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Reunite the Rivers

October 20th, 2021

Reunite the Rivers

Now is the time for action to reunite the Great Florida Waterway.

The Great Florida Waterway is made up of the Silver Springs, Ocklawaha and St. Johns Rivers.

The Great Florida Waterway is interupted in the middle by the Kirkpatrick Dam and Rodman Reervoir. These remnants of the long abandoned project to build the Cross-Florida Barge Canal disrupt the natural flow of the Great Florida Riverway and causes ecological harm in many forms.

FL_EurekaLock_4073.jpg Eureka Lock

During multiple periods in Florida's history various interests have desired to build a canal to short-cut across the Florida peninsula, avoiding the hazards - from weather, pirates or wartime enemies - of rounding the southern tip of the state through the Florida Straits. After several previous false starts, in the early 1960's a major step was taken on a canal project with the construction of a dam across the Ockalawaha River that created the Rodman Reservoir. Within a decade the cross-Florida barge canal project had been cancelled, largely due to concerns about the excessive envirnomoental impact that would result from completion of the canal. However the dam and reservoir on the Ocklawaha River have remained for over a half century.

Now the aging dam is in danger of failing, which would be devastating for the area of the lower Ocklawaha and the people living downstream along the St. Johns River, including Welaka. Since many people and organizations have advocated for the removal of the reservoir and returning the Ocklawaha to a free-flowing river, the St. Johns River Water Mangement District is currently (through 5pm Fri. Oct. 22, 2021) soliciting public input on the future of the river, dam and reservoir with a short four-question online survey at

A coalition of environmental, recreational and business organizations have joined together in an effort to Reunite the Rivers. These organizations are advocating for the fiscally and enviromentally responsible solution of breaching the earthen portion of the dam where the original river channel was and allowing the river to flow freely and return to its natural water levels. One of the benefits would be the uncovering of multiple springs including Canon Springs which I photographed during one of the reservoir drawdowns.

FL_CannonSpring_4032.jpg Cannon Springs

These drawdowns of the artifical lake have been required every couple of years for aquatic plant management of hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata), water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes), water hyacith (Eichhornia crassipes), coontail (Ceratophyllum demersum) and eelgrass (Vallisneria americana).
During the drawdowns the drowned forest is exposed along the sides of the original river channel.

FL_RodmanRes_3498.jpg Reflections of a Drowned Forest

Breaching the dam will restore safe passage for manatees to travel up to Silver Springs in the winter and for all types of fish to naturally migrate during their life cycles upstream and downstream between the Ocklawaha and the St. Johns.

This photograph was made on one of the oxbows along the natural section of the Ocklawaha River between the Silver River and Eureka. In this image you are looking both upstream on the left and downstream on the right.

FL_Ocklawaha_6228r.jpg Ocklawaha Oxbow

Below shows spanish moss-laden cypress trees in the winter topped with many white ibis along where the Ocklawaha River joins the St. Johns.

Ocklawaha_ibis_trees_6346.jpg Winter Ibis Trees

For an extensive and unbiased history of the Florida canal, I recommend "Ditch of Dreams" by Steven Noll and David Tegeder.

You may also want to check out these pages at Wild Florida Photo:

Ocklawaha River,

Rodman Reservoir Drawdown,

or the March 2015 Paul Rebmann Nature Photography blog post about the Ocklawaha River,

or watch the video "Lost Springs of the Ocklawaha River".

And don't forget to give your feedback before Oct. 23 at

Paul Rebmann

October 4, 2021

2021 Billboard Contest

August 17th, 2021

I have three entries in the 2021 Pixels/Fine Art America Billboard Contest.

My most popular photograph - Heading Out To Sea


Fine Art America link to vote for Heading Out To Sea

Another highly popular of my images - Cooter on Alligator Log


Fine Art America link to vote for Cooter on Alligator Log

And because I thought there should be a wildflower - Celestial Lily


Fine Art America link to vote for Celestial Lily

All votes appreciated, and if you are only voting for one and cannot make up your mind, my choice is Celestial Lily.

Voting requires a Pixels or Fine Art America login, or you can login to vote using Facebook.
I am fairly sure voting will be open all of August, and it may continue until Sept. 15.

Paul Rebmann

August 17, 2021

Backyard and Bicycle Botany during Quarantine

May 19th, 2020

Backyard and Bicycle Botany during Quarantine

Stay at home orders and self-quarantine to prevent the spread of Coronavirus has disrupted everyone's routines this spring.
Virginia & I were lucky in that our family spring camping trip to Paynes Prairie State Park was the week before all the Florida state parks closed and self-quarantines were implemented.
Now group meetings are being done online and trips to the gym are replaced with walks on the beach and bicycle rides.
However, this does not preclude either botanizing or photography, both of which I have been able to indulge in during these unusual times.
First a look at a few of the cool and not so cool plants that I have photographed around the yard during the past two months.

