Photo Friday – 100,000 bats over the University of Florida

Bat houses UF Gainesville


 There exists, in one of the less-academic corners of the University of Florida, two tall structures overlooking a lake.  Like houses without walls or sheds on stilts, the exist not for the 50,000 students who attend the school, but for the 100,000 bats (roughly, I didn’t count) that call the field home.

Inside the bat houses, which stand among a lake, a community garden and several fraternity houses, a large colony of Brazilian free-tailed bats hang and squeak all day long.  When the sun sets (on days when the sunset temperature is over 70 degrees), the bats leave the houses in a swarm and head toward the lake, where they spend the night eating mosquitoes, moths and other small insects.

If you’re looking for a free show, head out to the bat houses shortly before sunset and join the crowd of onlookers – and there’s always a crowd of onlookers.  Arrive even earlier and watch the sun set over Lake Alice (right across the street).

These are the largest occupied bat houses in North America, according to UF.  And the bats eat 10-20 million insects every night, begging the question:  Why are there still so many bugs in Gainesville?

The bat houses were original built to lure the bats already on campus away from other buildings (like the football stadium and the journalism school) where they had set up camp.  The move was successful, although I’m not sure how you convince 100,000 bats to move across campus.  A question for another day, I suppose.

UF bat houses

The two bat houses are home to over 100,000 Brazilian free-tailed bats.


Photo Friday – Sideways trees at Ft. De Soto

The effects of the Gulf breeze on young trees.

The effects of the Gulf breeze on young trees.

Last week, I reviewed Fort De Soto park in Pinellas County.  This picture didn’t make it into that review, but I wanted to share it anyway.

Many of the trees on the Gulf side of the island have grown sideways – a result of the gusty winds that blow in off the water.  Many of the trees, like this one, are growing parallel to the ground, giving the sensation of windy-ness, even on the calmest days.

If you’re in St. Pete this week, head out to Fort De Soto after you wrap up your holiday shopping and take in the views and the arboreal anomalies.  I promise it’ll be worth it!

An Interview with Marks and Joey Culver, Florida Nature Photographers

I spend a lot of time browsing the Web looking at nature photography.  It motivates me, and inspires me, and challenges me in my own attempts at wildlife photography.

So I thought I was used to the conventions of nature photography – that is, until I stumbled upon the blog of Marks and Joey Culver.  This husband-and-wife team are carving out their own niche as black-and-white film photographers, and they seem to love Florida just as much as I do.

Marks and Joey Culver

Marks and Joey Culver – Photo by Culver Photography

I was so captivated by their photography – and the haunting, antiquated look of much of their landscape photography – that I sought them out for a Q&A session.  They graciously agreed and told me all about their technique, their collection of antique cameras and their fondness for tree roots (yes, tree roots).

F.A.: If I’m correct, you each took a very different route to Florida.  Marks, you were born here, and Joey, you were born in the Netherlands and raised in Africa.  How do you think that changes your perspective on the landscape?

Marks: Yes I was born here in the town of Holly Hill, Fla. My family settled here in the early ’30s. They owned a chicken and cattle ranch, along with a citrus grove. My dad died when I was 7 so I became a farm hand then. My grandparents raised me. Always being in the woods and on the farm gave me a different look on life. Everywhere you looked there was something different. You appreciate that the woods and land,  will take care of you if you take care of them. So, whenever there was free time my grandfather would drag out his cameras and off we’d go. He bought for me my first camera when I was about 9 or 10 years old. From then on I was a camera junkie.

[Read more…]

It’s time to vote… for Florida Adventurer!

Florida Adventurer Photo Contest

As poll results trickle in this evening, I’ll have my eye on a race that doesn’t end until the end of the month – the Florida State Parks Photo Contest.

Please vote for this photo! (click to go to the voting page)

About a month ago, I posted photos from an up-close encounter with the famed wild horses of Paynes Prairie.  Now, one of those photos is in the Florida State Parks monthly photo contest.

I would greatly appreciate your vote.  It won’t take more than five seconds – there’s no registration, no signup – all you have to do is click “vote” on the photo titled “Walking with Wild Horses.”

While you’re there, be sure to check out the other selected entries for this month.  Just don’t vote for any of them.

To vote, click here, or click the image at the top of this post, or click the obnoxiously large button in the right toolbar (which will be there all month, thank you very much).

Thanks in advance, and I’ll split the cash prize with everyone who votes!




Note:  There is no cash prize.


Photo Friday – Sunset on Gulfport’s waterfront

Gulfport waterfront

The view from Gulfport’s downtown park and recreation center

Gulfport  is a small (12,000 people) city in Pinellas County.  It’s well-known for its artistic community and for its great, non-chain-restaurant dining scene.  There’s weekly farmers markets, seasonal art festivals and lots of little shops and pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods that are fun to stroll year round.  Check it out!

Photo Friday – Roadside fishing break in the Everglades

Believe it or not, there are things swimming in these waters besides Alligators and giant, alligator-eating pythons.  Unfortunately, all we could find were the gators.

Photo Friday – Madeira Beach

A calm, quiet day on Madeira Beach in Pinellas County.  Madeira is less popular than many of the beaches that surround it, but it’s not because it’s an ugly beach.  Madeira has a subdued hotel and restaurant scene, and because of that, it tends to be frequented more by locals and less by tourists.  It also has a McDonald’s with a dock, so you can arrive by boat (or kayak).

OK, a bonus photo, to make a point:

If that’s not a uniquely Florida idea, I don’t know what is.

Photo Friday – Flowers on the campus of University of Florida


As I’ve said before, I know nothing about flowers at all.  But I sure like seeing interesting flowers in unexpected places.  This one was a lone ranger near a parking lot on the campus of the University of Florida.

Driving to campus Saturday morning, I expected little resistance in my quest to find a good parking spot.  Unbeknownst to me, though, a colossal UF graduation ceremony was taking place in the stadium directly next to, but completely unrelated to, my destination.  Frustrated that I had to park miles away on a Saturday morning, I opened my truck door and almost stepped on… this flower.  Which, of course, reminded me that, as frustrating as parking can be, at least I’m not a flower in a parking lot.

Can anyone ID?

Photo Friday – Busch Gardens in Tampa, Fla.

This Friday’s photo is a quick iPhone pic from a family trip to Busch Gardens in Tampa.  I know, naturalists and nature-lovers often have adverse opinions of zoos and the like, and I must admit, my feelings are conflicted as well.  But believing that awareness is the first step in conservation, I’ve often defended zoos and nature parks as a primary reason that people care about these animals in the first place.  (This is starting to feel like an entirely separate post, and maybe it should be.)

Anyway, three things about this photo.  1) It was taken on an open air truck out in the faux-serenghetti.  That costs a little extra, but you go up-close with the giraffes and to “behind-the-scenes” parts of the park, and you get to hear a lot about their conservation efforts.  2) Sometimes I’m surprised by how nice iPhone photos come out.  3) This giraffe has attitude.

Photo Friday – Weedon Island Preserve

Here’s a special Saturday edition of Photo Friday!

Weedon Island Preserve, on the Tampa Bay side of Pinellas County, offers one of the coolest mangrove trails in the state.  The channels, which were dug by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1950s to help reduce the mosquito population (didn’t work), are now maintained as a series of kayak trails.  In many places, the trails are so narrow that you need to use a half-paddle to get through.  Crabs, snakes, rays and wading birds fill the park, and there’s a nearby manatee viewing area.  I can’t recommend this place enough.