Category Archives: Thoughts

Visit to the Alligator Farm

We are fortunate enough here in St. Augustine to have the Alligator Farm Zoological Park only a few miles from C Ghost.

Even a statue of an alligator is a little scary.

Established in 1893,  it underwent one move from lower ground to slightly higher in 1926, and  has had continuous improvements since that time. It is well worth visiting. The park is a well-organized, clean and child-friendly environment in which to see and learn about alligators and many other birds, reptiles, and mammals from all over the world. On this, our second visit, we were lucky enough to enjoy the Farm with our neighboring liveaboard family and their three young children. It was a great day.

Three generations of “children” are spellbound by the albino alligator.
Enjoying the small reptile lecture.
These little guys are more our speed.
Not for the faint of heart. We got to see the King Cobra, Nag, enjoy a furry lunch.
The Albino alligator must be kept in a shaded exhibit as it is prone to sunburn!
Chicken turtles are generally uncommon, but seen often in Florida. “Chicken” refers to their meat, which was once often eaten in the South.
A large crocodile.
Child-friendly viewing ensures a good and safe time for children, and less back strain for parents.
Feeding time. We watched them enjoy special alligator “biscuits” and a few dead rats.
Vulture. The big pink structure in the neck area is an air sac, which can be inflated to impress or frighten.
A colorful parrot seems to enjoy the attention given by passers-by.

 

Dock Repairs

Although our marina was spared the serious devastation that Hurricane Irma wreaked in other locales in Florida, and even treated us lightly in comparison to several other marinas in St. Augustine, there was still damage to our docks. It was instructive to see just what vulnerabilities the wind and surge exploited, and what held fast. “D” dock, just next to ours, required heavy equipment for repair in addition to the boat rescue and skilled marina repairs provided by our marina staff. All of this was interesting to watch and to sometimes participate in as amateur assistants.

The metal ring affixed to the dock and surrounding the piling’s diameter allows the dock to float up and down with the tides.

We have floating docks, which means the dock itself, made of rectangles of floating wood and concrete, is affixed to pilings (large telephone-type poles) that extend 18 feet out of the water at mean high tide. The docks ride the tide up and down by means of large metal rings attached to the dock and fitted over the pilings.  The advantages of floating docks over fixed docks (in which the docks are affixed by wood to the pilings and the whole pier is a static structure that does not change with the tide) are several. The relationship between the boat and the dock doesn’t change with a floating dock-the boat is cleated by its lines to the dock and the combination rides up and down on the pilings. This obviates the need for line adjustment during a normal, or even an extreme, tide cycle. The fact that the dock can ride up and down for 18 feet via the ring system means the docks are not subject to being submerged during a storm surge. Of course, if the surge is greater than 18 feet, the rings and therefore the whole dock can “float” off the top of the pilings, with the disastrous result of boats lashed to a freely floating dock that then is blown with the wind and caught by the current. This happened to some marinas here in St. Augustine during Hurricane Matthew, and surely happened with Irma in the hardest hit areas of southern Fla.

This dock ring pulled free of its attachment, damaging the dock and interrupting water and power lines running beneath the dock. Amazingly, our tenuous Comcast connection (orange cord) which also dives beneath the dock, remained functional.

Here at our marina, several pilings snapped off due to the force of the wind, and multiple rings were severed from their attachments. The T-head of “D” dock was nearly severed from the rest of the dock and was pushed from its normal 90-degree angle to a much more acute angle to the remaining dock, with multiple boats caught, squeezed, and damaged in the process (See Irma post). Several finger piers (small sections of dock parallel to the main dock that one walks on to board the boat) were also bent askew as the boats were squashed together.  Some of the dock rings caught at high tide on the remaining damaged pilings, thus keeping those sections of the dock hoisted crazily in air, reminiscent of an Escher print.

This finger pier is caught in a “high tide” position due to damage to the piling and ring.