The bees alerted me that the yaupon holly was blooming. The tiny flowers are easily overlooked, and I probably would have done so if it had not been for the heavy traffic of pollinators heading in and out of our lone yaupon tree. Finally a morning with relatively light winds allowed for some close ups of the female flowers.

 Yaupon holly, female flower

I don't know where the nearest male yaupon plant is, but apparently it is close enough as we have had berries on our yaupon tree in previous years.

Another native plant in the yard is a pretty sprawling ground cover known as powderpuff. This year the powderpuffs seemed to be particularly prolific.

 Powderpuff flowers rising above the feathery leaves

Mimosa strigillosa is one of the five Florida Mimosa species, all having pink flowers in globular clusters and pinnately compound leaves. Also called sunshine mimosa it does not have prickles, unlike the otherwise similar sensitive-briars.

Rain showers triggered some copper lily blooms the following day.

 Copper lily flower

These rain lilys are native to Brazil, not Florida, but still a pleasant sight at this time of year. Very similar-looking to the native rain lily or atamasco lily that are found in north Florida.

One day I discovered a highly invasive plant in the corner of the yard next to the power pole. It was Sprenger's asparagus fern which I am sure grew from seeds dispersed by plants that used to be in a neighbor's landscape.

 Sprenger's asparagus fern flowers

After photographing the flowers, I dug up the plant, photographed the roots showing their bulbules and disposed of it.
In case you were wondering who Sprenger was, he was a German botanist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who was partner in a Naples (Italy, not Florida) horticultural house and popularized the use of this South African plant in Europe.

Bicycling for excersise also provided botanical opportunities. This native plant is Virginia pepperweed, and it was one of the many little wildflowers along the A1A portion of the Ormond Scenic Loop and Trail.

 Virginia pepperweed, immature fruit, a flower and buds

I have often noticed pepperweed in various locations, but usually after it has finished flowering and the distinctive fruit have matured.

Along the North Peninsula State Park section of the A1A trail was beach morning glory, which is also found on the dunes.

 Beach morning-glory and bur clover

This is just one of the many morning-glory species that can be found in Florida.

A large area of the right-of-way was covered by a low-growing plant having tiny yellow fowers (also visible in the morning glory image above).

 Burr clover flowers and burr-like fruit

I found out that this is called Burr clover for the burr-like fruit that somewhat resembled large sand spurs.

Bicycling on the local neighborhood streets revealed a very small dayflower in a lawn. The tiny blue flowers are only open in the morning, and close by mid-day.

 Common dayflower

This one is called common dayflower - Commelina diffusa var. diffusa - and is not native to North America although it is now found in much of the eastern United States.

On another street someone had a large angel's trumpet shrub in their yard.

 Angel's trumpet

This ornamental plant is native to Brazil and surrounding areas of South America and has escaped from cultivation in a few places in Florida and also Puerto Rico.

Clicking on any of the links or images above will take you to the Wild Florida Photo page for that species where you can find more information about and photos of that subject.

Paul Rebmann

May 19, 2020

Florida Pawpaws Part One

March 16th, 2020

Florida Pawpaws Part One

For me one of the highlights of a Florida spring is the appearance of pawpaw blooms. Pawpaws are members of the Annonaceae family, the custard-apples. There are currently a dozen known species of Asimina (the pawpaw genus) in the sunshine state plus at least a half dozen naturally occuring hybrids. This and future posts will each feature several of these interesting plants.

Typically the earliest blooming Asimina is the smallflower pawpaw with the maroon flowers appearing first in February and continuing through April. Like all of the 'true' pawpaws, the flowers have two series of dissimilar petals, with the inner petals having a saccate (pouched or bag-like) base, and a peduncle (flower stalk) with small bracts. In Asimina parviflora the flower is less than an inch wide with a fetid smell and a peduncle less than a half inch long, sometimes so short that the flower appears to be attached directly to the stem. Smallflower pawpaw flowers have petals that are recurved outwards at the tip, the outer petals tyically curving back upon themselves. The inner petals are about half the size of the outer and are smooth inside at the base. There are usually three inner and threee outer petals in this species.

This smallflower pawpaw was photographed in Riverbend Park in Ormond Beach.

 Smallflower pawpaw

Smallflower pawpaw can be found mostly in wet hammocks in much of Florida north of Lake Ockeechobee and in the southeastern coastal states from Virginia to Texas, plus Arkansas. Growing up to 20 feet tall, it is basically a smaller version of the better known common pawpaw.

