Monthly Archives: May 2017

Aucilla Wildlife Management Area Bioblitz Yields Many Exciting Finds

By Peter Kleinhenz

A great egret perches on the edge of the Wacissa River at the Aucilla WMA bioblitz.
Photo by Emily Ellis

What the heck is a bioblitz? A bioblitz consists of various teams made up of members of the public going out with taxonomic group experts to search for as much life as possible, within a set geographic area, within a set period of time. On May 6, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission held just such a blitz at Aucilla Wildlife Management Area in Jefferson County.

Groups searched for birds, plants, reptiles/amphibians, and insects. The bird group was led by Apalachee Audubon members Budd Titlow, Don Morrow, Rob Williams, and Dana Bryant. They were joined by Scott Davis, a St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge ranger, who assisted with plant identification.

Bioblitz participants check out a butterfly captured by butterfly expert, Dean Jue, at the Aucilla WMA bioblitz. Photo by Andy Wraithmell

33 participants, ranging from 9-year-olds to grandparents, trekked on trails, forest roads, and through the forest in search of life. Each team surveyed for all taxonomic groups and had the opportunity to visit three different natural communities. Groups checked traps for turtles and cave invertebrates, paddled down the Wacissa River in search of birds, and netted butterflies feeding on roadside flowers. Life (including ticks) abounded.

Participants cataloged their finds using iNaturalist, as part of the Florida Nature Trackers program. This data will ultimately be shared with FWC biologists and the Florida Natural Areas Inventory in order for them to better understand, and conserve, the life found on the area. Below is a list of the birds observed that day:

Wood Duck

Wild Turkey

Great Egret

Cattle Egret

Little Blue Heron

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Turkey Vulture

Swallow-tailed Kite

Mississippi Kite

Red-shouldered Hawk

Common Gallinule

Limpkin

Spotted Sandpiper

Common Ground-Dove

Mourning Dove

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Barred Owl

Common Nighthawk

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Acadian Flycatcher

Great Crested Flycatcher

White-eyed Vireo

Yellow-throated Vireo

Red-eyed Vireo

American Crow

Fish Crow

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Barn Swallow

Purple Martin

Carolina Chickadee

Tufted Titmouse

Carolina Wren

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Swainson’s Thrush

Brown Thrasher

Black-and-white Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Swainson’s Warbler

Hooded Warbler

Northern Parula

Pine Warbler

Yellow-throated Warbler

Eastern Towhee

Summer Tanager

Northern Cardinal

Help Us Protect the Upper Apalachicola River

By Peter Kleinhenz
My first hike in Florida took me to an improbable place. I hiked through recently-burned sandhill, through shaded steephead ravines, and back up through a scrubby oak forest in The Nature Conservancy’s Bluffs and Ravines Preserve. All the while, I had my head down looking for snakes or way up while looking for birds. The cliff seemed to come out of nowhere. Before I knew it, I was looking out to the horizon that seemed hundreds of miles away.

The view from Alum Bluff. Photo by Rob Williams

I was looking out over the upper Apalachicola River floodplain from Alum Bluff. This rise above the chocolate-brown waters of the Apalachicola River represents the highest cliff in Florida. The precipice descends 130 feet to the river. From its heights, you can see the shadows of gar swimming in the water and flattened shells of moving with the current. No buildings mar the view looking west. It’s just forest.

A recent change in ownership has left this floodplain forest, and nearly 40,000 acres of similar floodplain forest, steephead ravines, and upland forest available for protection. All told, over half of the non-tidal portion of the riparian area of the Apalachicola River transferred to new ownership. With it comes new opportunities.

Apalachee Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, and Apalachicola Riverkeeper have all suggested that the state of Florida preserves this species-rich land through a conservation easement. Conservation easements give land owners benefits for leaving portions of their land undeveloped. The state would theoretically compensate The Forestlands Group, the new owners.

Well-managed sandhill habitat in the upper Apalachicola River basin.

The legislature recently passed a budget that provided the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) a grand total of $0.00 for land purchases in 2017-2018. Over 70% of Florida voters supported Amendment 1, which was originally understood to support land acquisition efforts. Instead, the Amendment has mainly funded water infrastructure projects and agricultural initiatives. The recent budget left many scratching their heads but environmental groups, such as ours, have not given up when it comes to getting biodiverse land conserved.

On June 16, a presentation will be held regarding whether or not the Acquisition and Restoration Council of DEP should review the property for inclusion on its list of potential properties to purchase. Want to help? There will be opportunities for letter-writing, phone calls, and public participation in hearings. The more people that show support, the more likely we will be able to work with our partners to make this easement happen.

We hope you will help us ensure that the prothonotary warblers that sing, the wood ducks that nest, and maybe even the ivory-billed woodpeckers that elude us may continue to do so in this important tract of land indefinitely. We’re talking about Florida Forever, after all.