Monthly Archives: September 2008


I’ve been wanting to write about jellyfish so here goes:  I’ve stated before that there are tons of moon jellies washing ashore since the last hurricane.  They’re pretty big, too. 

I took the boys on a 4H field trip last Friday to South Lido Beach near the park.  The instructor was Keith Wilson from the Extension office.  The children (there were 8 of them in this group) were throwing nets in the grasses along the shore.  They were scooping up fish, grasses and moon jellies.  Keith told the kids that moon jellies were ok to touch and showed them how to pick them up.  Of course the boys that did pick them up got slimed but that was fun for them.  Moon jellies are saucer-shaped and clear.  They have a 4-lobed “flower”-like shape in the center.  It can be pink or yellow.  They have short tentacles that look frilly.  We learned that some people can have a reaction to the slime of a moon jelly, some don’t.  Only one of the children had a reaction to the slime.  You can touch the top but if you’re not sure about having a reaction I wouldn’t recommend touching the tentacles.  The jelly I’ve seen that I wouldn’t recommend touching at all is the Sea Nettle.  This one has red radiating stripes.  Jellies prey on zooplankton so there must be a ton of zooplankton by our coast right now for them to come in swarms.

Some jellies are bioluminescent so if you are at the beach at night, maybe star-gazing, check the surf for a pulsing light from the jellies.

Last Thanksgiving, we spent the holiday with my in-laws on the east coast of FL.  They live on Singer Island.  The afternoon we arrived we all took a walk along their beach and saw these purple balloon-like things all around us.  At first we had just thought maybe someone had a party and didn’t clean up after themselves but then realized they were Portuguese Man-o-War.  It was really cool to see them (I had never before seen one in person) but at the same time, since there were so many, it was creepy.  Their tentacles are so long and even though they are beached, they can still sting so we had to be careful walking so not to step on one.  We headed to the public beach just south of their condo for some shelling.  Amazingly there were a lot of people swimming where these Man-o-War jellies were.  Children included.  I guess people either don’t care or they’re just oblivious to the dangers.  According to Florida’s Living Beaches by the Witheringtons, Man-o-War live in the wide-open sea and beach themselves in the winter at the end of their journey.  Beachings are most common December through May (we saw them the end of November).  I shouldn’t call them jellies, although they do look like jellies.  They’re actually colonies of individual polyps, each doing something to help the colony like collecting food, reproducing etc.  They from the class Hydrozoa, phylum Cnidaria.

The tentacles of the Man-o-War can be 6 feet long when beached and up to 150 ft fully extended at sea.  If you get stung, the tentacles stick to you, so don’t rub, just pick/peel it off.  Then treat with meat tenderizer or urine. 

We’re heading, once again, to Singer Island for Thanksgiving so I’ll post an update if we see them again.  Maybe we’ll see another sea critter this time.

Florida Birding

I just got in the mail today my birding certificate from Wings Over Florida.  I’m a Cardinal level which means I’ve identified between 50-149 birds in Florida.  My life list is a lot longer because I’ve seen tons of birds in tons of states across America.  Since I moved here, for the Wings of Florida certificate I had to start over with my Florida list.  Birds that don’t count on the list are: Muscovy Duck, Rock Dove, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Budgeriger, Monk Parakeet, Spot-breasted Oriole, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Black-hooded Parakeet, White-winged Parakeet, House Finch, House Sparrow, European Starling. 

I’m almost at the 150 mark since I moved here.  Just a handful to go and hopefully I can make it further inland this migration season to see from of my feathered friends I miss from the other states I’ve lived.  That level is called the Scrub Jay Level, which is considered intermediate or 150-249 bird types.  Wish me luck.

Wings Over Florida is part of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Great Florida Birding Trail.  Check them out at for your checklist and application.

Along with my certificate I also recieved The Great Florida Birding Trail  brochure, Checklist of Florida’s Birds, Commemorative Guide The Great Florida Birding Trail, and separate maps for the West Florida Birding Trail, Panhandle Birding Trail and South Florida Birding Trail. 

