Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Save Our Parks

UPDATE, Aug. 27, 3:30pm: The Gainesville City Commission received an email today from the developer, withdrawing his offer to purchase the 5 acres of Loblolly Woods. There will be no sale of this public park land! Thanks to the many people who voiced their opinion and stood up for conservation!

This weekend I joined about 70 other people on a walk to tour a piece of property in the Loblolly Woods of NW Gainesville. The purpose of the tour was to rally support and familiarize people with 5 acres of public conservation land that a private real estate developer is trying to buy from the city. (I'm not using the developer's name because I don't believe this is about the person. Rather, I think this is about the bigger issue of selling public property and the dangerous precedent it sets.) The property is part of the much larger Loblolly Woods city nature park and preserve, and it butts up to the developer's home property. He says that he wants to purchase the land to provide more buffer around his home, and says that he plans to preserve the land. In exchange, he proposes to give the city one million dollars. We were there in the woods to see why this would be a bad idea.
Supporters Hiking in
We were led on the walk through the woods by a UF Biologist and by neighbors whose homes are next to the property in question. We learned that the property provides the only eastern access to the greater Loblolly Woods city nature park. If the purchase is made, roads and paths will be closed to the public. The entrance is popular with walkers, hikers, runners, bikers and children walking to school.
East Entrance
We learned about the kinds of trees and plants in the landscape and saw how the slight elevation changes there make it a unique habitat for both wetlands and uplands plants. We learned that the land is ecologically sensitive. It is home to rare and endangered plants and is part of a wetlands floodplain. It was acquired by the City in the first place because it was determined that there was good reason to protect it. We saw examples of escaped exotic invasive plants from neighboring homes and from the urban creek system that runs through the woods and were reminded that the land needs continued, careful stewardship. Large amounts of money and time have already been spent by the City evaluating and maintaining the property.
The Woods
The people came with children, friends, cameras and dogs on leashes. The children explored and relished in the wonder of the wild places. They lifted logs and peeked into stumps and found spiders and snakes and caterpillars. (Hiking hint: if you want to see the coolest things, follow the kids. They know how to look!)
Florida Redbelly Snake

Saddleback Caterpillar

Our leader pointed out different types of trees--Maple, Sugarberry, Box Elder, Water Oak, Dogwood and Sable Palm, to name just a few. The landscape is diverse. I was at the tail end of the crowd, so I missed much of his discussion, but the group was kindly helpful and would share interesting information down the line.

Sugarberry Tree

Maples, Palms and Sugarberries
The group stopped in admiration to look at the rare and endangered Godfrey's Privet , the interesting Green Dragon, and the vivid Hearts a Bustin'. We listened to bugs and birds and each other. We also heard the loud and upset dogs on the developer's property, barking from behind their tall fence at our intrusion into their territory.
Godfrey's Privet (Forestriera godfreyi)

Green Dragon (Arisaema dracontium)

Heart's a Bustin' (Euonymus americanus)
I've written about this in previous blog posts, but I believe that public land belongs to the people and must not just be sold off to the highest bidder. Contrary to what some might say, we do not have too much land in conservation--indeed, there is not nearly enough. Habitat loss and fragmentation are the leading cause of species decline and extinction. Carving it away in 5 acre pieces does not help. Birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects and plants all need a large and healthy habitat. These woods provide places for animals to find shelter, food, and raise their young. They are critical resting spots for migrating birds. The wetlands filter water as it makes its way through the landscape and into our aquifer. The trees give us oxygen and filter our air. The green space gives us peaceful sanctuary. We need to preserve our natural places.

Green Sanctuary
This land is not even for sale. This person has approached the City of Gainesville and made an offer on a piece of land, just because he wants it. He is waving a million dollars in the face of the City at a time when money is scarce. He has also made the red herring suggestion that the money could be spent to purchase another desirable piece of property nearby that is also ecologically important. But this property is also not for sale and has nothing to do with the purchase of this particular 5 acres, except that hinting that it could be purchased with the sale money pits groups of people who want to conserve land against each other.
Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly
The developer's thinking about this completely backwards. His home is next door to a City nature park and preserve. He already has a buffer! And he already owns the land! We all do. The problem is that he want to possess the land and fence it off for himself and keep the rest of us away, and that's just not fair. It doesn't contribute to the common good.
Turkey Tail Fungi
The Gainesville City Commission will be discussing this issue at their meeting on Thursday, Sept. 5 (exact time yet to be determined). Please consider attending the meeting. You don't have to speak, although if you want to, it would be welcome. But just show up to let them know that we don't want them to sell our public lands. Wear green as a sign of support. If you can't show up, write a letter (CityComm@cityofgainesville.org). (For more information go to http://saveloblollywoods.org) But do something. This really matters. Our Parks are counting on us.
UPDATE, Aug. 27, 3:30pm: The Gainesville City Commission received an email today from the developer, withdrawing his offer to purchase the 5 acres of Loblolly Woods. There will be no sale of this public park land! Thanks to the many people who voiced their opinion and stood up for conservation!