Common pawpaw - Asimina triloba - is also called dog banana or Indian banana and only occurs in Florida in five non-coastal central panhandle counties. This has the widest distribution of any of the pawpaws, found in mesic woodlands throughout much of the eastern United States west into Texas to Nebraska and north into Ontario. Common pawpaw is also the largest of the pawpaws, growing up to 46 feet tall. The flowers are very similar in color and form to smallflower pawpaw, but slightly larger at one to two inches wide.

This pawpaw was photographed last April in Tennessee's Cove Lake State Park at the Bruce Gap trailhead where I started backpacking a section of the Cumberland Trail.

 Common pawpaw

Pawpaw fruit is edible, and the common pawpaw is the one most frequently consumed.

Blooming almost as early as smallflower pawpaw is the netted, or flatwoods, pawpaw with the flowers appearing on the previous year's growth, often before or with the appearance of the current season's leaves. Asimina reticulata is a much smaller plant at less than 5 feet tall, most often 2-3 feet tall, with larger flowers than A. parviflora. Netted pawpaw flowers are creamy-white with the outer petals spreading and the inner petals curving inward. The inside of the inner petals have a purple corrugated base. The leaves are much paler underneath than on top.

I photographed this netted pawpaw on March 1 this year in a pasture at the Lake Monroe Conservation Area.

 Netted pawpaw

Netted pawpaw is one of the most common and widespread pawpaws in Florida, found mostly in flatwwods and sandhills thoughout much of the Florida peninsula except for the Everglades and the Keys. They are also found in Hamilton County, Florida and southeast Georgia. The photo at the beginning of this post shows the fruit of a netted pawpaw plant. The fruit of other species of pawpaws appear similar, varying mostly in size.

All pawpaws are host plants for zebra swallowtail butterflies and the Asimina webworm moth.

 zebra swallowtail last stage caterpillar on Rugel's pawpaw leaf

 Pawpaw leaf peeled open to show pawpaw leaf-rolling caterpillar

One might think that these two different Lepidoptera would compete for food, but apparently they have a facilitative relationship. Zebra swallowtail larvae need young fresh leaves and the defoliation by the pawpaw leaf-rolling caterpillars in the summer stimulate new leaf growth, providing the needed fresh leaves for the late season zebra swallowtails.

Clicking on any of the links or images above will take you to the Wild Florida Photo page for that species where you can find more information about and photos of that subject.

Paul Rebmann

March 16, 2020

Best of 2019

January 20th, 2020

Best of 2019

I thought that I would start out the new year by showing you some of my favorite photographs from places that I visited over the past year. Looking back it was a very active and enjoyable year, starting with New Year's camping at Collier-Seminole State Park. New Year's morning found me photographing a strikingly beautiful oceanblue morning-glory in the campground, followed by Virginia and I paddling down the lovely mangrove-lined Blackwater Creek to Mud Bay and back.

 Oceanblue Morning-glory

Later in January, I hiked a new section of the Florida Trail in the Lake Lizzie Conservation Area in advance of the official celebration and ribbon cutting. During my first visit, I made the photograph "Lake Lizzie Marsh" from the observation deck just off the trail. On the day of the ribbon-cutting I participated in the group hike as the naturalist guide.

 Lake Lizzie Marsh

I had desired to see the magotes of Cuba ever since I first read about them in "The Cruise of the Tomas Barrera", a book my John B. Henderson detailing a scientific expedition to Cuba in 1914. Magotes are isolated hills surrounded by flat plains, usually round and steep-sided made up of limestone or other rock. I did not get to visit any magotes close-up during my visit to Cuba last February, but I did get to see them in the distance while travelling through the country. On one of the bicycling days I stopped in the countryside to make this scenic photo of magotes and royal palms under a partly cloudy sky.

 Cuba Landscape

Although I knew that a walk through a cave was on the agenda for the Cuba tour, my expectations were low. Having explored some of the finest wild caverns in Tennessee, Kentucky and even Florida it takes more than just a hole in the ground with a few stalactities to impress me. But Cueva de Santa Catalina did just that with its various passages and numerous variety of speleothems (cave formations). The most remarkable ones were the speleothems in the shape of giant mushrooms, which are unique to caves in this area of Cuba. There were many large ones like in the photo at the top of this post, but one of the prettiest was this short, squat one with a peaked top.

 Cave Mushroom

My next adventure was backpacking the Ocala National Forest at the end of March. Part of that hike, around Hopkins Prairie was the subject of my blog last July. My favorite photo from that hike was an early morning image of a lone slash pine along the edge of the prairie.

