Monday, December 18, 2006

Sand torches

There is one flower that is especially unique here.
It is the Scrub blazing star, Liatris ohlingerae.
This is the only known remaining site on the Winter Haven Ridge where this species is extant. J.B. McFarlin, a botanist who collected in the area in the 1930s, found it at Lake Fannie on the other side of Winter Haven, but that scrub is overgrown today and on the verge of development, so Lake Blue is it in this part of the archipelago. As you can see, it is a lovely flower. It blooms in late summer and early fall. I have about 50 plants in this preserve.
Its other name is sand torch. I can see why, especially on a sunny day with bare white sand around it.

Vehicular ecocide

It's truly amazing the lengths to which people will go to dispose of auto parts. At Lake Blue my biggest project was cleaning up the debris that generations of ne'er-do-wells had bestowed upon the property. But there's one chore that stands out among them. It was the dismantling of the pickup truck bed. I began taking it apart in early October 2003. According to my journal, I didn't finish taking it apart and hauling it out until a month later (Nov. 8, 2003). I took it apart using a small sledge hammer and a pair of bolt cutters so I could cut it into pieces small enough to manually haul out about a quarter mile down a fire lane. It was quite a workout, I'll tell you.
The irony was that the largest piece of debris I ever encountered was the farthest away from the entrance where I had to haul it.

Happily, there was a secondary benefit to the truck bed removal. It uncovered the only patch of Cinnamon Fern in the preserve and allowed that species to thrive.

Three years later I'm still finding auto debris, but not as much. I found a car bumper in November 2006 and another tire in October. Tires are the most common discard. I've found more than 100 of them here, including one tire from a semi, which was a chore to haul to my trash pile.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Fixing a hole in the fence

Barbed wire is a fun material to work with.

I've had to work with it a lot lately. Someone has decided to cut the fence even though they could easily walk in or climb over. I don't get it. I don't own a comealong, which is a piece of equipment that will provide good tension. I have to use a couple of claw hammers instead. They work fairly well. One of the tricks is making sure the wire ends are wrapped tightly enoug. Otherwise the tension can be your enemy. I had one section of wire come apart unexpectedly and strike me like a 50-foot metal snake. Just a nick, though it could have been worse.

I have fixed up a pretty good tool bucket for the job now. Hope I don't have to use it often.


Sifting for Sand Skinks

The kind of skinks I'm looking for are unlike any I'd seen before. I was familiar with the 12-lined skinks of rotten logs and the larger brown ones whose names I forgot. These don't leave tracks in the sand. They leave tracks under the sand. How can that be, you may wonder? It's because they see the sand particles from the bottoms. It's because they are looking for termites and other subterranean morsels. Biologists call them fossorial creatures. They aren't the only ones out there (or more properly under there). One cold day I was starting to remove some shingles and there was an inert crowned snake. I put the shingles back since they would provide insulation from the cold. The snaked needed insulation at the moment more than I needed a clean forest floor. Crown snakes live underground, too. You never know what kinds of snakes you'll dig up. Once, when I was removing some debris, my earthwork exposed an extremely pugnacious garter snake. He wanted to bite me, I suppose. I later saw the snake or one of its fellows biting into a toad, which was probably more satisfying to the snake than my pant leg, though the toad didn't seem to be enjoying it. I was digging out cogon grass in a sand pile and a corn snake slithered out. I don't think I had ever seen one in the wild.
Back to sand skinks. I wasn't trying to capture them, just figure out where they were. The squiggles in the sand only show up when you have bare sand, which is in short supply. I had to create my own supply by clearing the ground along some paths through the landscape. After I'd cleared the ground, I put down 2 X 2 pieces of plywood and checked back periodically to see if there were any visits.

I learned that I had set up homes for a lot of creatures. I found traces of sand skinks. I even encountered a couple of them, including my first young one about half adult size. That was neat. There were a lot of racerunners, a terrestrial lizard. I wonder if they eat sand skinks. I don't know.

I encountered one black racer, my most common snake in this preserve or at least the common snake seen, and assorted spiders, ants and other invertebrates. I was especially pleased to encounter my first male sand cockroach. They are dark-winged on this portion of the island chain.

I GPS the board locations and a friend enters the data onto a map. I did one part of the island last year. I do the other part next year. The best time to look for sand skinks is the spring, by the way. They are cryptic creatures and there's more to learn, I just haven't figured out what I want to know yet.



I work on what used to be an island.

Except for the white sand, it doesn't look like an island until you look at the plants and animals.

They're unusual because they don't live anywhere else except a couple of narrow strips of land in the middle of Florida and only only the parts of those strips that haven't been bulldozed.

I've been out here four years now.

The first thing I did was to pile up the tons of jetsam that had reached the island. I called some friends and we got rid of it. Meanwhile, I was exploring, trying to learn the island's secrets.

The island takes time to know.

I've done a lot of things here, which I will discuss later, but today I want to talk about my terraforming project.

Inside the fence on this otherwise unbulldozed piece of the island someone cleared a fire lane and pushed several cubic yards of sand against the wood's edge.

My terraforming involves manually digging out the sand, removing the trash, tree limbs, palmetto roots and other debris and trying to put the earth back as it was, with a few changes. I'm building small dunes as befit an island. This make take some time, but time is something that nature has. My dream is to revegetate the dunes with native plants. I want Lopsided Indian Grass. I want Britton's bear grass. I want rosemary. I want something besides the trashy looking natal grass, guinea grass and cogon grass that says ruderal, unkempt land as much as anything else in this part of the world. I want Liatris ohlingerae. I want Asceplias tuberosa. I want a lot.

I'll let you know how it's going and I'll tell you more about what's gone before.