All posts by Rob

About Rob

Rob Diaz de Villegas is a senior producer and editor for WFSU-TV. Rob covers ecology, managing the National Science Foundation funded In the Grass, On the Reef project. Previously, Rob produced and directed WFSU’s music program, outloud. He has also produced a number of ecology and music related documentaries and was selected the PBS Producers Workshop, a program that grooms up-and-coming producers to create programs for national broadcast.

giant swallowtail caterpillar

Butterfly Watching and Research in the Red Hills

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV
Monarchs are cool, but they’re the only butterflies we see in this area that aren’t 100% local.  We trek through a couple of different habitat types and get a hint of the diversity of butterflies we have here in the Red Hills of Florida and Georgia.  Scroll down for a complete list of species we saw in the video.  Music for the piece comes from Haiqiong Deng‘s performance on Local Routes.  She performed two songs; the other song aired in the same episode as this segment.  If you missed it, you can watch it on the Local Routes page.

Examining some torn up leaves in my garden one night, I started down a path that led me to become somewhat of a butterfly enthusiast.  My wife and I had recommitted ourselves to making full use of the space we had to grow veggies, and part of that was some good old-fashioned pest squashing.  Of course, some bugs are beneficial, so I did my due diligence before pulling the trigger (In other words, I went on Google).  The garden was going strong when our green and pole bean plants’ leaves started getting shredded.  Some of the leaves had curled up edges that were glued to themselves by sticky white strands.  Unfurling these little compartments revealed a green caterpillar with a big black head on it, looking like a ladybug hitching a ride.  A quick search and I read that this was a bean roller caterpillar.  It would one day be a long-tailed skipper, a butterfly with a striking blue back.  My backyard was no longer just a garden.  It was a habitat. Continue reading


Amateur Archeologist vs. Looter: A Matter of Context?

The WFSU Ecology Blog was built on two pillars- communicating scientific knowledge about the natural world, and encouraging people to actively participate in it.  When it comes to archeology in Florida, these ideals are at odds.  Below is an attempt to stimulate discussion on the role of amateur- or avocational- archeologists in our state.  It is a first attempt to capture the full complexity of the issue, which we’ll continue to explore as we  cover archeology in the area.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

Much like citizen scientists often lead researchers to new finds, the video above originated not with the producer, but with the audience.  It was part of a larger response to a pair of blog posts I wrote on underwater excavation in the Wacissa River.  Many people were excited about the potential new information gained on the lives of early Floridians.  Others were less happy about quotes I included from the researcher and a retired FWC officer about protecting the site from looters.  Looking over the comments section of that first post, there was a sense that many of them felt that archeology in Florida had become the domain of a privileged few.  These people feel that they should not be criminalized for pursuing their passion.  I felt that this rift was worth exploring.  I interviewed two parties for whom Florida’s paleo-history is a passion.  Their argument: not all artifacts found in the water are of scientific value, and citizens have a right to collect those pieces. Continue reading


Kayaking the Apalachicola River with my Four-Year-Old Son

WFSU producer Rob Diaz de Villegas heads down the Apalachicola River once again, this time with his best adventure buddy. This year’s RiverTrek also featured the very first River Ride, with cyclists hitting small river towns and forest roads.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

Max wanted to do one thing above all else: climb Sand Mountain.  But, as I was gathering camping gear for our trip on the Apalachicola, I got an e-mail from RiverTrek coordinator Georgia Ackerman.  The water was high this year, and she wasn’t sure there would be a place to park our kayaks on the steep face of the giant sand spoil.  As a parent of a four-year-old, you learn the dangerous nature of expectations.  You have to be careful never to promise anything which isn’t 100% guaranteed to happen.  Four-year-olds don’t necessarily grasp “maybe.” Continue reading


Underwater Archeology | Excavating the Wacissa River

We dive into the Wacissa River with a team of scuba-diving archeologists.  What did they find?  And what do their findings mean within the larger picture of prehistoric Florida?  Read on.  Big thanks to David Ward and Robert Daniels of the Aucilla River Group for helping us arrange the shoot and transporting the crew to the site.  And thanks to Hot Tamale, whose music is featured in the video.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

Some time ago, possibly about 12,000 years or so, a group of hunters stopped by the Wacissa River and made some tools.  They’re not likely to have self-identified as members of the Suwannee culture group, though that’s how archeologists classify them based on the way they crafted their spear points.  These paleolithic humans left a mess of bone and rock on what may or may not have been a riverbank at the time.  That refuse is of interest  to Morgan Smith, a PhD. student at Texas A & M University. Continue reading


Capital City to the Sea, SUN Trail quick hits

Cycling enthusiasts, you may want to catch WFSU’s Local Routes on October 29 (7:30 pm ET on WFSU-TV). We follow the inaugural Apalachicola River Riders through the Apalachicola National Forest, Tate’s Hell State Forest, and across the bridge and into Apalachicola to meet up with the 2015 RiverTrek paddlers. WFSU producer Rob Diaz de Villegas spent two days paddling this year’s ‘Trek, sharing a tandem kayak with his four-year-old son Max.  As always, if you miss the show, the video will be here on the Ecology Blog.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

In Tallahassee, construction continues on a bridge across Monroe Street that will connect the newly finished section of the FAMU Way Extension to Capital Cascades Park.  Soon, the FAMU Way Extension will connect to the St. Marks Trail.  These are small links in what will eventually become a completed Capital City to the Sea Trail (CC2ST).  That regional loop between Leon and Wakulla Counties will in turn become part of the state’s SUN (Shared Use Non-motorized) Trail system.  Construction is the visible part of a process that could take decades to complete.  At a meeting of the Florida Greenways and Trails Council two weeks ago, there were updates on the CC2ST and an attempt to clarify the process through which the SUN Trail would be completed. Continue reading


