Thursday, April 25, 2013

FNPS 2013 Conference Field Trips: UNF's Sawmill Slough Preserve and Biological Sciences Building

By Chuck Hubbuch and John Boozer, respectively

Sawmill Slough Preserve

The University of North Florida (UNF): a finely blended fusion of academics and nature; students across the country and world come here to relish its evergreen serenity. Students, during their busy bustle going from class to class and desperately trying to remember the freshly implanted principles from the previous day, can find themselves retreating their minds to the harmonic synthesis of the wind, trees, and animals in order to ‘get away’ for just a moment. The University of North Florida is the perfect place for the nature lover, and equally so, the rigorous student.

Since the campus’s construction in the early 1970’s, it was widely recognized that UNF’s location was uniquely positioned in the middle of forest; therefore, UNF has striven to maintain its commitment to nature and the environment. The University has been continually recognized as a sustainable campus by institutions such as the Princeton Review and the Sierra Club Magazine. Furthermore, UNF has been recognized by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education as a STARS Bronze Institution based on the University’s accomplishments in campus sustainability.

To help preserve the campus natural setting, UNF President John Delaney designated 382 acres in 2006 to be conservation land, named the Sawmill Slough Preserve. Although the Sawmill Slough Preserve already existed as a smaller conservation effort, the newly designated preserve included different types of habitats and prohibited new building construction on the premises. The Sawmill Slough could rightfully be deemed a sanctuary for all types of native Northeast Florida plants and wildlife.

The Sawmill Slough Preserve includes swamps, streams, a lake, wet prairie, mesic forest, upland scrub and pine forest.  Because of this habitat diversity, the Preserve supports a large variety of plant and animal species. The plant inventory of the Sawmill Slough Preserve includes over six hundred native plant species. A prescribed burn plan was initiated in 2009. Except for pauses during severe droughts of 2010 and 2011, the burns have continued to recent months.

The tour of the Sawmill Slough Preserve will take you into the upland pine forests through recent burns. These uplands are home to a healthy gopher tortoise population. Thanks to the burns, wildflower populations are increasing. You will see swamps, streams and lakes and associated wetland plants. If the tour moves quickly enough and participants have the endurance, this walk will include wetland prairie and scrub habitat, areas that are off the recreational trails. May should be an excellent time to see wildflowers, birds and other wildlife.

Ready to tour Sawmill Slough? Sign up for field trip X, which will take place on the Sunday morning following the conference.

Biological Sciences Building

Aside from the Sawmill Slough Preserve, UNF’s main campus has mirrored its commitment to nature and the environment through sustainability by retrofitting and constructing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings. The second tour offered at UNF is of the Biological Sciences building, which is one of the newest LEED certified buildings and is a sort of hidden gem for Florida botanical enthusiasts.

Florida native plants were the theme for the building’s landscape from inception. The intent was to provide educational opportunities for Biology students. In the year since the landscape’s original installation, UNF’s Grounds staff has greatly increased the plant diversity. Today, over one hundred native plant species in at least seventy plant families can be found in this landscape. Beds of native wildflowers add a splash of color to the entrance. Native crossvine and Carolina jessamine have climbed as high as two stories on the green walls. A “beach garden” was added to display coastal species that cannot be seen in the campus natural areas. Also included are native plants that are not expected this far north. A warm microclimate created by the building’s courtyard is home to several subtropical species like gumbo-limbo, sea grape, cocoplum and buttonwood. Work will begin this year in an adjacent courtyard to add more Florida native plants. The tour will take place on paved surfaces and will include discussion about the landscape development, the various native plants and the on-going plans to add to the diversity of native plants on campus.

