Saturday, December 22, 2007

Another cleared fence line

I finished the fence line west of the south entrance on the north tract and had enough energy to harvest enough elements from the debris to make a small holiday wreath. As I wrote earlier, there is very little color now in the scrub. It's green, brown, white and blue, if you include the sky.

Many of the Chapman oaks are shedding leaves and a lot of brown leaves are on the trees. No other plants are doing this. I hope this is only drought-related and not related to any oak declines I've heard about. I'll know by spring.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Winter defloration

I can tell winter is approaching. The formerly brilliant hues of the Garberia, Liatris, Baulduinia and Carphephorus are now brown wisps of seedheads waiting to be carried by the wind, a bird or an insect to fertile or infertile, sunlit or sunless ground on a chance of regeneration when warm weather and rain return, whenever that is. The way things are going the former will occur before the latter.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Orchids in bloom

The Habenaria floribunda are beginning to pop up and bloomin the bayhead. I took some photos theother day. I will post them later. I counted the plants I could find and noticed there were 10.

This is the second orchid species I've found here. I don't expect top find more. The other is the upland species Pteroglossapsis escritata.

Bureaucracy and the land-use map

Gary Morse at FWC today told me Division of State Lands has to initiate any growth map amendment action since the Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund, not FWC actually own Lake Blue. That's fine with me as long as someone gives the matter some attention.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Another clear fence line

Over the weekend I finished the fence line south of the main entrance. I found a lot of trash in the right of way I'll have to come back for in a future Great American Cleanup. I also made some progress in the southwest corner where the bayhead and the orchids are. I need to go in and verify which Habeneria species lives there. I found another plant, too.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Getting ready for the show

I'm starting to assemble maps, photos etc. for the environmental education exhibit Saturday at Tenoroc Fish Management Area. I want to have something more memorable than the last time.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

That scrub bay aroma

One of the occasional pleasures in the clearing work I do is to occasionally remove Persea humilis, the Scrub Bay. The wood is aromatic when it's cut. I wonder what it smells like when it burns.

Scrub Bay is plentiful here. It is not a listed plant, except by DACS, because of the potential for commercial exploitation, similar to Scrub Holly and Scrub Olive.

Most of the trees I'm removing along the fence line are Scrub Oak and some Bumelia sp.

Next fence line

I started work today to begin clearing the fence line near the main entrance. I got about 100 feet or so in an hour. I also found a county railroad crossing road sign that appeared tp be in good condtion. I will ask them if they'd like it back. Otherwise, I'll scrap it. I don't know how long this has been here, since I thought I got most of the stuff out of the right of way a couple of years ago. It may not have been visibled from the road, though.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Clearing the fence

I am nearly done with clearing one of the fence lines. in the south tract. I think I may delay going further because I won't be on public right of way and I want to think and talk to others about the value.

I have an unsual situation in that there is some distance between the road and the fence. About 5 to 10 feet is wooded in most places, which provides a buffer and protects the site from most illegal dumping.

Another issue is what to do with the vegetation I'm removing. I don't have unlimited storage space.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Fall arrives; signs abound

It is early November and the signs are everywhere that summer is over. Garberia is blooming. Liatris is in various stages of blooming and seeding, except for ohlingerae, which has already bloomed and is all in dandelion-like tufts of seeds. They had a good year this year; perhaps next year will be better.

The primary butterflies evident, at least in late aftrernoon, were Little Yellows and Long-tailed Skippers. A few faded Gulf Fritiallaries and some Zebra Heliconians were also around.

The fire lanes are in bad need of mowing. I have resigned myself to the fact that the fire lanes are a lost cause to anything but maintenance. I did finish clearing the fire lane and beginningn to cleart the fence line on the west side of the south tract. I also found the remains of a recently dumped air-conditioner that had pretty much cannibalized, except for the fan, base and compressor. It was near the site where I found the cart about a month ago. I wonder if they're connected. The compresssor is too heavy to carry far.

Also, I found a caterpillar on Blue Curls. It was dark brown with a lighter brown ventral stripe.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Beautiful, ugly inverts

The latest additions to my bestiary occurred this week.

I unearthed a Giant Whiptail Scorpion while I was

clearing the fire lane. The next day I ran across a very
fresh Io Moth near the fire lane while I was picking
up some trash. I didn't have a camera to record either,
but picked up these photos from the Internet.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The chain of events that brought me here

I was listening to a quirky song by John Hammond, I believe, about a series of happenstances behind a personal situation and thought of the forces that brought me to the preserve. If I hadn't been looking for a job and ended up in Polk County and hadn't been at Bok Tower that day and fallen in with a group of birdwatchers and hadn't become interested in learning more about nature and hadn't met some people from the Florida Native Plant Society and if I hadn't been single all of these years that gave me time to learn something about the outdoors and if I hadn't married someone who agreed to live in Winter Haven and if we hadn't picked the neighborhood we picked and if the Ridge Rangers hadn't been organized and if I hadn't had a truck to haul stuff to and from in and if I hadn't been active and interested and if I hadn't had the support to continue the work, then things would probably be a lot different.

Cleaning up for fall

I finally got rid of a small number of tires, courtesy of periodic county recycling service. I also started cleaning up brush from my fire lane clearing work. I will establish a series of brush piles that may provide some wildlife habitat this winter and will add to the fuel load if the powers that be ever relent on prescribed fire.

