Monthly Archives: November 2008

Strange colored shells

I recently told you about my trip to Apalachicola and how I found shells on two different beaches that just didnt’ look right to me.  At one beach, most of what I found had black or grey tones or were completely black.  At another beach, these shells had orange in their coloring or were totally orange.  I picked one particular shell, the calico scallop, and started researching on the internet.  I found a cool article from the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in St Petersburg on calico scallops so I sent them this note of inquiry:


“All the calico scallops I’ve ever seen are brilliant
colors on a white base. While recently visiting Apalachicola and the
state park beaches on the neighboring island, I found the calico
scallops were black. The white base was black or gray and the the
brilliant colors had black in them as well. I noticed this of other
shells in that area. Shells that are typically white everywhere else,
were black: nutmegs, lettered olives, figsnails, venus clams to mention
a few. The beach sand was not black nor was there any blackness among
the white sand. Can you tell me what had caused this? They are strange
looking but makes for an interesting shell collection.

Quickly, I got this reply:

“My professional guess would be that these shells were washed up from an
offshore area where they were buried in anoxic mud. The hydrogen
sulfide in the mud would turn the shells black. There are other
possible explanations, including that all of the animals live in an area
where shell construction involves the incorporation of a black pigment
from some unknown source, but the fact that shells from so many
different species are similarly colored suggests to me that it is a
secondary exposure. If [you] can break or cut a few shells [you] could
determine if the black coloration is a surface feature or if it
penetrates the entire shell and is therefore characteristic of the life
of the shell. That would aid in discriminating between options.”

Well, I did break a few shells and found the color to penetrate right through so I’m guessing the shells grew in an area where the sand pigment was dark.  Same with the orange shells.  Something in the sand, whereever these particular shells grew, gave them that color.  How cool. 

Our Trip to Apalachicola

We took a long weekend and headed toward the Florida Panhandle.  We’ve been there many times.  Back in 1995 Mobile, Alabama was home and we took day trips for some good seafood and white beaches.  But we never got as far east as Apalachicola.  This time, from where we live, we went west.

We stayed at the Coombs Inn, a quaint Bed and Breakfast in town with rooms in the main building and two cottages behind the house.  A few blocks toward the waterfront was another location with still more rooms.  Our stay was nice, the beds were cozy and breakfast was really nicely done.  I’m not a breakfast person (food allergies to eggs and milk keep me away from a lot of breakfast foods), but my family helped themselves to the hot breakfasts of quiche one morning and a secret recipe egg and meat dish the next.  I had my morning coffee.  They also had a buffet table of cereals, fruit, yogurt and juices.

Across the street was a cemetery, said to be haunted, so for fun we walked through.  I had the kids look for the oldest tombstone thinking we could do a rubbing.  We discovered most were so old and worn that they were unreadable.  The ones we could read planted a bit of history in our heads: yellow fever had struck this town hard. 

We headed toward the waterfront and was pleasantly surprised by some cool shops.  I especially liked the Sponge Exchange.  The building was originally built to house the sponge harvest that was plentiful (past and present) in the area.  It is now a shop selling sponges and a few other items.  I couldn’t resist to make a purchase.  Check out their website: 

The Gibson Inn is famous in that town so we stopped in.  We decided to sit in the bar area and watch some football, with drinks and an appetizer.  The kids were happy, especially when we found out the place has a history of ghosts.  The boys inquired at the front desk and the ladies joined us at our table to tell us all the tales.  My youngest took notes and wrote about it on his blog:

We spent time on St George Island.  Since no one was around this time of year we found ample parking near some homes and took a beach walk.  The night before saw a storm pass through.  The first beach area we stopped was strewn with sea stars, brittle stars, sea cucumbers, oysters, sea squirts, and shells galore.  I also found an interesting and unidentifiable something.  So I gathered several samples.  It looked like a turtle egg.  Most had a hole in them and inside looked like, what could have been the remains of a dead, baby turtle: a center part (I guessed a carapace) with 5 things sticking out (maybe four legs and a head).  I’ll have to find out what it is.

We headed up the road a bit and once again got out.  The beach, at this spot, was being refurbished and buildings were being repaired from recent hurricanes, I suppose.  The sand was as white as the sand on Siesta Key and the beach was wide.  The kids ran around on sand.  Along the surf my husband and I collected shells: tons of lettered olives (I’ve never seen so many) and an assortment of other shells.  I noticed quickly that most of the shells that I had white samples of, were completely or mostly black.  Hummm.  I’ll look into this.

We ended up at the St George Island State Park and made a few stops.  The road along the beach was mostly covered in sand, so driving was a challenge.  I did fine, though, having years of experience driving in snow.  At each location we observed a multitude of ghost crabs.  Back on the road I had to watch out for them scurrying from one side to the other.  There’s a joke here somewhere…why did the ghost crab cross the road?  Who knows.  I did notice something about the shells on this beach (another puzzle).  Where the shells earlier that day were black, these shells looked like they were rusted.  They were mostly or all orange when they should have been white.  Ok, what’s going on?

