A tired loon

Tropical Storm Ida didn't hit here with the ferocity that was originally predicted, but it did churn things up for a while, and made things a bit more difficult for some of the animals that can't retreat into a house. This Common Loon, which may have recently arrived in Florida from its breeding grounds up North, had apparently been worn out by all the wind and churning water and worked its way up onto the beach, where it was exposed to predators. While I understand letting nature take its course, I decided to take this bird across the dunes to the protected bay side of the barrier island where the water was calm, and where there were many small bait fish for it to eat. Shortly after we released it, it began looking under water to search for food.

Common Loon (Gavia immer)
The placement of the loon's legs make it an excellent swimmer, but a very awkward walker.

Willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus)
Large shorebirds that are fun to watch

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
I've been noticing doves and House Sparrows like this one taking advantage of acorns that have been crushed by cars and pedestrians, when they might otherwise not be able to eat them due to their inability to crack the hard outer shell.

Our local treefrogs' breeding season ended a few months ago, and without the loud choruses it sometimes seems as though the frogs simply disappear for a few months. Fortunately, the frogs don't disappear, and it's nice to still see one once in a while.

Pine Woods Treefrog (Hyla femoralis)

Green Treefrog (Hyla cinerea)


Amorous feral hogs and some nice birds

I recently witnessed some wild boar (Sus scrofa) behavior that I hadn't seen before. I wonder what they could be up to...

Sarah and I went to Fort Pickens with our friend Don Ware to try to see the third Green-tailed Towhee ever to be reported in Florida. After a couple hours of patient waiting, this striking little bird tentatively emerged from the brush.

Green-tailed Towhee (Pipilo chlorurus)

Along with the towhee, we enjoyed seeing some other birds in the area.

White-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica)

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)


2009 October herping trip

My coworker and friend Brandon and I recently drove to Blacksburg, VA for our annual "Big Meeting" of Jeff Walters' various employees, grad students, and post-docs. As I've done in past years, I augmented the trip to and from Blacksburg and did some herping/hiking and visited family. I'll cover some of the highlights in the brief (ha ha) series of photos below.

These next four photos are of my favorite salamander of the trip.

Green Salamander (Aneides aeneus)

Green Salamander in damp rock crevice where it spends much of it's time.

Pigeon Mountain Salamander (Plethodon petraeus) in deep crevice, similar to Green Salamander behavior

Pigeon Mountain Salamander out on the prowl

Northern Slimy Salamander (Plethodon glutinosus)

This Allegheny Woodrat (Neotoma magister) was an amusing addition to our experience. It was constantly scampering past us, to and fro, as it gathered acorns to store for the winter. You can only see it's little snout with an acorn sticking out from under the log.

I wasn't expecting to find scorpions under logs at high elevations in Northern Georgia, so this made a good consolation prize in the absence of the salamanders I was hoping to find at this location. If anyone knows what scorpion species occurs in Chattooga County, GA, I'd be interested to know.

Adult Northern Red Salamander (Pseudotriton ruber ruber)

Showy Gentian (Gentiana decora)

Blue Ridge Two-lined Salamander (Eurycea wilderae)

Southern Appalachian Salamander? (Plethodon teyahalee)

Peaks of Otter Salamander (Plethodon hubrichti)

Dixie Caverns variant of Wehrle's Salamander (Plethodon wehrlei)

I'll only say we were driving in the correct lane...

I appreciated the similar growth forms of this Lycopodiella and Selaginella.

A curious White-footed Mouse (Peromyscus leucopus)

Valley and Ridge Salamander (Plethodon hoffmani)

Many-lined Salamander (Stereochilus marginatus)

Flash photo of Many-lined Salamander to show the thin lateral streaks for which this animal is named

Southern Dusky Salamander (Desmognathus auriculatus) This species has experienced one of the steepest declines of any amphibian species in North America in recent decades, and for reasons unknown in some areas that still have pristine habitat. I was glad to at least see a few individuals where we found this one.

Atlantic Coast Slimy Salamander (Plethodon chlorobryonis)

Chamberlain's Dwarf Salamander (Eurycea chamberlaini)

Carpenter Frog (Lithobates virgatipes)
This species of frog is one of the most closely related to Florida Bog Frogs, which we work with on Eglin.

On our way back to Florida, our friend Kevin was generous with his time, and took us out to see some of the areas where he works. There were many neat things to see, but my favorite was seeing Venus Flytraps (Dionaea muscipula) growing as a wild native plant instead of in little pots. Despite the approaching dormant season, many of them were looking quite attractive.

Venus Flytrap and Sundew (Drosera sp.); two carnivorous plants growing side by side.

Does "PHROG" = FROG? If so, I think we spotted some more amphibian lovers.

Among all the local food signs, this one seemed to boast some pretty exotic flavors...

Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina)

Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)

I just liked this shroom

Forked Bluecurls (Trichostema dichotomum)


A small but secretive snake

Yesterday, while in the field, I finally caught an animal that previously I'd only seen once, and then only momentarily before it slipped away into murky waters at night. The snake is a Gulf Crayfish Snake (Regina rigida sinicola). As it's name would suggest, it specializes on eating crayfish; specifically ones that have recently shed their hard outer shell. However, it opportunistically eats other things as well, including other aquatic invertibrates, fish, sirens, frogs, and salamanders. This species is probably fairly common, but just difficult to find.


Blue Thread (Burmannia biflora)

Blue Thread (Burmannia biflora)

I spotted two of these diminutive plants (<10 cm tall) in a cypress dome swamp in the Florida panhandle today, and have no idea what they are, or even where to look to find out. They were herbaceous with tiny (<2 mm) leaves near the base that are pressed against the stem. The stem has one branch just below the visible flower that supported what was presumably another flower, or the bud of what will become a future flower. The flower structures were in threes, including three light violet rounded vertical "wings" and three yellowish ridges surrounding an opening at the apex, which presumably is where the flower is pollinated. The stem and leaves have some green color, but this plant may be some sort of parasite. The conspicuous leaves in the photos are not part of the mystery plant, but are mostly Eriocaulon compressum, and the nearest shrubs/trees were Nyssa sylvatica. If you have any tips, I'm all ears.

UPDATE: My friend Stella figured this plant out for me. It's called Blue Thread (Burmannia biflora), and is a myco-heterotrophic plant, which basically means it relies on underground fungus for energy production and would not survive without the fungus. The growth form with little to no leaves for photosynthesis is usually a giveaway that a plant is relying on another plant or fungus. Neat stuff. Also, here's a neat website that is all about the Burmanniaceae family.

Southern Bluethread (Burmannia capitata)

Nodding Nixie (Apteria aphylla)

This species is also in the family Burmanniaceae, but unlike plants in the genus Burmannia, it has no "wings" on its flowers. Thus the genus name Apteria (wingless).