Protecting the Snowy Plover

Last week I, along with some other bird enthusiasts and Audubon Society members, volunteered to watch the snowy plovers that are nesting on Siesta Key.  The person who usually watches over them was taking a vacation so we were filling in.  Each day one or two of us would take note of the nesting area and report back to the others.

There are 4 roped off areas on the north beach.  Two are at access 7, one just south of them and a fourth at Tivoli Beach which is just south of access 10.  There are nests with eggs at north access 7 and Tivoli Beach, although Tivoli Beach has, it seems, everyone scratching their heads.  I’ve seen a nest each day, I saw a pair of plovers one day when one was sitting on the nest.  However, another person saw eggs on the east side of the roped area.  Others have seen nothing.  The last day I was on duty the wind was strong and the fine white sand on our beach was drifting.  I noted in my journal that the nest at Tivoli was covered over by the drifting sand and the snowys were away from the area so I’ll return at a later date to check on it.  It’s been very windy each day since and today it has been raining.  I’ll go visit tomorrow.

Meanwhile, collectively, we’ve repaired posts that were knocked down by people at the nesting sites (some posts were used for a sand sculpture) and signs that were blown over in the wind, talked to people about the birds and asked them to keep their dogs away from the nesting sites, and had 2 people arrested (they were living on the dune which was illegal but they were suspected of messing with the posts and signs surrounding the nesting sites).  People have disrespected the ropes and signs and walked through the sites nearly missing one of the nests. 

I’ll continue to help out with the snowys as they endeared themselves to me.   Click here for more info on this sweet little creation: http://www.nbii.gov/portal/server.pt?open=512&objID=768&&PageID=2120&mode=2&in_hi_userid=2&cached=true

Speakers of Sarasota speak up

Friday, March 27, was the final class for these students as they made their presentations before a large audience at Bethel Community Church in Sarasota.

The middle to high school students presented original speeches on interesting topics like the human eye, the history of Nintendo and a new product being introduced, the life stories of Walt Disney and Beethoven, “The Power of Words” and a little-known history of Hollywood.  Others interpreted the biblical account of Jonah, poems by Jack Prelutsky and Ogden Nash and a chapter from a story by William Steig. 

The elementary speakers, eight in all, gave original speeches on their favorite scripture verse or bible story.

These children, ages 6 to 18, were all so fantastic.  Their confidence and enjoyment in their topics rang out with each speaker.  They should all be pleased with their work.

My two boys have been a part of this class all year.  They have grown a lot in their research and writing skills (in order to put together speeches) but mostly in their confidence to speak in front of others; not just talk to a bunch of friends in a group, but actually put together thoughts and present them to people who are giving them their attention for the purpose of finding out information.  Most of us are afraid to speak in public; “will I be laughed at?, will I make a mistake?” etc. go through our heads for hours before we make our presentations.  The Speakers of Sarasota students have learned to critique their classmates with positive and then negative comments.  The negative comments, they’ve learned, are to come in the form of “what can you do better next time.”  For instance, one student would give a short presentation on a pet peeve.  When he is finished, the classmates will tell him what they liked: you sounded convincing, you talked loud enough for all to hear.  Then they would tell him things he could improve on: try not to sway back and forth next time you speak, don’t rustle your paper you are reading from, or memorize the speech next time so you can have better eye contact.  Wow!  Not one classmate said the topic was stupid or they disagreed with the speaker.  That’s such a positive way for people to learn how to confidently speak in public.  The older students worked similarly but with more experience than the younger students, they were able to help out their classmates in a higher level.   Both the elementary and middle to high school students learned to be encouraging to their peers.

The elementary students learned demonstration speeches in the form of presenting a science experiment to each other and their parents.  Each child picked an experiment using dry ice, practiced their demonstration (pretending to use dry ice) and then, on presentation day, actually did the experiment with the dry ice.  It was a lot of fun.  Three of the students (one being my child) entered the Learning and Families Science Fair with each of their dry ice experiments, demonstrating them before a room of about 75 people; parents and peers.

