A New Camera Trap Monitoring Program for Private Landowners

A New Camera Trap Monitoring Program for Private Landowners

A deer darting across a path, a bobwhite calling at sunrise, or the tracks of a coyote in the mud are all fascinating examples of how we enjoy our natural areas. Have you ever wished you could watch wildlife all day to understand the intricate relationships they have with one another? What if you could learn more about their behavior? And their habitat and daily activities?

Deer captured on a digital game camera. Image: Dr. Carolina Barzzui.

Dr. Carolina Baruzzi at the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center and Dr. Corey Callaghan at the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center are launching “ConservationCam”, a new extension program to help you monitor wildlife on your property using camera traps.

Camera traps are a valuable tool for wildlife monitoring. When an animal moves in front of a camera, they trigger a motion sensor to take a picture or video. Camera traps can be set up in multiple ways to target a species or habitat of interest, such as a forest opening or a wildlife burrow. Thanks to their versatility and relative low cost, camera traps are being used in a variety of contexts, for example, understanding the effects of wildlife or habitat management on target species.

Images of turkeys captured on a digital game cam. Image: Dr. Carolina Barzzui.

The primary goal of ConservationCam is to provide private landowners with access to camera traps, and expert guidance about monitoring wildlife and managing natural resources for biodiversity based on camera trap observations. Armed with this knowledge, landowners can make informed decisions about land management practices that positively impact biodiversity on their property. If you live in the Florida Panhandle, and are interested in using camera traps to monitor wildlife on your property, while learning how to answer different ecological questions, we are gathering expressions of interest through this online form.

Rabbit near a burrow on a digital game came. Image: Dr. Carolina Barzzui.
Wildlife Food Plots: A Quick Guide to Success

Wildlife Food Plots: A Quick Guide to Success

With the recent discovery of CWD in Florida and the subsequent prohibition of feeding deer within the CWD Management Zone there has been some additional motivation applied to hunters/land managers to establish new food plots. Moreover, the timing and unexpected nature of the discovery have hunter/land managers somewhat in “scramble mode” to make the shift away from feeders to plantings before archery season starts (10/21 in the Panhandle). Whether or not you are in the CWD Management Zone or if you have been contemplating establishing food plots for a long time the following comments are worth considering as you work through the process of establishing a new food plot.

CWD Management Zone Map. Feeding and/or baiting deer is no longer allowed within the management zone (red area on map). Courtesy myfwc.com

First, food plots are not corn feeders. That is to say that food plots should be viewed as habitat improvements, not attractants (even though they may well improve the likelihood of seeing deer and other game species at a specific location) and their success should be evaluated accordingly. Food plots have the most positive impact when they are maintained year-round with cool and warm season plantings. They are long term investments.

When it comes to food plots, size really does matter.  Food plots need to be no less than ½ acre in size, preferably between 1 and 5 acres. Maximum habitat benefit being reached when food plots make up approximately 5 percent of the managed acreage. The kinds of plants in food plots are, by design, ones that wildlife find highly desirable (because they are highly nutritious). Considering this, it is easy to understand why plantings smaller than ½ acre struggle to establish – the plants simply don’t get a chance grow past the seedling stage.

After a location is identified, it is crucial to manage unwanted vegetation prior to preparing the soil and planting the food plot. If it is not eliminated, existing vegetation will compete tremendously with food plot plantings. Even if mechanical disturbance (disking, tilling, etc.) appears to remove the existing vegetation, much of it will regrow. This regrowth from established root systems will be more than a match for new seedlings. Apply herbicide before you begin soil preparation. Equally as important, give the herbicide sufficient time to do its work before mechanically disturbing the site (weeks, not days). Specific herbicide recommendations will vary depending on what vegetation you are trying to manage, but most food plot site prep applications will involve fairly high rates of glyphosate. Don’t hesitate to call me (850-638-6180) – we can discuss your site and dial in an herbicide recommendation. You do not want to skip this step; get in front of weed pressure before you plant.

