Friends Board of Directors meets on the 3rd Thursday of each month, usually at the Refuge headquarters in Levy County. However, the October meeting will be held in the Town of Suwannee, in conjunction with the Suwannee Waterways Cleanup. Come for the Cleanup, have lunch together, and stay for the Board Meeting. Dan Frisk, the new manager of the Complex that includes our Refuges, St. Mark's, and St. Vincent's, will join us.
It all began with a rainbow over the Cedar Key marina as we prepared to go out for the Open House. The Cedar keys National Wildlife Refuge held an Open House on Seahorse Key on July 2. The island is one of the 13 that make up the Refuge. Because it is primarily a bird rookery and is managed for the wildlife, it is open to the public only a few times a year and accessible only by boat. July 2 promised to be a beautiful day to come out and visit the light station, the cemetery,the beach, and the Seahorse Key Marine Lab, a University of Florida research facility that which the Refuge allows to use a part of the island and the light station.
Volunteers from the Friends came out to help Refuge staff member, Vic Doig, and summer intern Aaron from the University of Georgia, welcome the crowds.
Several boats full of visitors arrived soon after we set up. Then the thunder, lightening, and rain began. Yikes! No boats during that . . . and the deluge continued until mid afternoon. It was a fun day for those of us who beat the storms.
Twenty people enjoyed perfect weather for our first Lukens Tract nature walk. Donna Thalacker and many others on the walk had Special Use Authorization (SUA) from the Suwannee River Water Management District so we could introduce our beautiful Lukens Tract peninsula to visitors to Cedar Key and long time residents as well. We spent a delightful hour or more walking along the SRWMD right of way admiring hundreds of butterflies, including the smallest Florida butterfly, the Eastern Pygmy Blue and our state butterfly, the Zebra Longwing. The butterflies were in abundance, probably numbering in the thousands, nectaring on nearby blooming wildflowers.
Though we heard more birds than we saw, there were Northern Parula Warblers, Blue-grey Gnatcatchers, Yellow-throated Warblers, Cardinals, Snowy Egrets, White Ibis, Clapper Rails, White Pelicans flying overhead, and Great Crested Flycatchers sharing the property with us this morning. Sometimes it was difficult knowing where to look because there was so much beauty to see.
We walked out to the end to see the kayak launch pad and a terrific overlook into the extensive salt marsh. While we were on our way back, a group of kayakers were driving out to the launch pad to begin their kayak trip into the Waccasassa Bay.
Please use the Lukens Tract property to kayak from and explore the salt marsh and bay, and to bird and butterfly watch. This is a beautiful and ecologically rich property that is close to Cedar Key. Most of this is public property and should be utilized by the public. One needs a Special Use Authorization (SUA) form to properly access the Lukens Tract. The form is simply a sheet of paper that you may obtain by telephoning the SRWMD at 382-362-1001 and asking for Mr McCook. Leave a message with your name and mailing address and Mr McCook will mail you an SUA in the US mail.
Every walk in the Lower Suwannee NWR brings at least one surprise, and today was no different. Cindy Leiner, Nita Cox, Kit Lane, and Joyce DeHaan joined me, Donna Thalacker, for a nature walk along Barnett Creek Road. We saw lots of flowers in bloom, some butterflies and birds including a close view of a Barred Owl next to the road that Cindy was first to spot. There were Sora calling to each other, but other than a brief glance by Nita, they were mostly heard and not seen. On the Nature Drive, Nita spotted a Swallowtail Kite that we were all able to see close up as the Kite flew low overhead. Then later, the really big surprise of the day, was hearing about 10 feet away, a bull alligator roar! He was heard and not seen since not one of us volunteered to jump down from the platform to check him out!
It was a great morning to be in the woods. I have yet to go for a walk in our Refuge without at least one unusual bird, butterfly, amphibian or flower to surprise me. Really, today’s alligator roar was quite the surprise and to be so close (yet safe) was a treat. We are so fortunate to have such a wonderful place so close by to visit.
