Refuge Fire Expert Vic Doig , with assistance of Refuge staff and the staff at the Prescribed Fire Training Center, has been able to treat approximately 2,200 acres of critical fire dependent habitats. This has been a monumental effort, especially due to delays in implementing fire projects as a result the “Shutdown” and having limited certified staff. All of these acres were "hand burned", without the assistance of helicopters or other air support. Prescribed fire is crucial in managing upland habitats to promote healthy ecosystems for fire dependent wildlife and plants.
Over the past month, Refuge Forester Daniel Barrand has developed and implemented an intensive forest restoration project in Dixie County. The project is designed to promote the health of established longleaf pines as well as to remove dense, undesirable understory vegetation. The project includes selectively applying herbicides and then using the new Refuge heavy equipment to prepare the land in order to promote the growth of more desirable herbaceous plants and grasses. Under his direction 70,000 longleaf pine seedlings were planted in target site improvement areas.
As we move fast forward toward summer, says Deputy Manager Larry Woodward, so too are the neotropical bird migrants headed to their summer destinations. It seems that each day, a new species appears in the morning loudly broadcasting its arrival. First, the Northern Perula came. Swallow-tailed Kites soon followed, with vireos, waterthrushes, warblers, and tanagers next in line.
Just this week, he says, "I heard my first call of the Great Crested Flycatcher. I can’t wait for what’s next."
Some stay while others continue their journey north as soon as they give themselves a short break after their exhausting their trans-Gulf marathons. With stays of a week or two, they rebuild the energy lost crossing the Gulf and build up their needed nutrition in preparation for the trip north to nest and renew the cycle of life.
The refuge staff ought to humbly and quietly pat themselves on the back knowing that these migratory beauties arrive to a bountiful table set through careful habitat management.
As Larry tells us: The value of this Big Bend area of Florida to all creatures great and small can never be adequately measured as the scale does not go that high.
Please visit the refuge and enjoy the chorus.
Refuge staff members are working with State of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staff members to restore the Atsena Otie Key nesting platform for this season. The focus of this project is to provide nesting habitat for least terns. It is critically limited in this portion of the Nature Coast. Although this type of project has been very successful in other areas, we have had the unfortunate re-occurrence of early season storms creating extremely high waters that wash the nesting base material off of the platform. The good news is that our staff members are too stubborn to give up. They are developing a new protocol that is sure to be a safe and secure platform for ground nesting birds.