The older group was eligible for competition through NCFCA which took place in Tampa this year.  I don’t believe anyone competed but I do know some students went to observe.

Special kudos to their teachers: Mary Nicosia, Resa Stanley and Tricia Watts and the moms that helped Tricia coach the elementary students.  A similar class will be offered to the homeschool community next year here in Sarasota.  If you are interested please contact these teachers through the Learning and Families website: www.learningandfamilies.org.

Sonic Boom in Sarasota

Yesterday, my boys and I were getting in the car at our house. It was between 3pm and 3:15pm. We heard a double boom sound. The kids were slightly frightened from it, thinking a bomb had gone off somewhere in town. I had heard that sound before. While living in Myrtle Beach, we would periodically hear sonic booms from out over the ocean. Turned out the folks at Camp LeJeune were practicing flight maneuvers over the ocean. But what would cause a sonic boom or two around here?

Thirteen days ago Space Shuttle Discovery took off from Florida. We’ve wanted to go to the Kennedy Space Center for a while now to catch a glimpse of the shuttle taking off. A friend of ours goes often with her 3 boys and we’ve enjoyed their stories. It’s not hard to get to; just across the state, but it requires scheduling so we’ve never made the commitment.

I met up with my neighbor, Liz, the next day to walk our dogs together. She had been in the Siesta Key Village (just a ½ mile away) the night before with some friends. They happened to look up the street (heading east) and in the sky there was the space shuttle taking off. Too cool, but ugh, I wish I had known, because we could have seen it from our house.

I found this picture on the internet of what we would have seen: http://www.flickr.com/photos/duaneschoon/3358553580/

Last night as I lie awake thinking about the day, it dawned on me…the Shuttle had landed at 3:13pm. That double boom was the Shuttle entering our atmosphere. How, cool. We never got to see it take off, but we heard it upon re-entry.

Salt Water Fish Tank part 6

I spoke too soon; the white crab is dead.  We hadn’t really paid attention to it for 2 days because now that we’re finished our spring break, we’re back to a full schedule of school work and projects.  But we finally looked at the tank to check on him he was gone.  Hmm, could he be hiding?  We checked all of the shells in the tank and suddenly an arm floated up to the top of the tank from under a shell.  We couldn’t find a body but found another arm.  Kind of gruesome but something happened and its now dead/gone. 

We’ll have to head to the beach for some more critters.  Perhaps we’ll change out some of the water as well.  I’ve been wanting to release the urchins and the boys are getting creeped-out by the “hairy crab” which was a hitchhiker on a hermit crab we’ve since released.  It has grown from pinky-fingernail size to pinky size.  It moves about mysteriously and with imaginations flowing, the boys have talked about it’s escape and terrorization of the family.  Nice idea for a horror flick but no where close to reality.  I’ll humor them and let them release it this weekend.

Edited March 29: The hairy crab had climbed into a large whelk shell we had placed in the tank and wouldn’t come out.  We sat the shell in a bowl and less than an hour later we found it on its back.  It must have fallen out of the shell.  Strangely, even in water, it couldn’t turn itself over.  It was still alive, and just as creepy looking.  After taking pictures of the hairy crab, just in case we wanted to make a horror flick, we put it into the canal across the street.  Check out a previous post on my blog for a picture of a hitchhiker: https://lifealongthegulfcoast.wordpress.com/2009/03/17/salt-water-fish-tank-part-5salt-water-fish-tank-part-5/

Snowy Plovers on Siesta Key

“The Snowy Plover is listed as a threatened species on the Florida Endangered Species List.  Their numbers are now down to less than 60 pairs along the southwest coast of Florida.  Consequently, each nest is critically important to saving the species in the region.”*

On Siesta Key there are 4 areas roped off as nesting or potential nesting spots.  It is so important that visitors to our beach, as well as residents, heed the posted signs and stay away from the nesting sites.

Snowy Plovers are a small shorebird the color of our Siesta Key sand.  These birds do have an incomplete dark band across the breast an a slim, dark, pointed bill.  They are precious to watch and scoot fairly quickly. 

