On my way back to Cedar Key from the Refuge this morning, I saw a Swallowtail Kite! This is the earliest I have ever seen one back. In the past few years, they have been sighted the first few days of March, and usually by then there are more signs of spring. There are very few flowers blooming in the butterfly garden or throughout the refuge, but take heart! The arrival of the Swallowtail Kites means that spring is very, very close!
When it comes to picking cold days for our nature walks, I am doing a pretty good job! Not that I plan it that way, it just seems to be turning out that our scheduled walks are on the coldest days of the month. Oh well, Sally Beveridge and I thoroughly enjoyed the day – definitely, we didn’t have to worry about mosquitoes, “no-seeums”, alligators or snakes! But we did have a crystal blue sky and a gorgeous walk.
This 5 mile walk was intended to be a walk in nature, not a bird watching or plant identification walk and walk we did! But we saw plenty of birds anyway, including a pair of nesting Bald Eagles, a flock of wild turkeys and a Pileated Woodpecker, as well as numerous small birds. What we really loved seeing was the path we walked along full of animal tracks and rarely a human foot print especially when we got further into the woods!
On the walk, we viewed a vast salt marsh, crossed fresh water swamps, sandhill pine habitat and mixed deciduous woodland. We saw lots of scat from wild pigs and fox. We could hear the wind overhead, but we were sheltered enough in the woods to be plenty warm! It was a great walk!!
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Friends member Donna Thalacker plans to lead a longer nature walk - one where the focus is walking in nature and not so much stopping and talking. This walk will be a little over 5 miles in length, would be behind the gates on flat, old logging trails and would not be a round trip walk. It will be necessary to pre-position a car or two at the end of Cabin Road. the walk will start near gate 10, in the south part of the Refuge Nature Loop Drive, and proceed to Cabin Road. It will pass through some of the prettiest and remotest parts of the Refuge. The idea here is to walk but, of course, stop and look at a butterfly or bird along the way. Donna projects it will be about a 3 hour walk.
It is tentatively planned the walk for Thursday, Feb 19 at 09. This is weather dependent - if rainy, no walk. If cold, the walk is a "go". Cedar Key folks can meet to car pool at the town park at 8:30. Please bring water and a snack and good walking shoes. Tick exposure is a possibility, especially since part of the walk will be on unmaintained logging roads (that means higher grass). It will all be flat. Walkers might encounter water over the trail and Donna will plan to carry rubber boots that participants can share if necessary. If you have questions, please call Donna at 352-543-6738.
The sun shone upon ‘Team Pepper Busters’ on Sunday February 8 as University of Florida Professor Jack Putz and his Plant Ecology class took up loppers and tackled a recurring stand of Brazilian Pepper tree on the eastern sandpoint of Seahorse Key. Led by Vic Doig from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and Roger (aka “King” Pepper Buster) McDaniels from Friends of the Refuge group, the volunteers spent a couple hours pulling small plants and cutting and spraying larger plants on the east end of Seahorse Key. According to Vic, Seahorse Key was treated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service several years ago. While this intervention was very successful, follow-up efforts such as this are critical to help control recurring growth.
The Brazilian Pepper tree (Schinus terebinthifolius) is native to Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil. It was introduced to Florida in the mid-1800’s for use as an ornamental plant. Part of the family Anacardiaceae, the pepper-tree counts among its relatives poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. Levy County is thought to represent the northern edge of Brazilian pepper tree. Many native Florida plant communities such as hammocks, pinelands and mangrove forests are often invaded and dominated by Brazilian pepper tree. For the past few years, the Friends of the Refuges has been assisting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in efforts to control and manage this invasive plant. Thanks to Donna and John Thalacker who alerted us to this stand of Brazilian Pepper-tree.
Past President Jay Bushnell, and Friends members Luz Krujalis, Linda Headley and Donna Thalacker spent the afternoon on February 9 cleaning out the Refuge butterfly garden. Most of the time was needed for digging out the grasses so the native wildflowers have a place to spread and sprout. It is looking good!
Our February 4 walk in the Scrub started off blustery and cold. There were nine of us to explore the scrub plants and wildlife and though we thought there would be little wildlife to observe, as soon as the sun came out, the birds were singing all around us. In fact, a few of us were lucky to spot a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and all of us were able to see the colorful Pine Warblers foraging in the pine trees and a particularly colorful male cardinal. We could hear Red-bellied woodpeckers, Red-shouldered hawks and plenty of Chickadees and Towhees in the bushes. In spite of the cold start, it really was a beautiful day for a walk. I was especially impressed with the knowledge of the group in general and very impressed with their desire to learn more about the scrub and the plants and animals that live there. We had a great time!
Thanks to Luz Kraujalis for her pictures and impressive history of the area!
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