For some the forest is a scary place; for some it is a magical one; and for others it is spiritual. For wildlife it is a popular place. There are many places to shelter and plenty of food. Though the forest of our barrier islands is not as dense and dark as those of the west coast of the United States or the mountains of Appalachia, it is very wooded provides the same needs. Much of the wildlife on our islands call this part home. Even if they forge in the dunes, or on the beach, it is the forest where they reside.
I have hiked through many of these maritime forests. The northern terminus of the Florida Trail ends at the edge of a maritime forest on Santa Rosa Island. They are populated by many of the same species of trees you would find in inland forest. Pine, Oak, and Magnolia are all common. In some locations they short and twist their branches in all sorts of patterns to avoid direct exposure to the salt spray from the Gulf. Those more protected from the spray by large dune fields grow quite tall. Small rolling dunes of quartz sand can still be found on the forest floor, as can palms and palmettos, holly trees, and species of shrubs found in the dune fields themselves. All of these provide good shelter, and some provide food. And, as with the American southwest, these xeric conditions support cactus – there are plenty of cactus in the tertiary dunes and maritime forest of our islands. Covered toed shows are recommended when hiking here.
Though not common, within these forest there are small ponds of freshwater. Back in the 1950s there was an attempt to build a pompano hatchery within the forest of Santa Rosa Island. It failed because the water they chose to use (groundwater) was fresher than they thought it would be. Visiting the site today you will find the grow out ponds the farmers dug, full of freshwater. Near Ft. Pickens, on the west end of Santa Rosa Island, there are moats the soldiers dug to protect the fort from attack. These too are filled with freshwater. Between these and the naturally occurring ones, there is habitat for fish. The few samples I have collected over the years have yielded live bearers, like mosquitofish and mollies, and as well members of the killifish family. There could be others, but I have not explored this enough.
It is also good habitat to support frogs. I have seen southern leopard frogs and southern toads, and have heard spring peepers on the islands, but I have not conducted formal surveys to determine what other species might exist. There are inland species that do well in dry sandy soils, and you would think would do well on barrier islands if they could reach them. Maybe some have, again – we need to conduct a good survey. I am not aware of any salamanders on these islands, but again I have not looked for them.
This is the realm of the reptile. As with the deserts of the American southwest, reptiles do very well in dry xeric conditions. Snakes and lizards seem to be the most abundant. Six lined racerunners are quite common, as are other species of skinks (if you look for them in hiding places). The horned toad was once common in all sandy environments in Pensacola, but then were only found on the barrier islands, and now are hard to find there. They are reported to still be found on Santa Rosa Island though I have not seen one in years. One of my colleagues recently saw one on Perdido Key – so, they are still around.
With snakes, the southern black racers and their close cousins the eastern coachwhip are very common here. I have found garter and ribbon snakes. I have seen the rough green snake in the maritime forest, usually in the branches. I have found both the cottonmouth and the banded water snake near the freshwater ponds. The denser forested areas have a lot of leaf litter on the floor that could support the eastern coral snake. Though I have never seen one on the islands, they could be – they are very secretive. One of the more common snakes – found in all habitats of the barrier island – is the eastern rattlesnake. Encounters with impressive creature is rare. Most of mine have been near the campgrounds and after hurricanes when the National Seashore was closed. When FIRST opened to the public, you see them, then they just disappear.
Alligators are known to haunt the freshwater ponds; I have seen them near the old pompano hatchery. I have seen photographs of them crossing the island, swimming across the intracoastal waterway, and even swimming in the Gulf! But sightings and encounters on our end of the panhandle are rare.
Birds have no problem reaching barrier islands and they love forested areas. There are numerous species of songbirds (passerines). I have seen cardinals, blue jays, mockingbirds, and more. Many of the ones you find just across the intracoastal can be found here. Mourning doves are quite common in all habitats. The forested areas are where you encounter the raptors. I have seen osprey, bald eagles, and great horned owls all nesting here. Within the pines of the forest, you often see the great blue herons nesting. There are other occasional aquatic birds visiting the ponds, including ducks. Duck hunting still happens in the winter on some islands. These barrier islands are popular places to conduct the Audubon Christmas Bird Counts.
