Old Growth Pinelands in Florida State Parks

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by Jim Stevenson

Old growth pine forests - longleaf and slash - are pines that were mostly cut by the early 1930s, although we still have a few examples in Florida.   The old trees in old growth forests can be 100 to 500 years old but ground cover conditions are as important- if not more so --than tree age.  The presence of red-cockaded woodpeckers is an additional indicator of old growth.  Today, a flat-topped, turpentined longleaf can occasionally be found that has survived lightning, wildfire and man.  By good fortune, Florida state parks have some of these old relic trees that have survived.

Due to park policy and tradition, timbering of native pines has not been allowed in state parks for over 80 years.  Old growth forests can be reestablished in our state parks.  This is how we can do it:

  • Inventory the oldest longleaf and slash pines having native ground cover.
  • No cutting of pines occurring naturally on their native soils except when restoration thinning is necessary because of fire exclusion.
  • Special care is required to reintroduce fire to stands having old pines.
  • No plowing or other damage to native ground cover.
  • Conduct prescribed fires at no longer than two to three-year intervals.
  • Include prescribed fires during the peak lightning season (May thru July).
  • Protect pine snags, stumps and logs.
  • Invasive hardwood trees and other introduced plants shall be promptly removed without damaging the site.
  • Continue these steps for over 100 years.

Since we expect our state and national parks to exist forever, a couple hundred years is not too long for our grasslands and pinelands to evolve to old growth.  Future generations of Floridians will commend our foresight.

From Conan to the King Building

by Peter Kleinhenz

On April 19, Apalachee Audubon had the distinct pleasure of hosting renowned National Wildlife Federation naturalist, David Mizejewski. David came to us all the way from Washington D.C., where he works at the NWF headquarters. That is, when he isn't guesting on shows like Conan and The Today Show, or when he isn't traveling the country speaking to groups like ours.

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David literally wrote the book on gardening for wildlife, Attracting Birds, Butterflies, and Other Backyard Wildlife. He shared this expertise in an hour-long program at the King Building last week. David was passionate, engaging, and accessible as he spoke to a standing-room-only crowd. 

Creating backyard habitat is considered by many to be one of the best ways to conserve wildlife in this country moving forward. I mean, let's face it...development isn't going to stop any time soon. Finding harmonious ways to coexist with nature, then, presents opportunities to build populations while not compromising the beauty of your yard.

David touched on this as he offered ways to offer food, water, shelter, and places to raise young for wildlife. He suggested that planting native plants, in many ways, serves birds better than putting up bird feeders. I learned that putting up little tubes can attract native pollinators to your yard. Finally, I learned that providing water is one of the single best things you can do for native wildlife.

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The National Wildlife Federation offers a certification program for wildlife friendly yards, in addition to an online store of resources to help you get your backyard habitat created or enhanced. The University of Florida IFAS program also offers a yard certification program that ensures your yard offers valuable habitat to wildlife.

The timing of this talk couldn't be better. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is just beginning a new initiative called Backyards and Beyond. This program encourages Florida residents to create backyard wildlife habitat and document the life that results via iNaturalist. Those interested in this program can create an iNaturalist account and join the Backyards of Florida or Backyards of Leon County project. In addition, you can create your own yard project to keep track of the wildlife that visit your yard.

David probably didn't know about these other programs when he spoke. But he didn't need to. There's never a bad time to garden for wildlife. As he and I spoke prior to the program, it was very obvious that he truly cared about the subject he was to speak about. It was clear that his mission was to preach this gospel far and wide. I, for one, am very proud of Apalachee Audubon for bringing that gospel to Tallahassee.

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This program was made possible by our friends supporting our chapter's fundraising. The Magnolia Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society, Native Nurseries, and Sweet Pea Cafe all pitched in and helped bring David to Tallahassee. We can't thank them enough. Audubon member Nick Baldwin generously documented this event and it is his pictures that are featured here.

Next year, we plan to focus on backyard and community habitat enhancement for birds. We hope to see you at those programs and events!

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Platt Visits the Platte

by Elizabeth Platt

April 4:

The crane’s morning arrival and evening departure were magnificent.  There are an estimated 598,000 there right now!   When we arrived at the Rowe Sanctuary in the morning it was very cold in the blind from which we watched in total silence for 1 1/2 hours.  The cranes took off silently from the river where they had been standing all night.  Over time the river empties and the birds return to the fields where they spend the day eating corn left after the harvest.  Everywhere in the area (near Kearney, Nebraska) there are cranes in the fields as far as the eye can see.