Does that sound like something you might enjoy? Sign up for field trip L to check it out on the Thursday morning before the conference or for field trip M to see it Thursday afternoon.
Posted by Laurie Sheldon

Sunday, April 21, 2013

When I bought a cottage...

by Bill Belleville

When I bought a cottage-style home at the edge of the historic district in Sanford some seven years ago, I was happy with the large double lot and the magnificent live oak trees. Sanford was a real old-fashioned town with a real old-fashioned spirit, and I cherished it.
Wooden gate I installed, along with wooden fence around entire backyard, not long after I first moved into Sanford on the edge of the historic district. Had just left 15 good years of living out in what had once been the country, and I yearned to revitalize some of the "wildness" I had known there.

What was less attractive, though, was the monoculture of St. Augustine that ruled the back yard. It stretched across my property like a giant green shag carpet---an obsessively tailored rug that met and merged with my neighbors’ own grassy decor. As a guy who writes about nature and conservation, I was well acquainted with the damage this sort of “yard” could do to both the quality and quantity of our aquifer. Despite that well-documented evidence, lawn care services regularly visited adjacent yards, cutting and fertilizing the St. Augustine. On certain occasions, they added great doses of poisons to kill weeds and insects. And, they routinely broke out raucous leaf blowers to whoosh away stray leaves and anything natural that might distract from their giant chemistry experiment otherwise known as a lawn. Birds, butterflies and any native critter with good sense were rarely seen.

It didn’t take me long to figure out how to distance my own yard from this behavior. The first thing I did was install a  stockade-style wooden fence around it. Then, I let the coiffured grass go, just to see what might drift in and grow on its own. While that was happening, I picked out the corner that received the best sunlight, and built a freshwater pond. I dug out a six by eight foot hole, lined it with a soft vinyl pond liner, and mortared flat flagstone around the edges to keep it secure.

I added some sub-aquatic plants to help keep the water clean, to aid in the oxygen exchange, and to provide hiding places for fish. To that, I added pots of native pickerel weed---which each spring sends out a bright blue-purple rod of flowers---along with wild river iris. After I installed a submersible pump, I added some native Gambusia (aka mosquitofish) and little snails called marissa goldenhorn. Once the pond gained its stasis, several bullfrogs found their way under the fence to live and breed there.

Meanwhile, I ignored the remnant St. Augustine in the hope it would get the idea and simply go away. Native plants begin to arrive on their own: tiny southern red cedar trees, beauty berry, lantana, a morning glory  vine with lovely white flowers and wildflowers like oxalis. I put several cuttings of passion flower in the ground.  They were joined by a few transplants from my former country home including a “sleeping hibiscus”, and a few queen palm seedlings. Although neither are native, they seem equipped to make it without special care. After all, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings fondly tended her own bushes of Turk’s cap. I also left some non-native bushes that seemed appealing to the butterflies, including the “rose Camilla” and a citrus tree. My horticultural approach was Darwinian---all plants, native or not, had to make do with rainwater (which I also collected in buckets) . And, if any non-natives became overbearing, they got trimmed back to size.

I babied a snippet of a passion flower vine until it started growing feather roots, and then planted it. The reward has been enormous, both in the flower and the butterflies it attracts. Dies back above ground by winter, but returns to life every spring---stretching its boundaries farther every year via its adventurous lateral roots. This is the first sign of its new season growth. Soon, the Gulf Frittilaries will discover that one of their favorite foods in all the world is growing here, and they will delight in laying eggs on them.

The eggs will hatch, and the little fuzzy caterpillars will chew their way through the leaves, and then, after a respectful hunkering down period, they'll emerge as brightly colored butterflies.

Once I built the pond and staffed it with some fish and snails and native plants like pickerel weed and wild iris, then the frogs arrive. They must have squeezed in under the six foot high wooden fence, maybe in answer to the siren's call of the water fountain splashing its way into existence. I guess it's true: If you build it, they will come. I think this guy is a juvenile bullfrog. But that's just a guess, as he ain't saying....