If you want a food plot to be productive and successful you must effectively address soil fertility. First and foremost, soil pH must be corrected. Any needed applications of lime/dolomite need to take place first, well before any other fertilizer is applied (ag lime can take months to go into soil solution and alter soil pH). If fertilizers are applied before the soil pH is corrected the nutrients may still be unavailable to the plants. Once a food plot site is determined, collect a representative sample of the rooting zone soil and submit it to a lab for analysis. This is the best way to get the information needed to make informed choices regarding lime and fertilizer applications. Talk with the folks at your local Extension Office for more info on how to collect and submit soil samples. Take and submit soil samples now. Apply any need lime soon, during land preparation. Apply recommended fertilizer (N, P, K, and micros) at planting or soon after emergence. Fertilizer applied when there are no plant roots present to adsorb it is wasted.

By far the most common food plot question I receive is “what should I plant?”. I intentionally held this until last because if the topics above are not addressed properly plantings will not be successful. I included the table below to help answer the “what should I plant?” question. To accompany the table, here are some additional statements to help guide your crop selection.

Note the exclusion cages in the plots of forages being evaluated at the University of Florida’s North Florida Research and Education Center. Photo Courtesy of Holly Ober
  • Forage varieties matter. Use varieties that will work in Florida (see table for specifics). There are lots of forages sold that will not grow well locally. Sourcing seed can be challenging, start now.
  • The concept of blending forages is great, and highly recommended. That said, be careful with pre-packaged mixtures. You’ll generally get more of the “good stuff” by putting together your own blend. When making your own blend, use ½ of the high end of the seeding rate for each forage you include. Don’t go crazy, 3-5 different forages is plenty.
  • Try to utilize forages are well adapted to your site. The table shows varieties that are adapted to Florida and includes comments on site preference as it relates to drainage. You need to account for your site’s drainage characteristics when selecting forage varieties. Excessively well drained – deep sands; Moderately well drained – good soil by FL standards; Poorly drained – stays damp and/or will stand water seasonally.
  • If deer are the primary game species you are managing, focus on broadleaf plants (legumes and brassicas), not grasses. Hunters like grasses because they come up fast and are relatively easy to grow, deer like broadleaf plants because they are generally more digestible and higher in nutrients. Some grass in the blend is fine but don’t skimp on the broadleaves.
  • Some of the broad-leaved plants, particularly clovers, are highly preferred by deer but somewhat slow to establish. This combination can make it appear that the clovers don’t come up at all or preform very poorly. Before you jump to those conclusions, I would encourage you to use an exclusion cage or two in your plot. The cage will show you how the plant performs without grazing pressure. A few years of observation can really enable you to dial in what your deer prefer the most and adjust your plantings accordingly.
  • Don’t forget about planting date and depth. To keep life simple, let’s say that everything included on the table should be planted between October 1 and November 15 (ideally, triticale, wheat, and rye would be held until after October 15). Planting depth is very important and is a major factor in determining which forages can/should be planted together. It is perfectly acceptable to plant the deeper seeded grasses first and then come back over the field to plant the shallow seeded broadleaves. To achieve a target planting depth of ½” or less the soil will need to be packed prior to planting.

Food plots are not simple, but they can be very rewarding. There are way more factors to consider than what I included here. See the additional resources linked below and contact your local Extension Office or myself to discuss further.

Printable Cool Season Forage Table

More Resources:

Establishing and Maintaining Wildlife Food Sources

A Walk on the Wild Side: Cool-Season Forage Recommendations for Wildlife Plots in North Florida

Hunters Safety Course May 6th

Hunters Safety Course May 6th

Hunting and fishing is an important part of natural recourse conservation. In the state of Florida, once you reach the age of 16, anyone born on or after June 1, 1975 must have passed a hunter safety course to purchase hunting licenses.

In collaboration with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, UF/IFAS Extension Holmes County will be hosting a Hunters Safety Field Day on May 6, 2023 in Bonifay Florida.

Location: Mid-Town Plaza 401 McLaughlin Ave, Bonifay, FL 32425 (Old Middle School)

Date/Time: May 6, 2023 from 8 AM to 2 PM (CST)

Class Registration Link: https://app.myfwc.com/hgm/huntersafety/clsreq.aspx?p_class_id=53046

Free Online Portion Link: https://nra.yourlearningportal.com/Course/HuntersEdActivityInfoPage

Website: https://myfwc.com/hunting/safety-education/courses/

Participants must complete an online training prior to attending the in-person field day.

This class is designed for participants 12 years and older. The classroom portion is followed by a range field event. Please dress accordingly for weather and being outdoors.

