Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Loggerhead Sea Turtle

I loved creating this painting.  It pulled me into incredible memories and even closer to an ancient vertebrate that has always stirred my intrigue.  
While visiting Brevard County, FL in June, I had the very special privilege of participating in two guided turtle walks to witness female loggerheads laying their eggs at the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge.  On one of these occasions I joined scout and Master Naturalist, Vince Lamb, as his 'assistant' in the search for nesting turtles coming ashore, an endeavor that was exceptionally beautiful in the light of a full moon. The roll of scout, in this case, is to spot turtles, alert leaders, and signal when it is safe for the group to observe.  While a female turtle is easily disturbed and may abandon her nesting efforts prior to egg-laying, once this activity begins, she is driven by biological influences that compel her to complete the task.
My good fortune also included pre-dawn beach walks with nature photographer, Jim Angy, who has lived on these Brevard County beaches and followed the lives of turtles all his life.  These walks enabled Jim to show me fresh tracks and nests of both Loggerhead and Green turtles before they were disturbed by daily activities, as well as, introduce me to a number of other wildlife that inhabit these sandy shores.
Loggerhead Sea Turtle tracks, leading to the nest and back to the ocean.

On one of these mornings we found a place where both a Loggerhead and a Green Sea Turtle had nested during the night, with one turtle's nest dig overlapping and disturbing the nest of the other.  The result was several dislodged eggs, some of which had broken and were already being fed upon by crabs.  
Female Loggerheads reach sexual maturity at approximately 30 years of age and return to their natal beaches to breed and nest once every two to four years.  Nests contain from 70-150 ping-pong ball sized eggs, and an average of four nests are made divided by two-week intervals.  Hatchlings emerge from the nests in July-October, 45-60 days after the eggs are laid, with both nesting and hatching occurring mostly at night.
Jim Angy at Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, sharing some of his knowledge about sea turtle nesting behavior evidenced by the tracks and sand disturbance they leave behind.

To give you an even deeper sense of wonder about these ancient creatures, imagine the hatchling's journey from nest to sea--a tiny being with a walnut-sized shell scrambling upward, among hundreds of other thrashing flippers, to reach the sand's surface and find the ocean, guided only by the light of an unobstructed sky for orientation.  This directional decision is the difference between life or certain death. Blair Witherington's fascinating book, Sea Turtles, An Extraordinary Natural History of Some Uncommon Turtles, gives a poetic description of this journey along with many intriguing facts and observations about our world's sea turtles.
Loggerhead Sea Turtles have been steadily declining and were federally listed as Threatened in 1978.  Within the United States, they nest principally in Florida and 25% of these nests are found within the 20.5 miles of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge.  The good news is Loggerhead nests increased during the 2010 nesting season, numbering 13,357 at the refuge, an increase of over 3000 from last year. Given the oceanic events of the past season, it is truly gratifying to hear some good news for a change.

Links and Resources:
A special "thank you" to Marge Bell of Space Coast Beach Buzz for arranging my turtle walks and the many outings I enjoyed with her talented naturalist friends
For more details about how this painting was created visit Painting a Loggerhead Sea Turtle--Part II
Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge and Sea Turtle Nesting Update
Blair Witherington's Sea Turtles, An Extraordinary Natural History of Some Uncommon Turtles
Jim Angy Photography
Vince Lamb

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Great Blue Heron at the Beach!

...good for a smile.
I so enjoyed this encounter with a Great Blue Heron during my Florida Space Coast visit in June as a guest of friend, Marge Bell of Space Coast Beach Buzz.  Along with me on this early morning beach walk was photographer Jim Angy, a playful, interactive and spontaneous nature enthusiast who has packed a life-time of experience and knowledge into his explorations of Brevard County's natural world.

For me, finding a Great Blue Heron on the beach came as a bit of a surprise.  I am accustomed to seeing them around the banks of rivers and lakes and hunting in wetlands.  But this heron was relatively desensitized to people and using his opportunistic instincts and innate patience, hoped to take advantage of a fisherman's activities.  I loved these images.  Herons have such expressive bodies and faces, comical at times.  But doesn't he/she look stunning against the ocean waves?  

To see a sampling of my Florida experiences in June, visit A June Slice of Florida's Space Coast and I hope to show you more of the detail soon.  To see my posts about my January Florida birding experiences visit Space Coast Birding. (The earliest posts will be found by clicking 'older posts' at the bottom of the series with most recent posts appearing first.)  You may also enjoy seeing my sketch of Great Blue Herons at the Rookery.

Also visit these related links:
Space Coast Beach Buzz
Jim Angy Photography

Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #112 to promote the conservation of our world's birds.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Water--One of Earth's Most Precious Resources

Fresh, clean water...
Those of us that have it are fortunate, so fortunate that we seldom think about it.  We need to.  Water is essential for everything in life.

Over two years ago, in June of 2008, when I arrived at my hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and began to settle my belongings into the room that would be my home for the next five days, I paused at the dressing table mirror to read the sign posted there.   (Click image to enlarge.)

I had to ponder the message.  I was in a high dessert.  Rain and ground water are not plentiful, especially in summer months.  The consideration of not having enough water settled on me slowly.

During my stay, I was mindful of turning off the faucet, of spending less time in the shower, of only pouring the amount of water I wanted to drink.

At the end of my stay in Las Vegas, I journeyed higher into the mountains to a remote camp on the edge of the Santa Fe National Forest for a writing and meditating workshop.  By design, the water used in camp, except for drinking water, was rain water and snow melt.  Light and heat were provided by solar panels.  Out-houses, two of them, were well maintained.  Showers were limited to three per guest during our four-day stay.  All of these things required adjustment.  But we had clean water to drink, clean water for preparing meals, and enough water for all of our needs.   
Cook cabin at Rose Mountain camp with wildlife pond in foreground.

Other people are not so fortunate.  Did you know that almost a billion people on this earth, one in eight people, do not have access to clean water?  Or that nearly 30,000 children a week, under the age of five, die from unsafe water and unsanitary living conditions?  Or even that 40% of American rivers and 46% of American lakes are too polluted for swimming, fishing or aquatic life?  These are just a few of the disturbing facts about our planet's water.    

There is always something we can do, each one of us in our own way, to help conserve, protect and share this precious resource.  This is Blog Action Day 2010 and the subject is:  Water.  Take a few minutes to visit some of the links below to learn more about our water problems and how you can help.

The Bottled Water Hall of Shame at littleorangeguy
Not Any Drop to Drink at Murrmurrs
More facts about everyday water problems:  Why Water?
Facts about Pollution and Ways to Help Reduce Pollution of water
News about cities helping our environment by Changing the Waste and Pollution of Bottled Water
The work of American Rivers

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Mississippi Kite and Matters of the Heart

I was introduced to a juvenile Mississippi Kite at the Raptor Rhapsody Festival at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, a bird that immediately melted my heart.  While you scroll through the images of this beautiful bird and enjoy his expressions, also imagine gentle peeps, vocalizations that were so soft that it was easy to miss them in the background chatter.     
He's called Miki, and his handler, Kathy, is a volunteer with Raptor Rehabilitation of Kentucky.  I wish I had more of Kathy in the image.  She was clearly smitten with this young bird, as well.  She described interaction with this kite as one of the many benefits of volunteering for a raptor rehab center--the opportunity to spend intimate hours with birds that are more often seen briefly and at great distance.
A day later at my exhibit table, I had a very pleasant discussion with a visitor who described his wife's blog, their connection with nature bloggers we knew in common, and their experience at the New River Gorge Birding and Nature festival in WV in 2008.  (I attended this festival in 2009).   It was not until this week, after seeing Kathy's post at Life, Birding, Photos and Everything, that I put this couple together and realized his wife and Miki's handler were one and the same!
Kathy explained that this juvenile is healthy but imprinted on humans.  On this morning at the festival, the wind was stirring and the juvenile repeatedly lifted his wings and spread them.  Kathy believed he was enjoying the feeling of the wind against his wings.  There was no doubt she was enjoying time spent with this beautiful bird.  

On the last day of the festival, the Raptor Rehabiltation Center of Kentucky released six rehabilitated American Kestrels and two Great Horned Owls.  What a happy outcome for their efforts!
Hard-shell gourd basket with pine-needle coiling displayed in my art exhibit at the festival

In addition to exhibits, there were many other programs on-going at the festival.  Brian "Fox" Ellis, a talented educator and performing artist, uses his stage presence to educate and inspire children and adults of all ages. I had the opportunity to witness his engaging portrayal of the naturalist and artist, John James Audubon, as he told stories related to his historic pursuit of birds in art.  To my delight, the story I witnessed was a Cherokee tale about a race between a hummingbird and a whooping crane, the tallest and smallest of our migrating bird species in North America.

It was also a great pleasure to present my own stories about bird encounters and the photography that brings birds closer to me and provides the detail and inspiration for my art.   One of those artistic pursuits resulted in the creation of Operation Migration's Whooping Crane Activity Book.  Thanks to Operation Migration's staff and volunteers, we were able to have these booklets available at the festival.  What a personal joy it was for me to hand these books to teachers and witness the expression of gratitude in their faces.  For this I owe a special thanks to both Operation Migration and Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

Click Operation Migration's Whooping Crane Activity Book to see more pages in this free resource for educator's classrooms and find links for ordering information.  The juvenile Whooping crane class of 2010 is about to embark on its first migration journey south behind ultralight 'parents'.  To follow this incredible journey, visit Operation Migration's Field Journal.  Also, especially adapted for students and teachers, visit Journey North's reports on the ultralight-led Whooping crane migration.

Click this link to see all my posts on the Raptor Rhapsody Festival at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

Related Links:
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
Mississippi Kite--Cornell
Raptor Rehabilitation of Kentucky
Life, Birding, Photos and Everything
Brian "Fox" Ellis--Fox Tales International
Operation Migration
New River Gorge Birding and Nature Festival

Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #111 to promote the conservation of our world's birds.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Raptor Rhapsody Festival--Cumberland Gap National Historical Park--Part II

Each time I go to a nature festival, like a walk in the woods, I come home with something new to think about--new information, new friends, new insights, new experiences with nature.  Exhibiting and presenting at a festival stretches that experience to another dimension, one that is especially heart warming and gratifying.
But before I leave my reptile exhibit neighbors, I want to introduce you to an Alligator Snapping Turtle, an incredibly prehistoric appearing creature that kept its keepers busy for three days.  Inhabiting mostly southern waters in the USA, this turtle weighed about 30 lbs though appearing much heavier, and seemed  intent on visiting the world outside his container.  Notice the star-shaped tissue around his eyes that gives the appearance of eye-lashes.  The hunting technique of this species of turtles depends upon camouflage and this  star arrangement breaks up prey's ability to recognize the eye.  
Peter Lindsey, handler from Kentucky Reptile Zoo, picked him up at the request of a visitor who was impressed by his long tail.  The automatic response from the turtle was to open his mouth wide.  Not a set of jaws I would want to accidentally encounter.
This is a defensive response but this same open jaw posture is also his hunting posture.  Peter explained that the worm-like appendage near the end of this tongue, technically called a 'vermiform', functions as a lure.  The turtle, who can stay submerged for three hours, holds his mouth open while at rest and the vermiform moves in the water acting as a lure to attract fish.  Snap!
His sidekick, a Gopher Tortoise, held in a separate dry container, had friendlier jaws and was a touchable exhibit member for the children (and plenty of adults).  Being located beside this exhibit kept me laughing.  I had forgotten how much kids love snakes and turtles!

Next post, a beautiful raptor with liquid eyes and a few other things that warmed my heart.

