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WHOOPING CRANES

Four of the last five whooping cranes led from Wisconsin to Florida by Operation Migration ultralight aircraft this season.

This photo is from the flyover event in Marion County as the cranes arrived at their last stop before reaching their winter home at Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. The other half of this flock is wintering at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.
More information about and photos of whooping cranes can be seen on the Wild Florida Photo Grus americana page. Click the photo above to see more photos of this flyover.
Operation Migration is a non-profit organization that has played a leading role in the reintroduction of endangered Whooping cranes into eastern North America since 2001.
Photography Prints by Paul Rebmann



OLD MAN'S BEARD

This lichen usually grows attached to the branches of trees and shrubs, often on oaks and pines.

This photo is possibly Usnea strigosa - bushy beard lichen - although it could be one of the other many species in Florida and North America.
Some old man's beards look very similar to some of the airplants, such as Spanish moss, whose species name - Tillandsia usneoides - reflects that similarity. This genus can be differentiated from other similar lichens and plants by breaking one of the main branches or stems. Usnea will have a central white cord, like a stiff wick.
Old man's beard is very sensitive to air pollution, especially sulfur dioxide. Poor quality air results in greatly stunted growth, with the lichens only a few millimeters long that normally would grow much longer.
Used medicinally for at least a thousand years, most Usnea species exhibit antibiotic properties, and was used as a wound compress by Native Americans.



SUNSET OVER THE HALIFAX

Sun setting over Tomoka State Park as seen from Bicentennial Park across the Halifax River.

The Halifax River runs from near High Bridge in north Volusia County where Smith and Bulow Creeks join, paralleling the coast until it joins the Mosquito Lagoon at Ponce Inlet. Part of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, this portion is in the Tomoka Marsh Aquatic Preserve.
The Halifax River was originally called the North Mosquito River, but was renamed during the British occupation of Florida in honor of the 2nd Earl of Halifax.
Purchase Halifax River Sunset by Paul Rebmann



PHANTOM CRANE FLY

Phantom crane flies soar through the air with the long thin body in a vertical position and the legs outstretched, wobbling back and forth. At rest, they often hang from vegetation, as seen here in this silhouette.

This distinctive insect that has the appearance of a giant mosquito can be seen in moist woods and along stream margins throughout North America east of the Rockies.
Bittacomorpha clavipes is the most common and easily identified species of the phantom crane flies. The basal segments of the tarsi are enlarged and concave to catch the wind when flying. Mostly black, the delicate legs have white bands, the widest of these near the tips. The small wings are clear with black veins.
Adults sometimes feed on nectar, often eating nothing at all. Eggs are deposited singly or in small clusters at the edge of fresh water. Larvae scavenge for organic matter in shallow water, breathing through a snorkel-like tube at the tip of the abdomen. Fully grown larvae pupate in moist soil. Adults are found from May through September in much of their range, later in Florida.



BUSH GOLDENROD

Bush goldenrod is typically the first woody species to displace grasses on the inner dune ridges of the panhandle coast.

Also called woody goldenrod, it is a frequent low evergreen shrub of dunes, scrub and sandhills from Franklin County west through the Florida panhandle. The range includes the southeastern coastal states from Mississippi into North Carolina, where it is listed as endangered.
Chrysoma pauciflosculosa grows to around 3 feet tall, with glabrous stems that are round in cross section. Leaves are alternate, entire, elliptic to oblong, sessile and grayish-green from 3/4 to 2-1/3 inch long. Flowers are bright yellow, appearing mainly in the late summer and fall in clusters of numerous heads at the ends of branches.



GOPHER TORTOISE

A gopher tortoise munching on some grass at Little Talbot State Park.

The range of gopher tortoises extends through the coastal plain from southwestern South Carolina into eastern Louisiana and through much of Florida, except for the Everglades and Florida Keys. They can be found in almost any upland habitat, although open longleaf pine sandhills and flatwoods appear to be the most suitable.
The shell is typically 10-12 inches in length, but can get as long as 16 inches. Gopherus polyphemus can live as long as 40 to 60 years. The upper shell(carapace) is brown to tan, with a relatively flat top. The lower shell(plastron) is unhinged and projects out in front, especially in the males. The males often have a somewhat concave plastron. Forelimbs are more developed, heavily scaled, with webless toes suitable for digging. The smaller, stumpy hindlimbs have an elephantine form.
Threats include loss of dry upland habitat from development and suppression of the natural cycle of wildfires, leading to overgrowth of the understory. Gopher tortoises dig extensive burrows, often 40 feet long, for shelter. Over 360 other animal species utilize the burrows of the gopher tortoise and some, such as the Florida mouse, cannot exist without the tortoise burrow.