A coontie palm I once grew from a seed does really well in an old clay pot atop a cut log stump. The wild river iris is also starting to bloom in the little pond I built with a small fountain. The iris seem in synch with the its truly wild counterparts out in the creeks and rivers and wet ditches, cuz I am now seeing them in bloom there, too.
And here's the official sign from the National Wildlife Federation declaring this reborn place of nature to be a Certified Wildlife Habitat. That's because (as the sign says) it provides the four basic needs for wildlife to thrive: food, water, cover, and places to raise young. They have some neat tips for making the transformation from grass to great little natural miracles that fly, flutter, sing, and bring a multitude of color and comfort and light to a place that, previously, had none.

Thanks Bill for sharing your experiences.
Edited and posted by Ginny Stibolt

Note: When acquiring natives for your yard, please do so by purchasing them from native nurseries or taking cuttings from established populations with permission on private land. FNPS's policy is stated here: FNPS Transplanting Policy. Thanks.

Monday, April 15, 2013

2013 Conference Field Trip Y - Fort Clinch State Park

By Laurie Sheldon

Aerial view of Fort Clinch
Fort Clinch State Park is a great field trip for those with an appreciation of both nature and history. The Civil War-era fort is flanked by beautiful beaches and hiking trails through diverse natural communities: beach dune, coastal strand, maritime hammock, coastal grasslands, depression marsh, and estuarine tidal marsh. All together, the park extends over 1,427 acres of Amelia Island, Florida’s northernmost barrier island.

Named for General Duncan Lamont Clinch, a prominent figure of the Second Seminole War, construction of Fort Clinch began in 1847. The fort was strategically located at the mouth of the St. Mary’s River to protect the natural deep-water port of Fernandina - the eastern link of Florida’s only cross-state railroad. Fort Clinch served as a military post during the Civil War, Spanish-American War and World War II - despite the fact that it was never fully completed. Fort Clinch became one of the state’s first parks in 1935.

Fort Clinch State Park Recreation Map

The park’s maritime hammocks are dominated by sprawling live oaks draped in Spanish moss. Coastal grasslands meet the hammocks and stretch along the shore behind dunes on the Atlantic Ocean and Cumberland Sound. Both areas present opportunities to see wildlife; among the resident species are gopher tortoises, deer, bobcats and reptiles. Birding enthusiasts will be pleased to discover the park’s Gateway Station to the Great Florida Birding Trail.
Fort Clinch is part of a greenway that provides habitat
for shorebirds& birds of prey. Photo by Dawna Moore.

One of the trip's adventures will be on Willow Pond Trail, which begins in a maritime hammock and winds through a depression marsh and around a series of freshwater ponds. These ponds offer prime habitat for alligators and turtles. Egan’s Creek Marsh borders the west boundary of the park and a saltwater estuary abundant with marine life. The salt marsh offers scenic vistas and is populated with wading birds while the beaches provide a critical foraging and nesting habitat for colonial shorebirds and sea turtles. We hope attendees will see some of the year's first turtle nests - there were more than 40 last year, including 3 different species. Hikers will definitely come across Spanish dagger (Yucca gloriosa), an endangered species, and erect prickly-pear cactus (Opuntia stricta), a threatened species, so it's best to stay sure-footed and refrain from running.

Pedestrian-friendly historic Fernandina is a fun
place for lunch and an afternoon stroll.
When participants are done hiking and touring the fort, lunch will definitely be in order, and the City of Fernandina Beach is a great place to fill your belly. Luckily, tour guide Linda Schneider lives (and eats) there. Tell her what you’re in the mood for and she’ll recommend a place to go get it. Relax, have a nosh, take in the ocean breeze, and talk with your new friends about what a great field trip and conference it was. No need to rush... you'll have to head home soon enough. After four days of field trips, speakers, workshops, and socials, it might remind you of how your school-aged self felt at the end of summer vacation.

Sign up for field trip Y before it fills up. Space is limited.

