We’re back on the Florida National Scenic Trail, this time on a new section along the Choctawhatchee River. Thanks to the Choctawhatchee Chapter of the Florida Trail Association for helping us out, and to Bruce Varner and Caroling Geary (of Wholeo.net) for providing photos and video of trail construction.
Tallahassee’s Hot Tamale composed some new music for this video. Thanks again Craig and Adrian for all you do for us!
Our hike by the Choctawhatchee River brims with newness. It’s not just that we get to hike a recently completed section of the Florida National Scenic Trail. That is, of course, pretty cool. That new trail takes us through recently burned forest, the beginning of a cycle of renewal in the longleaf ecosystem. Also, we’re passing through the Nokuse Plantation, where a massive restoration project is making the forest new again. It’s a nice coming together of environmental and recreational upgrades in Walton County.
We’re in the Apalachicola National Forest with Dr. Bruce Means and the eastern diamondback rattlesnake. Bruce is considered a leading expert on this misunderstood species, and has written the definitive book on the rattler, called Diamonds in the Rough. Through its life Bruce has a lot to show us about the longleaf ecosystem.
Music in the segment was provided by Don Juan and the Sonic Rangers. You can see “Don Juan” Fortner with the Smooth Sailing Jazz duo, and with the Mary and Aaron Band.
Rob Diaz de VillegasWFSU Media
At one point in the video above, Bruce Means, his arm in a stump hole, begins to scream. Then, he turns to the camera and laughs. “I love to do that with groups,” he chuckles. He’s showing us a favorite hiding place of the eastern diamondback rattlesnake. Using a little bit of theater- and citing decades of research- he’s turning an unremarkable burnt out stump into a dynamic refuge within the longleaf pine forest. Continue reading →
The striped newt is a bridge between the longleaf pine ecosystem and the many local water bodies that connect to our aquifer. If you want to know more about other longleaf species like red cockaded woodpeckers (one of whose cavity is taken over by another species in the video below) or gopher tortoises (in whose burrows striped newts may shelter during fires), you might enjoy our recent Roaming the Red Hills series. The location of our gopher tortoise video is Birdsong Nature Center, where the stars of our striped newt adventure will be leading the first ever Ephemeral Wetlands Extravaganza this Saturday, May 21 (EDIT: This is event is being rescheduled due to storms forecasted for Saturday morning. Keep an eye on the Birdsong calendar or Facebook page for more information) .
Like in Roaming the Red Hills, original music was composed for this video by local musicians. Hot Tamale has contributed music to EcoAdventures in the past. In one of the first ever posts on this blog, Hot Tamale’s Craig Reeder wrote about their song Crystal Gulf Waters, which was inspired by the 2010 BP Oil Spill. The segment below aired on the May 19 episode of Local Routes.
Rob Diaz de VillegasWFSU-TV
Ryan and Rebecca Means put the future of the striped newt species (in the Apalachicola National Forest, anyway) in the hands of young children. They didn’t intend it to be symbolic; it just seemed like it would make for nice video. And it was. The images do, however, reflect a central mission of the Means’s work with the Coastal Plains Institute: to foster a love of our local ecosystems in the young, with the hope of creating a new generation of stewards. Continue reading →
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.
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 →
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.
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 →
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.
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 →
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. Continue reading →
EcoShakespeare is a series of expeditions into uniquely north Florida/ south Georgia ecosystems. Each adventure is led by a master of their field and includes a scene performed from A Midsummer Night’s Dream that relates to the trip. Florida State University English professor Dr. Bruce Boehrer ties Shakespeare’s words to our local habitats, creating a one of kind blending of art and nature. Part one takes place in a secret, ancient forest…
Rob Diaz de VillegasWFSU-TV
Jim Cox is the Vertebrate Ecology Program Director at Tall Timbers Research Station (he’s the one not holding the camera). Based north of Tallahassee, Tall Timbers has studied the longleaf habitat, and its dependence on fire, for over 50 years.
We begin this EcoShakespeare project, appropriately enough, in a longleaf forest that exists much as it did during the time of William Shakespeare. The “Big Woods,” as Tall Timbers’ Jim Cox calls them, sit on private land. Few people will ever get the privilege to walk under those ancient longleaf pines, in one of the few places where Henslow’s sparrows and red cockaded woodpeckers are relatively easily seen. And it’s one of the few places where you might find longleaf pines that lived while the Bard’s plays were being penned.
You can see the numbers in the video above. The American southeast was once covered in 90,000,000 acres of longleaf. Today we have 3,000,000. Of that, only 8,000 has never been cut. Jim compares it to the entire population of the Earth being whittled down to a city the size of Milwaukee. And while 3,000,000 acres is still a vast reduction from the historic number, it’s much better than 8,000. So why do we emphasize the especially low acreage of remaining old growth forest?
The immortal king of the fairies, Oberon, stands next to a considerably younger 350 year old (give or take) longleaf pine.
It’s something that I can appreciate as I stare down my fortieth birthday next year- a mature longleaf offers more ecosystem services than a young one. Red cockaded woodpeckers make nests in trees that are over 90 years old. The heart wood of these older trees is more likely to suffer from red heart disease, a fungus which softens the wood and makes it easier for the woodpeckers, over several generations, to make a cavity. Jim Cox, answering questions from our adventurers, says the birds’ numbers are looking much better after getting dangerously low. He attributes this to artificial cavities sawed into less mature trees. But for the RCW to leave the endangered list, it has to make it without our help. And for that, we need more mature trees. The problem with that is that… you have to wait… and wait… and wait… for enough of them to get to that right age.