I am so excited about the migratory bird season and hope to see some really cool birds.  I live a few minutes from Myakka State Park and have never seen the Scrub Jay so I plan to get that one on my list.  I want to focus this winter on ducks and I also hope to see a Whooping Crane.  Whooping Cranes were introduced to Florida and are rarely spotted.  I got to see one in TX before we moved here.  We were driving to Corpus Christi for the weekend and were planning to visit the nature preserves for bird watching.  Driving down the interstate from Houston a HUGE bird flew out in front of us from the swampy grass in the median.  It was a Whooping Crane.  I never got a picture of it or any other but I saw it.  I’m hoping to actually spot one and photograph it this time.  But for now my memory is the best picture.

Edited: I did finally get my Scrub Jay certificate.  I’ve moved to Alabama.  I can still bird watch in FL which is about an hour’s drive but it’ll take longer now to get to the next level.  I hope to find some more great birds in Alabama.  I’m living under a different migration flyway.

More Bones on the Beach

Oh, I laughed so hard last night.  My husband enjoyed the joke, too.

As you probably know from previous posts, I enjoy beachcombing and picking up nearly anything on the beach from shells, egg cases, corals, surf-beaten toys that we’re left behind, and bones.

Well, I had been on the beach earlier and came home with a handful of bones.  Some I recognized as bird bones, and a few fish bones but there are some that look like either a bird’s coracoid or the tarsometatarsus.  I keep finding them and probably have about a dozen to date.  I had googled bird skeletons trying to figure this one out.  But as I was looking through one of my favorite books, “Florida’s Living Beaches” by Blair and Dawn Witherington, I saw a picture of these particular bones.  So there I read to my husband from page 202: ” Pigs have their feet used as bait in stone crab traps.  Most of these remains are fingerlike and stout (figure O [which was identical to the dozen bones I’ve collected with wonder]).  These pig’s knuckles are common on many southwestern Florida beaches.”

I laughed so hard I was crying.  My prized, yet mysterious beach find was nothing more than pig’s knuckles.

Things to do on and around Siesta Key

Ever notice how once September arrives there is something to do every weekend? Summers in FL, I’ve noticed, are dull if you’re looking for festivals, parties, or special events. Then the weather starts getting perfect and the northern visitors start arriving and then the calendar gets double-full. I’ve noticed this with our school calendar. Of course, lots of things don’t happen during the summer…4-H, boy scouts, Audubon events (of course I still watch for birds). So now that September is here, and today the first day of fall, I thought I’d post some events for the next month. I’ll include the last weekend of September in the mix.
Downtown Sarasota Farmers Market
Downtown Association
every Saturday – rain or shine
7:00 Am – Noon
Lemon Avenue and Main Street
Buy Fresh – Buy Local – a Sarasota tradition for over 28 years OLD RECORD NIGHT
Canvas Cafe Gallery
every Wednesday night
8 p.m-1 a.m.
1912 Adams Lane
enjoy old records and new friends at the Canvas Cafe Gallery
Tai Chi on Siesta Beach
through – Sunday, Dec. 28, 2008
Every Monday
15 min. before sunset
Siesta Beach in Siesta Village
Siesta Key
A free half-hour practice of T’ai Chi Chih, easy-to-do movement exercise. No experience needed.

Second Saturday Family Program
Mote Marine Laboratory
Saturday, Jul. 12, 2008 – Saturday, Dec. 13, 2008
Second Saturday of each month year round
Mote’s Marine Education Resource Center, 1600 Ken Thompson Pkwy
941-388-4441, ext. 369
Mote’s Second Saturday Family Programs are intimate, hands-on experiences designed for children ages 6-12 and their favorite adult

20th Annual “St. Armands Art Festival”
St. Armands Association
Saturday, Oct. 11, 2008 – Sunday, Oct. 12, 2008
10 – 5 pm, Sunday Sidewalk Sale noon – 5 pm
St. Armands Circle, St. Armands Circle
Art Festival with Live Entertainment plus Sidewalk Sale

Mote Island Quest: Talking Trash
Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium
Saturday, Oct. 11, 2008 – Saturday, Oct. 25, 2008
Three consecutive Saturdays
1 p.m. – 5 p.m.
Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, 1600 Ken Thompson Pkwy.
941-388-4441, ext. 229
Mote’s newest hands-on offering for kids ages 8-11

“Mingling not Mixing” with Anne Abgott
Art Center Sarasota
Sunday, Oct. 26, 2008 9:30 am – 3:30 pm
Art Center Sarasota, 707 North Tamiami Trail
Learn from one of the leading watercolor artists in our area. She was the president of the watercolor society in 2006.

