Recent declines in monarch butterfly migrations and problems with honey bee populations, particularly colony collapse disorder, have raised awareness about the importance of these and other pollinators. One week each June is designated National Pollinator Week, and this year it is June 19-25. National Pollinator Week was initiated and is managed by the Pollinator Partnership, which promotes events around the country. During one of these events I will be presenting a visual program of 'Wildflowers and Pollinators' at Tomoka State Park in Ormond Beach on Sat. June 17. Here are just a few of the images and subjects that will be included in that program.
Many pollinators visit wildflowers to feed on the nectar, and indirectly spread the pollen from flower to flower and assisting in the plant's reproductive cycle. Some insects actually feed on pollen, as in the case of the female Poecilognathus Bee Fly seen here in the photo above and the video below on Florida Scrub Roseling, a member of the Spiderwort family of plants that these bee imitators favor.
Green metallic bees are very common in Florida and their opalescent green bodies can often be seen on and around many wildflowers. Here one is seen flying in front of some Coreopsis flowers, which are the official Florida state wildflower.
Monarch butterflies make a remarkable multi-generational migration from much of the United States and southern Canada to Mexico and back. Some of these migrants pass through Florida, and some of those stay, particularly in South Florida to breed year-round. Monarchs require native milkweeds as host plants for the larval stage caterpillars, but the adults feed on the nectar of many wildlfowers. Above a monarch butterfly is seen on asters and below on another favorite of many pollinators, spotted beebalm, or horsemint.
The palamedes swallowtail is another butterfly with some interesting relationships. The palamedes is a primary pollinator of the Pine Lily, also known as Catesby's Lily. The primary host plants of this butterfly are red bay and swamp bay, trees that are currently threatened by Laurel wilt, a deadly disease spread by the invasive redbay ambrosia beetle. There is concern that the massive bay die-offs as a result of Laurel Wilt will affect the palamedes butterfly populations, and in turn, pine lily reproduction.
Thistle is another wildflower that is popular with many insects that serve as pollinators, as can be seen in these photographs. Above a palamedes swallowtail is seen on thistle with various other insects. Below a female black swallowtail butterfly feeds on purple thistle flowers with a gulf fritillary butterfly in the background and a pollen-laden blue metallic bee approaching.
Another wildflower visited by many pollinators, and an excellent landscaping choice for people wanting to attract this kind of wildlife, is Bidens alba, commonly called beggarticks or Spanish needles. Here we see a couple of the Florida state butterflies â€“ Zebra longwings â€“ with a Bidens alba flower.
For the past several years Virginia and I have had marsh rabbits living in our 'front yard'. I was surprised to learn that they will inhabit the beach dunes since I had usually seen them in proximity to the intercoastal waterway.
Marsh rabbits can be found near freshwater marshes and estuarine areas throughout much of Florida with the range extending from the panhandle up the coastal plain into Virginia. Primarily nocturnal, they can often be seen foraging in the morning or early evening. The tails are smaller than cottontails and dark on the bottom. Also the ears are shorter and rounder on marsh rabbits.
Just the other day I discovered that they apparently like seaside goldenrod sprouts, as one of the patches in the yard was neatly trimmed at about two inches tall. A few days after hurricane Matthew passed by, we were pleased to see bunny tracks on the now flattened dune area proving that the marsh rabbits had survived the storm surge that had inundated the area were they are usually seen.
Spring has brought a resurgence on the dunes, which through the winter mostly only had vegetation that I planted since the hurricane. The searocket has sprouted in dense patches from seeds buried in the sand or caught in the storm wrack that I had placed on the beach to catch the blowing sand in an attempt at beach rebuilding. The seaweed in the wrack also makes an excellent fertilizer for the searocket, a plant uniquely adapted to living in a dynamic environment.
The name refers to the rocket-shaped fruits on this plant of beaches and dunes with various species found throughout the world. These rockets are two staged, each containing at least one seed. The lower stage remains on the plant to repopulate the same area, while the upper stage breaks off to be dispersed, often by water, to seed new areas. The name might also refer to this being a coastal member of the mustard family - Brassicaceae - that includes arugula or roquette.
Searocket has small four-petaled white to lavender flowers. The plants are typically sprawling, with fleshy leaves that may be wavy edged or deeply lobed. There are two species in Florida, Cakile lanceolata occurring on both coasts, and Cakile edentula subspecies harperi on the east coast and up to the outer banks of North Carolina.
Another plant of beach dunes and coastal thickets is Sea Rosemary, Heliotropium gnaphalodes. It is also known as Sea Lavender, a name it shares with a completely different plant, Limonium carolinianum of brackish marshes, salt flats, mangrove swamps and coastal strands.
I purchased this sea rosemary at a native plant sale a week after hurricane Matthew and it is growing nicely.
It is a Florida endangered plant that naturally occurs just south of Volusia County, from Brevard County down into the keys. The genus name refers to the form of the flowers that grow in an arc and appear to be arching towards the sun, like its relatives including scorpionstail.
One of the many cool things about living in Florida is experiencing Sandhill cranes. We have two distinct populations of these majestic birds in the Sunshine State. About five thousand Florida sandhill cranes live here year-round and are considered a separate subspecies from the more numerous greater sandhill cranes that only winter here. The migratory cranes breed in the Great Lakes region of North America and arrive in large flocks during November and December. This increases the crane population of the state about six-fold until they depart, typically March and April.
Sometimes huge numbers of cranes gather at Paynes Prairie, or other prairies near Gainesville. I keep missing this event despite numerous visits to likely spots during different winters. This January I was at Sweetwater Wetlands Park next to Paynes Prairie thrilled at all of the limpkins and black-bellied whistling-ducks I was seeing. After spending the morning photographing those and many other birds, I stopped by Paynes Prairie State Park to drop off some ice where my wife was having a women's camping weekend with friends. After that, I was almost home from the over 2 hour drive when Virginia texted that they were on LaChua Trail and there were hundreds of sandhill cranes on the prairie! I might have missed that, but the next month I was back at Sweetwater Wetlands Park co-leading a Birds of a Feather Fest field trip with Greg Miller of The Big Year, where we saw hundreds of sandhill cranes flying overhead.
The Florida sandhill cranes are mostly seen in pairs or small groups, sometimes along the side of the road or even strolling through neighborhoods. They are monogamous, breeding in late winter and spring and usually laying two eggs on a mat of vegetation in shallow water.
For many years, usually first thing in the morning while camping, I would often have a "what on earth is that?" moment when I heard sandhill cranes honking in the distance. I would take a few moments to figure out what I was hearing, and now most of the time immediately realize the source of the distinctive call.
Cranes go back 2-1/2 million years with the oldest known crane fossils discovered in a shell pit near Sarasota, Florida. Up until recently sandhill cranes were considered the same genus as whooping cranes, but in 2016 Grus canadensis was moved to the genus Antigone joining species from Asia and Australia. Antigone is the name of Oedipus's daughter/half-sister in Greek mythology.
Clasping Warea is a rare Florida endemic wildflower that occurs only in central Florida. The ideal habitat for this endangered plant is longleaf pine sandhill.
