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).
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Tune into WFSU-TV’s dimensions on Wednesday, February 15 at 7:30 PM/ ET to watch our paddling and wildlife watching EcoAdventure throughout the Apalachicola River system.
Zoom into the clusters of flags to see each site in more detail.
This marsh island might be comprised of several genetically distinct cordgrass individuals, or just a few.
In composing and researching this post, I seem to have stumbled upon a diversity of biodiversity. In Randall Hughes’ salt marsh biodiversity study, you don’t always even physically see it. Within a salt marsh, you might be looking at a variety of cordgrass individuals, or just one. You wouldn’t know until you got the DNA results back from the lab. That’s genetic diversity, the variation of genes within a species. A little more obvious is the diversity of plant and animal life within a habitat: what other plants are mixed in with the cordgrass, what different predators are eating and terrorizing periwinkle snails, etc. This species diversity is also crucial to a system’s health, and to the services it provides us. Continue reading →
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.
Wednesday, January 18 at 7:30 PM/ ET, watch WFSU’s latest EcoAdventure on dimensions, as Green Guides George Weymouth, Jim Dulock, and Cynthia Paulson guide us down the Wacissa River. Birds, springs, and art- you can read more about that below, and enjoy this video looking at how George- a well known painter and sculptor in our area- creates his hyper-realistic works.
Rob Diaz de VillegasWFSU-TV
In the interest of being intensely accurate, George's painting area is surrounded by field guides and nature magazines.
George Weymouth is telling me how he is going to paint the ripples caused by a black-necked stilt’s (Himantopus mexicanus) wading in a river, and how the the avian subjects of his painting reflect over the disturbed water. When he’s done getting the shape of the bird’s body, and the general coloration, he’ll add various feathers- primaries, secondaries, and tercials; all located at the anatomically appropriate places on its body. Something occurred to me as I edited this footage into the above video: when I had accompanied George down the Wacissa River the week before, he was looking at whole different world than I was. A man who can accurately paint every feather on a bird is likely to have a unique perspective.
When researching the Green Guide videos I was producing for EcoAdventures North Florida, I became intrigued by something I saw on the Palmetto Expeditions web site. Cynthia Paulson’s Green Guide brokering business offered tours based on history and archeology. I have an interest in local history and archeology, but I was surprised that it qualified as ecotourism. It turns out that historical excursions are a common form of ecotourism, as it focuses on local culture. And our local culture is often intertwined with the ecology of the area.
The Wakulla Ecotourism Institute has a program to certify qualified nature guides called “Green Guides.” On October 1, 2011, my musical group Hot Tamale is putting on a special show at Posh Java in Sopchoppy that will honor the green guides with the release of a new song called “Wakulla Green.”
-Excerpt from a comment by Craig Reeder.
Above is the song Craig was talking about in his comment on our EcoAdventures North Florida page. Thanks to his comment, we found out about the Green Guide program, and we produced a couple of EcoAdventures where we were guided by Green Guides. On last night’s dimensions, we were taken down the St. Marks River by Captain James Hodges. We featured portions of the song in our piece, and I thought some of you who saw the piece might like to hear the song in its entirety. In January, we’ll have a video about our trip down the Wacissa with George Weymouth and Jim Dulock. Continue reading →
Watch dimensions Wednesday, 7:30 PM/ ET to go on our latest EcoAdventure- up the St. Marks River (on WFSU-TV).
Click each flag to see a photo.
Rob Diaz de VillegasWFSU-TV
You may notice our EcoAdventures taking us further and further away from our usual dwellings In the Grass (salt marshes and seagrass beds) and On the Reef (oyster reefs). Our next couple of adventures take us up rivers, and away from the salt and the waves, and the little fiddler crabs. Yet these freshwater bodies are inextricably tied to marsh and reef ecosystems that sit in the Apalachee Bay, into where the St. Marks and Wacissa (via the Aucilla) empty. Continue reading →
What’s not to love about oysters? They clean the water, they’re delicious, and they have surprising economic value. Members of the Kimbro Lab found this unique oyster, which itself seems very loving, on one of their study sites. “Now I’ve seen a lot of weird-shaped oysters,” says lab tech Tanya Rogers,” but never one quite this perfect. I took it on a photoshoot this evening for some nice background and lighting.”
