Don’t Rush Wildlife Plot Planting – Wait for the Rain

Don’t Rush Wildlife Plot Planting – Wait for the Rain

A buck chases a doe through plots of wildlife forages being evaluated at the University of Florida's North Florida Research and Education Center. Photo Courtesy of Holly Ober

A buck chases a doe through plots of wildlife forages being evaluated in 2013 at the University of Florida’s North Florida Research and Education Center. Photo Courtesy of Holly Ober

It should be too late in the year for an article about cool season food plots; they should already be up and growing, at the very least planted. It’s November, archery season has begun, the fall food plot ship should have already sailed. However, due to the incredibly dry weather we’ve had for the past several months I hope that ship hasn’t sailed. I hope you have not planted your food plots yet. The tristate area is dry, too dry to plant anything you expect to survive. If you have not already planted, don’t until your area gets substantial rain.

Very dry conditions persist across the Southeast. http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/Home/RegionalDroughtMonitor.aspx?southeast

Very dry conditions persist across the Southeast.

The saying goes “The best time to go hunting is whenever I have time”. As the classic weekend-warrior sportsman myself, I can easily relate to that saying and I can also understand how/why folks would apply that same logic to planting food plots. Unfortunately, with this fall’s weather that logic does not hold true. Any plantings made before we have adequate moisture run a very high chance of being complete failures.

These likely failures can playout in a variety of ways but they all end the same. Seedlings have tiny roots systems, moisture must be accessible very near the soil surface in order for them to access it. If moisture is unavailable in the tiny root zone the seedlings will wilt. Wilting greatly diminishes the plants ability to carry out photosynthesis; no photosynthesis no energy. Seedlings have virtually no stored energy to fall back on, so the seedlings begin to die rapidly.

Admittedly, I left out one key detail in the plant horror story above; moisture is required for seed germination. If it is dry enough seeds can be planted and nothing will happen – they won’t germinate, they won’t try to grow, they won’t die from lack of moisture. This fact leads some to conclude, “Plant now and it will come up whenever it rains”. While there is some sound logic in that conclusion, it is a very risky plan when you consider the types of plants we typically include in our wildlife plots. “Dusting in” as it is called in the crop world, can work with larger seeded, deeper planted crops. It is not well suited to small seeded, very shallow planted forages like clover. When a seed is right at the soil surface the tiniest amount of rain or even a heavy dew could provide enough moisture for germination which would likely start the process I described earlier.

The safest bet is to wait until your area has received a good soaking rain and there is a favorable chance for additional rains. As dry as we are now, that first ½ inch shower will not provide adequate moisture for establishment if it is followed by an extended period without additional rain.

Many of the commonly planted cool season forages have very small seeds and should be planted very shallow, making them especially susceptible to drought conditions. From 2015 Cool-Season Forage Variety Recommendations for Florida

Many of the commonly planted cool season forages have very small seeds and should be planted very shallow, making them especially susceptible to drought conditions.
From 2015 Cool-Season Forage Variety Recommendations for Florida

Sooner or later it will rain (I think), so you wind up planting your plots later than normal. What does that mean? In the grand scheme of things, not much. As we get later in the year the days get shorter and the air and soil temperatures get lower which can slow the development of the plants. That said, the real growth for most of our cool season forages really occurs in the spring and that will still be that case regardless of if you planted in October, November or December. Remember the goal of food plots should be increasing the quality and quantity of forage available for wildlife throughout the entire year.

The dry weather has messed up food plot establishment as it relates to hunting season but if all you wanted was a game attractant for hunting purposes food plots were probably not your best bet in the first place. It takes considerable time, effort and expense to maintain quality food plots, to the point that they are really not a very practical option if only viewed as an attractant for a few months out of the year.

If attracting deer, not improving habitat, is your primary goal you might consider establishing a feeding station. Be sure to check FWC regulations before you begin feeding game animals.

If attracting deer, not improving habitat, is your primary goal you might consider establishing a feeding station. Be sure to check FWC regulations before you begin feeding game animals.

Be patient, wait for the weather conditions to improve before planting. There is no point in wasting your time and money on plantings that have a very low chance of being successful. Contact your county’s agriculture or natural resources agent for more details relating to the establishment of wildlife plots.

