Category Archives: EcoAdventures North Florida

WFSU-TV is hiking, paddling, snorkeling and generally getting dirty and wet in the wild places of North Florida. Living, breathing, fully-functional ecosystems always surprise and delight, especially when you’re the only person for miles. Browse our stories and if you see something lacking, leave a comment and let us know!

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Roaming the Red Hills | Longleaf, Lakes, Fire, & Food

Below is a quick preview of our upcoming series, Roaming the Red Hills. The segments will air in three installments on WFSU-TV’s Local Routes, starting on Thursday, March 31 at 7:30 pm ET.  Meanwhile, here on the Ecology Blog we’ll take our usual deeper look at the places, people, and ecology featured in each segment.  Thank you to Gary Asbell for stopping our kayak and grabbing his guitar to sing his song about the Ochlockonee River, which scores most of the promo below. You also hear a little bit of our Local Routes theme by Belle and the Band.  Tallahassee’s Tracy Horenbein (a regular guest on our OutLoud show from 1999-2007) has composed original music for the series.  Funding for Roaming the Red Hills was provided by Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV
For a segment on duck hunting in Lake Iamonia, we met at 5 am, covered ourselves from head to toe in camouflage, and waited for ducks in the early morning sunlight.

For a segment on duck hunting on Lake Iamonia, we met at 5 am, covered ourselves from head to toe in camouflage, and waited for ducks in the early morning sunlight.  Photo credit, Georgia Ackerman, Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.

Our mission: to capture the natural soul of the Red Hills region in ten short videos.  To me, this is the best kind of project, hitting all of the geek centers in the brain associated with producing ecology videos.  We see a 7-day-old endangered red cockaded woodpecker, featherless and reptilian, get banded.  We kayak a rugged four mile stretch of Ochlockonee River, on the Georgia side, where we spend as much time climbing over logs as in the boat (and get serenaded along the way).  We off road through a longleaf forest in a 100-year-old horse-drawn wagon, the wheels of which can only be repaired by the Pennsylvania Amish.  And then there’s the thrill of running through a burning forest with a camera. Continue reading

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Is Artifact Collecting a Threat to Archeology?

In early November, WFSU-TV aired a segment titled “Amateur Archeologist vs. Looter: A Matter of Context?”  The video featured proponents of a program resembling the defunct Isolated Finds, which let avocational (amateur) archeologists purchase a permit to collect artifacts that had eroded into waterways from their sites.  Since the piece aired, new legislation has been introduced into the Florida House and Senate which would enact such a program.  In the video below, we talk to professional archeologists and an avocational opposed to rebooting the Isolated Finds program, including the man who oversaw its previous incarnation.


This segment aired on WFSU-TV’s Local Routes on February 4.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV
A Simpson point found in Wakulla Springs State Park. Such points have been dated between 8 - 9,000 years old, and have been found locally in the Wacissa and Aucilla Rivers.

A Simpson point found in Wakulla Springs State Park. Such points have been dated between 8 – 9,000 years old, and have been found locally in the Wacissa and Aucilla Rivers. Photo provided by Dr. James Dunbar.

“We’re not in the artifact collecting business,” says Dr. Glen Doran.  “We’re in the information collecting business.”  To Dr. Doran and the two men seated next to him, a well preserved paleolithic spear point is a puzzle piece, just like the seeds, bone fragments, and chert flakes around where the point was found.  While it might be exciting to be the first person to hold it in several thousand years, to archeologists, the story of that tool’s creator is more exciting.  New bills would allow Florida citizens to take and keep artifacts found underwater and “out-of-context,” that is, not buried in an archeological site.  If passed, Doran and his associates fear an ensuing “gold rush” that would decimate the state’s rich historic and prehistoric resources.

Continue reading

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Behind the Scenes at the Saint Marks Whooping Crane Pen

As we await might be the last whooping crane class to winter in the St. Marks Refuge, we look back at a visit we took to the whooping crane site with Brooke Pennypacker, a dedicated crane handler with Operation Migration. We also look at the future of ultralight guided whooping crane migration, which Operation Migration is defending as they meet with partner organizations.
UPDATE – 1/25/16

This year’s ultralight guided whooping migration will be the last.  Operation Migration will remain involved in the efforts to create a self-sustaining whooping crane population.  The US Fish and Wildlife Service has explained the rationale behind the decision (you can read more on that below), while Operation Migration’s Brooke Pennypacker has written this touching post-decision entry to the OM field blog.  From our interview with Brooke and in following Operation Migration over the last few years, I can see how invested he and the other OM staff are when it comes to  whooping cranes.  They have sacrificed a lot to raise, train and guide flock after flock of cranes, and I can’t imagine that they won’t continue to do so.

This year’s St. Marks flyover, likely to be this week, will be the last.  A number of cranes have continued to migrate back to the Refuge after their initial migration, and under the new management regime, the hope is that they will be the ones to guide captive-raised chicks south for the first time.  It will be years before the new practices can be judged to be successful, and even then, as in the case of ultralight guided migration, the results may not conclusively predict the long term success of the population.  All I can with certainty at this point is that I know there will be dedicated people working their hardest to make it work.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

When I met Brooke Pennypacker, he brought with him an example of the many challenges faced by a whooping crane handler.  The staff at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge visitor center told us that Brooke was busy handling an issue in the crane pen, and that he’d be late.  About 30 minutes later, he pulled up in an Operation Migration pickup truck.  In the bed was a bundle of plastic fencing and white cloth from which an alligator tail protruded.  Brooke had recently noticed the cranes move from their usual roosting spot, next to an oyster bar, to a spot on the other end of the pen.  They were acting spooked. After spotting the young gator, he borrowed a seine net from Jack Rudloe at the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab, caught it, and wrapped it in his whooping crane feeding costume.  All in a day’s job. Continue reading

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Merritt’s Mill Pond | Kayaking and Spring Caves

Take three minutes off from your busy holiday bustling and escape with us to Merritt’s Mill Pond.  Thank you to Crawfordville’s very own Well Worn Soles for letting us use your guitar and fiddle to score our little adventure on the water.  Local musicians, we love to have your music on our videos. We’ve had a good response from musicians so far (and so many of you are interested in performing on Local Routes as well), so keep the tunes coming!

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

As it is with many great adventures, Merritt’s Mill Pond was not our original destination that day.  For over a year, Chuck Hatcher, Liz Sparks and I have been trying to paddle the Upper Chipola River paddling trail.  The idea was that we would hear ghost stories at Bellamy Bridge and paddle past springs and into Marianna Caverns State Park.  When we started planning, the Upper Chipola had been newly designated as a Florida state paddling trail.  We set a date; it rained that day. Then again on the backup date.  We took a few months off and tried it again.  Every time, we were rained out or the river was too high from abundant rainfall.  It’s been a busy El Niño year in north Florida.  Finally, on the day of our failed fifth attempt, Liz, State Paddling Trails Coordinator for DEP, took us to a nearby favorite spot of hers. Continue reading

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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