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
Alligator Snapping Turtle--Wiki
Kentucky Reptile Zoo

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Raptor Rhapsody Festival--new faces, new birds, and snakes!

I've just returned from the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park's three-day Raptor Rhapsody festival with a warmed heart, a satiated mind, and a renewed appreciation for the variety of ways people who love nature share that love with others.  
Above you see one of the bird-y characters circulating the grounds of the visitor's center, greeting students as they swarmed off buses throughout the school day on Friday.  Such energy and excitement!  And there to greet them were birds of all kinds, historical exhibits, nature exhibits, imaginative story-tellers dressed in character, a variety of educational programs, including a reptile exhibit from the Kentucky Reptile Zoo.  
An unexpected fun part of my experience and my closest exhibit neighbors for three days were a trio of pit-vipers--a Timber Rattlesnake (pictured above), a Copperhead and a Cottonmouth Water Moccasin (shown below).  
With a sturdy piece of glass between us, being nose to nose with a venomous snake doesn't take a lot of courage. In fact, it's reassuring to know more about these snakes, how to recognize them and what to expect from their behavior.    
The Cottonmouth, pictured above and below, appeared the most menacing, maybe because he moved around more and gave me better looks.  
They all have that characteristic wedged head and eyes with slit-like pupils rather than the more rounded pupils of a non-venomous snake.  The rattlesnake remained coiled most of the time, rattling his tail periodically, a soft sound that is important to recognize if you are out on the trail.
Timber Rattlesnake above

One visitor showed me a recent cell phone image he took of two Timber rattlers coiled under a rock overhang near the trail he was hiking in northeast TN.  The sound of the rattle alerted him.  He snapped the image and moved on.
I made a pact with their handler, Peter Lindsey, that if he would give me notice when he was about to take the snakes out of their glass display cases for their trip home each day, I would be sure and not accidentally bump into them!  As a matter of fact, I usually stopped what I was doing to observe and snapped these images, getting  some of my best looks at the Copperhead, who remained hidden under a plank most of the time. 
Once, while watching, I noticed how close Peter's hand came to the Copperhead while he was lifting the box lid, which was closed because the Timber Rattlesnake was already inside.  So I asked him why the Copperhead didn't try to bite him while his hand was within reach.  Peter's answer, snakes have no reason to go after anything as large as a human being.  They go after small mammals they can swallow and eat.  Their reason for biting humans, when it does occur, is self-defense and/or surprise.  

Next:  An Alligator Snapping Turtle and a juvenile Mississippi Kite      

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Ocean Trail at Palos Verdes Nature Preserve, California--2015

Ocean Trail at Palos Verdes Nature Preserve, California--2015

Bird-banding at Seven Islands State Birding Park--2014

Bird-banding at Seven Islands State Birding Park--2014
Photo courtesy of Jody Stone

Bird-banding at Seven Islands

Bird-banding at Seven Islands
Photo courtesy of Karen Wilkenson

Enjoying Gray Jays in Churchill!--2014

Enjoying Gray Jays in Churchill!--2014
Photo courtesy of Blue Sky Expeditions

Smithsonian National Zoo with one of my Whooping Crane banners and son, John--2014

Smithsonian National Zoo with one of my Whooping Crane banners and son, John--2014

The Incredible Muir Woods near Stinson Beach, CA--2014

The Incredible Muir Woods near Stinson Beach, CA--2014
Photo courtesy of Wendy Pitts Reeves

Me and Denali--2012

Me and Denali--2012
Photo courtesy of Bob King

For the Love of It...

...the sage sees heaven reflected in Nature as in a mirror, and he pursues this Art, not for the sake of gold or silver, but for the love of the knowledge which it reveals.
Sendivogius (1750)

Your Uncapped Creativity...

Your Uncapped Creativity...
"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action; and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. You must keep that channel open. It is not for you to determine how good it is, nor how valuable. Nor how it compares with other expressions. It is for you to keep it yours, clearly and directly." ----the great dancer, Martha Graham