All posts by Rob Diaz de Villegas

About Rob Diaz de Villegas

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.

7 Online Resources for the Prepared Kayak Camper

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

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Tonight (Wednesday, February 29) at 7:30 PM/ ET, Georgia Ackerman and Rick Zelznak of the Wilderness Way help you prepare for your kayak camping trip on WFSU-TV’s dimensions.  Heading out on the water with everything you’ll need to survive for a few days is not something you undertake lightly. Tonight’s segment is meant to be an overview, to get you thinking about what you might bring and how you’ll fit it into your kayak.  This post is a companion to the video piece (hi to everyone who came to this url after the segment aired).  The links on this page give you a more comprehensive toolset to plan a multi-day kayak camping trip.  If there is an additional resource that you think people should know about, tell us about it in the comments section. Continue reading

Crabs and Oysters: Oyster Collaborator Featured on Public Television

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A cage filled with oysters, spat tiles, and clams. Different sets of cages had different combinations of mud crabs and their predators (toadfish, blue crabs, stone crabs, and catfish).

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One of David and Randall’s oyster collaborators, Dr. Jeb Byers, was recently featured in a lengthy segment on Georgia Public television’s Georgia Outdoors.  The episode is about crabs in general,  but at 8:28 in they take a look at the large cage experiment that Randall, David, and Jeb, along with Dr. Jon Grabowski and Dr. Mike Piehler at UNC, conducted last summer.  You see a little more of the cages being filled than you do in Testing the Ecology of Fear, which covers the oyster study in Florida to that point and which was into the editing process as they set up the experiment.  The video is not available for embedding, so click on the link below to watch.

Click here to watch Georgia Outdoors: Fiddling with Crabs.

Large cypress buttress in Graham Creek, in Tate's Hell.

Paddling and Wildlife Watching Around the Apalachicola River

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

IGOR chip- human appreciation 150In the video above, we spent a day hitting Apalachicola River WEA Paddling Trail System and Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail sites. Luckily for me, I had Liz Sparks and Andy Wraithmell to show me the cool spots and tell me what animals I was looking at. With spring approaching, birds will be migrating back through the area, and the warmer weather makes for better paddling, greener trees with flowers blooming, and more appearances by other critters like alligators and turtles. In other words, it’s time to start planning your own adventures. Continue reading

Why We Burn- Restoring the Longleaf Pine Ecosystem

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV
The longleaf pine/ wiregrass ecosystem was historically common in the coastal plain (low lying flat areas adjacent to the coast) of the Southeast United States.  According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, this ecosystem has seen a 97% decline.  In our recent excursion along the Apalachicola River, we visited this habitat and learned about efforts to restore it.

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There’s a certain terminology we use when we talk about the wild places of the world. We use words like “pristine,” or “untouched.”  When you hike through a forest along the Florida Trail, there are times where you can imagine that you are the first person ever to walk under the trees that you see.  Of course, much of the time, not only are you not the first person to have seen the trees, the trees look the way they do due to someone’s careful manipulation.  The practice of land management and why it is used can change the way you think about what is “wild.”

Prescribed burn. Courtesy of Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The video above is about how the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is using prescribed burning in its restoration of longleaf pine habitats.  Longleaf pine had historically thrived because they have the evolutionary advantage of a thick, fireproof bark in what are known as Fire Climax Communities.  This is a habitat in which fire (typically started by lightning strikes) is the primary controlling factor, and so lesser equipped competitors to longleaf pine are eliminated.  This natural process makes for an ecosystem dominated by the thick barked pines.  So why are humans assuming a role usually played by nature?

That goes back to our conception of what is “wild.”  That forest you hike through looks untouched, like I said earlier, but human influence reaches even into its deepest reaches.  For one, we have roads cutting across the forests, and while there are often large expanses of unbroken forest, paved roads keep fire from spreading as far as it once might have.  Another factor is that there is human settlement all around the forest, and uncontrolled fire is a threat to life and property.

Courtesy of the Florida Archive.

Prescribed fire is one tool in the toolset for restoring the longleaf/ wiregrass system.  This was the dominant habitat of the southeast, characterized by a wide spacing of trees (wide enough to ride a wagon through, FWC’s Liz Sparks tells me) that allows for a diversity of ground cover plants.  These cover plants, as Matt points out in the video above, are attractive to the many species that thrive in a longleaf/ wiregrass ecosystem. Ironically, this ecosystem has been drastically reduced as a result of another type of land management- silviculture. As you’ll see in the video above, timber operations replaced longleaf  for slash pine, a faster growing variety of pine with a lesser quality wood but that is far more profitable to grow. The slash pine grew closer together, eliminating the ground cover that is so important to the many birds, reptiles, and amphibians that make the longleaf/ wiregrass system so diverse. That’s why FWC does timber thinning before the burns.

Marsh burn. Courtesy Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.