Our last stop was at another state park.  First, we found a beach strewn with horseshoe crabs (dead) and so we took a few (as you would shells).  Two of different sizes had legs and tail attached.  All others were just the outer part.  Thankfully I had ziplock bags in my car and was able to seal in the smell of some of these dead critters until we got home.   A man and lady, who was also walking that beach, stopped us as they were going to their car and told us they had just seen a large bear.  We left, too, and headed further into the park, to the end of the road.  The beach there was just as beautiful.  Not much in terms of nature to collect but we enjoyed it. 

Aside from the R and R aspect of the trip, we were travelling to find some food spots for my husband to write about.  He owns, eats and writes for  Please check out his website and blog: .  He was in search of oysters and I think he ate his fill that weekend.  We also ate other things, but mostly seafood.  At one oyster store and processing location, we got a tour of the operation and the kind man showed us how the oysters are shucked (at a long table against a wall with a cutting machine), where the shells get disposed (through a hole in the wall where the shells fall to the ground and pile up), what they do with them (haul them out to the oyster beds for the bed’s foundation) and anything else you can think of regarding the oyster business.   Pretty cool.

We had a nice time.  I’d recommend the trip, and the B&B.  Apalachicola is really a remote area so if you are looking for serious R&R you’ll find it.  Just bring a good book and if your a nature freak, binoculars and lots of buckets for your nature samples.  Fishing rods would work, too.

Now I have to do some research on my shells.  Stay tuned.

Siesta Key Christmas Tree Lighting

As I was coming home from the grocery store in the Village, I noticed that the Christmas decorations were put up on the light posts.  They weren’t lighted yet, which made me think of last year’s tree lighting and how much fun we had.  So, when I got home I checked out the Chamber’s website and found this information about the tree lighting this year:

The annual lighting and holiday open house of Siesta Key Village will be held on Saturday November 29, 2008 from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. Children can give Santa their wish list, have their face painted, visit with Santa’s elves and be entertained by Clifford the Big Red Dog and Wacky Jacky the Clown. Santa’s gift bags provided by Beach Bazaar will be given to the first 250 children who visit with Santa. Santa will arrive by fire truck at approximately 6:15 pm.
Businesses will provide refreshments, while you enjoy live musical entertainment by the Pine View High School Jazz Band, Barbershop Quartets, Key Board Players and choirs singing holiday songs. Ocean Blvd. will be lined with luminaries and businesses will be decorated for the holiday season. Free Trolley Rides will be available from Siesta Key Public Beach to the Village from 5:30 pm – 10:00 pm.

The Master of Ceremonies is Dick Vitale.  The “V Foundation for Cancer Research” is raising money that night so bring some cash to donate if you choose.  The tree is located in the Davidson parking lot in front of Cafe Gabbiano.

We had just been here a few weeks and decided to walk down, thinking the traffic would be horrendous.  It really wasn’t.  We we’re yet in the loop of information (I don’t even know if our internet was connected then) so we didn’t know about the trolley from the public beach parking lot.  Anyway, the Village is less than a mile walk from our house so we hoofed it just in time to see the tree lit.  This year we’ll have to get there earlier so we can take a more leisurely walk.  There were a lot of people there and the tree was beautiful.  This year we’re going with friends.  Hope to see you there.

Salt Water Fish Tank part 1

The boys had a microscope workshop today with their 4H group.  Keith Wilson, from the Extension office, taught the class.  Before looking at the samples he had brought with him (crabs, fish, plankton, seaweed), he gave instruction on how to put together a salt water fish tank.  My youngest son helped him with this.  First, he set the base and tube into the tank then covered the base with gravel.  We learned that you can use crushed shells straight off the beach instead.  tank1Add ocean water and wait 3 weeks for bacteria to grow on the rocks or shells before stocking the tank with creatures. If you don’t let bacteria grow before stocking the tank and the creatures will expell waste and the water will turn yellow with ammonia and harmful bacteria.  The good bacteria will keep the water balanced for the creatures to live in.  Once the gravel was in place, he put in the air filter and turn it on then added critters. His rocks, bacteria, critters and water had previously been in a tank and had separated them for the class demonstration.   

Keith also instructed us on salinity levels.  When the tank looks like it’s lost water to evaporation, you’re supposed to add distilled water.  What evaporates is the fresh water, not the salt, so if you add more salt water to the tank, the salinity is raised and most creatures will die.  Distilled water will replenish the evaporated water without changing the ph or salinity.  tank2

Keith gave us a 20 gallon tank to use.  We’ll set it up in the house and by the second week of December we’ll invite the 4H club over to net some creatures from the surf.  Hopefully club members will be able to come over often and participate in making it a really cool aquarium.  Keith suggested swapping out critters often.  That’s fine with me.  Someone suggested putting a shark in the tank, which would be cool, but I don’t know if I could handle living with a shark for long.  Plus, it would outgrow the tank.  A baby shark for a week or two…that’s ok. 

Tune in for more info in December.