In the evening when the cranes are ‘staging’ – gathering themselves at a certain area from all the fields, they make a tremendous amount of noise, which is both like squawking and murmuring.   At first there seemed only to be a few coming in pairs, then about five birds, then a long string of them, then long strings forming a curved line of birds in flight against the sky.  Little by little they meet up with other groups going in other directions.  We saw groups of thousands silhouetted against the setting sun, swirling around, getting ready to land. Then, we realized that the birds had begun to form a line right across the river.  We watched until the sun was completely gone, and there was no more light on the river.  Only then did we depart.  Still, thousands were still getting ready to fly in.

To see wonderful photos of the cranes, log on to 

https://blog.nature.org/science/2014/03/03/platte-river-nebraska-sandhill-cranes-birding/

Birdathon 2018

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HELP OUR CHAPTER'S EFFORTS ON ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES AND EDUCATION

Every year our chapter has to renew the  $10,000 it spends on our activities, which carry on our mission of protection of the environment through education, appreciation and conservation. The largest source of the renewed funds is from your donations for our Birdathon fundraising event.  Please consider donating or being a Birdathon team member.

OUR ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVITIES:

Our Board  has focused this year on water issues of the Apalachicola River drainage by sponsoring speakers involved with researching the area, participating in and sponsoring the recent Apalachicola River Conference, donating to the Big Bend Environmental Forum, and funding Gulf Specimen Marine Lab efforts to save turtles rescued from the extreme cold weather. In addition, we have a presence at numerous wildlife events such as the Butterfly Festival at St. Marks Wildlife National Refuge (SMNWR), provide field trips to our members, and educate the public about environmental matters, birds, and Chapter events. 

OUR EDUCATIONAL ACTIVITIES:

This year our educational efforts included financing 5 buses for public school classes to make field trips to SMNWR. For many kids, it was a first time to even see marshes and the coast. We  introduced some southside kids to birding and also created an after-school bird club at Pineview Elementary School. Their staff and kids enjoy the bird feeder and butterfly garden we set-up and maintain with the help of Native Nurseries. We continue to offer elementary school teachers in four counties subscriptions  to the environmental education classroom kit  AUDUBON ADVENTURES. We plan to grow our educational presence in the community in 2018-2019.

BIRDATHON:

During Birdathon, usually any 24 hour period in the April spring migration season, volunteer teams try to identify as many bird species as they can.  The team members secure pledges from friends and members, either per species or by fixed amount contributions.  For example, a pledge of 50 cents a bird  might  cover the cost of one subscription to AUDUBON ADVENTURES if a team were lucky enough to identify 100 bird species. Or a flat donation of $50 would cover a subscription cost.    

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

If you would like to be on a team or sponsor a team member,  please contact Judy Goldman at Goldman@hep.fsu.edu.  Donations may be mailed to Apalachee Audubon Society at P.O. Box 1237, Tallahassee, Fl. 32302-1237.

2018 Yard Tour: A Definite Success!

by Tammy Brown

Thank you for a great 2018 Wildlife-Friendly Yards Tour!

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The weather was sunny and warm, and made for another wonderful tour this year.  Every yard had a constant stream of visitors throughout the day.  Having sold 137 tickets, attendance was up from last year’s rainy day, and made a very successful and fun tour.  We had had so many wonderful people working behind the scenes for months to bring it all together.  Everyone’s contributions and outstanding efforts are very much appreciated.

Special thanks to the Tallahassee Democrat for publishing our article and pictures on the front page of the Chronicle.  There is no doubt this helped increase awareness and introduced some new people to our yard tour tradition.  Another special thanks to Native Nurseries and Wild Birds Unlimited.  Once again they have graciously acted as our ticket outlets as well as promoted the event, and we couldn’t pull this off without them!

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Our deep appreciation goes to our five outstanding yard hosts this year, who shared their homes and knowledge with friends and strangers.  They truly went above and beyond!

Upon arriving at Pat and Mike Meredith’s, there was a steady steam of visitors up and down the back yard to the edge of Lake Jackson.  Spotting scopes, courtesy of Sally & Dean Jue, Jim Cavanagh, and Ed Woodruff, made for excellent water bird viewing.  A total of 6 Limpkins were seen throughout the day, which we would have been unable to detect them without the scopes.  Truly a unique experience!