A 55’ Cheoy Lee trawler was undamaged, but was attached to the unstable T-head. As the live-aboard owners were still evacuated, they gave permission for their boat to be moved-without the ability to use engine power-to a safer slip. Our marina manager recruited about 10 of us and along with his staff, moved this approximately 35-ton boat without engine assist to a slip on another dock. Waiting till wind and tide were assisting, a line was affixed to bow and stern, and two outboard dinghies acted as tugs. Under direction, we floated the boat gently from one dock to another. Tommy got to be “brakeman” charged with pulling the boat back, along with two other folks, in case it all went to hell and the boat started to go awry. I got to be on the bow and throw a line to the folks waiting at the new slip, and therefore got a great view of everyone shouting and pointing to where they thought the two “tugs” should apply pull. The trawler coasted into her new slip as sweet as a dream, and we were able to text pictures of the “rescued” boat to our relieved friends.

Other boats whose engines were accessible were moved by their owners or hired captains. Once each at-risk boat was relocated, the repair barge arrived.

The repair barge crew consisted of a pilot for the barge, a heavy equipment operator for the crane, and a handful of shirtless, sun browned, work-booted, nimble, future Marlboro men.

The crane and its remarkably skilled operator. He swung huge heavy logs deftly into position while carefully avoiding the workmen scurrying all over the deck.
The crane was taller than C Ghost’s 60’10” mast

In short order, they had shoe-horned the barge in the narrow space between our dock and “D” and anchored it by dropping a fore and aft piling through dedicated holes in the barge deck to hold the platform secure.

The barge/crane repair platform. Note the piling visible extending from a dedicated through-hull in the aft of the barge. There is a second piling in the forward section. These act as an anchors while the barge crew conducts repairs.
We got an up-close and personal view of the repairs to D dock.

In less than half a day they had removed old pilings by applying a friction strap and yanking them out by crane and depositing them on the barge.

A damaged piling is removed utilizing friction straps.
A skilled workman uses a pressure hose to blast a new hole for the piling.

Then a pressure hose was used to create a hole in the river bottom and new pilings placed and pounded in. Lastly, rings were re-applied-this last sometimes requiring a crew-member to get in the water and torque in the bolts with a cordless impact wrench. They took a quick lunchtime break, during which one crew member’s wife brought both a packed lunch and their infant. The latter was proudly paraded by Daddy all over the barge for his coworkers to admire and tickle.

 

 

 

Irma

C Ghost came through Irma quite well with only a few scratches. We were very lucky as several other boats in our marina were damaged as well as three of the docks (including ours). Clean-up is underway. We have electricity back but no water. Unbelievably, the first thing to come back on was the Comcast cable, so we have a good Internet connection from the boat. Here are some pictures we took yesterday and today (9/11 and 9/12). We had a lot of help from friends who stayed here while we were gone for Margeaux’s wedding.

This boat is on the dock just across from us. If you look close, you can see C Ghost in the background on the left side.
The metal ramp was torn from it’s hinges on our dock. At mid-tide (what it is in this picture), you can still get on without too much trouble. Much more difficult at high and low tides. (That’s Paula in the background)
This is one of the “rings” that holds our dock to a piling and lets it ride up and down as the tide changes. Luckily, the rings on the other pilings held fast so the dock stayed in place. That orange cable in the upper left is actually our Comcast cable which runs under the dock. Amazingly, with the forces of the wind and waves strong enough to rip the ring from the dock, the cable remained in place and still works!
This is a piece of floating dock that broke off from another marina further down the river. The current took it up to our marina. Since part of it is concrete, it posed a threat to several boats on our pier. Last night several of us managed to get some lines around it and secure it to the pier.
This boat broke free from the marina next to ours and ended up going aground next to the road (US 1).
When we first got on our boat, we thought we had some damage. All those wood shavings are actually from the piling you see in the background. C Ghost rubbed against it up and down pretty hard in the storm. Some of the teak on the side of our boat was damaged but not much else.
A friend’s dinghy capsized on the dock next to ours. The engine came off and went to the bottom, but the throttle cables are still attached. Tomorrow we are going to try and pull the engine up with the throttle cables.
This is the dock next to ours. One of the rings got stuck on the piling during the storm surge and is holding the dock up as the tide falls. We were checking on our friends boat (in front of Paula) which miraculously suffered no damage. Late last night when high tide came, the dock ring unstuck itself and the dock floated back down into place.