Sandhill is a high and dry pine forest with an open savanna-like understory that is typically made up mostly of wiregrass with scatterings of herbaceous wildflowers. Longleaf pines predominate, often augmented with turkey oaks, both having root systems that allow them to obtain the necessary water in this habitat. The soil is deep sand and the savanna is maintained with frequent small wildfires, naturally ignited by lightning. This periodic clearing of the undergrowth allows the wildflowers to grow without competition from shrubby plants that are not adapted to the frequent fires. Fire is also a critical component in the reproductive cycle of both wiregrass and longleaf pines. Sandhill was part of the great longleaf pine forest of the southeastern coastal plain that once extended from Virginia into Texas.
Warea amplexifolia is a member of the pinelandcress genus which was named for Nathaniel A. Ware (1789-1853), a teacher, lawyer and land speculator who traveled extensively and lived in various parts of the United States. Ware was a member of the American Philosophical Society, pursuing the natural sciences, including botany and geology, and collecting many plants during his travels. He apparently saw and described or collected a specimen of clasping warea in 'east Florida' in the early 1800s.
Of the four Warea species in Florida, W. amplexifolia is the only one with heart-shaped leaves in which the base surrounds (clasps) the stem. Clasping warea blooms form in terminal crowded clusters, maturing from the bottom up and somewhat globular shaped. The individual flowers are about a half-inch wide with four paddle-shaped whitish to rose-purple petals and six long stamens. The fruit is a long thin pod called a silique that is about three inches long, and hangs down in a curving arc. Warea is in the mustard family (Brassicaeae).
Clasping Warea is one of the subjects in the Only in Florida exhibit that has been showing at the Lyonia Gallery in Deltona. That exhibit ends February 1, 2017 with the next showing at the Kimbell Center Art Gallery at Jonathan Dickinson State Park Feb. 13 through March 4. There will also be three presentations of the Only in Florida program in the central Florida area in January and at the Kimbell Center in February. For exhibit and presentation schedules see www.wildflphoto.com/events.html.
William Bartram was born in 1738 in the family home (pictured here at the end of March) overlooking the Schuylkill River near Philadelphia. His father was John Bartram, widely considered the Father of American Botany and co-founder with Benjamin Franklin and others of the Philadelphia Philosophical Society. When William was 27 he accompanied his father on his first expedition into Georgia and Florida. The purpose of this trip was to provide a report and collection of plants to King George III on the area recently acquired by England from Spain.
After that expedition, William returned to the southeastern colonies on behalf of private English benefactors who in return received much of what he collected. He also attempted at one point to start a plantation in Florida along the St. Johns River, an endeavor that did not last long. After returning to Pennsylvania, he wrote and eventually published his famous and popular book “Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida”. In it he described the plants and creatures that he encountered in this strange wild land, including the natives, with which he had many interactions. The chief of the Alachua tribe called William 'puc-puggy', which was 'flower hunter' in their language.
As a result of the botanical knowledge that he brought back to scientists with his drawings and collections, a number of species bear the Bartram name in William's honor (and also a few for his father). The images here include several that I have photographed, one of these is Bartram's Ixia, a small wildflower that is only found in northeastern Florida, mostly in the area surrounding Bartram's failed plantation. Calydorea caelestina blooms in the late spring and into the summer. Each of the violet-blue flowers open only once early in the day, start closing during mid-morning, and are usually gone by noon. When not in bloom, the plant is nondescript, appearing as though it was some kind of grass. Travels included a drawing of this Ixea.
Here is a sample from Travels where William is returning down the St. Johns river in his small boat and has spent a pleasant night camped in an orange grove along the river. After arising and attending to his vessel, he ventures into a field beyond the grove: “What a beautiful display of vegetation is here before me! Seemingly unlimited in extent and variety: how the dew-drops twinkle and play upon the sight, trembling on the tips of the lucid, green savanna, sparkling as the gem that flames on the turban of the eastern prince. See the pearly tears rolling off the buds of the expanding Granadilla:* behold the azure fields of cerulean Ixia!”
*Granadilla = Passiflora incarnata – purple passionflower, maypop
Another interesting plant named for William is Bartram's airplant – Tillandsia bartramii. This epiphytic plant anchors itself on tree branches and trunks and derives sustenance by absorbing nutrients from the rain, dew, dust, decaying leaves and insect matter. Bartram's airplant can be found in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Tamaulipas, Mexico. In the image here, a tubular violet flower can be seen emerging from rose-red bracts. The plant forms a globular cluster of needle-like leaves.
A documentary titled Cultivating the Wild: William Bartram's Travels is in the works centered around William Bartram and the nature that he explored. A sample of this project can be seen at https://vimeo.com/148183049.
When Travels was first published, many readers were skeptical about some of his descriptions, such as the size, ferocity and number of alligators that he encountered, and of the civilized nature of the native tribes, which many people at the time considered savages. As time passed and more people ventured into the same areas, they discovered that his fantastical descriptions did have a basis in fact.
As I venture into the wild natural areas of Florida while hiking, canoeing or kayaking, I sometimes try to imagine what this must have seemed like to a young man from Pennsylvania over two hundred years ago.
Along with pines, oaks and tupelo one of the typically 'Florida' trees is the cypress. Florida has two species, the bald cypress and the pond cypress.
Pond cypress is limited to the Southeastern coastal plain from Louisiana to Virginia, plus Delaware. Bald cypress has a wider range, found west into Texas and Oklahoma and north into Illinois through New York state. Pond cypress is also found in fewer habitats, mostly flatwoods ponds and along the edges of lakes, while bald cypress is frequently found in swamps, floodplains and along streams. Pond cypress - Taxodium ascendens - has small leaves that are held tight against the branchlets that usually grow upward. Bald cypress - Taxodium distichum - leaves are spreading with two opposite rows of needle-like leaflets.
When certain conditions exist, pond cypress sometimes can grow very old but remain fairly small for its age. There are two main areas that are known for their large strands of dwarf cypress. One is in the Picayune Strand State Forest in southwest Florida. Another is located in the Florida panhandle in Tate's Hell State Forest.
I almost made it to see the dwarf cypress in Picayune Strand several years ago when I was in the area to attend a Florida Native Plant Society conference, but was driven off the trail by thunderstorms and did not have a chance to go back while I was there.
This spring, after severe weather curtailed what was supposed to be a long camping weekend at Three Rivers State Park, Virginia & I stopped by and checked out the dwarf cypress strand in Tate's Hell.
At this time, the spring greening was just getting started and the strand was full of water from the recent heavy rains, as can barely be seen in the image above. Most of these cypress trees are less than fifteen feet tall, even though they may be hundreds of years old. These dwarf cypress are often called 'hatrack cypress', a term that seems fitting when looking at the tree in the image below.
I was back in the area Memorial Day weekend and headed out to Tate's Hell on a whitetop pitcherplant search (see the previous blog post 'Pitcherplants in May') when I again stopped by the dwarf cypress strand. The cypress were greener and the water was lower, and I also found some interesting scenes along the edge of the strand where American white waterlilies were growing in the roadside ditches.
The Sarraceniaceae is a family of carnivorous plants known as the pitcher-plants. Members of this plant family have modified leaves that form a pitcher of various shapes and colors that traps and digests insects. This allows these plants to thrive in low-nutrient soils as is found in some bogs and other usually wet locations. Unlike the better-known venus fly-trap – the pitcher-plants catch their prey without any moving parts, using the shape of the pitcher, hairs and/or chemicals instead to capture their meals.