And there are plenty of mammals. Though more crepuscular or nocturnal, you often find their tracks in the sand in the morning, and occasional see them. Raccoons and armadillos are abundant, not only in the forested areas, but all island habitats. Skunks were once very common in the maritime forest. I remember days camping at Ft. Pickens when they would approach you eating lunch knowing you were going to leave you food and move away! We encountered them frequently while hiking and saw them inside some of the fortifications. Then… in 2004… Hurricane Ivan rolled over Santa Rosa Island. A study conducted by LSU suggested the entire west end of the island may have rolled over 300 feet north that night. Since then, I have not seen a skunk. They may still be out there, but I have not seen one.
In recent years there have been more encounters with river otters. They may have always been there but recently more tracks, and more encounters with live animals have occurred. There are squirrels and mice, out there. I have seen deer, fox, and coyotes on the islands. I have heard there are black bears. I have never seen one, nor their tracks, but know they have been encountered a lot recently in coastal Santa Rosa County and also know they are good swimmers. So, these reports could be true. I have looked for bats at dusk and have not seen them, but I am sure they are around. Especially near the forts and old live oak trees.
Time in these maritime forest will yield a lot of wildlife encounters. This is most likely the most diverse location on these islands. I would encourage you to dawn some good hiking boots (waterproof if you can), long pants (the green briar and cactus can be bad), a pair of binoculars, sun protection and water, and explore these amazing forests. Many of them within our state and national parks provide trails for easier access.
We have once last habitat to explore – and that would be the salt marsh. This will be Part 7.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
There are a lot of cool and interesting creatures that live on the barrier islands of Northwest Florida. The conditions out there require they make changes and adaptations different from what they would do in a more upland or wetland environment. Some creatures are unique to these beach and dune systems and found nowhere else. But to begin this series lets first look at the islands themselves.
The name barrier island comes from the fact that they do serve as a barrier between the open Gulf of Mexico and the mainland of the Florida panhandle, protecting coastal communities from storm surge and waves of the all too frequent hurricanes and tropical storms. They are basically sandbars formed with sands from the Appalachian Mountains. There the wind, rain, and temperature erode the granite rock into its mineral components and wash them downstream. First in the fast-moving mountain streams, then into creeks, into rivers which eventually discharge into the Gulf. The different minerals settle out based on their size, type, and densities. Quartz is one of the less dense and is the dominant mineral forming the coastal barrier islands, making them some of the whitest beaches on the planet.
When these quartz sands reach the Gulf, they encounter longshore currents that are formed from the winds blowing across the open water. In this part of the Gulf of Mexico these currents tend to move from the east to the west in most cases. As the rivers reach the passes that connect the estuaries to the open Gulf and the longshore currents move the sand into long thin spits at the mouth of the bays running parallel to the coastline. In some cases, the sand bars form perpendicular to the coastline, and we call them capes. Initially still connecting to land, many creatures can venture out on these sand spits searching for food. Some of the sand spits are very small and seem to come and go as the winds and waves move them. At times these smaller spits may actually close off the opening into the bay as they once did on Perdido Bay and still do with the Walton County dune lakes. In other cases, the spits accumulate more sand, become long and can eventually break contact with the mainland forming an island.
At first these islands can be nothing more than sand bars. Barely above sea level, moving and changing very quickly, sometimes disappearing and reappearing in slightly different locations after storms, such as Sand Island off Dauphin Island Alabama. In others they are larger, harder to move quickly and may be vegetated so that movement is slower and the island more established, such as Santa Rosa Island near Pensacola. The creatures on any of these islands will need to be able to adapt to the new conditions. Some will be able to leave and return the mainland when they need or want to. Birds are very common on all forms of barrier islands due to the fact they can fly. In some cases, the distance from the mainland is not a far swim for those who can, such at Indian Pass near St. Vincent Island. In some cases, the distance may not be as close and the currents between very swift during tide changes making crossing more difficult. In these cases, the creatures who find themselves on these islands must adapt to the new conditions or risk losing their populations entirely.