Our next nature walk will be even closer to Cedar Key. On Monday, April 18 at 9:30am, we will carpool to the Lukens Tract. It is a beautiful property owned mostly by the Suwannee River Management District and managed by the Lower Suwannee NWR. We will walk to the kayak launch pad from the road and observe butterflies and birds along the way. There are excellent opportunities to observe the salt marsh and wading birds along the walk. This will be a short walk along a well used track. If you would like to join me, we will car pool from Cedar Key Town Park parking lot at 9:30am. A special use permit is required and I will have one with me. I hope to see you then!
The Bill Kilborn Photo Contest had 36 entries and sales of the entries brought almost $500 in revenue that will cover the cost of the new benches on the Tram Ridge Trail. Thanks to all the photographers and the bidders on the photos. Before they went up for sale, we all got to vote on our favorite photos. The winners were Ben West in first place, a tie in second by Ann Kamzelski and Frank Morgan, and Don Gambrell for 3rd place. The rest of us who entered were happy to be part of it, and to have many of our photos sold to help fund the benches.
The meeting itself was entertaining and got a nice write up in the Cedar Key News. Donna Bushnell led a fun installation of officers, as usual. Newly elected President Maria Sgambati highlighted the year's accomplishments and future plans. Featured speaker Dr. Tom Hoctor gave us an overview of the Big Bend of Florida as a key component of the state's conservation picture. Kenny McCain and lots of Friends members provided great lunch fare and desserts.
And then came lunch, with Kenny McCain's ribs and chicken, Bushnells' baked beans, lots of slaw, broccoli, and swamp cabbage, and desserts brought by the members.
By the time lunch ended, the sky had cleared. Nevertheless many of us chose to stay indoors and hear the presentation by Refuge staff about history, prescribed burning, sustainable forestry, and wildlife preservation. Friends member Jerry Lawrence, who provided the photos below, spoke for all of us saying he found the whole day to be highly informative, especially in regards to how the refuge was acquired over time, its strategic importance to wildlife and resource preservation in the State of Florida, and the vision to take care of the land and water for future generations.
Others of us walked the River Trail, or the Tram Ridge Trail with Friend member Donna Thalacker and President-elect Russ Hall as guides.
It was a great day and we are already looking forward to next year's event.
While we were updating the sign, it was interesting that a kayaker stopped and thanked us. Apparently, there has been some confusion as to where the Barnett Creek was located. This would especially be true if one was coming from the Gulf into Barnett Creek Bay or were launching from here and wondered how to get to Barrnett Creek. Geodetic maps show McCormick Creek actually branching off to the left when coming in from the Gulf. Where the launch is located is really Barnett Creek. (submitted by Jay Bushnell)
The Friends were saddened and stunned by the unexpected passing of board member, Bill Kilborn. He was a joy to be around. He freely gave many hours of his digital expertise to us and the community. He is missed but not forgotten.
Bill’s passion for photography inspired a Bill Kilborn Photo Contest for our Annual meeting on March 19th. We are asking for donated photos to be judged and auctioned off. The proceeds will be used to purchase benches memorializing Bill for our hiking trails.
Now, you do not have to be a professional photographer to participate. You do not even have to be a Friends member unless you want to experience the luncheon so get you camera ready!
Guidelines for participating:
Deadline for submitting photos is Thursday, March 17th.
Please submit your photos in a large sealed envelop with your name on the outside. You may drop it off at the Cedar Key Art Center, 257 Second St., mail it to Friends of the Lower Suwannee/Cedar Keys NWR P.O.Box 532 Cedar Key, FL 32625, or call 493-1807 or 352-278-5088 for other arrangements
Keep scrolling to learn more about the Annual Meeting.
After lunch at the Annual Meeting, there will be nature walks on the River Trail (above) and the new Tram Ridge Trail (below). Friends board members and Refuge staff members will guide the walks in small groups. Each group can walk at its own pace. We will have guides with differing expertise so you can select the type of walk that appeals to you . . . birds, plants, history, just enjoying the woods, whatever! No prior reservations are needed. And, benches have been installed by Friends and Refuge staff this week!
Keep scrolling for more about the Annual Meeting!
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"Escape to the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge" video by Visit Florida