 Slash Pine at Hopkins Prairie

The following month I embarked on a longer and much more challenging backpacking adventure on the Cumberland Trail in Tennessee with Daniel Reed. Not counting the blurred images of a wild razorback hog charging past us on the trail, the photographic highlight of that hike was a pink lady's slipper orchid.

 Pink Lady's Slipper

May brought the annual Florida Native Plant Society state conference and its field trips. One of these was a kayak paddle led by Lars Anderson of Adventure Outpost in High Springs. This trip started on the Withlacochee River and took us upstream through Gum Slough to Gum Springs.

 Gum Spring

As a side note while I was in Crystal River for the FNPS conference, I got some photos of a group of wild hogs that had come out of the woods along the highway right of way. It was starting to seem like 2019 was the year of the hog.

Late summer found Virginia and I camping at Jackrabbit Mountain in North Carolina. There at night a mostly dark sky above Lake Chatuge marred only by a bit too much light to the south from nearby Hiawassee, Georgia was a pretty view of the Milky Way and Jupiter.

 Milky Way and Jupiter

That camping trip was cut short so that we could return to prepare for the approach of Hurricane Dorian which threatened Florida but stayed just far enough off the coast so as to have minor effects in our area other than the disruption of evacuation.

In October a family vacation took us to Lido Key on the Gulf of Mexico near Sarasota. There I was able to get some better photographs of buttonwood flowers. I also found both species of the Scaevola genus that occur in Florida, the threatened beachberry and the invasive Beach naupaka. But the photographic highlight of that trip came while walking the beach where a reddish egret was feeding. I captured this image of it running away from the gulls after catching a small fish.

 Reddish Egret with Fish

In early December I kayaked the Suwannee River from Stephen Foster State Park to Suwannee River State Park with Paul Haydt. I had paddled this section a number of times in both a kayak and canoe, but always before it was broken up into separate two day, one night trips with the start or end point at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park. This time it was a 3-1/2 day, three night trip and each morning the temperature was in the low 30's. One day we paddled by this interesting cypress tree on the bank having a short large hollow broken trunk with much younger and smaller growth that was now golden with its fall colors illuminated by the afternoon sun.

 Persistent Cypress

The final photograph of the year that I will share here is of the St. Marks lighthouse south of Tallahassee. This lighthouse is located on Apalachee Bay near the mouth of the St. Marks River in the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, which I visited that day mainly for bird photography, highlights of which were a vermillion flycatcher that was barely in range of my 300mm lens and some buffleheads just offshore near the lighthouse.

 St. Marks Lighthouse

Paul Rebmann
Jan. 18, 2020

Chertok Photo Contest

January 7th, 2020

Chertok Photo Contest

Every year the Orange Audubon Society conducts the Kit & Sidney Chertok Florida Native Nature Photography Contest. The contest is named for the Chertoks who moved to Orlando in 1985. Sidney Chertok had numerous skills and interests during his life, being an electrical engineer, patent holder, director of information services and also advertising and promotion for Sprague Electric Company. He was also a reporter and photographer, with a particular interest in nature subjects. Mr. Chertok edited a photo-filled calendar for 34 years featuring images solicited by competition. Kit Chertok, an Orange Audubon board member in the 1990's, was instrumental in establishing this photo contest in her husband's memory to encourage nature photography in others. The contest mission statement reads: "To promote interest and concern for preserving the native fauna and flora of Florida, and to encourage nature photography and enjoyment and appreciation of our natural wonders." Participants in the contest include Audubon members and others interested in nature photography, with separate categories for youth, novice & advanced photographers since 2011. Previously the categories changed from year to year, usually separated by subject matter. Orange Audubon serves the Orlando area and submitted photos are from throughout Florida.

View online purchase options for Don’t Mess With My Chicks by Paul RebmannDon't Mess With My Chicks

I won my first Chertok award in 2007 for the image "Don't Mess With My Chicks" (see my March "Great Horned Owls" blog post for more about that image), which placed third in the Florida's Birds! category. I took two awards in 2009, with "Heading Out to Sea" of a loggerhead sea turtle hatching winning first place in the Beyond Birds! category and the Black Skimmers adult and chick image titled "Homer & Bart" (shown here in my 'selfie' with a big print on display at this year's awards ceremony) receiving an honorable mention in Florida's Avian Wonders!. In 2009 my extreme close-up of "Small Butterwort" won an honorable mention in the category Florida Invertebrates and/or Wildflowers. My "Pine Lily and Pines" from Tiger Bay State Forest earned and honorable mention in the 2012 Chertok contest Advanced class.

