Friday, June 26, 2015

Scallop season is here!

Citrus County is scallop country! Each year, seafood lovers bag the bay scallop found just offshore of Crystal River and Homosassa. People from all across the country come to the Crystal River area to join in the fun of harvesting scallops for a delicious meal. Governor Rick Scott is excited for scallop season: "Bay scallop season is an exciting opportunity for Floridians and visitors"

Scallop season opens July 1 and is a big draw for Floridians until it ends in September. Scallops are often on the bottom of seagrass beds or in places where the grass meets the bottom.Scallops are hard to spot because their natural coloring allows them to camouflage themselves on the bottom among the tall grasses. Most of the time their shells are open to feed and breath, but as soon as they sense an intruder they slam their shells shut and hide. When threatened, the scallop can swim backwards or up by clapping its shell halves together and rapidly expelling water.

The most popular destinations for recreational scallopers are Steinhatchee, Crystal River and Homosassa. This is because the Florida bay scallop, a bivalve mollusk, grows and lives in the shallow (4 to 10 feet deep) seagrass beds that are common to these areas.

Harvesting is allowed from the west bank of the Mexico Beach Canal in Bay County to the Pasco-Hernando county line near Aripeka. The bag limit is 2 gallons of whole scallops in the shell, or 1 pint of scallop meat per person per day. In addition, no more than 10 gallons of whole scallops or 1/2 gallon of scallop meat may be possessed aboard any vessel at any time.

You may harvest scallops only by hand or with a landing or dip net. Scallopers must remain in the legal scalloping area while in possession of scallops on the water, including the point where they return to land.

When brought to the boat, scallops should be immediately placed on ice in a cooler for the trip to shore unless you decide to clean the scallops while on the water. Scallops are quite sensitive to temperature and will quickly die if they are not kept cold. Even if kept cold, scallops will usually die shortly after being placed on ice, especially if fresh water gets into their shells. Placing them on ice, however, makes them easier to open, because the muscle holding the shells together relaxes. A scallop, clam or oyster knife, or even a teaspoon, can be used to open the shells and cut the white muscle free, discarding the shells and unwanted soft parts.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Ocala National Forest

The Ocala National Forest is a great place to enjoy Floridian nature. Located in central Florida between the Ocklawaha and St. Johns Rivers. The Forest is approximately 383,000 acres and is the southernmost forest in the continental United States. The Ocala National Forest is rich in water resources with more than 600 lakes, rivers, and springs.

Water plays an important part in a variety of recreational opportunities on the forest. There are huge springs, twisting streams and lakes for fishing and water skiing. Many of the scenic lakes were formed when limestone bedrock dissolved, permitting the surface layer to slump and fill with water. Snorkelers frequently find a thrilling underwater view of fish, swaying vegetation and cavernous springs. No wonder the Ocala National Forest is one of the most heavily used National Forests in the United States.
I saw this photo in the Ocala Star Banner.  According to the article Richard Jones snapped the photo as he and he family were walking along the Ocklawaha River watching alligator. The family thinks the raccoon was starteld and jumped on the nearby alligator by accident. While both alligators and raccoons are abundant in the Ocala National Forest, we don't see them interacting this closely very often.

The Florida Alligator has an armored  black, lizard-like body, with muscular tails and short stocky legs. They are fast predators on both land and water, able to run as fast as 20 mph for short distances. The massive jaws of the alligator's open mouth reveals 70-80 white pointed teeth, designed to grasp, hold and crush its prey! The alligator snout is broad with the edge of the upper jaw overlapping the teeth of the lower jaw. The alligators silvery eyes sit back on the top of the head, and they have excellent vision, even at night. Alligators Eyes will shine red when you shine a light on them at night Alligators have two sets of eyelids. One set is similar to humans, while the second set of eyelids is transparent, allowing the gator to see clearly underwater. Florida Gators also have a keen sense of smell.

Monday, June 8, 2015

License Free Fishing in Floridian Nature

Saturday and Sunday, June 13-14, freshwater recreational fishing license requirement will be waived in Florida. Free fishing days are a great opportunity for parents and grandparents to take their children or grandchildren out to fish. Its also a great time for  avid anglers to introduce a friend to fishing without having to purchase a license. On these days, the fishing license requirement is waived for all recreational fishermen.

Florida has 3 million acres of freshwater lakes and 12,000 miles of streams and rivers. From those waters over 250 different species of freshwater fish have been collected. This includes several rather rare native fishes and 73 species of nonnative fish. The fish species that most people tend to think about are the larger fish that are used for recreation or food.

The Florida black bass or Black Bass is a species of freshwater  fish that displays an elongated body and is part of the sunfish family. Of all the black bass, the largemouth bass is the most widely known and prized catch. Although it is a prized trophy fish, its consumption should be limited due to small amounts of mercury within the fish. Some experts suggest only six ounces per month so levels of mercury in the body do not reach dangerous levels. The diet of bass changes with its size. Young fish feed on microscopic animals (zooplankton) and small crustaceans such as grass shrimp and crayfish. Fingerling bass feed on insects, crayfish, and small fishes. Adult bass will eat whatever is available, including fish, crayfish, crabs, frogs, salamanders, snakes, mice, turtles and even birds.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Nature Spot of the Week: Big Shoals Public Lands

Located in the southeastern corner of Hamilton County, Big Shoals Public Lands was purchased from the Nature Conservancy by the State of Florida in 1986 through the Conservation and Recreational Lands (CARL) program. It was designated as a state forest in March of 1989.    

The river offers excellent opportunities for freshwater fishing. The fishing is excellent and due to limited public access, others are rarely seen. The entire adjacent river frontage from Deep Creek is either Big Shoals State Park or Big Shoals State Forest. Almost all signs of civilization are completely absent. The only local landing is the historic private landing on the plantation itself, Brown's Landing. From this site, outboards are easily launched or canoes picked up from a float down Deep Creek itself or down the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail. The Florida National Scenic Trail runs along the property's south boundary. This trail is Florida's version of the Appalachian Trail and runs some 1,400 miles through the state.

Birding enthusiasts will find a large variety of species at Big Shoals, including herons and egrets, wood ducks, red-tailed hawks and red-shouldered hawks, woodpeckers, barred owls, ruby-throated hummingbirds, warblers, vireos, wrens, swallows and thrashers. Wild turkeys are usually plentiful and wading birds make regular visits. Bald eagles, northern mockingbirds, scarlet tanagers, and indigo buntings also have been counted. Wading birds, gopher tortoise, barred owls, pileated woodpeckers, wild turkeys, white-tailed deer and timber rattlers are among the more populous species found at Big Shoals Public Lands. Marked trails offer many opportunities for viewing wildlife at both the Big Shoals and Little Shoals entrances.