PG

Author: Mark Mauldin – mdm83@ufl.edu

I am the Agriculture and Natural Resources agent in Washington County. My program areas include livestock and forage, row crops, and pond management.
http://washington.ifas.ufl.edu

Panhandle Outdoors

Permanent link to this article: http://gulf.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/11/07/dont-rush-wildlife-plot-planting-wait-for-the-rain/

Sea Turtle Nesting Season Has Officially Ended… and what a season it was

Sea Turtle Nesting Season Has Officially Ended… and what a season it was

October 31st not only reminds all that the ghost and goblins are out and about, but that the sea turtle nesting season is complete for another year. These federally protected animals typically begin nesting in late April and continue into the month of October – but there is almost always someone late to the party…

Young loggerhead sea turtle heading for the Gulf of Mexico.  Photo: Molly O'Connor

Young loggerhead sea turtle heading for the Gulf of Mexico. Photo: Molly O’Connor

What is neat about sea turtles is that their nesting beaches are usually always in the same general vicinity – meaning Pensacola Beach turtles are Pensacola Beach turtles… each year – and it is always great to see them come back. And this year, come back they did…

 

I have data collected by Gulf Islands National Seashore going back to 1996. The number of hatching nests on Escambia County beaches has ranged from a low of 8 (2005) to 52 in (2011); it has averaged around 25 hatching nests each year.  This year was different…

This year, within the National Seashore, we had a total of 68 nests in Escambia County, 56 of which were on Santa Rosa Island. This is great news!

59 of the 68 nests hatched (87%) – which is also great news – typically only 10-20% of diamond back terrapin nests avoid predators. Most of the sea turtle nests lost this year were due to flooding from tropical storms in the Gulf.  There was one nest between Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach that was raided by a coyote and I am sure there were depredated nests all along the panhandle.  But again, between 75-90% of terrapin nests are lost to raccoons, so the sea turtles had a good year.  A recent report from southwest Florida states the same – a record nesting season for the Gulf coast.

 

However, there is still one problem lurking out there… disorientation…

 

Disorientation occurs when these successful hatchlings emerge from the sand and head the wrong way – typically towards artificial lights. Sea turtles are attracted to shortwave light (blues, greens, and white).  Much of our artificial lighting falls into those wavelengths – and attract hatchlings.  Since 1996 between 30 – 89% of Escambia County nests have shown signs of disorientation; the average is 49%.  This year 63% of the Escambia County nests showed disorientation behavior.  We are lucky that we have dedicated turtle watch volunteers to step in and correct these – but they cannot be there for all hatchings – we really need to alter our lighting.  Longer wavelengths (yellow and red) do not attract most hatchlings, and therefore – are considered “turtle friendly”.  Switching our outdoor lighting to these colors, reducing the illumination, lowering the elevation of the lighting, and shielding the light to direct it towards the ground all help reduce the disorientation problem.

 

Most panhandle counties have some form of coastal lighting ordinance to address this problem and problems with other wildlife. Ordinances vary some from county to county but the basics are the same; keep it long, keep it low, keep it shielded. Keep it long refers to the wavelength – usually less than 560nm (in the yellow/red portion of the spectrum).  Keep low refers the height of the light fixture.  If it can be placed at a lower height this is preferred, if not shielding the light source to direct down is required.  We must also remember indoor lighting.  This can be reduced by simply closing the curtains, moving lamps away from windows, or using tinted windows (if you are replacing yours).  Who has to be wildlife friendly varies from county to county, so property owners should contact their Sea Grant Extension Agents if they have questions.  There are funds available to help some complete this process and this to varies from county to county.

 

It’s been a great nesting season, let’s make it even better by reducing the amount of disoriented hatchlings.

PG

Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Panhandle Outdoors

Permanent link to this article: http://gulf.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/11/04/sea-turtle-nesting-season-has-officially-ended-and-what-a-season-it-was/

The Once Mightier Ochlockonee, Dismembered by Sea Level Rise

The Once Mightier Ochlockonee, Dismembered by Sea Level Rise

What do the Ochlockonee and Aucilla rivers have in common? Not much, it would seem, beyond the fact that both have headwaters in Georgia and flow through Florida to the Gulf of Mexico. These two rivers do share the distinction of being unusual, although they’re unusual in very different ways.

The Ochlockonee runs yellow-brown between Leon and Gadsden counties. Photo: Rosalyn Kilcollins

The Ochlockonee runs yellow-brown between Leon and Gadsden counties.
Photo: Rosalyn Kilcollins

The Aucilla is a blackwater stream that goes underground and rises again before reaching the Gulf – a disappearing act that has fascinated early settlers, paddlers and naturalists alike. The Aucilla drains a smaller watershed, has lower flows, and features stream channel sediments that are predominantly sands and decaying organic material – the sediment signature of coastal plain streams with water stained dark brown, the color of tea.

In fact, blackwater rivers like the Aucilla get their color by steeping fallen and decaying tree leaves and twigs in slow-moving water, just as we steep shredded tea leaves or ground up coffee beans to dissolve their tannic acids into beverages. Blackwater steeping occurs in swamp forests up river tributaries, and in oxbow sloughs and other quiescent side channels of the downstream reaches. These form as a river “in flood” meanders and changes course within its floodplain.

