Red Tide: Florida’s Plague

I made this video last month while I was in Sarasota, a beautiful tourist destination known best for its pristine, award winning Siesta Key beach. I’ve been lucky enough to frolic in Siesta’s clear waters along southwest Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coastline just about every year of my life. Visiting Grandy and Gramps always meant major beach time, running across the vast expanse of immaculate, soft white sand and throwing ourselves into the gentle waves of the warm, gleaming blue waters.

But this year, Sarasota ands Tampa area beaches are experiencing one of the worst red tide blooms in history. While red tide is a natural occurrence, it is happening more frequently, for longer durations and with much greater intensity. Polluted runoff has triggered extensive blooms which have muddied the clear blue waters with house damage of dead, rotting fish. Hundreds of manatees, sea turtles and dolphins have also been found washed up dead, their bodies riddled with the toxins.

This video isn’t pretty, it’s reality.

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Casa Cayuco: A Panama Eco-Adventure Lodge

IMG_0593 2I’m here! Wow, it’s officially been about three weeks since I first arrived to this Caribbean island paradise and I’m just blown away by this beautiful locale, the wonderful owners, their lovely daughter and an array of sweet and hard working employees. I’ll be working as the resident naturalist guide and helping in guest services here at Casa Cayuco.

Since I’ve arrived, in addition to getting to know my way around the lodge, I’ve enjoyed taking guests on rainforest excursions, sharing my knowledge of the birds, trees and plantlife of this extraordinary island.

Welcome to Casa Cayuco, Eco-adventure Lodge!

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To give you an idea of where I’ve touched down this time around, I made a handy little graphic:

Casa Cayuco Map

 
IMG_0599I’ve already had many memorable experiences as I get to know this lush, off-the-grid wonderland that also happens to be a marine national park with protected reef and rainforest. The coral reefs here are magical and I’ve found myself entranced on multiple occasions with the diversity supported by these underwater worlds. Parrotfish, sergeant majors, snapper, butterfly & angelfish, colorful wrasses and triggerfish swim among colorful forests of elkhorn coral, seafans, brain coral, sea anenomes, zooanthid mats, featherduster worms and blade coral. Dave and Suzanne also have a secret mangrove reef that boasts color combinations that dazzle, with the added delight of seastars, brittle stars, seaslugs and sea cucumbers. I see an underwater camera coming in handy here..

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Oh and I even “swam” with my first shark! Well, it was asleep, out cold. It was a small nurse shark..docile and harmless to humans, but it’ll happily chomp down on some fish scraps that Jose, our boat captain and hombre of all trades, tosses off the dock when filleting some fresh fish for dinner.

IMG_0837Above the surface, I’ve enjoyed taking guests on excursions into the rainforest here on the island. Often, one of the main objectives of our walks tends to be to spot a sloth, which thrive here on Bastimentos. Read about these fascinating creatures in my previous blogpost. I’m still honing my skills on finding these elusive critters, but with the help of my hawkeyed local indigenous N’gobe guide, Belamer, we’re guaranteed at least two (if not five!) along the two hour hike. I supply the natural history and ecology of the forest, answering questions and identifying plants and birds along the way. We make a good team.

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Another highlight along the trail is the strawberry poison dart-frogs which, while red on our island, sport unique color morphs on the different islands along the archipelago, as a result of divergent evolution. They are tiny little critters and harder to find than you’d think. But their loud daytime trill clues you into where they’re hidden. The bright coloration is a warning to predators: I’m poisonous!

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 10.05.55 AM.pngThe bellbirds are here too, bonking high in the treetops! Three-wattled Bellbirds are a threatened species that migrates altitudinally, meaning the species moves between montane moist forest where it nests before descending to the lowlands to spend the neotropical winter, which is what we would call summer up in the states. I’m hearing less of them lately, so I think they might have started heading back up into the mountains..

IMG_0598Since I’ve arrived, our guests have ranged from France, Australia, the Netherlands and the states. They’ve enjoyed swimming in these clear Caribbean waters, kayaking, paddleboarding, surfing, snorkeling..we’ve had families, newlyweds on their honeymoon, friends groups and even some friends of Dave and Suzanne’s. Aside from taking folks on forest excursions, I’ve been expanding my bartending experience. I’ve already mastered my painkiller, messed up on two caipirinhas, made some killer piña coladas, a caribbean sunrise that didn’t so much look like a sunrise and perfected my margarita. Dave and Suzanne have been very patient with me.