St. Joe Bay is really jumping in the summer. People are everywhere; scalloping, fishing, kayaking and snorkeling. The people are mostly gone in the autumn, as they head back to work and school, and the weather is a little cooler. With less people to scare them off, you see more blue crabs, stingrays, and sharks swimming closer to the shore. It’s my favorite time of year to get footage there. When winter rolls around, the only people out on the water either have to be because they’re working (like Randall and her crew), or they’re just hardcore ecowarriors. It can make for difficult paddling in the winter (though this December is much milder than last year, when we shot this footage).
Super-low tide in St. Joe Bay.
The difficulty doesn’t so much stem from the cold, though it can get cold (especially for a native Floridian who thinks Massachusetts beach water is too chilly in July). The real challenge is the wind and the tides. It makes for a surreal landscape. It’s mostly devoid of living animals, at least on the surface, but that north wind does push some interesting seagrass bed denizens onto the marsh with the seagrass wrack.
As I noted earlier, it has been milder this year. Hopefully that holds for our next few EcoAdventure shoots, which include trips down the Wacissa and St. Marks rivers. And I’ve already started planning some of next year’s shoots as well, so stay tuned!
Sawtooth palmetto lining a natural levy above the Sopchoppy River.
I was walking with my wife the other day and I asked her, “Did Tallahassee always have so much fall foliage?” She assured me it did. I guess I remember seeing red and yellow leaves in past fall seasons, just not so widespread. Ever since I went with Kent Wimmer to shoot a dimensions segment on the Florida National Scenic Trail, I can’t help but notice it everywhere. You don’t get vast expanses of orange and red, like you do in New England. Instead, we get these great red and gold highlights popping out of the green. Why had I not been paying more attention to it before? I guess, just like with the salt marshes that had looked like “just a bunch of grass” to me, I don’t always notice a good thing until I get a camera on it. Continue reading →
Tune into WFSU-TV Sunday at 10:00 AM/ 9:00 CT for dimensions, as Kent Wimmer of the Florida Trail Association (featured in the video above) takes us to some of the most beautiful hiking trails in our area.
If you’re going to go out into wild places, you have to prepare.
Not long after we started doing In the Grass, On the Reef, there was a three day stretch of oyster reef/ salt marsh shoots. I didn’t feel like transporting my muddy shoes home every day, so I’d hose them off in our loading area and pick them up on the way back out to the coast. On the third day, I forgot to pick up my shoes. I wear Crocs on the drive to and from wet field shoots; they’re good footwear for wet feet. In a mucky salt marsh, though, you’re lucky if you can find them after they get sucked off of your feet. We cut through a lot of marshes to get to Randall’s study site, a sandier marsh island. It was a longer walk than it had to be, with my having to stop so often, and I was fortunate not to encounter any shell fragments in the marsh sludge after I decided to walk barefoot.
Thanks to Kent for spending the day with us and showing us some beautiful places.
Whether you’re working or enjoying yourself in the unpaved places of the world, you have to make sure you’re dressed right and that you have everything you might need. The video above is specific to hiking on nature trails, but a lot of the gear Kent has with him is similar to what what I bring when I go to Alligator Harbor to tape David and his crew working on oyster reefs. Light, loose fitting clothing that covers as much skin as possible protects you from the sun’s UV rays and from mosquitos. Hats and high SPF sunscreen offer additional protection. And of course, bring plenty of water.
It’s all about the preproduction. Before I leave the station, I need to not only have make sure that I have all the gear I need (microphones, batteries, recording media, etc.), but I have to know where I’m going, and what it might be like when I get there. A day of hiking, camping or kayaking for fun is no different. It’s good to check the weather before heading out- there’s no need to drive three hours to a thunderstorm. And if you’re hiking, it’s good to know what the weather HAS BEEN in an area, as some of the trails flood. Like any good producer, you want to get to know your topic before you head to the shoot. The trail website has valuable information on how best to traverse the trails, as well as letting you know where all the cool spots are (you wouldn’t want to miss out on the Cathedral of Palms, would you?).
Man, what a lot of work goes into a relaxing nature encounter! Honestly, it’s not that much work, in the grand scheme of things. And it’s worth it: