Monday, April 30, 2007

JQ - Jungleboy Quarterly

It's been 3 months of nonsense and it's time to recap!

After leaving Vermont on January 29th, I've seen and done quite a few spectacular things and know the best is yet to come. We have 54 subscribers, not including (one of my brother-in-law Jim's fake email addresses) and have readers in 24 countries. The goal, is to improve the educational level of the entries while making things simple enough so my sister can understand (she knows which one), increase the sophistication of the humor while adding more poop jokes and get an editor so no one has to endure my bad grammar anymore. Ruth won the grammar correction contest with 44 corrections. Thanks Ruth!

I've received a lot of comments and questions and thought I'd finally answer them all here if possible. I have to paraphrase or simply make up all that I can't remember.

Q1 - Is it a good idea to write when you are angry?
A1 - Sure! I'm angry a lot. And happy a lot too. I've been saddled with the burden of knowledge and hampered with the curse of stupidity. Two great traits that don't taste so good together. There's a lot of frustrating, annoying, crazy things out there that get me fired up and not only does writing focus the energy, it helps formulate possible ideas on how to solve the issues. Or encourages others to solve them. Or just simply pokes fun at it. Which ever comes first.

Q2 - Is your Meez single?
A2 - Quite possibly the most disturbing question. The answer is no. I hate to break anyone's heart or psychotic delusions, but my Meez is just a cartoon facsimile that has a cartoon facsimile girlfriend that is often offscreen. The cartoon girlfriend has to be careful that the cartoon agents from the Department of Homeland Security do not find her.

Q3 - What's your favorite smell?
A3 - Orange Blossoms and/or Methane

Q4 - Is Red Drift Algae always so boring?
A4 - Yes

Q5 - Aren't you scared of the Alligators?
A5 - Funny thing about that. When I was a kid I was terrified. The media sensationalizes animal encounters, often alligator encounters and people end up fearing them more than they should. Respect them. Give them distance. Don't feed them and you will be fine. They are fearful of people 99% of the time. This is a terrible statistic, but there were more traffic fatalities in Lee County last week than there have been fatalities caused by Alligators in all of Florida since 1950. Only 19 people in 57 years is not bad. Unless you are one of the 19.

Q6 - Are you going to shave your cat again this year?
A6 - It's 85 and humid right now on April 30th. That cat needs to be shaved. No one asked this question. I just wanted to post this picture.

Q7 - How many Peeps did you eat in the video?
A7 - Only 5. I had to eat as many as Will did. And yes my stomach hurt afterwards.

Q8 - Was Will actually bitten by a bat?
A8 - The poor kid. In September of 2005 I led a group of homeschool kids and their parents to the Dorset Bat Cave in Vermont. During the next weeks class Will told me he had been bitten by a rabid bat. I dismissed him, thinking he was making up the story. No one had been bitten by a rabid bat in Vermont in many decades. Later someone showed me a headline in the Bennington Banner that explained that a local boy had been bitten by a rabid bat! It was a scary story and really a rarity. To his credit, the 9 year old Will told reporters that it was scary but he still appreciated bats. Cool kid. And he's a Peep eater.

Q9 - Do airboats ever flip over?
A9 - This was asked a few weeks ago and the answer was very rarely. A few days later, an airboat flipped, sending passengers into "alligator infested waters". The water is very low and apparently the boat had a mechanical failure, rendering the driver nothing but a passenger. They hit a clump of sawgrass and over they went. The "alligator infested water" is a perfect example of media hysteria. There was maybe one alligator within a 300 yard radius and wanted nothing to do with the accident. The driver suffered a broken collarbone and passengers had cuts and scrapes. That is the first accident I have heard about in all of the time of been around the everglades. Very rare.

Q10 - Is your criticism of exotic species analogous to your feelings on illegal immigrants?
A10 - Apparently you don't know who I'm dating. (Edited after post - My inarticulate point is that MaLe is a fervent supporter of dignified immigration laws here in the U.S. as am I. She in fact has a tourist visa and is here legally, lest anyone misunderstood me. Her Meez on the other hand is here illegally.)

Q11 - How do you get someone off the phone when you're done talking to them?
A11 - Excellent question. Some people can chat forever and the old excuse - "My show is on!" no longer works if you have Tivo. Kate and Ashley (not the twins) refuse to get Tivo just so they can still use that line. Or they don't want to talk to me. But I like to use "the cat is puking on the carpet!" Which is often unfortunately true and the reason he needs to be shaved.

Q12 - If you could be Pinocchio or Peter Pan, which would you choose?
A12 - No one asked me this but it's still an interesting question. Peter Pan could fly but he wore tights. Pinocchio wore little red shorts and had a slight case of wood rot but he had a pet cricket and if he got hungry he could eat him. So I would go with the Gippetto's kid.

Q13 - Is there an Easter Bunny?
A13 - Absolutely. I once dressed as the Easter Bunny and after trying to explain this to a 9-year old, she became very confused. The Easter Bunny has a cadre of lackeys he uses to distract kids while he hides Easter eggs. There really is no other explanation. But yes there is a real Easter Bunny and yes I pretended to be him for a day.

Pete and Mom - assisting the Easter Bunny for a day.

Looking forward to the next three months of adventure. Keep the comments and questions coming.

That's all folk!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Get My Drift?

Imagine one day you go into your bathroom and there's a patch of mildew growing on the shower tiles. Gross right? But it's part of nature. You wipe it away and think nothing more of it. But the next morning not only has the mildew returned, it's now covering twice the area as the day before. So you clean it with a non-toxic, environmentally friendly, orange-blossom scented cleaner and hope it doesn't happen again. But guess what happens the next morning? The entire bathroom is covered in mildew and now it smells like rotten eggs, peaches and dog breath. What would you do now? (If you're eating breakfast and have a weak stomach, I probably should have stopped you at "mildew".)

Red Drift Algae is a naturally occurring red-brown seaweed found in warm shallow waters in the Gulf of Mexico. It washes up from time to time and the tide takes it away a few days later. A few years ago, a massive Red Drift Algae bloom occurred off the Florida coast, later piling up on beaches several feet high. From Sanibel to Naples, the seaweed, which had trapped unfortunate sea creatures like crabs, sea slugs and seashells of all sorts began to decompose along with the dead sea life it ensnared. It smelled. Horrifically. And the sight of the seaweed all along the pristine coastline had tourists appalled. They couldn't just step over the piles as they might a homeless person in the street, they would have to walk 40 feet over the stuff in some places and then swim through it once they reached the surf. Nasty messes like this belonged on the cigarette butt-lined street corners and litter filled storm drainage ditches. Not on the beach!

Some towns brought in earth movers to clean the stuff up. Some towns said it was natural and left it. And some tourists naturally left. No one did the rational thing until it happened again. A year later the algae drifted up again and finally someone asked why. Why had mildew invaded your hypothetical bathroom? Asking and answering that question might fix your problem. Well - my problem that I put in your head. But anyway. Scientists were being enlisted and town meetings were planned to ask why this was happening and what could be done. (About the algae, not the mildew problem I put in your head).

Nutrient runoff from agricultural areas is usually the first to be blamed for the problems in the Everglades. So it was a natural scapegoat here. In some sense deservedly so. All of the excess nitrogen and phosphorus that is used to make things grow better, along with cow poop often washes into the Everglades watershed or downstream and into the ocean. Red Drift Algae thrives with these added nutrients so there's the problem right? The massive blooms occurred right after the busy hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005 when trillions of gallons of rainwater overflowed Lake Okeechobee and were sent out to see. The Gulf of Mexico was warm, fresh water mixed with salt water and the nutrients created the perfect Red Drift Algae soup. But not so fast with the blame. While much of the nutrients washed out to sea could be blamed on the agricultural areas, scientists were able to trace the nitrogen back to its main source. Sewage runoff from leaky septic tanks (are you still eating? I warned you.) and waste water that had not been 100% treated was found to be the main culprit. Water treatment plants are not required to release 100% treated water, but "mostly treated waste water" is not something you'll see on the tourism brochure. What it comes down to is warmer temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, possibly closed by global warming (or "warmings" if you chose the plural form as our President does), a variety of human caused nutrient inputs and poorly managed water supplies.

