Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Long Overdue Update!

A Julia basking at John Williams Park...Isn't she lovely!

Atala News August 21, 2007

So much has happened in the past year that I haven’t even had time to write about it all, between working and school, so here’s a synopsis to bring us up to date with activities about the atala and other projects I’ve been working on:
January

I presented a PowerPoint program for the Broward County North American Butterfly Association (NABA) chapter on “Common Dragonflies of South Florida”---dragonflies are almost as complicated as birds, with all those confusing plumages! I reduced the hundreds of species found in the state to the twelve most common and easily identifiable species found in South Florida…and of course, it covered life cycles, and how to tell a damselfly from a dragonfly. Oh yes, and there were pop quizzes to keep people on their toes!

I did another Exotic Plant Identification and Removal project at John Williams Park in Hollywood, coordinated with the City of Hollywood and Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council (FLEPPC). We have great help from Hollywood Hills High School students, Girl Scout Troops, Broward County Master Gardeners, and friends from Broward NABA and Native Plant Society.

Another plant workshop was coordinated by one of our first attendees, Jessica Cook, a student at Hollywood Hills High School. That is exactly what I hope these programs do…get people involved in their own communities!

I also met with Public Works from the City of Hollywood to discuss how to handle the extensive infestation of exotics behind the gates in the Sheridan Oaks Natural Area at the park. That meeting resolved that we had to resort to chemical warfare to control the growth because it was so intensive that access to the natural area was simply not possible.

February

Another meeting with Hollywood Public Works and the company they hired to spray the exotic overgrowth…had to make sure that they knew what was native and what wasn’t, as well as protect the gopher tortoise and all the wonderful wildlife that calls the park home. (They did!) Busy volunteers gathered scores of giant bags of exotic invasives---Air Potatoes, Balsam Pear, Oyster Plants, Wild Taro, Rosary Pea, Caesar's Weed, Brazilian Pepper....the list goes on and on.

I led another program with Temple Young Israel in Hollywood for the Jewish ‘tree holiday’, Tu B’Shevat, at the park. Although it was cold and rainy, some families did show up and we planted a beautiful butterfly nectar source called “Rouge Plant” (Rivinia humilis), a native in the park.



I met with the Public Works officials again, this time to help determine what broken tree limbs from Wilma should be removed from the natural area. We want to keep it ‘natural’, but not dangerous for working inside!

Another Exotic Plant workshop took place and we actually got some newspaper coverage with the Miami Herald! Again, Master Gardeners and NABA friends were there to help out, as well as some people from the neighborhood.

I helped out at the Native Plant Sale held at Anne Kolb Nature Center…keep your eyes open for these small sales sponsored at your local parks because you can get some great deals, and help out the organizations at the same time. Everyone wins.

March

As soon as finals were over, I went to Ecuador with Wildspots Foundation through Nova Southeastern University. There is a species of our beautiful little atala there, with a wingspan of nearly six inches! Ecuador, like many South American countries, is suffering from habitat destruction through massive deforestation, intensive oil exploration, hydroelectric plants, mining and many other activities harsh to the environment. While we were in a remaining tract of rainforest in Puyo, we could hear the chain saws reverberate through the forest as trees were being felled nearby…a most disturbing and sad experience as we stood there surrounded by the most beautiful and delicate flowers, trees, orchids, butterflies and other insects….

One of the most exciting and dangerous things to happen was that the volcano Tungarahua erupted while we were there. One of our photography instructors, Tim Breaseale, took this great shot of the explosion on March 5th.


On my return to the states, I concentrated on our own John Williams Park for another Exotic Plant workshop, with the same wonderful people pitching in to help out. Art Constantino, Master Gardener, helped led the workshop.
April

I did a another colony count at Crandon Park on Key Biscayne and the butterflies were doing great at one of the most stable atala sites. More on Key Biscayne’s colonies later….





Another Exotic Plant ID and Removal project took place at John Williams Park…same great volunteers!
May
I got to spend an afternoon with Sue Perry, Head Ecologist at Everglades National Park, and Marc Minno, expert lepidopterist, searching through acres of pinelands for some of our protected and rare butterflies: the Florida Leafwing, Bartram’s Hairstreak and of course, the atala…populations were very low, and we didn’t see a single atala (even though I’ve re-introduced over 4,000 into the park since I started this project!) Of course, with only three people we couldn’t possibly cover the hundreds of acres of pinelands and they may be hiding in there somewhere.

Miami Blue NABA invited me to speak present a PowerPoint lecture on “Atala Biology, Conservation and Re-introduction Project.” Corridors for the butterfly is so important!

Anne Kolb Nature Center invited to participate in the annual “Insects Rule!” day, which I enjoy doing because it introduces people to the fact that we would not be able to survive on this planet without the cool ‘creepy-crawlies’ that are the foundation that makes everything WORK! The great entomologist E.O. Wilson states that if we did manage to eradicate the insects from the earth, which we seem to be trying to do with all the pesticides we use, that the human species would be dead within four months! They aerate and make the soil, they pollinate the flowers that become our food, they break down organic matter…the list goes on and on! I’ll have to do a blog page just on that!

June
Wildspots Foundation and Nova Southeastern University sponsored an incredible “International Biodiversity Conference” in Banos, Ecuador, and we had speakers from all over the world attending…including me, which was very exciting. Lou Jost, an incredible biologist, was our keynote speaker and he’s discovered over thirty new species of orchids high in the cloud forests of Ecuador. The city of Banos put together an amazing welcoming event, and officials from the Department of Tourism, the Environment and the government attended…we hope that our speakers had a strong impact for preserving this unique biodiversity.
This is the cloud forest, over 6,000 feet in the mountains.



This time our excitement was in the form of massive mudslides caused by the excessive rain this winter, coupled by the erosion from the deforestation. It was a scary ride to the airport when we had to cross a narrow strip of land left on the mountainside...but we made it! (whew...)





And there was yet another Exotic Plant workshop at John Williams Park…we are making serious progress there! This time, the Sun Sentinel newspaper sent a reporter, so we got more press coverage on the importance of native plants, removing exotics, and community involvement. Art Constantino, Master Gardener, led the program for me, as family required my presence.
As one of the few remaining pockets of natural oak hammocks left in the City of Hollywood, John Williams Park is very important!
Three years ago a friend and I rescued some coontie from a development site in Homestead…they were nursed to a robust health here in safety, and I finally got the coontie plants to their new home on Virginia Key with the help of Barbara DeWitt (NABA and Master Gardener). This is where the atala was re-discovered the second time it was thought extinct, by Roger Hammer back in 1979.

July

Our Annual NABA July Butterfly Count took place in the North Circle and we were quite disappointed with exceptionally low numbers and species…I discovered later that the surrounding community had sprayed for mosquitoes during the previous week. How sad! You will be able to find the results of our South Circle and North Circle Counts on the Broward NABA site soon.

The most exciting event of the year is the annual Butterfly Days at Fairchild Tropical Garden, and I had the opportunity to speak again about my favorite little hairstreak. It was, as always, incredible fun, educational, and enlightening. I got to meet Charlie Covell, who is the Curator of Moths at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera at the University of Florida, in Gainesville—he KNEW the guys who discovered the atala colony back in the 1950’s, when it was thought to be extinct the first time! How exciting is that?

And Sam Wright, a biologist at Fairchild, did a study on how residents in the Village of Key Biscayne planted the atala’s nectar and host plants, making corridors that the helped the butterfly find its way from Crandon Park to Bill Baggs State Park--two miles away! Plant it and they will come…if enough neighbors plant it too!

And even more exciting than that is that the atala established itself in the Mesozoic Garden at the Davie Campus at Nova Southeastern University (NSU)! This is especially rewarding because the last person to have studied the atala so intently, Dr. Eileen Smith (now Smith-Cavros) is one of our professors. Dr. Joshua Feingold first discovered the new arrival and he called me right away (after all, I installed his butterfly garden last year!) We are all watching over the colony daily, and have plans to increase the host plants and nectar sources just for these very precious inhabitants. They migrated the short distance from the University of Florida, my former employer…another example of how important planting corridors is to the continued survival of our unique Florida wildlife.

August

Classes have started again, I am getting the opportunity to act as a teaching assistant in Biology II at NSU, and I am leading eco-tours into the Everglades several times a week. We are setting up a committee at NSU to take care of our atala colony and I am looking forward to starting a community campaign to expand the corridor…


And I just opened a little shop through Cafepress.com, promoting my more spiritual approach to nature. Take a look! Art_of_Nature is awaiting you!

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Chris Hernandez said...

I'm so happy to see an update to your page. I'm always checking it!!! Well, there wouldn't be anything to update if you weren't so busy with everything you're involved with. I can't believe you have time for all this!!!! You need to come check out my new place when you get a chance!

6:53 PM  

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