Monthly Archives: June 2009

Practice what you preach

My husband just called; he’s on his way to work. The car in front of him is a white, BMW, convertible with the top down. The driver is a lady, late 50s, leathery-skin (a possible fellow beach goer). She was smoking a cigarette. At a traffic light, she flicked her cigarette out of the car and onto the street. What’s wrong with this picture? Don’t most smokers litter?  Well, she had, on her car, a state-issued specialty license plate that read “Protect the Environment”.

Dracaena Marginata

No I don’t speak Latin; that is the name of my favorite house plant.  I just call it the tree.  I have 3 pots of them; two of the green leaf variety and one with red edges on its leaves.

I have one pot with three marginata in it.  It was on the lanai at Siesta Key and contracted a sooty mildew from the jasmine bushes on the other side of the screen.  A friend of mine gave me some Neem Oil in a spray bottle to cure it.  I didn’t get to it in time because we moved to the Alabama coast and the plants were all packed in my car.  Meanwhile, the pot next to it, holding 3 more marginata contracted a mild case of sooty mildew.  When we finally made it to Alabama and unpacked, the sooty mildew had (I supposed) killed all of the leaves on the first pot of 3 plants and so I stuck it outside, but I did spray it (I am an optimist that thinks things will always get better…even when they’re dead).  I sprayed Neem oil on the other potted marginata which, after 3 days was clear of its mildew.

My husband wanted to throw the “dead” plants out but I decided to cut about 3 inches of the tops off and then kept it watered and in the shade outside.  The tips withered and dried out like prunes.  Well, we’ve been here for 4 weeks and the trunk/stems (whatever  you call it) of the “dead” marginata have numerous shoots coming out from it.  Wow, I will have a full plant with leaves all over it instead of just at the top.  How cool.

The moral to the story is … if you think your plant is dead, nurture it.  Chances are it is still alive.

Catch of the Day

Austin’s 10 pound catfish from a friend’s pond…101_3158

There were 6 boys fishing together.  Other catches included a bass that kept getting hooked.  Finally its head got cut off and now its body is sitting in our freezer.  There was another catfish, just under 10 pounds and a yellow-bellied slider (both released).  There were a few more that got away.

Biloxi MS

My life along the Gulf coast took me to Biloxi, MS today.  We met a friend from Memphis who was visiting the area for the weekend.

Last time we had been here was back in 1997, I think.  Austin was born in Mobile (1995) and we would drive to the MS coast or New Orleans occasionally for daytrips and lunch out.  Travis came along in 1996 and we took a trip to the MS coast again and maybe another time a year later.  Anyway, it was pre-Katrina.  Gorgeous historic homes lined Hwy 90, the beach was busy during the summer.  Restaurants and shops were everywhere.

This time was way different.  A few (not many) rebuilt homes lined the street across from the beach.  Landmarks we have pictures of us standing near are gone. 

There used to be homes along that street, overlooking the beach.

There used to be homes along that street, overlooking the beach.

 The beach looked fine.  There were signs of rebuilding the dunes.  I’m not sure that’s what the city is doing but it looked like it.  We were amazed, and the boys stared, at the empty driveways that lead nowhere, the sidewalks and steps the lead to bare concrete slabs, surrounded by trees that used to shade children playing on the lawns; for sale signs and no trespassing signs.  There were still buildings boarded up along the first floor because the water had washed out all that was there: a bank, an office, the port authority building. 

Then we went to the Katrina memorial.

Katrina Memorial, Biloxi, MS

Katrina Memorial, Biloxi, MS

It is a tall black tile wall next to a curved wall with a tile mosaic of a wave.  There was also a sculpture made of items found in the debris and it is secured in a glass case (or something that won’t break).  There are items like a 2001 t-ball trophy, a police badge, a WWI artifact, shards of china, crystal goblet, a toy, tools etc. 



items found in the debris after the storm

items found in the debris after the storm



The cool thing I liked was in the median, along Hwy 90, there were remains of broken oaks.  Someone carved these remains into lovely pieces of art: birds, dolphins, and other creatures.  We couldn’t find a parking spot along the road to stop for pictures but we’ll be back again and I’ll take some pictures to add to this story.  The casinos for the most part are up and running.  Some are still under construction. 

I hope one day soon we’ll see a vibrant town again with homes along the main street looking out at the Gulf.

Fish Tank Wars

We went to Gulf Shores beach today with some other homeschool families from Fairhope and Daphne.  Other than relaxing, getting to know new friends, etc., my goal for the trip was to collect some seaweed and maybe other creatures for our tank (which has grown to 2 tanks: the original 20 gallon and a 5 gallon).