How easy is this to fix? We'll see over the next ten years. But it must be fixed, because no one wants to swim in massive floating mats of stinky seaweed (even with a hint of peach smell), and the supposed lack of risk may become a health concern sooner than later. (More on that when the flesh-eating bacteria become a media sensation). It's funny how people are not concerned with environmental issues until it has an economic impact. Businesses reacted only when the tourists began to leave.

The underlying issue is most tragic. The seabeds that that Red Drift Algae naturally grows on have become smothered with the stuff. From the coastline to at least 30 miles out, there is a layer of algae covering the sea beds and blocking the sunlight for a multitude of living things under the sea. It's not enough to simply clean the beaches or leave the algae and let "nature take care of it". If we don't solve this problem, a huge portion of the gulf will die and the pristine, seashell-lined beaches people come from the around the world to visit will be no more. Get my drift?

Tomorrow - The big three month review!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


The word résumé comes from the French and loosely means failure. And it makes sense, considering when you make a résumé you are creating a document that details all of the things you struggled to or never did achieve, hated to do and in some cases had to completely fabricate for the sole purpose of duping someone into hiring you to do something that you may very well not be qualified to do.

I bring this up as I sort through résumés in search of a new naturalist/guide for our company. (And yes I will keep using the accents on résumé because it's appropriately snobby) The job description is explicit in our requirements and yet the range of unprofessional, incompetently assembled and tragically clueless submissions is frightening. This phenomenon is not new to me or anyone who has had to go through the hiring process. I experienced it at my previous job as well where an individual listed their self-employed experience driving the Mr.Dingaling ice cream truck as qualification to work with kids. It wasn't and I hired this guy instead.

Mostly for the beard, but it turns out he's an excellent educator as suspected. What pirate wouldn't wear a PFD? (Personal Floatation Device) Brad is awesome.

Brad submitted an excellent résumé. But here are a few tips on what not to do when submitting a résumé from actual résumés received at this job and my last:
  1. Your name - if you are a III (3rd) or a IV (4th) - leave it off. It just suggests that your parents were too lazy to come up with a new name and laziness is genetic. II (2nds) are ok.
  2. Your email - if your email is some descriptor for a physical attribute, sign up for a new one. They're free. Really? And you may think you're a "BeachBabe" but right or wrong, the boss (not me, thank you) will either hire you for the wrong reason or be disappointed that you look like the child of Pee-Wee Herman and Rosanne.
  3. Objective - If "Seeking a challenging career with a progressive company which will utilize my skills, abilities and education in management, product management, and operations" is your goal...why are you applying for a position guiding tourists through America's largest swamp?
  4. Education - If you took 2 years longer than usual to complete law school, leave off the explanation that deals with incarceration. No. Leave it on. In fact give me your whole rap sheet and explain yourself. In detail. Make something up and make it interesting. At this point lying is the least of your faux pas.
  5. Transcripts - Did I ask for them? 2.25 GPA? I'm not sure which makes you a bigger dufus. Low grades or inclusion of transcripts with a resume.
  6. Work Experience - What are you doing now? What were you doing before that? And how about before that? Ok that's good. 7 pages - generally too long and if your work experience spills over one page I'm wondering why you can't hold a job. And to send a 7 page resume to an environmental organization? You just killed a branch on a tree AND you bored me. The only time I care about what happened in 1978 is when I'm remembering my Kermit the Frog birthday party. We had Kermit hats, plates, napkins, streamers, balloons and a huge Kermit cake. We watched Dr.Suess' the Lorax on the reel to reel and played pin the tail on the monkey. Hmmm..What was I talking about? Oh yeah, I'm easily distracted. One page should be enough.
  7. Hobbies - Online PVP? That stands for Player vs Player online gaming and may explain the transcripts from #5.
  8. Activities - Listing your fraternity or sorority is the equivalent of spinning the wheel of doom. Throw any combination of Greek letters together and search for it on Google and you'll find some unsavory activity or lawsuit associated with it. For all the good they may they do any good?
  9. References - Your dad does not count. When your name is the same, that fact is hard to conceal. Find someone else to sing your praises. See Rule #1
  10. Format - if you must use bullets points, keep in mind tiny alligators do not amuse me.
  11. Spelling & Grammar - Tihs one is exteremely impotrant sicne I hvae an impossible time wiht it. You would think I would be sympathetic considering the horrors I inflict on others. I'm a hypocrite.

