two day old snowy plover chick- cotton ball with legs.

Banding Snowy Plover Chicks at Deer Lake State Park

A couple of weeks ago, we visited the “snowy plover factory” at St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, and learned about the bird’s nesting habits.  Today at Deer Lake State Park, two newly hatched chicks get banded.

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Public Media

“It’s good just to act like beach goers,” says Marvin Friel.  “Just looking for shells.”  We’re approaching a snowy plover nest at Deer Lake State Park, and we’re acting casual.  The nest is up by the dunes, and we’re walking along the water.  We look ahead at the waves, not wanting the parents to see us eyeing their chicks.  Marvin takes a few sidelong glances before radioing Raya Pruner, “I think we’re going to approach now.  Are you ready?” Continue reading Banding Snowy Plover Chicks at Deer Lake State Park

The Snowy Plover Factory | Visiting Shorebirds on St. Joseph Peninsula

Today, we head to the remotest part of St. Joseph Peninsula State Park for some beach time.  Here is one of the most productive snowy plover nesting areas in north Florida. In a couple of weeks, we go to Deer Lake State Park as Florida Fish and Wildlife bands newly hatched chicks.

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Public Media

When the shoot ends, we ride back along the beach.  I sit in the back of the UTV facing out, watching the tip of St. Joseph Peninsula recede behind us.  I’m a life long Floridian, and I’m seeing something I’ve never before seen in our state: uninterrupted miles of sand dunes.  There are no condos or hotels towering behind them, and no boardwalks crossing over top of them.  It’s no wonder snowy plovers like to nest here.

Continue reading The Snowy Plover Factory | Visiting Shorebirds on St. Joseph Peninsula

The Tallahassee Museum's female red wolf pup looks out from behind a tree.

Saying Goodbye to (some of) the Tallahassee Museum Red Wolves

At a critical time for the red wolf wild population, some of the Tallahassee Museum’s red wolves are leaving us.

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Public Media

Today, the female red wolf pup didn’t like me.  With every visit I make to the Tallahassee Museum to shoot the pups, I see something new from them.  Last time I was here, they all came and marked their territory in front of me (video I chose not to share).  Today, the girl pup looked at me and kind of grunted, half charging me (I was on the boardwalk above her) and then running to the fence with the other pups.  She did this maybe ten times. Continue reading Saying Goodbye to (some of) the Tallahassee Museum Red Wolves

How do Tupelo Trees and Crawfish Help Apalachicola Bay?

Perhaps no swamp tree captures the imagination more than the ogeechee tupelo.  But altered river flows on the Apalachicola River are causing a decline of this critical plant in the river floodplain.

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Public Media

I have to state, for the record, that it was Georgia’s idea to do a segment where she learns to drive the Riverkeeper boat.  Georgia Ackerman is one of the most experienced people I know out on the water.  In a kayak.  But as the new Apalachicola Riverkeeper, she needs to drive the boat.  I wanted to cover the transition between herself and Dan Tonsmeire, and I had two requests.  First, take me (and the WFSU viewers) somewhere we’d never seen before.  Second, I wanted some last nuggets of wisdom from Dan, as he handed the reigns to his successor. Continue reading How do Tupelo Trees and Crawfish Help Apalachicola Bay?

Refuge Archeology 2 | Discovering the Spring Creek Village

Earlier this month, we delved into archeological mysteries on the Saint Marks National Wildlife Refuge.  Today, we return to the Spring Creek section of the Refuge with the same archeologists as they predict the location of a village over a thousand years gone.

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Public Media

There are no ancient stone temples in the St. Marks Refuge.  It would be easier for archeologists if there were.  But the people who lived here for thousands of years lived in wooden homes that long ago turned to dirt. Continue reading Refuge Archeology 2 | Discovering the Spring Creek Village

The Underground Lives of Ants in a North Florida Forest

Dr. Walter Tschinkel has developed a novel way to explore ant nests.  We travel with him to the Apalachicola National Forest for a brand of research that creates works of art, in collaboration with the ants themselves.  You can see an exhibit of this art at the Tallahassee Museum through June 10, 2018.

