Archivos de diario de octubre 2015

08 de octubre de 2015

Some Notes on a Vacation/Road Trip/mini-BioBlitz to South Florida

My wife and I just returned from a two-week vacation during which we had the opportunity to stay for about 10 days at a house near the beach on Sanibel Island, FL. This was our first visit to that area and I was ready and primed to turn our adventure into an ad hoc BioBlitz of sorts. We took three days to drive there from Austin and two gruelling days to race back home. Even at those freeway speeds, it has been intriguing to watch the steady shift of habitat types across the breadth of coastal southeastern U.S.

I managed to collect some iNat observations during the numerous fueling/restroom stops along the highways but the bulk of my uploads will be from our time on/near Sanibel. I’ve already uploaded a subset of easily identified and interesting observations from the trip, starting with a new moth record for Louisiana,
along with tidbits from the first few nights of blacklighting at the house, such as:
and a series of simple images of the tame birds on the beach and island like these:

But I actually took over 1,800 pics over the course of the trip and am just now organizing, cropping, and sorting through them to begin the main upload covering the journey. As I complete some of those uploads, I’ll add links to a few more interesting or characteristic items here in this journal entry, but I’ll introduce all of them with some general observations. I’m not sure in what sequence I will upload all the images; I may do some chronological uploads as I go through them, but I may concentrate on uploading a bunch of images in one taxonomic group and then move on to another group. The biggest upload will probably be the shells which we collected and which I documented thoroughly with photos. We identified at least 65 spp of mollusks and there are still more shells to sort through. Lastly, I’ll have a batch of plant images, some of which are common and obvious species and others I’ll need to get ID help with before or after uploading. It’ll be a long process over the next few weeks.

The “Convenient” Truth

As mentioned above, I took a few moments at each of our innumerable stops en route to glance at the windows and around the outdoor lights at convenience stores, rest areas, and at a few motel stops. Since many of these are 24-hour venues, they often have outdoor lighting or advertising signs that are on routinely and those provide a concentrating effect for a local array of insects. I always have my point-and-shoot camera on my hip while traveling (like any good Texan) so I’d occasionally alert the clerk at the convenience store with a brief phrase like, “I noticed some bugs at your windows there. I’m a retired wildlife biologist; would you mind if I took a few pictures of them?” I get curious, funny looks at times, but I’ve never been refused. A few times I’ve even gotten eager hints on which lights attract the most bugs, or someone directing my attention to an unwanted bug inside the window that they’d like removed. I’m not shy about wandering around a building with my camera in hand, but for obvious reasons I demur from hunting, photographing, or stalking around the women’s restroom side of any rest stop! I avoid pointing the camera at any customers inside or outside a building so as not to freak anyone out. I’ll also announce myself with the same introductory phrases to any security personnel at those interstate rest areas which have such staff. They have always been intrigued and helpful.

The results of this iNatting at roadside stops ranged from zilch to bonanza. They provided a minimal sample of the local fauna and of course were highly dependent on surrounding habitats, recent weather patterns, etc. For me as a traveler, such efforts provide the briefest of introductions to some of the regional fauna and flora as well as reminders of those species which are truly widespread and abundant such as the Armyworm Moths and Straggler Daisy.
Undoubtedly the biggest haul was a fortunate gas stop on our way home along Alt US 27 at a crossroads named “Tennille, FL” between Perry and Chiefland on Sun., Oct. 4, in the Big Bend of that state. The 24-hr convenience store there had many outdoor florescent lights and advertising signs in the windows. I immediately found 3 Imperial Moths, an Io Moth, two spp of sphinx moths, and a couple dozen more species. I photographed over 20 spp of moths, of which at least 15 to 16 were new to me. What a treat:

’Tis The (Best) Season

The opportunity to stay at a beach house on Sanibel arose in part because this is their off-season and the rainy season. We thought this was the PERFECT time to visit! Many of the resorts were near-empty, and most of the beaches were sparsely populated at any time of day. We missed out on just one restaurant (The Mucky Duck) which was closed for renovations at this season but all other venues were available, if sometimes on reduced hours. Sanibel is known not only for shelling but also for being one the most bike-friendly communities on the continent. We left the car behind on many of our jaunts (within 3 or 4 miles of home) and had bike paths mostly to ourselves. I hiked the Bailey Unit of J.R. Ding Darling NWR on a Saturday morning and had it all to myself for my two hours there.