On our free time, we’ve managed to get over to Salt Creek, the indigenous N’gobe village where all the employees of Casa Cayuco live. They play a mean game of volleyball, we’ve had quite the blast mixing up the gringos vs. N’gobe since we have no chance when it’s us against them. On Mina’s birthday, we had a big group over to the dock to share in the festivities and Dave had a net set up in the water and played for hours. They’re huge into baseball, too and it was really fun to go into town on the day of their school’s anniversary celebration and watch them play. These folks are really good at sports.

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For somewhat regular exercise I’ve enjoyed getting out and swimming. It’s partially snorkeling since I wear the mask and snorkel, but while keeping a steady forward pace. I’d like to think I can do a mile in a half hour, but I can’t really measure how far I’ve really gone at the 15 minute mark. Plus I tend to meander. Yesterday I had a start when I found myself face to face with an enormous, four foot barracuda flashing it’s mouth full of razor sharp teeth at me. It circled closer as I slowly moved off, wondering if I was in for it and suddenly it headed slowly straight for me before veering off several feet away. It was very curious. I turned to swim away just waiting to feel those teeth ravage my legs. I was a 12 minute swim from shore. Jose told me, when I hit the dock that they won’t bother you unless you’re wearing something sparkly. Luckily it didn’t hone in on my silver ring or metal and crystal embedded ankle bracelet. I’ll be definitely leaving those behind on my next foray out..

So there you have it! Casa Cayuco! I will be here for awhile yet, no set end date in mind so far unless that barracuda decides to have the last word. We shall see!

 

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Perezosos: A Sloth’s Life

Hey ya’ll! I’m in Panamaaa! Stay tuned for an update on all that, but for now, enjoy a bit of delving into the lazy life of the beloved perezoso..

There is much more going on here than can be seen watching a lazy perezoso long-settled in the crook of a cecropia from a bipedal’s vantage point far below. In fact, a panoply of interactions are happening that we’d need a lot of patience, perhaps an extending ladder and certainly a microscope to bear witness to, that of the oh, so fascinatingly complex life history of the three-toed sloth..

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A low-energy diet of slow-to-metabolize leaves, which also happen to contain a mild narcotic, are both to blame for the eternal dawdling of this beloved and unique icon of the tropics. Nevertheless, its sluggish pace provides plenty opportunity for an entire ecosystem to set up shop all throughout the pelt of this slothfully sedate soul.

Algae finds an easy substrate to grow within the grooved strands of fur which from this furry perch provides nutrients to an array of both microorganisms and invertebrates, including the various species of “sloth moths” which call this (and only this) slow-moving terrain of a mammal home. The symbiotic relationship that provides a substrate upon which the algae can grow reciprocally acts as effective camouflage for this creature that can’t make a hasty escape when predators are near.

Female sloth moths take advantage of the perezoso’s weekly defecatory descent (aka pit stop) to lay her moth eggs in the feces the sloth deposits at the bottom of the tree. When the hatching moths emerge, they fly upwards to spend their lives nestled in the perezoso’s fur, feeding on the algae and nutrients from the sloths’s skin secretions as well as adding their own defecations to the system all while awaiting their next reproduction cycle on the mating grounds that is this very mammal’s own fur.

But that’s not all folks! So when the perezoso makes its laborious and energy-intensive descent, it is making itself perilously vulnerable to predation. So why go through all that trouble to carefully deposit one’s droppings and (perhaps almost reverently) bury it underground at the foot of the tree? Scientists have long debated this and the possible hidden benefits of this arduous journey just to go poo. What this all revolves back around to is the micro-ecosystem within the fur of this fascinatingly complex creature and the algae that grows upon it. The algae itself is rich in nutrients and the sloth in fact feeds upon its own body’s edible garden, which thus provides the animal with nutrients otherwise lacking in a diet solely of leaves.

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 10.28.33 AM.pngWhew, I can hardly keep up! But can you even imagine how this rich interaction of species in such a micro environment evolved? It’s an complex interconnection of relationships that has in fact persisted for millions of years. And just think how much research (and patience!) it must have taken to figure all this out? And yet even within this micro-ecosystem, there’s still even more to learn in regard to energy input & output and how these vulnerable appearing animals have persisted throughout time. The secrets of the rainforest are infinite and every step we take to learn more about it not only benefits the species we’re learning about but perhaps has the possibility of benefitting the planet and we bipeds who inhabit it as well.

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Melt into nature with me..

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Click on the image to learn more about becoming a patron!

As someone who works in the fields of environmental writing, nature filmmaking and bird-centric guiding, you might imagine that the paybacks aren’t at all in sync with the amount of work put in. While the passion and experience is a fantastic reward, it certainly doesn’t meet much in the way of costs of living.

