Friday, March 30, 2007

Saint Andrews State Park

This park had somehow passed under my radar screen until today, when I suggested that we incorporate a visit there while on a trip to run errands in nearby Panama City. I had always viewed St. Andrews State Park as recreational in its orientation with a busy public beach, large campground and extensive facilities for boating and fishing. Well that all turned out to be true but this park also contains an untamed side where one can see wildlife up close through a nifty network of trails that penetrates into a surprisingly diverse set of terrains and habitats.

The beach and jetty

Known throughout the Panhandle for its sugar white sands and emerald green waters, this 1260 acre preserve, which is a former military reservation, has over one-and-a-half miles of beach front on the Gulf of Mexico and Grand Lagoon and is located a scant three miles from Panama City.

Red-Winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoniceus)

Gator Lake Trail

The two most visited parts of the park are the beach on the Gulf of Mexico which is protected by a jetty and the bay frontage on the Grand Lagoon with boat ramps, docks and picnic areas. The park's more remote uplands are characterized by rolling white sand dunes separated by low swales of either pine flat woods or marshes. Dunes covered with sea oats abound. Dunes found farther inland are covered with sand pines, scrub oaks, rosemary and other hardy plants that play an important role in preventing erosion during intense storms and hurricanes. This lesser visited part of St. Andrews is where you'll find the wildlife.

American Alligator (Alligator mississipiensis)

Common Egret (Casmerodius albus)

Oak hammock with palmetto

One of the interesting highlights of the park is the Gator Lake Trail which traverses several different ecosystems and affords an opportunity to observe a variety of animals including many species of birds, mammals and of course alligators. The pond itself reminded me a lot of peninsular Florida with it's egrets, herons and reptilian swamp life. Be careful when you hike this trail because it takes you right up close and personal to where the gators live. Watch out for snakes too.

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)

An alligator in Gator Lake, of course.

For more information:

Monday, March 26, 2007

Cottonmouth Snakes

It's spring in Florida and time for everyone to become aware of the potential dangers posed by venomous snakes. Today our condominium complex had a little brief moment of excitement when it was discovered that a cottonmouth snake was sunning itself by the swimming pool. We helped the security guard put it in a collection bag which made Connie and I feel just like Steve and Terry Irwin on the Crocodile Hunter TV show. Connie said that it was definitely "not a very pretty sheila at all."
Cottonmouth or water moccasin
(Agkistrodon piscivorus conati)

The cottonmouth is dangerous because unlike other snakes they don't slither away when someone approaches but can become defensive and easily stirred to strike out aggressively.

From the very well written website I found this:

Cottonmouth snakes are poisonous and extremely aggressive. They get the name cottonmouth because when they prepare to strike they open their jaws wide, exposing the puffy white lining of their mouths. Alligators only get aggressive during mating season, but cottonmouths are in a constant state of PMS - they not only will NOT run away from you, they will seek you out and chase you down.

Most anyone would rather have an alligator in their boat than a cottonmouth any day of the week. I have heard a few snake-in-the-boat stories and they are about equally divided between "we all jumped overboard" and "I grabbed my gun and shot the boat full of holes trying to kill the snake". You learn to not only keep an eye on things moving on the water, but to perform a "snake check!" anytime you pull up under a tree. Some snakes (in a fit of whimsy, no doubt) like to drop from trees into boats to see how fast they can empty the boat out.

I hope that none of these things ever happens to me or any of you my dear readers. So let's be extra careful and ever mindful of our surroundings, so we can steer clear of these dangerous reptiles in our midst.

Steve Irwin I'm NOT!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Wildlife Photographer

I have been out in the field lately and blessed with enough good luck to get some great closeups of Florida wildlife. Here are three recent favorites I thought y'all might enjoy:

American Alligator (Alligator mississipeinsis)
Lounging by a pond in Osceola County

Southern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus undulatus undulatus)
Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, Walton County

Georgia river cruiser dragonfly (Macromia illinoiensis georgina)
Topsail Hill Preserve State Park