Sunday, December 28, 2008

The End of a Dream Vacation!!

Looking through the palm trees at the sunset!

Seems only fitting to end this vacation with pictures of the sun setting over the Gulf of Mexico. Gail, Bill, John and Anne joined us for two evenings of watching the sun go down. It has been really quite warm even at sunset.

This is the Costa Rican devil plant which is growing in the yard here at the Edgewater Inn!! Sylvia (the owner) grew hers from seeds and she gave me ones so I could have an annual next summer!!

This is a very noisy royal tern seen on my morning walk.

Isn't this a gorgeous osprey. He was down at the Point and I was looking down on him instead of looking up as I usually do!

This is our almost daily visitor -- the yellow crowned night heron trying to get breakfast. You have seen him before!!

This is a double crested cormorant. For the life of me, even close up, I see no signs of any crests, so I have no idea where the name came from. I believe this is a young one. I actually am only a foot or so away from these very tame cormorants who I see each morning on my beach walk.

Again, a double crested cormorant but his dark coloring shows that he is an adult.

This crazy great white egret allowed me to get right up next to it when it was hunting for skinks, the little lizards that are everywhere down here. He got one seconds later.

This is our ever-present morning greeter - the great blue heron posing for his picture like he does each morning!

This last four weeks has seemed much too short. This is our last day in paradise down here in Ft. Myers Beach (boo hoo). The weather has been exceptional, the birding and shelling excellent and the company we have been keeping even better!! We have gotten to know my sister and her husband Bill much better and it has been really fun and I look forward to doing it again next year!!

The beaches are crowded now so my early morning walks aren't nearly as much fun. I don't even think they were this crowded last Christmas week and it took my sister an hour to get across the causeway yesterday when they came down for a beach visit. She spotted another Magnificent Frigatebird (remember I had seen four of them a couple of weeks ago during the storm we had). They certainly have an unmistakeable shape (see her posting for today to see a picture she took -- I didn't have my camera with me AGAIN). I had never seen one before this year but our landlords tell me they are a very common sight in the summertime around here.

Monday, December 22, 2008

By Golly, Bivalves, Bivalves!

Well, this will be the last day of shells if you are lucky!! If I find out more information, I reserve the option to post more!! This first shell is a crossed barred Venus but I call it a zig zag clam. It has very sharp edges on top. Might find out some more later! It looks like there might be some more good shelling this week with the early low tides again (yippee -- it certainly makes my four mile morning walks more enjoyable except my poor back does hurt a bit from the constant stooping -- called the Sanibel stoop).

Again, this one is very common and is one of the so-called ark shells -- I think it is a cut ribbed arc. It is kind of rectangular but is not a turkey wing .
This is one of my two favorite bivalves and is called a buttercup lucine as the inside is ringed with bright, bright yellow! It shines right through to the outside and I have gotten quite a few good samples this year. They range in size up to about 4 inches.

This is a turkey wing with its peculiar shape. They can get pretty large and I think I have one that is about 5 inches at home but this one was about 4 inches.

These are another of my favorites -- the rose tellin. These are pretty small examples and I am sure at this size are often mistaken for coquinas -- the small shell found all over at the tide line. I know at home I have some relatively good size ones of 3 or 4 inches but these are about 3/4 to an inch long. They are the same color bright pink on the inside an out -- another way to tell them from the coquinas.

This is also one of my favorites and the identification guide online calls them a channel duck clam. They are translucent and very pretty and a bit fragile.

This is the most common by far around here of the clams and is Van Hynings cockle. You see these frequently alive during low tide and I have seen them 5 or 6 inches across. They are shells which have a lot of curve to them.

This is either a yellow prickly cockle or a Florida prickly cockle depending on what is on the inside!

Same as above.

These are the frequently seen coquinas. They come in many colors and some also have a very striking striping pattern as well. I particularly like the pink, orange and deep yellow ones -- I am going for color this year. They only get to about 1 inch at the largest and usually are about 1/2 to 3/4 inch in length.

Aha! A yellow prickly cockle inside from above!

This is a scallop. They come in all sizes with one side having the pattern and the other side being usually white or having just a touch of pattern. They also come in grey and white (bay scallops) or almost a solid color. The calico scallop actually has stripes of orange or pink through the patterns on top.

This is a calico clam which looks like a checkerboard to me.

