December 23, 2012

Leave Only Footprints...

I love a good picnic. I have a standard assortment of food that I bring on our trips--crackers, pretzels and crunchy peanut butter tossed in a tote bag, plus fruit, hummus, hard boiled eggs, cheese and my peanut butter-dark chocolate chip cookies in a cooler. My ideal picnic spot has to have a clean table, a slight breeze to keep the bugs away (but not actual wind that blows the food about), shade if it is hot and sun on a cool day, a good view, and not many people nearby. This combination isn't all that easy to achieve, but on our recent trip to Florida we found the perfect spot:

I will share my secret: it is the beach access at Eddy's Cove on Playa Linda Beach at Canaveral National Seashore, on Florida's Atlantic coast. A few hours here went by very quickly!

After lunch I had to explore the beach, which was nearly deserted. The first thing I happened upon was a Portuguese Man-o-War, tossed up with some seaweed but still inflated. 

This jellyfish-like creature is actually a colonial organism, made up of many individuals, each of which is highly specialized and incapable of living on its own. Its tentacles, the bright blue stringy object in the photo, can deliver a major sting, even after the creature is beached. They can't really swim, like jellyfish do; instead, they move with the currents, winds and tides. 

After poking around the Man-o-War, I noticed that nearly every clump of seaweed contained pieces of discarded plastic, which was very disturbing. Old sandals, bottle caps, jelly jars, and many other pieces of trash appeared wherever I looked. Discarded plastic basically never decomposes; it persists and often pieces are eaten, much to the detriment of the sea creatures that ingest them.

After this depressing observation I decided to check out the upper beach at the base of the dune. 

Dunes are essential to maintaining a beach, and the dunes along this beach were large and well-vegetated with sea grape, a grass called sea oats, and other plants. A sign near the picnic shelter explained more about the dune ecosystem. The vegetation not only stablizes the sand that makes up the dune, it shelters and nourishes a wide variety of wildlife including gray fox, raccoon, bobcat, spotted skunk, various snakes, and many others.

Mid-day is not the time to see any of these animals, but I sure would love to see a bobcat. I haven't seen one in years, since I lived in California, so we drove the roads in the area at dawn and dusk hoping to see one but having no luck. As I walked up the beach though, it became obvious that the sign was correct and bobcats definitely were hiding in the dunes, maybe even watching us!

How cool is that--bobcat tracks! Raccoons had also been prowling the beach:

Here is a fun picture: bird and bobcat side by side? 

Doubtful--the trouble with tracks is that unless you are a real expert it isn't possible to tell, without more evidence than this, who was there first, or if animals were anywhere near each other at any point in time.

Meanwhile, Bill was gazing out at the ocean, looking with good success for sea birds. 

We have been to this beach several times over the years and nearly always have successfully found spectacular Northern Gannets flying high and crash-diving into the water. 

Unfortunately even at high tide these birds are way beyond the ability of our photography equipment to get a good picture but they are readily identifiable in binoculars. It is amazing to watch them fold their wings back and plummet into the water to find fish, and then pop back up to go at it again. I did manage to take a digiscoped video that isn't great but might give some idea of how cool they are. You'll see an initial splash of a diving bird, and then another adult gannet comes into view and flies off.

Here is a shot of a patrolling group of Brown Pelicans:


We think these might be Ruddy Ducks:

All in all this is a wonderful place to have a picnic, explore and lose track of time!

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