The Liatris is in nearly full bloom and I'm finally identifying some additional plants, though some are still a mystery. Also, I talked to Donna Stark today and the stool I found some time ago belongs to her, as I thought it might. I'll give it back to her the next time I see her. She persuaded me to volunteer for a display at Tenoroc on Dec. 1.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A lovely evening sky

This has absolutely nothing to do with land management or endangered species or the Winter Haven Ridge. It was just a memorable moment on a recent evening when I looked into the westering sky and was treated to a play of light and clouds that I couldn't recall witnessing before and wanted to share it.

Did I say three? How about four trunks?

I thought I had found something unusual when I found a three-trunked Sand Pine several months ago. It's still unusual, but weird stuff happens on the Ridge. While I was looking for Liatris and generally exploring, I found a FOUR (count 'em four)-TRUNKED SAND PINE about 100 meters north of the first one. It must be something in the soil (Archbold, for the record, according to the soil map).

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Lotta liatris

The Scrub Liatris is in full bloom and is abundant this year, it seems. I didn't count the number of plants, but I'm sure there are well over 20 in the limited section I walked today. Some folks from Archbold are coming Friday to do some field work. I've got to be a blog conference at Rollins or I'd tag along.

Also, saw a single Curtiss' milkweed in bloom. I think that plant is mostly done. I also checked out the orchids in the bayhead. No blooms until January, probably.

More fence cutting

I'm off with my repair kit to fix the fence, which has been cut recently. One cut was by the power substation, where it's been cut before. The other was along the railroad siding near the First Avenue entrance. There's also a bottom strand cut on the west side by the railroad embankment.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Chopping and sweating

Not much to report. I'm still reclearing the fire lane in the south tract, which is slow work.

I'm also working getting the place remapped for Preservation on the county growth map. I was told it won't cost FWC anything as long as I do the legwork, which I already have.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Species list grows

I added three new species to the vertebrate list today. They were Great Blue Heron, Oak Toad ( Bufo quercicus ) and Worm Lizard (Rhineura floridana), which is pictured above, courtesy of image (I didn't have a camera with me at the time). These discoveries occurred in the course of clearing the fire lane. I thought the herps were likely here; I just hadn't found them. Birds are a matter of luck. By the way, the bird list here is up to 52 species, the herp list is 21 species/subspecies and the mammal list is 10 species and the fish list is 0 species because there's no water.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Natal grass progress

The second annual natal grass tug was a sucess. Ever since I did a test pull about three years ago to see if weeding natal grass was sustainable, the natal grass growth in the central area where I've doing this has shown signs of lower regeneration from the solid carpet of natal grass that greeted me when I started this (should have taken photos). That allowed time to begin some work on the south fire lane's natal grass. This is a small bit of progress, but welcome.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Fortuitous & fortunate convergence

I've been clearing and widening the fire lane in the south tract to aid maintenance and to get at some of the trash piles more easily. This has resulted in a brush pile that contains a number of small trees. Today I removed many of the trees, cut off their branches and took them away for their future use as hiking sticks in an upcoming venture called Polk's Ten Trek Trails that will encourage young people (and others) to use the local trail system. It doesn't look as though I will run out of material anytime soon, though I'm leaving some of the less common trees, such as Hercules club, to create a little more variety.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Tall grass fire lane

I took my lawnmower out today to do battle with the tall grass in the north fire lane. The lawnmower lost. It looks as though I'll have to finagle someone to bring in a tractor to do the job.
Despite the fact that this exposure is backlit and a poor-quality to photo, I think it conveys a good impression of what the challenge is.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Showy sumac

One way to tell fall is approaching is the blooming of a new group of plants. There are many rare plants I monitor, but sometimes it's easy to overlook the beauty of the common plants. Sumac is one of them. The flowers are yellow cream this time of year. Later in the season the leaves turn red and provide a great contrast in the scrub against the white sand. This is not the same thing as poison sumac. which is another plant entirely. These bushes are a benign and lovely part of the landscape.

Fruit season

One of the pleasures of working here this time of year is that there's some sweet rewards. In late July the grapes are ripe, though only on the female vines, which are in short supply, it seems. In August the gopher apples begin to ripen. They're more widespread and are really a sweet treat when they're ripe.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Plant list growing

I've added a few more species to the official plant list. I added Joint Vetch (Aeschynomene viscidula) because I finally noticed it growing in the sandhill area. It is a prostrate plant with small flowers (4-5 mm) and could be overlooked easily if you're unobservant, as I have been.

The others are "weeds" that I am just now finding out what they are. I found a great web site listing grasses found in citrus groves, which helped. I need to get down the Extension Office and see what they have.

Sand Skinks need management, experts agree

I've just read the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determination that Sand Skinks should remain a threatened species and that their habitat needs more management, protection and monitoring. One comment that struck me was the superiority of fire management over mechanical management. Also, the experts said that if you chop down the trees, leave them to be devoured by the termites because you'll get fatter Sand Skinks that way.

Now, all I need is a good lightning strike some night when the Auburndale Fire Department is otherwise occupied and the fire is far enough from the homes so that no one is burned out of their home. That would be some trick, I guess.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Dirt bike redux

Last weekend I caught some kids in the preserve on a dirt bike. I told them to get out. I can tell they're still pissed about it. I was working on the fire lane and someone road by and yelled something about the incongruity of clearing land (that would be the fire lane) in a state wildlife preserve. I checked the area later and saw there had been no return of the dirt bike. Maybe they'll stay out even if they would prefer not to. I also alerted FWC and Law Enforcement will be aware of the situation. Maybe if someone got a ticket it might cool their jets.