Another ecosystem service offered by a mature longleaf is its wrinkly face. As a longleaf ages, its bark becomes gnarlier and rougher. This creates more surfaces for insects and other invertebrates to inhabit. And as is true in any ecosystem, those little creepy crawlies are food for all of the much prettier animals that we travel with binoculars to try and spot. An ecosystem will not thrive if the bottom of the food web is not healthy.
Years ago, when we started EcoAdventures, I accompanied FWC’s Andy Wraithmel and Liz Sparks to several birding spots along the Apalachicola River. Near sunset, we stopped in the Apalachicola National Forest. When you drive down State Road 65, you may notice painted white bands on the longleaf pines. These are trees with RCW cavities, or that have qualities that might attract the rare woodpecker. We stopped by a cluster of those trees, Liz and Andy admiring the good work that has been done to restore the habitat.
Controlled burn in the Apalachicola National Forest along State Road 65.
Looking at the shots of the National Forest that we included in the video above, the differences between it and the “Big Woods” are subtle. The trees look a little skinnier, perhaps, but even a 500 year old longleaf will never be that much thicker than a young one. In one shot, you can see the planted rows of slash pine that timber operations started using after having cut the slower growing/ higher quality longleaf.
Andy and Liz talked to me about the thinning of trees (longleaf habitat features widely spaced trees), regular burning, and other restoration activities that have the forest looking a little more like it once had. But, Andy noted, none of us would be alive to see the forest fully recovered. Except, maybe, the immortal Oberon and Titania.
Next week, we look at Shakespeare’s upbringing as we forage for food along Lake Iamonia. Also, marital tensions between Oberon and Titania escalate as the king plots with Puck to use the herbs of the forest against the queen.
Special thanks to WFSU’s partners for this EcoShakespeare segment, The Southern Shakespeare Festival and Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy. EcoShakespeare is funded by a grant from WNET’s Shakespeare Uncovered. Catch their take of a Midsummer Night’s Dream Friday, January 30 at 9 pm ET on WFSU-TV. For more information on Shakespeare Uncovered and WFSU’s associated TV and Radio projects, visit our Shakespeare Uncovered web site.
Shakespeare Uncovered is made possible by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Major funding is also provided by The Joseph & Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, Dana and Virginia Randt, the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, the Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, The Polonsky Foundation, Rosalind P. Walter, Jody and John Arnhold, the Corinthian International Foundation, and PBS.
I like the idea of hiking cross country, unimpeded, for miles at a time.Trails are great- and usually safer- but the idea that you can have space to literally walk off the beaten path is appealing. A couple of hundred years ago, you could travel across the entire southeastern coastal plain in this manner. This was a road paved by fire. On this blog, we’ve covered how fire creates the pine flatwoods ecosystem with its widely spaced trees, and how and why mankind has had to replicate a process that had happened naturally. But how do we know how often to burn, and at what time of year? It would be convenient if we could ask someone who was around before the area was settled. As it turns out, we can.
Trees have the answers in their rings. We get a glimpse of this towards the end of the video above, but I wanted to take a closer look at how Dr. Jean Huffman was able to interpret the data locked within trees.
The photo to the right is a detail of a longleaf pine stump cross-section. In it you can see that the rings alternate in shading between light and dark. The light wood is early wood. This is from the beginning of the growing season, typically spring, when a tree usually grows the fastest. The growth in the summer and fall is darker, and is called late wood. Winter is the dormant season. So one light and one dark ring equal one year of growth for the tree. You may also notice that some rings are wider than others. Wide rings indicate a higher rainfall, and especially narrow rings indicate drought. Knowing this, we can start building a master chronology.
A master chronology is made by comparing the relative width of rings in a series of trees. In this way rings in each tree can be dated exactly, even if there are occasional missing rings or false rings in an individual tree. The master chronology can be used to exactly date the rings in individual stumps. Since longleaf pine is such a long-lived species, there is potentially hundreds of years’ worth of climatological data in its rings. When you have data for many trees, you can build a reliable chronology that goes back before people started keeping records. This is a dendrochronology (dendro= tree, chronology= matching events to specific dates based on historical records).
Finally, you match years in your chronology to fire scars (that’s a scar to the left). Longleaf pine are a fire resistant species, and it takes a lot to kill the cambium and create a scar. Because of this, Jean only created fire histories for periods when she had at least three “recorder” trees- enough to establish a pattern.
She determined that there were frequent fires in the area- every one to three years. That’s enough to keep oak and other woody plants from encroaching on ground cover plants, including the many rare plants of the SJB State Buffer Preserve. It was strange to just trample over the grass and palmettos in the managed area, and all of the gems potentially hidden underneath them. It doesn’t exactly adhere to the “Leave no Trace” ethos. But the reality is that all of it will burn and go away, and then grow back again, and again, and again…
The video features music by Pitx and Airtone. Thanks to Dr. Jean Huffman for reviewing my text for accuracy.
Next on EcoAdventures North Florida, we’re going to a place where large chunks of land get swallowed up by the earth, and where a river goes underground. Of course we mean Aucilla Sinks (Wednesday April 11 at 7:30 PM/ ET on WFSU-TV’s dimensions).
In 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 →