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Just a short distance away in Hunter’s Crossing was Susan and Clay Thompson’s bird sanctuary.  They graciously offered inside viewing (along with snacks and drinks!) from their bird window, offering a close-up view of their feeder station with the neighborhood pond as a back-drop.  Upon arriving, a hawk was perched in a tree close by and an egret was at the water’s edge.  One of the day’s volunteers, Jake Hartung, counted 23 species of birds while he was there!

Over in Killearn Susan Cason’s yard offers a wonderful retreat for wildlife. Many feeders, nesting boxes, native plants and a water feature attract a wide variety of birds to her yard year-round.  Viewing from her back yard featured a beautiful over-all view, while meandering around the back yard offered many inviting nooks and benches to relax and enjoy the native plantings and closer view of the many songbirds in this active yard.  Susan’s knowledge and experience no doubt enhanced her guests’ visits and viewing.

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A quick few-minute drive to Rob Williams and Lynn Peterson’s yard in Foxcroft also yielded many native plants along with their bird feeders and baths.  Rob put together a wealth of information and an identification system for his native plants that everyone enjoyed and learned from.  Rob and Lynn’s passion, enjoyment and knowledge of native plants and trees made for plenty of interesting conversation.  Many guests also enjoyed a short walk in the woods at the back of the property, as well as the many turkey vultures that regularly gather overhead toward the end of the day.

I think a lot of us are familiar with Glenda Simmons’ home, most famous for her numerous bluebirds and orioles. Glenda was a yard host in 2011, when she had recently landscaped with native plantings.  The plants have grown beautifully and are a perfect backdrop for her bird feeding stations and bird baths, and provide areas of shelter for the numerous birds on her property.  Glenda graciously made a beautiful display of photos of all her orioles, introducing them by name.  Yes, they are named, and each one is quite fitting!  A fun ending to a wonderful day with some great people.

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Heartfelt thanks go to all our wonderful yard volunteers, too!  They certainly helped the visitors have a friendly and informative visit, and we couldn’t do it without you.  Our yard volunteers this year were Adrienne Ruhl, Dee Wilder, Fran Rutkovsky, Michael Tucker, JoAnne Harrington, Diane Sigler, Diane Quigg, Pat Teaf, Helen King, Jan Blue, Karen Wensing, Kathleen Carr, Judy Goldman, Jake Hartung, Ann Bruce, Holly Thomas, Sally Jue, Dean Jue, Jim Cavanagh, and Ed Woodruff.

With all the fun and success, we are already thinking about next year’s tour, so please keep it in mind if you know anyone who would be a good yard host or volunteer to be a part of this wonderful experience. 

Again, my deepest thanks to all for your contributions, each one of you was a vital part to the enjoyment and success of this year’s tour!

India and Nepal...We Somehow Did It

By Peter Kleinhenz

Where to begin? Perhaps I should start with where I went, and why. Last December, I traveled to northern India and southern Nepal with a girl I knew well enough to go abroad with but, really, not well enough to go abroad with. We went anyway. 

The goal was wildlife and experiences. Boy, did we have plenty of both. Our route essentially took us on a circuit through north-central India and through the southwestern corner of Nepal. Though we had a lot of "target species", money was never in abundance. We decided to skip the organized tour route and do our own thing. When I describe what we were able to see with this strategy, you may be tempted to try it. When I describe the hardships, you may call your nearest tour operator.

 Typical street scene in north-central India

Typical street scene in north-central India

Driving through India is akin to a real-life Frogger with the decibels of a rock show blaring at you in the form of car horns at all times. The wildlife portion of our trip began when we left smoggy, grimy New Delhi and arrived at Ranthambore National Park. Here, we observed brown fish owls, Indian peafowl, dusky eagle owl, and plum-headed parakeets to name just a few of the many birds spotted while on safari. I was fortunate to get an up-close look at a massive female Bengal tiger that absolutely blew my mind. These sightings, combined with gray langurs, mugger crocodiles, mongoose, wild boar, and two deer species all amidst orange-tan tropical dry forest, made up for all of the hassles that came before it. 

 Indian peafowl forage among a disturbed area within Ranthambore National Park, India

Indian peafowl forage among a disturbed area within Ranthambore National Park, India

I'll spare you details about the next leg of the trip, considering that it involves some highs (Taj Mahal, shooting stars over the mountains of central India) and some lows (trip to the hospital and a police officer beating up our driver while demanding payment, cancelled train). But, stopping to look at a flock of sarus cranes in a field north of Lucknow, India while Indian rollers perched on powerlines overhead made up for any headaches acquired previously. 

