All posts by Rob

About Rob

Rob Diaz de Villegas is a senior producer for WFSU-TV, covering environment and the outdoors. Rob is in the process of completing Roaming the Red Hills, an exploration of north Florida/ south Georgia ecology funded by Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy. Rob’s previous ecology projects include EcoShakespeare, which was funded by PBS member station WNET and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and In the Grass, On the Reef, a collaboration with the Florida State University Coastal and Marine Lab funded by the National Science Foundation. Rob’s EcoAdventure segments air on WFSU’s Local Routes and can be found on the WFSU Ecology Blog.

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Eluster Richardson | Painting Life on a Red Hills Tenant Farm

Welcome to Part 8 (of 10) of Roaming the Red Hills, which originally aired on the April 14 episode of WFSU’s Local Routes.  Through ten 3-minute videos, we’ll explore the natural soul of the Red Hills of Florida and Georgia, from the pine uplands down to its rivers, lakes, and farms.  Thanks to Tracy Horenbein for creating original compositions for this video series.  The series is narrated by Jim McMurtry. 

Funding for Roaming the Red Hills was provided by Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

A lot of history doesn’t make it into history books.  Artist Eluster Richardson refers to those “everyday scenes we took for granted.”  Kids playing under a farmhouse.  A community gathering around a mill to grind sugar cane.  A farmer working the field with a mule.  For an artist, it’s a challenge trying to recreate scenes of a bygone past, especially when there aren’t always photos or other imagery.  When he was commissioned to paint these scenes for the Jones Tenant House at Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy, Eluster did have one thing going for him.  He lived them. Continue reading

Duck cassoulet at Sweetgrass Cheese shop in Thomasville, Georgia.

Sweetgrass Cheese Shop- Celebrating Farms of the Red Hills

Welcome to Part 7 (of 10) of Roaming the Red Hills, which originally aired on the April 14 episode of WFSU’s Local Routes.  Through ten 3-minute videos, we’ll explore the natural soul of the Red Hills of Florida and Georgia, from the pine uplands down to its rivers, lakes, and farms.  Thanks to Tracy Horenbein for creating original compositions for this video series.  The series is narrated by Jim McMurtry. 

Funding for Roaming the Red Hills was provided by Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

I’m walking on a cow pasture after the rain, and the mud is sometimes hard to distinguish from the cow-pies.  My production assistant, Brian, and I set the tripod.  When we look up, a couple of hundred cows are all staring at us. Murmurations of birds make their way through the cows and into an adjacent field.  A misty sunrise unfolds behind the feed tower at Buddha Belly Dairy in Quitman Georgia.  Buddha Belly was once Green Hill Dairy, where Al and Desiree Wehner started what would become Sweetgrass Dairy (Buddha Belly is now run by their son Clay).  The milk produced by these grass-fed cows will be made into cheese in Thomasville and sold locally or in any of 38 states where Sweetgrass cheeses are shipped. Continue reading

Sunrise on Lake Iamonia in Tallahassee, Florida.

Lake Iamonia Duck Hunt

Welcome to Part 9 (of 10) of Roaming the Red Hills, which originally aired on the April 14 episode of WFSU’s Local Routes.  Through ten 3-minute videos, we’ll explore the natural soul of the Red Hills of Florida and Georgia, from the pine uplands down to its rivers, lakes, and farms.  Thanks to Tracy Horenbein for creating original compositions for this video series.  The series is narrated by Jim McMurtry. 

Funding for Roaming the Red Hills was provided by Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

For months, it looked like we wouldn’t be able to shoot our duck hunt video.  Lane Green, retired director of Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy (and the Tallahassee Museum before) kept checking both Lake Iamonia and the Ducks Unlimited Migration Map, starting on November 21 when the season began.  We exchanged e-mails every week or two, always with a report of little to no ducks.  Visiting family in Massachusetts, I took a Christmas Day stroll in short sleeves, seeing hundreds of ducks on Duxbury Bay.  Perhaps they saw no reason to fly south?  As we approached the last week of the season, Lane kept reporting “only a handful of ducks.”  We went ahead and scheduled a shoot for the last day of the season, Sunday, January 31.  With low expectations, we scouted the site on the Friday before. Continue reading

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Cycling Monticello’s Historic Canopy Roads

Welcome to Part 10 (of 10) of Roaming the Red Hills, which originally aired on the April 14 episode of WFSU’s Local Routes.  Through ten 3-minute videos, we’ll explore the natural soul of the Red Hills of Florida and Georgia, from the pine uplands down to its rivers, lakes, and farms.  Thanks to Tracy Horenbein for creating original compositions for this video series.  The series is narrated by Jim McMurtry. 