Shells, Shell, Shells!

Sanibel Island is known as the shelling capital of North America and the reputation is well deserved. We went shelling a time or two, either casually or seriously, just about every day. It was the most popular activity along the many miles of beaches among residents and visitors. Even a slow day of shelling on Sanibel will net upwards of 20 or 30 common species, always with the possibility of turning up something unusual.
It is said that shelling is best during the few hours before a low tide and/or after storms. I’ll add that it is a virtual necessity to be out on the beach at dawn since the early shellers find the best prizes. On the morning of Tues., Sept. 29, my wife (and puppy) and I took advantage of a special shelling opportunity at Bowman’s Beach on Sanibel. This was right around the time of that Super Moon, so the tides were “extreme” for Sanibel. Moreover, there had been a strong line of thunderstorms which churned up moderately high surf the previous night. And the low low tide for the day was right after dawn. So we went trudging up the beach, getting drenched in the last waves of pouring rain—which our dog did not appreciate—and headed up to a section of Bowman’s Beach where the highest energy waves had thrown up a long, wide, and deep row of shells (a “tidal wrack” if I’m using that term correctly).
Shelling was phenomenal and it was coupled with an ad hoc wildlife rescue effort as hundreds of live Florida Fighting Conchs had been thrown up on the beach with all the dead shells. We sorted through millions of shells over a half-mile of beach, nearly throwing out our arms as we pitched the living conchs back into the surf.

Butterflies? What Butterflies?

Undoubtedly the biggest (negative) surprise of the trip was the derth of butterflies in South Florida. Aside from the occasional passing Cloudless Sulphur, I can almost count on one hand the total number of species we saw in 13 days in the area. Most days were at least partly to mostly sunny and there seemed to be at least sufficient floral resources in yards, along roadsides, and in the innumerable preserves to support populations of adult leps. Yet we were seeing maybe one or two species a day and there were few photographic opportunities:
I got goods looks at a single life butterfly (Monk Skipper) and probably glimpsed a Mangrove Skipper dashing by, but had no photo ops with those species. Local biologists attributed this lack of butterflies to it being the “rainy season”, a phenomenon I can understand. But still, even on our slowest days in Texas, we can dredge up 5 or 10 common species. I’ve had more butterflies on a Central Texas Christmas Bird Count in late December than what we found in SoFlo.

Similarly, blacklighting produced only modest results. I blacklighted with a small light and a white sheet on three nights in the backyard of the house where we stayed on Sanibel. The yard and surroundings are well vegetated with a mix of native and non-native tropical shrub and tree species with a weedy field adjacent and a freshwater canal immediately behind the yard. Yet I managed to attract probably less than 10 spp of moths over the three nights and precious few individuals. There were other bugs showing up (including the dreaded “no-see-ums”) but all-in-all the blacklighting was another disappointment.

Some Useful References

For a first-time visitor who didn’t want to shell out (…sorry…) big bucks for encyclopedic treatments of mollusks, etc., I found the following regional works particularly useful for helping to identify shells and other elements of the fauna and flora of Sanibel Island:

Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum. Undated. Seashells of Sanibel and Captiva Islands. (Laminated field card.)

Sobczak, Charles. 2010. Living Sanibel, A Nature Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Islands. Indigo Press, Sanibel, FL.

Witherington, Blair and Dawn. 2007. Florida’s Seashell’s, A Beachcomber’s Guide. Pineapple Press, Sarasota, FL.

Not as geographically relevant or comprehensive but still useful were these:

Gulf Coast Shell Club. 2014. Seashells of the Florida Panhandle, 2nd ed. Gulf Coast Shell Club Publ. 2, Panama City, FL.

Proctor, Noble S., and Patrick J. Lynch. 2011. A Field Guide to Southeast Coast & Gulf of Mexico.

The standard field guides such as Morris’s Peterson series, “Field Guide to Shells of the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts and the West Indies” proved to be too comprehensive and confusing. The Witherington guide, above, was well focused for our needs.