Back on the fire lane

I've returned to my labors of trying to widen the fire lane to make it more functional. This work will also make it easier to remove trash from the windrows at the edge owhere the original fire lane was cut. I'm making a large brush pile, which at some point will either have to be burned or removed. I'm voting for fire, but at the moment I'm outvoted.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Fence fixed, toxic waste collected, etc.

I finally fixed the fence after removing the trees and then set out to explore the rest of the fire lane. I found a 5-gallong bucket that appeared to contain oil or something like it and removed it after finding a cover. I also carried out a large garbage bag of, well, garbage and did some minor weed whacking with a sling blade. I think the project for this year will be widening and clearing the fire lanes.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Other trails in the sand

When people speak of trails in the sand in scrub, they're usually talking about Sand Skinks. However, sometimes the sand surface looks like a miniature railyard with many crisscrossing paths. The tracks are on the surface, not beneath it. They belong to Narceus gordanus, the resident large species of millipede that is quite common here. I had this species identified a couple of years ago by a scientist at the University of Florida. It was first described in 1948, owing to the slow progress in cataloguing Millipedia, no matter how easy they are to find.

Fixing the fence again

I've been avoiding the gym for the past few days because I haven't needed it. Two large trees fell on the north fence line and I've been slowing chopping them into manageable pieces, hauling them with cable and will have the fence up again by this weekend. The firelane adjacent needs work. The Johnson grass is back with a vengeance.

Monday, July 16, 2007

A new view of Asclepias curtissi

Asclepias curtissi appears to be more common this year on my island. I've seen several plants and they are usually white when in full bloom and begin to yellow in decine. Over the weekend I found a few with a lilac tint. They appear to be new flowers--one had a few unopened buds. I will post photos when I get them back. It is thrilling to find little secrets about plants you think you already know.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The spiders among us

In the course of some of my other wildlife work I have encountered all kinds of spiders, some familiar, some unfamiliar. It opens up an entirely new group of organisms to learn about. I will post some photos as I obtain them.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Wanted: a wider fire lane

One of my goals this year is to widen some sections of the fire lane. It was widened when the land was fenced five years ago, but plant succession, growing seasons and incomplete grubbing being what they are, the trees are marching back to where they came from. I may some volunteer help this fall. If I don't, I'll do it myself. I need the exercise to work off the weight I gained recently. Besides, it will make it easier to get to some of the trash piles. The only problem is I don't have anyplace to put the plant debris, which will be considerable. I'll get back to the terraforming, too, when things cool down.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Musta been a helluva party

After I finished retrieving the last of the Sand Skink boards on Sunday, I turned my attention to a pile of litter that I had encountered when I was setting up my transects. I took out eight bags of rusty cans--looked like large juice cans or some such--and an equally large cache of what appeared to be gin bottles, with a few beer bottles mixed in. I'll go back for the rest this week. It was impressive.

Friday, June 22, 2007

My companion, the fox

There are a few dependable species of wildlife I find in the preserve. Most of them are birds. There's a family of Eastern towhees, some mockingbirds, a brown thrasher and some Carolina wrens here in summer. The rest of the time it's whatever the migration winds bring, from cedar waxwings and pine warblers to a whip-poor-will or bald eagle. Last night I saw chimney swifts.

There is also a grey fox. It is half -hidden by the palmettos in the image above. I think there is only one, but I can't be sure. I see it usually in the same area of the south tract. When I was cutting a trail it barked at me. Yesterday when I was picking up Sand Skink cover boards I flushed it from wherever it was resting in the palmettos. It stood about 50 feet away and looked at me warily. I said hello and moved on. Maybe we undersand each other and will continue to keep our distance.

I wonder if the fox is responsible for all of the holes I see in that section. They aren't hog rooting disturbances, they are intentional digging at scattered locations. It is very odd. I wonder if the drought has made it harder to find food and something is desperate. I wonder if that's the reason some of the boards were overturned. It's a mystery.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Summer has arrived

The summer equinox is upon us. Thunderheads are forming on the horizon, water streams down my back, Bonamia is blooming and Liatris will be blooming soon. I need to retrieve the Sand Skink cover boards, which I will give to Polk County Environmental Lands for their surveys.

I need to resume trash pickup in the windrows. There are several bagfuls awaiting my attention. At some point I need to resume my terraforming project, which will bury the emerging Momordica that is taking over one my creations.

I'll get some much-neeed exercise and perhaps lose some weight.

Removing the boards

I've been hampered by afternoon showers in retrieving the last of the Sand Skink cover boards from this year's survey. Maybe this afternoon will be better.

They will be put to a good use. I'm turning them over to the Polk County Environmental Lands Program.

IDing moths, one at a time

I posted a photo of one of my moths and got a response from Bug Guide. It is a common scrub species, I was told. The one I couldn't photograph, which was striking, has been ID'd, too. Don Stillwaugh said it is a White-tipped Black Moth. I need to post more.