Funding for Roaming the Red Hills was provided by Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

“First impressions put aside, I soon began to appreciate that Jefferson County was- and for the most part continues to be- a beautiful environment.”

-Dr. Flossie Byrd, Echoes of a Quieter Time

Disappointed at being uprooted from Hanes City, Florida, the Byrd siblings soon discovered Lake Miccosukee, Ward Creek, and forests in which to play.  Those Monticello woods and waterways fed them with ducks, geese, quail, wild turkey, and, as we see in the video, coot that would “fall off the bone”.  In her book, Echoes of a Quieter Time, Flossie Byrd fondly remembers that “A number of the women were excellent cooks who could prepare ‘coons ‘n possums’ that were a ‘gourmet’s delight.'” (Page 86)  It was an environment that entertained and fed Dr. Byrd and her sixteen siblings after the relocation of the original seven in 1940. Continue reading

Joe Burnam teaches children to process and use yucca plant fibers to make rope at the Lost Creek Forest in Thomasville, Georgia.

Lost Creek: Hiking an Ancient Forest

Welcome to Part 4 (of 10) of Roaming the Red Hills, which originally aired on the April 7 episode of WFSU’s Local Routes.  Through ten 3-minute videos, we’ll explore the natural soul of the Red Hills of Florida and Georgia, from the pine uplands down to its rivers, lakes, and farms.  Thanks to Tracy Horenbein for creating original compositions for this video series.  The series is narrated by Jim McMurtry. 

Funding for Roaming the Red Hills was provided by Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

“There’s a lot of effort to restore longleaf.  I don’t know that there’s a lot of effort to restore slope forests like this (one).”  I’m talking to Beth Grant, founder and president of Lost Creek Forest in Thomasville, Georgia.  Lost Creek is located in the land of Red Hills hunting plantations, where landowners dutifully burn longleaf forest to create an open habitat for quail (with the small added benefit of promoting the plant and animal biodiversity of hundreds of other species).  When properly burned, it seems like you can see forever between widely spaced pines.  Then, maybe,  you turn your head and your view is blocked by a shadowy spot in the canopy.  Instead of longleaf pine and grasses, this place is hardwood trees and vines, and the ground is covered with leaves.  There may be a creek, or a river, or some other stream just beyond those hardwoods.  That darker place next to the longleaf forest is an ecosystem that separates it from the water- a slope forest. Continue reading

Running a net through the Ochlockonee River on the Ochlockonee Bio-Blitz.  The river that day was full of fish, frogs, and turtles.

Ochlockonee Bio-Blitz | Kids Experience Florida River Wildlife

Welcome to Part 6 (of 10) of Roaming the Red Hills, which originally aired on the April 7 episode of WFSU’s Local Routes.  Through ten 3-minute videos, we’ll explore the natural soul of the Red Hills of Florida and Georgia, from the pine uplands down to its rivers, lakes, and farms.  Thanks to Tracy Horenbein for creating original compositions for this video series.  The series is narrated by Jim McMurtry. 

Funding for Roaming the Red Hills was provided by Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

“Oh those sandbars, mere words cannot portray,
Shining in the moonlight, take our breath away…”

These words are from Gary Asbell’s “The River,” a song about the Ochlockonee River that we featured in our last video.  After that workout of an EcoAdventure, kayaking the Georgia part of the river, we spent a day splashing around in the Florida Ochlockonee.  Unlike in the song lyrics, which are about camping on the river, there is no moonlight for us today; but the line does hit home for me in a way that relates to the activities we’ll cover today.  Camping on a sandbar with my son Max may have been the most fun we’ve had together, and I saw firsthand what a magical place a sandbar can be to a child.  In this video, a few families will experience this wild wonder as Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy hosted one of its first ever Bio-Blitzes. (Max was unfortunately sick that day) Continue reading

Dr. Christine Ambrose of Thomas University with Vicky Redden, a member of the Ochlockonee Water Trail.

