Photographs of the Florida Keys, mostly mine, a few by local amigos.

Wind birds

It was windy yesterday and by late afternoon Old Settlers Park in Tavernier was alive with warblers blown in from their migration north, hungrily hawking insects.

Garden Walk – Friday, Feb. 27

Coming up soon! The 35th annual “Garden Walk” hosted by the Garden Club of the Upper Keys. Five lovely private gardens in Key Largo and Islamorada will be open to the public, 10-4, Friday, February 27, rain or shine. Tickets may be purchased in advance – $25 donation to the GCUK. > more info


Misty Pace, whose Key Largo garden is one of five on the Walk, shows off her rare Madame Ratlana Mannuvadee orchid.

Bird on a Wire

American white ibis (Eudocimus albus)

American white ibis (Eudocimus albus)

First time I’ve seen a white ibis perched on a utility line – in Tavernier this morning. It teetered for a while after landing, but found its balance and stayed, looking relaxed, for about fifteen minutes.

Old Settlers Park celebration

About 100 friends and neighbors of Old Settlers Park, a 3.2 acre gem in Tavernier (MM 91.7, oceanside), turned out on Saturday, October 18, 2014 to dedicate the park’s Albury Pavilion, named after the family that settled the land many years before it was purchased by Monroe County in 1994. Park founders Alice Allen, Sylvia Murphy, Shirley Faye Albury and other members of the Albury family were on hand to reminisce and hand out prizes to the young winners of a butterfly art contest. They also gave certificates of appreciation to several Monroe County employees who have helped Tavernier maintain the park as a passive natural area with many native plants and a butterfly garden–recently replanted by two other original park champions, Susan Sprunt and her mother, Donna.

Hive mind

Tiny scene by our front fence last week: ants hauling a dead honeybee over half-inch pearock, collaborating and navigating and communicating about taking it back to their nest, totally unfazed by a vast jumble of giant ‘boulders’ 10 times their height… and then when they got to the wood fence, they somehow “decided” it would be “easier” (consume less energy) to hang the bee vertically off the fence and shuffle it along that way! [update 7/29/15: recent science on ant behavior moving objects. “The only communication in the system is the forces that [the ants] feel through the object.” – Dr Ofer Feinerman, Weizmann Institute of Science]

Honeybees bringing home the bacon (iPhone shot).

Worker ants bringing home the bacon (iPhone shot).

Crowd-sourced vertical transport

Crowd-sourced vertical transport (iPhone shot)

100 Fish ID Challenge

Thanks to Carlos and Allison Estape for organizing and leading a fun “100 Fish ID Challenge” excursion for at Alligator Reef a few weeks ago!  Here are some nice shots from that dive by Daryl Duda:

French Angelfish

French Angelfish

Garden visitor

Giant Swallowtail this morning, feeding on non-native (Madagascar) Kalanchoe blossoms by our front gate:

Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes)

Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes)

Close encounter of the dolphin kind

My sister Mandy swam with dolphins at Dolphin Cove (Key Largo) last weekend. Four groups of 3 or 4 humans played with 2 or 3 dolphins each. Laughter and jubilation filled the air. Here’s from an email Mandy just sent me with a photo attached: “Someone asked me if I had been afraid and I realized it hadn’t even occurred to me to be afraid. Also, seeing how tuned in we all are in every photo – the attached looks like one big group OMMMMMM.”

Interspecies group meditation

Interspecies group meditation

Keys native earring

For as long as anyone can remember, Keys natives have used anole lizards as ear adornment during back yard barbecues, sandbar parties, tick removal dances and other traditional ceremonies.  Trained from an early age to catch anything that moves, they easily grab two wild anoles and offer each an ear lobe until the lizards bite down tenaciously. The plucky beasts are later removed by pulling steadily on their bodies (not their tails, as the tails will detach!) and released back into the wild.