View online purchase options for Heading Out To Sea by Paul RebmannHeading Out To Sea

Gallery of Award Winning images by Paul Rebmann

This year (2014) I was asked to be one of the judges for the 26th annual contest. The other judges were Marina Scarr, photographer and Carolyn A. Cohen, watercolors and etchings artist. In 2013 Marina won both first and second place in the advanced category of this contest and in 2012 took third place. The winners were announced Thursday evening, June 19 at an awards dinner at Leu Gardens. After the contest committee had culled out the disqualified entries (images cannot contain humans, human structures or artifacts or non-natives), the three of us spent most of a Sunday viewing the over 350 entries and selecting those worthy of the top three awards in each category, plus honorable mentions. We were particularly impressed by a number of the entries in the youth category, several expressing some 'out-of-the-box' thinking that produced some successful results. The 2014 winners can be viewed, along with winners from previous years at Orange Audubon's website.

Paul Rebmann
June 22, 2014

2018 Update: "Bee Fly on Roseling" won Honorable Mention in the Orange Audubon Society's 2018 (30th Annual) Kit and Sidney Chertok Florida Native Nature Photography Contest. The image shows an extreme close-up of a Poecilognathus bee fly on an endemic Florida scrub roseling flower.

Bee Fly on Roseling by Paul Rebmann

Also, my photograph of a Golden-silk Spider hanging from her web won Honorable Mention in the Advanced category of Orange Audubon Society's 2015 Chertok Nature Photography contest.

Golden-silk Spider by Paul Rebmann

Havana 500 and Street Art

November 9th, 2019

Havana 500 and Street Art

This month marks the 500th anniversary of the founding of Havana, Cuba. Spanish conquistadors held mass and the first city council meeting under a ceiba tree on November 16, 1519 creating La villa de San Cristóbal de La Habana. The ceiba tree is more commonly known as the kapoktree in English speaking countries. The scientific binomial name is Ceiba pentandra and another common name is white silk cotton tree for the silky fluff surrounding the seeds in the fruit of this tree. This silky fluff is also known as kapok and was frequently used as the flotation substance in life jackets before synthetic replacements were created. Ceiba trees are fast-growing and large with substantial root buttresses. A 2001 Orlando Sentinel article addressed the tradition and importance of the ceiba tree to Cubans. More information about and photos of these trees can be found at Wild Florida Photo.

 ceiba tree in Havana

Although my primary photographic focus is nature, I like to branch out into other genres especially when traveling. This was certainly the case when Virginia & I visited Cuba early this year. Like nearly everyone else that goes to Cuba I did photograph some old cars & trucks during our visit, while always keeping an eye out for other interesting subjects.

Some of these sights that caught my eye and lens included the grafitti, murals, signs and other street art that can be seen on the walls around Havana. In this isolated country, nearly all of the billboards and other large signs are what would be considered government propaganda. These seemed to be mostly intended to remind the people of the heroes and acheivements of the revolution. In the case of our visit (in 2019) many signs were also celebrating the 60th anniversary of the revolution or the 500th anniversary of the founding of Havana, or encouraging a Si (Yes) vote on the constitution in the election that was held the Sunday after we left. In case you are wondering, the new Cuban constitution passed with a Yes vote of over 90%. Some of the highlights of this constitution include recognition of private property, age and term limits for the president, presumption of innocence and right to legal counsel, a ban on discrimination based on gender, race, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability and removal of the restriction that marriage be between one man and one woman.

Enough political science, now back to photography.

One of the first murals that I came across just down the street from our room was a very colorful celebration of Havana's 500th anniversary (see the thumbnail at the beginning of this post). This apparently had been painted in Sept 2018 by the artist aolivera. The slogan "lo más grande" basically translates to "the biggest thing" or "the grandest thing".

The next morning while looking for a place to get a cup of coffee, I came upon a building that had a beveled corner that faced an intersection of two small city streets. That face of the building had an apple painted on it surrounding a faded painting of a Cuban flag under a window. The 'bite' in the apple bypassed an air conditioner sticking through the wall.

View online purchase options for Cuban Apple by Paul Rebmann
 Cuban apple mural

Around the corner of this building to the left of the above mural was a wire sculpture embedded in the wall. I saw it as a feminine figure in profile, kneeling and leaning backwards with the sun (or moon?) to the upper right, and below a pair of hands that appear to be trying to break through a crack in the wall. Virginia pointed out before I realized it, that the "woman" is the shape of Cuba. Looking at it that way, the hands are emerging from Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth - known as the Isle of Pines until 1978).

