A special place

"If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, it is a special place where I spend my afternoon."

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Monarch Migration

     The sky has been alive with butterflies since last week. It's the time of  year when the monarchs stop by the island on their way to Mexico. Usually they don't get here until October but I hear that the cold weather has hit a little early up north.( Sorry about that)  These particular monarchs are called Gulf Fritillarys. They're a smaller cousin to the monarch you're used to seeing. If there's anything blooming around the house, they're on it.
     This peninsula is a good stopping point because they can go to the farthest tip and catch a breeze that will carry them the shortest distance across the water to Mexico.
     Monarchs are the only insect that will migrate up to 2500 miles to get out of the cold weather. They don't like the cold any better than I do! But no single monarch will make the entire round trip. They only fly during the day so the trip may take two or three months and monarchs born the first part of the summer only live for about two months. But the last generation of the summer will live about seven months in a non-reproductive state and they're the ones that make the trip south. The second, third, and fourth generations will make the trip back up north.
     According to the WWF the monarch butterfly is one of the ten most threatened species of butterflies. There's about 20,000 different species. But the monarch's numbers are declining even more due to the lack of food and the pesticides being used on their nesting grounds.
    The over wintering population is also at an all time low due to the use of pesticides in corn fields and other places that you might find the milkweed plant. Milkweed is their main food source that gives them the strength and energy to make the long trip.  Loosing the pollinator butterfly is endangering native plants which in turn trickles on down to the food supply. This is just one of nature's delicate balances that we're interfering with more and more..
   When spring arrives along with warmer weather, the butterflies become productive and lay their eggs, and the trip back north begins. The fall migration to the south is made by one generation and the trip back is made by several generations.
   Here's the really unique part of their migration. The butterflies that fly south in the winter have never been to their winter home yet they'll return to the exact same tree or bush that the generations before them had been to. They have inherited these flight patterns from previous generations. It's still being researched but scientist believe that This, combined with using the earths magnetic field for orientation and the positioning of the sun in the sky for direction, they are able to get to the exact same place as generations before them.

      They truly are an amazing creature and beautiful to see in such large numbers I'm glad they've made St. George Island one of their stops.
    But they don't stay long. I started writing this post not even a week ago and the number of monarchs around the house and all over the island has decreased. It was nice while it lasted.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Trouble in the Bay

    Don't worry. This blog isn't going to become a "daily news" site, but I need to tell you about what has happened here. The oysters in the Apalachicola Bay and on down the gulf coast are dead. The people that have made oystering their livelihood for generations say there aren't enough oysters to harvest for them to make a living..
    Apalachicola is said to have the best oysters in the world. (I'm not a big fan but I've tried to acquire a taste since I live here and these are said to be the best). Franklin County, Apalachicola Bay, produces 2.3 million pounds of the 2.66 million pounds produced in Florida every year. But now the beds, or flats, are dead. This is devastating for the area.
    Local and state officials have stated many reasons for the high mortality rate. Too much salt, not enough salt, a parasite called dermo has festered in the mollusks, and the severe storms we've had have churned up the beds. All of these things are weather related. Bad weather and storms are nothing new to this island and the oysters have always survived. This was my first summer here but I was told it was very mild. The oysters shouldn't be dead.  
   .There is another probable reason for this disaster that is not being mentioned. The bp oil spill of April, 2010. It is debated as to how close the oil got to the island but it was not close enough to have a direct impact. But it couldn't be predicted at the time as to how close it would get, therefore officials opened up the entire bay for harvesting oysters. There was a sense of panic and the beds were probably over harvested but that would not have created the current problem. The shortage of oysters now comes from the fact that they're dead, not because they were over harvested and haven't had time to grow. Four out of five oysters are dead. 
    When the oil spill occurred, it took months for bp to get the huge leak completely stopped, so  chemicals were used to help disperse the oil. The quicker they could make the oil disappear the sooner it would be forgotten. At least by the people who don't live with it's consequences every day. Out of sight, out of mind. Well, more than likely those chemicals have reached Apalachicola Bay and are moving down the coast and killing the oysters. The shrimping in the area has also come to a halt. One chemical that is said to have been used is Benzine. If this is the case, these oysters aren't coming back and officials need to plan for the future.