This is a clam sunray venus which you see quite a bit of after a storm. They range in size up to about 6 inches long and are plain white on the inside.
A shell that I have not identified but which I am sure I have is a blood ark clam which has red blood.
I also have picked up "sailor's ears" which are a plain white clam shell and found in abundance down here. I have seen something called a lion's paw and think I have one at home. I have also picked up a number of kitten's paws but didn't get any pictures. They are small clams with deep fissures that look life five fingers hence the name kitten's paw. There are also pen shells (very big, very ugly shells), razor clams (little ugly brown shells), spiny jewel boxes (really pretty spiky shells with beautiful pink insides), egg cockles (plain white cockles but haven't found too many of these), mussels (boring), oysters (again boring). I have challenged myself this year to really find out the names of all the bivalves and am hoping Santa leaves me a Florida shell book for Christmas.
I did find another fantastic website to find out the names of shells - They also mention "The Nautilus"which is the journal that my parents either edited or published for almost 50 years altogether. It is a professional journal for shell collectors that has been published since 1886. It is now being published by the Shell Museum on Sanibel. I was surprised to find a picture of my father as well as mention of my mother in the article that was published when the journal celebrated its 120th year anniversary.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Gastropods Everywhere!

More shells today and that will be the end of the gastropods! There are a couple I have collected but didn't include in here which are the slipper shell and the periwinkle -- both very common although you don't see the periwinkle except on the bays except occasionally.

This is called a jujube top shell. I think it is what they call a sundial as well. They don't get very big and a lot of people pass them up on the beach thinking they are broken tops of other shells (my sister even threw one out because she hadn't realized it was not a broken shell).

I finally found out what this one was called as it wasn't on the cards I used for several years down here. I have found them a few times in the past and they are called gaudy naticas. That is all I know!

This snail is called a shark's eye and can be found from 3/4 inch up to about 2 inches in size and a pretty substantial shell.

These are again some of my favorites -- the lettered olives. They are bright and shiny and I have found them up to about 3 1/2 inches long and as small as 3/4 of an inch. They are most common on the beach at Lover's Key.

This is a king conch. It looks a bit like the fighting conch but has different colorations and I haven't seen a large one of these. I saw them more commonly on the beaches at Sanibel than here on Ft. Myers Beach. I must say that overall I have found a better collection of shells over here than Sanibel probably because shell collectors flock to Sanibel to collect!

These are ceriths and are quite common on the beach. According to the identification guide, there are two types -- one a fly specked cerith and the other just a common cerith. They both look the same to me but maybe someone wiser can tell me the differences!

Last but certainly not the least is the very common auger. I have found these in about every size and color on the beach even when I can't find any other shells!! They range up to about 1 1/2 inches in length.
Tomorrow I will put up my pictures of bivalves -- those with two shells and the animal in between. I can't identify all of them and don't even have pictures of all the ones I have found but will forge ahead with what I do have!!
The weather continues to be absolutely fabulous here and I don't relish heading back to the miserable northeast for gloom and snow. Hopefully, it will be all done by the time I head back after Christmas.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Shells, Shells, Shells She Sees

Well, I thought I should take pictures of some of the shells I have collected this trip and put names on them. I will not even attempt to put the scientific names up but did find a web site that had a good listing with the common and the scientific names. Like quilt blocks, shells' names are regional which is especially true for things like "conch". The following site has a really complete list of the common names of shells along with their scientific names:

Now a little lesson here -- conch basically means shell as conchology is the study of shells. So a pretty meaningless name which is why we should use the scientific names even though I won't (my father is definitely rolling over in his grave at this). Mollusk is also another generic name for shell. Malacology is also the study of shells.

Taxonomy is really the science of classifying "things" so that everyone was speaking from the same page when referring to critters. So the names I am putting on these shells are the common names from the Southwest portion of Florida. The same shell is probably called something different in Nassau or Puerto Rico!!

I have chosen gastropods for today (foot shells that only have one shell, an animal and then another piece of shell called an operculum which covers up the animal when he is resident). Many times you will find the most beautiful shells empty of their animals but which have a hermit crab resident. They seem to pick the nicest ones and as one only collects dead things, they get thrown back in the ocean.

This is the state shell for Florida and is called the horse conch. It generally is bright orange and can range in size from very small to about 18 inches. You can see them in the bay areas around Lovers Key moving around. These were probably just a couple of inches long but I do have some nicer ones at home from previous years. I think the one on the right is really a drill rather than a small horse conch. Drills are another very frequently found shell.

These are the very common lightening whelks. They are the only of the spiral shells with a opening on the left (ie, if you pick it up with your hand in the opening, you would use your left hand). They are very colorful and varied as you can see here and range in size from very small to about 5 inches.

These are called true tulips as opposed to another very similar shell which is called the banded tulip. True tulips tend to be more one color all over while the banded ones have very definite well defined stripes. True tulips are larger as well and I have seen many live specimens this year that are about 5-6 inches in length. You usually see the banded tulips only a couple of inches long.

These are the other whelk -- commonly called the pear whelk which is a right handed shell. These range in size up to quite large and have also a variety of colors. They are recognizabel because of the channels on the top of the shell (as opposed to points for many).