The nest of the Snowy Plover is either a natural or scraped depression in the sand.  It may have shell fragments or some vegetation inside but the nests I’ve seen are simply little scraped areas large enough for a few eggs and the bird to sit on top of.  They’re very hard to locate but the trained eye can find them.  You can also miss the nest with the bird sitting on top because they blend into the sand so well.  This being said, you see it is important that these areas be roped off to keep people from accidentally damaging them.

The 4 roped areas are north of the public beach.  The northern most area has a nest with eggs, others have scrapes.  Please respect these areas.

One preditor of the Snowy Plover is the dog.  Please don’t bring your dogs onto the beach.  “What…,” (you’re now saying to yourself) “why not…others do?”  Well, it is against the law and it is posted at the entrance to the beaches.  Those folks with dogs either haven’t gotten caught (total disrespect for our laws) or have but just don’t care, thinking it’s more important for the dog to romp on the beach.  Well, there is a fine imposed if you do get caught.  Personally, I’d rather spend my money on kayak rentals for the family or dinner out.  Unleashed, even little Fido is tough enough to chase after a bird, or scout around to find the eggs.   Leashed…well, its still against the law.  Please walk Fido and Thor on the sidewalk.

*There are laws in Florida which protect Snowy Plovers: 

68A-27.004 (1)(a), Designation of Threatened Species: Prohibitions;Permits;

68A-4.001 (1) General Provisions; and

68A-13.002 (1) the Migratory Bird Treaty Act

*this information came from an email.  I believe it originally came from Sarasota County Parks and Recreation.  For more info about the nesting snowy plovers you can call Jerris Foote 941-232-6508 or leave a comment for me and I’ll get back to you with answers to your questions.

Salt Water Fish Tank part 5

The red hermit crab died.  My younger, Travis, saw its body lying at the bottom of the tank.  Then he saw it being pulled under a large conch shell by a little crab.  It was dead and would soon be lunch.

Red hermit crab with a hitchhiker

Red hermit crab with a hitchhiker

The white hermit crab, now lacking algae, looked hungry so we headed to the beach for more seaweed.  He has picked up the red crab’s hitchhikers, but he also moved into a really small shell.  He’s been there for a week so I guess he’s happy now he’s downsized.  I know that I’m happy since we downsized, too.  I have a smaller house to clean and less space to accumulate junk.  I do miss the garage, though.

White hermit crab coated with algae

White hermit crab coated with algae

Our snails are doing great.  We picked up a really large one with a red body the day we went out for seaweed.  Its in a fig shell.  Last night I watched as it completely covered the tank filter with its body, sucking off algae, and scooting on.  What resulted, for a short time, was that the filter couldn’t pump air into the tank as usual.  Instead of the regular million tiny air bubbles coming from the filter, a periodic large bubble would find its way out of the snail’s clutch and rise to the top.  It was amuzing.  Later that same snail tried to escape from the tank.  We have a sheet of plastic over the top and the snail had lifted the sheet and continued up the side of the tank and started going over the top.  Travis found it and we guided it  back into the water. 

the red bodied snail

the red bodied snail

The real reason the sheet of plastic is on top of the tank is to keep the water from spraying when the water bubbles break at the top.  When this happens, the water sprays in all directions and when the water droplets evaporate the surface of the wall behind the tank, the table top and the floor is coated in salt.  My dog even finds this distasteful.

Sarasota County Fair

My boys are 4H exhibitors at the County Fair. It was a lot of fun for them to put their projects together and even more fun, it seems, to see their projects on display. They made pillows, clay items, photography, collections of Pokemon cards and Lego, wood burning and shell art. And a  bonus is that they won ribbons and money for their efforts.  All of their projects are on display with other really talented 4Hers in the 4H Mini Building. Please stop by and see what all the members have done.
While you’re there, you can by a raffle ticket for a whole swine at just $2 per ticket. The drawing is this weekend.  You can also purchase a clover for $1 that will have your name on it and displayed on the Mini Building door. Proceeds go to the 4H Foundation which provides funding for each of the club’s activities.  Many 4H members also have animals and plants on display and for sale.
And, when you get hungry, stop by the 4H trailer for an elephant ear or funnel cake and a refreshing drink. The proceeds also go to the clubs. The trailer is located near the Potter Building.
The fair starts at 2pm each day and runs through this Sunday, March 23.  It is at Robard’s Arena on Fruitville Road.  Enjoy yourself at the fair.

