Suwannee 22, the second Swallow-tailed Kite sponsored by Friends, has been staying around the Refuge since it was spotted back in March and is still there foraging towards Chiefland and north.
There were early hopes that it would be nesting. However, recent reports from the Avian Research and Conservation Institute indicate that they believe the nest has failed.
The map shows she's been a busy bird, zigging and zagging all around the area. Keep your eyes peeled, she'll be around for awhile before she heads south.
There is also other news.
The Refuge is working on removing condemned Vista buildings: the caretakers' double wide, the grill shed, and the barn. The intent is for the Friends to work with private parties to salvage and sell what can be sold and then take the rest and scrap it. Any proceeds will go back into the Vista project.
The U. S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services will be conducting a feral swine removal project on the Refuge (and all over Florida). They apparently received significant Congressional appropriations to do so with the intent to both remove this invasive species and collect blood samples to check for diseases such as African Swine Fever. This will be an ongoing project using traps, guns, and aerial shooting. Specifics have not been finalized.
Friends' board member and butterfly expert, Barbara Woodmansee, had a truly awesome discovery this month at the Refuge. She'd been actively searching for the Hickory Horned Devil caterpillar to be able to show a group of Junior Ranger Program candidates on a recent field trip to the Refuge. Unfortunately, she had no luck on that day in late June.
Back she went to continue her quest. Below, in her words, is her unbridled and contagious enthusiastic account of her walk in the woods.
"I tried so hard to find one (Hickory Horned Devil) because now is their time, but they hid from me - until today! On my butterfly survey today (July 19, 2023), I found two of these, plus a luna caterpillar on young sweetgum trees on Barnett Creek Road. This is just about THE coolest bug there is in my opinion. It's a Hickory Horned Devil - the mature Regal moth caterpillar - between 5-6" long. Any minute now, he or she will crawl down the tree and wander a long way away and then burrow down in the leaf litter and pupate underground until next spring when it will crawl up a stick and become a beautiful adult moth. They use their magnificent antlers to whack wasps and flies that try to parasitize them - 80% of them are parasitized before they mature. They're super fun and easy to raise."
"The adults are VERY hard to find - I look for them all the time and have only seen 2 or 3 of them and they came to our porch light. They're huge - just like the caterpillars.
The adults do not have mouth parts and do not eat at all. They only live about 1 week after they come out of their cocoons. They just mate - usually on the day they emerge, lay 100 eggs over the next few days, and then die. Adult males can find a female from as far away as 7 miles - the female "calls" the male when she is ready to mate by sending out a pheromone that the male can detect with his huge antennae. Is that cool or what?!?"
These five Friends groups support 12 of the National Wildlife Refuges in Florida: Lower Suwannee, Cedar Keys, Crocodile Lake, National Key Deer, Great White Heron, Key West, J. N. Ding Darling, Florida Panther, Ten Thousand Islands, Egmont Key, Passage Key, and The Pinellas.
The Florida Friends groups focused particularly on the fact that refuge law enforcement is drastically under resourced.
About half of the national wildlife refuges, including Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys, have no law enforcement officer assigned directly to them. Officers must come from other refuges when needed. Each officer, on average, covers an area about the size of Rhode Island. Any cut to refuge budgets would likely exacerbate this dangerous situation for wildlife and for visitors to the refuges.
Also in May, Refuge Manager Andrew Gude nominated our Friends group for the Molly Krival Friends Group of the Year Award for 2023. Maybe next year will be our year to win. Congratulations to the Friends of Ottawa NWR in Ohio, who received the award this year.