     When I listened to the news today the governor stated that what has happened in the bay will just  have to "run it's course". Nothing has been said about reseeding the beds, analyzing the water, or collecting oysters for testing. The oyster men and the rest of the local community are feeling like mushrooms and they're having doubts about what they are being told. 
    Franklin Co. pays out less in unemployment than any other county in Florida. That's because most of the people here are self employed. They are without benefits and they can't collect unemployment. Families here have been oystering for generations and have no other skills to fall back on.
   Oyster season opened the first of September and you should see oyster boats blanketing the bay. Instead you will see one or two. This is the only place in the country where a pair of tongs and a little boat are used to collect oysters. It's done this way to protect the beds. It's a sad sight to look out and see the bay void of any oyster boats.

    The governor is asking for federal aid and trying to set up state funds to help these people when it seems maybe bp should be supplying the aid. If these chemicals are to blame for this disaster, the Apalachicola Bay is in trouble. I hope I'm wrong, but you do the math.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Kayaking on Graham Creek

     Last weekend I went kayaking on Graham Creek. It's a fresh water creek that runs with the East River into the Apalachicola River. Both flow through the Apalachicola Wildlife and Environmental Area. 
     It was a little windy but you wouldn't have known it on the creek. Both sides were thick with cypress and tupelo trees so the wind was blocked and the water was calm. Made for easy stroking.

 There were six of us all together counting Lissy and myself. Lissy was the guide for the trip and invited me to go and take pictures. Two couples from Alabama and Georgia had booked the trip with "Journey's", the charter boat business on the island. I was happy to accept the invitation!
    The tide was really high. At times the tide is so low, you can see the entire root system of the cypress trees.And the tupelo trees produce a special nectar that's used to make tupelo honey.

      This is the only place in the world that certified tupelo honey is produced. There are a few rivers in the area with tupelo trees but the Apalachicola River is the center for honey. The bee keepers will keep their beehives on platforms along the river during the tupelo bloom. Usually in April and May. In a good harvest year, the tupelo honey crop that is produced can be worth $1000,000.00. It's some good stuff! It has a light and mild taste and. the high ratio of fructose to glucose that it has keeps it from crystallizing  I highly recommend it.

      We probably only went about five miles. We took a few detours that ended up being dead ends but there was something different down every fork.. We ran into a couple fishermen that thought nobody would find them tucked away in the little cove they were in. Surprise! They weren't catching anything anyway so our intrusion was a friendly encounter
      The only wildlife we ran across were some huge spiders hanging in the trees. No bears, no gators, no worries.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Meet the Family

     I have a friend in Kentucky, this crazy sheep lady, (she really is a shepard) and she was a huge help when I decided to start this blog. She's been doing it for years. Because of her sheep farm she has a wonderful website too.(Punkin's Patch) Looking at her blog last night she showed me something else. Animal pictures are the best and sometimes the bigger they are the better. So I'm going to give my kids their five minutes of fame. Time to meet the family.
    Woody was raised in Kentucky but has been coming down here with me for 13 years. So he's pretty acquainted with the place and likes it a lot. In his younger years he would run down the beach and ride the waves like he was on a surf board. We'd walk everywhere on this island. Sometimes five miles just in the morning. But we have both aged, just a little, and we have slowed things down a bit. As much as we can with Ray around!
    Ray is now a ten month old puppy that I rescued on the island back in December. I was looking  to get Woody a new friend after I lost my beloved Sunshine. After 8 years Sunshine developed bone cancer and we had to say goodbye way to soon. But she was able to spend many years down here with us. And coming here without her was as hard for Woody as it was for me. So I set my sights on finding a new friend for both of us.  And along came Ray. (Ray of Sunshine). I was looking to get a dog from the shelter that was a little older. Maybe a year or so. But Ray came in the picture and it was a done deal. He has filled the void in a big way and Woody and I are glad to have him as part of our family.

    Ray would follow Woody every step of the way. Learning good habits for the most part. And learning to sniff out all the good spots to hunt squirrels, feral cats, or anything else that might run and be fun to play with.                                                                            The island is all Ray has known so when we made a trip up to Kentucky it was a whole new world for him. I could just hear him, " Damn, look at all this grass. This is great!" He got out into one of those fields on the farm and ran until he couldn't run anymore. Woody didn't understand the elation about the grass but he was excited to be there. He has been a good mentor for Ray. And has never relinquished his position as top dog.