Important information from the FWC website:

  • If your child is under 18 years of age, they must present a Parental Release Form signed by the child’s parent or guardian to the instructor at all courses. This will allow your child to participate in the live fire exercises. Download the Parental Release Form. Forms will be available the day of the event to be filled out.
  • Parents or legal guardians are required to accompany children under the age of 16 to all classes.
  • This course is designed for students 12 years old and up.
  • The FWC wants to ensure individuals with special needs have access to hunter safety programs. If a student needs special accommodations, please notify the FWC regional coordinator for your county a minimum of two weeks prior to the first day of class.
Turkeys in the Sunshine State

Turkeys in the Sunshine State

Florida is home to 2 subspecies of the wild turkey, the Eastern and the Osceola.

One might think turkeys in Florida live at the beach. However, Turkeys  prefer forested habitats such as hardwoods, pines, and cypress swamps. Their diet, depending on time of year and habitat, consists of seeds, nuts, fruits, and insects. The breeding season in Florida occurs in the spring, mid-March to April. Males (toms) perform courtship displays by puffing their feathers and gobbling to attract females (hens). 

The eastern turkey is the most common subspecies in the United States. They are found throughout the northern and central regions of the country, and throughout the state of Florida. Eastern turkeys are known for their dark iridescent feathers and their distinctive beard handing from their chest. 

The Osceola, known as the Florida turkey, is a sub species of the wild turkey but is only found in south Florida. They have slightly darker plumage than the Eastern wild turkey and are known for their longer legs and shorter, more rounded wings.

Image of two female (hen) Eastern wild turkeys and one offspring (poult) in the florida woods. Credit: Madelyn Grant

Both subspecies are popular among hunters during the spring hunting season. However, because Osceola’s are only found in Florida, the species is highly sought after among  hunters who want to add to their trophy collections, typically to complete the “grand slam.” The Grand Slam is the most popular of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) recognized turkey slams , it consist of harvesting and registering the 4 most common species of turkey Eastern, Osceola, Rio Grande ad Merriam. 

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) oversees turkey management in Florida. They ensure healthy and sustainable populations while also providing recreational opportunities based on research and monitoring by doing surveys to estimate population, and studies on turkey behavior, habitat use, and survival. The FWC also provides outreach and education to a variety of hunters ranging from the public and private sector. These topics include habitat management and conservation efforts, as well as predator control, and food plot management.

It is important for hunters to make informed decisions and engage in responsible hunting practices. 

Helpful links to learn more:

Deer Food Plot Management

That’s not how they do it in Iowa! 

exclusion cage in food plot
Exclusion Cage in food plot with normal deer feeding.

When we talk about white-tailed deer management, we often look to the states that have monster deer like Iowa, Illinois, and Ohio.  Those states grow 200 plus inch bucks.  It’s amazing to see for sure. But this is Florida and we can’t effectively manage deer the same way. Actually, in Florida, we can’t even manage deer the same across the state.  This is why we have 12 deer management units.  So, what are the reasons we can’t manage deer the same?

  1. Habitat
  2. Plant hardiness and climate
  3. Rut timing

Deer are highly adaptable to habitats.  They can be found in almost every state in the US.  The native vegetation is very different in Northwest Florida versus Iowa or Illinois.  Deer are eating different diets depending on the habitat they are residing in.  Bedding areas will vary also.  This affects the body size, antler growth, and fawning rates for deer.

We can grow food plots to supplement deer diets but those will look a little different too.  For example, clovers and cereal grains are normally frost seeded in late winter or planted in the spring in parts of the country that actually experience winter.  In Northwest Florida, we plant clovers and cereal grains in the fall. 

Finally, rut timing is a key part of deer nutrition management. In Northwest Florida, the rut (deer breeding season) is happening now. In other parts of the country such as Iowa, they are shed hunting already because their rut happens in November.

So, given these reasons, we do things a little differently here.  We plant cool season food plots in the fall.  These act as attractants to draw deer in during hunting season.  Then our summers are when the deer need more nutrition for antler growth and fawn rearing.  Warm season food plots should focus on supplying adequate crude protein and energy for this increased demand period.

For more information on cool season food plots, you can view this video or read A Walk on The Wild Side: 2022 Cool-Season Forage Recommendations for Wildlife Food Plots in North Florida.

For more information on warm season food plots, you can read Warm Season Food Plots for White-tailed Deer.

As always, for more help on managing deer food plots, contact your local extension agent.

