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DeSoto, Hardee, Highlands, Polk and Sumter counties of Florida


Explore, Enjoy and Protect The Planet


June 2003 Newsletter Articles

Fifth of a Series

Kissimmee Prairie State Preserve Outing


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 time employees!

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

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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 reinforces this.

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 and development.
...Jenny Jacobs

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Fifth of a Series

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.
...Frances Coleman

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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 Auburndale. 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 animals.


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

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Kissimmee Prairie State Preserve Outing

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 1-2 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.
...Gail Bagley



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masthead picture: Grasshopper Sparrow , published with permission
Copyright © 2003, Gail Bagley, All Rights Reserved

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