Summer camp's over

The tent is gone. So are the people who lived in it. All that was left was a very wet blanket. No one was arrested. I haven't seen them lately. I now have a tent. Maybe I'll take it with me to the Suwanee this fall. It may come in handy.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Dead gopher tortoise

Today while I was picking up my Sand Skink cover boards, I found the remains of a Gopher Tortoise in the northwest corner of the South Tract. Hard to figure out what happened. The shell wasn't hacked through, it still had all of its fingers and toes and its head. There was a burrow nearby in the fence line that could have been dug by a small tortoise. This is very mysterious. After not having seen live tortoises here during the first four years, I have seen one live tortoise and one dead tortoise, all within about 100 meters of each other. The only other sighting was a tortoise that had been killed and the carcass dumped on the property. The only other Chelonian was a young snapping turtle. This is very odd.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Moths need attention

I am paying more attention to moths. Moths are numerous, mostly useful or just part of the ecology, which is ultimately useful. However, they are more secretive, mostly nocturnal even though they can be found by disturbance in the daytime and they are generally not as colorful as butterflies. They are also more numerous and identification is a challenge, I think. I looked at Peterson's moth guide in the library and it's like trying to sort out skippers in some cases. Nevertheless, I want to give it a try by photographing the species I can. Two elegant species I have missed photographing, one because I didn't have a camera with me and one because it escaped before I could get a photo are the Scarlet Wasp Moth and an unidentified species that had an orange body, black wings with white tips on the forewings. I haven't been able to find it in the Peterson guide or on a moth web site I found.

Anyway, I want to start posting the moth images I can get here and I'll see how it goes.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Cryptic reptiles

Two species I have recorded here--once--are Gopher Tortoise and Florida Scrub Lizard. I have found a number of abandoned Gopher Tortoise burrows, but they were extirpated, probably by human predation. I had one brief visit a few months ago, but the tortoise dug its burrow, hissed at me a couple of times and then disappeared. I found a fresh, or at least freshly reexcavated, burrow back in the woods recently, but I suspect that may be where an Armadillo is living. I saw a Florida Scrub Lizard early on in my survey work, but haven't seen one in some time. The place is so overgrown it may not be hospitable. Plus, there are so many Cuban brown anoles there's too much competition for food or space. Nevertheless, I'll continue to look.

Skink of a different color

I finished my Sand Skink board survey in the south tract over the weekend. I had hits on 40 out of 76 boards. However, the significant find was a Peninsular mole skink twice at one of the monitoring stations. It had a red tail instead of a blue one that you find on the Blue-tailed mole skink, which I have also seen here. I was told they are rarely seen, so I feel fortunate.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Sand skinks, praying mantises and more

Today's visit by Ridge Audubon was a great success. I ended up leading two field trips because one family showed up at the wrong place and one person was late. It was great. The first group saw lots of flowers, but the second trip saw a praying mantis on Britton's bear grass and a live Sand Skink under one of the monitoring boards. Bonamia and three species of Ascelpias (see earlier post) were blooming. So was Yellow Colic Root, which was lovely. I'll post photos later. I think seeing live critters, especially relatively seldom seen species, such as the Praying Mantis at right created some interest from the kids.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

More visitors coming

Ridge Audubon is coming Saturday for a field trip. Field trips from the Lake Wales area have been planned, but never executed. This could offer something for them to see how the other Ridge lives. I'm going scouting for interesting stuff today.

Mysterious valleys

One of the interesting features of the preserve are the small dips in the middle of the the scrub. They appear to be manmade. Nothing or little grows in them, but they make interesting relief in the landscape. It seems a remote spot to remove so little dirt. The larger pit on the edge is less mysterious. It has all the appearance of small borrow pit. However, I have to consider that at one time the terrain may have been more open and it was easier to traverse. I recently found a pile of concrete fairly deep inside, telling me the place wasn't always quite so thickly vegetated.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Industrial-strength preservation

I happened to look at the county growth map today and discovered that the preserve is classified as industrial (BPC1 and BPC2 for those of you hip to that kind of thing). A map change is in order to let the world know a wildlife preserve lives here.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

A new snake

Finding a new resident vertebrate is pretty exciting after five years out here. Today when I was doing some trash cleanup on the north fire lane in the north tract, I unearthed a Pine Woods Snake (Rhadeinaea flavilata). This is the seventh snake species I've found here. The others are Black Racer, Ring-necked Snake, Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, Crowned Snake, Eastern garter snake and Corn Snake.Why I haven't seen a Green Snake or a Rat Snake, both of which are more common than some of the species I've seen, is a mystery.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Sex on the (butter)fly

If there's a sign of spring here in scrub besides the flower buds, it's the budding romance of the inhabitants. I captured an image of a couple of Tropical Checkered Skippers continuing their genetic line near one of the gates. I usually just see caterpillars, so this is what you might call the pre-pre-caterpillar stage. I need to get out and look for more insects, but I've been busy with trash patrol and Sand Skink monitoring. Next spring will be more carefree, I promise.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Campground opens

On Friday I saw a new trail into the woods and found a new tent that had yet to be erected. I suspect it belongs to the couple I see bicycling around the edge of the preserve and have seen in the preserve. An eviction is forthcoming.

