Category Archives: Swamps and other Wetlands

North Florida is home to a variety of wetland environments. Swamps, seepage slopes, bogs, ephemeral wetlands, and steephead ravines, to name a few, are not always places we visit recreationally. But they are of critical importance to area ecology.

Many wetlands connect to larger river systems, and are a habitat and source of nutrients for for a wide range of marine species. Our local wetlands often contain plants and animals species not found anywhere else. They can be mucky and uncomfortable (not always, though), but they are key to the rich biodiversity for which north Florida is known.

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?

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

Steephead Salamander Search, and the Apalachicola’s Ice Age Refugees

In a steephead ravine, we enter a landscape as Appalachian as it is Floridian- perhaps a glimpse at the Apalachicola River of the ice ages.  In part 3 of our salamander adventure, Bruce Means climbs down in search of the Apalachicola dusky, an animal he discovered here over 50 years ago.

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Public Media

“We’re standing at one of the places I most love in this world,” Bruce Means tells the camera.  “There’s a big surprise right behind me.”

Dr. Means stands in an open field, a row of oak trees a short distance away.  When we get to the tree line, we look down.  Up here, all we see are the tops of trees and a slope that descends into shadows.  At the bottoms of those trees, however, lies the promise of rare plants and animals, a few of which aren’t found anywhere but the Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines region.  This is a steephead ravine. Continue reading Steephead Salamander Search, and the Apalachicola’s Ice Age Refugees

Bruce Means inspects his dip net, which is full of dead leaves. He is searching for southern dusky salamanders in the Bradwell Bay Wilderness, Apalachicola National Forest.

Bradwell Bay | A Last Refuge of the Southern Dusky Salamander

The Bradwell Bay Wilderness is dark and mysterious- and full of life.  In part 2 of our salamander adventure, Bruce Means searches the swamp for the southern dusky, a critter that has disappeared from almost everywhere else.

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Public Media

Is there something you love doing enough to do it for over fifty years?  Some do, and that’s why I’m here today.  I’m following Bruce Means into a titi swamp in the Bradwell Bay Wilderness.  He’d scour this place as a Florida State University graduate student in the 1960s, and today we’re on the same mission.

We’re on the hunt for southern dusky salamanders. Continue reading Bradwell Bay | A Last Refuge of the Southern Dusky Salamander

A Hillis's dwarf salamander perches on the finger of Dr. Bruce Means.

Dwarf Salamander Search in the Chipola River Floodplain

We take an eye level look at the habitat of the Hillis’s dwarf salamander, a species new to science.  Our guide is Dr. Bruce Means, who, along with other researchers, discovered the salamander along regional waterways.  A few months ago, we spent a day in the forest with Dr. Means and an eastern diamondback rattlesnake.

This is part one of a three part took at Dr. Means’s work with salamanders.  Part two takes us into the Bradwell bay Wilderness in search of Southern Dusky salamanders.  Part three takes us down into a steephead ravine by the Apalachicola River in search of the Apalachicola dusky.

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Public Media

After about an hour of searching for salamanders, Bruce Means stops to grab a drink.  It’s a hot summer day, and about time for some cool refreshment.  He gets down on his hands and knees and presses his lips against the muck on the slope.  There, cool, clean water is seeping from an underground lake, creating the ecosystem favored by the subject of our search. Continue reading Dwarf Salamander Search in the Chipola River Floodplain

Adopting an Ephemeral Wetland | Kids’ Adventures in Citizen Science

(Above) Zoe, Dylan, and Max sit in a field of bog buttons after a day of sampling ephemeral wetlands in the Apalachicola National Forest.  Read more about their adventures in citizen science below.  Thanks to Dylan’s dad, Don, for letting us use his photo.  And thanks to my wife, Amy, for taking most of the photos below.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Media