Island conditions can be tough. There is a lot of wind, and this wind carries salt spray. There is little cover from the intense sun during the summer months. Needed freshwater can be hard to find. Some islands will develop freshwater systems, but others will not. And then there is the fact that it is an island. Thus, a finite amount of resources and space for each species, and, at times, fierce competition for those.
In Part 2 we will explore the different habitats that developed on these islands that available for the different wildlife that exploit them.
October has been designated as Coastal Dune Lake Appreciation month by Walton County government. Walton County is home to 15 named coastal dune lakes along 26 miles of coastline. These lakes are a unique geographical feature and are only found in a few places in the world including Madagascar, Australia, New Zealand, Oregon, and here in Walton County.
A coastal dune lake is defined as a shallow, irregularly shaped or elliptic depressions occurring in coastal communities that share an intermittent connection with the Gulf of Mexico through which freshwater and saltwater is exchanged. They are generally permanent water bodies, although water levels may fluctuate substantially. Typically identified as lentic water bodies without significant surface inflows or outflows, the water in a dune lake is largely derived from lateral ground water seepage through the surrounding well-drained coastal sands. Storms occasionally provide large inputs of salt water and salinities vary dramatically over the long term.
Our coastal dune lakes are even more unique because they share an intermittent connection with the Gulf of Mexico, referred to as an “outfall”, which aides in natural flood control allowing the lake water to pour into the Gulf as needed. The lake water is fed by streams, groundwater seepage, rain, and storm surge. Each individual lake’s outfall and chemistry is different. Water conditions between lakes can vary greatly, from completely fresh to significantly saline.
A variety of different plant and animal species can be found among the lakes. Both freshwater and saltwater species can exist in this unique habitat. Some of the plant species include: rushes (Juncus spp.), sedges (Cyperus spp.), marshpennywort (Hydrocotyleumbellata), cattails (Typha spp.), sawgrass (Cladiumjamaicense), waterlilies (Nymphaea spp.), watershield (Braseniaschreberi), royal fern (Osmundaregalis var. spectabilis), rosy camphorweed (Pluchea spp.), marshelder (Ivafrutescens), groundsel tree (Baccharishalimifolia), and black willow (Salixnigra).
Some of the animal species that can be found include: western mosquitofish (Gambusiaaffinis), sailfin molly (Poecilialatipinna), American alligator (Alligatormississippiensis), eastern mud turtle (Kinosternonsubrubrum), saltmarsh snake (Nerodiaclarkii ssp.), little blue heron (Egrettacaerulea), American coot (Fulicaamericana), and North American river otter (Lutracanadensis). Many marine species co-exist with freshwater species due to the change in salinity within the column of water.
The University of Florida/IFAS Extension faculty are reintroducing their acclaimed “Panhandle Outdoors LIVE!” series. Come celebrate Coastal Dune Lake Appreciation month as our team provides a guided walking tour of the nature trail surrounding Western Lake in Grayton Beach State Park. Join local County Extension Agents to learn more about our globally rare coastal dune lakes, their history, surrounding ecosystems, and local protections. Walk the nature trail through coastal habitats including maritime hammocks, coastal scrub, salt marsh wetlands, and coastal forest. A tour is available October 19th.
The tour is $10.00 (plus tax) and you can register on Eventbrite (see link below). Admission into the park is an additional $5.00 per vehicle, so carpooling is encouraged. We will meet at the beach pavilion (restroom facilities available) at 8:45 am with a lecture and tour start time of 9:00 am sharp. The nature trail is approximately one mile long, through some sandy dunes (can be challenging to walk in), on hard-packed trails, and sometimes soggy forests. Wear appropriate footwear and bring water. Hat, sunscreen, camera, binoculars are optional. Tour is approximately 2 hours. Tour may be cancelled in the event of bad weather.
It has been a few months since we have posted an article on the changing wildlife over the course of a year on our barrier islands. I took the month of June off and just could not schedule a hike in July. But it is now August, and we DID get out this week.