I'm still cleaning up the detritus from the earlier encampments, hauling bags of bottles and cans out of the woods. I don't want to go through that more than I have to. Maybe this will send a message.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

It beats shoveling

This morning I went out to dig out a large patch of cogon grass and found an exotic spray crew on site at the south tract. The guy I talked to said they were after cogon, air potato and rosary pea. I'm not sure what the fixation on rosary pea is. If that's the only exotic I had, I would consider myself lucky. Anyway, I went over to the north tract and collected a couple of bags of trash from one of the piles I'd dug up and checked the gate to see if the lock was still there--it was.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Sharp yellow beauty

It's nearly a month into spring and little is blooming here. The notable exception after the past week's rain is the Prickly pear cactus. The flowers, which I must admire but remember not to touch, are evident for their singularity in the green and brown (and white) landscape. They so far have not become a serious pest here, but that could change. I've been speared enough to be wary.

I remember a couple of work days at Crooked Lake Prairie, which s a much more open scrub, where we dug up hundreds of them and hauled them away to a landfill somewhere. Here I have more pressing weeds to pull and none of them have defenses other than their ability to breed profusely.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Heavy metal in the pines

Today when I set out to retrieve some trash I noticed on a Sand Skink route I got off course and discovered even more material, all of it metal. The wierdest find was a bed frame that had been tied upright to a tree so long ago the tree had grown around the rope. I'll go back and get it next week for my next iron run. On the way out I noticed my Sand Skink boards along the south fire lane had been vandalized. Some people have no patience with science.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Fire, si!; gyrochopping, no!

In addition to an ongoing reverse treasure hunt to rid the preserve of trash to improve the appearance of this place, I'd like to see fire to improve the ecological diversity, if that's the right term. The plan at the moment is to come in with machinery and to thin the tree canopy, which will expose more areas to sun and allow some plants that were shaded out to grow or to at least grow with more vigor. I saw some gyrochopping near the Kissimmee River a few weeks ago and I can't say that I was impressed. In that case it didn't seem much different from rollerchopping or bushhogging. You can trim the vegetation and like a lawn new growth will return. However, it doesn't return the nutrients to the soil and perform the renewal that a well-planned (or even an unplanned fire) will do. The accompanying photos give an example of what happened when there was an accidental fire in., I believe, 2004. The fire spurred the growth of Sky Blue Lupine (Lupinus diffusus), a plant that had never been recorded here before. The fire activated an old seed bank. There's a sneaking suspicion it could bring some other species back, such as Carter's Warea (Warea carteri), which is a lot less widespread than the common lupine. The dream would be to spur the growth of a seed bank, if there is any, of McFarlin's Lupine (Lupinus aridorum), which once grew within a mile of here.

I guess the resistance comes from the fact that there are neighbors who would have to be protected from the flames and the smoke if fire occurs. That's not an insurmountable problem, though. It is done elsewhere. One day, with the fuels buildup, especially on the north side in the Sand Pine-Longleaf Pine ecotone, a good south wind and a lightning strike could be tragic for some of the neighbors. There's a health clinic down the street, too. I talked to the director and he told me the smoke could be a useful educational tool for emphysema patients to learn how to deal with situations like this.

Meanwhile, the fire lanes are growing up again, the years without a serious fire increase the odds and somewhere out there a lightning bolt has our name on it. A prescribed burn would be better, but at this point I'm willing to take what comes as long as no one gets hurt


Sunday, April 8, 2007

Bear grass in bloom

I named this blog bear grass and rosemary for a reason. Britton's bear grass is one of the most common of the protected plant species here. It is an impressive-looking plant with a cluster of white flowers on a tall stalk. The scientific name is Nolina brittonia. It is named after Nathaniel Lord Britton (1857-1934), who was the first director of the New York Botanical Garden. The plants began blooming late last month and will continue to bloom into summer. A field trip from Ridge Audubon Society is coming next month to see them. When the Archbold folks were here last month they were impressed with the population. There are places within the preserve where I can do a 360-degree turn and see 20 or 30 plants in bloom. The stalks are generally straight, though with all stalking plants, occasionally you see a plant that for some reason has grown in a serpentine pattern rather than a vertical pattern. The plants shown here are in the open, but in some places they are growing in the filtered forest sunlight. If we ever have a good fire here, I can imagine the explosion of growth that could occur.

So far, so good

I checked the gate this afternoon. The lock and chain were still there. I walked the perimeter fence, pausing to wish one of the neighbors Happy Easter, to check for new fence cuts. There were none. Perhaps it was a passing fad or they're (whoever THEY area) are just taking a break until the next time. I did find a new piece of wire in the same place where I've found copper wire before. It's not far from the TECO substation and the rail siding. Very mysterious.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

What (ugh!) could have been

I met one of the neighbors today, a lovely older ( she admitted to 90+) lady named Ruth.. She said the reason for the east-west road is that at one time there were plans to develop a mobile home park, which for some reason never worked out. That certainly saved a lot of endangered species and kept a great future preserve from being trashed. Besides, they never could have grown a decent lawn anyway.

Do not extinguish

I was wondering today whether there is a land-management equivalent to the "Do Not Resuscistate" cards people have when they want to die naturally without a lot of heroic crap. If there were ever a fire here, I would hope that I could direct the fire crew to protect any property around the preserve, but to let the fire within the preserve pretty much run its course. That would bring a more salutary effect that this gyrochopping they have in mind. Technology is easier. Nature is better.