The Majestic Egret

I’ve always tried to live near a body of water.  I think Meridian, MS and Fort Worth, TX were the only places of note where I didn’t get to watch water birds.  I’ve always noticed the egrets hanging around the water’s edge.  They’re royal in stature, sleek in design, graceful in motion, perfectly proportioned for beauty.  They’re majestic!  I have set these egrets, and herons as well, on a pedestal since my youth.  Everything about them, including the way they quickly jab at their prey, is just an example of elegance.  They are a wonderful creature to watch and to try to imitate.  Any young girl could learn poise and grace by watching these feathered beauties.

I’ve never noticed them anywhere except near water. 

I was in shock one day, shortly after moving to Florida, when a sat at a traffic light in Sarasota.  To my right in a parking lot was an egret poking at a discarded piece of food in a torn, fast food container.  My jaw dropped with disappointment.  I sat, staring at this white hunk of feathers wrestling on a black top with something other than a fish.  I think I started crying.  The car behind me honked when the light turned green.  Momentarily dazed, I drove off wondering if I was in some weird dream.

It  wasn’t until some later date, I saw this kind of thing again.  This time I took it a little better.  But still, my majestic egret was reduced, in my mind, to nothing more than a sea gull picking at french fries in a parking lot. 

I finally chilled out about the issue, in fact, laughed at the situation while telling a friend my story.  We were at her house on Lido Key.  She had her own story to tell me, but wanted to show me something first.  We walked up the beach to the public beach area and the snack shop.  Standing by the back door to the kitchen, as usual, was a great heron and some snowy egrets begging for food.  The kitchen manager came out and said the birds were always there, every day waiting for a snack…junk food.  heron

I will always love these birds and when they are in their place, at water’s edge, they are majestic.  When they are begging for food in parking lots, I have to turn away, and chuckle.

Calvin Park

higel-2As you come across Siesta Drive heading west, it makes a sharp left turn onto Higel Avenue. At that corner on the right hidden behind vegetation is Calvin Park.  Its a nice little place to sit and chill.  There’s a park bench with a babbling spring behind it.higel-3higel-4higel1

An historical marker describes some of the history of Siesta Key and Harry Higel’s influence.  We drove down the road that parallels the park and ended up finding the Higel House.higel-11

Election Day 2008, Vote for your Florida State Bird

Today is election day.  This great state of Florida is a battleground for the Presidential pick.  It’s also a state where students in grades 4-8 can vote on their pick for a new state bird. 

Florida’s state bird is currently the mockingbird.  mockingbirdFour other states have the mockingbird as their state bird.  They are Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas and Arkansas.  We have a ton of mockingbirds around here.  We also have wrens, cardinals, vireos, crows, ospreys, eagles, herons, egrets, cormorants and woodpeckers that come around daily, but the mockingbird is a more common presence.

Anyway, Florida Fish and Wildlife has put together a short list of birds that they feel better represent our state: icnsnowy_egret-102snowy egret,

 great_egret_11_chipgreat egret,

brown-pelican1brown pelican,

 black-skimmersblack skimmer and

 ospreyosprey.  The criteria used to pick these birds include having a distribution around the state, are easily visible and identifiable, are both native to Florida and breed here, are not listed as threatened or endangered and have a striking and beautiful appearance.   

If you are a student or have a student in grades 4 through 8, please go to today only between 7am and 7pm.  The bird that is chosen today with the most votes will not, however, automatically become the new state bird.  This will have to be handled through the legislative branch of our state government.  But, your vote will give Florida Fish and Wildlife the bird to present, through a Bill, to the legislature.  The website,, will, as I understand, post information after the election so you can follow the process.  You can get more involved by writing to your representatives. 

Birds are such an important part of our lives.  They are not only a joy to see, study, identify and listen to, but they are also an indicator of the health of our environment.  I have had more fun with birding as a hobby than with other hobbies.  If you spend time outdoors, keep a camera and binoculars with you.  Listen for bird calls and songs, check out some library books on birds in your area or purchase them so you can make notes in them.  I like writing in one book the date I spotted a new bird or was able to recognize a particular bird by identifying its call rather than actually seeing it.  Yes, I’m middle-aged and have seen a ton of birds in my life, but I also move from state to state often so having a new list and state bird book each time is kind of cool.  There are plenty of websites on birding.  My favorite is the Cornell University site,  The Audubon Society has chapters in most cities and towns.  Nature centers and both state and national parks have bird walks. 

I’m glad that Florida is doing this and I hope the other states find a more appropriate bird to represent their states as well.  The mockingbird, although a really cool bird for many reasons which I may blog about in a day or two, is quite common and I believe a “State Bird” should be one that is unique to that state.  When I lived in Mississippi, a wonderful friend of mine and I had this same conversation of changing the state bird.  Mississippi has unique birds as does Florida.  We had discussed how cool it would be if the Mississippi Kite became the Mississippi state bird.  Maybe I’ll put a bug in someones ear up there to look into the process. 

But, for now, go ahead and have the kids vote today for a new Florida state bird.  Mine will vote as soon as I’m off my blog. 

Happy voting…happy birding!