Friday, April 12, 2013

FNPS 2013 Conference Field Trip: Anastasia State Park Hike

by Kat McConnell

Sea oats stabilize sand and aid in the formation of dunes
Coastal sand dune communities
This state park, located in St. Johns County, faces the Atlantic Ocean, fronts the St. Augustine Inlet, and abuts a salt run, giving visitors an opportunity to explore diverse natural communities and the plants that inhabit them. On the upper beach and foredune (first dune above the beach), the wide-ranging coastal species are predominantly herbaceous. Sea oats (Uniola paniculata) form the backbone of the dune plant community; their rhizomes and stems trap sand grains blown from the beach. Another grass that tolerates sand burial is bitter panic grass (Panicum amarum). Seacoast marshelder (Iva imbricata), is a succulent shrub found at the seaward base of the foredune. When storms cause the dunes to erode, these dominant species may occupy the dune face until sand has accumulated again.

Ipomoea imperati (beach morning glory);
photo by Shirley Denton
The upper beach area seaward of the foredune is a less stable habitat, frequently disturbed by high spring or storm tides, and is continually re-colonized by annual species such as sea rocket (Cakile lanceolata) and Dixie sandmat (Chamaesyce bombensis), or by trailing species like railroad vine (Ipomoea pes-caprae), beach morning glory (Ipomoea imperati), the salt-tolerant grasses seashore paspalum (Paspalum vaginatum), and seashore dropseed (Sporobolus virginicus). Non-dominant species found in the beach dune community include dune sunflower (Helianthus debilis) and shoreline seapurslane (Sesuvium portulacastrum).

Salt marsh foxglove; photo by Shirley Denton
On the backside of the dune is a high salt marsh. It graduates downward in elevation to become a low salt marsh, where it fronts the inlet and extends into the Park’s salt run. Dominant vegetation in the high marsh includes shrubs such as saltbush (Baccharis halimifolia); this is replaced with seaside oxeye (Borrichia frutecens) as elevation subtly drops. Grasses, including saltmeadow cordgrass (Spartina patens) and saltgrass (Distichilis spicata), are the most abundant of the herbaceous species in the high salt marsh. As the landscape slope grades into a low salt marsh, correspondingly, the plant species comprising the community consist of those more suited to a brackish, saturated environment. Because this area is tidally influenced, species adapted to inundation dominate the low marsh; these include needlerush (Juncus roemerianus) and saltmarsh cordgrass (Spartina alternifolia). Although species diversity is reduced within the salt marsh, there are plenty of hidden gems in the graminoid-dominated sub-communities. Among these are salt marsh foxglove (Agalinis maritima) and Virginia salt marsh mallow (Kosteletzkya pentacarpos). Mangroves, present along the inundated edge of the estuary, provide opportunities for wading birds to forage and ospreys to hunt. Speaking of wildlife, the dune and beach provide roosting, foraging, and nesting for shore birds like royal and sandwich terns, brown pelicans, various sandpipers, plovers, and black skimmers.

Anastasia beach mouse
Most notably, the dunes of Anastasia State Park provide the only known habitat for the federally endangered Anastasia beach mouse (Peromyscus polionotus phasma), a tiny mammal whose average body length is 13.85–14.28 cm (5.45–5.62 in) - including its tail. Its two-tone pale tan coat and white underbelly may be an adaptation that enables this endemic species to avoid predation by blending into the sandy environment. It inhabits the upper dune where scrubby vegetation offers coverage and loose soil for burrows. Even when pregnant, this tiny mouse weighs less than one ounce. The Anastasia beach mouse is mostly nocturnal; the cover of darkness provides protection for its foraging activities. Like the closely related southeastern beach mouse, their favorite food is sea oats.

With over 4.5 miles of hiking trails, a boardwalk and beach frontage, Anastasia State Park is a fabulous and fun place to check out while you’re in town for the conference. Amenities include concessions, bathhouse, campgrounds, and restrooms. Sign up for this field trip before it fills up!