Cocktails at the Cà d’Zan October 16th. There is a $5 cover charge, cash bar, and food vendors. Free parking at Florida State University Center for Performing Arts. No advance reservations required. Limited seating available. For more info:  

14th Annual Sarasota Craft Festival October 18th and 19th. This Annual Craft Festival takes place at Orange and Main Street in Downtown Sarasota.

Pineapple Scare Haunted House
October 25th from 7pm – 11pm. Take the family to the Pineapple Scare Haunted House hosted by the Sarasota Firefighters Benevolent Fund on the corner of State and Pineapple Streets.


Trick or Treat in Siesta Village
October 31st from 3pm to 6pm
I’m sure there’s a lot more to do. But this is what I found. In addition to 4H, homeschool outings and the usual trip to the beach every Saturday and Sunday I know this family will be busy. How about you?




My car conched out!

My car was so stinky when I got into it yesterday to drive to a meeting.  The whole way I kept thinking “what died in here”.  Wracking my brain I thought of maybe a small lizard got in the car and shriveled up, or worse a snake (we have them on our property) or maybe something I brought from the beach and left in the car.  So I got out and went to my meeting.  Two hours later I got into the car and nearly threw up. 

Seashells!  Maybe there’s a dead clam in the kid’s beach toy bag.  Travis likes finding clams and bringing them home, so that’s got to be it.  So I opened the back door and looked through all the bags, and then found, in the crate where we place our beach buckets when they have shells in them, a Florida Fighting Conch shell that was left behind.  As soon as I picked it up juice/water started dripping out and then as I held it over the parking lot the dead conch slid out with all its dead gooey-ness. 

Oh, you could probably smell it in the next county.  I moved the crate and threw baby powder on the carpet to soak up any ick that might have dripped on it.  I had to drive home (from east of I-75 to Siesta Key) with the windows down which is really one of my pet peeves because it blows my hair in my face and its annoying (my hair is in that in-between stage of growing out, and its bothersome in the wind) but I managed and was able to breathe fresher air with the windows down.

I did get the smell out.  I left the back door and one of the side doors open all day today. 

We had gone to Turtle Beach this past Saturday and found this shell.  I remember it because it was so perfectly polished and colorful.  I also remember placing it on top of my bucket because I showed it to my husband before we drove home that day.  The critter must have crawled off the bucket and landed at the bottom of the crate until I found it dead.

Moral of the story: make sure when you’re beachcombing that every shell you find ends up out of your car when you get home.

Pics of Hurricane Ike in Houston

We were residents of NW Houston (Stonegate to be exact) for 4 months in 2007.  That’s the summer it rained every day.  We finally had a neighborhood with a pool but every time we tried to go (we had to drive) it would thunder which meant the pool had to close.  So I think we went maybe 4 or 5 times all summer. 

I’ve tried calling friends to find out if they’re ok now that Hurricane Ike has passed.  Guess the power for the cell phones might be out as well because no one answers; no one calls back.  I’m sure they’re fine.  They’re all smart people.

I found these pictures online that pretty well tell the tale of Houston vs Ike.  You’ll notice mostly the tree damage.  One thing I really liked about Houston was the trees.  I would rename it “Tree City” because they really took the time to care for the nature surrounding each neighborhood, in all the open space and both residential/commercial landscaping.  I think it was against the law to neglect edging your yard or not pruning a plant in your yard as soon as a flower wilted off a branch.  Houstonians are that serious about nature scaping and beautification.  We couldn’t cut our yard much because of the rain.  Drainage was bad and the back yard stayed puddled most of the time.  But, the neighborhood landscapers were cutting open space every Monday, same time each week.  You could count on it.  Anyway, because of all the trees and other vegetation, its no wonder Houston suffered so much damage from downed trees.  Sadly, I viewed these pictures, recognizing most areas and realizing that those shaded yards will have hot Texas sunlight until another tree can grow up in its place…what 50 or 100 years from now? 

The streets flooded easily in Houston.  I don’t know why.  Every time it rained (which, like I said was every day that summer) our street would flood to overtop the curb.  Now, living in rural Mississippi and South Carolina, we didn’t have curbs; we had ditches so the streets didn’t flood.  The first time I was in a “flood” I was coming home from the grocery store and hit a gully-washer of a storm.  It was still light out.  I was really afraid to drive home but I knew the curbs were not even half way up my tire and if the street flooded the rain would spread out over the curbs on the lawns.  Well, I was half right but continued on in my Windstar behind a small car and made it home.  That was the last time I’ll ever do that.  Jim Cantore’s “don’t drive through flooded streets” message was going through my head the whole time, but I “knew” those streets and felt I was safe.  I’m here to tell about it!

