Spotted Sea Hares

I am in awe of the diversity and just plain bizarro nature of many of the ocean animals easily (and some not so easily) observed on any given day.  Went for a short walk along the bayfront earlier this week and discovered a couple of squishy-looking somethings caught in the tide line.   After a bit of research, which included asking a very knowledgeable source “what the heck is that”  I can safely say these animals are spotted sea hares.

Sea Hare

Sea Hare

Sea hares are in the mollusk family – related to snails, slugs and nudibranchs.  That’s the simple explanation. Why they are called hares, however, remains a mystery.  One story says when first observed, the animal reminded that person of a hare.  Say what?  Of course there’s also the story that says early sailors mistook manatees for mermaids…so I’m thinking that possibly a lot of rum was involved in both observations.

These animals really look more like a slug than a rabbit.  Their shell..if they have one, is internal and not fully developed.  Wing-like extensions along the foot propel the sea hare through the water as it swims. It feeds on algae.

In the spring, the hermaphroditic sea hares move into the shallow bay waters to breed, deposit their eggs in the seaweed and grasses, and then die.  There were two sea hares washed up on the bayfront after a few days of warm I’m guessing this may be an early sign of spring. Life is sometimes weird…but good.

Frost on the Turtles

Whoa! If this keeps up I’m moving to Florida..oh wait,  this IS Florida.  But there was frost in the grass outside my window this morning! There is something definitely wrong with that picture.  Fortunately, because this is the Sunshine quickly warmed up into the 70s today, so a friend and I headed out to Jelks Preserve for a hike.


Neither one of us had been to this preserve before.  After a quick look at the  map we started on the 3-mile loop trail. This is a lovely preserve, part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, with a variety of habitats.  Oak hammocks, scrub and pine flatwoods least this time of year when little rainfall dries up the marshes and wetlands. The preserve is part of the Myakka River watershed.


There are 614 acres in this preserve, with about 8 miles of trails.  We apparently took a wrong turn somewhere, because our 3-mile loop turned into about a 5-mile loop before we made it back to the parking area. But if we hadn’t done that, we would have missed this little fellow, soaking up the sunshine:



I’m not really up to speed on land turtles (I must say, I’m pretty good on sea turtles!) but I think this one is a Florida red-bellied turtle…found only in Florida.  That makes it a little more special.  I did not handle the turtle so did not really do a close inspection, but the descriptions seem to fit.


And of course, we came across a couple of armadillos…nice to see them on their feet and walking around instead of belly-up in the road.  Sadly, the little buggers are all too often the victims of speeding cars.


After hiking around black bear- infested NJ for a few years, I found myself in the habit of keeping a watchful eye out into the palmettos and on the trail ahead.  Actually, there are black beasties in Florida..but in this area they are porcine.  Non-native, wild hogs populate much of the area preserves.  They root through the vegetation, causing a lot of damage and destruction to native plants.  We didn’t encounter any hogs, but the whole length of the trails bore evidence of their recent diggings.  In a few that we saw, the deeper ruts still had wet sand in them.

We had a great day and plan to return here spring rains restore the marsh and wetlands.  Life is good.


ImageI’m not sure what’s happening with WP, but this post appeared out of sync with the dates.  Posting again and apologies to those receiving notifications twice.

You have to love storks.  They are so darn  homely –  but in a good way.   The ability to get close to the wildlife is one of the perks of life in Florida.  The animals are used to people gawking at them and stand unafraid, allowing close encounters.  Fishermen on the beaches must keep a close watch on bait buckets and catches; herons, gulls, and pelicans stalk the beach, inches from the fishermen, waiting for the opportune moment.

My sister observed a stork sitting on the grass with it’s legs stretched out in front, feet up, like a person.  Fearing the stork was injured, she was relieved (and a bit surprised) when the bird stood up, stretched, and walked to the pond to join the others. Awkward as they appear sometimes, there’s nothing quite as graceful  as a group of storks in the air.  All white, with black wings and a dark head..they soar with the grace exhibited by most seabirds and raptors.

These handsome Wood Storks were soaking up the morning sun next to the retention pond in the center of a parking lot.  They never flinched as I stopped the car, cut the engine, rolled down the window, and took the photograph..all from about 10 feet away.  Hopefully they will revert to more wild ways when they venture somewhere else.

