All posts by Rob Diaz de Villegas

About Rob Diaz de Villegas

Rob Diaz de Villegas is a senior producer for WFSU-TV, covering outdoors and ecology. Early in his television career, Rob focused on music production. After a couple of years of producing and editing Spanish and bilingual music video shows in San Antonio, Rob returned to Tallahassee in 2002 to resume production of his local music performance show, OutLoud. From that, he transitioned to local music documentaries, until one day he found himself standing in a muddy salt marsh with a camera, and his life was changed forever. Rob created this blog for a National Science Foundation funded marine biology project called In the Grass, On the Reef. No one asked Rob to expand on this work and cover all ecology in our area, but it seemed like a good thing to do. Subsequent projects under the Ecology Blog umbrella include EcoShakespeare (funded by WNET and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting) and Roaming the Red Hills (funded by Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy). His most recent documentary follows the lives of four red wolf pups born at the Tallahassee Museum, apex predators that once hunted in our local wild spaces. Rob is married with two young sons, and they try to have outdoor family adventures as often as possible (you might see them on the blog from time to time).

Multiple dead fish in marsh grass, found in the Apalachicola River delta after Hurricane Michael.

Fish Kills on the Apalachicola Possibly Linked to Sewage Spill

If you see fish kills on the Apalachicola or other waterway, report it to Florida Fish and Wildlife online or by calling their hotline at 800-636-0511.  We will continue to follow the story as new information becomes available.

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Public Media

Saturday (10/20/18) Update

Riverkeeper Georgia Ackerman has been in touch with Alex Reed of the Department of Environmental Protection Division of Water Resource Management, located in Panama City.  After Hurricane Michael, the Division is operating at Gulf Coast Community College with limited phone and wifi connectivity.

Per Alex Reed, DEP and FWC are working together to gather data at points upstream and downstream of the sewage spill.  They’ll be sampling for a variety of contaminants, salt, and oxygen levels.  While a sewage spill is a likely cause for fish kills, these events are common during hurricanes.  For an explanation of how a strong storm can affect fish, continue reading.

Original Story

Researchers with Florida Fish and Wildlife suspect that a sewage release is partially responsible for fish kills in Gulf and Franklin Counties.  The source of the sewage is a treatment plant in Wewahitchka, on the Chipola River.  Earlier this week the plant was reported to have released 80,000 gallons of partially treated wastewater after losing power during Hurricane Michael.  FWC has received several reports of dead fish in the Apalachicola River delta downstream of the spill. Continue reading Fish Kills on the Apalachicola Possibly Linked to Sewage Spill

Jack Rudloe stares ahead, the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab research dock wrecked behind him.

Gulf Specimen Marine Lab Recovers After Hurricane Michael

We head down to Panacea, Florida to check in on the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab as Jack and Cypress Rudloe, along with GSML staff and volunteers, get things back in order.

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Public Media

I’m standing on a boat ramp on Dickerson Bay just two days after Hurricane Michael passed through.  In the storm’s immediate aftermath, the Florida panhandle is in shambles.  But it’s hard to reconcile that with what I’m seeing now.  It’s a near cloudless day.  A willet wanders on a sand bar, letting fiddler crabs get thick a few feet away before plunging in for a snack.  Common buckeye butterflies sun on Spartina alterniflora, marsh cordgrass, and on the adjacent sand.  There’s not a single human built structure in sight. Continue reading Gulf Specimen Marine Lab Recovers After Hurricane Michael

Striped skunk woth dirt on its face, after burrowing.

Striped Skunks | The Tallahassee Museum’s Mysterious Residents

How many of you have seen the striped skunks at the Tallahassee Museum?  Have you ever seen a skunk in the wild?

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I’m in the Florida panther enclosure at the Tallahassee Museum, and I’ve never been more scared of an animal.  Here at the Museum, I’ve been in with a pack of red wolves.  Last year, I spent a day in the forest with Bruce Means and an eastern diamondback rattlesnake.  And like any Floridian who likes water, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in proximity to alligators.  Those are all animals that could seriously hurt or kill me, but that’s nothing compared to right now.  Right now, a striped skunk is running directly at me.

Continue reading Striped Skunks | The Tallahassee Museum’s Mysterious Residents

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