 Chital deer eye us suspiciously while on safari in Bardia National Park, Nepal

Chital deer eye us suspiciously while on safari in Bardia National Park, Nepal

Then we were in Nepal. I can't stress enough how amazing southwestern Nepal is. We purposefully avoided areas where tourists/organized tour groups generally go, and we were so glad that we did. Sure, it was somewhat expensive to get to the Bardia Homestay in middle-of-nowhere Nepal on our own. And, yeah, we probably could have seen more species. But the species we did see, and encounters we had seeing them were unforgettable, unique, and amazing.

 Scanning for Ganges River Dolphins along the Karnali River, Nepal

Scanning for Ganges River Dolphins along the Karnali River, Nepal

Here are some highlights of wildlife viewing in Nepal:

  • Watching a greater racket-tailed drongo as it perched one tree away from two lesser racket-tailed drongos
  • Sitting on a tributary of the Karnali River, watching a crested serpent eagle hunt for food
  • Standing in awe after a park ranger spotted a jungle owlet off in the distance in a tree
  • Seeing my first Indian rhino crossing a river in front of us
  • Crouching next to the Karnali River while a critically-endangered Ganges River dolphin surfaced repeatedly in an eddy 25 yards away

Did we climb any Himalayan peaks? No. Did we check off every species of bird known from Bardia or Ranthambore National Parks? Definitely not. What we did do is have the trip of a lifetime that, despite some very real challenges, rewarded us in ways we are still realizing months later. Besides, the privilege of seeing some of that wildlife is something that, at least to me, is worth almost anything. I've never felt more motivated to work in the field of wildlife conservation and to continue traveling, in order to see what other wonders this world has to offer. 

 Tiffany and I after receiving our farewell blessing on our last morning of the trip, Nepal

Tiffany and I after receiving our farewell blessing on our last morning of the trip, Nepal

 

    Over 70? You Can Help The Birds of St. Vincent NWR With Little Effort!

    By Marylyn Fever

    I have one of my IRA's at Vanguard Mutual Funds.   Being over 70 1/2 years old I am required to take what is called required minimum distribution (RMD), the entire amount subject to federal income tax..  However (one of the few perks left for being old), anyone 70.5 years and older  may have a check(s) made out to an IRS listed 501 (c) (3) organization, which Friends of St. Vincent NWR is.  I am having Vanguard make out a check for the amount of my contribution to "Friends of St. Vincent NWR".   I can have Vanguard mail that to the Friends at PO Box 69, Apalachicola, FL 32329 or mail that check to me.   I am having them mail this check and other checks to other 501 (c) (3) organizations so I can make a copy of the checks as confirmation of these donations.  Vanguard will also be sending me a confirmation statement.  

    In January 2019, I will receive a 1099-R from Vanguard, indicating that I have made the required distribution. (Failure to make the required distribution will result in a hefty tax penalty.)  On my 1040 tax form next year where the form asks for IRA (qualified plans) distributions, I will enter the amount on the 1099-R.   However, since I made a contribution to a 501 (c) (3), I note the amount of the qualified distribution on that line and on another line the actual taxable distribution amount is reduced.  

    Even though I have a confirmation from Vanguard noting the qualified distribution, having copies of the checks with the names of the 501 (c) (3) entities names is backup documentation should I ever get audited.  Vanguard assures me that this is in the law for 2018.  

    We, older seniors, can use it as a donating strategy for gifts to all 501 (c) (3) organizations.  The  taxes we save can be considerable  (multiply the aggregate qualified charitable contributions  x tax rate and that's your savings).

    If you're in that small group who believes that you should pay your share of taxes, donate that savings and consider it as a redirection of your tax to more socially or environmentally directed purposes.   

    Not all IRA providers may allow this; although the only problem I see is that some may establish a minimum amount they would cut a check for. 

    Audubon Members Take South City Children to St. Marks NWR

    By Elizabeth Platt

         On Saturday, November 18, Apalachee Audubon member Madhu Nepal and I took the Hewitt children (of AAS banquet fame) and their mother to the SMNWR for a birding expedition.  Their behavior at the refuge reflected skills and attitudes modeled by AAS birders Judy, Peter, Rob and Dee.  My most memorable moment of the morning was when, having spied the vermillion flycatcher on the pier at East River Pool, they tiptoed slowly, silently out to see him, five abreast.  Joyously, they continued to follow his movements – from pier to reeds and back again. 

