Friday, June 30, 2017

My antidote to the daily news

This week at the beach has been the perfect mix of productivity and playfulness. In addition to getting much weeding, clearing and planting done at our property, meeting with workmen and dealing with design changes, Ralph and I managed to get ourselves up and on our bikes everyday but one and this morning, when Ralph needed a little extra sleep-in time so I went out alone.

I don't mind solo rides. As much as I enjoy our rides together, there's a special pleasure in being on my own.  This morning, instead of biking along the beach from 27th Ave. to Hiles as we usually do, I took Saxon south. It was early.  No cars at all.  It only took about 10 minutes to bike to the beach. By then, the sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon but low-lying clouds blocked it from view. I decided to take a right and bike south. It was dead low tide. Perfect for beachside cycling.

Sun hidden behind clouds

There was little wind to keep sand fleas away. They didn't bother me when I was moving but when I stopped to take pictures the tiny bugs became annoying.

Too many sand fleas hovering about to stay still for long

A quick dip in the surf solved the sand flea problem. Not only was the water delicious but by the time I came out, the sun had risen above the cloud cover.

My post-swim attempt at a selfie with the sun

The rising sun wasn't all I saw as I biked north along the shoreline.  Part way back to 27th Ave., I came upon a cool crab.

Smaller, redder and with a more rounded shell than a ghost crab

Hard to be crabby on such a sunshiny morn

My knowledge of crustaceans is limited but expanding. The more time we spend at NSB, the more fun I have learning about unfamiliar critters and plants, including many different kinds of crabs. The one I saw this morning didn't look at all like the ghost crabs I usually see on the beach.

Ghost crab looking...crabby

A little farther along, I stopped for a second swim then pedalled until I came upon a fellow who had just caught a fish.  He seemed so proud of his catch even though the fish was quite tiny indeed.

Proud fisherman

A few minutes before arriving at 27th Ave., the shell of a small horseshoe crab caught my eye so I picked it up and took a couple shots before returning it to the waves.

Even an abandoned horseshoe crab is fascinating

Below is a video I made late last summer when Ralph and I watched a much large, LIVE horseshoe crab make its way back to the ocean through the shallow water.

Today's adventure was different than usual in that I was biking alone, but it was the same as always by being so rich in discoveries.  No matter what weather, time of day, season or tide, when I'm at the beach something - usually many somethings - catches my eye. Being at the beach in the early morning is a great way to start the day!

Yesterday's early morning skyshow
My antidote to the daily news

Monday, June 26, 2017

Sunrise bike ride yields surprising find!

During this morning's sunrise bike ride, Ralph and I came upon freshly made sea turtle tracks.  

Two roads diverged on a sandy beach... 

The tracks on the right were made when the female sea turtle came out of the ocean to lay her eggs.  The ones on the left, closer to where Ralph is standing next to our bikes, were made after she finished burying her eggs in the soft, dry sand and had headed back to the ocean.

Tracks made as mama turtle returned to the ocean

Below, you can see the slightly mounded area where the turtle laid her eggs and buried them before making her way back to the ocean.

I wonder how the eggs will fare...

The nest was about 20' south of nest #A32 about halfway between 27th Ave. and Hiles.

Nest #A32 marked and cordoned off by
volunteers from NSB turtle trackers

Shortly after Ralph and I began biking toward Hiles from 27th Ave., we passed a NSB turtle tracker truck. Volunteers from New Smyrna Beach Marine Turtle Conservancy patrol the beach every morning during sea turtle nesting season (May to October) to mark new nests and check the progress of existing spots where young turtles will hopefully emerge.

Photo credit: NSB Turtle Trackers

The truck we passed was on its way back from completing its morning route, which means the sea turtle must have come out of the water, laid her eggs and returned to the ocean after the volunteer's truck had passed that spot and just a few minutes before we got there. If we had only been a bit quicker at pedalling or if I hadn't stopped so often to take pictures of the sunrise Ralph and I might have seen mama turtle in action as she followed reproductive behavior as old as the ocean.

