Cook’s Beach Horseshoe Crabs

We went to Cook’s Beach twice during the  Cape May Spring (birding) Festival.  It’s a Delaware Bay beach and there were lots of horseshoe crabs both times. They were there to mate and lay eggs. There were groups of males gathered around females all along the beach.

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Sometimes the groups are tossed around as a group in the surf.

The creatures are so odd looking with their tank-like shell and spikey tail….and the leggy creature under the shell.

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Sometimes they are legs-up in the sand and use their tails to turn themselves over!

The crabs sometimes get high up on the beach behind rocks…tangled with other crabs. Hopefully they will find their way out and back to the sea or over to the beach to find mates.

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They are awkward on land and at the edge of the sea.

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But more maneuverable than I expected. I took a series of pictures that shows a horseshoe crab making tracks heading back to sea.

In general – the older the crabs, the more barnacles. Evidently the barnacles are not just on the top of the shell either.

Some of the crabs were dug into the sand until the next high tide…and some had been tagged.

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Tomorrow I’ll post about the birds we saw at Cook’s Beach…enjoying a feast of horseshoe crab eggs before continuing their migration.

Zooming – May 2019

It’s the end of the month – and time to select some images that I utilized the zoom on my camera to capture. I took over 2,000 images in May and at least half of them used that feature – so I had a lot to choose from.

There are quite a few birds in the slideshow this month. Can you find: red-winged blackbird displaying its colors, oystercatcher on the beach, laughing gull, least tern on a barrel, osprey on their nest, peregrine falcon with chicks, and several crowds of shorebirds. The bird feet are those of a mockingbird.

There is a painted turtle, ghost crab and horseshoe crab in the mix as well.

Enjoy the May slideshow!

Ten Little Celebrations – May 2019

May has been a busy month with travel and prep for more travel…lots of volunteer gigs and home maintenance too. As usual – it was easy to identify something to celebrate each and every day. Here are 10 that I’m highlighting for the month.

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Plantain chips. I made my own plantain chips using a plantain from the conservatory at Brookside Gardens. It was a spring celebration of Thanksgiving – good food from a local harvest.

Caterpillar on the hickory. I was hiking with second graders looking at habitats…and what lives in them (paricularly insects). When we came to a young hickory tree that had been planted on earth day, it had some holes in the leaves. It was a small enough tree that we could carefully look under the leaves…and we found a caterpillar! It was one of those serendipity momets…the children were pleased with their find and I celebrated sharing their experience.

Clean car mats. My husband and I both took the mats out of our cars and hosed them off – no more salt and mud that had accumulated over the winter! We picked a sunny day so they could mostly dry out in the driveway after we hosed them off. I am celebrating a cleaner car interior.

Good weather for 4th grade field trip. Earlier in May we were having a lot of rain…and I wondered how the back to back field trips were going to dodge the deluge. At this point I am celebrating not having a single rainy day field trip (even thouh I am prepared with a super rain poncho). The 4th grade field trip was a close call….it didn’t rain and we managed to step around the mud puddles.

A whole day at home. Between volunteer gigs and travel, there were very few days that I could just be at home. When it happened – I celebrated the day to recouperate.

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Horseshoe Crabs. I had never seen horse shoe crabs in action like I saw in Cape May. They are recovering after overharvesting….an ancient creature filling its niche in the web of life. Something to celebrate.

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Light on flowers. I missed most of the azaleas blooming this spring…but managed to get some spotlighted in the dappled light along the path near the stream at Brookside Gardens. I celebrated the photographic experience.

Pre-schoolers are Belmont. I’ve only managed to do one field trip with pre-schools so far this season. What fun they are! I talked to them about trees. We pretended to start out as seeds and grow into a forest…then have the breeze ruffle out leaves (fingers)…and then we talked about trees and wind. Some groups fell down in a heap when the really strong winds came! It’s easy to celebrate the outdoors with pre-schoolers.

Rainy day with butterflies – Mother’s Day. It rained on Mother’s Day and the morning started slow in the Wings of Fancy conservatory – the butterflies weren’t very active and there were not early visitors. I celebrated by taking some butterfly pictures with my phone. And then the ramp up of activity began. It became a busy morning.

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White morpho butterflies. The brilliant irridescent blue morphs are probably the most popluarl butterflies in the Wings of Fancy exhibit. I celebrated the butterflies that are new or not quite as common. The white morphos are one of the special ones I’m celebrating this year.

Port Canaveral Boat Tour

After we picked up our registration material for the Space Coast Birding Festival, we went out for lunch then headed to the Kelly Park dock for a boat tour of Port Canaveral. It was a pontoon boat with bench seats. Shortly after we sat down – it started sprinkling then raining harder. We got off the boat to stand in the drier picnic pavilion in the park. The wind was blowing enough that we had to stand well under the pavilion roof.