Publicado el octubre 8, 2015 02:14 MAÑANA por gcwarbler gcwarbler | 53 observaciones | 8 comentarios | Deja un comentario

24 de octubre de 2015


I’d previously written an overview of our visit to South Florida:
including an introduction to some of our experiences shelling on Sanibel Island. I recently uploaded a few teaser observations of “mollusks” in order to describe what it was like to do some serious shelling at that world-renowned location.
Now it is time for the nitty gritty. I have taken advantage of a rainy spell here in Texas to finish the cropping, editing, and identifying of several hundred mollusk images. In rapid succession, I’ll now be uploading those observations.

Within Sanibel Island, sites where we did major shelling efforts included Blind Pass, Bowman’s Beach, and along West Gulf Drive near our residence. We made smaller collections at Gulfside Beach City Park, Lighthouse Beach Park, and on the Causeway Islands. We studied mollusks (and all other life forms) wherever we were so I have additional images of various species on the mangroves of Ding Darling NWR and even on the Calusa Indian Shell Mound Trail there.

Identifying all the shells has been a huge learning experience for us. I have some basic familiarity with shell families from my decades on beaches in California, Texas, and elsewhere but a great many of the species on Sanibel were new to us. As I previously mentioned, the handiest local published guide has been “Florida’s Seashells, A Beachcomber’s Guide” by Blair and Dawn Witherington (2007, Pineapple Press, Sarasota). A major reference here at home has been my recently-purchased “Encyclopedia of Texas Seashells” by John W. Tunnell Jr. et al. (2010, Texas A&M University Press, College Station). The detailed technical information in that comprehensive work is invaluable since probably 90-95% of the common shells we encountered in Florida also occur in Texas waters; the taxonomy is just a bit newer and updated as well. I’ll defer to whatever taxonomy iNat is currently following. I’ll be adding a few English common names from the above-referenced sources as appropriate.

The most relevant online resource for shell identification might be Jose H. Leal’s “Southwest Florida Shells with Emphasis on Sanibel & Captiva” hosted by the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum site at: That site is more comprehensive than the Witherington guide, but it’s not particularly user-friendly. You can search through 330+ species images about two dozen per page, but if you want to focus in on a group, the only “filters” available are by Latin family names; thus you’d need to know the scientific family name you’re seeking. A simpler search function is desperately needed there.

At latest count, we’ve identified upwards of 80 species of mollusks from our Florida trip and there are at least a half dozen remaining to pin down. Excluding a few applesnails here and there and a Cuban brown snail on the house, all the remaining animals are from saltwater or brackish habitats at Sanibel. I don’t yet have a breakdown by classes, orders, or families, but the findings were very diverse, ranging from the Atlantic abra (Abra aequalis) to the aforementioned non-native land snail (Zachrysia provisoria).
Where we searched, mostly on sandy outer beaches, bivalves far outnumbered gastropods. The biggest shells on the beach were invariably the innumerable stiff pen shells (Atrina rigida), unbroken examples of which ranged up to a foot or more in length,
down to a 1.6-mm snail I just found in a sample of beach sand which might be something in the genus Odostomia:
I have a bowl-full of small bivalves in the 5 to 10-mm range yet to be identified and I am still sorting through a cache of shell and sand debris to look for more micros. (I think a good dissecting microscope will be on my Christmas wish list.) All images will be shown with a mm rule adjacent to the shells to gage size. Most of the shells were photographed against an array of colorful beach towels, the most convenience backdrop at our disposal; a few are photographed in situ on the beaches or in the swamps. All were photographed with my little Canon point-and-shoot SX120 IS in macro mode with soft flash. Many images which were made outdoors on cloudy days or indoors have needed a little brightening and color balancing before being uploaded.

The sequence of uploads may seem random with respect to species groups, locations, or dates, but there actually is a method to this: I have labeled all my (identified) images with the scientific name of the shell and arranged the collection of images in an album on iPhoto alphabetically by scientific name (genus-species). I’ll generally be going straight through that album to upload images to iNat. That means the observations will jump around the various locations on and near Sanibel where we collected and may be from collections made anywhere from Sept. 22 to Oct. 1. The dates of observations on iNat will reflect the actual collection dates, to the best of my remembrance. (I have the precise collection dates for virtually all the shells, but in some cases, due to vacation activities, I didn’t get around to photographing a batch of shells for a few days.)

I hope everyone will enjoy this array of molluscan bounty from Sanibel!

Publicado el octubre 24, 2015 02:09 MAÑANA por gcwarbler gcwarbler | 78 observaciones | 3 comentarios | Deja un comentario