Clean up in Houston will take almost forever with all those trees.

Here’s the web link to the Houston Chronicle’s pictures submitted by folks from all over that town.  Enjoy.

A Walk on the Beach

A couple times I have tried walking from Turtle Beach to Casey Key.  Each time I have good intentions of getting there and getting the exercise I need walking through that soft sand.  Each time I just can’t wait to see what it looks like along the way.  And each time I look forward to saying, “I did it!”

That was the plan today.  Siesta Key beach was flying a double red flag so we decided it wasn’t a good idea to try to swim or float.  So, we packed the four of us in the Windstar with a bag of towels and headed to Turtle Beach.  The parking lot was not even half full of cars.  We got a spot easily.  Just for the sake of it I brought along 2 buckets and, of course, my little bag I carry my keys, drivers license and phone in.  It’s big enough that I can fit a few shells in it if I need to.

We headed south.  The surf was not as angry as it had been all week but you could still tell there had been a storm.  We passed the condos and a few houses.  A shell here, a shell there…they we’re hugh, though.  Some of the largest cockles you may have ever seen, but they were also broken.  We saw a storm damaged home (the pink house, we call it).  Looks like the sea just burst through the dune separating it from the house.  I quickly spotted the mound of shells. 

A shell fanatic’s dream come true.  Mounds and mounds of shells washing up and down with the tide.  More than I had seen in Sanibel.  More than I had seen the other time I tried walking from Turtle Beach to Casey Key.  We couldn’t resist but to stop and start picking.  Good thing I brought the buckets!  Olives, welks, fighting conchs, an apple murex or two.  There were a ton of clams, scallops and of course the largest cockles you’ve ever seen, unbroken.  We filled our buckets, my little bag, pockets and then the boys tucked some in the front of their shirts to carry. 

As you figured we never made it to Casey Key.  We couldn’t go any farther south…the buckets were too heavy, so our only option was to go home.  Casey Key will have to wait for another day…again.

Hurricane Ike

Ike dumped a lot of rain on Siesta Key the past two days.  We stayed in the house and just listened to it pound on the roof.  And it was windy but not windy enough to knock down the trash cans or blow the recycling onto the ground.  Some of the streets on the north end of the Key that normally flood, did and even more so this time.  Some were still flooded today.  But the sun was out, the wind was still blowing and it was a beautiful day.

So I took my usual walk before dinner to check out the beach.  There are road detours at beach access parking lot #5 so I took the detour to Beach Road N and parked at access #4 and walked to the public beach and back.  Glad I did because there is now a lagoon at the #5 access.  Once that parking lot opens I don’t know if anyone will be using it because you can’t get through unless you walk through the lagoon.  Its about mid-calf deep and as long as the birds hang out, I wouldn’t walk through it.  The beach ends in a little hill that slopes down to form the lagoon.  My bet is that its there for a while.

Accesses 7-8 were also blocked from what I could tell.  The usual lagoon has been narrowed but lengthened.  The grasses, though not all, have been covered with sand and the beach is widened. 

The waves were fierce, coming in closely behind each other.  There was a double red flag, rip currents present and the life guard stands were shut, but there were still a lot of people in the water.  Now, if your a surfer (and I’m assuming surfers no how to swim) I expect you to be out there catching waves.  It’s your thing.  But I also saw parents with young children (smaller than mine) way out there in the waves.  Again, double-red flag and rip currents present; would you risk your child in that surf?  My husband didn’t even go to the beach with me because his common sense said “too risky” and he’s a big, strong guy.  Parents…please think about what you’re doing. 

Ok, I’m off my soap box.  What I saw on the beach was too cool.  Jelly fish.  Tons of them and I’m not exaggerating…ok maybe a little.  They were huge!  I actually measured the biggest ones I saw and their diameter was mostly the length of my leg from my ankle to my knee.  Yeah!  Roughly the size of a large pizza…like a 16″ pizza.  I’m not exaggerating.  I did see a few little ones maybe the size of a tennis ball.  On my trek back to the car I was walking in the water until a huge one floated by in front of me.  I kept to the sand the rest of the way. 