WFSU EcoAdventures Looking to Keep Music “All Local”

Musicians of north Florida and south Georgia, we want to increase your exposure over our airwaves.  Find out more below. Also, we preview some of the EcoAdventures that you can watch on season 1 of WFSU’s new Local Routes program.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV
Moments after its hatchling was banded by researcher Jim Cox, this red cockaded woodpecker flew to its cavity to check on the seven-day-old.  This footage is part of our collaboration with Tall Timbers, currently in production, which will explore ecology, culture, and recreation in the Red Hills.  Between now and March 2016, we'll need some Red Hills music.

Moments after its hatchling was banded by researcher Jim Cox, this red cockaded woodpecker flew to its cavity with food for its young. This footage is part of our collaboration with Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy, currently in production, which will explore ecology, culture, and recreation in the Red Hills. Between now and March 2016, we’ll need some Red Hills music.

Our EcoAdventures are making the move to WFSU-TV’s new show, Local Routes, and I have a goal regarding the soundtracks of these segments.   I’d like the music we hear to be entirely local.  Years ago, our station saved a good deal of money by getting rid of most of our stock music library. I’ve been using Creative Commons music.  There are some lovely creative people who make their music available free for noncommercial use.  But it’s a lot of work to sort through thousands of songs on CC sites to find music that fits the mood and tempo I’m after.  I’m really picky about what I want to hear when we’re coasting down a river or watching a red cockaded woodpecker bring a meal to its hatchling.  The new show is called Local Routes, sounds like roots, and lately I find myself wanting music with roots in our area.

Well, maybe not just lately. Continue reading


SUN Trail Legislation looks to Connect Florida’s Trails

The state of Florida is looking at existing trails, abandoned railways, and local, state, and federally owned lands with the goal of creating an ever expanding system of regional trails.  Under recent legislation, these will be combined into the newly-legislated, statewide SUN Trail system.  WFSU producer Rob Diaz de Villegas, who was appointed to the Florida Greenways and Trails Council in 2013, looks at what recent developments mean for local trail users.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

A couple of years ago, we had a cycling EcoAdventure to preview the Capital City to the Sea Trail, on which work is currently being done in Tallahassee.  Existing paved “multi-use” trails like the St. Marks Trail and Trout Pond Trail (in the Apalachicola National Forest) would be connected to each other and to the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, Wakulla Springs, and various other points in Wakulla and Leon Counties.  The thinking is that longer trails connect more communities, increasing economic opportunities and property values along their corridors.  Within the next decade or so, a Panacea resident should be able to bike to St. Marks or Tallahassee without slowing traffic on Highway 98 or Crawfordville Highway. Continue reading


Archeology on the Wacissa: Solving Underwater Mysteries

The video for this EcoAdventure will air in September as part of a new WFSU program.  What segments will air alongside this and other EcoAdventures?  That wasn’t a rhetorical question.  Come in and have a meal, on us, here at the station.  We want this to feel like your show, and we’re listening to your suggestions.  Conversations start in two weeks.  Spots are limited; we want small groups so that we can hear what you have to say.  Visit the WFSU Listens page to sign up for one of five sessions.
Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

We were traveling down an undisclosed section of the Wacissa River.  Robert Daniels, the retired Florida Fish and Wildlife game warden who transported us in his jon boat, thought our hosts should have been less explicit in describing their location.  He preferred to say “the Aucilla River basin” on camera.  He was taking us to an archeological site being excavated under the clear water of the river, and he’s fiercely protective of the watershed’s sites.  There are dozens of them in the spring-fed Wacissa and black water Aucilla, many of which, along with other Florida sites, are challenging notions about early human settlement in North America.  Robert worries about looters, and it’s a legitimate concern.  He caught his fair share of them while working with FWC. Continue reading


Canoeing the Aucilla: A Red Hills River Steeped in History

Video: We travel down the Aucilla River, the eastern boundary of the Red Hills region, the dark water of which preserves some of the nation’s oldest archeological sites. It’s also a challenging kayak and canoe trail.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

Until paddling the Aucilla River during the production of this video, I had never had to portage on a river.  For non-paddlers, portage is when you take your canoe or kayak out of the water to navigate around an obstacle.  And on that day, there were plenty of obstacles.  The Aucilla River Paddling Trail Guide recommends the river be paddled by those with intermediate to advanced skills.  Fallen trees and river bends, sometimes in a tricky proximity, had us pivoting at sharp angles.  This was less of a challenge for the three kayakers on our trip, but David Ward and I each ferried a photographer on heavier canoes.  If you’re looking for a Florida river on which to peacefully coast, this isn’t it.  This is a more adventurous river; and one with thousands of years of human usage. Continue reading


Father and Son Hiking and Camping at Torreya State Park

Thieving raccoons, high water on the Apalachicola, and learning to follow trail blazes make for a memorable camping trip for a WFSU producer and his son.
Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

One Sunday, I was planting seeds with my son Max when I decided that we needed to go camping that next weekend.  We were at the tail end of what I guess is Festival Season in Tallahassee, and it had been fun.  We saw a lot of cool things, got a little wet as nature tested the “rain or shine” claims on festival posters.  But it was an awful lot of spring weekends in town.  It was time to get out. Continue reading