After a picnic by the water, the kids all pile into a surprisingly sturdy hammock.  Four sets of arms and legs shift and bulge against the hammock’s mosquito netting, laughter mixing with the occasional “Ow!”   They’re wearing fresh, dry clothes after a wet and muddy Sunday morning.  Citizen science can be dirty work, after all. Continue reading Adopting an Ephemeral Wetland | Kids’ Adventures in Citizen Science

The Coastal Dune Lake Watershed | Connected by Fire and Water

Over the last year, we’ve explored many aspects of fire ecology.  Today, we see how fire helps water move through the coastal dune lake watershed, connecting pitcher plants and nesting shore birds.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Media 

The snowy plover, sitting on its nest by the coast, is connected to the pitcher plant growing by the upland forest.  We’re at Deer Lake State Park in Walton County, Florida, tracing this bond through a coastal dune lake watershed.  Water, of course, unifies this system.  But for that water to move through the system how it should, it needs fire. Continue reading The Coastal Dune Lake Watershed | Connected by Fire and Water

Remote Footprints goes deep into the Bradwell Bay Wilderness

A family of three is on a mission to see how far away they can get from people.  They are Remote Footprints.  Today, the Means family leads us into the Bradwell Bay Wilderness, our remotest local area.

Music in the video was composed by Hot Tamale, who just happen to be this weeks musical guest on Local Routes.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Media

The most surprising moment of our remote adventure didn’t happen in the swamp, or in the forest, but in front of a computer.  Rebecca Means clicked a check box, and all of our area roads loaded onto her map.  Our rural, forested Big Bend of Florida wasn’t as open as I had thought. Continue reading Remote Footprints goes deep into the Bradwell Bay Wilderness

Ornate chorus frog on the fingertips of a researcher.

Striped Newts and Ornate Chorus Frogs in the Munson Sandhills

When Local Routes returns next Thursday (February 2 at 8 pm ET), we hike to the most remote spot in the viewing area- the Bradwell Bay Wilderness.  We’re doing this with Remote Footprints, a passion project of Rebecca and Ryan Means, and their daughter Skyla.  In their day jobs, Rebecca and Ryan are biologists for the Coastal Plains Institute.  Today, we visited with the CPI and its partners as they released striped newts into the Munson Sandhills.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

For the first time in twenty years, researchers observed striped newt larvae in the Apalachicola National Forest.  It hadn’t been seen in the forest, which was once a stronghold for the species, since the late 1990s.  The Coastal Plains Institute had spent six years releasing newts into the forest, hoping to see reproduction in the wild.  A few months after their sixth release in January 2016, which we filmed, they dip netted a larval newt that seems to have been bred in the wild.  More followed. Continue reading Striped Newts and Ornate Chorus Frogs in the Munson Sandhills

Kayakers head into fate's Hell on Graham Creek.

Tate’s Hell & the Apalachicola River Delta | Feeding an Estuary

Leading up to the latest Florida/ Georgia Water Wars trial, we begin a two part look at the Apalachicola River and Bay.   In today’s video, we explore a critical component of the  watershed: Tate’s Hell and the Apalachicola River delta.  The wetlands and waterways of the delta are key to the success of the Apalachicola oyster, and they’re fun to explore.  As for those oysters, watch Local Routes at 8 pm ET on October 27 for a look at the recovery of fishery, which has been reeling since droughts in 2012.

The banjo tunes you hear in the video were composed by Chris Matechik.  We last heard Chris jamming at Owl Creek on RiverTrek 2015 (with 4-year old Max dancing along).  Chris is a marine technician at the FSU Coastal and Marine Laboratory.

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

Today on our Tate’s Hell kayaking trip, we’re heading off the trail map.  Specifically, I’m looking at Florida Fish and Wildlife’s map of paddling trails in the Apalachicola River Delta.  The suggested trips all head away from Tate’s Hell State Forest, while many waterways heading into the forest end in questions marks.  It looks like we’re paddling into the unknown.  And yet, that’s where we want to go to get a firm grasp of the river delta’s inner workings. Continue reading Tate’s Hell & the Apalachicola River Delta | Feeding an Estuary