Photo credit: NSB Turtle Trackers

While her labor may be an instinctual effort, it is not without dangers. After laying about 100 eggs, a process that can take up to 2 hours, the buried eggs must avoid detection by a wide range of predators during their two-month underground incubation.  In addition to being disturbed by humans, turtle eggs are liable to be dug up and eaten by coyotes, raccoons, birds, dogs and ghost crabs.

A clutch of sea turtle eggs
Photo credit:

However, once eggs hatch, they have many more obstacles to overcome. They must then survive predation by birds, sea animals and human-made threats like fishing nets and garbage.

Although sea turtles can live 40 to 60 years, only one out of 1,000 eggs make it to adulthood. To improve the odds of having her offspring survive, each female sea turtle will lay between 3-5 nests during the nesting season.

Photo credit: Bill Curtsinger VIA National Geographic

Our was an almost-encounter that some might call a missed moment but that's not how I choose to see it. I was excited because we came closer this morning than we've ever come before to encountering a sea turtle on the beach and I know that one of these mornings on a sunrise bike ride, there's a very good chance our timing will be spot on.

I only hope the mama sea turtle timing is spot on as well.

One of these mornings, I'll capture a photo of the sunrise
shining on a sea turtle heading to or from the ocean

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Here a gator, there a gator

Every year just before the summer solstice, a young alligator appears in our lake.  If it happened only now and then, I'd consider it an anomaly, but instead, time has proven the appearance of a sub-adult alligator to be a normal seasonal event.  May and June are the months when alligators mate in Florida and on our property it's also the time of year when a young gator  - seldom more than one - makes an appearance in Hour Lake.

The yearly sighting always has similarities such as the alligator's size, which hovers between four- and five-feet long, a size corresponding to a 4- or 5-year old reptile.  A gator of that size has not yet reached sexual maturity but is too old and large to remain with its clutch of reptilian brothers and sisters. It is ready to go out on its own in search of new habitat and feeding grounds.

Although the immature gator may still be about a year away from being old enough to mate - alligators mate when they reach about six-feet in length - it is big enough to be taken seriously, especially if it shows signs of acting aggressively toward people.

Over the past 25 years, we've only had to call in licensed Florida trappers on three or four occasions and each time, the hunters have been successful at capturing and removing abnormally aggressive animals.

Licensed trapper removing a captured, aggressive gator

Fortunately, most alligators that have frequented Hour Lake have not paid us much attention. Although some have seemed curious about who we are and what we're doing swimming in "their" lake, their reptilian focus has usually been more centered on the fish and turtles that provide them with sustenance than we humans, who are really their only natural predators.

However, especially with our young grandchildren now playing in the water as well as Ralph and me taking the occasional dip, that doesn't mean we should let our guard down.

Young gator checking me out as I check him out

During May and June I am especially attuned to alligator movement.  When I'm here and I spot one, I go out and watch it, waiting to see if the toothy critter swims away when it sees me or glides closer. Most alligators that come toward people don't do so out of instinct to attack but because some foolish person has fed them in the past.  Like any wild animal that has learned to equate human beings with edible handouts, an alligator that has been fed by people replaces natural reticence with abnormal aggressiveness.

Yesterday, as I was sitting down by the lake in the early evening, the young gator that I've been watching recently left the mid-lake peat island where it had been resting to glide slowly toward the shore.  Fortunately, it glided away from me instead of directly toward where I was sitting - a good sign that it is probably not going to be a candidate for removal.  Nonetheless, I resisted going for a dip to cool off.  Sometimes it's better to err on the side of caution rather than tempt fate by throwing caution to the wind - or, in this case - to the water.

A photo from years gone by of my son Timmy, who was about
15 at the time, showing off his teenage strength by holding up an
aggressive young gator that a trapper had captured