The Ochlockonee is unusual among rivers originating in the Coastal Plain: in its upper reaches it has alluvial characteristics common to streams flowing from the Piedmont. The Ochlockonee drains soils rich in silt and clay that give it a yellowish brown color when those extremely fine sediments are suspended in the water. Land use activities such as paving roads and tilling farm fields elevate the fine sediment load when it rains by setting up larger volumes of fast-moving runoff. Higher rain runoff volume and velocity conspire to erode bare fields, construction sites and river banks, accentuating this river’s color.

But in spite of these differences, the Aucilla and Ochlockonee were once branches of the same river drainage system – the Paleo-Ochlockonee River. How could that possibly be? Well, sea level rise has drowned the lower reaches of this once mightier river, leaving its upper branches to empty into the Gulf separately, as smaller streams.

Sea level along Florida’s Big Bend coastline has been rising since the end of Earth’s last Ice Age – roughly 18,000 years ago. Our shallow, gently sloping underwater continental shelf was exposed during that last period of glaciation. As higher temperatures began melting ice sheets, not only did sea level rise, but more water evaporated and fell as rain. Southeastern rivers began carrying greater volumes of water.

Before annual rainfall reached today’s level during this prehistoric period of climate change, it is likely that the Aucilla from headwaters to Gulf was even more discontinuous than it is today. A current hypothesis is that the Aucilla was more like a string of sinkholes than a river, resembling its lower reaches today in a section known as the “Aucilla Sinks.”

The Aucilla is a tannic river. Thus not as yellow-brown but rather more "blackwater". Photo: Jed Dillard

The Aucilla is a tannic river. Thus not as yellow-brown but rather more “blackwater”.
Photo: Jed Dillard

But the nature of the Paleo-Aucilla is just one part of this intriguing story. Using sophisticated technology, scientists have discovered clues about the ancient route of the entire Paleo-Ochlockonee as it meandered across that more expansive, exposed Continental shelf to the Gulf.

In their 2008 publication Aucilla River, Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy reports that, “Ten thousand years ago, the Florida coastline was located 90 miles away from its present position. Scientists have discovered a buried river drainage system indicating that approximately 15 to 20 miles offshore from today’s coast — and now underwater — the Aucilla River combined with the Ochlockonee, St. Marks, Pinhook, and Econfina rivers to create what archeologists call the Paleo-Ochlockonee, which flowed another 70 miles before reaching the Gulf.”

“Well, I’ll be!” you say, “That’s all pretty cool to think about.” That was my reaction, too, until I remembered that this process of sea level rise continues still, albeit at an accelerating rate thanks to global warming. Which means our rivers that join forces today before emptying into the Gulf will one day be separated. Sea level rise eventually will dismember the Wakulla from the St. Marks, and the Sopchoppy from the Ochlockonee – but thankfully not in our lifetime.

True, that’s happened before, but long before humans were on the scene. Today and for many tomorrows to come, I am grateful that we and our children and grandchildren have a wonderful watery world patiently awaiting our exploration, not far beyond the urban bustle of Tallahassee.

We’re far removed in time from the first humans beckoned by these rivers. A pause in the rate of sea level rise 7,000 years ago enabled development of coastal marsh ecosystems and more successful human habitation – supported in part by the bounty of fish and shellfish that depend on salt marshes. Farther upstream and still inland today, the sinks and lower reaches of the Aucilla hold archaeological sites about twice that old, that are integral to our evolving understanding of very early prehistoric human habitation on the Gulf Coastal Plain.

If you’re intrigued by the myriad of fascinating rivers and wetlands of the Big Bend region – this globally significant biodiversity hotspot we live in, and want to experience some of them first-hand, you’re in luck. Several Panhandle counties offer Florida Master Naturalist courses on Freshwater Systems (and also courses on Upland Habitats and Coastal Systems). You can check the current course offerings at: http://conference.ifas.ufl.edu/fmnp/

You can also explore on your own. There are many public lands in our region (and across the Panhandle) that provide good access.

Go see the Aucilla’s remaining string of sinks by hiking a short segment of the Florida Trail through the Aucilla Wildlife Management Area in Taylor County. And the Ochlockonee’s floodplain of sloughs and swamps, bluffs and terraces by taking trails that follow old two-track roads “down to the river” through the Lake Talquin State Forest in Leon County.

Get some maps of your public lands, get some tips on trails, get outside, and go exploring!

PG

Author: Will Sheftall – sheftall@ufl.edu

Will Sheftall is the Natural Resources Extension Agent for Leon County

Panhandle Outdoors

Permanent link to this article: http://gulf.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/10/22/the-once-mightier-ochlockonee-dismembered-by-sea-level-rise/

Bats – Helpful, Not Harmful

Bats – Helpful, Not Harmful

Brazilian free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) eating a corn earworm moth (Helicoverpa zea).

Brazilian free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) eating a corn earworm moth (Helicoverpa zea).