This is no surprise… it is hot and humid. I think everyone has noticed this. We are also in the rainy season. Based on the NOAA site I track, we are currently at 45.73” for the year. This is an average of 6.53 inches a month which would lead us to an annual amount of 78” if we keep that pace. This would be another wet year.
This rainfall does a lot to cover up tracks I am looking for. It will spook some creatures into hiding waiting out the weather, but there are plenty of others who enjoy the rain and are more on the move.
Today I took my grandson with me on the hike. He loves the outdoors and reptiles and amphibians especially. We began, as we always do, walking a section of the Gulf beach to see what we could see.
We immediately encountered a sea turtle nest. I understand that it has been a good year for sea turtles in our neck of the woods. The turtle patrol had roped this one off, but I did see human footprints inside the roped section. We encourage people NOT to do this. Compacting the sand can be a problem and if they hatch and detect vibrations they may not emerge. It is cool to see one, but do not go past the roped section.
We always search the wrack line for cool things and today we ran into a few. First, there were hundreds of small dead anchovies washed ashore. I am not 100% sure what happened but I am guessing a strong storm came and washed them in. Anchovies are a great source of food for many marine fish and these dead ones will certainly feed the numerous birds and ghost crabs that live along the shores. Anchovies play an important role in the ecosystem and, even though these were dead, it is nice to see them.
We did find several catfish heads. Saltwater catfish are not prized by Gulf fishermen. Many prefer to cut their heads off and leave them on the beach. The thing is that this does little to deter the population of this unpopular fish and the spines can be dangerous for beach combers walking barefoot. But the ghost crabs usually collect and feed on them.
We also found a few comb jellies. These are members of a different phylum (Ctenophora) than the classic jellyfish (Cnidaria). They lack stinging cells and move using their rows of ctenes (cilia) that resemble the bristles of a comb as you run your finger over it. This is where it gets its common name. They do produce blue colored bioluminescence in the evening and are beautiful to watch.
As we crossed the road and enter the dunes, I explained to my grandson how the foredune is dominated by grasses. These plants can tolerate the strong winds off the Gulf and the salt spray as well. On the other side of the road, you enter in the secondary dune field. This region is a mix of grasses and small shrubs, which can grow due to the primary dunes blocking some of the strong Gulf winds.
Today we saw several species of flowers in bloom. Different plants bloom at different times of the year and it is neat to see who is blooming at different times. The low swale areas were full of growing plants and flowers. There were plenty of sundews and ground pine. Some standing water but much was dry. We did find a plant in one of the wet swales I did not know. I am listing it here as redroot but I am not confident in that identification and would love if someone who knows it will share its name.
There were numerous tracks of armadillos but little else from the animal world. Again, the rains wash them away. The milkweed was still blooming awaiting for the now listed monarch butterflies. And the beach side rosemary was releasing its characteristic odor that says “Pensacola Beach” to me. The plants looked great and seem to enjoy the rain. FYI – we did get rained on during the hike, but not too bad. We had seen the parasitic dodder earlier in the year and the vine was still evident in August.
In the tertiary, or back dunes, is where I always hope to find tracks or animals of some kind. Today there was little evidence of any. There were raccoon tracks moving along the edge of tallest dunes and along the trails leading to Santa Rosa Sound. But not much else. The pines were bearing their cones and the sweet bay magnolias had their young blossoms forming.
One species my grandson did not enjoy were the numerous devils’ joints. This branching cactus has very sharp spines and were all over the back dunes. We had to stop and remove them several times. He definitely wanted to find a different way back!
We did reach the Sound and walked along its edge towards the old fish hatchery. He saw TONS of fish (as he put it) and the grass looked thick and healthy. We did get to explore and talk about the old fish hatchery. And then headed back towards the Gulf and our truck.
I think we got started a bit late to see a lot of the wildlife. This time of year, they will be hunkered down somewhere early in the morning to prepare for another hot day. With the overhead clouds I was hoping to see some movement, but we did not. We will try earlier in the day in September.
I hope you get out and explore our barrier islands. They are fascinating places. But plan to get into the water this time of year. We did. It was hot. We went snorkeling and saw numerous pinfish, a flounder, and snapper, and a nice sheepshead. This is a good way to spend the hot parts of the day. Let’s see what September may bring.