Not the Easter bunny

I discovered the chain and lock had been stolen from the gate at Holt & Holton (why do they have two streets with such similar names so close together). This is the first time that has happened since May 2003. FWC finally brought replacement locks in August 2005. This time I'll probably take matters into my own hands and see what happens.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Bad grass, good grass

One of the challenges here is to deal with exotics. Grasses are the most serious category. There are three species that are particularly troublesome: cogon grass, Natal grass and Guinea grass. The only practical removal is pulling in the case of Natal grass or digging in the case of cogon or Guinea, especially the later because, as its former scientific name (Panicum maxima) implies, it's a big species. The challenge is finding enough bags to contain it all. It's amazing how quickly the bags fill. On the other hand there are lovely grasses here, my favorite being Lopsided Indian Grass, which shows its stuff in the fall. I had never seen it or known of it before I arrived. It has certainly been a welcome addition to the landscape. I also have some Wiregrass, which is the prescribed firestarter's friend. Most of it hasn't had much to do lately, though. More's the pity.

Dirt bike intrusion

I'm not sure whether the dirt biker is still with me. I haven't had time to explore the property for new evidence. The no-vehicle sign remains undisturbed. It's always something, but I need to get into the north tract to check into some trash issues anyway. I want to wait awhile for my next Sand Skink walk. I need to replace some of the bowed boards anyway.

Click, Click

Sunday while I was checking the Sand Skink route along the northern fire lane , underneath one board was a pair of Click Beetles. I had seen a larva recently, but assumed it was from another species. Apparently not. They were about 30 mm long and brownish. I've found Eyed Elaters here and one of the smaller (10 mm) brown species, but these guys are new to me. I'll have to look them up in Kenn Kaufman's new insect guide, which is awesome, by the way. Later on I hauled out three bags of trash from the windrows near the fire lane. I would have carried out more, but I ran out of bags.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Faunal taxa expand

Hey, this place ain't just about plants. Well, it is, but I'm looking for other stuff to list. Within the past week I have expanded my bird and butterfly lists, though modestly. I spotted a couple of White Pelicans overhead the other day and today I found a Question Mark butterfly. That brings the bird list to 49 and the butterfly list to 36. The plant list is over 200, so unless I can identify a lot more invertebrates, flora will rule..

Sandhill discovery

When I find a new plant now, it's usually something non-descript, but not this time. When I was hosting T.J. Coburn, a biologist I know, she saw an unfamiliar plant in the sandhill area on the north tract and wondered what it was. I did, too. I waited for it to bloom, but still couldn't quite figure it out, so I waited for the Archbold crew. They didn't know what it was, either. As Eric joked, when they don't know what something is, they're plant ecologists, not botanists. As it turned out it was relatively widespread species called Ceanothus microphyllus. It is quite lovely when it's in bloom, but the flowering period is relatively short, or at least it was this year.

Sand Skink success

I completed two more routes on the Sand Skink project today. It was tough finding my way through the heavy woods on the east side of the tract. I need to cut more trails and put out more flags to save time. Near the end I got onto the next transect, that's how confusing it was. I'm still finding some disturbed boards. I wonder if the fox is doing it. Also, today I saw an Armadillo going into its burrow in the woods on the way along the second track. I see a lot of Armadillos, but I don't see them at home very often.

Missing sand skinks

I began checking my Sand Skink boards Tuesday after work. I got onlyl one possible hit, though it appears some of the board locations were not well chosen because the ground is too rooty. I may have to reposition a couple of them. Also, some of the boards in south fire lane have been moved. I wonder who has been moving through. The ground is too vegetated to see many tracks. Checked the north tract for dirt bike activity. There didn't appear to be any new tracks. Perhaps the signs worked.

Monday, March 26, 2007

A weekend well spent

I took the tires and the propane tanks to Haines for proper disposal on Saturday and then returned to finish putting out the last of the Sand Skink boards. After I finished, I also collected some of the iron I didn't get the other day and picked up a couple of bags of trash, which are now on their way to the landfill. I went back to the terraforming site on Sunday afternoon, but concluded morning is a better time to work there because it is shadier (and cooler). While I was at it I found another tire. Time to start the collection again.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Tires and shredded glass

Yesterday I went out to retrieve some tires and propane tanks from the fire lane behind the First Avenue homes. The lane looks more open since I cleared some of the thickets, but the trash over the fence in some places remains undiminished. I encountered a pool of shattered glass. I will have to go out and clean that up. Right now the priority is getting the Sand Skink survey routes set up. There were more surprsies there, too. I found another small accumulation of iron debris--chairs, a cabient or something and what was probably a fire pit at one time, but is now a water pit with organic debris. This will require a shovel.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Islands of rubbish

Another observation from the sand skink project. I certainly need to give some attention to digging the trash from the mounds along the fire lane on the west side of the south tract. There's a regular garbage archipelago. I can see a garden hose and some assorted cans and bottles. I'm sure there will be surprises. This place hasn't disappointed me yet.

A mysterious triangle

After I finished putting out the sand skink boards Thursday and I was making my way to the fire (albeit the wrong one), I encountered what I can only conclude was some kind of makeshift cooking platform. There were three pieces of iron arranged in a triangle around a concrete block with a round piece the size of a frame under a gas burner. I'll retrace my path sometime and haul out the rest of it. This is on the northeast corner of the south tract, which is heavily wooded. There are also a lot of downed trees that have fallen over the past four years. After the sand skink project is over, I probably need to come up and clear what I can of these obstructions.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Happy days/vindication

March 7 was a great day. I hosted the crew from Archbold--Eric Menges, Carl Weekley and three students. They were interested in Liatris and Nolina and the general layout of the place. I gave them a pretty good orientation tour. Only one of them (Eric) had visited the site before. They were impressed by the number of Nolina. I also showed them the orchid site, though no plants were visible. I was pleased to see they had plotted my GPS data. After all of the grunt work I've done out there, I was pleased to see it is being put to some productive use. I was really happy and felt vindicated that my instincts proved out.

