I've always enjoyed milkweeds. I remember breaking off the developing seed pods as a child and seeing the white, milky sap flowing from the break. Because I really enjoyed butterflies while growing up in Minnesota, making the connection between milkweeds and Monarch Butterflies (Danaus plexippus) solidified milkweeds' place in my mind as a noteworthy type of plant. The following species are ones I've found around where I live and work in the Western Florida panhandle.

Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Clasping Milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis)

Longleaf Milkweed (Asclepias longifolia)

Largeflower Milkweed (Asclepias connivens)

Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata)

Pineland Milkweed (Asclepias obovata)

Carolina Milkweed (Asclepias cinerea)

Pinewoods milkweed (Asclepias humistrata)

Michaux's milkweed (Asclepias michauxii)

Savannah milkweed (Asclepias pedicellata)


Assorted goodies and more cool snakes

Though busy with stuff, I've still been fortunate to see some cool things recently. High on the list is my first fully-grown adult Reticulated Flatwoods Salamander.

Adult Reticulated Flatwoods Salamander (Ambystoma bishopi)

Adult Mole Salamander (Ambystoma talpoideum)

Dwarf Salamander (Eurycea cf quadridigitata)

Three-lined Salamander (Eurycea guttolineata)
This one was found by Sam, our seasonal hire working on birds, who has a great eye for spotting cool things like this.

Pine Barrens Treefrog (Hyla andersonii)

Pine Barrens Treefrog eggs in shallow acidic pool

This next one is a really special one. It may not be quite as rare as some of the other species I've gotten to see, but it may be one of the more difficult to find. My friend John spotted this in the Eastern panhandle of Florida. Because there aren't many photos of this species available online, I've included a few different angles here.

Mimic Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus mimicus)

Mimic Glass Lizard

Mimic Glass Lizard

Mimic Glass Lizard

What a shame that so many folks hate snakes. Every time I see a snake that I don't see very often, I'm reminded of how much amazing diversity of form and habit there is across even our local snakes in the Southeastern US. Here are a few that I've greatly enjoyed seeing in recent weeks.

Southern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor priapus)
Though quite common to see, this species deserves an appreciative closer look once in a while. I love the simple elegance of shiny black, combined with acute eyesight and impressive quickness.

Queen Snake (Regina septemvittata)
This is the first of this species that I've found. This one was basking over one of our beautiful, clear, sandy streams. Like all other species in the genus regina, it specializes in eating crayfish. Thanks to John for encouraging me to take a closer look at these photos, as I had assumed any crayfish snake around here would be Gulf Crayfish Snake (Regina rigida).

Southern Hognose Snake (Heterodon simus)
This is only the second one that I've been fortunate enough to find. I think Sturgeonnose snake would be a better descriptive name, but doesn't really roll off the tongue too well.

Southern Hognose Snake feigning death

Juvenile Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus)

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake in short grass, showing how well they can blend in with even a little bit of vegetation as cover


Beautiful systems vulnerable to oil

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to assist some biologists in collecting blood samples from Brown Pelican nestlings, and to help survey for Ornate Diamondback Terrapins. The Brown Pelican was recently removed from the endangered species list, and terrapins have experienced steep enough declines to elicit proposals for endangered status. Both of these species rely on a healthy coastal ecosystem for their survival. If oil covers their habitat, they have no where to go.

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) on nest

Brown Pelican nesting colony with Gulf of Mexico in background

Brown Pelican nestlings

Male Ornate Diamondback Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin macrospilota)

Female Diamondback Terrapin swimming in shallow water

Female Diamondback Terrapin with barnacles growing on shell

Marsh Periwinkle snails (Littorina irrorata) that make up large part of terrapin's diet

Oil on our beaches

Like countless others who live along the gulf coast, along with many who don't, I'm feeling pretty lousy about what's been going on with BP's runaway oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. I don't really know who to direct my frustration towards, since I am a part of this society that demands so much oil to continue our way of life.

As long as the oil was washing up on shores other than those that I can see, it still felt somewhat surreal to me. A couple days ago, nearly two months after the oil rig sank on April 22, Sarah and I finally saw mats of oil sheen and tar balls that have begun washing up on our beaches in Okaloosa County, FL. I feel thankful for the delay we enjoyed with clean water and beaches, but now have begun feeling a sense of dread at how fouled things will become as this mess plays itself out.

Beach within walking distance of our apartment pre-oil

Tar balls amidst oil sheen washed up on beach

Random boom ready to be deployed at a city park

A short video of the clean surf on the sand