Sawtooth Oak:  A Good, Not Perfect Tree for Wildlife Enthusiasts

Sawtooth Oak:  A Good, Not Perfect Tree for Wildlife Enthusiasts

Since entering the U.S. from Eastern Asia in the 1920s and especially since its promotion as the ultimate wildlife tree in the last few decades, I doubt there has been a more widely planted tree by outdoor enthusiasts than Sawtooth Oak (Quercus acutissima).  It is easy to see the tree’s appeal.  Sawtooth Oak grows quickly relative to other oaks, rates of 3-4’ per year in youth are not uncommon.  It bears fruit at a very young age, as soon as five-seven years from seed, and produces a heavy crop almost every year, unlike many native oak species.  Mature specimens are also mostly pest/disease free and very attractive, reaching 40-60’ in height with sweeping, wide-spreading branches, and deep, furrowed bark. 

While it seems that I just described the ideal wildlife tree, and Sawtooth Oak can indeed be a worthy inclusion to your property, it is not perfect.  All too often I see landowners and hunting lease holders plant solely Sawtooths as a part of their mast-producing tree strategy.  As in other areas of life, avoiding monocultures and adding a little diversity to your wildlife tree portfolio is beneficial.  Keep that, and the following lessons I’ve learned the hard way, in mind when you consider adding these wildlife attracting trees to your property.

  1. Acorns Drop Early – Sawtooth Oaks produce all their acorns very early in the season, beginning in September.  Conversely, most of our native oaks drop their mast (a fancy word for tree fruit) during the winter months that comprise our main hunting season, November-January.  So, while Sawtooth Oak is an excellent wildlife attractor and most any creature will readily gobble up their acorns, if you plant them to hunt around or provide a critical winter food source, you’ll likely be disappointed. 
  2. Invasive Potential – As Sawtooth Oak is non-native, very adapted to the Southeastern U.S. climate, and produces literal tons of acorns each year, the species has the potential to become a nuisance invasive.  I’ve visited several sites over the last few years that had a couple of large Sawtooth Oaks planted in areas mostly excluded from wildlife pressure.  I was surprised to see small Sawtooth saplings popping up everywhere.  It was eerily reminiscent of other nuisance trees like Chinaberry and Camphor.  Though I don’t think Sawtooth Oak will ever be a problem on the level of Chinese Tallow or Cogon Grass, it’s wise to use caution with plants that have invasive potential.
  3. Less Nutritious Acorns – Sawtooth Oak acorns are heavily browsed, but it’s not necessarily because they’re extremely nutritious.  A study from the 1960s compared the nutritional quality of Sawtooth Oak acorns to 8 common native oak species and found Sawtooth lagged the natives by a significant margin in all macronutrients measured:  protein, fat, and carbohydrates.  This finding suggests that, while Sawtooth Oak is an excellent wildlife attractor, if your goal is growing higher quality game animals and providing valuable nutrients to get them through the winter when wildlife forages are scarce, Sawtooth Oak should be a minor component of your strategy, not the endgame.
  4. Longevity – The jury is still out on longevity.  However, anecdotal evidence from around the Southeast suggests that Sawtooth may not be as long-lived as some of our native oaks.  This could be due to several factors.  First, as a rule, extremely fast-growing trees tend to be shorter lived due to weaker branching structure, less dense wood, and other factors.  Think of the tortoise and the hare analogy.  The quickest do not always win the race.  Second, Sawtooth Oak did not hold up particularly well during Hurricane Michael and other strong storms.  Their growth habit (heavy, wide spreading branches low to the ground) is not conducive to major wind resistance.  This is to be expected as Sawtooth Oak is native to areas that do not experience tropical wind events and likely evolved accordingly.

I am by no means suggesting that you shouldn’t add Sawtooth Oak to your property in the hopes of encouraging wildlife.  There are few trees available that do a better job of that.  I am suggesting that Sawtooth Oak should be a small part of your larger overall planting strategy and you should keep in mind the potential drawbacks to the species.  Plant mostly native oaks, allow Sawtooth Oak to be merely a supplement to them, and I think you’ll be pleased with the results!  Putting all your acorns in one basket is rarely a good strategy.

For more information on Sawtooth Oak, other wildlife forage and attractant strategies, or any other natural resource, agronomic or horticultural topic, please reach out to your local UF/IFAS Extension Office!