Other than the California pitcherplant - Darlingtonia californica – on the west coast, all of the North American species of the pitcher-plant family are in the genus Sarracenia. A number of these can be found in the southeastern states, with one – Sarracenia purpurea – also occurring across the colder regions of the continent.
In Florida the most widespread of these is the hooded pitcherplant. Sarracenia minor is the only species found in the Florida peninsula., occurring from just north of Lake Okeechobee, west into the central panhandle and into Georgia and the Carolinas. While I see these fairly frequently, they are seldom as nice looking and not obscured by other plants as they were early this May in Tiger Bay State Forest.
All of the other pitcherplants are absent from the Florida peninsula, occurring mostly in the panhandle and various southeastern states. I have seen several of these during Florida Native Plant Society conference field trips in the Apalachicola National Forest. During these and other visits in the forest, I have seen many color variations of Sarracenia flava, yellow pitcherplants. At one of the locations visited, I went back after the field trip and made the image that I call O'Sarracenia.
This memorial day weekend I visited Tate's Hell State Forest, stopping at an area that was recently burned to check out a big patch of Oceola's Plume. Here I also discovered fresh leaves of parrot pitcherplants. In this species, the hood resembles a parrot head and obscures the small opening that allows insects into the trap.
There are many variations on the details of how the area got its name, but all revolve around Cebe Tate, a farmer who in 1875 went hunting a panther that was killing his livestock and had a lengthly and harrowing experience in the wild. It was said when he emerged from the swampland that ...”I just came from Hell”. After which the area came to be known as Tate's Hell. Now a state forest , it is popular with hunters, paddlers enjoying the New River, birders seeking red-cockaded woodpeckers, migrating warblers and more, plus other nature lovers.
My primary objective this day was to find whitetop pitcherplants, a species that I possibly seen before late in the year. They were dried, brown and mostly toppled pitchers along the Florida Trail in Blackwater River State Forest and could have been either yellow (S. flava) or whitetop (S. leucophylla) pitcherplants. After scouting around in Tate's Hell, stopping here and there to photograph various subjects, I finally found some Sarracenia leucophylla and was able to make some photographs before a thunderstorm moved in and sent me on my way.
While May is not the only time you can see pitcherplants, it does happen that all of the images seen here were taken in May of various years. Most of these species would probably have prettier flowers earlier in the season, before the drooping petals fall off.
Rodman Reservoir was created by damming a section of the Ocklawaha River as part of the abandoned cross-Florida barge canal project. Even though the canal project was cancelled before completion, and the path of the canal is now the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway, this reservoir remains. About every three years, the water level is lowered primarily to control invasive aquatic vegetation. These drawdowns allow muck from decaying vegetation a chance to consolidate and oxidize, reducing the thickness of the muck and providing a firmer lake bottom, more suitable for fish and wildlife.
This winter while the lake level was down I kayaked on two different days, once near the dam, and the second paddle near Eureka. It was a cool, gray January morning when I arrived at the temporary Kenwood Landing boat ramp. Several dozen vehicles with trailers filled about half of the parking area and the ramp was busy with more arrivals so I parked at the far end and launched from the bank. As I paddled down the canal between the now exposed spoil banks, tree swallows swooped and soared around me and I soon saw the first bald eagle of the day. I know there were at least two eagles, but I am not sure if there were more or I just kept seeing those same birds all day.
On the north side of the canal was shallow water with many slanting tree trunks where the crusher was used to clear the forest in preparation for the reservoir. With the water lowered, these provided many perches for the eagles, osprey, gulls, cormorants and herons.
On the south side of the canal mostly tall thin stumps are exposed that apparently were trees still standing when the area was originally flooded. Slowly gliding my kayak between these tall trunks imparted a feeling of crossing the river Styx. A number of massive cypress stumps were also present.
A sign marks the point where the historic Ocklawaha River channel diverges from the canal (photo at beginning of this post). The channel is a clear path that winds through the forest of stumps outlining where the original riverbanks were. I paddled up the original river imagining what it might have been like when these trees were alive and provided a canopy of green. Was it like the river below the dam to the St. Johns, or more like the still-natural upstream section of river from the Silver River to Eureka?
I continued my paddle looking for some of the springs that are covered by the reservoir most of the time but exposed during the drawdowns. The only one that was noticeable was the small flow of Sims Spring. I continued until the original river channel again joined the canal, then turned around and headed back to the boat ramp. My search for springs will continue on another day.
By contrast it was a beautiful, sunny day in early March when I launched my kayak from the ramp near the 316 bridge at Eureka. A group of teens in an 'Outward Bound' type expedition paddled up in canoes as I was putting my boat in the water. They were near the end of a week-long canoe-camping trip on the Ocklawaha. As I passed the Ocklawaha Canoe Outpost, more kayakers were starting their Sunday afternoon paddles. I would see all these people again before the day was over.
To answer a common question I get when out in a kayak or canoe, yes I did see alligators. Several were lazily sunning themselves on the banks as I headed downstream. Several times a river otter appeared ahead of me, but I was unable to get any photos other than its back barely breaking the surface. While I was stopped to take pictures, one of the kayakers I had passed previously caught up with me. As we paddled along together for a while I mentioned that I was looking for Cannon Springs, and he told me what to look for to know where to turn. This kayaker turned out to be Mark Chiappini, owner of the famous general store & gas station in Melrose.
I did find Cannon Springs, and managed to make some photographs before the crowds arrived. By the time I left, everyone that I had seen on the river that day was there to see the spring before the lake covers it up again. In one of the photographs the light on the clear water of the spring made for an impressionist, sort of pointillist style, image, as can be seen below.
Unlike everyone else there who were continuing downstream, either for another night camping or to take out at Orange Springs where they had shuttled their vehicles earlier, I headed back upstream towards Eureka. This was a strenuous paddle as the current was noticeable, possibly the flow from Moss Bluff Dam had been increased to start refilling Rodman Reservoir as the drawdown was coming to an end. I did pause to photograph a limpkin wading through the spatterdock in the river.
My last stop was at the eerily out of place Eureka Lock. Rising up out of a side pool of the river and the woods. Constructed for passage from the Rodman pool to the Eureka pool, then abandoned in place when the project was cancelled. Fortunately the Eureka pool was never created, as that would have destroyed what is probably the most scenic and wild section of the Ocklawaha River, from the Silver River to Eureka.
This is the first in a series of posts that will focus on images in the Only in Florida exhibit, now on display in the Lyonia Gallery in Deltona.
Bigflower Pawpaw, photographed in the Lyonia Preserve, Deltona, Florida.
In 1774 while traveling in present day Putnam county from Spaldings lower store at Stokes Landing to Halfway pond (now known as Cowpen Lake) William Bartram saw many new shrubs, “particularly a species of annona...”. Bartram went on to describe what is now known as Asimina obovata in his Travels through North & South Carolina, Georgia, East & West Florida, a book that was not published until 1791. Imagine how difficult it was to get a book published in the 18th century, even if your dad (John Bartram) started a really cool club (the American Philosophical Society) with one of the area's most famous printers (Benjamin Franklin), who was known to come over and hang out at the house for chats (Bartram's Gardens).
The home of John & William Bartram at Bartram Gardens, Philadelphia.
In the meantime André Michaux was exploring Florida for France in 1787. Michaux also noticed this plant near the Indian River in present day Brevard County where he “collected two Annonas, one of which was a new species with very large white flowers...”
