Ten Days of Little Celebrations – September 2016

This September includes some unique ‘little celebrations.’ Two of them occurred in Florida.

OSIRIS REx successful launch. This was only my second time to see a launch (Kennedy Space Center/Cape Canaveral). I can’t imagine that every launch I attend will not make it to the celebration list!

Pelicans. I don’t remember every seeing American white pelicans before…or if I did I didn’t realize what I was seeing. They were the highpoint of the drive around Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge for me.

Happy ‘what if’ thoughts. Both my daughter and son-in-law are close to finishing their graduate work and looking at post docs. September was the first month that there seemed to be a potential ‘what next’ and we all spun all kinds of ‘what if’ scenarios. The celebration will get bigger when we actually settle on a plan – which might not finalize until early spring 2017.

There were things that were not entirely unique – but not things that happen frequently either:

4 hikes with three and four year old children. I was very excited and keyed up while I hiked with each of the groups (about 10 children and 4 adults in each group) talking about trees in the fall and seeds. I celebrated when they were done (I was exhausted) but even more than I’d managed to connect. It was probably my best grandmother-in-training experience to date!

Stream assessment with high schoolers. Putting on boots…checking water quality…identifying macroinvertebrates….with high schoolers that are interested in what they are finding --- celebrating the fall day in the stream as much as I did.

Hummingbird moth. I’m not sure why – but I don’t see hummingbird moths all that frequently. I didn’t see one at all last year. And then there was one at Brookside earlier this month. Celebration (and lots of pictures).

Chipmunk in the garden. I heard some rustling noise in the dried leaves under then bushes then looked around….and saw the chipmunk looking up at me from the end of the drain tube from the sump pump. Yes – chipmunks are rodents…but they are the cutest ones as far as I’m concerned and I celebrate that they survive in my front flower bed.

And then there are the normal things that happen frequently enough…but that I still celebrate when they do:

A rainy day after a long string of hot and dry days. All the plants seem to be celebrating too.

Abundant fall veggies. I celebrate the amount – the colors – the flavors. The harvest time is a special kind of celebration.

Celebration being home. Every time I am away for a few days…or even a week…I celebrate returning. The ‘no place like home’ sentiment rings true for me.

Big Cat Rescue in Tampa

After spending most of our time on the Atlantic side of Florida (Cape Canaveral, Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island), we spend one day on the Gulf of Mexico side and took a tour of the Big Cat Rescue facility in Tampa. The morning was normal for Florida in September – hot and humid. Each tour participant had an earphone and player. The segments of audio were keyed by the tour guide as the group walked around the large enclosures where the big cats were housed.The cats looked comfortable – relaxed or walking around their enclosures. I tried taking pictures where the cage was not as obvious.

But even when the fence is in the picture – I liked the zoomed images of the individual cats.

Many of them had been abused prior to coming to the rescue facility. They at in their ‘forever home’ at this point and it is more lush than any zoo with lots of different parts to their individual enclosure and larger areas where they are taken periodically for ‘vacation.’

Many of the cats have had their claws removed which takes some of the bones of their feet and changes the way they walk.

Even the cats that looked like they were dosing, followed the group with their eyes. Were they picking out the weakest looking?

Whiskers seem to come out in more places than I realized before looking more closely at the pictures of the big cats.

Cats seem to preserve their aura of dignity even when they are in cage.

I enjoyed the tour more than I thought I would even though the stories of how the cats came to be at Big Cat Rescue was very sad. At least now there is a home for them…and an organization focused on reducing the number of big cats that are in such dire circumstances. Big cats are not pets or entertainment.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge – Part 2

Continuing on from yesterday’s post about the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge….

A plant community that becomes more evident the further south we drove is epiphytes with the Spanish moss being some of the most noticeable. But I took pictures of smaller ones as we walked around the boardwalk of the visitor center.

Flowers are always attention getters too.

Insects are even a bigger draw. Different kinds of bees were competing for flowers. The bumblebees are so big they usually drive the others away!

A long tailed skipper stayed put long enough for me to take a picture too.

The dragonflies looked similar to the dragonflies of Maryland.

We found a dead Polyphemus moth on the ground before we even walked into the visitor center. We perched it on a bush to photograph. It’s a male (large antennae to detect pheromone emitted by the females).

The seed pods on the button bushes in Florida look the same as the ones in Maryland.

And then there was a small tree in the pollinator with seedpods at various stages of maturity…and flowers too – obviously a legume.

When we got to the beach (the wildlife refuge abuts the Canaveral National Seashore), I noticed the sea grapes had color variation in their leaves and also had clusters of fruit.

These plants are planted on the dunes along the shore for stabilization.

There were a few gulls about but they were not as interesting as

The juvenile sanderling that seemed very interested in every piece of seaweed tossed up by the surf.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge – Part 1

While we were in Florida earlier this month for the OSIRIS-REx launch, we spent a little time at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge although it was too hot to spend as long as we did before and after the Maven launch back in 2013 (posts from November 2013: Roseate Spoonbills, Brown Pelicans, Alligators, Bald Eagles, Osprey, beach). The Black Point Wildlife Drive was not open until mid-September so we 1) stopped at the visitor center, 2) checked the Manatee Observation Deck and the Bairs Cove boat ramp and 3)drove down the Bio Lab Road….and saw quite a lot in a couple of morning hours. I had a hard time narrowing down the pictures I want to share so am doing it in two posts instead of one!