It is mid-spring and time of nesting for much of the wildlife in the area. It is also noticeably warmer than our previous hikes. Due to my work schedule, and the surveys for other nesting activity, I did this hike earlier in the month and later in the day, than I typically would have. I began my hike at 1:00pm – near the hottest part of the day, and not the best time to see wildlife, but I definitely wanted to get a hike in this month and so this is when I could.
The Gulf was relatively calm on this early afternoon in spring.
It was warm. On this day it was 83°F and there was a light breeze from the southeast. On the previous hikes I needed my fleece. Though I had it in my backpack, I did not need it today. My hike was at Big Sabine and as usual, I began on the Gulf of Mexico. The first thing I noticed when I crossed over the boardwalk was the number of people. I usually hike in the early morning or late afternoon and see few humans. But at mid-day the beach was full of people, and I probably looked strange walking among them with my long pants, long sleeved shirt, and boots. The second thing I noticed was mats of Sargassum on the beach.
Sargassum is a floating brown algae we see in the warmer months in our part of the Gulf. It is first an algae, not a true plant. Algae lack roots, stems, and leaves. They produce no cones, fruit nor flowers with seeds. They are nonvascular, meaning they lack a system of vein-like tubes that move water around the plant. Plants usually do have these tubes. They are not called arteries and veins as they are in animals, but rather xylem and phloem. Because algae lack this circulation system, they live emersed in the water. Since they lack true roots they anchor to hard substrate, like rocks and coral, using a suction type apparatus called a holdfast. The flexible, herbaceous stipe, analogous to the stem, flows in the current extending their blades (analogous to leaves) into the light. Like plants, algae require water, carbon dioxide, and sunlight to photosynthesize their food. Because of this they need to live in relatively shallow water, and they need a rocky bottom to attach their holdfast to. We have little hard bottom and therefore less of the classic algae you read about in other parts of the world.
Notice the small air bladders on this Sargassum weed. These are used by the algae to remain near the sunlit waters of the open Gulf.
Sargassum has a different plan to deal with this problem. They float. When you look at this seaweed on the beach you will notice they have numerous small circular air bladders called pneumatophores. These air bladders allow Sargassum to float in the sunlit waters of the Gulf and not worry about how, or where, they would attach their holdfast.
Large mats of Sargassum can be found floating out in the open Gulf and these mats provide a fantastic habitat for many small and large marine creatures. There are sargassum crabs, sargassum shrimp, and even a sargassum sea horse. There is a small filefish and a frogfish known as the sargassum fish. It is the target for baby sea turtles that successfully made it from the beach, through the surf, and into the open Gulf without being consumed. Here they will live and feed for many months at which time they are large enough to venture back out. Larger fish often seek out these mats searching for food, and fishermen seek the mats knowing that larger fish are probably in the area.
These mats of Sargassum get caught in the large ocean currents and find their way to the middle of the Atlantic. Here the ocean is calm, like the eye of a hurricane, and huge mats of Sargassum can be found piled up. Christopher Columbus found this massive expanse of Sargassum while crossing the Atlantic. Because it was calm here, and the Sargassum so thick, his ships became becalmed and he noted in his log to avoid this place, which was then called the “Sargasso Sea”.
On today’s hike there was quite a bit of this seaweed washed ashore. Most of the marine life living in the seaweed sense the waves and the impending beaching, and jettison for mats further offshore. So, you usually do not find many creatures in the seaweed washed ashore, but sometimes you do. You can take a small dip net out deeper and grab some still floating and you may have better luck. Today, I explored what was washed ashore and did not find much. I did find a lot of plastic, and those who study Sargassum ecology will tell there is a lot of plastic debris caught up in the Sargassum mats. Today I noticed a lot of bottle caps. Not many bottles, but lots of bottle caps. As many others do, we encourage everyone to dispose of the garbage properly. I read this week of a manatee found near Mobile Bay earlier this year who died of cold stress but had swallowed a plastic bag, which was caught in his throat. Marine debris kills. Please dispose of your trash properly.
This crab pot float was one of several debris items washed in with the sargassum.