Both of these early botanical explorers were describing an endemic Florida species – Asimina obovata - or bigflower pawpaw. This plant is only found in the Florida peninsula from just south of Jacksonville to Lake Okeechobee.
Bigflower Pawpaw grows in a variety of habitats, but tends towards scrubby, sandy areas. Most frequently a shrub it can become treelike and reach up to 15 feet tall. The large white to greenish-white flowers can be seen from March through May after the current season's new leaves have emerged. The flowers form at the ends of short lateral shoots. The tips of these shoots and the veins on the undersides of the leaves are red-pubescent(fuzzy), one of the distinguishing marks that help identify this species. Another is the maroon corrugated area on the inside base of the inner petals.
Showing the maroon base on the inside of the petals.
Florida ranks as the fourth highest state in the number of endemics, species that are limited to a particular geographic area. Only California, Hawaii and Texas have more unique species than The Sunshine State. Early botanists exploring Florida such as Alvan Wentworth Chapman(1809-1899) and John Kunkel Small(1869-1938) noted the high number of endemic species in the state. The geographic isolation of the Florida peninsula, climate and soil variations contribute to this unique biodiversity. Isolation during previous interglacial periods when higher sea levels created islands in the higher areas is also a likely factor that contributed to the high number of endemics.
Scrubland Goldenaster, a species discovered in Highlands County by John Kunkel Small in 1924.
During my years of exploring and capturing images of nature, I have had a particular interest in finding and photographing the rare species, many of which are threatened or endangered. As I learned more about these subjects, I realized that many of them are endemic to Florida. About five years ago I decided to work on a photography project focusing on Florida endemics, which I call Only in Florida.
Applecactus Flower, photographed at night along the Mosquito Lagoon near the northern limit of this species' range.
Twenty-one of my photographs of plants and animals unique to Florida are now on display through next February in a solo exhibition at the Lyonia Gallery titled Only in Florida. Other photographers with previous exhibits in the Lyonia Gallery include Lee Dunkel, Eric Breitenbach, Rick Lang, Beate Bass, Eric Dusenbery and more.
Bigflower Pawpaw, photographed in the Lyonia Preserve, Deltona.
The Lyonia Gallery is part of the Lyonia Environmental Center(LEC). Originated as a joint venture with The Southeast Museum of Photography at Daytona State College, the gallery is now operated by the LEC. The Lyonia Environmental Center is located next to the Deltona Public Library and at the entrance to the Lyonia Preserve, a 360 acre Volusia County property managed to restore and maintain the natural scrub habitat. Lyonia Preserve is home to a population of Florida's only endemic bird, the Florida Scrub Jay.
Florida Scrub Jay in an area of Lyonia Preserve undergoing restoration.
In association with the Only in Florida exhibit, I have developed a program of the same name that will show the photographs from the exhibit and more. I will talk about each image, with information both about the subjects and how I made some of the photographs. This program will be presented at the Florida Wildflower Festival April 2 in Deltona, the Florida Native Plant Society state conference May 21 in Daytona Beach and on August 18 at the first Lunch 'n Learn at Ormond Beach's new Environmental Discovery Center in Central Park.
Bartram's Ixia, discovered by and named for William Bartram.
Now that winter has actually arrived, both here in Florida and in points north, I want to look back at just last month when much of the eastern United States was experiencing temperatures that could be used as a textbook example of 'unseasonable'.
Unless you have been living in a remote cave I am sure you have heard the reports that 2015 was the warmest year on record. In fact December was globally the warmest calendar month in 136 years of weather history. For anyone who wants to read more on this, Jeff Master's blog at Weather Underground is an excellent summary.
In Florida the weather was only marginally cool enough to camp a few days in November and December when it is usually ideal weather to sit around a campfire and sleep in a tent.
In mid-December I had heard that the water level was high enough to allow easy paddling up to Lake Norris. This had long been on my kayaking to-do list, so I enjoyed a beautiful Sunday on the water paddling upstream on Blackwater Creek, winding through the cypress swamp then all the way around Lake Norris and back. This scenic water body in Lake County is similar in appearance to Lake Disston in Flagler Co (see my October post) and Blue Cypress Lake in Indian River County.
I was surprised to come across several scarlet hibiscus flowers along the edge of Lake Norris. It is not that this is an unusual place to see them because it is not. In fact, the best way to see this magnificent native wildflower is by boat, as it favors the wet edges of streams and ponds. But it is a summer or early fall bloomer, with flowers most often seen in July and August in this area.
During the Christmas bird count, our team noticed a few anomalies with the types and numbers of birds seen, including a low count of robins, which in a more typical year would have been driven here in large numbers by cold weather. While out canvasing birds we saw several out-of season flowers. The azaleas might not be that unusual, as they do tend to flower sporadically during even slightly mild winters earlier than their more typical late February blooms. But the big surprise were the southern magnolia flowers, which would normally be seen from late spring into early summer.
These untimely floral phenomena might be just a observational curiosity. It is unlikely - as can often happen farther north when plants bud and flower too early – that freezes will significantly harm the coming year's normal plant cycles. But as a fellow naturalist pointed out the other day, the last time there was a winter similar to this was 1997-1998. That was during an El Niño event, one that up until then was the strongest in history but surpassed by the current cycle. The warm and wet winter promoted a lot of unseasonable growth. Followed by a shift to a La Niña weather pattern that brought a dry spring and summer, making all that extra growth prime fuel for the most devastating wildfire season Florida had ever experienced. Each El Niño and La Niña period do not necessarily duplicate the resulting weather of previous events, but many of the factors that influence the weather in various areas can tend to be similar. Hopefully weather history will not repeat itself and that the increase in prescribed burns in the intervening years has helped lower the fuel load in many of Florida's natural areas and therefore make any wildfires that do occur more manageable.
With the year coming to a close I looked back at the photographs that I made over the past twelve months and picked some of my favorites to share with you here.
Last December this “View from Blood Mountain” presented itself near the end of my first day of backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. This shows the Blue Ridge Mountains in north Georgia form the highest peak of that week's hike. This trip was the subject of my February post and was followed up with another week of backpacking the next section of trail at the beginning of March. That hike was encapsulated in a video by Danial Reed which can be seen in the YouTube video "A. T. Neal's Gap to Dicks Creek Gap".
The swallow-tailed kite pictured here (and also at the top of this post) was captured (photographically) near Goethe State Forest. I had been there to hike one of the forest's Trailwalker trails and try and find some of the spring orchids to photograph. I did not have much luck with the orchids, but I did find other wildflowers and wildlife including a red-headed woodpecker and a Sherman's fox squirrel, the latter of which eluded the camera. This kite was plucking things to eat out of the tops of some trees, occasionally swooping low and close to the position I had taken near the trees of a fencerow. I did get some nice images of green addersmouth orchid on the way home that day at a location I knew about near Ocala.
This image from Lake Disston (see October post) is what I consider an iconic Florida scene, but one that is mostly only seen by kayakers, canoeists and fishermen out enjoying the state's lakes and rivers. The image shows two osprey, one on the nest and another perched nearby, in an old, gnarly, weatherbeaten cypress tree growing in the shallows of the lake surrounded by spatterdock leaves.
Closer to home on the Atlantic coast this summer I photographed seaoats backlit by the early morning sun.