As I understand the research project, it involves the ongoing debate about mechanical clearing vs prescribed fire. Mechanical (gyrochopping) is a quick and dirty way to open the canopy, but it seems to me it doesn't renew the landscape the way fire does, though it does introduce disturbance. At this site that could be something to be viewed cautiously. I saw cogon grass sprouting from an old fire trench. Bare disturbed ground is, unfortunately, an equal opportunity plant host.

sand skink update

It probably looks ridiculous, but it's working. I'm putting down sand skink boards in the south tract. The process consists of walking along a relatively straight line through the woods with the strap of my GPS unit in my teeth, a log book in my belt and plywood boards balanced on my head. I've got 50 board out so far, but have several to go. Yesterday it was cloudy and I had no guidance from the westering sun (I'd turned off my GPS unit) and came out the north side instead of the west side as planned. I found some more trash, though nothing major. I hope to have all the boards out by the weekend.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Company's coming

I got an e-mail from Eric Menges at Archbold that he and some of his folks are coming on Wednesday to map out some areas for a research project. I'm taking off from work to meet them. I think it has something to do with fire exclusion in preparation for some mechanical clearing. I hope to tag along without being too much of a nuisance. These guys know more botany than I'll ever know. Maybe some of it will percolate into my brain. I'll probably hit them up for an ID on that new plant in the sandhill area. It will be an adventure for me.

motorcycles, new signs, a mystery solved

I found swirling tracks in the sand, but it was way too big for a sand skink. It was a dirt bike. ATV on the island again. I put up some no unauthorized motor vehicle signs up this morning after FWC folks supplied them. I supplied the fence posts. As I was putting them up, one of the neighbors--I never can remember his name--came over and told me he saw a man and his young son coming in. He said he thought they were from down the road in the circle by APAC(nee Macasphalt). I'll see if the signs are a deterrent. While I was talking to him I learned that the gatecrashing that occurred a couple of years ago was not my ATV guy, but a domestic dispute in which one chased the other in a car and hit the gate. Love and the gate hurt on that one. In the p.m. I brought a hacksaw and divided a couple of long steel pipes, probably antenna poles that will never see analog TV again, into little truck size pieces for another ferrous run in a.m.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Lantana hyperverticalis

The other day when I was checking the fence, a unfamiliar red flower caught my eye at the edge of the woods. When I went to investigate I found it wasn't an unfamiliar species, just an unfamiliar morphological form of it. It was Lantana camara, but on a single stalk nearly 2 meters tall with a single flower cluster. I suppose plants do what they must to reach sunlight. It was unexpected.

Another Boundary to Defend

I've been working along the northern fire lane again and is it a mess. The neighbors are pigs, based on the new stuff and the previous occupants weren't much better, based on the older material I have unearthed. Nevertheless, I am really worried about the effects of a wildfire along this edge and am planning to clear a wider swath of woody vegetation. The island's owners resist prescribed burns here, but realize the danger and would like to disc a wider fire lane. Maybe this will be establish a template for that work. I do expect to have a couple of large brush piles when I get through with this. It won't add to the already substantial fuels load, adding to recently by the idiots that DEP contracted to deal with exotics, who nuked the grass instead of the stuff that needed the herbiciding. I expect the clearing will make it easier to detect historic and current trash accumulations as well. That's the plan I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Milkweed Orange and White

Asclepias, the milkweed genus, contains a lovely variety of wildflowers, a fact I didn't appreciate until I came to the island. Until then my only
experience with milkweed was the tropical milkweed that's commonly sold to attract Monarch butterflies. It will tolerate different soils. I have some in the flowerbeds at home. But here on the island the milkweed specialize. There's one in the scrub, one in the sandhill and one in the flatwoods or at best the ecotone near the flatwoods.

They're like beautiful sisters that don't appear at first to be related.

The one I like the most is the delicate Florida milkweed, Asclepias feayi, with its filiform leaves and small white flowers. I like it because it is not in the wildflower books I have and I had to key it out from a copy of J.K. Small's "Manual of the Southeastern Flora" that was given to me by my late friend Chancellor Hannon.

The most widespread is the one sometimes called Butterflyweed, Asclepias tuberosa, whose flowers are orange, but turn reddish orange with age, it seems.

Then there is Curtiss' milkweed, Asclepias curtissi, which was once placed in separate genus because perhaps it looked different from the rest, though considering the genus, I can't say why. It is a scrub plant, sometimes forming as many as 11 flowers on a single plant, which can be impressive, since the book shows no more than two or three.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Junkman's Bestiary

In my first post I mentioned something about the junk that characterized this place in the fall of 2002 when I first began coming here, shortly after the state purchased it.

If you haven't been involved in a lot of cleanups of environmental land, especially on unfenced, absentee-owner sites, you have no idea what is involved.

I classify the trash into seven basic groups--rubber, wood, plastic, paper, metal, glass and fabric.