Next up.....The Interview!

Thursday, April 19, 2007


I've been remiss in posting. Call it Writer's Cramp or whatever. I've just not been inspired. I had a plan to write about the "Red Drift Algae" problem on the beaches, but couldn't figure out how to make it humorous so instead began sifting through resumes, looking for a potential new Everglades guide that I need to hire. (and no, bartender does not make you "uniquely qualified" to drive people out to the swamp....)

And then a comment was posted to the blog. A miracle! I love the comments but this one is one of the best so far.

William said...
Hey, this is Will (the kid who was bit by the bat last year). My mom is about ready to make my sister and I stop subscribing to your blog. It is causing a lot of disruption in our home school study time. For instance, this evening I couldn't resist timing how long it took me to eat an entire package of Peeps. I only had one left, so I got a lot of grief for hogging it all. However I managed to swallow all five Peeps in 1:28:82. I'd like to say the ordeal was worth it - given the bragging rights I have earned - but my belly is paying the price.

I looked for a picture of William to post here but couldn't find one from the VINS vault of photos, this was the best I could do.

I have a great affection for Peeps. My mom would buy whichever holiday themed Peeps were in season, including Flag Day. The strawberry Valentine hearts being my favorite, with the Halloween Ghosts not far behind.

We've eaten pretty much all of the Easter Candy from last week, but there was still a package (3 rows, 5 to a row) of pink Peeps just sitting around, and despite my claims of a post-Easter diet, I've attempted on several occasions to dig into a batch of well hidden candy, only to be thwarted by the Ecuadorian who has only recently developed a sweet tooth to rival my own.

So there the package was. Not being eaten. Taunting me in a way only inanimate, sugar-coated, fluffed marshmallow of an unnatural pink can taunt. I had had a rough day and could no longer resist. MaLe had just walked into the other room. So I grabbed a pair of scissors (completely unnecessary), ripped open a row and shoved two Peeps down the pie hole just as MaLe stepped back into the room, staring in horror.

I can't be sure if the look was in disgust over a delicacy she had yet to try or the desperation in which I piled the pink Peeps into my mouth. Staring her down like a vulture protecting a dead armadillo, I pleaded "Don't take them from me". She didn't. She even tried one. And was repulsed.

I ate the other two and we left for our evening walk.

So that brings me back to William's e-mail which arrived just in time. I don't wish to cause trouble in William's household, nor do I wish to condone the consumption of such useless calories, but I can't help but feel proud that somewhere a boy was inspired to scarf 100 calories of sugar while timing himself, because of my writings! It's exciting and further proof that something might be wrong with me.

And for more proof......

Eat well peeps! And mix in some vegetables William they balance out the candy nicely.

Monday, April 16, 2007

3 Minutes

There are many things that you can safely assume will take a specific amount of time.

  • Watching a baseball game - 3 hours
  • Checking your personal email during work - 30 minutes
  • Watching a sitcom - 21 minutes (with Tivo)
  • Having your oil changed - 15 minutes
  • Solving a Soduko - 9 minutes (easy version)
  • Brushing your teeth - 3 minutes
  • Waiting at a typical Florida traffic light - 3 minutes
  • Changing a baby's diaper - 3 minutes
  • Returning clothes at the GAP? 3 minutes? Come on!
Sunday was Tara, Brian and Peyton's last full day here in Fort Myers and despite the Tornado Watch and the heavy downpours, the plan was still to head to the beach for one last walk in the sand. The storm warnings over, the bad weather past, it was time to head out. But the baby had to sleep.....2 hours later, the baby rested, it was time to head out. But Tara, feeding for two, needed to devour leftover General Tso's. 20 minutes later it was time to head out. But Brian decided he too was now hungry and served up a round of PB&Js. 15 minutes later it was time to head out. As the wind was now blowing the sun down towards tomorrow, Tara decided she needed to return a few things to the GAP before they closed at 5 pm. "It'll take just 3 minutes!" The urgency was understandable. Who knows when and where you'll find another GAP in Florida. And it would only take 3 minutes.....

Has a clothing return ever taken 3 minutes? or 15 for that matter! Thankfully Peyton had received Finding Nemo for her birthday and we could at least watch that again as we waited in the car. We had only seen it 4 times up to that point. I think Tara knew she was in trouble when she stepped out of the vehicle and looked around at the labyrinth-like shopping plaza. It would take at least 3 minutes to find the store, 5 to explain why she was returning the clothes, 5 to explain that she had a crying baby in the car (in truth, a fish-induced hypnotized baby) and another 8 making phone calls apologizing for taking longer than the original 3 minutes. For the record, it takes 28 minutes.

We made it to Sanibel, the top-rated beach in the US for seashells, just before sunset and had the fun of watching a 2 year old exploring the spoils of a storm-tossed seashell strewn beach. Sea Slugs, Pen Clams, Sand Dollars, Scallops and Starfish all lined the edge of the surf. Hard to imagine what a baby must think of it all.
Regardless of the gap of time lost to the opposite of shopping, every minute spent on the beach with the baby was worth the wait. For anyone that couldn't download Peyton's birthday balloon fest last blog, I've fixed the problem so you can see it now. MaLe and I have also added a new version - an homage to childish behavior.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Let Me Eat Cake

When you're 2 years old and it's your birthday you can:
A) Cry if you want to
B) Demand donuts and cake

I was lucky enough to spend the day with Peyton and family on her first birthday in 2006 when the mostly immobile little girl pretty much made baby noises and pooped in her pants, but this year the family came to visit in Florida and birthday number 2 would involve a trip to see monkeys in the zoo and alligators in the wild.

With the baby loaded up with a face full of chocolate munchkins, we headed to the Naples Zoo (the old "Jungle Larry's"). If there's one thing 2 year olds don't like it's 95 degrees and 100% humidity. (Ecuadorians on the other hand - love it!) No sooner had we left the comfy confines of the air conditioned ticket/gift shop when the meltdown began. We did see the Planet Predator program with zookeeper Cindy - formerly a contestant on the show Survivor, but the heat got to the baby and away we went.

Would a boat cruise out to the monkey islands help the day improve? The baby loves monkeys! There are several small islands that a pontoon boat cruises around, inhabited by gibbons, siamangs, patas monkeys, spider monkeys and colobus monkeys. Look Peyton monkeys! "Peyton go home now".

Oh well. Half way through the Alligator feeding show, the baby decided enough was enough, Florida humidity getting the best of her.

A good 2 hour nap through the Big Cypress Preserve allowed her mom and dad the chance to see some big gators out in the wild. (a small one pictured here) It turns out all a baby needs is balloons and cake.

All through her birthday dinner she chanted "Caketime". Donuts, monkeys, and cake. It's a dream day for me.

I've finally added a better rating system. If you on the Rate me at Authorati link below you can easily fill out the info. It's anonymous.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Noise Violation

The lease agreement for this apartment complex/hive is fairly strict when it comes to noise. After 9 pm you need to keep it down. No loud music, no barking dogs no use of jack hammers. I first heard the odd noise about two months ago. It was a distant, monotonous, mechanical trill that sounded as if they were doing road work out on US-41 about 1/2 mile away. I ignored it. It was the type of sustained, drone that I typically require to fall asleep. The noise continued for the next few weeks, occasionally becoming louder, sometimes occurring into the early hours of the morning before dawn. It occurred to us that it might be an animal. A treefrog? an owl? Try making a low, guttural "waaaaaaaaaaaaa" noise and that's pretty much it.

It wasn't an issue until my sister Tara, brother in-law Brian and baby Peyton came for a visit. It has rained all of 1/10th of an inch since I arrived in Fort Myers in January. No sooner did their plane touch down and the rain clouds rolled in, dumping over an inch of much needed rain across the area over the next three days. And then came the ungodly noise. As darkness fell two nights ago, the once unobtrusive noise rose to an unending cacophony of ever loudening, monotonous notes, bombarding every open window. Closing all windows dulled the ever present sound. It was time to find out who the culprit was.

