fungus. Insect-eating birds like woodpeckers are attracted to this ready supply of food and will consume.

In the video below, watch how diligently this female downy woodpecker circles the stalk in order to devour as many tiny bugs as possible on this young shoot of Blue Timber (Bambusa chungii) Clumping Bamboo.

Since bamboo is such a fast-growing plant, it's able to outgrow any insect problem. Nonetheless, some people still insist upon using chemical controls. While there are products recommended for sooty mold, I prefer to let woodpeckers have at it. What about you?

Sunday, July 9, 2017

A celestial two-fer!

Biking south at sunrise in New Smyrna Beach. 

To my left, watching the sunrise... 

To my right, watching the moon set...

A celestial two-fer. Double the pleasure!