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Nature Tourism – Hiking Ft. Pickens in February

Last month we began a series of nature hikes in the Pensacola Beach area to describe some of the wildlife locals and visitors can find.  January was pretty cold, some days getting below 20 F, but February has been very different – may reach 80 F today – bizarre change.

So what’s change with nature on our beach?

Well, first – I am now seeing reptiles and amphibians.  Do not know whether another front or two will pass this way and force them into hiding again, but this past week they were certainly out.  I could hear numerous frogs singing and found two snakes – a cottonmouth and a rattlesnake.

This cottonmouth was on the hunt for singing frogs near Ft. Pickens. Photo: Rick O’Connor

This small eastern diamondback rattlesnake was coiled within the exposed root section of a live oak tree facing south – where the sun could warm it.
Photo: Rick O’Connor

 

 

 

 

 

 

Though you can not see them, this pond was full of calling frogs.
Photo: Rick O’Connor

The dark rain clouds were a common site during the month of February. The rain and warmer temperatures triggered the calling of frogs.
Photo: Rick O’Connor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the month of January, the east end of the freshwater canal was quite turbid – almost clay looking – but it had cleared quite a bit by February.  Though the False Rosemary was still the flower we could see, some pine trees were beginning to develop their male cones – pollen time is not far away.

The water within the canals was much clearer during the month of February.
Photo: Rick O’Connor

The small male cones of this pine tree are now developing and the yellow pollen will soon be a common sight in the area.
Photo: Rick O’Connor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birds are still the big players in wildlife viewing.  The mocking birds and cardinals, common in January, were now joined  by cat birds and red-winged blackbirds.  The numerous great blue herons, seen in the tops of the pine trees in January, were still around – but gathered in groups as they were before.  New to the landscape were two great horned owls.  I made two hikes in February and saw them in the same area both times.  Could not see their nest but assume this is what they were up to.  Also beginning nesting were the ospreys.  During both February hikes I saw a bald eagle flying along the beach.  Not sure if there are two, or if  there was a nest, but they are there.

 

Ospreys typically build nest in the tops of dead trees – and mate for life. Here the pair are selecting a platform provided by the NPS.
Photo: Rick O’Connor

In the winter time, cold blooded creatures – like fish and reptiles – are harder to find. Birds and mammals are more active. This is a “dig” created by the common Nine-banded Armadillo. These animals are common on this trail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With this warmer weather, the armadillos are VERY active.  On one hike we saw six different individuals digging for insects.  The shoreline was relatively cleaned of natural and plastic debris this month.  Probably due to storms and strong tides carrying material away.  But there were some interesting shells to be found.

The Florida Conch is a common shell typically found on the Gulf side of our island.
Photo: Rick O’Connor

The Sunray Venus is another common shell found on the Gulf side of the island.
Photo: Rick O’Connor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marine debris was not as common this month, again probably due to be washed away during a storm of the blue moon tide, but still here.  Plastic bottles and plastic straws are common – and can be reduced.  You can reduce plastic water bottles by purchasing your own water bottle and refilling.  Many people prefer to use straws, but you can use a paper one instead of a plastic one.  These are one-time use products and whether they are paper or plastic really does not matter.  Encourage your favorite food establishment to carry paper straws.  Plastic bags can be very problematic for marine life.  There are numerous photographs of sea turtles consuming these thinking they were jellyfish.  We once saw a dead sea turtle that had numerous plastics stuck in its throat.  Remember, if you “pack it in” “pack it out”.

Plastic bags can be a real problem for marine life. Do you best to dispose of all of your waste properly.
Photo: Rick O’Connor

Plastic straw

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We do not know when ferry service to the island will begin, but Ft. Pickens is ready. Here is the ferry route.
Photo: Rick O’Connor

The ferry dock at Ft. Pickens awaits the first arrivals.
Photo: Rick O’Connor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We encourage all to take a hike on our barrier islands.  There is much to see.