Our December Pinxster Azalea

31-P121028432-P1210288

Around a particular bend in Womack Creek, always, a pinxster azalea bush sets out its blooms — in December.

Other pinxsters on that creek start blooming in March through early May.  This one is either early or very late.

It never fully opens like the ones which bloom at the customary time.  Some years it shows heavy frost bites, but it struggles to bloom.  So far this is a good year.

Some like to make examples of what we see in nature.  This shrub can certain suggest metaphors.

We, however, always look forward to seeing it bloom, sometimes struggling, sometimes not.

If I could learn brevity — it probably deserve a haiku.

Bugs and more bugs — biological controls.

P1210376P1210384P1210361

We’ve been given permission remove invasives on Womack Creek by Tate’s Hell State Forest providing we do it the proper way.  We have kept that creek clear of taro which infests Lake Talquin and the Ochlockonee river of which Womack Creek is a tributary.  Whenever we see a taro plant we dig it up then or soon after.

With Japanese climbing fern, however, the situation is different.  It requires more care to remove since the spores can fall into the water and be carried off to points downriver to sprout into some one else’s problem.  We GPS each new sighting during the year and in the dormant month set up a day to do exclusively that:  dig up the ferns.  It’s no easy thing what with that being a vine which goes every which-away trying to find light and where the roots get entangled with other roots of other plants trying to get maximum footing on the creek bank.   And we have to cover the plants up before rattling around the stems with our digging spade (a trowel won’t do it).

So when we saw in May this year a patch of alligator weed, just before we were leaving for cooler places for the summer, we noted that we’d have to clean that little patch out when we returned.  It didn’t matter that a little alligator had selected it as a private hiding place.  It was invasive and therefore had to go.

Imagine our dismay when we returned in October, after H. Michael,  to find that the whole creek had patches of that noxious weed.

We are in kayaks.  Kayaks are OK for carrying at least 2 bags of relatively light climbing fern or the occasional taro plant.  Kayaks are not OK for the alligator weed which mats in a thick cover, so thick no sunlight can get below it.  It is water sodden and heavy.

Our last  invasive weed pull was Coral Ardesia on Goat Island in Lake Talquin.  We had a crew of 8 paddlers but used a boat to ferry us with tools to handle that task.  And we were given permission to burn the invasives right there on the island — the numbers of bags we had to cart back and ensure it was deposited where it would be totally destroyed  was too daunting for the invasive species coordinator.  We  spent the whole day cutting, digging and burning and didn’t get the job finished.  We anticipated having to do the same for the alligator weed, a group effort.

When we returned last week, imagine our surprise.   Between late October  and early December, recent rainfalls had overflowed the banks and only one stand of alligator weed was there.  It happens to be the one which the now juvenile alligator likes.  With the air in the low 50’s, the juvenile alligator had enough sense to stay where it was warmer that day.

The leaves on that stand were non-existent.  Just like the alligator weed on Lake Talquin.   Alligator weed, water hyacinths and other invasives are choking the areas around the mouth of the upper Ochlockonee.  But in October on that lake we also spotted devastation of plant leaves by two bio-control agents, introduced to the USA in the 1960’s to control alligator weed.

Here in Womack, a tributary of the lower Ochlockonee, we saw the same depredation occurring.

We parked on the thick mat and starting opening up the stalks and few leaves which remained which were held together at the top by silken threads.   In several of  the stalks we found millipedes, in one stalk we found an adult alligatorweed flea beatle, on a cluster of leaves we found a pupa of the alligatorweed stem borer and on another the whitish thick larvae of that moth.  On one of the few intact spray of leaves we found a hungry alligatorweed flea beetle larvae eating its way up a leaf.

Photo 1 above is the designer designed alligatorweed flea beetle.   Photo 2 is a stem with a hole, either created by the beetle or the moth larvae we have yet to ascertain and above that section the spent stem section which interior had been eaten from the inside and vacated to dry up and die while the stem borer continued down the stalk, eating and vacating.  The last photo is of a pupa of the alligatorweed leaf borer.  We found the larvae of that species, too, but the photographs were too blurred to post.

We determined not to remove that patch in order to observe it over time to see how well the bio-control agents do their work.  And to understand better the life cycle of these two insects. Education over destruction.