Denizen of the Forest (Praying Mantis)

Monday, August 12, 2013

About That Ditch...

It's Been Such a Long Time

So it's been months now since I've been out and crawling around in the ditches and it felt this morning like it was time to get back to it. I left a little too late, on a day that was a little too hot, and was disappointed to see that the County had mowed.
There's Still Hope After the Mowing
But no matter! There was a little breeze and some merciful cloud cover, and the County kindly left an un-mowed swath close to the fence line. Ahhh! Being out there again was perfect! With sweat dripping down my cheeks and mosquitoes swarming, I squatted down close to the Green Lynx Spiders and Little Metalmark Butterflies.
Green Lynx Spider on Carolina Yellow Eyed Grass (Xyris caroliniana)

Little Metalmark Butterfly on Orange Milkwort (Polygala lutea)

The breeze made it challenging to get good shots of the Yellow Eyed Grass, but I was in no hurry. Some of the old familiars from spring were still in bloom--Polygala, St. John's Wort, and the Pitcher Plants. But there were some new ones. 3 types of Rhexia, a couple of new St. John's Worts,  Barbara's Buttons, and a few others that I need to identify. The fall wildflowers are getting ready to put on a spectacular show, with Deer Tongue shoots leading the charge on the roadside and other Carphephorus species in the flat woods.
Hooded Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia minor)

Hooded Pitcher Plant Flower

St. Peters's Wort (Hypericum crux-andreae)

Pale Meadowbeauty (Rhexia mariana)

Handsome Harry (Rhexia virginica)

Barbara's Buttons (Marshallia tenuifolia)

St. Andrew's Cross (Hypericum hypericoides)

Unidentified flower with green hitchhiker
(Now identified at Carolina Redroot, or Lachnanthes caroliana--Thanks, Rex!)

I found some large and busy caterpillars eating Fetterbush leaves. They took an interesting offensive pose whenever I got close, rearing up like snakes. One even lay back and showed its legs, as if they were claws or fangs. Reading up on these caterpillars, I learned their food plants are oak and members of the rose family, but that they also feed on blueberry, birch, willow and other nearby shrubs. Fetterbush is is the blueberry family (ericaceae), so it would make sense that the caterpillars were feeding on it.  Grasshoppers popped out of the grass like popcorn pieces. I heard some frogs and a few Towhees in the trees. I didn't see as many swallowtail butterflies as I'd hoped, but it may have been too hot, or too early. They might be more abundant when the fall wildflowers bloom.
Yellow Necked Caterpillars (Datana ministra)

Grasshopper Waiting to Pop

It was so satisfying to be back, but I was a little rusty. Being away so long I got spooked by the idea of Cottonmouth Snakes and avoided walking into the tall grass around the swampy areas and the culvert. And I should have brought a long sleeved shirt to help protect from the mosquitoes. But I was still enjoying myself so much that I decided to stop in the Longleaf Pine Flatwoods for just a short visit before I left. The Winged Sumac is in bloom and every bunch had its own personal bumblebee.
Carpenter Bee on Winged Sumac (Rhus copallina)

I didn't see many other flowers along the first part of the path, but I did find a Green Milkweed and a little Black Senna.
Savannah Milkweed (Asclepias pedicellata_

 I found one snake--a black racer that was climbing a palmetto on its way into a bush. When it saw me it froze and I was able to snap off a few good shots. I resisted the urge to reach in and try to grab it. My photo sharing friend, Lloyd, posted a picture of the bite marks on his hand that he received after bothering a rat snake. I was bitten by a snake once (a ball python) and though I know now that a non-venomous snake bite isn't a big deal, I didn't like the surprise. I'll leave the snakes alone.
Black Racer Staring Me Down

After about 10 minutes of being swarmed by mosquitoes on the path, I gave up and went home. I could hear the Bachman's Sparrow and Eastern Towhee calling from the pines and I know I'll need to get back soon.
Dewy Spiderweb in the Grass

Saturday, August 10, 2013

What I Learned Over My Summer Vacation

My husband and I have been traveling a lot. Seems like I haven't been home for more than 2 weeks all summer. Just when I get unpacked and tidy up the house, it's time to go again. After our visits to New York and Maine, we turned around and drove to Arkansas, and wrapped up the road trip with a few days in New Orleans on the way back home. What a whirlwind! While on the road these past few months, I have made some observations.