Anastasia Island; the St. Augustine Lighthouse featured in the background.
For more information about Anastasia State Park, please refer to this link.

edited by Laurie Sheldon

Monday, April 8, 2013

GTMNERR - A Species-Rich Conference Field Trip You Won't Want to Miss

By Laurie Sheldon

The Ixia Chapter has taken several field trips to GTMNERR over the past few years. Why do we keep going back? Because it rocks! The Reserve is literally brimming with native flora and fauna (both resident and migratory, like our conference attendees) - the species list at the end of this blog is a testament to that. In short, GTMNERR is not a "been there, done that" kind of place.

What's in a Name?
GTMNERR is sort of a binomial acronym, in the most non-botanical way, though. The first part, GTM is a tribute to the three rivers that make up the site's estuary (Guana, Tolomato, and Matanzas). The Guana River was named by the Spanish explorers, the Tolomato after an Indian village in Darien Georgia, and Matanzas - also named by the Spanish - translates as massacre. The "massacre" it refers to took place near the river's inlet, where the Spanish forces executed several hundred shipwrecked Huguenots from Fort Caroline (a French colony located near the mouth of the St. Johns River).

The second part, NERR, refers to the site's designation by NOAA and the State of Florida as a National Estuarine Research Reserve. As a Research Reserve, GTMNERR is responsible for promoting coastal research, stewardship and environmental education programs. There are only 28 sites in the NERR System. GTMNERR is dedicated to the conservation of biodiversity and cultural resources. Extending over 73,000 acres of land, it contains thirteen management areas, handled cooperatively by seven different agencies.

The Environmental Education Center makes learning fun
What's in it for you?
The field trip will begin at GTMNERR's 21,000 square foot Environmental Education Center, which opened in 2005. It contains unique exhibits detailing Florida's natural history, hands-on displays, aquariums, videos, and a Nature Store that's definitely worth checking out. Emily Montgomery (your field trip leader, member of the Sea Oats chapter and GTMNERR employee) will take you on a hike. The Reserve contains a wide variety of habitat types, including saltmarsh and mangrove estuaries, freshwater marsh, maritime hammock, coastal scrub, and pine flatwoods. Conference field trippers will wind through the last three of these on the site's extensive network of nature trails.

If you like well marked trails, informational resources, picturesque views,
and plenty of places to sit and take in the scene, you'll definitely enjoy this field trip

Post-hike opportunities
After the field trip, there will still be plenty of on-site exploring for interested attendees. Those seeking a place to unwind can take off their shoes and stroll along the site's pristine beaches - the coastal waters there are important calving grounds for the endangered Northern right whale.

Drives like this one make me wish I had a  convertible
Hike leave you feeling like a wilderness man/woman? Try catching your own dinner at the Guana River Dam, where the crabbing is good, redfish are jumping, and anglers are welcome until 11 pm.

Historic St. Augustine, just 13 miles south of GTMNERR, is another great option. The trip is worth taking for the drive alone, which runs on A1A's scenic and historic coastal byway, and presents lush vistas of the ocean and dunes.

What's my point?
Those who sign up for this field trip will not be disappointed. Period. End of story. What are you waiting for?

Note: this blog is about Sunday field trip S to GTMNERR. There is a day-long field trip on Thursday that includes the aforementioned AND a kayaking trip on the Guana River salt marshes... if kayaking "floats your boat," so to speak, check out field trip C.
The following flora and fauna lists represent a small portion of the species seen on site by our chapter members:
Sargassaceae (Sargassum Family): Sargassum fluitans (floating sargassum weed)
Sea oats foredune
Cirsium horridulum

