Sunday, December 30, 2012

Semipalmated Plover, North America's Chidori

 The Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus)  is a winter visitor here on the Gulf Coast of Florida. 
 
Audubon Society data link

Many years ago when I was stationed in Japan I heard a koto musician play a piece called "Chidori," which means plover in Japanese.  The story behind this haunting music is of  a Samurai walking his guardpost on a castle wall....at dawn he sees a lone plover on the shore and feels a kinship with the bird....sharing the beautiful dawn with the "chidori."  Having seen my share of dawns from guard posts in Asia, I have always remembered the music, the emotion and the memories...every time I see this shorebird.

The "chidori" is a cultural icon in Japan, it is found in traditional music, art, poetry and even contemporary comics and on t-shirts.
 
 
 Koto "Chidori no kyoku"
Click on the above link and hear "Chidori."
 

Here's a famous woodblock print (nishiki-e) from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.  "Two plovers, waves and a full moon," by Utagawa Hiroshige I, from the Edo Period (late 1830's).
 


Beautiful Japanese calligraphy, "Chidori." 
 
 
a Haiku poem

"A plover on the shore
No grasses, no trees
his rainy night"


(Yosa Buson)  1716-1784
 
When nature becomes part of our lives and culture, we become a part of nature....no longer just observers.
 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Red Knot in winter, the Big Peep!

 Red Knots (Calidris canutus) are the largest of the "Peeps" (small, difficult to identify North American shorebirds).  A couple of inches larger the Sanderlings, they breed in the Arctic and are seen in great flocks in winter on the U.S. Atlantic coast. 
 

 The name Red Knot comes from their salmon colored belly in breeding plumage.  These photos, taken in Punta Gorda, Florida in late December show their nonbreeding appearance.
 


With an estimated population of over a million, several conservation groups have petitioned for their inclusion as "endangered."   They feed mainly on Horseshoe Crab eggs, and the Horseshoe Crab population in the Chesapeake and other Atlantic Bays has been greatly reduced by over harvesting and over development of shoreline.  Hopefully efforts to protect the Horseshoe Crab population and species adaptability will ensure a bright future for this interesting "Peep!"
 
 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Best Short Hike in the State of Maine!

I wanted to share my favorite short hike in Maine.  Although "favorites" are strictly subjective, this one is special to me.  It is the loop trail on the Frank E. Woodworth Preserve in Harrington, Maine.


The Preserve is located on Ripley Neck.....way Downeast in scenic Washington County.

The trail meanders through old growth forest toward Alaska Cove with great views of Pleasant Bay, Hen, Hog and Narrows Islands.


The Preserve is one of many stewarded by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust.  Here's a link to their wonderful website which will tell you about all of their preserves and easements....which are open to the public and wonderful places to visit.  The land trusts of Maine are saving coastal and inland areas for present and future generations to enjoy. 


Living closeby in the summer, I walk this trail often and enjoy not only the forest and rocky coast, but also the quiet....something no longer available in the "overused" Acadia National Park trail system.   I do sometimes meet other hikers, but thusfar haven't been annoyed by screaming kids or cell phone babbling adults!
Here's a link to MCT's page on this preserve...complete with a downloadable trail map.



 
The Maine Woods, or boreal forest if you will, is a fascinating place.  Here's an online book to read....




You can just enjoy the walk through the forest, or read the link below to learn about the natural history of the North Woods, it's flora, fauna, earth and sky.



A constant companion and forest intruder alarm is the American Red Squirrel.  Not knowing which of the 25 recognized subspecies this guy is, I will label him Sciurius ubiquitous!


 Feeding mostly on Spruce seeds, red squirrels create piles or middens which not only are their dining tables, but also mark their territories.
Here's a link to an article about red squirrel "kleptoparasitic" behavior......stealing from their neighbors' middens in relation to population density.  Interesting.  I think you could do a similar study with humans and their population density!





 The trail is well marked and not overused or littered. 





Many of these photos were taken in early summer when seasonal streams were still flowing and vernal pools still abundant..


Water is cold, crystal clear and looks pure....but, there are enough small mammals about to not risk a Giardia ingestion.


The young interns from the Land Trust who maintain the trail have done a wonderful job.....putting walkways over sensitive areas.
Here's a link to Acadian Internships....I worked with some of these fine young folks last summer...what a fine program














Besides the squirrels, you are likely to see porcupines, chickadees, spruce grouse, whitetail deer, mice, voles and a myriad of insects if you wish to poke around old stumps and turn over rocks.