Once the heat of summer broke, Virginia & I went camping at Hillsborough River State Park in October. The entrance road to the park was lined with spectacular fields of Liatris in bloom. This wildflower has several names, also known as gayfeather or blazing star. This is one of the images that I made while we were there.
I hope that you have enjoyed my photographs from the past year and that you are also inspired to go out and enjoy nature.
Many of you have heard that outdoor retailer REI has announced that they will close their stores on Black Friday and pay their employees encouraging them to spend the day outdoors in a campaign called #OptOutside. At least one other outdoor sports retailer - NRS - has followed suit. Being out enjoying nature is such a better way to spend the day after Thanksgiving than the hustle and bustle of the annual shopping ritual, which I cannot remember ever participating in and if I did it was a very long time ago. Virginia & I have spent most of the past Black Fridays camped in a state park for the long weekend, often with friends and family.
We are not camping this Thanksgiving weekend, but we had a very special camping trip the previous weekend at Anastasia State Park. It was our first time camping with children, taking three boys on their first campout. These boys, aged 10, 6 & 4, were relatives whose family recently moved to Florida and were very enthusiastic about going camping and on a nature hike.
Boys on the Nature Trail
A torrential downpour cancelled our walk on the beach, but it did not dampen the adventure. Our endeavor to follow the advice of Richard Louv author of Last Child in the Woods and other books on children and nature seemed a success as our young camping guests seemed to have a fun time outdoors and unplugged.
Nature Scavenger Hunt in Campground
A great blog on enjoying the outdoors with youngsters is The Big Outside by Michael Lanza where there are stories about outdoor adventures, tips for backpacking with children and gear reviews.
Earlier this year I had the pleasure of going on on a small motorboat to Lake Disston in nearby Flagler County. This state designated Outstanding Florida Water has been on my list of places to go kayaking, so when my day job boss's husband and fellow Florida Master Naturalist Dale Dittbenner suggested a late afternoon trip I quickly accepted. Also on our little excursion was Chapman Root and Victor Kowal, a visionary artist of St. Augustine.
You can see a sample of Victor's extraordinary work at victorkowal.com.
Lake Disston is a shallow lake averaging eight to ten feet in depth and covering 1844 acres. This lake is drained by Little Haw Creek, which flows into Crescent Lake. That lake then flows through Dunns Creek to the St. Johns River.
The lake is a popular fishing spot, but our attraction was the reason the National Audubon Society lists the lake as an Important Bird Area. Since we got out on the water earlier than expected, and the birding area will be best viewed closer to sunset, we toured the long way around the perimeter of the lake first passing the docks of the few houses along the shore. We did not see any of the swallow-tailed kites that are known to utilize the area of the lake while they are in Florida, we did see some of the osprey nests that, like at Blue Cypress Lake farther south, are mostly in the tops of cypress trees that grow in the shallow edges of the lake.
The first part of the rookery area where numerous birds were nesting is shown as we approached, framed by a cypress tree in the foreground in the following image.
The photography of Paul Rebmann is being shown in two public venues.
The Halifax Historical Museum is featuring the exhibit "Our Natural World Around Us" and one of the entrance displays at the Ormond Beach Library will be filled with Wild Florida Photos during The month of August.
One of the themes of both exhibits features photographs of plants named after some of Florida's botanical explorers, such as Curtiss' milkweed named for Allen Hiram Curtiss (1845-1907).
Other explorers with images of their namesake plants include Mark Catesby (1683-1749), André Michaux (1746-1802), William Bartram (1739-1823), and Ferdinand Rugel (1806-1879).
Another theme is "Only in Florida" featuring state endemic species like the Forida Scrub Jay.
A couple of the other species found only in Florida include the peninsula cooter, Florida Indian Plantain and Celestial Lily.
Both exhibits are filled out with other images of Florida scenes, flora and fauna
"Our Natural World Around Us" opened on July 14th and will be on display at the Halifax Historical Museum, 252 S. Beach St, in downtown Daytona Beach through November 14.
An online version of the exhibit can be found at the Wild Florida Photo Halifax Historical Museum exhibit section.
During this exhibit run, I will be featuring one or two images from the exhibit at a time in limited time sales of 11 inch by 14 inch stretched gallery wrap canvas prints for only $50.
To see which image is on sale, visit the Wild Florida Photo home page or the "Our Natural World Around Us" page, and/or follow on twitter @WildFlPhoto.
An online version of the Ormond Beach Library display is also available. The photographs will be on display at the Ormond Beach Library at 30 S. Beach St, Ormond Beach, FL.
There are many interesting spiders that can be seen in Florida. I will show you a few of them and their webs.
One of the largest and very common spider is the golden-silk spider. This member of the orb-weavers family is also often called banana spider. My photograph of a golden-silk spider hanging below her web won honorable mention in the Advanced category of Orange Audubon Society's 2015 Chertok Nature Photography contest.
The spiny orb-weaver is a much smaller but very distinctive spider. Also known as the crab spider or spinybacked orbweaver spider, this is also a fairly common spider, especially in Florida citrus groves. The range of Gasteracantha cancriformis extends across the southern United States, through Central and much of South America. This species may have different markings in other parts of it's range than that shown here, which is how they look in Florida.
Unlike most of the other orbweavers, the Orchard Orbweaver spins its web on a horizontal or only slightly tilted plane.
This small spider, also called the Venusta orchard spider, hangs below the center of the web which can often be seen off to the side of trails.
Last month's blog post included a crab spider on rayless sunflower. This is one of the Mecaphesa species in the crab spider family. These are also called flower spiders because instead of building webs to catch prey, they lie in wait, often well camouflaged, and catch insects that come to visit the flower. The flower spider on horsemint below is another example. This spider had caught a small bee soon after this photo was made.
The image at the top of this post is a black and yellow Argiope. Also called the writing spider for the distinctive zig-zag pattern on the web. These patterns are called stabilimentum and the immature spiders of this species make a circular one as shown below. The purpose of the stabilimentum is debated by experts. Although the name might indicate that it stabilizes the web this is not currently considered the primary function. A number of theories include: camouflage for the spider, attracting prey, attracting a mate, molting platform, sun protection, and silk production practice.
Spiders are part of nature's insect control, so not only are they pretty to look at, they can be beneficial to have around. These are only a few of the many kinds of spiders, some more that occur in Florida can be seen at Wild Florida Photo.
In my years of photographing wildflowers I have found that Florida State Forests provide some of the best locations to locate interesting subjects.
The 37 state forests in Florida comprise over a million acres of land. The forest service manages these properties for resource management, to protect biological diversity and for various public uses such as hunting, hiking, bicycling and horseback riding, just to name a few.
Many of the hiking and horse trails are featured in the Trailwalker and Trailtrotter programs that encourage keeping track of the trails completed to earn small tokens of accomplishment. I have hiked over 20 of these trails, attaining the Trailwalker and Trailblazer levels. The Florida Trail also passes through some of the state forests, and many of the forests are part of the Great Florida Birding Trail.
The natural habitats in forests throughout the state allow native, and sometimes rare, wildflowers to thrive. This is especially true when the appropriate fire management can be conducted, which the forest service strives for as resources and conditions allow.