         On the 25th I took four children from the Luhembwe family to the refuge.  These refugee children, born in Southeastern Congo, had never been birding before, and they were very excited to be there.  At three or four stops along the way they were helped to look through the scopes and binoculars of kind strangers and, later on at Picnic Pond, Ted and Mary Ellen Greenwald photographed us and later sent the photos, along with an invitation to visit the butterfly jungle in Gainesville. The sighting of the vermillion flycatcher, a pair of white-winged doves, eleven wood storks in trees near the road, and the eagles at their nest were all noteworthy.  For the children though, it was seeing  two alligators that made the day!

    Finding A Groove

    By Peter Kleinhenz

    The second visit to Pineview Elementary went much smoother than the first. The third to fifth grade students seemed genuinely excited to have us back. This time, we had a FAMU student, Niles Morrow, join us and Harvey Goldman joined as well.

    We took the students to a classroom so that they could decorate name tags that we made for them. Judy provided sheets that showed the kids how to draw birds, and many of them created excellent bird designs on their name tags. It's important that we get to know these kids and name tags are an essential piece of that.

    Judy and Harvey showed the kids a live eagle cam next. They loved it! The eagles just so happened to land immediately in front of the camera, and could be seen curiously investigating it as the kids watched in awe. I would not be surprised if none of the kids have seen a wild eagle before. You could tell that they were taken aback by this impressive animal. 

    We split the kids in groups and took them outside. Half of them went to a table Betsy Sullivan had set up that allowed them to participate in "Fill-the-Bill". The lesson shows students a variety of food items and different types of "bird bills" shown via common utensils such as spoons, tongs, and droppers. The students had bird cards that they then had to match with certain kinds of bills.

    The other group located actual birds and photos of birds through binoculars. The students are definitely getting proficient at their use, and we are still so grateful for generous Apalachee Audubon donations in addition to the support of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to give the kids a chance to use them. Many kids could name some of the bird species they observed, and some even told me what kinds of foods they eat based on their bill shape! 

     Relocated bird feeders. 

    Relocated bird feeders. 

    Donna Legare and one of her employees from Native Nurseries moved the bird feeders at Pineview to a better location, and some kids playing on the playground stopped by to help. Now, the feeders are in a location more conducive to bird activity and have enough food to last them quite awhile.

    The program just keeps getting better. I, for one, can't wait until next time.

     

     

    Field Trip to Spring Canyon

    by Peter Kleinhenz

    An eastern phoebe provided the introductory music to the field trip last Sunday at Spring Canyon, located near Torreya State Park. Seventeen Audubon members joined landowners Helen and Tom Roth to your their 100 acres of Apalachicola uplands. 

     Restored longleaf pine/wiregrass uplands on Helen and Tom Roth's property.

    Restored longleaf pine/wiregrass uplands on Helen and Tom Roth's property.

    Helen spearheaded restoration efforts on her land, seeking to return the ecosystems back to what they were before fire suppression, logging, and invasive species took their toll there (and almost everywhere else in Florida). Helen toured us around areas where she had been burning, planting longleaf pines, pulling invasive plants, and cutting trees that had invaded what once were open, park-like forests.

     The group prepares to embark on an exploration of Spring Canyon

    The group prepares to embark on an exploration of Spring Canyon

    The birds were surprisingly inconspicuous, but we were still able to locate many interesting wildlife species. A grizzled mantis scuttled up the trunk of a longleaf pine. Ground skinks, green anoles, and eastern fence lizards gave us regular forest-floor entertainment. While exploring the edge of an impoundment, the largest cottonmouth I've ever seen (and I've seen plenty) slowly slithered away from us.

     A blurry photo of the largest cottonmouth I've ever seen. It was approximately 3.5 feet long. 

    A blurry photo of the largest cottonmouth I've ever seen. It was approximately 3.5 feet long. 

    Steepheads on the property supported Appalachian plants such as mountain laurel and Matalea alabamensis, along with interesting species such as Apalachicola dusky salamanders (I observed five on Sunday). In addition, they offered relief which was apparent when we stopped at an eroded cliff face and when Helen kindly warned me to stay back from the edge of the cliff while we were hiking. 

     An imperiled plant, Matalea alabamensis, grows on the edge of a steephead.

    An imperiled plant, Matalea alabamensis, grows on the edge of a steephead.

    Landowners like Tom and Helen, in many respects, represent the future of conservation. We can protect all the public land we want but, with a growing population, what people do in their own backyards will dictate the survival of many species. I found it inspiring to see people dedicate their lives to helping our world.