Ike is heading toward Houston.  I spent summer 2007 living there on the far NW corner.  Traffic was awful 24/7.  I couldn’t imagine having to evacuate that city or even part of it.  Hopefully Galveston’s sea walls can withstand the raging sea.  We’ll wait and watch and meanwhile pray for the people who live there.

I’m getting older

Yesterday I officially became a year closer to 50.  It was my birthday and I had a nice time. 

Gary and the boys took me to lunch at the Columbia Restaurant at St Armand’s Circle on Lido Key.  I actually requested it.  The Columbia is a fantastic place and I especially enjoy the 1905 Salad.  So now you know what I ordered.  Also good there is the Cuban sandwich but I’m not big on eating meat so I seldom eat it, but its a must to try if you’re planning lunch there.

Gary had to go back to work (no they didn’t give him the day off for my birthday) so the boys and I took off to Long Boat Key and stopped at one of the public accesses just past the fire station.  It was unbelieveable.  The surf was a little rough, the wind was kicking up loose sand (Hurricane Ike’s in town) but it was beautiful.  The surf line was filled with shells.  Mostly kitten paws so we decided to rename Long Boat Key as Kitten Paw Beach.  We’ve spotted many areas along that Key with multitudes of kitten paws so it was fitting.  Along the upper shell hash were tons, and I literally mean tons, of sea urchins as far as the eye could see.  Wow!  I hustled back to the car and pulled out our 3 sand buckets.  We filled them all to overflowing and also carried some in our hands.  There were tiny ones, huge ones and a lot of broken ones we just left.  They must have been there for a few days because they were dead as dead could be.  Most with deteriorated innerds so it’ll be easy to clean them.   The beach was lined by a vacated condo building (all the units had their hurricane blinds on) and a few small homes and a vacant lot so no one had been in the area, except a few folks on their daily walks.  I should go back once Ike leaves our neck of the Gulf, and get some more.  Sea urchin tests are so cool.  Sometimes you can find one with the spine well preserved and if you handle it ultra carefully and soak in tap water until clean the spines may stay on.  I have a few like that…thankfully unstinky. 

So what am I going to do with all of these sea urchins?  What am I going to do with all the shells and sand dollars I’ve been collecting?  Who knows.  But I’m open to suggestions.  Want to buy them?

So we were heading back and crossing over the north bridge to Siesta Key when a common thought of mine popped in my head…it would be so cool to have a sail boat.  I used to sail competitively on other people’s boats on the Chesapeake Bay before I met Gary and began my adventure across the country.  I saw a boat in the bay and it was beautiful.

The boys presented me with my gift.  A bouquet of flowers and a small wooden sail boat…for the coffee table or book shelf.   I got my sailboat!  I was amazed.  What a really cool coincidence.  I’ve always admired the wooden sailboats people display in their homes and always wanted one.  Somehow, though, shoes and haircuts and groceries always trumped any purchase of a wood decorator sailboat.  I guess my family thought it was about time I deserved it.

After a delivery of flowers from my in-laws (oh, so pretty) we finished the day at Bonefish Grill for dinner.  I ordered the grilled shrimp and scallops.  Yum!

Octopus on Siesta Key beach

Last time I wrote I told of my experience with the 2″ octopus.  It’s still doing fine in its dead state in a jar in my refrigerator.  My son wants to use it as a prop for an expository speech he has to make in his speech class.  I guess it’ll be another day or two before we dissect it.

The day after I found our little dead friend, my husband was floating along the shore, around access 4 to the beach.  He felt his foot hit something along the bottom and reached down to scoop it up.  It was a large pen shell shut tightly.  The pen shell was just short of a foot long.  He decided to check out the critter inside and when he opened it, there he found a 4″-5″ octopus.  My husband said on the one hand it was really cool to see but on the other it creeped him. 

Our earth is covered in water and filled with all kinds of God’s creatures, which is really exciting.  There’s so much to explore, discover and learn.  But how often does it really cross our minds, when we are having fun at the beach, that these creatures are out there with us; that we’re swimming with them, in their pool?  We have rays, sharks, fish of all kinds, manatees, whales, plankton, all types of gastropods and bivalves swimming and floating around us when we’re jumping waves, or just floating.  Outside the occasional shark bite you may read about from somewhere in this great world, its amazing that we (humans and water creatures) can get along.

I am so glad we have been given this opportunity to see nature that most people just read about.