June 2003 Newsletter Articles
Rake fire lanes, dig up or spray exotics, sit on a stake out watching for
endangered species - or, on a more mundane level, fix plumbing or build a
shed. Because of scarce resources, there's a job not being done at some
park that you can do.
Polk Sierrans have recently spent hours doing the above (and more) to help
out at one of our favorite outings destinations, Cayo Costa State Park. The
group also spent part of the profits from the nesting box project to buy
(and then bend) rebar to provide anchoring devices for fencing which will
protect loggerhead turtle nesting sites from raccoon predation.
To have more efficient use made of your volunteer time, you should contact
the park of your choice some time in advance of the days you are willing to
work. The rangers will want to know of any special skills so that
appropriate tasks (and tools) can be selected. Last year volunteer hours in
Florida State Parks totaled 6,000 hours - that's the equivalent of 435 full
There are times when we feel so frustrated at our lack of ability to
influence legislation. This is an outlet to work off some of that
frustration - and get to know some of your favorite places much better.
...Frances H. Coleman
Ranger Sally using Sierra rebar
picture Copyright © 2003, Frances Coleman, All Rights Reserved
Up To Top
This has been quite a legislative session and it is possible that some
bills outside the Governor's agenda could be brought up in special budget
sessions, if approved by both the Senate and House. Please call Senator King
850-487-5229 and Senator Lee 850 487-5072 asking them not to use trust funds
to balance the budget.
The Everglades Bill SB 626 which passed extending cleanup time for
agriculture is of primary concern; calls to Jeb are still needed. He did go
to Washington to speak to U.S. Representatives from Florida, who encouraged
his veto echoing our Senators' concern. A judicial ruling on the cleanup
On an encouraging note Troutman's Water Bill died and the SB2586 relating
to manatee protections passed. Forever Florida has been funded again.
Saving the Rodman Dam HB 697 has been sent to the Governor and calls are
needed for a veto - free the Ocklawaha River! A call to Jeb is also needed
to pass a Wekiva Bill to protect the springs and water supply from sprawl
Up To Top
Both Tropical Soda Apple and Cogongrass can inflect wounds on the unwary!
They are both very common in our Bone Valley Region, they are both fairly
new to the Florida scene and they are both Category I invasives. Cogongrass
was deliberately introduced from the Old World tropics in the 1940s in the
hope it would provide good forage and control soil erosion; Tropical Soda
Apple (native to Brazil and Argentina) was first recorded as being in
Florida in 1988. Cogongrass soon proved unsuitable for cattle grazing (there
are silica bodies in the leaf blades) and the rough edges of mature leaves
can actually cause abrasions on the barelegged hiker. The Tropical Soda
Apple has thorns on its stems and on both sides of its leaves!
Tropical Soda Apple
pictures Copyright © 2003, Richard Coleman, All Rights Reserved
Cogongrass produces underground stems called rhizomes which allows this
plant to proliferate at a rate which crowds out other species in the area.
It also produces chemicals which inhibit the growth of other plants. Its
control in Florida is problematic; several applications of herbicide are
usually necessary and the timing of those applications is critical for
effectiveness. This grass is found extensively along the sides of roads and
in previously mined phosphate areas. It likes a very hot fire. Tropical Soda
Apple has been nicknamed "the plant from hell." Control is very difficult
because it spreads rapidly, tends to form huge patches, and - those thorns!
It is found most frequently in open areas like pastures.
Cogongrass usually grows about three feet tall; the leaf edges are scabrous
and the midrib is off center. The flowers are grouped into a large panicle
about five inches long and each tiny flower has a fuzzy structure which can
float the seed some distance. Year-round flowering can occur in central
Florida but the plants usually flower from late winter to May.
Tropical Soda Apple usually reaches three feet; the leaves are covered with
fine soft hairs which can give them a sheen. The white flowers are in small
clusters; immature fruits are pale green with dark green streaks - mature
fruits are a dull yellow and each contains about 413 seeds. Animals, like
cattle, eat the fruit and spread the seeds through defecation.