View online purchase options for CubaWoman on Wall by Paul Rebmann
 Cubawoman on wall

The wall to the right of the apple art was a mural of a woman with hair that morphed into electrical wires facing a bird on a plant.

View online purchase options for Havana Mural by Paul Rebmann
 mural of a woman's head, bird and plant

A lot of buildings in old Havana simply have a street number painted next to or over the door. At one building, the street number was surrounded by some simple facial caricatures. I wonder if these represent the occupants of the building?

View online purchase options for Faces at 207 by Paul Rebmann
 faces and street number 207

Now we come to the first of the gaffiti art that I found on the streeta of Havana. Our local guide translated "No hay Cámeo" as "there are no brains". The work is signed by the graffiti artist MrSad26.

View online purchase options for No hay Cameo by Paul Rebmann
 No hay Cámeo

Near Parque Christo we walked down a side street between construction sites on boards laid down to help us stay above the standing water, which in old Havana was often tainted with sewage. Where the street opened up again there were these two large works of graffiti. The first was the words "Creativos Unidos", which translates to Creative United, and in the center was a woman walking with a paintbrush and paint bucket.

View online purchase options for Creativos Unidos by Paul Rebmann
 Creativos Unidos

The second, nearby work was the word "Krepy" with very elaborate letters.

View online purchase options for Krepy by Paul Rebmann

Along one of the busier streets (for pedestrians) in old Havana was this mural. The entire slogan in the banner is "Con la Guardid - en Aito", in English this is "With the Guard - not Genuine".

View online purchase options for Con la Guardid by Paul Rebmann
 Con la Guardid

The final mural I will show you was not actually on the street, but in the entranceway into an elementary school. Also, this is probably mass reproduced and I an guessing that it is seen in many schools in Cuba. It shows Jose Marti, a Cuban national hero for his efforts leading to Cuban independance from Spain in the 1800's, along with three of the leaders of the more recent Cuban revolution - Raúl Castro, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro - plus the boat named Granma that they used to return to Cuba from exile in Mexico in 1956.

View online purchase options for Cuban Revolutionaries by Paul Rebmann
 Cuban Revolutionaries

Continuing with this bit of Cuban history, the boat Granma is now on display in a military museum in Havana.

Granma in museum Granma in museum

More Cuban murals and sculptures can be seen in my earlier Matanzas Cuba blog post.

Paul Rebmann
Nov. 9, 2019

Backpacking Hopkins Prairie

November 9th, 2019

Backpacking Hopkins Prairie

I have backpacked different parts of the Florida Trail from the Rodman Dam to Clearwater Lake in the Ocala National Forest on several occasions, but there was a section between Salt Springs and Juniper Springs that I had never done. This March I closed this gap during a three day backpacking outing. Some of this hike covered parts of the Florida Trail in the Juniper Wilderness that I had done on two separate day hikes 22 years earlier. Another part of this year's hike was around Hopkins Prairie, which I had not visited before this.

After a relaxing pre-hike car-camp night at Juniper Springs campground with Virginia, I parked my car and she dropped me off where the trail crosses Salt Springs Highway(314). Unlike the time when I started from there hiking north to the Rodman Dam, I instead headed southbound. The trail here passes through several different habitats, one of which was some really pretty sandhills.

 Trail in sandhills

One of the things I like about sandhills is the wide spacing of trees and the forest floor of mostly grasses and wildflowers. After about four hours of hiking with many pauses to photograph various subjects, I reached the prairie just in time to see a Northern Harrier cruising above the grasses and occassionally swooping down after something to eat. I set up camp (photo at top) in a small peninsula between the trail and the prairie under some slash pines. Around the next curve in the trail was this lone slash pine that I photographed in the morning.

 Slash Pine at Hopkins Prairie

While I ate my dinner I enjoyed a seranade of sandhill crane calls across the prairie. As dusk approached a soft buzzing sound slowly increased in volume and a dense layer of mosquitoes appeared above my head. When they started landing on the tent and my gear I quickly prepared camp for the night and ducked into my tent, where the constant buzzing reminded me of sleeping in a canoe in the everglades years ago. I went to sleep to a chorus of what sounded like bullfrogs, although I could not be sure that they were not alligators grunting, which made me think of William Bartram's story of camping on Dexter Point along the St. Johns River in 1774.

 Morning at Hopkins Prairie Pond

As the lightening sky signaled the approach of dawn, I emerged from the tent with my camera to see what sights the morning would bring. One of these was the mist rising from the little pond by the trail where I got my water. Not an ideal source since the 'frog water' - as one passing hiker called it - required filtering through a cloth before treating. Also at this pond I photographed the diminuative quillwort arrowhead wildflower.