We found plenty of little fish in the surf and Travis scooped up a dozen or so with the net.  They were little pin fish and some glass minnows.  That was from the Gulf.  Then we went to the Lagoon and collected 2 hermit crabs, since we have not had any for a while, and a baby sand dollar that looked broken.  I wanted to see if it would rehab in the tank.  While I don’t have sand in the tank (the bottom is all small shells) I was thinking of putting in a little sand just for this.  I’ll probably fill a giant atlantic cockle shell with the sand.

After much relaxing we headed home.  By the time we got there only one glass minnow was still swimming.  I put it and the hermit crabs into the little tank; the sand dollar into the bigger one.  I was concerned about the water temperature in the larger tank being too cold, which is why most critters went into the small tank.  One crab quickly switched shells.  I had a few various-sized shells in the tank.  It went from a ratty looking tulip shell (green with algae and speckled with barnacles) to a lightning whelk shell. 

 As I watched, the fish swam around (I thought it looked happy), then it explored near the sea urchins then near the aerator then near the hermit crab.  The hermit crab clawed it.  It was dead.  Right before me, my new pet killed my other new pet.  About 15 minutes later I watched the tank again and the crab had the fish in one claw while it ripped it with the other and stuffed pieces into its mouth.

Then, it started attacking the other hermit crab which tucked itself as far as it could into the tulip shell it calls home.  Thankfully that didn’t last long and the two are scooting around the tank away from each other.  There is plenty of sea grass for the crabs to eat but now I’m worried about the urchins.  I will have to move them to the big tank. 

I thought this would be fun to have new critters to watch.  I was wrong.  I hope tomorrow is a better day.

Cannibal Urchins

Six sea urchins of different types and sizes were living harmoniously in my 5 gallon tank while I was getting the 20 gallon tank ready for their return.  My car was not working for a few days so a trip to the beach for sea grasses had to wait.  I guess I waited too late because one morning I found the pink sea urchin on top of the black sea urchin.  After a second look I realized it wasn’t just passing over the purple guy on a trip around the tank…it was eating him from top down. I couldn’t imagine the black one being dead; it looked so lively the night before.  Was the pink urchin that hungry?

I quickly got my wooden spoon (no one getting a spanking!), and pryed the pink one off of the black one.  The black one was missing spines and it was still alive!  How could you do such a thing little pink thing?  I quickly moved the black one to the big tank.   He was still moving around.  He didn’t seem dead, just exhibiting male-patterned baldness.

I’ve heard/read that sea urchins replace their spines.  They’re from the same family as sea stars, echinoderms, which we all know replace their arms when they’re broken off. 

Well, the black urchin has been in the big tank for a few days by himself.  He seems fine; actually thriving.  He’s eating well, climbing on the side walls of the tank, playing with sea shells (you know how they cover themselves).  I added the apple murex eggs and the two apple murex snails.  I noticed a new snail walking around and a new anemone looking thing.  I’ll keep checking on that creature.

We did go out that afternoon to the beach to get a bag of sea grass.

Stay tuned…I can’t wait to see what happens to the sea urchin.  Will it grow new spines?

How to Move a Fish Tank

I’m not talking about moving it from one room to another.  That’s simple.  Put most of the water in another container and pick the tank up and move it.

We moved from Sarasota to Fairhope with a 20 gallon salt water tank filled with marine life.  I tried to give it away but everyone I talked to said: “Take it with you.”  Keith Wilson, a marine biologist and agent with the UF Sarasota Extension office had this advice: “I suggest a styrofoam box with and aerator which is battery powered by the lighter or by batteries with an airstone. Keeping the creatures cool is important.  Please keep the tank.”

So I bought a styrofoam cooler without CFCs but kept thinking…”the critters have to sit in this for 2 days at least, what if a piece comes off and one critter ingests it?”  So a friend gave me a spare  cooler she had been given and never used.  I thought this would be great,  but then I thought, “I need to keep the lid on so the water doesn’t slosh around in the car AND get the air pump tube into the cooler.”  Well, as I had to go to my storage unit to get the empty computer box for shipping the computer, I found our little 5 gallon tank with lid.  The attached lid has a hole in the top that I could put the air tube through.  So that’s what I did.  The little tank, filled with marine life and some seaweed, sat on the front floor of my car for 579 miles.  The air pump was plugged into the lighter plug with an adapter. 