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Public Media

I think all of us at some time have stepped on a mound of dirt, uncovering scores of scurrying ants.  Immediately, we brush them off our feet before they can bite us.  When we see lines of ants crossing grass, we chose a different spot in the park to have our snack.  And we’re definitely unhappy to see them in our house.  When we see ants in our world, they’re pests. Continue reading The Underground Lives of Ants in a North Florida Forest

Rebecca Means holds a gopher frog in her hand. It has contracted into a defensive posture, front feet in front of its face.

Its Wetlands are Dry, But There’s Plenty to See in the Munson Sandhills

Ephemeral wetlands in the Munson Sandhills are currently dry.  But this region of the Apalachicola National Forest has plenty to see, including rare and threatened animal species.

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The frosted elfin is a rare butterfly whose strongest concentration in the Southeast is within the Apalachicola National Forest. Photo courtesy Dean and Sally Jue.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Public Media

Today, we’re taking the kids out to ephemeral wetlands in the Apalachicola National Forest.  Our purpose?  To show them that right now, the wetlands aren’t so wet.

It sounds like a crazy reason to drag kids out to the forest on a Sunday morning.  Last year, we adopted two wetlands with two other families, my son Max’s first grade classmates.   So they’ve already started learning about this environment and formed positive memories after spending time here with their friends.

We’re here today because there’s a tremendous value in visiting the same spot in nature over time, through different seasons and climate cycles.  Nature isn’t static.  Individual plants and animals change through the seasons.  The wetland itself changes over the course of wet and dry years.  Being here is the best way for kids (and adults) to get in tune with the workings of any wild space.

And even in its current dry state, we still have the opportunity to see some things.  In particular, Max, his friend Dylan, and little brother Xavi might get to see the gopher frog, a species of concern.

Continue reading Its Wetlands are Dry, But There’s Plenty to See in the Munson Sandhills

Weeden Island burial ceramic- recreation.

Byrd Hammock | Archeological Mysteries on the St. Marks Refuge

Byrd Hammock is an archeological site on the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, Wakulla Beach Unit.  Here, archeologists with the Southeast Archeological Center (part of the National Park Service) are trying to solve a mystery…

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Public Media

How do you begin to know a person who died over a thousand years ago, and left behind no writing?  People lived in north Florida for at least 14,000 years before Hernando de Soto occupied Anhaica in 1539-40.  Through the Spanish, we know that the people who lived here then called themselves the Apalachee.  We know about their daily lives and religious beliefs, albeit through the biased lens of European witnesses.  But at least those clergymen and soldiers lived among and talked to the Apalachee.

There’s no such chronicle for the previous 14,000+ years of life in the panhandle.

Continue reading Byrd Hammock | Archeological Mysteries on the St. Marks Refuge

Two month old red wolf puppies gather around their father at the Tallahassee Museum.

Red Wolf Family Celebrates First Year at the Tallahassee Museum

The Tallahassee Museum’s red wolf pups are shy, and especially early on, few people were able to see them.  Luckily, they became accustomed to our cameras, and so we’ve been able to watch them grow.  Below is a documentary on their first year.

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Some days, the red wolves are more obviously “wild” than others.  One day, for instance, I got footage of two pups fighting over a bone.  Just as soon as the short tailed alpha puppy asserted that it was his rib, he became alert.  I could hear a police siren faintly in the distance.  Soon, all eight of the Tallahassee Museum wolves were howling.  It sounded more monkey than wolf-like to me, a combination of longer howls and strange whoops.  It was everything I could ask for out of a shoot day. Continue reading Red Wolf Family Celebrates First Year at the Tallahassee Museum

Sinkhole at Lake Miccosukee, with two waterfalls.

Lake Miccosukee Sinkhole Hike: Floridan Aquifer Exposed!

Low rain has exposed a sinkhole or two on Lake Miccosukee, offering a glimpse into the forces that created our largest area lakes, and their connections to the Floridan Aquifer.

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Public Media

We’re walking on exposed lake bed.  The ground is spongey and springy, not a place used to feet pressing down on it.  The west edge of Lake Miccosukee is usually kind of a cypress swamp, and in the winter coots issue out of it to forage among the grasses in the open water alongside.  Right now, though, the open water looks grassier, and I’m walking in that swamp.  Miccosukee’s water is going down a hole. Continue reading Lake Miccosukee Sinkhole Hike: Floridan Aquifer Exposed!