Keys native attends traditional back yard barbecue

Keys native attends traditional backyard barbecue

Ibis rescue

I noticed a limping White Ibis near the Old Tavernier boat ramp just before dark on New Years eve, caught it, wrapped it in a towel, called the nearby Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center and within half an hour Amanda arrived to help me catch it again in our fenced backyard and take it to the FKWBC  hospital. She said they get a lot of ibises with broken legs. She wasn’t sure why. Turns out this one has a badly shattered ankle that needs a cast for at least two weeks before the FKWBC knows whether they can release it or will need to keep it in captivity. It’s probably from a small flock of ibises that feeds along the roads and on lawns in Old Tavernier, so I’m hoping to help the FKWBC reunite it with them a.s.a.p. in the new year.

It was hard to catch – played a winning game of hide and seek behind the trunks of a row of frangipani for a while, but finally dashed in under a bush and got stuck. As I reached in to grab it, it turned its head and opened its beak and I braced for some serious finger pain… but its grip was as soft and gentle as an old person’s, probably because like most wading birds they mostly use the sensitive tips of their scimitar-like beaks to probe for food, not to break or clamp down on anything.

UPDATE, 1/28/14: Amanda (FKWBC) called this morning to report that they removed the cast yesterday and the ibis did pretty well without it, will only need about a week of “physical therapy” (hard to imagine for an ibis… I didn’t get details… will report back if/when…) before being released – probably outside the FKWBC bayside facility where it will be safer than in Old Tavernier.

Along that line (safety), driving OS HWY around MM 84 yesterday afternoon, I saw an ibis do some fancy aerial acrobatics to avoid hitting an array of power lines, so I suspect that’s mostly how they break their legs. Solution? Maybe a new law requiring more bird-visible power lines? (Not likely, for anthropocentric “scenic” reasons…)

UPDATE, 2/8/14: Ibis recovered enough to be released this morning at the Wild Bird Center in Tavernier, where it will probably join the wild-but-quite-tame ibis flock that hangs out there.


Big haul from Key Largo shoreline clean-up

Last weekend 9 local volunteers picked up 18 bags of marine debris along the Key Largo shoreline. It took us only about three hours. The more than 300 pounds of trash consisted mostly of plastics, including bottles, buckets, bags, cigarette lighters and crates. The rest was metal cans, shoes, rope, styrofoam and other debris that had washed up along a fifty-yard stretch of mangroves just south of Harry Harris Park over the past few months. Our goal was to help keep that sensitive ecosystem healthy while protecting birds, fish and other wildlife from eating or getting tangled up in all that junk. Great to see so many friends and neighbors out there pitching in! Keys Sanitary Service, a locally owned and operated business in Key Largo, facilitated disposal of the debris.

Team OCEAN clean-up, November 16, 2013

Team OCEAN clean-up crew, November 16, 2013

Coordinated by Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary education and outreach team member Ltjg Carmen (Mica) Alex, last weekend’s effort in Key Largo was the sixth Team OCEAN clean-up so far this year. Another is planned for December 14th (location to be decided) and more will follow each month through April of next year. For more information about this important program, email


Going to extremes

Walked into my office this morning daydreaming about Monday’s trip to Molasses Reef and there on the floor was this shot of me with sheefish at Sewalik Lake in northwest Alaska in the late 80s. It had fallen off the bookcase where I keep it propped up to remind me of my 12-year detour to Alaska…

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Selawik Lake, Northwest Arctic, AK (1988?)

Species identified during Monday’s excursion to Molasses Reef, a Sanctuary Protected Area about 5 miles southeast of Key Largo: Scrawled Filefish, Hogfish, Blue-Striped Grunt, Black Grouper, Blue Tang, Yellow-Tail Snapper, Blue Chromis, Smooth Trunkfish, Yellowtail Damselfish, Chub, French Grunt, Sergeant Major, Stoplight Parrotfish (juvenile), Spotted Goatfish, Gray Angelfish, Whitespotted Filefish (orange phase), Tomtate, Gray Snapper, Margate (White), French Angelfish, Permit, Nurse Shark, Green Turtle, Foureye Butterflyfish, Spotted Eagle Ray, Barracuda, Blue Parrotfish, Southern Stingray, Queen Angelfish, Spanish Hogfish, Trumpetfish, Barjack, Schoolmaster, Porkfish, Rock Beauty, Atlantic Spadefish, Hawksbill Turtle, Blacktip Shark.