The Horseshoe Crab

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commision is looking for help from beachgoers during the full and new moons to help with research on the spawning of the horseshoe crab on all Florida beaches. Spawning usually happens just before or after a high tide.  Tonight is a full moon; April 26 there will be a new moon.

According to a press release I saw: “Observant beachgoers can report the time, date and location of  horseshoe-crab sightings through one of several convenient options. Go to
http://research. MyFWC.com/ horseshoe_ crab and fill out an online survey;  E-mail findings to horseshoe@MyFWC. com; or call the FWC at 866-252-9326.

Biologists also want to know the number of horseshoe crabs seen by observers and whether the horseshoe crabs are mating. They also want to know the date, time, location and habitat conditions. If possible, specify roughly how many are coupled and how many are juveniles (4 inches wide or smaller).”

Horseshoe crabs spawn at night. That means they come out of the water onto the beach and lay their eggs.  The males, which are smaller than the females, are the first to arrive on the beach. So, the hang out at around the water line and wait for the females.  Once the girls show up, the guys, using their front pincers, grab hold of the female opisthosma (which is the back edge of its mid-section) and follow her up onto the beach.   When she finds a sandy spot she likes, she’ll burrow into the sand to form a nest.  It is not very deep; roughly 8 inches at the most from what I understand.  She will lay her eggs in the nest and as she leaves, the male (I guess still hanging on) will fertilize the eggs as he passes over the nest.

Amazingly the female can set up several nests on one trip, and she can make additional trips on subsequent tides.   But because of this abundance of activity she could dig up a nest that one of her friends just laid, causing an accumulation of exposed eggs.  But that’s ok.  Studies show that one female can lay 88K of these eggs each season.  The eggs left exposed become breakfast for hungry shorebirds, especially Red Knots, either on migration or during their own nesting season during which they require lots of food.  The unexposed eggs left in their nests will hatch.

So now the eggs are laid, and the nests are secure, but where are they and how long until the eggs hatch?  The nests are usually found between the high and low tide marks on the beach.  The eggs will hatch in about a month releasing the larvae to swim around for a few days before settling down on the sea floor.  Surviving larvae take a long time to grow.  Over the next several years they continue to molt. It will take about 10 years for the horseshoe crab to mature and return to the beach to begin spawning.  They can live to be approximately 16 years old.

The molting process makes it fun for beachcombers in areas where the horseshoe crabs nest.  The young will hang out for a couple of years near its place of birth.  So if you know where previous nests were, keep your eyes open for the horseshoe crab’s molted remains.  We have found numerous horseshoe crab shells around Florida; from Singer Island to Gasparilla Island, Siesta Key and St. George Island. 101_2544 We have collected a varitey of sizes: as small as a quarter to 7 inches wide.  Horseshoe crabs can grow to be as big as 2 feet across.  That would be cool to see.  The small ones are paper thin so if you do find one on the beach, be very careful handling it until you get it home. Even after it sits dry for a few days, its still fragile.  We’ve learned this the hard way, thinking we got it home safely in a bucket but finding it crumpled.  When we visited St. George Island in Apalachicola, we found an amazing amount of horseshoe crabs and empty horseshoe-crab shells washed ashore (maybe from the storm the night before).  In order to get a few of the smaller shells home I put them in separate ziplock type bags and kept air in the bag to cushion the shells; the big ones didn’t require a bag but be aware that they can get stinky.