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I took a picture of a little blue heron that did not seem bothered by the rain and wind at all.

Then the rain stopped, the seats were dried off and we headed out only about 15 minutes late. I took some pictures of barnacles around the dock area.

We saw evidence of manatee in the water….the flat circles of water as they swim along…and then the tips of their noses when they come up for air. The ‘slow speed’ signs did indeed mark areas where there were manatee in the water.

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We saw birds along the canal before we got to the locks: anhinga,

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Great blue heron (looking scruffy from the recent rain),

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Osprey,

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And double crested cormorants.

We entered the lock and tied up.  I took some brown pelican portraits while we waited.

Then the gates started to open.

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The pelicans road the little water wave as the water leveled…and one took flight.

There was an immature brown pelican outside the lock area. The light on the water was perfect.

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The high point of the trip was a frigate bird soaring overhead. I just watched it. My husband got the picture.

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There was a cruise ship and the SpaceX barge (used for rocket recovery) in Port Canaveral itself. I was more interested in bird pictures…so didn’t document those sights.

We headed back through the lock. I turned back to take a picture of the white pelicans grouped on the bank and

The horseshoe crab shells that accumulated to the side of the lock.

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I managed to take a picture of a bald eagle just before it flew way…a good ‘last picture’ before we docked back at Kelly Park.

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Fishmobile – Take 2

My first experience with the Fishmobile was back in April at an elementary school in Carroll County (posted about it here). I got an email just after I returned from Texas asking if I could help with the Fishmobile’s visit to a nature center near where I life for a weekend event. I still had committed to anything else so I accepted. The day started out well when I checked the milkweed in my front flower bed and found a good-sized Monarch caterpillar!

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The day was not too hot and my ‘shift’ was from 10-12 when the temperature was in the mid-70s. Most of the animals that were there for the school were in the tanks again: horseshoe crabs, Larry the diamond backed terrapin, a blue crab, and a box turtle.

The American eel was silvery and was more active this time. The only thing I missed from last time were sea horses but there were some preserved ones to talk about with the families that came through. In the two hours I was there, almost 200 people came through. Some of the children came through the exhibit several times (after they built up their courage to experience the two touch tanks).

During one lull I stepped off the Fishmobile bus and photographed some bees on the plants just outside. The bees were very active and focused on the flowers…not flying amongst the people coming to the Fishmobile.

After my shift was over, I walked over to the compost demo and filled out the form to get a free compost bin. After the tour yesterday and further education today, I am going to do my own compost. My plan it to put the bin back near the forest and start it off with some shredded paper and veggie/fruit scraps from the kitchen. This time of year taking the watermelon rinds to the compost bin will be a lot easier than lugging them to the curb in a trash bag that might leak! Stay tuned for posts about my compost adventure.

Fishmobile

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Last week, I volunteered when the Phillips Wharf Environmental Center’s Fishmobile visited an elementary school in Carroll County, Maryland.

The Fishmobile is a bus fitted with aquarium tanks for live exhibits of animals from the Chesapeake Bay and bookcases/walls of related materials. It’s a field trip that comes to the school! Groups of 10-12 students take about 15 minutes in the bus to see everything…spending another 15 minutes outside getting more details about horseshoe crabs. There were 4 classes of 4th graders that came through in 2 hours!

I managed to take pictures of some of the animals in the Fishmobile before the students arrived. There were small horseshoe crabs – the smallest being a little larger than a quarter. They were active all over the bottom of their tank.

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The oyster toadfish was not happy after the first few groups and retreated to the back of the tank. I was glad I got a picture of him.

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The lined seahorse was one that was harder to photograph. It was a good discussion starter since the seahorse depends on the grasses in the bay and is becoming more numerous now that they are recovering. I was impressed that the 4th graders were aware of the grasses even if they didn’t know about the seahorses.

The only animal in the Fishmobile that the students could touch was the diamondback terrapin. They were told to use 2 fingers gently on his back…because he can bite! He evidently is very accustomed to handling…and he has a name: Larry. There was a baby diamondback terrapin (hatched last fall) in a neighboring tank that didn’t move around very much.

There was also a small box turtle and a mystery box with a box turtle shell. We prompted the students that tried the mystery box to feel whether the shell was flat or domed…and then to look at all the turtles on display to identify what kind of shell was in the mystery box.

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The fish that had a name linked to history was the hogchoker. It is a flounder like fish that lives in the grassy areas of the bay. When the colonists collected the grasses to fee to their pigs, sometimes this fish was harvested with the grasses….and choked the pig that tired to eat it. That’s how it got its name.

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The bookcases had jaws from a modern shark…and a fossil tooth, a dolphin skull, and the molt of a horseshoe crab. There was a wall of various kinds of trash with estimates of how long it took to degrade. Plastic water bottles and fishing line take 100s of years!