Tuesday, February 26, 2008

February 2008 Atala News Updates and Events

Another term is finally finished at NSU and on to the next! I had a lot of field trips this month, and several events…with more to come!

Atala updates: quite a few sites have irrupted. Dick Freshley from Okeeheelee Nature Center rescued some pupae and larvae from another PBC site because of “severe herbivory”…in other words, the coontie was eaten down to the stems. So hundreds were taken to Okeeheelee; where we established a colony last year. Okeeheelee is located at 7715 Forest Hill Blvd, West Palm Beach, if you’d like to see a beautiful butterfly garden and (hopefully) a loaded atala colony. Other PBC sites are doing well. This beat-up atala was at NSU...they live quite a while for a hairstreak (about a month) so this little guy had been around a while.

Several Broward sites went dormant for a few weeks and suddenly returned to life; NSU’s colony disappeared, came back and has disappeared again. Several coonties were fairly well eaten, but the larvae never pupated, and no adults have been seen for weeks. In Miami-Dade, Fairchild is healthy and viable, as is Crandon Park on Key Biscayne, and several private sites.

At one site, the coonties are suffering from an infestation of mealy bugs (photo by Sarah Meltzoff); the treatment, according to Broward Extension Office and Fairchild: remove the existing pupae to another location (remove the leaflets they are on and wedge them in “head-up” elsewhere so they can emerge normally), move larvae to plants without infestation, clip the infested leaves, and treat the others with a Safersoap solution. I also think netting the treated leaves may be helpful to prevent further egg laying until the infestation is under control. Mealy bugs could indicate that the coonties need a little more air flow around them, if they are packed too tightly. In their natural historical setting (in pine rocklands), they do not form tight clusters, but are spaced several feet apart.

Established coonties recover well when clipped to within ‘an inch of their life’, and send up new growth in a few weeks. As Harvey Bernstein from Fairchild wrote, “they do well with tough love,” evolving as they have in the tough environment of the pine rocklands.

Scale is usually the problem I have seen on coonties; same treatment, although scale doesn’t usually affect the plant unless it is a heavy infestation. I know my milkweed is covered with aphids right now, but I haven’t had any Monarch larvae, so I am hoping the female adults know enough not to lay eggs on the plants until they recover.

I was invited to speak about the atala for the Coconut Creek Garden Club last week, and we decided that sharing news with other organizations would be a good idea! So everyone involved with the Native Plant Society, NABA, and Master Gardeners can be informed about plant sales, speakers, and anything else we love doing. They are a great club and you should check out their archives on the City of Coconut Creek website! Coconut Creek is known as the Butterfly Capital of Broward County and the city is a certified National Wildlife Federation Habitat.
Three field trips (whew) were taken this month with NSU students in my Everglades Ecology Class with Dr. Jennifer Rehage, in addition to being in the Everglades almost every day for work. (And we have one to Myakka next week…something different!) Our last trip went to Loxahatchee Arthur R. Marshall Wildlife Refuge, and Green Cay Wildlife Refuge, both in Palm Beach County. It was a delightful chance to do some serious birding. Jen, and Stacy Gunberg, one of my classmates, have generously furnished some of the pictures that I am sharing with you. This great photo of a Yellow-rumped Warbler is Stacy’s, as is the juvenile Roseate Spoonbills.

The Viceroy is thanks to Jen Rehage.

This is a photo of the Conservation Areas, closed to the public that we visited with Tiffany Trent, who is studying Apple Snail populations in the Reserve. Her cages are set up so that she can observe their feeding habits and determine maximum nutritional needs for the snails. Apple Snails are the sole food source for our endangered Everglades Snail Kite, as well as an important food for Limpkins…such as this guy, photographed at Green Cay Nature Center. Green Cay is one of the few places that you can find a Limpkin, let alone photograph one!

Alligator Flag is both a beautiful flower and a food source for Moorhens and Gallinules.

I took this photo of a Gulf Fritillary at Loxahatchee, and the raccoon tracks at Green Cay…even in the middle of development, wildlife tries to hang on if we can reduce our incessant need for concrete and give them a little bit of habitat. So I’ll mention it one more time…CORRIDORS are so important in this fragmented landscape humans make. For butterflies, birds, insects, and animals…..

Another very successful work day at John Williams Park in Hollywood occurred on February 24, 2008, from 1 to 4 PM. Sixteen dedicated Hollywood Hills High School students and Girl Scouts from Troops 501 and 392 spent the afternoon concentrating on clearing exotic seedlings from the new trail area. The volunteers worked very hard, but because we were collecting tiny seedlings, hours of work didn’t fill the scores of bags that we have filled in the past! Their work is appreciated very much. Special thanks to Jessica Cook, on the right, for being the lead organizer for these volunteers!

My good friend Chris Hernandez spent the morning with me in the Natural Area double-checking some of the plant identifications with me. Chris and I used to work at Audubon of Florida together in the Education Department…ah, sadly, funding cuts slashed the education monies several years ago. Chris is one of the few people who loves “botanizing” in Linnaeus Latin-lingo and we enjoyed doing that when we worked together, so I was delighted that he agreed to spend the morning with me. Chris is stationed at Greynold’s Park in Miami-Dade Parks now.

We didn’t cover nearly ‘enough’ ground, but that what’s happens when a couple of Nature Nerds get together! Everything we saw just called for our attention and of course, we would sit on the ground and get out the books and discuss the details…and we found some delightful surprises, such as this tiny little Squirrel Frog nestled in the center of this non-native “corn plant”, and a fat Garden Snail in the next one, and then this Tropical Checkered Skipper showed up…all new species for the Bio-Assessment I’m doing for the Park….

and then some favorites already recorded, such as this breath-taking little Oxalis debilis flower…or this bright yellow thistle (Sonchus asper)…or this quiet little Dun Skipper (Euphyes vestries)… and the magnificent Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) and one of the resident squirrels….Firebush (Hamelia patens) is found everywhere in the open area…more and more!

Broward County Native Plant Society’s next meeting will be at the Broward County Extension Office, College Avenue, at 7 PM. The program is on “Rare Natives”…sounds like a winner to me! Hope to see you there.

The summer Butterfly count will be taking place The Broward County Butterfly Chapter Spring Butterfly Counts are as follows:

April 5, Saturday at Tree Tops Park/Pine Island Ridge AND Long Key Natural Area

April 12, Saturday at Crystal Lake Pine Scrub, Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, Hillsboro Pineland and Coconut Creek Tamarind Village

TIME: 8:30am to 11 am and/or 1 pm to 3 pm

Join us for lunch. More info on lunching location later.

If you are interested in participating, email Barbara DeWitt at badewitt@comcast.net, or myself, at sandykoi@bellsouth.net. Beginners are welcome to come and learn, and children are encouraged to come along, too. Those sharp eyes often see the little caterpillars and tiny hairstreaks that we adults miss sometimes!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Atala News and Field Trip February 2008

Atala news: Some colonies are in a downswing currently, but as the colonies have done this many times before, don’t panic if yours is one of them! But other colonies are stable right now. Jim Crawley reports that they have been sighted in Plantation (YEAH!) and the Deerfield colonies are well. Davie colonies are fluctuating with some down and some stable. NSU’s colony has new pupae and larvae, so I hope to see adults soon. Miami-Dade colonies are stable from the reports I have gotten from the field. And many areas of Fort Lauderdale also are stable at the moment, with reports coming in often from my wonderful friends. This is Jim’s photo of an atala in Plantation.

In the meantime, our ENVS 3170 class visited Big Cypress this weekend, and we had a wonderful time. Again, Fred Rehage from Broward County Audubon Society brought his scope along. Some of our classmates had cameras capable of photographing the Bald Eagle nest located off the boardwalk at Fakahatchee Strand (mine, however, doesn’t do that!) If classmates share their photos with me, I’ll be happy to share them with you! (Hint.)

The important thing is that we got to see the nest and an adult, something many people will never have the opportunity to witness. I did get this photo of a red-shouldered hawk at Sweetwater Slough though. He and his mate were watching us intently as we netted or caught fish for identification (You Got Fish?)

One of the pair was close enough to capture with my camera (which is better at small things close-up, such as these very pretty Lubber grasshopper juveniles!)

We walked along part of the Florida Trail on Loop Road and observed a Red-Tailed Hawk being harassed by American Crows in the pine lands. Many small inconspicuous wildflowers were scattered along the trail, such as this beautiful Everglades Daisy. Or this Water Dropwort flower....

This is the thing about the Everglades: it is SUBTLE. You have to take in the environment with a slower pace, a more conscious approach to your surroundings in order to appreciate and see the delicate beauty there. We saw panther and deer tracks in the mud. We know that they are there, maybe just around the corner! We did see a deer, but no panther (alas!)

And butterflies were all around! The duck potato flowers were especially popular nectar sources at one of the sites…Zebra Heliconius was quite aggressive about chasing off the Ocola Skipper and the Mangrove Buckeye, all jostling for the same flower!

Suddenly a big alligator began bellowing loudly in the swamp, just after a local jet broke the sound barrier. Everyone stopped immediately and looked around a little nervously… where IS he? Just off the trail, to our right…there he sat! What an incredible and beautiful sound.

We watched egrets and herons fishing for the myriad of fish in the slough; this gorgeous American Egret was breath-taking. And the Slough…I can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday. The skies were bluer than blue, the temperature perfect, and the company very congenial!

Being there was great, and this class is seriously rivaling a Marine Biology course I took years ago, in which we spent long, hot summer days in Florida Bay studying terrapins and water snakes. Our instructor had told us that the more bug-bit, scratched-up and sun-burnt we were, the better our grade would be. Of course, our field journal was half the grade, too. I got an A+ in that class and I loved every moment of it! Here's hoping for a similar grade.....