Heading inland to the dune field I heard sirens. The beach patrol was answering a call. I am not sure where, nor what the issue was, but these again are sounds I do not usually hear when hiking early and late in the day. There are currents in the Gulf that can suck you out to sea, and each year we have visitors drown not knowing where these currents are, or how to get out of them if they are caught in one. Pay attention to the colored flags and be careful. I never saw, nor heard, an ambulance follow the beach patrol. So, I am guessing everyone was okay on this call.
The dune field on this May afternoon was warm. There was a light breeze from the southeast that kept things from getting too warm, but it was warm none the less. As we move closer the hot days of summer the wildlife will move more at dawn and dusk, as well as in the evening. I was not expecting to see a lot on this hike.
This flat area of the dune field was quite warm on this afternoon and made me think of crossing a desert.
This was an unusual site, a pigeon walking in the open dune field.
As always you can see what has been moving by searching for tracks and tracks, I did find. Many of them were human, indicating the tourist season is upon us, but there were tracks of animals as well. There were plenty from our friends the raccoon and armadillo. I did notice more raccoon tracks this month. I and my volunteers who survey nesting beaches notice more raccoon tracks this time of year looking for eggs. I also noticed more snake tracks on this hike, they too are mating and moving much more. The lizard tracks were fresh, and I have noticed these moving during the warmer parts of the day and their tracks running across the dune face told me they were very busy that day.
This straight line the sign of a tail drag by a lizard, most likely the six-lined skink.
Many who visit the dunes of our barriers find these burrow looking trails. These are made by beetles.
I followed this snake track until I found this – what appears to be a “tussle” the snake had with a possible prey.
Being spring you would expect flowers, and there were some, just not as many as you might expect. Most of them were white and were blooming on plants near the boggy areas of the swales. The conradina that blooms more in the winter, was done and the blossoms were gone. I did see the early stages of the magnolia flowers trying to come up, but the bright green shoots of new growth on the pines were not visible. There were bees, lots of bees.
The lavender blossoms of the false rosemary, which appeared in winter, are now gone.
White flowers were common on this spring afternoon. Such as this one on the spiny bull nettle.
Another white flower is seen on this Sagittaria growing in one of the swales between dunes.
I hiked through a small pine scrub area thinking I might someone in the shade avoiding the heat of the day but did not find anything. I went along the edge of the tertiary dunes where they meet the maritime forest looking for the same thing. Nothing, but there were tracks. The cactus seemed to be more abundant this month.
The pine scrub offered one of the few places with shade.
The dune field of a Florida panhandle barrier island.
From atop of one of the higher dunes you can see the steep drop towards the marsh.
Along the ridge between the maritime forest and the salt marsh is where I found the otter slide last month. I did not see any evidence of otters today. The bird action was slower today as well. Maybe because of the heat they too had settled somewhere. I did not see an osprey, which is unusual.
Big Sabine as seen from atop one of the larger dunes.
As I reached the beach of the Sound, I did notice a LOT of digging by armadillos. They had been very active. There were no snakes or marsh rats. There were again people, these were on jet skis. There were a few fishing from small boats. With no rain over the last week or so the visibility in the Sound was amazing, but I only saw one small blue crab. No hermit crabs and not any fish. However, the lagoon of the marsh the killifish, also known as bull minnows, were abundant and the males all aglow with their iridescent blue colors of breeding season. The males were chasing each other all over the tidal pools and open water of the lagoon designating their territories for current breeding that would follow. I did notice more crows than I usually do and what made me catch their attention was the constant calling at me and the hovering over me suggesting they too were breeding, and an active nest was nearby.
A blue heron is seen sitting in a pine overlooking Santa Rosa Sound.
A small Seserma crab is seen hiding under grass along the beach of the Sound.
The crows were numerous and active on this spring afternoon.
I was not expecting much hiking in the middle of the afternoon, but it is always good to do these just to see what is moving. I hope to do another hike this month either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Maybe we will see more.
It may be hard to see, but there was a small duck enjoying the Sound.
With little rain over the last few days the water clarity was excellent and you could see the seagrass very well.