And since this is In the Grass, On the Reef, I did want to mention something I left out of the video, which is marsh burns.  Every 4-6 years, they burn the sawgrass in the freshwater marshes on the Apalachicola River system.  This clears the plants out and allows for new growth; the less dense grass provides nesting cover for many birds.  Wintering waterfowl like canvasback, scaup, and redhead eat submerged vegetation called widgeon grass; periodic burns increase access to this for birds.  As with longleaf ecosystems, fire was a naturally occurring, controlling factor.  The systems evolved with the plants and animals that could best take advantage of these fire events.  Nature may not be able to provide fire to these systems as effectively as it once had; luckily, mankind has flame throwers and ping pong balls full of potassium permanganate.

For more information about these and other Florida Fish and Wildlife land management initiatives, visit their web site.

Watch our latest EcoAdventure, where we visit a lot of this managed land around the Apalachicola River on WFSU’s dimensions– Sunday, February 19 at 10:00 AM/ ET.

Good Fire- watch now!

Watch Good Fire on PBS. See more from WFSU Documentary.

This WFSU documentary, which aired November 30, 2011, takes an in depth look at prescribed burning and its safety and ecological benefits. The video is running off of WFSU-TV’s video on demand site, which features PBS programs like NOVA and Nature as well as local programs, like In the Grass, On the Reef and Florida War Diaries, a look at our local involvement in WWII.

Biodiversity and the Apalachicola: Why it’s Worth a Visit

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

Tune into WFSU-TV’s dimensions on Wednesday, February 15 at 7:30 PM/ ET to watch our paddling and wildlife watching EcoAdventure throughout the Apalachicola River system.

Zoom into the clusters of flags to see each site in more detail.
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This marsh island might be comprised of several genetically distinct cordgrass individuals, or just a few.

IGOR chip- human appreciation 150IGOR chip- biodiversity 150In composing and researching this post, I seem to have stumbled upon a diversity of biodiversity. In Randall Hughes’ salt marsh biodiversity study, you don’t always even physically see it.  Within a salt marsh, you might be looking at a variety of cordgrass individuals, or just one.  You wouldn’t know until you got the DNA results back from the lab.  That’s genetic diversity, the variation of genes within a species.  A little more obvious is the diversity of plant and animal life within a habitat: what other plants are mixed in with the cordgrass, what different predators are eating and terrorizing periwinkle snails, etc.  This species diversity is also crucial to a system’s health, and to the services it provides us. Continue reading

Video: Kayaking and Canoeing the Wacissa with the Green Guides

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

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When the video above aired on dimensions, several individuals in our community took note of a statement made by George Weymouth.  He was explaining how hydrilla, an invasive plant species overtaking rivers in our state, had led to Limpkins entirely abandoning the Wakulla River (which has its source at Wakulla Springs).  He said that herbicides used to control the plant led to a die off of apple snails, the limpkin’s main food source.

The reaction to this statement started me on a quest, with the several aforementioned individuals guiding me closer, and at times seemingly further, from an answer to what happened to the limpkins at Wakulla Springs.

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Paint Every Feather

Wednesday, January 18 at 7:30 PM/ ET, watch WFSU’s latest EcoAdventure on dimensions, as Green Guides George Weymouth, Jim Dulock, and Cynthia Paulson guide us down the Wacissa River.  Birds, springs, and art- you can read more about that below, and enjoy this video looking at how George- a well known painter and sculptor in our area- creates his hyper-realistic works.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV
George Weymouth paints black-necked stilts

In the interest of being intensely accurate, George's painting area is surrounded by field guides and nature magazines.

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George Weymouth is telling me how he is going to paint the ripples caused by a black-necked stilt’s (Himantopus mexicanus) wading in a river, and how the the avian subjects of his painting reflect over the disturbed water.  When he’s done getting the shape of the bird’s body, and the general coloration, he’ll add various feathers- primaries, secondaries, and tercials; all located at the anatomically appropriate places on its body.  Something occurred to me as I edited this footage into the above video:  when I had accompanied George down the Wacissa River the week before, he was looking at whole different world than I was.  A man who can accurately paint every feather on a bird is likely to have a unique perspective.

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Green Guides and the Lost City of Magnolia

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

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When researching the Green Guide videos I was producing for EcoAdventures North Florida, I became intrigued by something I saw on the Palmetto Expeditions web site. Cynthia Paulson’s Green Guide brokering business offered tours based on history and archeology. I have an interest in local history and archeology, but I was surprised that it qualified as ecotourism. It turns out that historical excursions are a common form of ecotourism, as it focuses on local culture. And our local culture is often intertwined with the ecology of the area.

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Wakulla Green- by Hot Tamale

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

IGOR chip- human appreciation 150The Wakulla Ecotourism Institute has a program to certify qualified nature guides called “Green Guides.” On October 1, 2011, my musical group Hot Tamale is putting on a special show at Posh Java in Sopchoppy that will honor the green guides with the release of a new song called “Wakulla Green.”

-Excerpt from a comment by Craig Reeder.

Above is the song  Craig was talking about in his comment on our EcoAdventures North Florida page.  Thanks to his comment, we found out about the Green Guide program, and we produced a couple of EcoAdventures where we were guided by Green Guides.  On last night’s dimensions, we were taken down the St. Marks River by Captain James Hodges.  We featured portions of the song in our piece, and I thought some of you who saw the piece might like to hear the song in its entirety.  In January, we’ll have a video about our trip down the Wacissa with George Weymouth and Jim Dulock. Continue reading