As a FeathersAwry follower, perhaps you might want to take a step further and become a patron and help support my work.  Over the years I’ve put a huge amount of time and passion into making creative, educational, photo-filled blogposts. In more recent years I’ve incorporated videos as a new avenue of imparting interest, curiosity and knowledge from my work.

By becoming a patron, you decide what value (as little as $1 per new video) you care to contribute to each new video for early access, a chance to view my work before the masses (Ha! I wouldn’t go that far..). Not only that, you get a bit of a behind the scenes info on what’s going on in my life as I work toward furthering my knowledge about the natural world and as I dive back into the tropics as a guide and educator.

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Check out my patron page here and decide what amount you care to contribute per new video!

While I’d love it if passion alone was enough to invite you to join me as we melt into nature, I can’t quite make that work. I certainly appreciate your support in reading my blog here, and it takes a lot to ask for you to take a step further because I don’t want you to think I don’t appreciate you following along on my adventures here. But by creating quality videos for as little as $1/creation (or as much as you’re willing!), you are going above and beyond. Even as someone who isn’t quite decided, I invite you to visit my patron page to view the free access videos to get a taste of my work and see if it’s worth your while.

If you become a patron now,  you can view my newest video on Black Skimmers, the charismatic seabirds nesting on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Thanks so much for your support, no matter in what form, and be on the lookout for future nature and bird posts and videos to come!

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Feeling the Guide Vibe

I’m headed back to the tropics. I love saying that.

And it’s different now, because, while I’m going to be working in a position nearly identical to that of this past year’s experience, I’m definitely undergoing a different kind of excitement leading up to it. I want to say that my emotions this time compared to how I felt in the weeks approaching last year’s departure to Costa Rica are somewhat muted, but not necessarily in a bad way. Ultimately, there’s a lot less unknown this time around and that in itself makes the greatest difference toward how I mentally approach the next experience. The excitement is still there, but this time it’s patiently simmering deep within and not constantly buzzing right at the surface. Maybe that buzz was tinged with a bit of anxiety: Am I made for this? Will I be able to give the guests an experience to remember? Or will they find out I’m a fraud? Honestly, a year later, I think the difference is simply this: Confidence.

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I love saying that because it’s true. I guide people into the forest, into the depths of the mysterious, verdant, dripping rainforest. I listen intently for my beloved tropical birds, identifying species as I hear them calling or singing among the leaves, knowing where to find different species based on their habits. Rustling branches high above immediately alert me as I alert my charges that we are in the presence of monkeys and I describe how the different species forage differently and how that affects their movements. Rustling in the underbrush and a fleeting, sharp mechanical bark as a shadow darts off into the thick cover causes guests eyes to grow wide and I assure them that the unknown isn’t nearly as scary once you can ID that distinctive sound as a large rodent called an agouti, something I like to describe as a groundhog on stilts.

I love to explain the fascinating symbiotic interactions between species and how this complex network of green is a system that functions more intricately than any human-made creation and offers ecological services, products and life-giving resources that humankind would not exist without and how we have so much more benefits to be uncovered as still so much is yet unknown.

Giving people an experience they didn’t expect, walking down a path where tiny brilliantly colored frogs hop to tell them that yes, the tropics are beyond beautiful, but that beauty is just the superficial. Underneath is where lies so much more to the story, a story that many might have no idea exists in the first place. That’s why I’m here, to help tell that story.

Okay, who turned up the buzz? …PANAMA!!!!!

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A Florida Stopover..

Just a throwback video that I thought I’d rehash while I’m back in Florida for a spell before heading back south to the tropics. I’m officially going to be working in the Bocas del Toro region of Panama at an ecolodge on a remote island on the archipelago. I’ll be guiding and interacting with guests, living in yet another tropical wonderland and thanking my lucky stars for this adventure of a life that I’m so fortunate to live.

Click on the image (or here!) to help support my work in sharing these experiences with all of you.

 

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Tropical Nature: A closeup view..

Stay tuned for what’s next, as I’ve got some irons in the fire! But for now, enjoy some sights and sounds of Costa Rica’s wild nature!

To keep updated on new videos and get exclusive sneak peeks of my work on future videos, become a Pura Vida Patron on my Patreon page. This will help support my creation of future videos which take a great deal of time and effort. By supporting my work for as little as $3 per video (or a greater amount of your choosing) I can keep up these efforts to share parts of the world with you from a naturalist’s perspective with ecology and conservation as the key focus. Head over to my page after watching this video to get more of an idea about becoming a patron and thanks for watching!

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