New Year Shelling

I stopped at one of my favorite places on my way home from my sister’s house yesterday morning, and was pleasantly surprised by a pile of shells on the beach.

nokomis0114We’ve been having several days of onshore winds, which increases the surf and chances of finding some good stuff.  Good stuff indeed!  This stretch of beach, and in particular where the surf (such as it is on the Gulf…usually very mild or flat) hits the rock jetty, almost always has a pile of shells.  I have a nice collection of shark eye moon shells from this very spot.

nokomisshells2But yesterday I hit the jackpot!  I spent about half an hour sifting through beached shells, several feet deep.  Assorted clam and cockle shells, ribbed arcs, mossy arcs,  sweet little ribbed cantharus, bits of coral, olives, tulips, scallops, a tiny moon shell, and lots of holy stones.  I found four fighting conchs…two with animals still inside, so I tossed them back into the water as far as I could.  All in all, not a bad way to spend the first day of the new year. Life is good.



Home at Last and Back to Natural Notes

It’s official…I’m home at last.  Home in Florida again. It’s been a tough year in many ways, and there’s no need to go into all the gory details.  Suffice it to say I’ve relocated once again (this time, permanently I hope) in sunny southwest Florida.  I am refreshed, renewed, and excited about a new life, new prospects and of course…no more icy cold winters!

North Jetty, Nokomis

North Jetty, Nokomis

I’ll be  working on Natural Notes regularly now…sharing some of my adventures and observations.  There will no doubt be a lot of posts on marine life and beach living.  Aside from that…who knows?

Thanks to all the readers who keep checking this blog, and who still leave very nice comments on even some very old posts.  Much appreciated.

Happy New Year everyone!

Howling Coyotes and Ignorant Neighbors


Sunning Coyote Photo by Richard Spencer

There are coyotes in them thar woods.  For the past few weeks now, the coyotes have been singing – their yips and howls echoing down the canyon walls of Lake Cumberland and causing our dogs to bolt out the pet door into the fenced yard, barking and bristling at the hoodoos in the woods.  I love it.

Not everyone around here thinks the same as I do though.  One of our neighbors stopped by last night to chat with my hubs, and talked about how the coyotes were getting out of hand.  Too many of them, killing off the deer.  Really?  Is that really the case, or are you just a less-than-adequate hunter?

If one is lucky enough to either stay up all night (hardly) or be a very light sleeper who sleeps with her window open a few inches, no matter how cold it is, so she can hear the night sounds outside – and if one really listens  to the wild, wonderful serenade, one would be able to discern there are maybe five or six voices in the two,  rarely three – groups that are singing.  Granted, there may be several groups that don’t all call at once, and there’s no way to really know how many are out there – but I don’t think we’re surrounded and outnumbered by a population “out of hand.”  It’s also important to remember that these are coyotes,  not wolves, not cougars…and they pose no threat.  They most assuredly are not taking down full-grown deer.  There are plenty of those around here too; they probably outnumber the coyotes.

It’s winter – so there are no newborn fawns, which coyotes will take if they can. But coyotes are omnivores, eating whatever they can find.   This bunch of canine ruffians are more likely to be feeding on mice and voles, rabbits,  flying squirrels, skunks, insects, groundhogs, carrion, nuts, chipmunks, and yes, feral cats – though around here there’s a tree about every two feet so any cat with half a brain could save itself.  There is no shortage of feral cats around here either.  If you really think about it, coyotes prey on many of the animals people complain about having around in the first place!

Some coyotes will prey on farm animals like chickens, sheep and goats when the opportunity is available to them, but this usually happens when wild food sources become scarce.


As a matter of fact, another neighbor, about half a mile away through the woods behind our house, has a goat farm – for several years now.  I asked her if the coyotes have been a problem – especially since they have goat kids every spring – and if she puts them in the barn at night to protect them.  Nope.  No coyote problems, not even an attempt.  The coyotes sing all around the goat farm, but apparently prefer rodents to ruminants.

We live in the Daniel Boone National Forest, for Pete’s sake!  Personally, I feel privileged to be able to hear the coyotes at night, and have been known to leap out of bed and bolt out the door with the dogs (though I use the people door) just to hear them singing.  In a world gone crazy, it’s actually one of the most reassuring sounds.  It tells me that, at least in this particular place, all is right with the world, and all is as it should be.