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.
An atlas is a very handy book. At the very least it will show you how to get “there” from “here”. The new Atlas of Florida’s Natural Heritage does much more than that. It’s like a guide to the geography and biology of Florida in the present and through time. Besides feeding a curiosity about particular animal or plant species, it also explains how communities of Florida’s animals and plants are interconnected in and with specific locations. The word “Heritage” in the title is very deliberate. The idea is that these wild natural resources we have in Florida have real value and should be shared for the benefit of all Floridians and passed along to future generations. And in many cases the health of these natural communities has a direct impact on our own health and well-being. Written with economy and loaded with graphic illustration and photography to explain the subject matter, this book is just plain fun to look through. It’s the kind of book you can pick up off the coffee table and spend 10 minutes with and you will have learned something new about the wonderful state of Florida. If you want to know more about the Atlas of Florida’s Natural Heritage, you can take a few pages for a test drive at:
Photographers wait for Whooping Cranes in Saint Marks.
We don’t often discuss birds here, preferring instead to discuss many of the critters they eat along our coasts. But I see the bird prints in the oyster reef mud, and kayak by the pelicans in Saint Joe Bay. They are as much a part of those habitats as the snails and the crabs. And every winter, just as sure as you’ll see Ohio and Michigan plates heading south on I-75, you’ll see the flocks that lend the drivers of those cars the nickname us Floridians have for them.
But what happens when the birds forget the way down? Sometimes, a species numbers get so low that juveniles no longer have the adults who know the way to lead them. So they need a little help in reestablishing the route.
Possibly the most famous bird of this description brought me to a large field by the St. Marks River almost two years ago. That was the first year that whooping cranes were flying to a secluded area within the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge, and I was covering the flyover for our dimensions program (it’s that video up there). It seemed like it took forever for them to get there. Starting from the cranes’ Wisconsin habitats, Operation Migration pilots in ultralight planes make the journey south in several short hops. For almost a month I received e-mails saying that they could arrive within a week, but unfavorable winds were keeping the birds grounded nearby in Alabama. Finally, it was announced that they would fly in early on Saturday, January 17.
They expected it to happen between 7 and 8 AM, but advised people to get there early. I was surprised to see the parking area half full at 6 AM. It was 18 degrees Fahrenheit outside, and cars kept piling in. Did I mention it was Saturday? Over two thousand people made it out for that minute or two when seven birds and three ultralight planes flew several hundred feet over our heads and into their area of the Refuge.
An enthusiastic crowd gathers to watch Wisconsinite tourists travel to their winter digs.
Yesterday, a group of five juveniles was guided in, over a month earlier than in the first year. From the photos I saw, it was still a nice large crowd. People love endangered birds, and the whooping crane is an impressive animal.
It’s ironic that a species whose existence as a whole seems so fragile comes in as a top predator in our local salt marsh habitats. Its favorite food is blue crab, though it is an omnivore that eats other crustaceans, as well as clams, fish, frogs and small reptiles. As we have seen over the last few months on this blog, they’re at a veritable all-you-can-eat buffet here. Numbering only five, they aren’t a significant part of the coastal food web. Yet. But as long as we have healthy habitat to offer, and the Operation Migration folks keep teaching birds the way, they might become a more regular part of the Forgotten Coast winter.