Category Archives: Wildlife in North Florida- Critters Big and Small

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

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

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

Red Wolf Pups at the Tallahassee Museum- December 2017 Update

Not only are the Tallahassee Museum’s red wolf pups getting big- they’re going to be here longer than originally expected.  Learn more below:

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Public Media

When I get to the enclosure, three red wolves of similar size are out.  At first it looks like three adults, one more than I know should be here.  The father wolf has always been easy to pick out; he’s a good bit bigger than the mother.  I take a close look at the other two wolves, and it’s the skinny legs that give away the pup.  In the almost three months since I last visited the Tallahassee Museum, these puppies have done a bit of growing. Continue reading Red Wolf Pups at the Tallahassee Museum- December 2017 Update

Gulf frittilary in flight over a large gathering of butterflies, including little yellow, orange sleepy, and cloudless sulphur species.

Tallahassee Butterfly Count 2017: Know Your Local Species

Butterflies are all around us, and they deserve a closer look.  When you pay attention to butterflies, you notice the plants they use, and other interesting insects.

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Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU Public Media

Some of my favorite butterfly shots in this video came from an unrelated shoot.  We were at Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy on the day of the eclipse.  Did red cockaded woodpeckers get fooled into acting like it was sunset?  No, it never got that dark in Tallahassee.  But, on the way out, we found our way blocked by the hundred-plus butterflies you see in the opening shots. Continue reading Tallahassee Butterfly Count 2017: Know Your Local Species

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