You Don’t Have to Create Your Own Blog to Build a Gallery of Wild Things!

We don’t do Facebook, but we travel (all over US and Canada) with access to the world-wide net.   We have i-phones, but a point and shoot is what we use when paddling, hiking, stopping to enjoy the continent’s wild places and we use our laptops to post.

You don’t have to start a blog:  there’s a much wider audience with administration and management done by someone else.   All free.

Check out inaturalist.org.

If you are going to Milton, forinstance, where Blackwater River State Forest is located, you may want a preview of all the natural wild things (flora and fauna) which have been posted by some of the 405,733 observers worldwide who post on inaturalist.org.  You may want to know which is considered endangered, threatened or exotic.  Of those exotics, you may wish to know which are considered invasives and learn why.

Or if you took photos while visiting Blackwater River State Forest and want to be able to identify a flower, or a mushroom, or a bird or salamander, just sign on to the site and post your own photo.   Once you get your photo loaded as an observation, click on the first box below which identifies the plant:  through photo recognition, a list of suggested species will be offered.  If you click on the right side of each suggestion you will be led to a display of other photos, a map of where that species has been found, and additional information on that suggested plant.  Comparing that with your photo, you can select from the suggestions.

Ahhh…but it doesn’t end there.  So, you’re not sure,  eventually and hopefully within 24 hours (in some locales and some species you may have to wait longer), you will get someone (remember there are over half a million users) who will either verify your ID or say, they disgree and suggest another species name.  Or they may know what the genus is, but not exact species,  but they know for certainty it’s not the species you have named.  Well,  that’s a whole lot more certainty than when you initially posted.  Eventually, if your photo(s) of that wild thing is clear and has good taxonomic detail, you’ll get a full scientific identification (genus and species) for the item you have photographed.

What you post has to be wild.  It can’t be continuous photos of your cat or your constant companion dog.  They’re family — you can’t post family.   Unless it’s a chimpanzee.

You can post sounds also, but I haven’t tried that.  Like the sound of a hoot-owl which you can’t see.  Or a frantic hawk if you’re too near their nest, which you can’t see.  Inaturalist.org can be a sound translator.  Raucous sounds from the campsite next to you after curfew don’t count; they have to be wild non-humans and non-domesticated animals.  I’m not sure whether a cow could be posted; try it and see if you get a comment.  I did get one once from someone who said I had posted the identical photo twice.  I marveled that anyone had the time to review over 2,500 observations I have made.  Who would want to?  There’s always a self-designated monitor in any large group of people:).

A few pointers:  don’t use generic terms on the ID. You’ll wait and wait and wait and no one may respond to you.  To get the quickest response, get at least to the genus level (see taxonomy for each suggestion offered when you post); better yet, make a wild guess and put the whole uncertain scientific name in.  Someone will disagree with you and this is a great situation to be in, for you will get a proper ID faster by starting out wrong.  People seem to have a trigger instinct to correct rather than affirm.  Lucky for you.

The posting will ask for date and location.   If you have a camera with a built in GPS it’s great (smart-phones do) because if you don’t the site will ask for the location of each posting.   If you have a camera with a built in date recorder, you don’t have to enter the date of the observation, either.  Yes, this site is made for contemporary electronics, but you’ll see the value of those little bells and whistles in your camera soon enough.

You, too, can be an identifier — to turn the tables around and identify a post from someone who wants to know if the name they have selected for the item posted is correct.

You may say, “Me? I don’t know one daisy from another!”  Yes, but if you know deer, or know a Florida anhole from a common house gecko, you can identify that.  Or if your instincts say, “It’s not that.” But be ready with a correct ID if you disagree.  Don’t worry, if you’re wrong somebody will correct you (remember there are half a million users).  You’ll find enough that you won’t just get PhD’s (not indicated) biologists verifying your posts — anyone can verify who feels confident to identify a particular species.

This is a half a million people collaborative to build an inventory of all the wild creatures and plants and everything in between.   Love mushrooms?  Post the lichen and mushrooms you see; there are variations of seaweed, too.   Start with your backyard (ignore your dog).  You can learn the names of everything which inhabits your private ecosystem!

The purists among you will say of a system that  considers a valid species name if two people agree to it.  No credentials needed, just two people.  It could be your child, who is at an age when everything you say is right, or your mother, who does the same.   Neither of which knows a lily from an iris.  OK…it’s going on strictly collaborative, faith in the statistics of well meaning and honestly-seeking-the-right-name-people to affirm an identification.  But think about it — if you had to wait for the few real experts you’ll never get a large data base with over 14 million observations affirmed.  There is always a margin of error in any statistical set of data anyway — let the researchers worry about the methodologies; just post.

And…if you are absolutely sure you have the right ID and you’re getting the “I disagree…it is this species.” There is a comment box which you can use to bring the naysayers to the right ID.  This is particularly true is you are photographic an endemic species, one that has only been observed in a particular area and through the scientific channels that be is considered a different species.  Any area has some endemic species:  we have the cowcreek spider lily which is found only in Wakulla and Franklin counties.  There is a endemic species of mussel which can be found below the dam on Lake Talquin and just recently at the mouth of the Upper Ochlockonee where it empties into Lake Talquin.  This is where this posting gets fun.  Stand your ground!!!!

I post because I want my observations to mean something, not just an ephermal look-see on a blog site, but documenting a species.  One University of Florida researcher tasked with the job of determining which native flowers are visited by which butterflies found inaturalist.org postings a gold mine of information.   He didn’t have to hire a gaggle of undergraduates to go looking for them.

This allowed, in Alberta, Canada, the Invasive Species Council to spot where invasive species were being photographed (remember the GPS location?).  It allows one to track endangered and threatened species. You can restrict GPS information to only the curators of the site, if you’re afraid that plant robbers will confiscate the plants.  But for researchers this is important information:  other species than us also migrate and enough postings can track these migrations.

I posted a dying moth in front of a post office and the identifier noted that this was the first documented photo of the species being in this area.    That was exciting!   Many interesting encounters may await you — who thought adventures could be yours personally just by scanning your smart phone?

Try it…you’ll get more than just perfunctory “neat”, “pretty”, “wow” comments.  You’ll get an ID or “I disagree with a suggestive ID”.   If you’re lucky, and that’ll happen as you post more and more, you’ll get an expert explain to you using vocabulary you never saw why the species is what that expert thinks it is.  You’ll have experts disagreeing whether one ID was correct or whether another may be more suitable.  And you started that whole dialogue!!!  When you see how serious and thoughtful some of the ID’ers are, you’ll appreciate that your efforts are seriously being noted.  You are part of the group of citizen-scientists whose efforts will form essential data bases for understanding the world around us — not human, and not your dogs and cats.

And you know: for those who are still looking for a compatible companion, you may find one on this site, although this is not the intent.  Go on web fungi seeking adventures together and who knows where that’ll take you!

 

 

Womack Creek – H. Michael’s impact – October 27, 2018

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Checking out the first branch on river right (left as we paddled upstream from Womack Creek Campground landing), two trees blocked further access (except by portage) beyond.  This is a branch of the Ochlockonee which one will pass to get to Womack Creek, but when the tide is in, it’s a good place to explore and wait the rest of the crew if paddling with a group.  Be alert for submerged snags:  it’s shallow and muddy and in early spring has a early blooming patches of golden clubs and later, in the same area, lizard’s tail plants.

Fortunately, this section of Tate’s Hell State Forest was spared from downed trees preventing passage, except for a leaning tree which when it falls will block further upstream through paddling.  Currently none of the downed trees  will block through passage to Nick’s Road campsite, 3.75 miles from put-in at Womack Creek campground.

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At Nick’s campground, Tate’s Hell forestry staff have cut and cleared off fallen trees, leaving only the debris which the hosts will clean up.  The debris, when dried, should make very good fire-pit starters.

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Noticeably absent this year are masses of vining asters and narrow leaf sunflowers which attract butterflies and other insects to the creek.   Only a few of these were blooming.

A new plant appeared, purple sneeze weed, on a log which like many partially immersed logs when it catches mud and debris from upstream become growing medium for plants.

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A few clematis crispa flowers (and their seed pods) can be seen.   The green fly orchid constantly surprises us by blooming continuously all year round.

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North Florida’s answer to maples and oaks turning color in the fall, sweet gum and Florida maples are beginning to turn.

And setting the holiday stage are three varieties of native hollies:  yaupon, dahoon and American holly.

 

Other seeds, like swamp titi (below), Walter’s viburnum, arrow wood, muscadine, palmetto provide food for birds and other creatures of that creek.

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Two small alligators, the larger juvenile in alligator weed, are too young to be afraid of paddlers.  Alligator weed, an invasive species which appeared earlier this year, will have to be cleared out.  To our knowledge there are no invasives on Womack Creek, or invasives which are not cleared out when sighted.

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A small flock of ducks have returned, a great blue heron, the ubiquitous kingfisher which is impossible to photograph because it won’t sit still.

