Saturday, April 10, 2010

Wildlife Weekend :: Florida Beach Nature Walk

This week is Spring Break for my boys and we had plans to go back down to visit my mom for a few days, but the planets didn't align correctly and it just didn't work out. Although we stayed at the house, we managed to pack every day with plenty of fun-filled activities from painting to geo-caching to theme parks to swimming in the pool until they dropped.

But since it IS Spring Break and Spring Break in Florida is all about the beach, I thought I'd post these photos from our visit my mom's house a few weeks back. Taking my boys to the very beach where I grew up is a fun experience and I enjoy watching them learn about all the beachy things I took for granted as a kid.

Running along the sandbar - it's a semi-attached sandbar, depending on what the tide has done the previous hurricane season. The vibe of the beach is pretty dependent on what's thriving - or dying - along the shore. Stingray season - not so much fun... this time it was seaweed and jellyfish - lots and lots of brightly colored dead jellyfish. Most of the time there's hardly any seaweed and no jellyfish, but both happened to be in season on this day.

Most of the jellyfish were black or orange or white and resembled rocks. There are NO rocks on Florida Gulf beaches, so if you see something in that photo that looks like a rock, it's a dead jellyfish.

I tried to convince the boys that this jellyfish was a disembodied brain from some sort of underwater Frankenstein. I almost sold them on it.

Pretty coral of all colors and textures.

A few horseshoe crabs...mostly dead ones though. Did you know that horseshoe crabs haven't evolved much in 250 million years? They look pretty much like they did back in the time of dinosaurs. And did you know they have a copper-based blue blood? And that this blue blood is used by science to test out new medicines? Interesting stuff.

They might not have fall leaves in Southern Florida, but the mangrove leaves turn pretty colors at times. Mangroves are one of the most important living things in coastal areas - their roots hold the coast together and the area under the mangrove roots are fish nurseries.

Ever wonder where baby shells come from? This is a shell egg casing. Some people refer to it as a "mermaid's necklace." This one is a whelk egg casing and it is filled with tiny shell eggs from the female shell. Once it's done its job, it floats away, washes ashore and dries out.

The boys found some beautiful conch shells. This one is a Florida Fighting Conch. We showed them the difference between a live shell and a dead shell and explained that if you find a live shell on the beach you always throw it back in the water - as far as you can out of the reach of uneducated tourists.

Check out this freaky-looking jellyfish. I think it's a Moon Jellyfish. Was good to teach the important lesson about being stung by a jellyfish - they can still sting you even when dead, so don't step on one just in case the tentacles are lurking under a thin layer of sand.

What's a beach without some driftwood?

No matter how pretty the scenery is, if you've got two little boys, they'll zero in on the dead fish. It made me glad we didn't bring the dogs because they love to roll in some dead-stink.

Much of the sandbar is roped off because it's an endangered sea bird nesting area. But, as we know, it only takes one minor Tropical Storm to wash it all away.

Here are two of the shells we brought home. They'll be making an important appearance at Kindergarten and Preschool show and tell next week...if we ever remember to bring them!

I hope you all enjoyed a little peek at our beach walk! It feels like old hat to me, but I'm sure there are some landlocked readers who don't see this type of thing every day.


Ali said...

Wow Kate! I wish I could have gone along with you guys--what a bunch of fun things to learn! I grew up walking along the Central California Coast, but the ecology is so different there there than it is in Central Florida (obviously).

So, how DO you tell between a live shell and a dead one?

GardenerX said...

what a great blog. Love the pictures.

Ribbit said...

Fantastic lessons for the boys. It's amazing what a simple trip to the beach can teach you.

Jeni @ said...

loved following you on your beach walk. kinda reminds me of our desert treks here in AZ...but we find bugs, spiders, cactus, lizards and snakes. Florida is a very different world from ours. It would be fun to swap for a day.

Dani said...

There is nothing better than exploring the beach!!

Jen B said...

Hello! I just stumbled upon your blog and I love this post about your beach walk. We live on the coast of MA where there are plenty of rocks! May I ask what part of FL these pictures are from? The shoreline looks so interesting, great for beachcombing! Wonderful pictures and lots of interesting info :-)

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