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Dive slate (9/30/13)

And I was snorkeling, not diving, and only about 2 hours – little time on the bottom, not much time to look closely, peer under ledges, spot little critters, wait for things to come out.


  • That Scrawled Filefish nibbling placidly on the rim of a jellyfish floating about a foot from my mask. I kept thinking I heard the jellyfish say “ouch!… OUCH!!”, felt my first sympathy ever for their need for stinging tentacles.
  • The small (18-20 inches long) Hawksbill stroking up right past me to breathe… floating on the surface about 6 feet away, stretching its neck up to suck air, lowering its head, peering slowly all around (looking for…?)…then up to breathe again, and again, then flying lazily back down past me, down 20 feet or so, to continue feeding.
  • Those two huge (5-6 feet ‘wingspan’?) Spotted Eagle Rays cruising by below, flying in formation just above the bottom, like alien spacecraft on an alien mission.
  • The little Blacktip Shark, only about a yard long, small enough to make me think “cute” about a shark for the first time.

Spotted Eagle Ray (Aetobatus narinari) – photo by Kevin Hopp, dive buddy on same 9/30/13  trip to Molasses Reef, Florida Keys




Sea turtle release

The Turtle Hospital released an adult Loggerhead in Islamorada this morning! He was spotted several months ago floating on the surface, unable to dive to feed and in danger of being struck by a boat. Turned out he was floating due to gas build-up from eating too much lobster and crab (many of the Hospital’s patients are much more sick or severely injured). Treated with anti-biotics, fluids, and Beano supplement (a commercial product with a natural enzyme that helps prevent gas before it starts), he made a full recovery. A crowd of several hundred turned out to see him off. You can barely see him in the last photo below, swimming fast just below the surface, right at the mouth of the human funnel, a faint blur of golden brown with a froth of white water just behind him, heading out to who-knows-where in the deep blue sea.


Upper Keys butterflies

They’re a flitty, flighty bunch, Keys butterflies are–much dodgier, faster, less likely to land and pose for portraits than New England butterflies. More, faster predators, maybe? White Peacocks, Gulf Fritillaries, Giant Swallowtails, Julias, Zebra Heliconians (Florida state butterfly – yay!) all sighted yesterday afternoon in Tavernier, plus 3-4 other species I couldn’t identify.



Midnight rambler

This little Corn Snake (aka “Rat Snake”) has been hanging out (literally – they’re great climbers!) around our front steps at night lately, probably feeding on small frogs and lizards. (Sorry about fuzzy iPhone shot)

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Air show

Many Frigatebirds aloft early this morning, zooming high over wind-tossed palms in Tavernier.

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Drive-by shark

The dog and I were cruised by a 7-8 foot shark early one morning last week while swimming off our local boat ramp in Tavernier  – about 40 yards offshore, 4-5 feet of water. It came up fast from behind, went by below us and about 5 feet to our left. Long-time Keys residents/neighbors say “not to worry, it was probably checking out the dog, not you.”  Local biologist: “It was probably feeding at that time  of the day, when phytoplankton come up through the water column and kick-off the foodchain.”  I haven’t gone back in yet. Still in “risk assessment” mode, waiting for the flashbacks to subside. I’ve seen sharks diving, mostly benign nurse sharks,  but I always feel safer underwater with them, at the same depth, where I can see them and assume they can see me.  This one came out of nowhere. And the sheer SIZE of that beast going by so close! I felt like a bite-sized SNACK floating helplessly on the surface. My primitive monkey-brain survival neurons could only scream “MONSTERRRRRR!!”.

Croc on dock

American crocodile in someone’s backyard in Islamorada (Tollgate Shores, Lower Matecumbe Key), January, 2013.  I’m told  it’s named “Number 9”  (any relation to Beatles song?)  and it likes that spot–came right back after Fish and Wildlife hauled it out of there. UPDATE (5/24/13): just learned someone killed this croc (gunshots to the head) on May 9, on Lower Matecumbe Key. The FWC is offering a $6,000 reward for information leading to the perpetrator, who could get up to 5 years in prison per the Endangered Species Act.