With flashlight in hand, MaLe and I set out around the otter pond in the center of our hive where the sounds seemed to emanate from. The sounds radiated from dozens of points which seemed to be in the trees, in the water, on the buildings. The chorus was singing from every available vantage point and as we drew closer to each individual point, our well-cloaked, mysterious callers would cease, drawing our attention to more remote callers and making pinpointing the culprits all the more difficult. After encircling the pond and spooking a Yellow-crowned Night Heron (aka Quwak, because of the similar noise they make),we spotted one huge hopper along the water's edge. Mystery mostly solved. It's a toad! These softball-sized beasts apparently were taking advantage of the recent rains and calling to every Bufonid from here to the Everglades. The species in particular is the exotic Giant Toad Bufo marinus (aka Marine or Cane Toad). They can weigh more than three pounds and females can lay a string of up to 20,000 eggs. Males have a rudimentary ovary and have the ability to lay eggs if their testes are damaged. (stop giggling little sister) Eggs hatch between 2 and 7 days. Adults eat our native frogs and toads. They can also secrete (or "shoot") a fairly toxic liquid from their skin as a defense which can be fatal to small dogs....I should encourage the owners of the Pomeranian that barks all day to try one. I mean have the dog try one. Oh heck they should all try one.

The chorus had calmed last night to a normal decibel, but the pond monsters are still calling. (click here to hear one) Our little apartment pond is far more productive then I would have ever imagined. Who knows what we'll discover next out there.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Please Harass the Iguanas

#241 on my list of things I want to do has been completed! How many times have you seen the sign "Don't Harass the Wildlife"? What a drag. I know, I know. I'm a wildlife biologist and I should respect the wildlife, but just once I'd love to do something malicious and rotten and have the permission to do it.

Wish granted. The people of Boca Grande hate the invasive Iguanas and they give permission to harass them! How exciting! And if verbal permission was not enough they've granted it in writing! In a brochure! Wohoo! It would seem that back in the 80's some unthinking pet owner decided to release a few on the west coast island of Boca Grande in Florida and over the last 25+ years, the population of Black Spiny Tail Iguanas (Ctenosaura similis) has grown to a reported 12,000+. They naturally range from Mexico to Columbia and the sub-tropical environment here suites them well. They feed on bird eggs, destroy the dunes by burrowing and get into people's homes (and cars). They're destructive little monsters....and they're spreading. They've naturally made it to the mainland and have been transported to other local islands.

So the Lee County Public Resources Division puts out a brochure that spells out the problem and offers a few solutions, including my favorite, #9 - "Harass iguanas at every opportunity". It's a fantastic solution and fun for the kids. By Lee County and Webster's Dictionary's standard, this is what I'm permitted to do -
  • (1) : to annoy persistently

  • (2) : to create an unpleasant or hostile situation for especially by uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical conduct
The first one MaLe and I spotted was perched at the peak of a hollowed out Sable Palm (middle of the picture below). My first chance to harass! I shook that tree like a hurricane, sending my reptilian foe scrambling down towards safety and spooking a bird from the cavity. Not to worry - it was a European Starling and I could very well have the right to harass them as well.

The next one we spotted in a more posh section of town was resting quietly in the shade of an exotic Banyan Tree - no doubt planted by the property owner. We rolled up on the invasive iguanid and shouted some unpleasant verbosity at the perplexed perp, who bobbed his head in what I can only assume was terror before he/she went back to napping.

The final harassment of the day was a two-fer. Spotting a 4-foot long lizard basking in an undeveloped lot, I parked the car and began walking closer to take a picture. Wishing to avoid the paparazzi, the illegal lizard scrambled away and feeling I had not had the opportunity to give appropriate "hostile conduct" to the foul beast, I gave chase, spurring a second iguana to flee in fear as well. I hastened my pursuit, but pulled up short with a tweaked hammy. I'll accept this incident as sufficient harassment - and never chase lizards without stretching first again.

There was a local that was quoted regarding the problem saying "Iguanas are not human. They do not deserve humane treatment," resident Richard Zellner wrote. "As far as I am concerned, they can be burned, shot and mutilated."

