April Shows DO Bring May Flowers – Discovering the Panhandle – Barrier Islands
This month there were many more plants flowering… it is true that April showers do bring May flowers. May not only brings more flowers but more tourists. Everyone is out enjoying the weather, including some wildlife. I was happy to include Florida Master Naturalist Paul Bennett on this hike and he was very helpful identifying plants. Thanks Paul!
It is sea turtle nesting season all along the Florida Panhandle. The season begins in May and ends in October. This time of the season the females are heading up the beach looking for good nesting locations near dunes. There are five species of marine turtles that inhabit the northern Gulf and there are records of each species nesting here. They emerge at night and move towards the dunes where they excavate a deep cavity to lay about 100 eggs. The nest is covered and she returns to the water. The incubation period is between 60-70 days and the temperature of the nest determines the sex of the hatchling; the warmer eggs becoming females. It is illegal to disturb a sea turtle nest.
This tent was occupied when I was there but all too often they are left overnight so folks can return the same spot the following day. Tents and chairs are barriers for both nesting females and emerging hatchlings. If at all possible, remove these for the evening. In some counties it is required. Another problem is artificial lighting. Adult turtles are distracted, and many times abort the nesting activity due to bright lights. Most panhandle counties have a lighting ordinance that requires homes to use turtle friendly lighting. To learn more about the turtle friendly lighting program and local ordinances contact your county Sea Grant Agent at the local Extension office or visit http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/sea-turtles/lighting/.
Summer means swimming and in many local counties there are interesting snorkel reefs nearby. We asked that everyone keep an eye out for the invasive lionfish as they enjoy their day. If one is spotted be aware they do have venomous, though not deadly, spines and please contact your local Sea Grant Agent at the county Extension office to let them know. If you are in Escambia County you can log your sighting at www.lionfishmap.org and FWC has a lionfish app for reporting; http://myfwc.com/news/news-releases/2014/may/28/lionfish-app/
The seed is of a red mangrove tree. These are common coastal plants in south Florida and elsewhere in the tropics. The red mangroves drops their seeds (propagules) into the water to drift in the currents to new locations. They frequently wash upon our shores and sometimes take root, but they do not last during our colder winters.
The flower to the left is the Whitlow-Wort, or as some locals call it… “square flower”. The track is of a snake but could not find it so I am not sure which species. The weather warms quickly here along the Gulf coast. A few months ago we may have been able to find this animal but with the increasing heat they were in a cool place somewhere. Snake encounters this time of year are typically at dawn and dusk.
The milkweed bloomed a few months ago but here in May we find both the seed pods and, in the photo to the right, the “dandelion-like” seeds being released. This is one of the plants used by the migrating monarchs, which we should see later in the year.
Here are two of the many flowers we saw today. Both of these were found in the freshwater ponds located in the swale areas of the barrier island. The flower to the left is known as Marsh Pink. The one to the right is Narrow-leaved Sagittaria.
This orange-yellow stringy vine is called “Love Vine” but there is not much love here; this is a parasitic plant called Dodder. This is the first we have seen of it this year and expect to see more. Many residents on the island believe it to be an non-native invasive plant but it is actually a native and quite common out there. I have also seen it in the north end of Escambia County.
We did see a few bees today and this is a good sign. There have been reports in recent years of the decline of our native bees and the impact that has had on gardening and commercial horticulture. In addition to seeing bees Paul and I also came across the famous yellow fly. These were encountered near the marsh on the sound side of the island. Loads of fun there!
If you have been following this series since we began in January you may recall the strange “bedding” and drag marks we have encountered near the marsh (you can read other issues on this website). I have seen these drag marks, and apparent bedding areas, every month except last. I showed them to Paul and we are still not sure what is making them. Again, whatever it is seems to move from one body of water to another. We cannot find in foot tracks to help identify it… but we will!
The photo to the right is of a large scat pile approximately 15-16” across. It was relatively fresh and contained crab and shrimp shell parts. Not sure if it was left by the same animal that continually makes the drags but was in the same location so…
Many of the plants on our barrier islands are blooming now, and so is this one. This is Beach Vitex (Vitex rotundifolia). It is an invasive/not-recommended plant. Currently we are only aware of 22 properties in Escambia County that have it. Sea Grant is currently working with the SEAS program at the University of West Florida to assist in removing them. If you believe you have this plant and would like advice on how to remove contact your local Sea Grant Agent at the county Extension office.
Let’s see what shows up in June!