Monday, March 26, 2012

Flounder and Crabs, March 14th -17th

Although forced perspective is at work in this photo, this blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) was indeed a  huge crab.  (Photo by John Dougherty, used with permission.)
      Once again, I am posting something a little late, but this time it is not my fault.  After looking at some of my blog stats I noticed that posts with good pictures get many more hits, so I waited until my friend sent pictures before I started writing.  What follows is just a brief report for each night.  As usual, I hope this information helps but don't ask me where I was.  My friend John is more protective of his spots than I am and my fish are still in his freezer.  If I post something too specific, he might just eat them all.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Spring Weeding = Free Food

The tasty tuber from the common southern weed, Florida betony (Stachys floridana).  Some say it resembles a rattlesnakes tail, hence one of the common names, rattlesnake weed.
       Two common north Florida lawn and garden weeds are Florida betony (Stachys floridana) and the wild onion or meadow garlic (Allium canadense).  Both weeds have underground structures that store energy.  The Florida betony has a tuber (an underground, energy storing root) while the wild onion has a bulb (an underground, energy storing stem).  If the tubers and/or bulbs are not removed with the weed, new shoots will sprout and the weeds persist.  Many gardeners spend a lot of time digging up the tubers and bulbs in order to remove the weeds.  However, a lot of people I have talked to do not know that the underground parts of the plants that they worked so hard to remove can be eaten*, and are actually pretty good.  In fact, one spring while I was clearing a garden plot I removed hundreds of wild onion bulbs and betony tubers.  At the time, I knew about wild onions so I ate some and dried the rest, but I discarded all of the betony.  Now I know better.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Spore Print Results

      Yesterday, I was trying to positively identify a mushroom that I suspected was a King Bolete (Boletus edulis).  In my post, I explained that I was taking a spore print to help identify the mushroom.  A spore print is basically a collection of tiny spores that are too small to see individually, but visible in the aggregate form.  The print allows a mycologist (one who studies mushrooms) or forager to determine the color of the spores which is very useful when trying to identify a mushroom. To make a print you place the cap of a mushroom on a flat surface (paper, cardboard, or glass), cover it with a container to prevent air circulation from scattering the spores, and let the spores pile up underneath the cap.  It usually takes a few hours, but I just let my prints form overnight.  After posting last night, I set up my spore print and went to sleep.  In the morning, I was anxious to see the results.  And the results visible spore print.  I was a little disappointed, but there are so more mushrooms of the same species popping up.  I think the specimen I picked was immature, so if I let the others mature longer, I should be able to form a readable spore print.  I'll update the blog when I get more conclusive results.  Until then, I am just drying my mushroom. If it turns out to be an edible bolete, I'll eat it.  If not, I'll throw it in my garden to decompose.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Could this be the King Bolete?

The mushroom that I suspect may be a king bolete (Boletus edulis).  The quarter is for scale.
       Whenever I walk, run, or bike around town, I always glance along the roadsides looking for interesting wildlife, plants, or wild edibles.  Today I went on a short ride to check on an old muscadine vine and along the way I noticed a nice looking mushroom.  There is a possibility that it is a king bolete (Boletus edulis).  I am somewhat familiar with them, but I have never seen one in this region before.  King boletes out west have yellow spore tubes.  The tubes on this mushroom were tan, but they might just be young.  There were a few smaller mushrooms around.  I'll let them mature longer than this one and see if the tubes turn yellow.  Mushrooms can vary greatly from region to region so I wanted to make sure this is indeed a king bolete.  I contacted my brother, a hobbyist mushroom forager, and he thinks it is a king bolete too, but he is more familiar with mushrooms of the intermountain west.  I also contacted my former roommate and coworker who is also a skilled mushroom forager.  He said, "it could be...there are a lot of other boletes in the southeast though."  He also informed me that the general rule with boletes is Do Not Eat any that bruise blue or have red spores.  With mushrooms (and plants), it is important to be sure of what you are eating so he suggested I contact a local expert.  I am taking his advice.  A quick google search led me to contact the University of West Florida Mycology Club.  Hopefully somebody from the club will be able to share some knowledge, but I am also curious to hear from any readers who have experience with mushrooms of the Gulf coast.  Do you think it is a king bolete?  Identifying characteristics are listed below.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


I got drunk and fell on the floor this morning
I got drunk and fell on the floor this morning
I got drunk and fell on the floor
It was good corn liquor and I want some more, this morning!
-verse from the old time song, "Policeman".


      My friend recently posted an old version of this song on facebook.  He tagged me and then wrote something about how the song was inspired by our adventure.  The lyrics are about a guy getting arrested so naturally people jokingly asked if we had a run in with the police.  Sorry but there is no exciting arrest story to tell.  The truth is we were just out gigging and this song just happened to pop into my head.  We both sang it throughout our adventure thus inspiring John to post it online.  John's posting inspired me to learn it so here it is.  I learned it by ear but it's a pretty simple tune so it didn't take long.  As usual it will be some time before I can sing and play this song at the same time.  When I can, I'll post an update.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Carnivorous Pitcher Plants

A flowering white-topped pitcher plant (Sarracenia leucophylla).  If you could actually look closely at the inside of the pitcher, you would notice downward pointing hairs, called spicules, that allow insects to go down the pitcher but make it very hard for them to climb or fly up.
      Florida is a great place to be a naturalist.  There is such a wide variety of habitats resulting in a wide variety of species that can be found.  If you have read this blog before, you know that I work with fish but, I am also a a hobby-botanist.  During this time of year, I can't help but notice all the flowers that are blooming and plants that are leafing out.  While on a short walk the other day, I noticed this white-topped pitcher plant so I snapped a few photos.  These plants used to very common in my my neighborhood but there aren't that many these days.  Fire suppression, habitat destruction, nutrient and herbicide runoff, and over-harvesting are all threats to pitcher plants.  If you want to learn more, check out this link.  Florida has some other carnivorous plants, including other species of pitcher plants and some species that aren't pitcher plants.  I have a few photos of them too.  Maybe I'll write some posts about them.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Flounder Are Back!

John and the first flounder he ever gigged.  You can see that his predatory instincts have taken over.
      It's time to sharpen your gigs and hit the water; The flounder are back!  I went out last night with my friend, John Dougherty, and we found our first fish in about 40 minutes.  He was in about 1.5' of water next to some inundated cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora).  John had been with me on less productive trips and was sick this November, so he had never gigged a fish.  I let him make his first kill and he was hooked.  There is something about gigging a fish that taps into your primordial, predatory instincts, and John liked connecting with his primitive roots.  As the fish thrashed and tried to escape, I scolded John for using his left hand to hold a beer rather than retrieve his fish.  I solved the issue by finishing the beer and stashing the empty bottle in my pack.  With a decent 18" flounder, we checked the rest of the cordgrass and then departed for a new location.  We picked up his friend on the way and prepared for more gigging.  We saw some porcupine fish and even some spawning horseshoe crabs.  I often saw horseshoe crabs around St. Teresa, FL, but I haven't seen many near Pensacola.  It was neat to see them cruising the shallows looking for mates.  Next we spotted squid stealthily darting through the water.  They were tough to see, but we caught one.  Finally, after much more walking, we spotted a very camouflage flounder.  I gigged him in the head.  We never measured him, but he was bigger than the first.  By the end of the night, we had two decent flounder, some crabs and some squid.  There aren't a lot of flounder yet, but more will come
     We didn't get a lot of fish, but the night was a success because I helped John gig his first fish.  He must have really liked it.  In fact, I just spent the last few hours helping John make his own gigging light, and then he tried to convince me to go tonight, despite the gusty conditions.   If you are interested in gigging, check out some of my other posts under the "fishing" label.  This one explains what equipment you need, and I'll soon write posts about where to go, and how to make your own light.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Teaberry: American Wintergreen

American winterberry, or Teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens), a great trailside nibble.
       Last week, I spent some time with my grandparents in Pennsylvania and I learned of an herb that they called teaberry.  I was told that even in winter, the leaves of the evergreen plant remain, so I thought there was a chance that I could still find some.  However, teaberry did not appear in any of my books, so I didn't even know exactly what to look for.  With a few inches of fresh snow on the ground, and more falling, I laced up my boots and trudged out into the old field adjacent to my grandparent's house.  In no time at all, I found a small, evergreen plant, that had a slight scent of wintergreen.  This was the plant!  What I did not expect were the many red, persistent fruit that had set in the summer, still clinging to the plant just inches above the frozen ground.