I did in fact chase iguanas today. To make a point. They are invasive and are causing problems (actually because it was fun, but kids, don't harass wildlife). But they are still animals. They have done nothing wrong other than being born on an island their parents were not native to. I'm all for removing invasives. Including these lizards, but we must find a proper way to do it and as humanely as possible. Being human is not a requisite for being treated humanely.

No iguanas were injured during the course of our afternoon on Boca Grande. But a few were mildly harassed. This post is dedicated to Carol H. who is welcome to take a few Iguana's south with her when she moves her and her family to Costa Rica this summer. They travel well. (The iguanas, not her family...well maybe the family travels well. How would I know?)

For those of you in "the know" and have Irony Detectors buzzing and flashing, I will get to the story of the non-invasive Green Tree Iguana that someone I know may have accidentally "lost" on Boca Grande years ago.....but not today.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Not in My Backyard

Oh this title could mean so many things today. I said to MaLe that I would go write and she said in her adorable Ecuadorian accent "Will you write about the perpetual fart smell outside?" The insideous smell has returned this evening after a few week hiatus and you would think people would be up in arms over a smell so foul. But I guess we all did move in to a place where a sewage treatment plant is in our backyard.

People don't seem to mind much in their backyards here. Malls, limestone quarries, nuclear power plants, golf courses. Build it and they will come. Oddly, Panthers, Crocodiles, Alligators and Manatees are objectionable to those that find their presence intrusive and a damper to a certain lifestyle.

The South Florida Water Management District just warned all communities in and around the Everglades that no more water will be drawn from the Everglades, which would seem like a good thing. People are still coming. Nearly 1000 people a day move here and communities are being told - Find another source of water. Desalinization - Recycle Water - Reduced Consumption. Heck - I know where they can get some partially treated waste water. Many have their eyes set on the Florida aquifer - the largest aquifer in the world that lies quietly 1000 feet below the limestone, fun parks and interstates.

Yesterday the 6th "Florida Panther" in 2007 was hit and killed by a vehicle on Interstate-75. (Click here for a map I'm working on of Panther fatalities) There is an estimated population of around 80-100 cats in the Everglades. They have been dubbed the most Endangered mammal on the planet. The thing is, the Florida Panther has long been considered a subspecies of the Mountain Lion Puma concolor (aka Cougar, Puma, Painter, Catamount (shout out to the cats in VT), Screamer and Nittany Lion.) The population had dropped to around 20-30 just 20 years ago and they were so inbred that they had numerous physical and physiological mutations. A cowlick on the nape of the neck, a kinked tail, leaky valves in the heart and males with testicles that did not descend. (stop giggling little sister) Fish & Wildlife introduced 10 Texas Cougars into the population a few years ago to expand the gene pool. They are the same species, but when mixed, would the Florida Panther cease to exist? In truth, the Texas Cougar and Florida Panther are essentially the same animal, with very few distinct genes, so the answer is no. But many found the transplants to be an abomination. Funny thing was, in 1993 when they studied the genes of cats in the Everglades National Park and the Big Cypress National Preserve, the Park cats had DNA from a South American Puma! Biologists knew something was odd. No cat would range that far. They determined that these "non-native" genes had entered the population about 40 years earlier. Apparently, an owner of a roadside zoo back in the 50's had released his cat into the wild. He refused to admit it but decades later, the evidence is still present in the Florida Panther population.

The cats are the natural heritage of the Everglades. The landscape would be severely diminished without them and while the species would still survive from Alaska down to Tierra Del Fuego under other names, the loss of the Florida Panther subspecies would be disheartening. So 6 cats in 3 months is terrible, regardless of their genetic stock. 16 in 18 months is even worse.

There is less and less room for the panthers to roam. A male requires about 200 square miles and refuses to share with another male, often leading to confrontations and occasionally death of one cat. The steady erosion of habitat continues and as people continue to relocate and expand their habitat it would seem soon there will be none left for the cats. Sadly and certainly, not in my backyard.

Right in My Backyard! Otter MANIA!

A few weeks ago when I spotted otters in the Everglades I about had to drag a boy away from the pond as he stood watching a mother and her pups play. The father attempted to verbally pry him away from this naturalist's oasis by suggesting with all seriousness "we see otters all the time at home". Turns out he was thinking of beavers - but anyway.