Half-Collar Dove Family

We were fortunate enough this spring to spy a pair of half-collar doves checking out possible nesting sites in the rolled-up back deck rain curtains of the vacant steel trawler next door. The pair spent three days investigating the various nooks and crannies provided by the well-worn canvas and plastic hanging from the roof of the back deck, before deciding upon one site that gave protection from the predominant winds (often 15-23 knots this month), was hidden from casual inspection, and best of all for us, provided easy viewing into the pair’s activities.

The female checks out the potential homestead, bird bath and all

Construction of the nest took place over three days, as the male made endless flights afield, returning each time with an offering of nesting material which the female inspected carefully. His bit of twig, moss, twine, etc., was then either accepted and incorporated into the mezzanine-level nest, or thrown vehemently to the deck. I felt a little bad for the male every time he brought his hard-won submission only to have it rejected with seeming disgust. The female, meanwhile, spent her time arranging and rearranging the nesting material into a configuration she considered suitable.

Once the nest was completed, the female laid her eggs. They were not visible to us, but bird books tell us that two are usually laid. The male and female took turns incubating the eggs. At the end of the nesting shift, if the relieving parent was late, the sitting dove would begin voicing louder and hoarser coos. “Hurry up, I’m hungry and I have to go the toilet”. Bird books report that the sitting parent will not “go” while on the nest.

The half-collar dove female close-up

On the 18th day of nesting, one baby dove emerged and hours later, his sibling. We promptly named them Castor and Pollux. The parents took turns feeding them “crop milk” which is a fortified secretion (full of everything baby doves need) from the parent’s crop, a gland in the throat. So, the baby feeds by putting its beak in the parent’s mouth, and the crop milk is regurgitated.

This food apparently keeps the nestlings satisfied for much longer than the berries and bugs that the Kingbird babies ate. (see story on Kingbird Family) The Kingbirds foraged without ceasing for offerings to feed their voracious hatchlings, while the half-collar dove parents spent long periods of time away from the nest once Castor and Pollux had been fed. The behavior of the hatchlings was strikingly different as well. The Kingbirds peeped hungrily almost all the time. In contrast the dove twins crouched quietly in a hiding posture for hours. Once a parent arrived and assumed the feeding stance, then, and only then, would we hear them voice a few quiet whistles.

Dove twins one day old

We were amazed at how fast they grew:

From the size above to the size below in 8 days.

Before long Castor and Pollux had adult feathers coming in, very itchy we suspect, given the amount of time they spent grooming, rearranging, and scratching themselves. Apparently, each adult feather emerges in a “sheath” which the nestlings remove. These behaviors were interspersed with wing flappings, neck stretchings, and half-steps out of the nest. The parents rewarded and encouraged these behaviors by cooing to the pair from a tantalizingly near position on the boat’s safety rail. They were almost ready for flight.

Castor unfurls his wings. Pollux is still uncertain.

Finally on day 22, Castor took the leap. We came back from errands to see Pollux alone in the nest, looking somewhat dejected. Later that day, the mother dove and Castor flew back to the boat, Castor flubbed the safety rail landing and settled for an easier spot on the boat deck carpet. Both encouraged Pollux to fly. Mom fed him briefly and then called to him from the rail. Castor fluttered about, showing off his new skills.

Encouraging Pollux to fly

Pollux flapped his wings and made as if to take off numerous times, but lacked the nerve and finally hunched down in the nest in the hiding posture, as if depressed. Castor then flew back up to the nest and snuggled him, as if in consolation.