Rubber would be the tires, though sometimes it's rubber and metal because tires are still on the rims. They would also be the matresses, which are rubber and wood and metal, depending on their age or construction. Same goes for car seats. I don't mean child seats, I mean the front or back seat of an actual car.

Wood could be anything from railroad ties to fence posts to discarded construction debris. I have salvaged some of that to make benches, which I have put in shaded locations where I can rest and enjoy a view now free of junk.

Plastic debris plagues the world. Like glass, it is as likely to be in one piece as in a hundred. Beverage containers the remains of small appliances, toys, buckets and the list goes on. I almost forgot partially decomposed plastic bags, some of which will remain to contaminate the ecosystem, thanks to wonders of chemistry.

Paper is sometimes inside the plastic if the soil moisture or insects haven't done their work. That's the least of my concerns. I did find a $5 bill once, which is paper of a different sort and one I don't mind.

Metal can be a challenge because it weighs more than some of the other materials and sometimes comes in large pieces. Perhaps my biggest challenge was to break apart a pickup truck bed into small enough pieces to haul it from the most distant edge of the preserve to a collection site. I segregated the iron for one cleanup. It came to slightly more than 3,000 pounds--a ton and a half! That metal was recycled and most of the metal I've been collecting is being recycled, too. In the early days only the copper and aluminum was going that way, but the ferrous market is attractive enough to make it worth hauling. It saves space in the landfill, too.

Glass debris is made up primarily of bottles, jars and jalousie window slats. The largest concentration was a former homeless camp on the south tract. I must have hauled out six or eight large plastic bags of beer bottles.

Cloth is a bigger part than you might think. There are always carpets, but there is an unbelievable amount of discarded clothing.

If anything were ever to disabuse someone of littering, spending a hundred hours picking up, carrying, digging out and piling up tons of trash would do it.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Defensible boundary zone

In the course of my Begonia discovery, I also found more trash along the frontier between the presrve and my neighbor to the south, who appears to have a junk yard on the other side of his house. There were tires, tire rims, the remains of a slide, a bicycle etc. ; more iron for the foundry via the recycling pile. Business has been good on iron recycling lately, anyway, with the price escalating to nearly 5 cents a pound.

It occurred to me I need to do more to clear the area along the fence line so I can be sure what's old junk and what's new junk. I haven't had any problem except one yard-waste-over-the-fence incident last year, which has not been repeated. Since I caught them in the act, I think we have an understanding. I want to do my part and make the preserve side look more presentable than it is now. I probably want to thin out the Cherry Laurel trees, too. I discovered Hercules Club growing on an embankment there. I'd like to give it some room to spread.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Begonias and Swamp Orchids

As I've written, this island is mostly covered with white sand, but there's a bayhead in one corner. Someone cut a path along the fence line and I followed it the other day. It was worth the slog through the muck. New species awaited me in this unexplored habitat.

First a bit of pink caught my eye. I couldn't imagine what could have pink blooms in a swamp at this time of year. It turned out to be a couple of patches of Wax Begonia. How odd and ironic. J.B. McFarlin, the long ago explorer of local scrub, owned a begonia nursery in Bradenton in his later years.

As I walked deeper into the bay swamp, I found a patch of Habenaria repens, only the second species of orchid I've found here. The other is Giant orchid, Pteroglosappsis escritata,that I discovered three years ago when I was looking for Britton's bear grass.. I also saw sphagnum moss. I'll return to explore. I'll bring rubber boots.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Bullets and barbed wire

I had some extra help today and was getting ready to start the work day when I discovered the fence had been cut again. I'm getting better at fixing barbed-wire fences, but still need a fence tool. I'm also out of fence staples.

Later on when I was looking for trash, I found a plastic bag containing a backpack. Inside the backpack was some bullets in clips and in trays. I'll turn them in to the police. I don't want them to explode inside a garbage truck and hurt someone. I'd love to know the story behind this one.

Addendum: I finally found a place to take the ammo--the Saddle Creek Park gun range. A neighbor suggested it. I called and the guy was very helpful. I'll get rid of them soon.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Another discovery

I took a side trip into the woods on the north tract the other day and discovered a new species of bromeliad--not too many bromeliads in xeric habitats--but I think I'm up to three or four species of these epiphytes.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Discovering berries

I'm discovering more berries on plants in the scrub. I came knowing a few. I knew holly trees had berries, but I didn't know only the female trees did. At one point I worked out a ratio of male:female sand holly trees based on the presence/absence of berries. I seem to recall there was a great difference in the sex distribution (male trees outnumbered female). I don't know why and when I mentioned it to one botanist, she didn't either. I also knew about beautyberry (Callicarpa), which is present on all plants of this species.

Bumelia surprised me with its sparse, chocolate-colored berries along its thorny limbs.

Rosemary surprised me again. I didn't know it fruited, but when I was marking a trail through a rosemary bald spot, I looked over and there were drupes, as the botanists term them, all over one plant, but not others. This may be a sex thing. I don't know.

There are other berries. There are gallberries, blackberries and blueberries, all of which live somewhere on the preserve, though more in the sandhill and flatwoods sections. There are two varieties of grapes, which are a kind of berry, I suppose.

Scrub olives have inedible fruit, but it appears too large to be termed a berry, though I'm not sure what the threshold is for this sort of thing. Oh, well, they're all fruit.

There seems to be something else I'm missing. I'll remember it later.