Sunday, February 22, 2009

February 2009

A friend in Sarasota called me this morning laughing, "You’ve been in town for three weeks and you’re already on the front page of the Sunday paper…” The Bradenton Herald did a super story about Florida Trail Month, and I just happened to be the new Greenways and Trail Coordinator for Manatee County Preserves. Just doing my job, giving the reporter, Sara Kennedy, a tour of Robinson Preserve. That is how I ended up on the front page of the Herald; it was an overcast and chilly day, but the sun does shine here and the landscape is gorgeous!
Shortly after I moved into my new house, very close to the Manatee River, I saw a fluttering dark-winged insect in the yard. My heart stopped—was this an atala?! Closer inspection revealed the “White-tipped Moth” (Melanchroia chephise) nectaring on the Spanish Needle (Bidens alba) growing beneath my sweet orange tree. Its soft unstable flight pattern certainly reminded me of the fluttering “moth-like” flight of the atala!

I brought my coontie plants with me (and there is plenty of it planted here) but the atala butterfly itself has never been documented here historically. It was documented in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties by the earliest naturalists and botanists, though. We will never know if the coontie and the atala were a part of the original ecosystems here on the west coast, though. Several years ago, a park here on the west coast attempted to “re-introduce” the atala and was met with extreme criticism by entomologists and biologists because it was never documented by any of the naturalists, botanists or other scientists in the early 1800’s.

This is just a short note to let you all know a little about what is happening with me and the atalas…I am still keeping track of populations and colonies. The cold fronts have seriously reduced colonies, but there are still some remnants hanging on waiting for warmer weather (like me!) The new position I have with Manatee County Natural Resources is incredible.

We have twelve Preserves which are amazing to me every time I visit one of them. Today I spent time in a place called Riverview Pointe. It is connected to DeSoto National Park. I saw the biggest Gumbo Limbo tree I have ever seen in my life there. The waters are almost as clear as they may have been 100 years ago. There is life and green native plants every where I turn. It is beautiful; it is old Florida. It is so beautiful that I can barely articulate what I see every day while I am at work.

This is one of two baby box turtles that were found at Emerson Point Preserve. Many juvenile animals never make it past their first year of life; the best thing that the average citizen can do is provide a wildlife habitat in their backyard and support the animals that choose to live there.

This little guy, like last month's Gopher Tortoise baby, was trying to cross the road.
This Roseate Spoonbill was resting at Emerson Preserve one morning. One day while at Robinson Preserve I saw an entire flock fly overhead! We have miles of trails (my official job), something suitable for everyone at different Preserves: biking, hiking, roller-blading, skateboarding, horseback riding, birding, butterflying, and paddling. Many are wheel-chair accessible, and some are very primitive, like this one on a back-trail at Emerson Preserve.

Lately I have seen a lot of Great Southern White butterflies in the Preserves...they are one of the 36 or so species of butterflies that migrate through Florida. They use the coastal flyways on both the east and west coasts, but of course they are going to be seen a lot more in coastal areas with intact native vegetation. On the east coast, look in places such as John U Lloyd State Park, Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, Jonathan Dickinson State Park and the undeveloped sections of the Indian River Lagoon.

Meanwhile I am still searching for that tiny Pygmy Blue Butterfly on the Glasswort in our salterns.

This is a folios lichen on an oak branch, measuring only a few inches. The tiny “cups” are the reproductive fruiting structures. It can be seen in any healthy environment-- yes, even on the east coast! It is beautiful, but very tiny and something many people don't see.

In an event reminiscent of John Williams Park in Hollywood, Boy Scout Troop 72 joined me for an “Air Potato Patrol” at Rye Preserve another morning; this is the troop with their collection, and the smallest and largest potato found!

Another group, this one consisting of junior high school students, also joined me for a “Rosary Pea Round-Up” at Emerson Preserve. The students worked very diligently cleaning up an area in this gorgeous Oak Hammock; it has remarkable shell mounds that were built by the Calusa Indians and an awesome view of the Manatee River! There is no shortage of exotic invasive plants on this coast either, although there has been a lot less damage to the environment on this side of the Everglades.

I miss my East Coast friends very deeply, but the days in the field are like magic because of the natural landscape. This photo is of the Sabal Palmetto strings, flowing gracefully from the fronds….Also known as "Cabbage Palm," it is our State Tree and it grows everywhere--

I’ll be posting more photos and urge you to come “Walk on the Wild Side” with me in Manatee County!

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