Be sure to allow  lots of time to poke around Alaska Cove after a nice walk in the woods.  Lots of great shoreline views and lots of tidal pool exploring to do.





Want to know more about Maine Islands?  Here's a link to the Maine Island Trail Association.















Here's a link to a great video about Rockweed, with a guy named,
Tidepool Tim! 





Another great video....and underwater view of a Rockweed forest.


Do you have a favorite Maine hike?  I'd love to hear about it.
Hope you will get to the Frank E Woodworth preserve next summer....stop by Wabi Sabi Farm (133 Marshville Rd, Harrington) and I'll join you.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Thornton Key Botanical Walk




photo by Olivia Scott
Up early to see a beautiful December sunrise and to get ready for a great outing in nature.  This is a boat trip to Thornton Key Preserve and  a botanical nature walk led by Dr Bill Dunson, Phd..  The trip was sponsored  by the Charlotte Harbor Sierra club.
 

Thornton Key is a small barrier island in along the intracoastal waterway of Lemon Bay.

 Phil Dakin, generously provided a very comfortable pontoon boat for the ride from Placida to Thornton Key.

On the way, we saw American White Pelicans resting on a sandbar with some smaller Brown Pelicans and Laughing Gulls.


There is no land access to the preserve, but there is a nice dock for boats and a small pull-out for kayakers.

The 31 acres of the preserve has several interesting ecological habitats:  tropical hardwood hammock , mangrove swamp, salt barrens, and herbaceous marsh.
 


An improved trail circles the preserve and the county has made recent efforts to remove invasive species like Brazilian Pepper Plants and Australian Pines.
 

Retired professor, Dr Bill, proved not to really be retired....as he taught a class on local botany as the group moved along the trail.
 


We must have learned about a hundred plant species, but I will show you the few that I remember!  Above are some seed pods of  a Knicker Bean Plant (Caesalpinia bonduc), a thorny, climbing bush....and the main food source of the rare Miami Blue butterfly.

If you are interested, you can contact Dr Bill through the Lemon Bay Conservancy. http://www.lemonbayconservancy.org/ I am sure he will provide you with an extensive, and somewhat intimidating plant list.  Better yet, sign up for a future outing with Dr Bill through the conservancy website.


Shoestring Ferns (Vittaria lineata) were found near a wet area.   Similar to Bromeliads, it is an air plant and grows only on Sabal Palms.
 
 

When the sun warmed things up, we saw a few butterflies.  Here is a Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae).

 Down the path was a Gulf Fritillary caterpillar (or instar), feeding on a Corky Stem Passionflower vine (Passiflora suberosa).
 

Dr Bill shared his knowledge about disturbed areas, micro habitats and successional regrowth patterns.  Awareness of these things make a "walk in the woods" much more exciting.

We all decided this would be the "plant of the day," following Dr Bill's advice to just learn "one new one."  The pleasant aroma from this Saffron Plum (Sideroxylan celastrinum) drew our interest, and it also did to lots of bees and other pollinators.

Sierra Clubber, Allain Hale, gets some one on one instruction about leaf structure.

This Snowberry (Chiococca alba) does well in dry conditions, and sure enough, we found it up on the hammock where it's waxy leaves were collecting some morning dew.

A class outside, in nature, is much more meaningful than one heard in a lecture hall.  But, if you like to read, here's a link to a free e-book on Botany

Christmas Berry Bush (Lycium carolinanum) which does well in a salty soil....found near the mangroves.

Phil and Allain looking for telltale black spots on the edges of a Black Mangrove leaf.  The photo below shows perhaps the most interesting and unusual feature on the Key....a salt flat with a stunted Black Mangrove (Avicennia germinens) forest.



The salt flat floods and dries periodically, leaving the soil unusually saline....much more than Black Mangrove trees are used to.....as they normally grow a bit away from the shore.....so, they have become stunted.  An interesting observation and a lesson in micro-habitats.

After our walk, Captain Phil piloted boat and passengers in a stately fashion to the Rum Bay Restaurant, across the intercoastal on Manasota Key.


The group enjoyed some great food and had a chance to get to know one another, share their thoughts on the day, and make plans for future outings.

The short ride from lunch back to the marina brought us a close-up view of a wintering Common Loon (Gavia immer).

 On his first outing with the Sierra Club, Rick Kirkwood takes in the view on the way home.  I'll bet he'll be back for a another outing.....and if you are in the area, why don't you check out the group schedules and join us.
 
Interested in Conservation Biology?  You can pick up a good used copy on Amazon.com for a very reasonable price.