One of my favorite locations is Tiger Bay State Forest, which is home to a substantial portion of the known populations of the rare Rugel's false pawpaw. Deeringothamnus rugelii is endemic to Volusia County, meaning this is the only place it naturally occurs. Also called yellow squirrel-banana, this little plant responds well to fire, not liking the competition from other plants after too many years without fire.
Other subjects I have photographed at Tiger Bay include Pine Lily and Pines and Milkweed Veins, a close up image of a pinewoods milkweed leaf.
Butterflies abound as well, including Zebra Longwings and a Phaon crescent butterfly in Phaon on Phyla. The tiny little flowers are turkey tangle fogfruit (Phyla nodiflora), a host plant for this and several other butterflies.
The Florida Indian Plantain,also called Florida Cacalia and subject of the photo titled Florida Cacalia Trio is another Florida endemic wildflower that I photographed both in Tiger Bay and Lake Wales Ridge state forests.
Clasping Warea, an endangered endemic wildflower was photographed in the Warea Tract of Seminole State Forest.
Goethe State Forest, where I captured this crab spider on a rayless sunflower, is also home to many native terrestrial orchids.
The horned bladderworts at Okaloachoochee Slough State Forest reminded me of little yellow conquistador helmets, which I photographed from various angles.
The fetterbush flowers at the beginning of this post were found at Point Washington State Forest in the panhandle.
There is much to experience in our state forests and I encourage anyone who enjoys nature and the outdoors to check one out.
Regular readers may remember my post earlier this year on hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail last December. Daniel and I returned for another section hike at the beginning of March and he posted a 13 minute video overview of this second wintery hike on youtube.
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Florida is home to over a hundred orchid species, making up about half of the orchids found in North America.
Many may think of orchids as being a tropical plant, but orchids are one of the most diverse plant families and can be found almost anywhere on the planet.
I have been pleasantly surprised to come across orchids in both Michigan's upper peninsula and in Oregon's Mt. Hood National Forest.
People for centuries have had a particular fascination with orchids, with explorers traveling the world collecting new species for orchid fanciers to cultivate in their gardens and greenhouses.
This obsession, as characterized by the phrase “orchids put the cult in horticulture”, has been observed and described in various books and other writings over the years.
One of the more widely known of these is Susan Orleans' "The Orchid Thief".
"The Scent of Scandal", a more recent book by Craig Pittman is not only an entertaining true story of Florida orchid mania, it is also an informative bibliography on the subject of orchids.
My appreciation of orchids is focused on finding and photographing the many native species that are found in Florida and elsewhere.
This quest has taken me into various natural and often inhospitable habitats around the state, both on my own, and on field trips with knowledgeable orchid experts.
I have been on several field trips lead by Paul Martin Brown, author of "Wild Orchids of Florida" and other orchid guides and publications.
On one of these outings, Paul made a statement typical of orchid enthusiasts, “there are two kinds of plants in the world, orchids and not orchids”.
Thanks to Paul Martin Brown I have seen several orchids that I might not have found otherwise, including woodland ladiestresses, green addersmouth orchid and a new species that he just described about 8 years ago, Potts' plume orchid.
I have also had the pleasure of meeting Mike Owen, state biologist at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, on several occasions.
One of these was a Florida Native Plant Society field trip that he led, but the first time I met him was on my first of several visits to the Fakahatchee.
He stopped and talked to me as I was getting organized at my car in a parking area along Janes Scenic Drive.
Mike was very friendly and helpful in suggesting where I might want to go to look for interesting things to photograph.
In retrospect, he might have been also checking me out to ease his mind that I was not a poacher, as I could very easily appeared as such at first glance.
The Fakahatchee is a very different place depending upon what time of year it is.
In late spring, at the end of the dry season, it is a fairly easy place to explore.
A person can walk down any of the old logging tram paths and off into the low areas with only a few puddles here and there and if your timing is good, very few bugs.
By mid summer, the water is up and the mosquitoes are in full blood-sucking force.
In mid winter, the mosquitoes are often gone, but the water is deep.
Getting to the pretty plants involves carefully wading through waist deep water as I did with Daniel Reed one December during some of south Florida's coldest weather on record.
The orchid highlights of that adventure were the night-scented and the clamshell.
A misstep from catching my boot on a submerged log resulted in my film camera getting dipped into the swamp.
The camera continued to work the remainder of that outing, but it soon died and I was unable to revive it as I had after it's dunking in the Apalachicola Forest's Bradwell Bay several years earlier.
This development resulted in my migrating to digital photography.
Although I have seen and photographed many things in the Fakahatchee, the magnificent flower of the ghost orchid has eluded me there.
I have seen young not-yet-blooming plants in the strand, simply a few green threads of orchid roots on a tree.
The only flowers I have seen were on the plant in the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.
This was only fairly recently discovered by a birder looking for owls after the devastating 2004 Florida hurricane season apparently cleared the view from the boardwalk to a ghost orchid plant high on a tree.
You can see my ghost orchid photos at Wild Florida Photo.
Not all of Florida's orchids are epiphytes, plants that grow on trees instead of the soil.
With the exception of the greenfly and Tampa butterfly orchids, most of those outside of tropical south Florida are terrestrial plants.
These include the leafless beaked lady orchid - Sacoila lanceolata - that can sometimes be found in highway right-of-ways.
The many species of ladiestresses are mostly terrestrial, with fragrant, or marsh, ladiestresses - Spiranthes odorata - being semi-aquatic, often growing in seasonally flooded areas.
The waterspider false reinorchid - Habenaria repens - is one of the few truly aquatic orchids, found along open shorelines, ditches and stagnant pools.
Orchid hunting, in my case with a camera, can be a challenging and rewarding experience, taking a person into places they might not otherwise go and also experiencing many other interesting and beautiful aspects of our wild natural world.
The orchid photographs above can be purchased online by clicking on the desired image, and you can see all 33 of the Florida orchids that I have photographed so far at the Wild Florida Photo Orchidaceae page.
Florida's Ocklawaha River flows north 74 miles from Lake Harris in Lake County passing through Marion County and along the western border of the Ocala national Forest, ending in Putnam County, entering the St. Johns River just upstream of Welaka.
The Ocklawaha is the largest tributary of the St. Johns River, and Silver River is the largest tributary of the Ockalwaha.
The 5-1/2 mile Silver River is the outflow of Silver Springs, one of Florida's largest freshwater springs.
The name is derived from ak-lowahe, meaning muddy in the Creek language.
After the earlier Timucua people of this area were vanquished by disease and early colonists, Creeks moved in as they were pushed out of their traditional homelands to the north.
Those native peoples that remained in Florida came to be known as Seminoles.
The Ocklawaha River was one of Florida's earliest tourist attractions after the Civil War, with specially designed steamboats taking passengers along a wild jungle cruise up the Ocklawaha to Silver Springs.
This activity peaked in the 1870's and diminished after railroad service was established to Ocala in 1881.
The Ocklawaha was intended to be a major part of the cross Florida barge canal, a project started several times and canceled in the early 1970's but not before Rodman dam was built, creating a reservoir out of part of the river.
For a complete history of the canal, one should read Ditch of Dreams: The Cross Florida Barge Canal and the Struggle for Florida's Future by Steven Noll and David Tegeder.
The path of the canal is now the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway, named for one of the people most active in the efforts to stop the canal from being built.