What did I do with the rest of the tank?  I got a large paint bucket from Home Depot and filled it with water from the tank and sealed it tight.  That bucket I gave to the movers to store on the truck.  I left a little bit of water and all of the shells on the bottom of the 20 gallon tank and put it in the back of my minivan, along with the dog (in her crate), luggage, and my nature specimen collection.  The movers took the 3rd row seat onto their truck to give me lots of room in the car.  Oh, and I had potted plants in the car, too.  That’s another story.

I had no idea what to expect when we had arrived and unpacked all of the critters and water and set up the pump.  They survived and seemed happy in the little tank. I left them there.    After setting up my classroom for the kids, I set up the large tank.  The water (which I thought would be stagnant and stinky) was fine.  I emptied the Home Depot container of bay water into the tank and  put in the aerator.  I’ve been noticing some interesting life in the tank that I never noticed.  The anemone survived and has grown.    Some baby snails are moving around on top of the shell base.  Wonder what happened to all of the lightning whelk babies?  I’ll have to poke around with a magnifying glass.

Apple Murex Eggs hatch…I think

Its been a few weeks since the snail layed her eggs on the inside of the cockle shell in my fish tank.   Its been roughly 15 days and I think it takes 28 days for the eggs to hatch.  However, the eggs are looking a bit different these days and my son, Travis, and I were observing them with a magnifying glass and noticed a critter of some kind poking out of one of the sacks.  Hummm.  Stay tuned.

Moving around the Gulf Coast

Right now we’re living in Fairhope, AL.  It’s a nice little town.  Lots of people retire here.  I’ll talk about it later.  But first I have to give an update on my bird watching.  We live in a wooded community that looks like totally old forest with houses nestled among the trees.  I think it’s a bird sanctuary, too.  I’ve seen a ton of those signs.  Ok…its not on the white, sandy beaches of FL but it’s nice for now. 

I get to look for a different set of birds living here.  Shore birds are a shore mile or two away through the woods.  I saw a laughing gull and a snowy egret fly over my house today, so I’m ok with living in the woods for now.

Our backyard is a bunny paradise.  Dixie, my black lab, has done well to restrain herself but not so with the squirrels.  She’s still trying to climb trees after those critters.  I miss the tail-less squirrel that lived in the canopy area of Siesta Key near my house.  I wonder how it’s doing.

Birds. Well, here’s what I’ve seen just in the back yard: a cardinal pair, a towhee pair, a black capped chickadee, brown thrushes galore, red-bellied woodpecker, mockingbird, red-headed woodpecker (I’ve missed seeing them), blue jays, tufted-titmouse, house finch pair.  I’m not good at identifying warblers by sound but I recognized one.  It’s hard to tell a mockingbird (sometimes) from a warbler.  You have to keep listening and if it doesn’t change it’s tune, its not the mockingbird.  I’ll have to keep listening to the warbler and write about it later.   Tonight as I walked the dog in front of the house (heavy woods across the street) I heard for the first time a chuck-will’s-widow.  There were two of them.  I’d never heard one before and shared the sound with my son, Travis (who I think is pretty interested in birds).  I logged onto   and listened to sounds of noctural birds and found this identical match.  How cool!  I just wish I could see one but the information I read said they are hard to spot.  I’ve been owling and, while it took a while to locate the eastern screetch owl, I was able to find him.  Maybe if this CWW is a resident, I can try to locate it. 

The Fairhope waterfront park and pier are a great place to birdwatch.  Once again I live along a birding trail, this time it’s the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail.  We’ve been there a few times in the past week.  The city has put up purple martin apartments along the waterfront. 101_3118 There are a ton of these birds flying around this whole side of the Mobile Bay.  I don’t know about the other side but I’ll find out sooner or later.  Meanwhile, I’ve seen them along the bay front from Daphne (at a friend’s house) down to Point Clear (at another friend’s house).  The sign in the picture basically says that purple martins pass through this area twice a year.  They winter in South America and come north around the first of the year.  They arrive here late-January/early-February.  Since they eat several thousand tons of flying insects they are helpful to the area:  less bugs to ruin the local agriculture, less pesticide to spray in the community, etc.  They nest late-March to early-July and head south by the end of August.  The City of Fairhope put up the purple martin apartments in February 2001. 

101_3123They are such cool birds.  I really like their color and shape when they’re flying.  Plus they’re great bug eaters.   Come visit; it’s cool to see.  So, add purple martins to the Alabama list, plus a great blue heron, brown pelican, cattle egrets.

Fairhope will be a good stop for a while.