I didn’t see any alligators (it was warm enough that they were not basking on the sides of waterways…they are harder to spot when only their eyes are out of the water) but we did see some reptiles near the visitor center: cooter turtles

And a lizard (that posed on a sign!).

My attention was drawn to leaves. There are so many plants in Florida that don’t grow in Maryland.

And then there were the birds. The osprey seemed to be everywhere. Many times the white head fooled me into thinking the bird was a bald eagle until I took a closer look. One was precarious perched on a pine branch over water near the bridge over the haul over canal between Bairs Cove and the Manatee Observation Deck.

We saw another along the Bio Lab Road…with feathers ruffled from the wind.

The wildlife refuge is right next to Cape Canaveral…can you spot the heron is this picture with the Vehicle Assembly Building in the background? It’s just below and to the left of the building images…stating on a small island of vegetation.

Here its after I zoomed in as much as I could. It’s probably a Great Blue Heron.

There were tri-color herons as well.

Ibis were feeding in the distance.

But the American White Pelicans were by far the most numerous birds that we saw. They winter here and must have just arrived recently. There was a film crew on the Bio Lab Road that was filming the birds as a helicopter swept overhead and caused them to fly up several times. I got a reasonable picture of them in flight as well.

A little further along the road were some black vultures. We saw them soaring every day we were in Florida and, a few times, they were cheekily grouped on the ground. We stopped for them…let them go at their own pace.

More of my Merritt Island photography tomorrow ----

Morse Museum of American Art

On the morning before the launch, we opted for an activity in an air conditioned building: a visit to the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art. The museum houses a large collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany. It is located close to Orlando so convenient enough to where we would need to be later in the day to get on the buses to head to the OSIRIS-REx launch.

This was my third visit to the museum. The first time I was on a business trip and my meetings finished early enough to make a quick walk through of the exhibits before I headed to the airport.

The next time I visited was during the trip we made to Florida for the MAVEN launch. That time my husband and daughter were with me.

This time there were even more people in our group and it I became more aware that museums are enjoyed at different tempos. Of course – the first time through always takes more time.

One of the things I like about the Morse Museum is their brochures with information rather than a lot of labeling of the pieces themselves. Much of the time I enjoy just looking rather than reading…the blocks of texts can be distracting and detracting! But I like having the information available too.

I turned tourist in the gift shop of the museum and bought some earrings (my most common purchase when I travel) and some glass frames that are the perfect size for 3.5 x 3.5 Zentangle tiles. I like the dragonfly that is part of the museum’s logo too; it’s on the boxes for jewelry and shopping bags…gold on brown paper.


We were on bleachers at the Kennedy Space Center’s Saturn V facility to watch the OSIRIS-REx launch on September 8th.  OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Idenentification, Security – Regolith Explorer) is a mission to fly to, study, and retrieve a sample from the asteroid Bennu and return the sample to earth. The launch happened shortly after 7 PM at the beginning of the launch window on the 8th and the first day in its launch schedule. The clouds built up in the afternoon but were benign by launch time. The evening was still hot and humid – typical for Florida in early September. We arrived about an hour before the launch and watched the outgassing from the fueling process (the white plume to the right of the rocket).

The slide show below shows my pictures of the first minute of the launch. Even in that short period of time – I had to adjust the zoom to keep the rocket in the frame!

By 3 minutes after launch – only the drifting plume remained.

My husband took my favorite picture of the launch with distinct Atlas and solid rocket plums. Awesome!

OSIRIS-REx Pre-Launch Activities

Our first day in Florida was spent with check-in as a launch guest, a mission briefing, and touring the Kennedy Space Center. The check-in was at the ATX (Astronaut Training Experience) Center.

It was a busy place with people picking up the packets with a badge/lanyard, information sheets, a paper model, stickers, patches, and pens. We also picked up the tickets for the mission briefing.

We had previously signed up for the 12:30 briefing that would be held in the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center so we headed there as soon as we had our packets. We made arrangements for a bus tour in the afternoon and then had a quick lunch.

After the briefing we boarded the bus for a tour. We were able to see the OSIRIS-REx capsule atop its Atlas rocket (one booster) on the pad. We didn’t get as close as we did for the Maven capsule back in 2013.

The launch pad where the SpaceX rocket exploded recently was also visible.

We also saw some wildlife while on the tour: some cormorants and an alligator.

The next day we would come back for the launch --- the topic for tomorrow's blog.

Road Trip to Florida

We were in Florida last week – for the OSIRIS-REx launch and a few days of touring…more that in upcoming posts. The drive down from Maryland was done in an easy two days with a stop in Florence, South Carolina. The weather was hot so we didn’t stop for any of our usually outdoor activities. We retraced our steps coming back. The first day was very hot but the navigation system routed us to the Beltway around Jacksonville, Florida rather than saying on I-95 and we crossed the Dames Point Bridge. I managed to get my camera out and take some pictures of it.

It’s quite a sight.

I also liked the colorful mass of shipping containers just past the bridge.

We stayed in the same hotel in Florence, South Carolina on that night and I managed to get a sunrise photograph from the window. It was the only sunrise picture from this road trip!

The weather has cooled down a bit and the humidity was not so high for the last day on the road. We lingered a little at one of the rest stops – still in the Carolinas – and I took some pictures of a late blooming day lily

And some grasses swaying in the breeze catching the morning sun.

There was a dragonfly lying on the sidewalk – dead but still relatively intact. The plates of color on the abdomen reminded me of a Mayan turquoise mask.

The thorax was yellow green.