Pollux depressed

 

Castor returns to Pollux’s side

Pollux fledged the next day, although Castor is still the more accomplished flyer. The family continues to return to the nest, but less and less often. Sometimes we return to the boat to see the twins snoozing, sometimes there is an empty nest. We do catch sight of the family all over the marina. We’ll be alerted by a soft “Coo coo” and look up to see the parents and the babies on the spreaders or sail cover of a nearby boat. Father dove seems to be the navigator. When the family is grouped, he will decide on a new destination and take off. Mother will follow with Castor on her tail. Pollux will pace around a little, until the lack of proximity to his family is more bothersome than his flight anxiety, and he will follow.

It is unclear from our readings whether wild Half-Collar doves reuse their nests. Apparently, they do in captivity. We have read that they may produce multiple clutches of eggs each year. Perhaps if we are fortunate we may see new nestlings next door this summer.

Christmas!

I know we haven’t written in a while (too long!), and wanted to get a couple Christmas pics of the boat posted. Although the temps are still in the low 70’s most days here, it only got to 50 degrees yesterday. It was cool enough that we got a nice fire going in the salon and took the featured picture for this post. You can see our little Christmas tree, a couple Poinsettias, and presents all around. We also have our bow railing decorated with a “live” green garland sent as a gift from one of Tom’s sisters.
We’ve been doing a fair amount of traveling by car in the last several weeks, visiting both sets of parent’s multiple times. We’ve still been able to get some boat projects done however, and they will be the subject of several upcoming blog posts. Hope everyone has a good Christmas and New Year’s holiday!

Nights of Lights

Shortly after we arrived here in St. Augustine, we saw preparations taking place to dress up the downtown area with annual Christmas cheer. We’d heard that St. Augustine did a particularly nice job at this, but were totally unprepared for what we were about to see. Lights and decorations adorn the city from November 19th through January 31st in a display called “Nights of Lights”. Paula and I decided to walk into town on the opening night of this display to check it out. We didn’t know it at the time, but no lesser an authority than National Geographic has named St. Augustine’s “Night of Lights” one of the top 10 holiday lighting displays in the World!

The first thing we noticed as we approached the center of town was the large number of people streaming in, including a significant international presence. Everyone was nice and polite, despite the crowd, and the displays were absolutely magnificent. St. Augustine is already a very nicely lit city at night to begin with, and all the holiday lighting added on top of that is really something. The below are pictures try to convey some of the magnitude of this display, but they cannot capture the true 3-D effect of the lights when you are standing there.

downtown2
In the center of town, it felt like you were under a canopy of lights the whole time. In this area there were live bands playing Christmas music, decorated Christmas trees, street vendors selling gifts/trinkets – all of it just like out of a childhood storybook.
downtown3
This was not just a concentrated display in a small area. It spilled over into many of the side streets and the waterfront. While the city put up most of the lights you see in the trees, the local businesses and private homes contributed as well.
ligtner-museum
All the city buildings and museums were beautifully outlined in lights. It seemed like you were walking around in the middle of the day there was so much light.
horse-and-buggy
No Christmas festival would be complete without horse and carriage rides. This was a very popular attraction throughout the town and added even more to the festive atmosphere.
downtown1
There are literally “millions” of lights that make up this entire display. Don’t know what the electric bill is, but I’m sure it’s big. The restaurants, pubs and shops stay open a bit longer and were all doing a very brisk business. It also helps that the evening temperatures here are just right (mid 60’s).
downtown5
We were very glad we walked into town. Judging by the amount of people present, there is adequate parking somewhere. It was clear from the amount of traffic, however, that the best way to experience this is to plan ahead and stay in one of the downtown hotels or numerous Bed and Breakfast homes.