The July-August 2012 issue of Audubon Magazine featured an article by Ted Williams about the Ocklawaha River titled "Has One Florida Dam's Day Finally Come?".
Recommended reading for anyone who would like to know more about this beautiful river and the struggle to remove a remnant dam from the abandoned cross-Florida canal project.
Recently a new impetus to removing the dam has come from an agreement to promote Ocklawaha River restoration to improve the St. Johns River water quality to offset the effects of planned dredging for the port at Jacksonville,
The sections of the Ocklawaha that are still natural are some of the most scenic waterways in Florida and make for excellent canoeing and kayaking.
The river is enjoyed by many, including paddlers, birders, fishermen and others. It is a favorite of both myself & Virginia, and we like to be on this beautiful river as often as possible.
All of the photographs in this blog post were made along the Ocklawaha River.
Last fall as an important project at my day job was coming to a close, I mentioned to my friend Daniel that I had some vacation time I needed to take before the end of the year and we began discussing possible outdoor trips. Considering various kayaking and/or backpacking locations for what was looking like a mid-December trip, I sent an e-mail that included “I did have what is probably a crazy idea that we might want to hike the first stretch of the Appalachian Trail...”. Daniel did not think that was so crazy and we proceeded our planning from there.
We both have done many backpacking trips, from overnight to a week, but had never been on the Appalachian Trail for more than a few miles. Having just turned 60 I thought it was about time that I did an AT section hike. Since it had been a number of years since either of us had been backpacking in the mountains and with the time of the year creating the possibility of seriously cold weather, snow and ice, gear and clothing selection took into consideration weight and likely cold hiking and camping conditions.
Following almost two months of planning, gear selection and stepped up physical training, we met at one of the campsites in the Three Forks area near where the Appalachian Trail crosses the Noontootla River. Noontootla Creek #1 was one of the photographs I made near camp the next morning before we headed off to drop off a cache of food along the trail and then to Neel Gap to start the hike.
It was very late in the day as we reached the highest peak of our hike, where we were treated to a beautiful View from Blood Mountain of the Blue Ridge. This is also the greatest elevation in the Apalachicola River watershed making Blood Mountain the highest source of water that reaches Florida. Amazing to think that rain falling on this remote north Georgia peak could be part of the fresh water essential to the oysters in Apalachicola Bay.
After passing the historic rebuilt stone AT shelter, we descended down to a group of campsites where we stopped for the night just as the sun was setting.
At the nearby water source, we met the first of several groups of through hikers nearing the end of their long journey on the AT.
A surprise to both of us was how many other hikers were also on the trail at this time of year. Of the several dozen people we saw during our trek, almost ten were finishing up hikes from Maine. Most of the times that I have been backpacking, I seldom see other people, and if I do it is usually only 1 or 2, or a single group. Hiking the AT is much more social than either Daniel or myself were used to.
The second day of hiking was a long one and included the View from Big Cedar Mountain along the way. That night was the only rain of the trip while we were snug in the bivies and mostly dry under the tarp.
A short day of hiking brought us to Gooch Gap were we camped on a long unused roadbed on the side of a hill near where we stashed supplies. The next morning was the only one where I got up before the sun – just barely - and captured Appalachian Sunrise.
Taking a break and refilling water bottles at Justus Creek also provided a photographic opportunity. This was the last water source until Hawk Mountain shelter, which we reached right around dusk, ending one of the longer days on the trail.
A short day of hiking allowed a side trek to Long Creek Falls and retrieval of my car at Neel Gap after selecting a campsite for our last two nights. Long Creek Falls Swoosh is a perspective looking down from a midpoint of the several cascades.
We drove up to the approach parking lot and hiked up to Springer Mountain then back down to Three Forks to finish our section hike. The View from Springer Mountain was particularly nice as we enjoyed our accomplishment at reaching the summit of the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. See the image at the head of this post, that is Daniel on the left and I am on the right.
Each year since 2001 the non-profit organization Operation Migration has used ultralight aircraft to lead that year's juvenile whooping cranes from the breeding grounds in Wisconsin to Florida for the winter. After being shown the migration route once, the cranes head north on their own in the spring and return to Florida each succeeding winter.
In the winter of 2010-2011 I planned on going to one of the public flyover events and was all set to see the whoopers when they came through Marion County in December on their way to Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. Weather kept the ultralights & cranes in north Florida where they waited until after the holidays, and then resumed the final leg of their flight in January.
This photograph of four of the whooping cranes and the ultralight aircraft are from the flyover event in Marion County just before the cranes arrived at their last stop. The other half of this flock wintered at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.
My 'on the water' photography has increased greatly the past 4 years since purchasing a sea touring kayak that I found on Craig’s List. Prior to this most of my paddling had been in a canoe. I acquired the kayak to allow me to go out on solo photography paddles and also for extended kayak camping with my friend Daniel Reed from Tennessee.
Kayaking is a great way to see natural Florida and its flora and fauna. The low 'near the water' position provides a great angle for photography and that low profile along with the relative quietness of a kayak, allows sighting of even more wildlife than in most other boats, even canoes. I have seen more green herons since I started kayaking than I had previously, like this pair along the Tomoka River.
Most of my kayaking has been solo, which allows me to stop and spend whatever time I want photographing various scenes and subjects. On one paddle last year I met another solo kayaker on Blackwater Creek who I only knew from reading his Dave’s Yak Tales blog.
I have participated in several kayak camping trips with Daniel & other friends, plus field trips like this one on the Silver River with groups such as Florida Native Plant Society or day trips with an informal group of paddlers known as the River Runners. The string lily image below was made on a lower Ocklawaha River paddle with the River Runners.
In Florida almost any body of water with access is paddle-able, although some are more scenic than others. The natural parts of the Ocklawaha River are particularly nice, as is the Silver River that flows from Silver Springs to the Ocklawaha. The Suwannee River is great for kayak or canoe camping trips from 1 or 2 nights to a week or more. For more information check out the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail.
Water - especially salt water - and cameras do not mix. I killed my previous camera in the keys when the cockpit filled with water while snorkeling in choppy waters near Big Pine Key. The dry bag I was using did not remain dry inside. I learned a hard lesson that dry bags are not created equal. It is important to use a good waterproof bag that is easy to open and close, such as the one I now have, a Sagebrush Dry Hip & Deck Pack. My current camera survived a dunking in the gulf of Mexico thanks to that bag which simply floated, tethered to the overturned kayak in the over six foot waves.
The Scarlet Hibiscus below was photographed along Spring Garden Creek, between DeLeon Springs State Park and Lake Woodruff.
One of the highlights of the local Ormond Scenic Loop and Trail is the Fairchild Oak, a majestic live oak tree estimated to be over 400 years old. This tree is located in Florida's Bulow Creek State Park and was named for botanist Dr. David Fairchild who was fond of and visited the tree regularly in the early 1900s. This is the same Fairchild that Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens in Coral Gables, Florida is named after. Capt. James Ormond's 19th century Damietta plantation, just north of present day Ormond Beach, included this landmark oak tree.
Live oaks range through all the southeastern coastal states from Texas to Virginia and are found throughout most of Florida except for the keys.
For more information and photographs of live oaks visit the Wild Florida Photo Quercus virginiana page.