 Quillwort arrowhead flower

Hopkins Prairie is about three miles long and varies from about one quarter to a half mile wide with the Florida Trail following the north and east edges of the prairie for about five miles. Despite the name, this natural community is probably more like a basin marsh than a typical wet prairie. On one side of the trail is the prairie and on the other side the habitats varied between hardwood hammocks, various mixed wooded areas and scrub. As I was hiking past one of these scrub areas a family of Florida scrub jays were moving through the trees along the trail and dropping down to the ground to forage. A pair of brown thrashers and a male cardinal were also here and seemed to be hanging out with the scrub jays.

 Hopkins Prairie and Clouds

Not far from where I saw the scrub jays I photographed a mall patch of pretty little yellow wildflowers known as rock-rose. Also called pinebarren frostweed, Crocanthemum corymbosum is a perennial herb of scrub, sandhills, dunes and dry open hammocks in the southeastern coastal states from Mississippi to North Carolina and throughout much of Florida.


For much of this day's hike small lizards would run from just ahead of me on the trail into the undewrgrowth. I finally captured photos of several of these. Some of them were the Florida scrub lizard, a state endemic(only occurs here).

 Florida scrub lizard

Later I saw some six-lined racerunners.

 Six-lined racerunner

Nearing the end of the day's hike I came to places where there were several members of the pipewort family. The Eriocaulaceae is a family of plants primarily found in bogs and along the wet shores of ponds and lakes. These little wildflowers, commonly also called bog-buttons and hatpins, can be a challenge to identify more specifically. For instance, these tall pipeworts could be flattened or ten-angled.

 Pipeworts at Hopkins Prairie

As I approached the water's edge to photograph the pipeworts, I saw the much smaller whitehead bogbuttons.

 Whitehead bogbuttons

After passing the big bat house and the Hopkins Prairie Recreation Area campgound where I topped off my water bottles at the hand pump, I came to a live oak hammock that appeared to have been used as a campsite. I walked down towards a dry depression and found a flatter spot with a ground cover of pine needles surrounded by small sand pines. Deciding that this would make a nice campsite, I then set down my pack and photographed some jester lichen and deer moss.


I then went for a cooling and cleansing swim in the large sinkhole nearby. As I was returning to what I thought was going to be my campsite for the night I heard someone whistling loudly and calling out. I found the attendent from the campground standing by my backpack. He kindly explained that I can't camp there as it was still in the recreation area boundry, and also there was a concern that the only road exiting the campground would be blocked if a wildfire got started. I did not bother to explain that I was unlikely to have a campfire in 80 degree weather and was only using a little whisperlite stove.

 Trees reflected in the swimming hole

Glad that I had not unpacked very much, I reloaded my backpack and continued on the trail, passing the swimming hole and soon crossing the next forest road to leave the recreation area. I hiked about a half mile to where I found a tiny clearing off to the side of the trail with a spot where a campfire had been and just enough room for a one man text. This was my home for the night. The next day's hike took me into and through the Juniper Prairie Wilderness, a subject for a future post.

Paul Rebmann

July 20, 2019

Parker Solar Probe Launch and Perseids

November 9th, 2019

Parker Solar Probe Launch and Perseids

At 3:31 am on Sunday August 12, the Parker Solar Probe was launched on a Delta Heavy rocket. Getting up extra early for the second day in a row, as the previous launch attempt was scrubbed, I captured the launch from Ormond by the Sea. This photograph was made using a long exposure of just over five and a half minutes.

Parker Solar Probe Launch

The lighted buildings are in Daytona Beach and the small bright light just to the left of these buildings and to the right of the rocket trail is the Ponce Inlet light house. The two lights below the arc of the rocket were fishing vessels. The one that is a line was moving more perpendicular to my line of sight, and the other that showed up as more of a bright dot was more directly approaching or receding from my viewpoint. One star in this field of view was bright enough to leave a star trail on the image. I think that this star was Vela.

After the launch, I stayed up experimenting with photographing the Perseids meter shower which was peaking this same weekend. One of those meteor images can be seen here.

Perseids Meteor and Orion

At 4:21am a bright fiery object passed overhead. Since I was set up for capturing meteors in that part of the sky, I managed to take eight 2-second long exposures that showed this flaming light. At first I thought that this was the third stage burn for the Parker solar probe, but that actually occurred about 11 minutes earlier, and I later found out way above earth orbit. Since both the second and third stages left earth orbit, and the first stage was unlikely to last that long, it does not seem that it would have been any of the spent rocket stages de-obiting. The only other thing I can think it could be was a very long lasting slow meteor fireball.