Becoming Floridians

Once we arrived here in St. Augustine and got somewhat settled in our new surroundings, we turned our attention to the topic of becoming “legal” residents of the state of Florida. We’d done a fair amount of research on this before leaving Maryland since our situation was complicated by the fact that we intended to continue living aboard our boat for the foreseeable future and would not own any property in Florida. The main issue is having to enter a single “physical” address on all the state government forms when we know we’ll be moving the boat around to different parts of the state and possibly to the Bahamas. We knew other cruisers had successfully accomplished this so it wasn’t a fool’s errand, but there was also no state sanctioned set of instructions on how to proceed. To make it a bit more daunting, we heard horror stories from some other cruisers on our trip down here on how inhospitable the state of Florida has become towards live aboard cruisers. As a result, we expected this to potentially be a long and likely frustrating process.

We began this process back in August, about a month before leaving Maryland. While most of our mail correspondence is now conducted electronically, there are still a few entities that have not or will not divorce themselves from paper mail – government agencies primarily. As you can imagine, this mail problem exists for a number of lifestyles, (RV’ers, traveling doctors/nurses, some businesses, merchant marines, etc.) not just boaters. The best advice we got on how to deal with this was from a seminar we attended at the 2015 Annapolis boat show. At that seminar we were told about a mail service in Florida called “St. Brendon’s Isle”. For a modest monthly fee, this service will provide you with a physical mailing address in Florida at which you can receive both letters and packages. Upon receipt of any mail, the service will send you an email letting you know you got something. You then go login to your account on their site and can view a scanned image of the outside of the envelope to see who it’s from and decide if you want them to hold, shred, or forward it to your current location. For a small upcharge, you can also request that they open the letter and scan the contents. Then you can read the contents online and take any necessary action. Cool! The key here is that not only does this solve the paper mail problem, it also provides that all important Florida physical mailing address we needed. We immediately switched over to this address with our bank and other “official” institutions so that we’d have in our possession several pieces of mail addressed to us at a Florida address before we even started the residency process here in Florida.

One other advantage of the St. Brendon’s Isle service is that they provide a lot of very helpful information about how to navigate the residency procedure in Florida, most particularly the correct sequence of events that must occur to avoid frustration. Here’s all the things we needed to do:

1. Drivers Licenses
2. Boat registration
3. Dinghy registration
4. Car registration
5. Fishing Licenses
6. Record official change of Domicile (Tax purposes)
7. Voter registration

The first of these, which turned out to be the easiest, was the car registration. We got rid of both our cars before we left Maryland (sold one and donated the other) and arrived in Florida “car-less”. We knew in advance of arriving that the first thing we needed to do was get a car. Since we did not have to “transfer” an existing car registration to Florida, our new registration was created from scratch with our St. Brendon’s Isle address right there at the car dealership. The next step was the boat registration. When we originally bought our boat we had it federally documented. While federal documentation does not exempt you from state registration, it makes the process much simpler. Also key here is to have proof that either a sales or excise tax was paid in full on the boat at the time of purchase. Thus armed with a valid Florida car registration, boat documentation papers and proof of taxes paid, passports, and items of paper mail from banks to our Florida address, we headed to the Florida department of motor vehicles.

Unlike in Maryland, the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles handles both cars and boats together. Having spent many frustrating hours in the Maryland DMV over the years, we were prepared for the worst. Upon arriving, we were giving a piece of paper with a number and asked to sit and wait. We barely got to our seats before our number was called (we’ve sat in the Maryland DMV waiting for our number to be called for upwards of 3 hours!). The woman who helped us could not possibly have been nicer. She was also expert on what we were trying to do and zipped through everything very quickly. We came away after a little more than an hour with new Florida drivers licenses and both the big boat and dinghy officially registered in Florida. The best part is that the address on our drivers licenses is a combination of our boat’s documentation number and the address of our mail service. We can now relocate anywhere we want in Florida and our license information remains valid.

Right after that, we got our Florida change of domicile forms notarized (we needed our new Florida driver’s licenses for this) and then submitted those forms to the county clerk’s office who stamped them and gave us a receipt. Then it was off to Walmart to get our fishing licenses which, again, required our new Florida driver’s licenses. We got all this done in one afternoon and are now official residents of Florida! The only thing on the list we haven’t done yet is register to vote, which wasn’t a priority since the big election just happened (we voted absentee in Maryland this time around). All in all, this went amazingly smoothly and we were super impressed with the “can do” attitude of all the state and county officials we encountered.