On stands of alligator weed with these two agents in other waters, we have found small spiders and we have seen these spiders coming out out a larval case with a shrunken larvae within, like the nutrients and juices have been sucked up by the spider.  We have yet to get an ID for that spider.  We did not see any on that small patch of alligator weed.

The photo above is of a millipede — on a patch of alligator weeds, submerged in water.  Millipedes enjoy floating as much as we do.

In Hawaii, biocontrol agents did the job and then proceeded to become invasives themselves by expanding their appetites to native species, like native birds.  One would have  had to have slept through sciences classes from K through high school there not to have the dangers of insufficiently tested bio-control agents being  drummed into one’s subliminal zones.

We now don’t have to worry about logistics of removing the alligator weed.  We have a floating lab there.   Hopefully that alligator will find a better spot to bask as it gets larger.  We hate to have to scare it off to check on insects.

 

Those bloomin’ green fly orchids!

 

These little lovelies, the only tree orchids which grow in north Florida, are supposed to bloom in the early spring through summer.

We have yet to record a month when these are not blooming on Womack Creek.

We’ve seen increasing number of these orchids in other north Florida watery venues, so perhaps, something about the weather and growing conditions is encouraging their growth.  These orchids seem to be able to withstand hard frost.  But most live where water may moderate the temperature.

Still, nowhere else, have we seen them bloom constantly.

 

Womack Creek – over one month after Michael – November 18, 2018

It was one of the fabulous days:  going upstream with an incoming tide, returning downstream with an outgoing tide, no wind, the river was as still as one rarely sees.  The temperature was cool, but soon warmed up to 60, the sky cloudless, and there were always new things to see and experience on Womack Creek.

The Ochlockonee River is on the right, Womack Creek on the left as seen from put-in, the Womack Creek campground landing.

It was warm enough for the river cooters and the alligators.   The little juvenile who likes to hide in the alligator weed was there again.  The larger juvenile who is probably an adult by now has grown — will this creek be able to support it?  There’s always the Ochlockonee to Crooked River to the tributaries to move to.

At high water, we didn’t have to skirt around the trees which fell into the creek.  The forests in the creek were spared the tornadic destruction we saw in some areas along SR 65, less on SR 67.  But the cyclonic pattern of force was shown in the sweet bay tree below.

There were lots of birds in the area:  a flock of grackles which foraged loudly through the forest on forest floor and in the understory and, later, a flock of robins who chose to stay at understory height, also noisy.   A small flock of ducks have come early, always very skittish.  A pair of great egrets, a great blue heron, two hawks, a number of smaller birds, and the ever present kingfisher.  We were only able to photograph the grackle.

A sulphur butterfly and a skipper found slim sipping — only a few flowers were blooming:  clematis crispa, vining asper, Symmond’s aster and swamp sweetbells being the major blooms throughout the creek.  However, in one area, every year, a pinxster azalea bush puts out its blooms — the petals do not fully open, but it blooms.  And, it seems every month we visit the creek, we see at least one stem of green fly orchids in bloom.

The dahoon, yaupon holly berries are red; the American holly berries will be by Christmas.

It was a paddling day — no wind, the current with us, the right temperature and full sun.

How lucky can we in North Florida be?  To have such great places to paddle and be restored.

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 https://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 over 416,000 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 not quite 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?

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 nearly 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.  And some of the best identifiers are those who have lived with these plants and animals all their lives.

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, preposterous!  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 if posted an endemic species, one that has only been observed in a particular area and through the scientific filtering is found to be 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, Ochlockonee Moccasin Shell 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 adding to hundreds of others who are creating a huge data base.   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 –and they wouldn’t have gone into the wilds of Tate’s Hell State Forest looking for them either.  Are you skeptical about whether a species is threatened or endangered?  Well, if you see one, photo it and post.

This data base allowed, in Canada, the Alberta 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 or go hunting for a truly endangered mammal.  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 from 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 if your spouse or other or parent or children consider your penchant to photograph wild things, just tell them you’re practicing your civic responsibility by documenting what is around you:  that’s what citizen scientist means.  It’s not a gratuitous phrase.  Not if you share it on a site which is gathering data for future scientists to use.

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.