Kayak Scouting Mission on the Ochlockonee Water Trail

Welcome to Part 5 (of 10) of Roaming the Red Hills, which originally aired on the April 7 episode of WFSU’s Local Routes.  Through ten 3-minute videos, we’ll explore the natural soul of the Red Hills of Florida and Georgia, from the pine uplands down to its rivers, lakes, and farms.  Thanks to Tracy Horenbein for creating original compositions for this video series, and to Gary Asbell for serenading us and giving us permission to include his song about the Ochlockonee River, “The River.”  The series is narrated by Jim McMurtry. 

Funding for Roaming the Red Hills was provided by Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

We’re only kayaking three or four miles.  How long could that take?  When I was planning these segments with Georgia Ackerman, then of Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy, she told me about a large, organized kayak trip down the Ochlockonee River in south Georgia planned for November.  Trips like that can be fun, but I like smaller, more adventurous excursions for these videos.  Then she asked if I’d want to go on the scouting mission for that trip, in September, with students at Thomas University marking and clearing impediments.  I liked the idea of a trip where we didn’t exactly know what we’d see.  The result is what you see above- one of the most rugged EcoAdventures I’ve ever produced. Continue reading

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Peeking into Gopher Tortoise Burrows at Birdsong

Welcome to Part 3 (of 10) of Roaming the Red Hills, which originally aired on the March 31 episode of WFSU’s Local Routes.  Over ten 3-minute videos, we’ll explore the natural soul of the Red Hills of Florida and Georgia, from the pine uplands down to its rivers, lakes, and farms.  Thanks to Tracy Horenbein for creating original compositions for this video series, and to Belle and the Band for letting us use their song, “All Come In”, from their “Fallen Angel” album.  The series is narrated by Jim McMurtry. 

Funding for Roaming the Red Hills was provided by Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

So far, we’ve been looking at the birds of the longleaf ecosystem.  Fire moves slowly through the undergrowth of this habitat, giving birds that live there, like bobwhite quail and Bachman’s sparrows, enough time to fly to safety.  Smaller critters may run away.  But some animals aren’t really geared towards running.  Sometimes, the safest escape lies below. Continue reading

Jim Cox of Tall Timbers Research Station bands a 7 day old red cockaded woodpecker.

Red Cockaded Woodpeckers and Fire in the Red Hills

Welcome to Part 2 (of 10) of Roaming the Red Hills, which originally aired on the March 31 episode of WFSU’s Local Routes.  Over ten 3-minute videos, we’ll explore the natural soul of the Red Hills of Florida and Georgia, from the pine uplands down to its rivers, lakes, and farms.  Thanks to Tracy Horenbein for creating original compositions for this video series.  The series is narrated by Jim McMurtry. 

Funding for Roaming the Red Hills was provided by Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

In hands that look like they’d climbed more than thirty feet up a pine tree, Jim Cox holds a seven day old red cockaded woodpecker.  There’s a stark contrast between the roughness of Jim’s hands and the delicacy of this new life, gently removed from its cavity high above in a mature longleaf pine.  It’s not unlike the delicate state of its species, making a comeback, but only with a lot of human help, and making its home in the roughness of an ecosystem built for regular burning.  Beneath RCW cavities are a slick coating of sap, defense against climbing snakes.  Neither snakes nor fire are the worst of the birds’ problems, however.  What they really need is older trees. Continue reading

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Quail Hunting and Accidental Conservation in the Red Hills

Welcome to Part 1 (of 10) of Roaming the Red Hills, which originally aired on the March 31 episode of WFSU’s Local Routes.  Over ten 3-minute videos, we’ll explore the natural soul of the Red Hills of Florida and Georgia, from the pine uplands down to its rivers, lakes, and farms.  Thanks to Tracy Horenbein for creating original compositions for this video series.  The series is narrated by Jim McMurtry. 

Funding for Roaming the Red Hills was provided by Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

If I ignore the 1960s era Volkswagen Thing trailing us, I can almost imagine that it’s 100 years ago on Elsoma Plantation.  All I see is longleaf pine forest in every direction.  Everyone is on horseback and in matching white jackets.   And I’m bumping along in a horse-drawn wagon that remembers World War I.  We’re on a quail hunt in the Red Hills. Continue reading