New Home

After all the anticipation regarding our ICW trip and relocation to Florida, these first few days have seemed a bit unreal. Living on C Ghost has its own rhythm-tasks and routines which provides a sense of stability, much welcome in this new environment so different from the Chesapeake where we have boated all our lives.

Our slip looks out over salt marsh with a distant view of live oaks and pines. The predominant marina bird is the Grackle, not the barn swallow or starling as it was in Ferry Point marina back in Maryland.

Female Grackle in the breeze
Female Grackle in the breeze

We can see two bridges from our slip and their low level hum underlies our daily activities. There are dolphins blowing and surfacing near our boat everyday. My heart still races every time I see or hear one. Our marina is nestled among several others quite close to ours in the San Sebastián river reminding us that we live in a port city. The inlet to the sea only a few miles away. The water is clearish green, in contrast to our brown Bay waters. Our piers are not fixed, but float. Though not as bad as we experienced in South Carolina and Georgia, the tides and current here are large and swift, unlike the indolent estuary waters of the Chesapeake. It is warm here, in November! The city itself is ancient and Spanish in history and style. Lots to explore and learn, and so unlike The Dena back in Maryland. To me, St. Augustine still feels very much a foreign port.

One view from our slip
One view from our slip

However, there are still many commonalities that comfort me. The ospreys are here, and I love to watch these fish hawks. We can already tell a few apart from the others, based on whose masts they like to perch on, their degree of aggression, and patterns of missing feathers. Every time I see one hover, plummet, and snag a fish, I feel at home. A train whistles mournfully several times/night-bringing me straight back to nightfall in my childhood bed. The evening sky is the same, and Orion looks just as bright here as he does in Maryland.

Best of all, boaters are friendly and helpful by and large, just as they are in the Chesapeake. People say hello, introduce themselves, compare ground tackle techniques and share stories of triumphs and close shaves. A teen age angler gave me a quick prep on what tasty fish can be caught here, and preferred baits and hooks.

We miss our friends, and the easy familiarity of a well-known region. We also feel excitement and gratitude that we have this chance to learn, explore, and come to love a whole new locale in this beautiful country of ours.

Veterans Day in St. Augustine
Veterans Day in St. Augustine

The Great Fruit Fly War

Tuesday, October 4, 2016
9:00 AM

It all began, as surprisingly many unfortunate things do, with a banana. Tom loves a morning smoothie, made with blueberries, spinach, strawberries, almond milk, and bananas. All these ingredients do well under refrigeration except bananas. So, just before we set off for our ICW trip, I bought a bunch of the greenest bananas I could find and wrapped them in black breathable cloth, hoping they would last through the anticipated 6 days till we reached Norfolk.

Two days into our trip we ran into 3 days straight of rain and wind which necessitated a prolonged weather hold at a mooring in Solomons. With the damp air and the boat closed up, the bananas ripened rapidly and I began to see a few tiny Drosophila Melanogaster- common fruit flies. This didn’t strike me as cause for alarm. In the marina we’d commonly see one or two buzzing our hanging fruit basket. With fresh air moving through an open boat or the chill air circulating when we used the air-conditioning these few would appear and move on without any action on our part.

Wet warm windy conditions meant the boat was closed up tight
Wet warm windy conditions meant the boat was closed up tight

The morning we left Solomons, I closed the boat up tight against the wind and spray. We had a choppy windy passage to the Great Wicomico and were happy to drop anchor. When I went below, I realized that we had inadvertently created below deck conditions strikingly similar to those required for a high school biology fruit fly genetics experiment: warmth, damp, jostling, and BANANAS! I stepped into a cloud of tiny, red-eyed floating bugs, like a miniaturized version of Stephen King’s horror story, The Mist.