Womack Creek is open for paddling.

 

Cash Creek – Four Weeks After H. Michael – November 10, 2018

Hurricane Michael hit Franklin and Bay counties on October 10, 2018.  Tidal surges and/or winds extended into other coastal areas, farther inland than had been expected creating tornado-like devastation in Jackson, Liberty, Gadsden and Wakulla counties.

At home, we did not escape the tree downfalls, branches, debris, and damage, though only incidentally to outbuildings.  To get a reprieve from the work of restoration, we paddled   Womack Creek, Lake Talquin’s Joe Budd area near the mouth of the Upper Ochlockonee, Ocheesee Pond in Jackson county and yesterday Cash Creek.

There is a sardonic side to nature:  after a tooth and claw show of what she can do, she can also produce a smiley-faced day as she did yesterday.

The weather had a touch of fall with temperatures in the low 50’s and wind chill even lower because of wind.  It was overcast and cold when we launched the kayaks, but the warmth which comes from paddling soon overcame the chill.  Within half an hour the morning ceiling opened to full sun, with some clouds.  It did not get over mid-60’s yesterday.  We had an outgoing tide going upstream and an incoming tide returning with winds against us, but it was an ideal paddling day.

Over a month after H. Michael,  SR 65 south of Hosford had sections of tree-falls and fractured trunks, not consistent, but in patches, and debris along the road with trees leaning, ready to fall with the next strong wind.

At the Cash Creek Day Use area and launch site, it seems that the surge extended into the area.  Fortunately, the vault toilet was set up on a thick concrete slab which elevated it from the water level created in the surge.  One large pine had to be cut down, the trunks neatly piled for campers and day users to use as firewood.

Paddling tree-less marshes, for us, is a late fall to early spring activity.  It gets too hot for us in open estuaries when temperatures go over the high 70’s, particularly with high humidity.

Of Michael’s impact on the creek,  there is only one small pine tree which has fallen almost completely covering the creek.  Unless  paddling in low tide, that should not impede your progress upstream — you can make your way among the topmost branches.   Some pine trees in that area of sparsely growing pines and cedars may have been damaged or uprooted, but at water level we could not see over the marsh rushes.

Cash Creek, however, has submerged trees and pilings, remnants of swamp road bridges, a reminder that Tate’s Hell was  once a pine plantation.  The dark tannin-colored water obscures these obstructions.

From experience on similar pilings on other North Florida creeks and rivers, if one gets caught on one, gentle back paddling may be more effective than hard forward paddling, depending on the water current.  Hard forward paddling in some situations will fasten the boat even more securely on the pilings.  The tops of these pilings have been unevenly cut by the waters, so one could find oneself in a precarious balance.  Gentle paddling rather than power strokes should first be tried unless one has extraordinary balance control of one’s craft and body.   Sometimes, if one cannot get another paddler to help, one may have to capsize.

One caveat:  there are huge alligators on that creek.  They, do not seem to be as habituated to humans as in other creeks where fishermen throw their live bait and unwanted fish into the waters before leaving the water.  In the summer, children play and swim at the Cash Creek landing.

The creek branches over a mile upstream from the put-in at the Cash Creek Day use area.  The one on the right will extend the marsh paddling with occasional pine and cypress trees on dry land.  An older fallen tree over the bank can be limboed under, but further upstream additional smaller barriers, some crossable in high water, will be present as the creek narrows into swampland (with more trees).

The above photo was taken in an outgoing tide (shallow), so at higher water levels one would have to flatten out more or do what I call the turtle scrunch, which is more suitable for those of us with short legs: get as much of your body into the kayak with only the top of your head and hands visible (you’ve got to be able to see and you’ve got to hold on to your paddle).  Canoers can more easily go under narrow openings.

Barriers such as this probably are good turn around places:  it’s not like you don’t have other options for paddling on the other branches or branches of branches on that creek.  And, unless you have a gift of getting lost no matter where you are, it’s almost impossible to get lost upstream from the landing.   If water levels and barriers can be overcome and if you paddle all the options and back to the landing, it will probably be about a 12.5 mile paddle.

Going upstream, at the first choice of turns, the branch on the left will lead you to Pidcock Road campsite, which, at low tide is more easily accessed by boat than at high tide.  It is a beautiful, very large, secluded primitive campsite accessible from Pidcock Road.  This branch will take you into swamps with shrubs and small trees (shade) with two additional branches to explore.