"I don't think so"
    But I think he missed the water. It's without a doubt one of his favorite things. Anything that has to do with the water, he's all for it. My husband John, who you will get to know as time goes by, took Ray kayaking when he was a young puppy and there was no turning back. He was in love with the water
   Woody has always been the fisherman. He'll sit on the dock or in that boat as long as it takes to catch that fish. He'll have a stare down with the bobber and as soon as it starts moving, he starts getting excited. Whining, pacing, and waking me up to make sure I don't miss it!
     Ray is the beach bum. He knows the word "beach" as well as he knows "no"! And he's a real social butterfly. Some people appreciate his friendliness, others would prefer not to have a puppy tossing sand on their oily skin. Go figure. Don't they know it's "dog friendly" for "friendly dogs" here. And that he is. And to get to the crabs you have to do some digging. He would have had a grand time in my garden in Kentucky.
                                                       "Got Sand?"
I wanted to make all of these pictures really big. (But I'm not getting a whole lot of cooperation from my computer)  This was one of them. Woody enjoys life to the fullest and has taught me some very valuable lessons in his later years.One of the most important is to take my time. I've learned to stroll without getting impatient. At fourteen, Woody is steady, not fast. He does not get in a hurry. But he will do a quick step if I offer him a cookie and it's starting to rain. The way to Woody's heart is through his stomach. And a nice massage never hurts. This picture shows how truly happy he is and still loves being on top of the dune.
     So I hope you enjoy the pictures of my family. I am blessed to have John, Woody, Ray, and two cats you haven't met yet, in my life.
"Life is Good"

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Sunday at St Vincent Island

       I had a nice surprise over the weekend. My friend George, who is also a captain for Journey's, a charter boat business here on the island, came and got me down at the estuary to go over to St Vincent and look for artifacts. Because of the wildlife on St. Vincent, dogs aren't welcome. So I took the kids home real quick, grabbed some water, munchies, and of course mosquito spray and George was at the dock in 30 minutes to pick me up.
      St. Vincent is the last in a chain of four barrier islands in the Gulf out from the panhandle. There's Dog island, St.George island, Cape St. George, and then St Vincent. It probably takes about a half hour to get there by boat from St. George. It was a great day to be out on the water. It was like glass.Which was kind of surprising when the waves were crashing up on shore just a couple of days before.
The outer shell of a palm tree
that has been lifted up and out of the ground.
     The best time to go shelling or looking for anything else you'd hope to find on shore after a high tide is after a storm. Usually I'll ask George to take me over to Cape (Little) St. George to look for shells but he mentioned going over to St. Vincent this time to look for artifacts. We were hoping we'd  find some arrowheads but didn't have any luck. We did find pieces of pottery that were really cool.
     In the 1700's Creek and Seminole Indians lived on the island.  They were gone by the 1800"s and the island has been uninhabited since. In 1920 cattle were grazed on the island and sold at market in Apalachicola. In the '40's the island was given it's first oyster lease and pine lumber was being harvested. There was a temporary bridge built to transport the lumber.  Now the only access to the island is by boat.
     The Nature Conservancy bought the island in 1968 for $2.2 million. Then the U.S Fish and Wildlife repaid the conservancy with money made from Duck Stamp sales (that's a lot of stamps) and it was established as St. Vincent Wildlife Refuge.
     We didn't see any of the wildlife that lives there, but we did spot a bald eagle flying over. They have five or six nests on the island.. There's also endangered loggerhead sea turtles. Florida has the largest nesting population of loggerheads in the U.S..
      It doesn't help the loggerhead population on St.Vincent that the red wolf, also endangered, resides there too. In 1973 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife started a program to save the red wolf from extinction by placing groups on four different uninhabited islands.. St. Vincent and Cape St George were two of the islands chosen for the project.. It's because of this project that they'd  rather you leave your dogs at home. I believe both groups of fox are doing well. It's all the protein they're getting from the loggerhead turtle eggs!
      One other endangered creature living on St. Vincent is the indigo snake. It's the largest native snake in the U.S..  People seem to like them for pets and they'll bring big bucks at the pet stores. So human greed is their worst threat.
.  I'm happy with a few pieces of pottery.