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Date of Issue: March 30, 2005

Sandscript

Beach vitex is covering the sand dunes in the Carolinas and could be drifting on the currents to Florida. The plant looks like railroad vine, but with hairy leaves.
Click to enlarge
Smoking ban blasted in Sarasota; peafowl travails on key

Butts may still be allowed on the beaches in Sarasota County.

The Sarasota County Parks Advisory and Recreation Council has recommended that cigarette smoking be allowed along the shore there. Sarasota County commissioners had asked for public comment and consideration of a beach smoking ban due to a butt litter problem.

The county commission could still enact a no-smoking-on-the-beach law, of course, but there doesn't seem to be much support for the ban. Most of the opposition centered on the question of enforcement of the law.

So instead of an outright prohibition, smokers will be asked to dispose of the cigarette detritus properly. Education efforts will also be enhanced.

It appears that the no-smoking law will, and should, quietly die the good death - or perhaps just be snuffed out.

Peacock relocation on Longboat
Probably the most famous residents in the Village on Longboat Key are of the feathered variety.

Peafowl have strutted their gaudy colors on the north end of the key for more than 30 years. Residents either love or loathe the birds, but most have now agreed that 100 or so of them are just too many. Trapping efforts are under way and much of the bird population is destined to be relocated to the eastern part of the county.

About 30 birds will remain.

Although the peacocks and peahens are beautiful, they can also be a pain. Instead of a moderate chirp or gentle trill, the birds shout out a call that sounds mostly like a woman screaming, "Help!"

During mating season, the big birds - they get to be something like 30 pounds - get into fights. And with a bird that size, the amount of ... well, call it detritus, is pretty extensive.

Anna Maria Island had its own peafowl until the late 1970s when, it was detailed in former Island newspapers, the folks here got fed up and moved them over the bridge to our welcoming neighbors on Longboat Key.

The birds were semi-famous here for a while, too, so much so that the Anna Maria Elementary School mascot for many years was a peacock. Peafowl were found near the school in Holmes Beach and regularly involved the crossing guard in halting traffic for their passage across Gulf Drive.

I remember back in the mid-1970s doing articles and pictures of the birds for the former Islander newspaper. One poor woman called and wanted me to talk to here about the nasty birds and, after talking to her and looking at her blood-covered pool deck and shredded pool cage, I had to sympathize somewhat.

Now it's Longboat's turn.

The problem is one of excess: A handful of anything is usually fine, a lot of it is just too much. Remember the raccoons at what used to be Jorie's restaurant on the key, now Euphemia Haye? The nightly feeding time drew hundreds of the furry little bandits to the delight of the restaurant patrons, but to the dismay of nearby residents, who had to contend with the critters the rest of the time as they scrounged through trash cans and terrorized the house pets.

Bad plant!
And speaking of too much of a good thing, beachfront property owners along the Carolina shores are finding that what they thought was a nice groundcover plant is actually an insidious, invasive pest that is harming turtle nesting areas.

And it could be coming to our shores sometime in the future.

Beach Vitex (Vitex rotundifolia ) "was introduced to

the horticulture trade in the mid 1980s and is often sold as a 'dune stabilizer,'" according to Dale Suiter, an endangered species biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Native to Japan, Korea and Hawaii, the plant was introduced to the United States as a ground cover. Like many non-native species, though, it has quickly overwhelmed the native grasses such as sea oats and seabeach amaranth.

"I think there are herbarium specimens from coastal Alabama, but I haven't heard of any records of it from Florida yet," Suiter said, "but I can't imagine it having any trouble growing in your more subtropical environment."

The plant looks like railroad vine, but with hairy leaves that smell like eucalyptus when crushed.

Suiter said he's "anxious to get the word out and put the brakes on the spread of this species. It's very aggressive here and probably could be even more aggressive in warmer areas like Florida."

Beachwalkers, be wary.

Thanksgiving funny
My friend Doris Silverthorn sent me this classic Thanksgiving joke to give you a grin at the dinner table Thursday.

A young man named John received a parrot as a gift. The parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary. Every word out of the bird's mouth was rude, obnoxious and laced with profanity.

John tried and tried to change the bird's attitude by consistently saying only polite words, playing soft music and anything else he could think of to "clean up" the bird's vocabulary. Finally, John was fed up and he yelled at the parrot. The parrot yelled back. John shook the parrot and the parrot got angrier and even ruder. John, in desperation, threw up his hand, grabbed the bird and put him in the freezer. For a few minutes the parrot squawked and kicked and screamed. Then suddenly there was total quiet. Not a peep was heard for over a minute. Fearing that he'd hurt the parrot, John quickly opened the door to the freezer.

The parrot calmly stepped out onto John's outstretched arm and said, "I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions. I'm sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate transgressions and I fully intend to do everything I can to correct my rude and unforgivable behavior."

John was stunned at the change in the bird's attitude. As he was about to ask the parrot what had made such a dramatic change in his behavior when the bird continued, "May I ask what the turkey did?"

Drunk elephants on parade
The concept of a herd of drunk elephants rampaging through a village might be something taken from a bad late-night movie, but it's a true event in India.

The big critters, facing forest defoliation and a shrinking habitat, are venturing into the native villages. Rice beer is a huge attraction and, after guzzling the homemade brew by the barrelful, they run amok. At least 22 people have been trampled so far this year, and more than 600 have been killed in the past 15 years, according to an Associated Press report.

Indian wildlife officials are trying to set up trenches to keep the pachyderms corralled in certain areas. They're also trying to cultivate plants that elephants like in some areas to keep them there, and putting in plants that elephants don't like in other spots.

Makes our raccoon problem seem pretty minor, doesn't it?

Sandscript factoid
State health officials are again warning people to avoid eating raw oysters in the wake of three deaths in Florida earlier this month.

Some raw oysters carry a bacteria, Vibrio vulnificus, that can cause complications to people with weakened immune systems or who have liver disease, cancer or diabetes.

The bacteria generally doesn't affect healthy people, but the health folks recommend cooking oysters before eating them just to be on the safe side.

So here's my tip, for those of you who enjoy slurping a few on Thanksgiving: Fire up the grill, pop the oysters on the coals for a few minutes, and munch away. They're easier to open that way, too.

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