Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Cardinal Sin #8: Making Your Nest Low In An Easily Climbed Bamboo Patch ...


Search the over 2000 posts here at Pure Florida for "grey ratsnake" and you will find numerous posts that mention or show these awesome snakes.
They climb, they get big, they tame down into pretty decent snake pets, they eat rats and squirrels ... what's not to love.

I was actually lamenting the lack of them around PFHQ last week and blaming it on our lack of chickens.
We used to have lots of free ranging banty chickens roaming PFHQ.
When we kept chickens, you were practically tripping over ratsnakes, they love the eggs, they love the mice drawn to the spilled feed, and yes, they love chicks.

The shortage of ratsnakes matches the past few chickenless years almost exactly.

So, normally, I would have been thrilled to see this little guy in my timber bamboo patch.

The only problem this time was "Grey" was busy cleaning out the bamboo cardinal nest that I've been watching for the past week or so. The youngish patch of (someday) giant bamboo sits right in front of where I park my JEEP and I've enjoyed peeking at it as I walk by each day.
Normally, there is a cardinal Mom head sticking out of the top of the nest... peeking back.

In fact, not 15 minutes before finding this snake, Bear,Coquina, and I had walked by and looked in.
As we returned from our woodsy walk, as is my habit, I took one more look at the nest.

Hmmm, what is that loopy thing? Oh crap, it's a ratsnake!

A chick taken right out of the snakes mouth.
It' slobbery, but still alive.


Not only was it a ratsnake, but it was a ratsnake with one cardinal shaped lump deep inside it, AND another cardinal chick in it's jaws. I made a quick grab for the snake and he spit out the chick in his mouth.
This was kind of fumbly, this "quick grab", because I was filming video with one hand and snake charming with the other.

(Video to come)

The ratsnake was super determined to finish his meal. When I let him go to check out the mouth munched chick, he climbed back up the bamboo and onto the nest. 

You rascal!
I grabbed him with one hand and plopped the snake saliva slimed, but still alive chick back in the nest ... after pausing to take a quick "hold the camera over the nest and shoot down" kind of shot to see what else was in the nest.
(I really need more arms)

The entire time that I am wrestling bamboo and ratsnake, the adult cardinals are about two feet away hopping from side to side and raising a ruckus.

This chick was still in the nest, the last course in an almost three course meal.

It was too late for course number one, but course (almost) number two was back in the nest now along with clueless course number three who snoozed through the whole event.

Does this cardinal chick make me look fat?
Be honest.

With the chick out of the snake's mouth and the snake in hand, I headed across the property to a place of thick brush, where a grey ratsnake could get cozy and digest his meal ... and maybe forget the way back to the bamboo patch.

Of course I had to take a selfie ... snake in the hand and all that.

Chill Grey, I know you're not the bad guy.
You're just an awesome combination of hunger, muscle,  and incredible climbing ability.

Snake's gotta eat.

Today was a trade-off.
One chick instead of all three.
I call that a win.

Grey, just before slithering beneath the brush pile.

I'm really wanting to get more chickens now.
Some nice banties ...




Friday, April 10, 2015

A Decade of Nature Blogging: Pure Florida At Ten

(NOTE: Unlike every other Pure Florida post, there are no photos in this one ... I'm just looking back on the 10th anniversary of Pure Florida.)

I started Pure Florida ten years ago on April 10, 2005.
Actually, that's a bit misleading, the roots of Pure Florida go all the way back to my teen years and the journals (logs) I filled with what is now the handwritten history of those times. 

Quite a bit of that falls into the "diary" category, which contains things far beyond the scope of nature and wildlife. There is, as might be expected, a fair amount of teenage angst, misadventures, and other stuff that will never show up on the internet.

Still, those journals, now taped shut and stacked in storage, were my boot camp, my training ground if you will for this thing called Pure Florida.

Along the way, there were also some nature articles published in FWC's "Florida Wildlife Magazine" back in the 1980's, before paper magazines became an endangered species.  I also published in a regional magazine called "North Florida Living" and "Old Bottle Magazine". 
A copy of "Writers Market", was a constant companion.

I thought, back in the late 70's and early '80's that a freewheeling freelance nature writer was a real possibility, which made my focus on my college studies more like an intermittent stream than a reliable, steady flowing river.

Somewhere along the way, life happened.
First the Park Service, then marriage, then baby one, then career switch to teaching, then baby two, then homesteading 10 acres in wild wonderful Levy County, then baby number 3 ... and for a while writing and even nature photography seemed secondary to all this amazing life stuff.

By late 2004, I was looking for an online platform to somehow share how awesome the real Florida was ... without somehow encouraging people to move here, because Florida is full and has been for some time.

During those super busy years, the internet had been maturing and becoming more user friendly. No longer did you have to be an HTML programmer to publish online. 
I tried different online programs ... remember going into any office supply store and browsing rack after rack of boxed software products?