1) I do better with a Taoist approach when trying to get great photos. I'm almost always disappointed when I go out with the intention of getting a specific shot. It's so much better to just go and see what I can see. Go with the flow. I made this same observation last year in this blog, but I never seem to learn. When I was in Salt Lake in June, I determined before I got there that I wanted to see a Western Tanager. People reported seeing them this spring here in Florida, where they were unusual. I wanted to see them where they were more common. That never happened, but instead I stumbled upon a Lazuli Bunting when I least expected it, and it was wonderful! The same thing happened in Maine. When we were planning our trip, I decided that wanted to see Puffins, but it turned out that they were much further north than I'd thought. But while I was moping about Puffins, the Eider Ducks were happily swimming off shore at every beach I walked on. It happened again during our trip to Arkansas. My friend (and exquisite photographer) Barbara, visited Mt. Magazine State Park in Arkansas a few years ago and took marvelous photos of Diana Fritillary butterflies. I wanted to get some photos of them, too, and I figured that since I would be in the area, it would be worth a 2-hour drive to a place where they were supposed to be a sure bet. As you probably expect, I didn't see any Dianas. But there were nests of hungry Barn Swallow chicks all around the lodge and Narrow Leaf Sunflowers along the paths through the forest. Rather than let myself be disappointed about missing the Diana butterflies, I need to be happy about what I did see.
Barn Swallow Feeding Hungry Chicks (Mt. Magazine State Park, AR)

Narrow Leaf Sunflower and little spider (Mt. Magazine State Park, AR)

2) Just because I didn't photograph something doesn't make it less special. Reading up on Mt. Magazine, I saw that, in addition to Diana Fritillaries, one might also see Roadrunners! In Arkansas?! Scanning over the park's bird checklist I saw that they were listed as "uncommon" for all seasons, so I didn't actually expect to see any. So imagine our surprise when, as we were driving out of the park, we spotted a Roadrunner. In the road! In Arkansas! It ran off the road and into the bushes before I could get a picture. But I will remember it fondly. I have to remind myself of this, because sometimes I get into "collector" mode and convince myself that my excursion was not successful because I didn't get photos. The experience is what matters most.

3) I'm learning that I love telling stories with photos. I feel like I can share what I love and do with images. As I've become more accustomed to carrying a digital camera with me, I find myself looking at scenes and wanting to capture and share them with other people. I study photography in magazines and movies and I am a lot more appreciative of what is interesting, attractive and illustrative. I hope to put this to use in my blogs, etc.
Musicians Playing French Tunes in our Restaurant (New Orleans, LA)

4) I'm almost always happier when I'm around nature. We drove and visited a lot of places this summer and I found myself gravitating to the locations with greenery, flowers and animals wherever we went.  Watching for hidden rattlesnakes as I walked up the path in the foothills above Red Butte Garden in Salt Lake. Standing on the Maine coast, breathing in the fresh ocean air, listening to the sound of the gulls and the crashing waves. Walking above the city streets on the High Line in Manhattan and looking at the cars below through a curtain of purple flowers and bees. Stooping to try and catch a tiny frog on the park path in Arkansas and laughing as it hopped out of reach. Peeking through the thick glass at the elegant Seahorses and Jellyfish at the Audubon Aquarium in New Orleans. Nature in those places made me feel revived, relaxed and connected.
Seahorse (Audubon Aquarium, New Orleans, LA)

5) Nature connects people. When I stop to look and take photos, often people notice and want to know what I'm doing, and it gives me an opportunity to meet someone and share my love of nature. One afternoon in Maine I was on the roadside crouching down to get a good picture of a Jewelweed flower when a woman stopped and asked if I was seeing any neat little bugs. I told her that I was trying to get a good shot of the Jewelweed, and that, by the way, it was supposed to be a good antidote for poison ivy. She told me that as a kid she remembered touching the seed pods and making them explode. I've done that, too, and we laughed about how much fun it is. We connected for just a moment. And it happened again just last week while driving home from New Orleans. We were stopped in a Florida rest stop. As I was walking back to the car, I happened to look up and noticed a perfect Luna Moth, resting under the eaves of the restroom building. I aimed my camera phone just as a woman walked by. She asked what I was looking at and I told her it was a Luna moth. She had never seen one before and was very excited. She told me she was going to get her daughter to show it to her. In that brief encounter, we shared a special experience. And she passed it on. For all I know, maybe it kept passing from visitor to visitor all day long.
Luna Moth (Highway Rest Stop, I-10, Florida)

6) I have really enjoyed my trips to other countries, but I always like to remember that the U.S. is a wondrous and diverse country, with fabulous cities, parks and natural areas. We have superb historical sites, museums, regional food, music and culture. Our state and national park system is extensive and excellent and the broad expanses of wilderness are astonishing. We have unique plants and animals that people from other parts of the world go out of their way to come see. Things like Bison, Alligators, Prairie Dogs, Sandhill Cranes, Diana Fritillaries, Giant Sequoia, Pitcher Plants, Red Cockaded Woodpeckers. We have ancient and mysterious ruins and ceremonial sites such as Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde, Serpent Mound and the Toltec Mounds. No matter where I go, every new species I see, every new place I visit serves as a future reference point and helps me understand where I am in relation to the rest of the world. I think it's good to have a broad perspective.
Toltec Mounds at edge of Cypress Swamp (Little Rock, AR)
(Mississippi River Valley archeological site, ca. A.D. 700)

7) Traveling is fun, but it's really nice to come home again.