Concerned, but not yet alarmed, I quickly peeled, sliced, and threw the remaining bananas in the freezer, hoping they might yet be usable and got rid of the peels. I figured this and a few timely blows with the swatter would resolve the matter.

Oh no. For something with a brain the size of a poppy seed these invaders are incredibly tenacious and difficult to eradicate. They float through the air like dust motes, seemingly aimless, until you try to swat them. Then they suddenly display the velocity and evasive capabilities of F22 Raptors. In addition, they are so tiny that they fit through the holes of the fly swatter-even a direct hit is not necessarily fatal. Worst, they are capable of producing hundreds of progeny in 24 hours.

With mild panic taking hold, I washed all the apples, plums, onions, avocados, potatoes, and lemons in a dilute chlorine solution and dried them. The few remaining plums went into the refrigerator. The garlic heads got peeled of their initial papery layer and then were stowed in a clean thick running sock, rubber banded shut. The fruit baskets themselves got the chlorine treatment and the old doilies were discarded.

The captive produce-bound and gagged for its own protection
The captive produce-bound and gagged for its own protection

The washed and dried produce was placed into T-shirts tied into sacks, and the whole magilla was stowed in a breathable fine-weave laundry sack and stowed in the forward salon, where the air flow is from bow to stern. Hoping these goodies were sufficiently treated and hidden, I sought internet advice.

Amazingly, I found that the most helpful and effective measure was the simple fruit fly trap. A bit of vinegar and banana go in the bottom of a tallish container and a home-made paper funnel is placed in the top of the container such that its tip dips deeply into the container but does not extend into the banana/vinegar bait. Any space between container lip and funnel should be sealed (I used tape).

A simple but effective fruit fly trap
A simple but effective fruit fly trap

The odor plume from the funnel is irresistible to the little bastards and once they traverse the cone into the fruit bait portion of the trap, they apparently are not smart enough to find their way back up the narrow funnel. Within minutes of setting this up and removing the other attractive produce targets I was gratified to see dozens of the little invaders hovering. Within an hour they were marching down the cone “into the light” like an insectoid zombie army. The internet suggests that the trap be left overnight and then a bit of soap be put into the watery bait to change surface tension such that the flies can’t stay atop the liquid and therefore drown. I must admit that I hastened this process with a squirt of Raid down the funnel once I had bagged a big catch of the pests. Did I smile evilly as I sprayed? Perhaps.

A doomed fly smells something wonderful in the cone of doom
A  fruit fly smells something wonderful in the cone of doom

Within 24 hours the body count was massive and only a few bewildered survivors meandered about the boat, perhaps wondering at the disappearance of their comrades. Congratulating myself, I was all confidence as we battened down the boat before leaving Mobjack Bay.

While underway, I stow any plastic-wrapped tortillas, bread wraps and loaves in the microwave to prevent these light items from being tossed around.

Imagine then my horror and chagrin at the end of our passage to Norfolk, (after rejoicing that we’d had nearly 24 hours of a fly-free cabin) when I opened the microwave and a cloud of happy flies emerged. They danced around and easily evaded my fruitlessly (sorry) swinging swatter arm, merrily fleeing like school children at 3pm on the last day before summer vacation.

This was a significant set-back in the campaign, but I can taste victory. The bread containers have been decontaminated, the microwave treated and purged, and the fruit fly trap is in daily operation with maintenance checks. The thickest-skinned produce have been returned to the baskets and have not been attacked.

Only thickest skin produce could return to the baskets
Only thickest-skinned produce could safely return to the baskets

There are only infrequent sightings of the enemy. I do tend to swat at any small discoloration in the teak and twitch when motes of dust shimmer in the light from a porthole, but I expect these minor insect PTSD symptoms to fade with time.

