Archive for March, 2013

IMGP0093Once connected by an ancient land bridge to the deserts of the southwest, the Lake Wales Ridges State Forest boasts some similar species that were later trapped in this area when the ice receded. The wave action and shallow waters created a most unusual landform which is still visible today from the air.

Hiking out of the scrub and into the cypress dome was quite surprising.

Hiking out of the scrub and into the cypress dome was quite surprising.

What you will find on the ground is equally interesting. In the midst of shallow grassy marshes, there are two cypress domes. I know – that’s crazy right – cypress domes don’t belong on the ridge. Well, they are there. And they are gorgeous. Of course they differ from the swampy cypress domes in that they rely on water travelling underground through seepage rather than flowing over the surface.

Just standing in the middle of the dome after hiking through scrub habitat dominated by white sand and scrub oaks – sharp things and arid conditions – I looked around in total wonder at the soft ferns and mucky loam I was standing on. This seemed to me to be a very unique kind of forest. I felt lucky to be taking photos while my field partner Kevin rejoiced in the beauty as well.

It’s not hard to admit that we feel fortunate to be able to see these places. Truth is, everyone can as they are part of the Lake Wales Walk In Water WMP and are totally publicly accessible. You can even bring your horses and camp! IMGP0082

As always, these areas are home to some very special plants and animals. Even the soil can’t be disturbed. Please enjoy with your eyes and take no prisoners!


The transition from upland scrub to cypress dome!

The Highlands

Yes, it was St. Patrick’s Day and I thought it would be a hoot to talk about HIGHLANDS. In Scotland, of course, the Scottish Highlands are a craggy, green-topped, sparsely populated mountainous area. It conjures visions of shaggy cattle and ladies in flowing dresses singing haunting songs.

In Florida, where mountains are…well…we won’t go there – suffice it to say that the Highlands in Florida are a very different place. Arid and sandy, they resemble a forested desert much more than a mountain cliff.

Florida highlands can be the home to many types of Florida ecosystems. Scrub and flatwoods are two. Here, you can find some of the most interested birds – scrub jays. Their wise faces and daring behavior make them ideal birds to photograph. They have little fear of humans and will come quite close. They have bright blue plumage and are unmistakable in their jay-like silhouette  .

If you live near a highlands or scrub park – you might think it is a barren hot boring place to hike. The truth is, there are some things you will only see in these types of ecosystems. Get out there – see if you live near a park where you can explore this unique landscape. Take a few photos and share with us on Facebook!

Dusty Dusk

Kristen suited up!

Kristen suited up!

The sun sets on another day in the field and it’s time to get back to the office. Tomorrow we will backpack electrofish. I love electrofishing but this time Kristen isn’t going to be there. WHAT? You might say! Sadly, more often than not Kristen has been in the office doing what project managers do – OFFICE WORK.

For those who have no idea what electrofishing is – or think it’s like fishing with dynamite – well, it’s not. We use a Halltech backpack unit. It sends out an electrical impulse that we adjust according to different parameters. For instance, some water is more conductive, and therefore we lower the settings so that we don’t harm the fish.

The idea is to lightly stun the fish just long enough to scoop them gently into the net. Once captured, they are bucketed, sorted, weighed, measured, and counted – then photographed! That’s a rough day for small fish so we handle them as carefully as possible.

Of course fish aren’t the only things in the water! Frogs are terribly sensitive to electricity and react immediately by jumping out of the water. Snakes and sirens hide in the mud. Crayfish get stunned rather easily as well. The one thing that doesn’t seem to respond at all to our shocking is ALLIGATORS!! We have come across a small gator that had been in a shallow pool that stuck to the bottom the entire time without any indication that it was affected.

The neat part is seeing what you caught. You might be surprised to find ten different species of beautiful fish in a nasty mud puddle. So before you think of shrinking puddles as nothing more than yesterday’s creek, take a look at some of the things we find!

Spotted sunfish

Greater Siren – Florida’s largest amphibian

Everglades pygmy sunfish

Golden topminnow

Sailfin Molly

That’s right – we find greater sirens!

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