Sitting here in my hive like home of an apartment complex - I looked out the window into the little sludge pond (with fountain!), ringed by the rest of the honeycomb homes and spotted an undulating creature bounding about the Muscovey Ducks and splashing in the water. OTTER!

I darted out to see if I could get a glimpse and watched as a mother and her four pups fished and played for 30 minutes before deciding to beat the traffic and head down the road. I've seen Otter slide down a mud or snow embankment but had never seen one slide up. Mama pushed herself up the grass as easy as if she were sliding down

and led her pups through the breezeway, across the parking lot and into the sludge canal (that probably comes from the sewage treatment plant. yaaay!) Next time I see Otters in the Everglades I can dismiss them and say "I have those in my backyard"

Leapin' Lizards

If you read Saturday's post - you know MaLe and I walked out to a "gator hole" at night with nothing but the moon and stars to light the way. Today I returned to the same place on one of my Everglades tours and figured I would share the scene in daylight for comparison. The mother gator was unusually active - leaping 2-3 feet into the air - from the water as she hunted for fish. Watch the YouTube video further down. Quite exciting.The difference is like night and day...

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Gators in the Night

Every once in a while I get to do something that I've always wanted to do. Something that I've built up in my mind AND the experience actually lives up to the expectation. And really, who wouldn't want to wander nearly a mile into a gator infested cypress swamp in the middle of the Everglades with nothing but the light of the moon to lead the way?

Every day that I take a full day trip for the Everglades Day Safari we go to the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve. It's a 20,000 acre preserve near the west coast that is known for Ghost Orchids, Florida Panthers and the Seminole Indians whose village "guards" the entrance. MaLe and I were heading back from Miami and drove across Tamiami Trail, the first road built across the Everglades. We took a detour down the Loop Road, an historic old dirt road that always promises good wildlife. It didn't fail tonight, providing White-tailed Deer, Pig Frogs, Whip-poor-wills and a 4 foot Water Moccasin that I thought was just a stick in the road. I straddled it doing 40 and by the time I turned around, it had slithered off into the night.

Further west on Tamiami Trail we passed signs - Panther Crossing - and then spotted this. The signs are real. There are panthers out here - maybe 80-100, but this was unreal, a 15-foot tall fabrication for a roadside zoo in the swamp. At around 9:30 pm, with the full moon on the rise, we stopped at the Fakahatchee Strand State Park parking area next to one of the many Seminole villages along the Tamiami Trail. (Click for map - The village appears at the bottom near a small pond. We walked out to the smaller pond at the top of the map. )Here was the entrance to the park, with a few hundred feet of limestone gravel walkway along a well vegetated canal leading to an 8/10 mile boardwalk out to a gator hole. I warned MaLe to step in the well lit areas. We know that snakes are out a night and gators feed at night too and live in the canal. So tread carefully. (I didn't tell her about the gators in the canal, so she is finding out as she reads this.) The Moon Flowers were blooming. Each flower - blooming only once and never again.

We passed the fenced in Seminole village, palm-thatched roofs peeking over the top, air conditioners humming along with crickets. By the time we made it to the boardwalk, most of the blood had been squeezed out of my hand. MaLe insisted she WAS terrified AND that was ok. Fear serves a purpose. My only concern was the first pool before the boardwalk, but we had made it past without incident. I've never heard of a bobcat attack and although we had found fresh scat on the boardwalk just days ago, I wasn't worried. With diaphanous moonbeams casting shadows of cypress on the boardwalk, we wandered further towards the gator hole, fireflies twinkling and diving, whip-poor-wills whistling in the distance.

The boardwalk was built out to a "gator hole" where mama gator lives and raises baby gators year after year. She's a lock on the daily tours, but without flashlights we would be hard pressed to locate her down among the Fire Flag leaves and mud. We took a photo, hoping for a glimpse of something stirring in the swamp and couldn't have been happier to catch the amorous response of dozens of fireflies and the white, glowing pairs of eyes of 3 small gators. Mama was no doubt near by. Our walk back out was no less magical. Here we were, 30 miles from city lights, tip toeing through the backyard of a few dozen Indians and listening to the cries of short-eared owls and the restless chirps of hundreds of crickets. I've always wanted to do this.