I suppose some of you may be wondering what it is exactly that I’m doing here in Florida. Well, here are a few pictures:
Sometimes I get to help out at festivals, which are quite fun. We set up a booth and people come by and we tell them about the refuge and some of the awesome animals we have here. The kids get to make a stamp bookmark, and I usually have them touch the bobcat and otter pelts and compare them.
Here I am with Connie and Joann, two of the volunteers, also known as the Festival Extraordinaire Ladies. They’ve got the festival gig down pat. They have also adopted me as a grandchild, though I told them that no one can measure up to the wonderful Grandma I have who sends me cookies in the mail (Thank you Grandma Cindea! I love you bunches!!)
Yes, those are giant ants on the table. No, they are not real, no, we don’t have ants that big on the refuge, and no, they’re not for sale. Everyone comments on the ants, that’s what really brings people over to our table.
Sometimes I help with school programs and we get to hang out with Florida Scrub Jays. They are very curious, and will come land on your head or hand if you hold it out, looking for peanuts. The biologists have trained them to enter traps in order to band them for monitoring purposes. The traps are baited with peanuts, so the jays get a treat for their hassle.
Sometimes I’m allowed to go out with the biologists and do fun biology things, like help restore scrub habitat. As Mike, the head biologist, was explaining to me when he kidnapped me and forced me to help him fill a spray tank, no one has been really successful at restoring scrub, which is a problem for wildlife managers trying to help the scrub jays and other species that depend on scrub habitat. The area we were working in used to be a grapefruit grove, but they are trying to make it
For us, this meant planting seeds in the hot sun in a quarter-acre plot. It was actually quite fun, and there were scrub jays hanging out nearby watching us, and lots of fun birds flew overhead. Also, a man on a motorcycle rode by blaring “Uptown Girls,” which I then got stuck in everyone’s heads (going on a week now).
The field we planted with scrub plant seeds.
Here we all are hard at work. This is what most of the morning looked like, hanging out in a barren field and contemplating the scrub.
Sometimes I hobnob with famous birdy people. Here I am at the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival with two other Merritt Island NWR volunteers and Richard Crossley (in the black shirt). He was the keynote speaker at the festival this year, and because I was helping to sell his books I had the chance to hear him speak and got him to autograph my copies of his books, The Shorebird Guide and The Crossley ID Guide (came out just last year). We chatted for a bit, he’s a fun guy. Also takes fantastic pictures of birds.
Same birding festival, different day, with Kevin Karlson. He is a co-author of The Shorebird Guide, and also autographed my copy. Another fantastic photographer and birder, and also fun to talk with.
Sometimes I hobnob with snakes (this happens a lot, actually). This is Buddy, our education snake. We hang out together a lot, he’s my bud. The other day I had him out at the Visitor Center, showing him to some of the visitor. Buddy decided he wanted to crawl into my shirt, and did so, going up my right sleeve. He was across the front of my chest before I noticed, so I tried to pull him out via the front of my shirt. He was having none of that, and kept aiming for my other sleeve, like he was going to crawl all the way through. This doesn’t really bother me, but I’m aware that quite a few other people are not fond of snakes and the idea that I would even hold him is disturbing, so I tried to excuse myself from the people I was talking to so I wouldn’t bother them too much. I also wasn’t entirely sure I would be able to get him out of my shirt without taking it off, so I figured I probably should do that in the privacy of the back office, or the restroom. The people I was talking with didn’t seem to mind, in fact the woman starting taking pictures of me with a snake up one sleeve and part of his mid-section out the front of my shirt, his head moving back and forth under my shirt on my other shoulder.
I should have asked her to send me a copy, I’m sure it looked pretty funny.
This is a yellow rat snake we fished out of the trashcan so it wouldn’t bother the visitors. After the photo op, we released it back into the palmettos.
Rat snakes are generally very docile creatures, and all of the ones I’ve handled have been quite friendly. They generally like climbing around my person and going through my hair and belt-loops, which can be interesting, having a live snake-skin belt. This is one of Buddy’s favorite activities when I’m not paying attention. He also likes to go through my braid or pony-tail, so I have to undo my hair to get him out.
If you didn’t have enough of the creepy-crawly, here are some toad pictures! This is a spadefoot toad that one of the biologists brought to show us. He found it in the fire garage, and thought that might not be the best place for a toad to live.
Only a few more weeks left here in Florida, so I’ll try to get more pictures up soon!