Over 30 Cedar Key summer school kids enjoyed two days of Junior Ranger activities with Refuge Manager Andrew Gude and Deputy Manager John Stark who gave them an idea of what it takes to be a wildlife ranger.
Jeremy Geiger, a turtle expert studying with Friends former board member Dr. Travis Thomas, entertained the kids with turtle stories, facts, and show-and-tell artifacts.
John described carnivorous plants and the variety of them that we have on the Refuge while Friends Past-President Debbie Meeks and Friends member Carol Lang showed the kids how to build a Venus flytrap using paper plates. Board member John McPherson lent a hand keeping everyone on track.
Refuge Forester Daniel Barrand showed the kids how scientists measure plant diversity using the grid technique.
Board member and butterfly expert Barbara Woodmansee led a mini-butterfly walk where the kids practiced using their binoculars. The older kids were even more interested in a puddle that was full of tadpoles.
Despite how it looks in the dramatic photo above, taken a few minutes before the talks began, the weather was kind this year for Friends' Summer Solstice celebration. More than 50 participants visited the Friends' information tent, heard the Seaside Talks by Dr. Ken Sassaman and Refuge Manager Andrew Gude, and walked the archaeology tours led Friends' President Dr. Ginessa Mahar and by Dr. Sassaman. During the talks and walks, the Gulf breezes were strong enough to keep many of the biting insects at bay.
By the time the guided walks had finished, the breezes had died down and the potential for storms had disappeared. The archaeo-kayak tour co-sponsored by Friends, the Florida Paddling Trail Association and the Florida Public Archaeology Network began, led by Friends' President Ginessa, FPAN's Nigel Rudolph, and FPTA's Dorsey DeMaster. The kayakers visited prominent archaeology sites near Shell Mound, including Komar, to learn more about the indigenous fishing and shellfishing practices in the region over 1500 years ago.
If you missed this amazing day at Shell Mound, watch for announcements for the celebration of Winter Solstice and come join Friends at Shell Mound in December.
On Saturday, June 24, 2023, Friends of the Lower Suwannee & Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuges, in partnership with the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN) and the Florida Paddling Trails Association (FPTA), will celebrate Summer Solstice at Shell Mound.
Activities include guided archaeology walks, a guided and space-limited archaeo-kayak tour, and a seaside talk on the pier. The event is free to the public. Registration is required for the kayak tour. Register using this Eventbrite link. All spaces are filled.
Land-based events, held rain or shine:
1:00 Gather at the Shell Mound parking lot, Some may need to park at the Dennis Creek trailhead parking lot. Friends, FPAN, and FPTA will have information tables set up.
Welcome by Refuge Manager Andrew Gude on the Shell Mound fishing pier.
Seaside Talk by Dr. Ken Sassaman on the Shell Mound fishing pier.
2:00 Shell Mound walking tour -- The first group departs, guided by Dr. Ginessa Mahar.
2:15 Shell Mound walking tour -- The second group departs, guided by Dr. Ken Sassaman.
3:00 Information tables -- The Friends, FPAN, and FPTA will have volunteers at their tables to talk with participants after the seaside talk and the guided walks.
Kayak Tour -- a space-limited event
Participants in the kayak tour must register using this Eventbrite link. They
will need to provide their own kayaks and equipment. They must wear a PFD at all times while on the water.
3:00 Kayakers registered for the guided kayak tour gather at the Shell Mound boat ramp with their kayaks and PFDs, which all paddlers are required to wear at all times on the water during the tour.
3:15 Registered kayakers depart for the tour, guided by FPAN archaeo-kayakers and Friends president and archaeo-kayaker, Ginessa Mahar.
6:00 Kayakers return to Shell Mound boat ramp.
If this tour must be cancelled for weather-related safety reasons, kayakers will be notified via Eventbrite.
To see photos and read about earlier Solstice events, visit the blog posts about the 2022 Winter Solstice celebration and the 2021 Summer Solstice celebration.
The USFWS assistant forester from the regional office made a recent visit to the Refuge and commented that restoration efforts over the last 5-7 years have been critical to reforestation efforts and the improvement of pollinator habitat. He suggested the Refuge contract with someone to do vegetation diversity surveys as well as pollinator surveys to highlight the Refuge's restoration strategies.
While forest health has been the primary goal of restoration efforts, the successes of rejuvenating pollinator habitat has been important to the overall ecological health of the Refuge and a joy to butterfly, bird, insect and wildlife enthusiasts, as well as hunters and anglers. Insects, especially pollinators, are key indicators of ecosystem health.
Well done, Refuge staff!
Butterfly expert and board member Barbara Woodmansee has been working with Refuge staff and a few volunteers to survey the butterflies of the Lower Suwannee NWR. Her photos and expertise enabled Friends to produce our guidebook, Butterflies of the Lower Suwannee, with information on all the species that have been definitively documented to be on the Refuge . . . Until Now!!
On Monday, June 12, 2023, she and her team spotted the Seminole Texan Crescent.
According to Barbara: "This little beauty can be found in dark, swampy areas north, south and east of the Lower Suwannee NWR, but for more than 10 years, I have never been able to find one in the Refuge. Yesterday, we found 9 of them on the Nature Drive, and I hope they're here to stay"!
Here is what to look for:
Also seen and photographed by Barbara on this same survey day were: