Winter came and went; only it seems to not have ever really arrived. Hiking is an activity best enjoyed during the cooler months, when there are less biting insects on the trails. We shot this segment at what should have been the end of hiking season, at the end of March. What we found on the Aucilla Sinks segment of the Florida National Scenic Trail, however, were Summer temperatures, unrelenting mosquitos, and scores of white spotted ticks- the ones that carry the nasty stuff. You know what, though? We still had fun. Continue reading →
Dimensions’ encore presentation on Sunday, April 15 at 10 AM/ ET on WFSU-TV On this blog, we usually refer to location we visit by the kind of habitat it is, and its foundation species. Salt marshes and cordgrass, oyster reefs and oysters, pine flatwoods and longleaf pine- you get the picture. We think of things biologically here, which makes sense, since my primary co-contributors are biologists and because our local abundance of life draws us to the outdoors. For the EcoAdventure airing tonight (7:30 PM/ ET on WFSU-TV’s dimensions), our draw is not biological but rather geological. Tonight, we’re going to a place in Florida where you can see some rocks.
From caves such as this one, the Aucilla reemerges periodically in sinkholes and short river runs.
The Aucilla River takes a unique path down to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a good sized river that all of a sudden gets swallowed by the earth, and then reappears in what Morgan Wilbur (Aucilla Wildlife Management Area’s Chief Biologist) calls karst windows, before resuming as a fully flowing river at Nutall Rise. So what is a karst window? They’re sinkholes, caused by the erosion of the limestone or dolomite that underlies most of our state. In a karst topography, rainwater moves through soil and through porous rock. In North Florida, that water ends up in the Floridan Aquifer, which is the source of our drinking water and of bodies of water such as Wakulla Springs. That water can wear down pieces of the rock as it passes through, causing cave ins. As extensive as the Floridan Aquifer is (North Florida and Georgia, and parts of Alabama and South Carolina), there aren’t many places where the land behaves quite like it does at the Aucilla Sinks. This is why Kent Wimmer of the Florida Trail Association wanted to show the area to us.
The Sinks section of the Florida Scenic Hiking Trail is where, as Kent says in the piece, “you can see Florida’s basement.” You can see places where the trees grow sideways as the land slowly gets pulled into holes where limestone had been. You are walking along what had once been underground caves, as evidenced by the walls of rock around you. And every sink looks different than the last; I feel like I could have shot for days there.
Tonight’s Dimensions program also has an interview segment on the Wild About Wakulla Week. Host Julz Graham talked with Jeff Hugo (Wakulla Wildlife Festival), Capt. James Hodges (Certified Green Guide & St. Marks Community Showcase Representative), and Dr. Madeleine Carr ( historian, “Conquistadors in the Fabled Land of the Apalachee”). We toured the Saint Marks River with Captain Hodges last December. You can watch that video here.
I saw this photo over the weekend when the family and I visited the Florida Aquarium in Tampa. We had known that we were going to be going for several weeks (my son Maximus loves watching marine life in tanks), yet it was only on the drive there that I remembered that I had given two photos to the Aquarium to use for an oyster reef/ toadfish exhibit (the one in the photo to the right was taken by WFSU web producer Trisha Moynihan). Polly Perkins, an exhibit developer for the Aquarium, saw some of the photos on this blog and figured that we might have some images of the habitat. I directed her to our flickr page, where we have hundreds of photographs documenting the research of Dr. David Kimbro and Dr. Randall Hughes of the FSU Coastal & Marine Lab, as well of the coastal ecosystems they work in. In recent months, our In the Grass, On the Reef flickr collection has reflected our expanded interest in ecosystems further inland and in ecotourism. The slideshow below offers a taste of the images we’re collecting on our flickr page (if you look hard enough on our page, you can see the image we had in the FSU promotional spot that aired during sporting events in this academic year).
The day after we visited the Aquarium, we took an Easter visit to River Hills Park along the Hillsborough River. When we got there, I was delighted to see a Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail sign in the parking lot. It was a great day for bird watching, as blue heron, ibis, and a good variety of ducks and ducklings were frolicking on the riverbank right in front of the boardwalk:
I also noticed a plentitude of apple snails. Last December we paddled the Wacissa River looking for limpkins, and while we saw a lot of cool things, it was a little late in the year and we didn’t see limpkins. So when I saw the apple snails, I was hopeful. And then I saw this bird, and I thought, this looks a lot like a limpkin. I checked it in my father-in-law’s bird guide, and I’m 99% sure that this is was. If anyone knows that I’m wrong, let me know in the comments section:
You can watch our EcoAdventure along the Apalachicola, where we hit some Birding Trail sites, here. We saw birds, but it was winter and many species had migrated south. With that in mind, we’ll be heading to the Saint Marks Wildlife Refuge to catch all the birds heading back into our area. Look for that in May.
I like the idea of hiking cross country, unimpeded, for miles at a time.Trails are great, of course. But they only offer up so many possibilities. What if you could stand in one place, look in every direction, and just go where it looked most interesting?
On our hike through the St. Joseph Bay Buffer Preserve, Dr. Jean Huffman is leading us on just such an adventure to look for rare plants. The showiest of those is Chapman’s rhododendron. This is the only public land where this flowering shrub is found. Other unique-to-Florida (or unique-to-the -panhandle) species are hidden within the grass. Continue reading →