None of the programs I purchased were satisfactory to me, and then, one day, up popped a link about "Blogger", a free, WSIWYG web publishing site.

This sounded too good to be true, but like a 20 pound redfish who knows better, I rose to the bait.
It worked!
I was hooked.

Oh, sure ... my very first post vanished into thin air after I clicked publish, but in the days of 14.4 k dial up modems, things sometimes went astray.

I rewrote the post, pushed send again, and at 10:09 am, on April 10, 2005, Pure Florida was born.


It was published by some guy who called himself "Florida Cracker". 
(Note: this was soon shortened to "FC" by some early regular reader/commenters and it stuck.)
In my early internet publishing innocence, I thought you could, and should be anonymous. 

And for a while, I was, but that vanished after a few years and no one on the net is anonymous anymore.

So a few years ago, I switched my user name to my actual name (or is it?). 
My really long term readers often still use FC when they comment ... it's our secret club handshake, and I like it.
You know who you are. 

When you first publish a blog, you are boldly going where no one has gone before... or so it seems. There's this vast internet ocean and each post is a blind cast that could sink to the bottom without ever being seen, but you cast anyway.
Certainly that is the case for a young blog like Pure Florida ten years ago. 

I'm sure some of those early posts have never been seen.

That's okay.

Pure Florida was created to be the post-paper version of those dusty journals I used to keep. A place where I could say what I needed to say and whether it was liked, or agreed with, didn't really matter that much.

This was all pre-public FaceBook, and the internet was exploding with personal and business blogs ten years ago. All kinds of people were writing posts, not FaceBook soundbites, but REAL posts about whatever interested them.

It wasn't long before I crossed paths with folks who loved the nature where they lived. We became friends, NOT by pushing a "confirm" button, but in the slow, old fashioned, true friendship manner of mutual admiration and empathy.

I have friends today from blogging who I have never met, but I have no doubt we would get along great over a cold beer and some wings. Some of those folks have been "with me" for almost the whole decade long ride and we have shared happy and sad times through blogging without physically meeting. 
I've watched their kids grow up, stressed over their surgeries, rejoiced in the new grandkid or puppy, and mourned their family losses ... as they have mine.

Sure feels like friendship to me.

My long term blog pals include a dairy farmer in NY, two older than me awesome hippies in CA, an island historian, a rascal in MO, a singing fisheries biologist in MN, an awesome young mother with multiple sclerosis who seems to let nothing hold her back, a snowbird - mountain bird retired psychologist, a first grade teacher in MD, ...too many to list and I apologize for that.

Some I have met in person and each time, they have lived up to their online persona. Warm, funny, crazy, sweet ... whatever they projected on their blogs was how they were in real life. 

I hope they saw me the same way.

Along the way, Pure Florida led me to neat coincidences ... like the email I received once from an older woman seeking datil pepper seeds. Her email had some history in it. She was of Minorcan descent (as am I) originally from New Smyrna, FL, and wanted some datil seeds. 
As I read her letter, I just kept focusing on her signature, "Mrs. Robert Marx".

As a kid in the 1960's-70's, totally crazy about the ocean, a treasure diver named "Bob Marx" was a hero of mine. He traveled all over the world diving on wrecks of all ages, like a wet "Indiana Jones" ... before there was Indy.

So I had to ask her, and yes, it was that Robert Marx who was her husband. I gushed about my early admiration and his influence on me, and she wrote back that Bob said thanks for the kind words. 

Dude! That never would have happened without Pure Florida.

Ten years of photos and plugging away can even provide the 15 minutes of fame moment.

Once or twice I've had people come up to me and ask "Are you that Pure Florida guy?" ...in a restaurant, slinging chowder at the Cedar Key Seafood Festival, or twice now, someone driving past the school as I happened to walk out to the JEEP at the end of the day. 

And then there's Julie Zickefoose, professional nature author, painter, and blogger. I don't remember when she first stumbled across Pure Florida, but I'm sure glad she did. I mention this, not just because she is an awesome writing mentor and all round nice person, but to make the point that we simply would not have "crossed paths" had it not been for blogging.

Crazy.

So now it's been 10 years, 2622 posts, and almost 1,000,000 visits to Pure Florida. In that decade, a lot of blogs have bit the dust, taken out by the crack-like addictive, easy instant gratification of FaceBook. 

I get that. If your blog was mainly family posts and photos of your dog, your lunch, your trip to Walmart, selfies, etc, well then FaceBook works great.  I use it for that crap too.

... and yes, Obie Wan, it is good for increasing your blog's exposure and snagging new readers. I get it now.

As a semi-self congratulatory history of Pure Florida post, (without photos!), this one has run its course. If you've read this far, you have a picture of how this blog came to be ... and why it will keep going.

Now that the first decade is complete, my plan is to keep blogging ... to keep writing about Florida and showing what makes it so amazing and worth protecting.

Pure Florida, where every post is a first draft, is ten years old.