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.