Horseshoe crabs aren’t even really crabs.  They’re more related to spiders, which is pretty creepy to me, but looking at a horseshoe crab underneath, when it’s moving its little legs is pretty creepy, too.  I can tell you why it’s not a crab but can’t find out why its a spider.  I think the deciding factor on this non-relationship to crabs is that horseshoe crabs lack the mandible, antennae, one pair of claws and 4 pairs of legs that “true” crabs are supposed to have.  The horseshoe crab actually has 5 pairs of legs and, what are referred to as pincers rather than claws.

Do you know what the spike on the back is?  Many people think it could be a barb similar to that on a ray and could be dangerous.  But it’s not.  The spike is called a telson and its primary purpose is to enable the creature to turn itself over.  Sometimes, they might get flipped in a major storm and just can’t get the energy (I guess) to flip themselves so the Ecological Research and Development Group started a “Just Flip ‘Em” program to remind people to help the crab turn over and get back to sea.

Here are some more facts about the horseshoe crab:  A horseshoe crab has five pairs of eyes; it has 5 pairs of gills that allow it to breathe on land as long as the gills stay moist;  the horseshoe crab  has blue blood; they are used in the research of the human eye and their shell material is used to make contact lenses, along with other products; horseshoe crab blood enzymes are used by in the International Space Station to test surfaces for unwanted bacteria and fungus; and while some Canadian and American northerners winter in Florida, horseshoe crabs prefer to spend their winter on the continental shelf.

Horseshoe crabs are such an amazing creation of God’s and they’re fun to learn about.  For more information of this creature and conservation efforts go to www.horseshoecrab.org.  There’s a ton of good information and also teacher resources.  Parents, use the teacher resources for your children.  I did that constantly and then decided it was so much fun to teach the boys, I now homeschool them.  For coloring pages and blacklines of horseshoe crab anatomy go to www.enchantedlearning.com.

Salt Water Fish Tank part 4

Two weeks ago we found another hermit crab in the grasses along S. Lido Beach.  It is a white crab.  He/she/it has 3 hitchhikers; all of them little red crabs.  This hermit crab was covered in fuzzy algae which made it both creepy and gross looking, but we brought it home anyway.  This morning I was watching him and observed that he’s clean.  The algae on his legs, eyes, mouth, claws, everywhere, is gone and the crab is completely white now.  Too cool.  I remember watching it, after first bringing it home, and noted that he was attacking the algae with his claws.  I figured he was eating it because he didn’t seem interested at all in the seaweed I added to the tank for food. 

He has a really long body, also, so I want to predict that he’ll molt soon.  There are plenty of other shells in the tank for him to crawl into.  He’ll take his hitchhikers with him, too.  I’ve seen hermit crabs change from one shell to another.  In fact, our red hermit crab “changes clothes” a few times a day, and his hitch hikers go with him.  Did you know, anemones will also move from one shell to another with its crab friend?  There’s a traveller/protector relationship between the two.  God’s world is truly amazing.

Salt Water Fish Tank part 3

This tank has been so fun.  I recommend that anyone that has access to the beach start one.  When we lived inland (NW Mississippi) we looked into it but the hassle with the salt water didn’t seem worth it.  Here, in Sarasota, we have plenty of salt water, fresh sea grasses, plenty of critters, shells, etc to make it really worthwhile.

We had a huge red hermit crab, that we named Herman.  That thing  was so big that when it walked around the tank it sometimes would bang its shell against the sides of the glass tank.  It kept us up at night.  We held onto it for so long (a month) because it was really fun to watch.  One morning shortly after we added it to our tank, my younger, Travis, ran to me so upset and led me to the tank.  It looked like Herman was dead, out of its shell.  After careful observing we found him still in his shell.  He had molted during the night (no wonder he had been so incredibly noisy, keeping me from restful sleep…I’m a light sleeper).  We took the molted exoskeleton from the tank and examined it.  It pretty much grossed all of us so we wrapped it up and put it in the trash.  Later research told me we could have left it in the tank because they eat off of it for protein.  Well, that seems nasty, too, but that’s nature.  Next time we’ll know.