Spiny Lobster, NC Aquarium

This interesting fellow is a spiny lobster.  He’s probably the largest lobster I’ve ever seen.

There are a couple things that set a spiny lobster apart from true lobsters.  First, they spiny lobsters have very long antennae- this lobster’s antennae were probably two feet across.  The antennae are sometimes used as a defense.  The lobster rubs the antennae against a hard surface to create a rasping sound which apparently sounds like Air Supply because the predators can’t stand the sound.

Another difference between spiny lobsters and true lobsters is that spiny lobsters don’t have the large claws associated with true lobsters.  In fact, they don’t usually have claws at all.  Despite not having the large, and tasty, claws associated with true lobsters, spiny lobsters are still a popular food source.  The spiny lobster industry in Vietnam is a major source of revenue and spiny lobster are the largest food export of the Bahamas.

Lobster

Moray Eel, NC Aquarium

We recently paid a visit to the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher.  It’s a nice aquarium with a focus on animals that inhabit the North Carolina coastal region but they do have a few non-native species.

This photo is of a moray eel doing what moray eels do- lying in wait to ambush a passing fish.  Morays have very small eyes and cannot see well, so they depend on their sense of smell to tell them when a potential meal is approaching.

One interesting thing about moray eels is they sometimes team with roving coral groupers to help them hunt.  The eels can flush small prey from niches and crevices where the larger groupers can’t go.

Moray Eel

Dogwood blooms

Dogwoods are among the first things to celebrate the arrival of Spring.  Farmers believed that it wasn’t safe to plant their crops until the dogwoods bloomed, so they welcomed the sight of the beautiful white flowers each year.

There’s an old Christian tale that the cross that Jesus was crucified on was made of dogwood.  At the time the dogwood was one of the largest and strongest trees around Jerusalem.  After Jesus’s crucifixion,  God changed the dogwood to a smaller tree with twisted branches to ensure that the wood could never be used to make crosses again.  The four petals of the blooms signify the cross and the rust colored indentation on each petal represent the indentation of the nails that held Jesus to the cross.

I’m not particularly religious but I think that we can all agree that the dogwood blooms are a welcome indication that the cold days of Winter have come to an end.

Dogwood

Foggy Morning

Springtime weather changes sometimes bring foggy mornings.  The dog and I love our early morning walks and a fog adds to the peace and beauty of the land.  Since we live in the country we don’t have the noise associated with the hustle and bustle of urban areas.  So we take our time and enjoy the quiet beauty of the nature around us.

Foggy Barn

Spring Cherry Tree

When we moved to North Carolina twenty three years ago, there were three young Yoshino cherry trees in the yard.  We lost one early on in a Summer thunderstorm.  The two surviving trees have grown to around 25 feet tall and every Spring they give us a few days of beautiful blooms.

This year we weren’t sure they had survived the Winter.  We were quite surprised and pleased when they bloomed.   A few days after the trees bloom, they begin to leaf out.  This is when I love them most.  The combination of the pink blooms and the new green leaves are lovely.

An interesting aspect of the blooming trees is they seem to buzz.  If you sit or stand under the tree at this time of year, you’ll hear a quiet buzzing coming from the hundreds of bees who visit the blooms.  And, if you’re lucky, you’ll see a few dozen monarch butterflies as well.

This photo was taken while sitting on the porch and enjoying a late afternoon beverage.  I love the way the sunlight filters through the top of the tree.  Life is good.

Cherry Tree

World Wildlife Day, 2019

Since 2013, March 3rd has been recognized as World Wildlife Day by United Nations Member States, to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s animal and plant life.  Each year’s celebration has a theme.  The theme for 2019 is “Life below water: for people and planet”.

This photo of Steller’s Sea Lions was taken in Stephens Passage, outside Juneau, Alaska.  To give you a bit of perspective, Steller’s Sea Lions are the largest sea lion and the third largest piniped (behind the walrus and the sea elephant).  Male Steller’s Sea Lions can reach weights of  nearly 2,500 pounds, nearly three times the size of a female.  It’s a pretty safe bet that all the sea lions on this buoy are female.