Apiaceae (Carrot Family): Hydrocotyle bonariensis (pennyworts)
Arecaceae (Palm Family): Sabal palmetto (cabbage palm), Serenoa repens (saw palmetto)
Asteraceae (Aster Family): Cirsium horridulum (purple thistle), Gaillardia pulchella (blanket flower), Helianthus debilis (dune sunflower), Iva imbricata (beach elder), Solidago sempervirens (seaside goldenrod)
Cactaceae (Cactus Family): Opuntia stricta (erect pricklypear), Opuntia pusilla (cockspur pricklypear)
Chenopodiaceae (Goosefoot Family): Atriplex pentandra (crested saltbush), Salsola kali (Russian thistle)
Commelinaceae (Spiderwort Family): Commelina erecta (whitemouth dayflower), Tradescantia ohiensis (Ohio spiderwort)
Convolvulaceae (Morning Glory Family): Ipomoea pes-caprae (railroad vine), Ipomea imperati (beach morning glory)
Euphorbiaceae (Spurge Family): Camaesyce polygonifolia (seaside sandmat), Cnidoscolus stimulosus (tread-softly), Croton punctatus (beach tea), Croton glandulosus (vente comigo), Poinsettia cyathophora (painted leaf)
Fabaceae (Bean Family): Chamaecrista nictitans (wild sensitive plant), Erythrina herbacea (coralbean)
Lamiaceae (Mint Family): Monarda punctata (horsemint)
Poaceae (Grass Family): Spartina patens (saltmeadow cordgrass), Sporobolus virginicus (Virginia dropseed), Uniola paniculata (sea oats)
Polemoniaceae (Phlox Family): Ipomopsis rubra (standing cypress)
Oak forest backdune
Lyonia ferruginea

Anacardiaceae (Cashew Family): Rhus copallinum (winged sumac)
Aquifoliaceae (Holly Family): Ilex vomitoria (yaupon holly)
Arecaceae (Palm Family): Serenoa repens (saw palmetto)
Asteraceae (Aster Family): Baccharis halimifolia (groundsel tree, salt bush)
Cactaceae (Cactus Family): Opuntia pusilla (cockspur pricklypear)
Convolvulaceae (Morning Glory Family): Ipomea cairica (mile-a-minute vine)
Ericaceae (Heath Family): Lyonia ferruginea (rusty lyonia), Vaccinium arboreum (sparkleberry)
Fabaceae (Bean Family): Galactia elliottii (Elliott’s milk pea)
Fagaceae (Beech Family): Quercus virginiana (live oak)
Lauraceae (Avocado Family): Persea borbonia (red bay)
Magnoliaceae (Magnolia Family): Magnolia grandiflora (southern magnolia)
Myricaceae (Bayberry Family): Myrica cerifera (wax myrtle)
Onagraceae (Evening Family): Gaura angustifolia (southern beeblossom)
Passifloraceae (Passionflower Family): Passiflora incarnata (purple passionflower)
Sapotaceae (Sapodilla Family): Sideroxylon tenax (tough buckthorn)
Smilaceae (Greenbriar Family): Smilax auriculata (greenbriar)
Vitaceae (Grape Family): Vitis aestivalis (summer grape), Vitis rotundifolia (muscadine)
(seen on beach, dunes, and over Guana Impoundment)
Swallow-tailed Kite

Anhinga, Barn Swallow, Black-bellied Plover, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Brown Pelican, Carolina Wren, Caspian Tern, Chimney Swift, Common Yellowthroat, Fish Crow, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Laughing Gull, Least Tern, Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbird, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Osprey, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-winged Blackbird, Roseate Spoonbill, Royal Tern, Sanderling, Sandwich Tern, Swallow-tailed Kite, Turkey Vulture, Willet, Wood Stork, Yellow Warbler
loggerhead turtle nests
six-lined racerunner
    clearnose skate egg case (mermaid’s purse)
    Spiders: black-and-yellow garden spider, golden silk spider, Pregal jumping spider
    Bees: American bumble bee
    Butterflies: cloudless sulphur, eastern black swallowtail, gulf fritillary, palamedes swallowtail, zebra longwing
    Pen shell

    Marine Invertebrates/shells
    Gastropods: lettered olive, lightening whelk, tinted canthari
    Bivalves: angelwings, Atlantic giant cockle, donax clam, eastern oyster, minor jackknife clam, pen shell
    Crustaceans: Atlantic mole crab shell, ghost crab, spider crab
    Echinoderms: margined seastar
    Annelids: tube worm (dead tube only), worm reef particle (dead)