Up To Top
The Chemical Queen, Marian Ryan and her assistant, Dr. Death,
Richard Coleman, apply control herbicides to invasive exotic plants in the
Lake Blue Scrub at Ave Q, NW and Hobbs Rd. between Winter Haven and
Marian received instructions and chemicals from the Fish and
Wildlife Conservation Commission after volunteering to help them stop the
encroachment of invasive exotic plants. Using a 100 gal. trailer pump and a
four wheel drive truck loaned by Amphibious Aquatics the dynamic duo hopes
to have controlled many of these plants that invade natural areas from
adjacent roads and private properties around the edges of the scrub. Marian
says that the interior of the scrub is in good condition. This volunteer
control effort should help it stay that way.
The Lake Blue Scrub is part of the chain of ancient sand dune
islands just like the Lake Wales Ridge. The State of Florida purchased this
remaining piece of the Winter Haven Ridge last year and it is being managed
by the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The two parcels totaling
78 acres host a dozen species of rare plants and three species of rare
picture Copyright © 2003, Frances Coleman, All Rights Reserved
Our newsletter has been featuring articles on invasive exotic
plants. Control of these invaders is the only way to protect the integrity
of our native ecosystems. Invasive plants found at the Lake Blue Scrub site
include Brazilian pepper, air yam, air potato, asparagus fern, lead tree,
ear tree, glory bower, Boston fern, shrub lantana, and rosary pea.
The public is welcome to visit the scrub on foot through "walk
throughs" at each gate around the property. This park is a work in
progress - there is still trash to be removed and exotics to be controlled,
but the site is a botanical jewel!
...Richard Coleman and Marian Ryan
Up To Top
Imagine chasing a bird the size of your thumb. Now, do you think you could
get seven of your Sierra friends together at sunrise to round up this little
bird by tromping around the 80 square mile Kissimmee Prairie State Preserve?
picture Copyright © 2003, Gail Bagley, All Rights Reserved
With the help of park biologists Chris Tucker and Paul Miller and other
researchers at the Kissimmee Preserve, that is exactly what our small but
enthusiastic group did on a Saturday recently.
KPSP is near Okeechobee, and is about a 1½-2 hr drive from Polk County.
Much of the property was formerly owned and used by the Latt Maxcy
Corporation for the purpose of grazing cattle. The State of Florida
purchased the land and opened it to the public in 1998. It is one of the
last, high quality, and large remaining tracts of Kissimmee River Valley
native grasslands. Dry prairie is the dominant natural community.
As we approached the preserve early in the morning, we spotted a crested
caracara on a roadside fence. Many Sierrans have been fortunate to have
already seen a caracara. But few have ever seen the endangered Grasshopper
Sparrow, which we were about to see for the first time.
The Kissimmee Preserve is likely the largest habitat in the world for the
endangered Florida Grasshopper Sparrow. This little sparrow stays very close
to the ground and flies only short distances at a time. It prefers a scrub
area that has been burned within the past 3 years because it is sheltered,
yet not too overgrown. After 3 years, the grasses and other growth become
too thick and the sparrow will move to clearer grounds.
Chris and Paul instructed us to line up behind a long rope that they
dragged across the grasses and palmetto. We walked briskly behind, stomping,
clapping and hooting, to chase the birds into a "mist" net. Any birds caught
in the net were immediately removed in a most meticulous manner by Paul,
placed in a cloth bag, and put aside until we had captured several.
We then returned to our starting place, and observed as every tiny part of
each little bird was measured with a micrometer, and detailed notes were
recorded in a journal. We now know that to determine the sex of the bird you
must blow on the feathers of the underside. I have no idea what you look
for, but now I know the first step. The birds were then banded and released.
Among other birds in our "catch" were a towhee, yellow throat, and a hybrid
sparrow that caused a major buzz among the Preserve biologists. I only wish
I understood half of what the researchers said to explain why this hybrid
was such a rare find. Suffice it to say they had never seen one before (no,
never), and we Sierrans were the ones who caught it!
I hope you will join us on our next outing.
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