When entering narrowing creeks, check to see if you will be able to turn around in your boat or you may be paddling backwards all the way until you can.

Downstream, turning left at the landing, is  a different paddling situation.  You will need a GPS so you don’t keep paddling in circles and loops, one patch of rushes looks like any other patch of rushes and you can’t see above them.  Turning left at the landing will get you, if you manage to get out of the labyrinth of marsh , into East Bayou to East Bay and then the Gulf.  There were two boat trailers and two additional boats on trailers getting ready to go downstream when we arrived at the landing.

More convenient to the highway and to the landing, three new primitive camp sites, more typical of state park sites (just enough to accommodate an RV or one or two tents, picnic table, firepit and grill), have been opened right at the Cash Creek Day Use area and landing.  What it gives in convenience, it lacks in privacy, however.  Witnessed by the thrash of glass beer bottles, six pack holders and other thrash, day users in that area consistently don’t pick up.  A newly built vault toilet on concrete slab already is less than clean, not the problem of the staff at Tate’s Hell SF, but day users.  If camping there, bring sanitizer spray to clean the toilet seats.   There is a sanitizer dispenser, but I don’t expect the dispenser will last long or will have anything to dispense.  Bring your own hand sanitizer.

Primitive camping means: no water, no electricity, and generally no toilet facilities.  (Interestingly Rock Landing campground on Crooked River (connecting the Ochlockonee and New Rivers) has three (much larger) campsites and a vault toilet, day use facility with pavilion and tables  and a boat launch.  The toilet there is usually very clean and well maintained by users.)

Reservations for campsites in Tate’s Hell can be made through Reserve America.  Call the Carrabelle Tate’s Hell State Forest office (850 697-0010) if you can’t make sense of the way Tate’s Hell Campsites are posted on that site and for confirmation that the site you have selected is what you want.

Not many birds sighted this time, but we saw two species of woodpeckers, one of which may have been a red cockaded.  The area we saw it has mainly slash pines, but David Morse, retired (summer 2018) chief forester told us that he has seen red cockaded woodpeckers nesting in slash pine cavities.  Also a small flock of small sparrow like birds, which we could not identify.  And the ubiquitous buzzards.  And one lone coot which lay low and tried to conceal itself in the marsh grass.  Usually there are lots of birds in the late fall and winter.  This is the first coot (which usually travel in flocks) we have seen on this creek.

 

Massed blooms: lavender and white on Womack Creek – May 11, 2018

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This is a great year for swamp dragon head.   They are now blooming everywhere there is sunshine:  on dead tree falls with soil, in the back swamps beyond the trees, in sunny patches along the creek.

In huge masses, they diminish the swamp roses.   But those more demure blooms have a greater over reach  — you can smell their cinnamon-sweet smell before you see them. Here, surrounded by narrow leaf primrose.

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Butterflies and bees are attracted to the nectar of the swamp dragon head.

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Soon, the arrow head blossoms will be in full bloom — they are heavily in bud throughout the creek.

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In other areas, with its strong sweet scent, the sweet bays are blooming.

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It’s summer and the critters are moving, May 11, 2018 …

Juveniles — teenagers — have a lot to learn.  They are more curious than cautious, but in that, for humans, is hope — perhaps a new way to see things around us.  For critters, however, without an overarching adult watching, growing to adulthood is risky.  Alligator, raccoons, cooters and now, this yellow crowned night heron.

Whatever it was doing when Ed came upon it, it diverted its attention to what was more interesting — us.  As it went from muddy shoreline to a short step up a branch to a flight up to a higher branch, it’s eyes were upon us.  But it did not fly away.

It’s attention span was longer than our over 15 minutes.  We paddled away as it continued to watch from its perch.

Meanwhile on the shore, a juvenile raccoon we had seen in January with its mother and siblings was foraging for a late breakfast,  a little after 10am.   Then, the mother had given her brood a sharp warning sound, which none of them heeded.   She herself headed into the brush, they stayed foraging in the mud for crayfish and other goodies.  Now, this one is on it’s own.

Again…our interest span was shorter that this raccoon. It continued to forage;  we paddled upstream. 

The non-venomous water snakes on the creek seem to be a lethargic group — they take their positions and stay there.  Adults or juvenile, it doesn’t seem to matter.  But this juvenile, after extending its forebody a bit, didn’t move.

And then the caterpillars.  Of what species I don’t know.  They were too busy eating the leaves of both the cow creek spider lily and the swamp dragon’s head to take heed of anything.

It’s a busy time on the creek and the young ones are doing what they need to be doing to continue their species.