With the passing of Labor Day marking the end of summer from a cultural perspective, though not quite the closing of the season in either a meteorological or astronomical calendar, I thought summer vacations would be a fitting subject. As someone who still has a non-photography day job, vacations often present opportunities to pursue my part-time career while still providing recreation and 'down-time'. Over the years Virginia and I have travelled to a number of places, during which I have managed to capture some interesting subjects, branching out from my mainstay of Florida photography. Some of the highlights can be seen in my Pacific Northwest and Michigan galleries.
For instance, last summer took us to Oregon with a dip into the redwoods of northern California. After several days experiencing the Portland scene, we ventured out, first to a cabin at Detroit Lake where our local friends took us on some drives to higher altitudes to discover that the wildflowers were as abundant in mid-summer there as they were in the southern Appalachians in spring. Among these wildflowers were bird's-foot trefoil which I captured in an image called Fabaceae Circle. The camping portion of the trip began at Silver Falls State Park where I found Salmonberries in fruit next to our campsite. A short stay only allowed us to see some of the many waterfalls in this park, but I was very pleased with one of the images I made of the main falls that I titled Silver Falls Silver Mist. In Mt. Hood National Forest we stayed in a yurt along Lost Creek with an enchanting nature walk next to the campground, which revealed many subjects for my camera. A drive up a small, sometimes washed out, hillside road lead me to a vistas where I made Mt. Hood. At another location the conifers were framing the peak for Mt. Hood #2. We left the mountain area by way of the scenic Columbia River, and after another night in Portland headed to at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park for more camping, where we were introduced to the cute but noisy Douglas Squirrels. A scenic drive down the Oregon Coast Highway took us to the majestic redwoods of northern California.
A previous trip to the Pacific Northwest in 2003 had us visiting Washington and British Columbia. We started by visiting Mt. Rainier National Park, where I quickly realized that cloudless views of the peak were limited to early in the day. The next portion of that trip was into the Olympic Peninsula and the Pacific Ocean, where I saw sea stacks for the first time that I can remember, including Cake Rock at Rialto Beach. We also visited Dungeness Harbor before taking a ferry to Vancouver Island.
2009 found us in the upper peninsula of Michigan, staying with a group of friends from around the country in a cabin at Van Riper State Park which served as our base for exploring the area. One busy day included Big Bay Point Light, Alder Falls, which I also did in black and white, and both the upper and lower cascades on Pup Creek. Before culminating our day of sightseeing with locally brewed beers in Marquette the group visited an interesting geologic formation in Ishpeming where an outcrop of jaspilite can be seen at the top of a hill. On our way to our next destination Virginia and I visited Pictured Rocks National Seashore, where the sights included Munising Falls and Miners Castle jutting out into Lake Superior.
Combining vacations with photographic opportunities may mean not being in a place at the ultimate best time for imaging, is also presents subjects that I might not otherwise have captured.
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.
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.
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.
After my April 8 tweet '7 years ago today' of a Carolina satyr butterfly -
view original tweet – Dr. Andrew Warren (@AndyBugGuy) of the University of Florida McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity contacted me asking if I had more photos of that butterfly since he wanted to see if any of them might be a newly described similar species. It turned out that I had taken a number of photos on several occasions and at different locations that I had identified as Carolina satyr. Two of these butterflies were actually the 'new' intricate satyr butterfly. The photo that I tweeted was a Carolina satyr. The butterfly had its wings spread and the photograph shows one of the differentiating characteristics between the two species. Intricate satyrs lack a darker area towards the base of the forewings that is shown in my photo of the Carolina Satyr titled "Brown Velvet". This photo will appear in an article about these butterflies in the June issue of the News of the Lepidoperists' Society.
Since we are over a quarter of the way through 2014, I thought I would explain my "...years ago today" tweets. Since the beginning of 2014 almost every day I have posted on twitter.com/WildFlPhoto a photo that was taken on that date sometime in the previous fifteen years. In the first three months there were only six dates that I had not taken photos on.
In most cases I already had a photo posted on my Wild Florida Photo (wildflphoto.com) website, but there have been a number of times that I have had to pull a previously unused image from my archives to represent that date. An example of one of these is Sunset Pines.
This is an image that I made from the primitive campsites at Highlands Hammock State Park where I camped following a Florida Native Plant Society board meeting held at Archbold Biological Station.
In addition to showcasing the variety of my images, I have found this “…years ago today” exercise helpful in several aspects. For one thing, the daily deadline is forcing me to regularly review and process photos. This review has resulted in finding images that I had forgotten about and making me prepare others that I just never got around to doing anything with.
Some of other the images I have used on my website, or previously printed for sale at art shows and other events, I have now reprocessed with a more seasoned eye, resulting in what I feel are better images. After all, even Ansel Adams completely changed the look of some of his famous images, such as his iconic 1927 Monolith – The Face of Half Dome, which later in his career he printed in the high contrast style that most people think of when they hear his name.
With almost nine more months in this year, there are lots of photos, from 35mm film & slides, digital snapshot and three different digital SLRs, with even a few iPhone images to present to you. If you are not already doing so, follow me on twitter.com @WildFlPhoto to see each day's photo.
In 2007 my image of a Great Horned Owl titled "Don't Mess With My Chicks" won 3rd Place in the Florida Birds! category of the Orange Audubon (Orlando Florida) Kit & Sidney Chertok Nature Photography Contest. This is the story about how I made this photograph.
It was early March when I heard about a local bird rescue. My friend David Hartgrove, an expert birder and active leader in the local Audubon Society had been notified about a great horned owlet that had fallen out of a tree before it was ready to fledge. Having access to a cherry-picker from the local power company, he placed the owlet back in the tree with its siblings. Surprisingly, the owl parents had selected as a nest tree a tall longleaf pine tree in a vacant lot near the intersection of two main roads near the center of town. To top it off, it was now bike week, an event that brings several hundred thousand motorcycle enthusiasts to the area.
I had only seen a great horned owl once. That was in Hillsborough River State Park when my wife and I were heading back to the car as dusk was approaching. That owl was perched on a branch ahead of us along the trail and we stopped to admire it as long as we could as the mosquitoes were just coming out for their evening feeding and we were on the menu. Since I had not photographed one of these majestic birds I now had to take advantage of this opportunity.
After work I went to the location and sure enough, there were owls in the tree. At first I only saw one of the adults, but I eventually spotted three young owls and the other adult. With the rumble of Harleys passing nearby I was able to get some photos of both adults and owlets in the late afternoon light. I returned the next morning for some more shots.
The image of the adult owl appearing to be staring right at me stood out from the rest and gave me the impression that if it could it would say "Don't Mess With My Chicks".
After communicating only virtually up until then I finally met Florida children's book author Christopher Tozier in person when we both attended the fifth annual Florida Scrub Jay Festival at Lyonia Environmental Center & Preserve. Christopher Tozier is the author of Olivia Brophie and the Pearl of Tagelus, the award-winning, middle-grade fantasy series set in the wilds of central Florida and published by Pineapple Press. He was selected as a 2011 State of Florida Artist Fellowship and he has followed up with another book, Olivia Brophie and the Sky Island. Christopher also blogs regularly, in which he often mentions interesting items regarding Florida nature, especially of the scrub habitat. I was interviewed by Christopher for his blog, which can be read at www.christophertozier.com/2014/02/an-interview-with-award-winning-florida.html to learn a little more about me.
Christopher Tozier and his books at the Scrub Jay Festival