Kingbird Family

 

A pair of Eastern Kingbirds nested on the pulpit of a friend’s sailboat, which was not in much use this spring/summer. At first glance I thought the nest appeared awfully exposed-but closer inspection revealed that the pulpit seat shielded the nest from sun, rain, and sky-based predators, and the railing around the boat’s bow provided a perch for the birds, as well as a flight obstacle to herons. The floating location made snake intrusion much less likely as well. Upon reflection, I suspected this locale was chosen by experienced parents.

Sailboat bow rails and pulpit seat provide protection
Sailboat bow rails and pulpit seat provide protection

The Kingbird, Tyrannus tyrannus, is aptly named for its vigorous defense of its territory even from the largest predators. It is not common in our area, although now that I know the sound of its call and look for the telltale white tail tip, I have seen several family groupings in the surrounding neighborhood.

Mom and Dad Kingbird produced 3 helpless, cute, reptilian-appearing chicks and spent their days alternating feeding flights.

Mom peers at her tiny nestlings
Mom peers at her tiny nestlings

One parent would guard the nest, usually perching on the bow rail, while the other flew off for a bug or a tasty mulberry.

Once one parent returned, the other would immediately take flight to get more food.Eastern Kingbird hungry mouths

Kingbirds are described as fly-catchers, that is, they grab their prey on the wing, much like barn swallows do. It was while observing these alternating foraging flights that I learned to tell the Mom from the Dad.

A Moth Mouthful
A Moth Mouthful

When Mom was guarding the nest, she often roosted on the chicks, warming and adjusting them. She picked bits of guano and stray sticks and feathers out of the nest with a flick of her beak.

Dad never roosted on the chicks or performed house cleaning, though he was just as attentive to the movements and safety of the nestlings. He also had a small pompadour, in contrast to Mom’s sleek round head. I learned of the nest just after the chicks hatched, so I can’t say whether he shared duties incubating the eggs with the mother.

Nestlings appear all mouth and stomach!
Nestlings appear all mouth and stomach!

Having seen the mother dive-bomb a great heron repeatedly, forcing the larger bird to hunch its shoulders and first walk, then fly away, I was a little concerned about getting close enough to the nest and its occupants to take good pictures without alarming the parents, and possibly being attacked. Surprisingly, although both parents watched my every move closely, they tolerated me slowly and carefully climbing aboard the sailboat (with our friend’s permission) just after dawn each day to sit on the forward hatch. From there I was easily able to watch and photograph. Although Mom and Dad seemed to carry on naturally despite my presence, I limited my visits to about 20 minutes per session.

Kingbird with halo
Kingbird with halo

The three nestlings were extremely vocal, making quiet peeps as they jostled each other in the nest and loud choruses of anticipation when they perceived a parent flying in with food. With the parents tirelessly providing an endless parade of juicy insects and berries, they progressed rapidly (within 10 days) from helpless fluff balls to miniature adults-though you can see their stray baby feathers sticking out everywhere. They got so large so rapidly that I feared they might shoulder one another out of the nest into the water before they fledged.

Nicknamed Manny, Mo, and Jack in honor of The Pep Boys, they became so used to my presence that when I came aboard, they would turn their beady eyes to me, and begin the “food is coming” song, directed at my camera.

Manny, Mo & Jack, almost fully grown and ready to fledge
Manny, Mo & Jack, almost fully grown and ready to fledge

At this point, I terminated my visits sadly, not wanting them to become too accustomed to humans, as this might not serve them well in the wild. A week later, on the morning we left the marina on a 2 week trip to visit family, I went to take one last look at the nest. It was bare.

Empty Kingbird nest

A little sadly, I wondered if Manny, Mo, and Jack had fledged successfully over the water, and wondered if the parents were recovered from their herculean child rearing efforts.

 

We had a great time on our car trip, and returned late on a Friday night. Next day, I was thrilled to hear the familiar chirp of the Kingbird, and was amazed to see the whole family group-5 birds- swoop through the air in pursuit of dinner, then alight one by one on the stays of their sailboat.  The tableau lasted but a moment. A powerboat in the nearby channel gunned its engine loudly and the birds rocketed away-but I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face.