Here is a stacked composite image of the eight photographs that I made while this light passed in front of the constellation Orion.

Perseids Fireball and Orion

And here is a video created from a series of those same eight photographs spaced out in time to match when they were taken and the length of the exposures.

Paul Rebmann
Aug. 29, 2018

Pretty Little Dragonflies

November 9th, 2019

Pretty Little Dragonflies

Just by chance dragonflies became one of my primary photographic subjects recently. It started with a birding trip to Canaveral National Seashore, during which we saw more butterflies than birds. One of these was a new butterfly for me, a male Julia. I had only seen a female Julia butterfly once before and that was recently (see the Schaus' Butterfly post from this June). In between the various butterflies I photographed a very small dark dragonfly. I thought that it might be a male seaside dragonlet but to be sure I submitted the photos to and received confirmation that indeed it was Erythrodiplax berenice.

 male seaside dragonlet

The next weekend, dragonflies were swarming at the house and over a period of several days I photographed a number of dragonflies, at first thinking that they were all seaside dragonlets, some male and others female. As I sorted through my photographs and compared them with Sidney W. Dunkle's Dragonflies of the Florida Peninsula, Bermuda and the Bahamas, I realized that all of these that I photographed around the yard that week were blue dashers - juveniles and adults of both sexes.

 juvenile male blue dasher

I then went back through years of my dragonfly images, finding, checking and sometimes revising my identification of three similar small dragonflies: blue dasher, seaside dragonlet and little blue dragonlet.

You might think, how hard can it be to tell these apart? For starters, males of all three species have blue and black abdomens. The Dunkle book describes the mature male seaside dragonlet as all black.

 male seaside dragonlet

But they start out with an abdomen that is an orangish-yellow on top, then quickly darken through shades of blue before turning black.

 seaside dragonlet juvenile or unspotted female form

The juveniles also have a yellow and black striped thorax (the middle part of the body, between the head and the abdomen and where the legs and wings are attached) that looks like tiger stripes. The dragonfly that you see in the wild could be at any stage of this darkening. Then there are the females, which also become black, but more slowly and in one of three different color forms.

 female male-like form – note dark thorax

In the male-like form, like the males, the thorax darkens before the abdomen.

 unspotted female form

In the two female forms, the abdomen darkens before the thorax, and one of these – the spotted female form – has a large brown spot in the middle of each wing.

 spotted female form

Seaside dragonlet faces start out black and pale yellow, with the various pale areas darkening with age.

As in the other Florida dragonlets, the mature male little blue dragonlet(Erythrodiplax minuscula) has a dark face, in this case metallic blue to black. Immature and female faces are pale yellowish-brown to olive-green colored. This is the smallest of the dragonflies discussed in this post. Adult males have a blue thorax and a pale blue abdomen with segments eight through ten black. All little blue dragonlets have white abdominal appendages and they lack the 'tiger stripes' on the thorax.

 male little blue dragonlet

Females and immature little blue dragonlets have a yellowish, light-brown abdomen with a black stripe running down the length on top, interrupted black side stripes and also have dark segments 8-10. As males mature they darken simultaneously from the thorax back and from segment 7 forward, with the front of the abdomen retaining light colors the longest.

 immature or female little blue dragonlet

Blue dasher(Pachydiplax longipennis) dragonflies can most easily be differentiated from the dragonlets by the solid white face. Like the seaside dragonlet, blue dashers have a yellow and black 'tiger-stripe' thorax. Mature males have green or blue-green eyes and a pale blue tapered abdomen with a black tip. Females have two parallel interrupted yellow stripes down the abdomen.

 male blue dasher

Blue dashers are also known for frequently perching in the obelisk posture on hot days. This 'head stand' position sticks the abdomen up vertically to face less surface area towards the sun.

 female blue dasher in obelisk posture

For those like me who are viewing and photographing these dragonflies but not capturing them, exact size measurements that are so close to each other are not a good identification factor, but for comparison of three dragonlets found in Florida and the blue dasher, here are their lengths from small to larger:
     Little blue dragonlet – about an inch,
     Seaside dragonlet – from just over an inch to almost an inch and a half,
     Blue dasher – from an inch to almost an inch and three quarters,
     Band winged dragonlet – from an inch and a half to almost two inches.

In the event that you are not awed by the beauty of dragonflies and wondering why we should even care about them. note this close crop of the thumbnail photo at the beginning of this post showing an insect in the dragonfly's mouth. Dragonflies eat many insects, including mosquitoes. The dragonfly larvae even eat mosquito larvae.

 blue dasher dragonfly eating an insect

Paul Rebmann
Oct. 16, 2018


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