This is the common fig which looks a little like the pear whelk but has a much thinner paperlike shell. It is usually fairly solid in color as well and is a light tan pretty consistently. The one on the right here was a little unusual in that it had so many markings. They can get up to 6 or 7 inches in size and about the smallest I have seen is about 1 inch -- probably because they are a bit fragile.

This is the very common fighting conch which you find alive on the beach constantly. As they stay in the sun for awhile, they get lighter and lighter in color . You can find this in about every size up to about 4 inches long. The one on the far left has a deep purple on the inside which was a little usual for coloring. I have tiny versions all the way up to very large versions of this shell.

This colorful little shell is called the common nutmeg and the largest is about 2 inches in length.

This is the banded tulip and notice how there are very regular rings around the shell although the colorings are a bit different.

These are probably my favorites -- the Florida alphabet cones. The largest is about 3 inches and I have a couple of gorgeous ones at home too. There is also a gold banded cone which has more consistent gold coloring around it but not as pretty to my eye! I have a couple of those but they are lost in the bag of shells I have here. I saw a large colony last year of alive versions of these beautiful shells. I always pick up the shells to see if they are alive or not. Some of my best finds have been shells that I am sure people think are alive (after awhile you get tired of picking up shells thinking they are not alive and they always seem to be). The biggest of these was half buried in sand right at the water's edge and had been seen I am sure by many people.

I do like these as well and they are called apple murex (at least most of these are -- I think some are the so called drills). As you can see, they come in all colors and sizes. Newbies don't pick up these from the piles of shells many tiems as they think they are just barnacles as that is what they look like many times in a pile of shells. They grow to about 2 inches in length.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Pink, Pink and More Pink -- A Visit to "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge

Many Roseate Spoonbills feeding and resting and just plain hanging out!

This was such a pretty anhinga, I had to add him or her to the blog even though I have had them on the blog before!

What a surprise to find out that the entry was free because we have one of those Senior America the Beautiful passes. They only cost $10 for lifetime usage. We probably saved $500 when we went cross country last year as campsites were half price as well. You only need to be 62 and appear in person at a National Park where they sell them. They entitle everyone in a car to a free pass to the parks (some of the national parks have a $25 daily entrance fee). So Warren, my sister Gail and her husband Bill and I all got to go to this wonderful Refuge for free!

Well, I wanted to make sure that my sister got to see roseate spoonbills as part of her Florida bird education. We didn't see any at Lover's Key the other day which was very disappointing as that is where I saw them last year. Ding Darling did not disappoint us though!!!! There were many, many roseates and many were close enough to get some decent pictures. There were also many, many white pelicans and again many that were close enough to get a good picture. I also spotted a couple of tri-colored herons although I wasn't sure what they were until I enlarged the pictures. I am still trying to identify a bird we saw in a tree though. There are a couple of other birds that I have seen who are still nameless as well. Even having a picture in front of you is sometimes not enough!!

Our respective husbands have been doing a lot of eye rolling lately but it is fun to have a partner in identifying all this wonderful flora and fauna (guess that birds fall into the fauna category). We are all working on getting red, black and white mangroves straight.

I confirmed that there have been sightings of the magnificent frigatebird in the area so I am positive that is what I saw during the storms last week. From my reading on the bird, that is when you are most apt to see them in this area-- right after storms. As my friend Sue says, I am easily amused!!

This was just a few of the pelicans that were standing in one area of the marsh. There were more than I have seen before there and they were flying above as well. So many times, they all look like they are sleeping and you don't get the impact of the size of these magnificent birds (I believe something like a nine foot wing span). They migrate here from Washington State and north and can be seen in the summer in Alaska (I saw them there during my Alaska trip). From below you can see the black on their wings.

This roseate spoonbill either had flees or he was strutting his stuff. He just kept dancing and dancing around in the water in front of the other spoonbills. There were many more spoonbills there than I have seen before. We were there a couple of hours after low tide but in the later afternoon.

This pelican looked particularly stately amongst his sleeping brethren.

This was a view into the mangroves with a really nice reflection onto the waters. I took several pictures that you would swear were the object, not the reflection.

This I have dubbed "Gail's Great Egret" as she ran out of battery life just as she was trying for a picture of this solitary fellow on top of the tree.

This is a bevy of white pelicans with a few double crested cormorants standing amongst the flock (somehow flock of pelicans doesn't sound majestic enough).

This was a particularly nice sighting of a Great Egret and a Snowy Egret posing by the side of the road. I like getting pictures of the birds in the canal behind me but seeing them in a natural setting makes them that much more beautiful (at least to my eyes). Double click on any of these images to make them bigger.