Traditionally, the population of Steller’s Sea Lions has been divided into two stocks, eastern and western, with the eastern stock, including the sea lions shown here, inhabiting the western coast of North America, ranging from the Gulf of Alaska south to central California.

The eastern stock of Steller’s sea lion is classified as “near threatened” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.  The western stock is listed as “endangered” due to a steadily declining population, possibly due to commercial over-fishing, which has reduced the sea lion’s natural food supply, both in quantity and in quality.

Stellar Sea Lions

Frosted Trees

I love the delicate ice covered tree branches against a stunning blue sky.  No filtering or photo editing was done; this is one of those times where the original photo required no tweaking.   I had to go no further than our front yard for this shot.  I think the lesson here is to not to forget to look up or down when carrying your camera.  Not everything is at eye level.

Frosted Trees

Moon Rise

I was lucky enough, many years ago, to catch this beautiful moon rise over a beach in South Carolina.  It was a handheld shot using a relatively slow slide film, but I think it came out pretty well.  The texture of the clouds and the ripples of the water add interest to an otherwise monochromatic scene.

Moonrise

Manatees, Homosassa Springs, FL

One of my favorite day trips in Florida was our visit to the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.  It was our first opportunity to see the fascinating West Indian Manatee up close.

Manatee
Credit: Department of the Interior/USGS

Manatees are one of the animals most associated with Florida.  Some times called sea cows because of their habit of grazing on plant life as they slowly move along their way, these gentle giants are a sight to behold.  With its crystal clear water, Homosassa Springs is one of the places where you can get a good look at these creatures.

The park puts on a Manatee Educational Program several times daily.  You learn about these gentle giants, and get to see them interact with a park ranger.  For instance, manatees are quite intelligent and are capable of learning complex tasks.  Their ability to learn is on par with dolphins, and they have pretty impressive long-term memory.

It also turns out that they have a love of sweet potatoes.  When a ranger enters the water with a bucket full of cut up sweet potatoes, it’s a sure bet that she’ll have a cadre of manatees gather around in short order for their treats.  You haven’t lived until you see a manatee poke its mouth out of the water and ask for a sweet potato.

Feeding Manatees

The water at Homosassa Springs is perfectly suited to the manatee, who require a water habitat within a quite narrow range of temperatures.  The park is home to several manatees who, because of health issues, cannot be re-released into the wild.  They also care for injured or ill manatees until they can be released back into the wild.  I loved being able to walk along the canal and watch the manatee graze their way past.

Homosassa Springs

Because of their size there are no real natural threats to the manatee.  Unfortunately, they’re considered endangered because of loss of habitat, increased contact with motorized boats, and climate change.  Most of the manatees at Homosassa Springs were injured by contact with boats.  There have also been several instances of manatee deaths related to algae blooms, a result of rising water temperatures.

There are an estimated 13,000 West Indian Manatees, with about 6,100 of them in Florida.

Photography and the Art of Seeing

One of my favorite photography books is Photography and the Art of Seeing, by Freeman Patterson.  Patterson presents simple exercises designed to develop a sense of awareness by photographing familiar things and by thinking outside the box.  The book teaches the photographer to observe our surroundings.

On one of my recent morning walks with the dog, I carried my camera and slowed down our walk while trying to be aware of what I had passed countless times over the years.  These are the best of the photographs I returned with.

We live on a couple acres with a really nice section of woods, but Freeman’s point is you can find interesting and beautiful things anywhere.  The exercise of carry my camera and photographing familiar objects is one I like to do from time to time.  It helps keep me observant of everyday things.

On a side note, we’ve been dealing with Hurricane Florence today.  We were located on the northern edge of the storm, so the worst seems to have passed us by.  We’ve had a lot of rain and wind, with a lot of yard debris from the woods, but no damage and no danger to us.  We’ve been lucky.  There are a lot of people that are seeing much worse, so please keep them in your thoughts over the next few days.  Here’s a screenshot of the storm, with our location marked on the map.

Hurricane Screen Shot