If you think you’d prefer a world without bats, we present to you three reasons to reconsider. Most negative stereotypes about bats are untrue. The reality is that bats benefit us in numerous ways. Here are a few facts that may convince you we should be thankful for bats rather than fearful of them.

 

1. INSECTS WOULD BUG YOU MORE IF WE HAD NO BATS 

Over two-thirds of the 1,240 species of bats that roam the earth’s skies feed on insects. These aerial acrobats cruise over forests, grasslands, waterways, and crop fields, assisting us by consuming nighttime insects. Bats collect insects using a variety of innovative approaches: some scoop them from the air with their wing or tail membrane and transfer them to their mouths; others nimbly pluck insects off surfaces such as leaves, tree trunks, or even water. These bats are our allies, as they drastically reduce the number of pests that would otherwise bite us or damage our crops. It’s estimated that bats help North American farms save around $ 23 billion a year. If all bats were lost, the resulting damage to crops due to the insects bats formerly kept in check is estimated to be $ 74/acre across the US.


2. SOME FOODS AND DRINKS MIGHT BECOME RARE IF WE HAD NO BATS

If you like tropical fruits like mangoes, papayas, guavas, bananas, or figs, you should be thankful for bats. Many bats in the tropics and sub-tropics pollinate and disperse seeds in ecosystems ranging from deserts to rainforests. Bats in the desert visit columnar cacti and agaves, ensuring pollination of the plants responsible for making tequila. Bats in the rainforests help regenerate new forests and ensure availability of many locally-consumed and highly-nutritious fruits.


3. BATS CAN HELP US SOLVE MEDICAL PUZZLES

Bats possess many unique biological adaptations that hold clues vital to solving human health issues. Bats have already made notable contributions to the medical community. The special blood thinning enzymes found in the saliva of vampire bats has helped us understand how to prevent blood clotting during open-heart surgery. The adaptations bats have for seeing in the dark are being studied to see if they could provide insight useful for assisting people who have limited vision.

 

Despite the many ways bats help us, they remain misunderstood by many. Fear of bats, called chiroptophobia, is the result of negative stereotypes about bats. Most of these stereotypes are downright untrue. First, there’s a common belief that bats get caught in people’s hair. This is highly unlikely: if a bat is agile enough to catch an insect the size of a gnat in flight, it can certainly steer clear of a human head. Second, there’s a common fear that all bats have rabies. In fact, rabies is quite rare among bats, and much more common among raccoons and foxes in Florida. Third, despite the portrayal in movies of bats as aggressive towards humans, bats are in reality not likely to bother people. In fact, they’re generally far more afraid of you than you are of them.

 

If you’d like to help bats (and perhaps get some free control of insect pests in your area), consider building or buying a bat house for your property. Also consider leaving dead and dying trees in your yard if they’re not a safety hazard, avoid trimming dead fronds off your palm trees, and retain Spanish moss. All of these locations (tree cavities, dead palm fronds, and Spanish moss) offer roosting habitat for bats. By promoting bat habitat, you may boost local bats and find you have fewer insect pests nearby. 

 

PG

Author: hollyober – holly.ober@ufl.edu

Panhandle Outdoors

Permanent link to this article: http://gulf.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/10/22/bats-helpful-not-harmful/

The Inaugural 2016 FWC Lionfish Challenge has come to an End… So What Now?

The Inaugural 2016 FWC Lionfish Challenge has come to an End… So What Now?

Most coastal residents along the panhandle are aware of the invasive lionfish and the potential impacts they could have on local fisheries and ecosystems. Since they were first detected in this area in 2010, there have been tournaments, workshops, and presentations, to help locals both learn about the animal and ways to control them.  Existing non-profits have joined the fight and new non-profits have formed.  In 2015 FWC and local organizations began hosting the Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day (LRAD) events.  These are held the weekend after Mother’s Day.  During the 2016 event in Pensacola, 8,089 lionfish were removed.  In 2016 FWC introduced the Lionfish Challenge.  This program began at the conclusion of the LRAD event and ran through September 30.  Lionfish, or lionfish tails for those who wanted to keep the animal, could be turned into local collection sights and submitted for state awards and recognition – a Hall of Fame was created and King Lionfish.   Over 16,000 lionfish were logged during this event. But has any of this helped?  Are we getting control of this invasive species?

The Invasive Lionfish

The Invasive Lionfish

Maybe… having conversations with local divers who work with researchers and remove for profit, it appears that the 2016 Pensacola LRAD may have made an impact. If you review the literature it states that to control an invasive species a minimum of 25% of the population should be removed annually.  Others say you need to remove 75% and others still say it should be 25% each month.  The problem here is that we do not know how many lionfish are actually out there.  We know how many we are bringing in but is it enough?

 

One report, submitted by the non-profit REEF (from Key Largo) a few years ago, indicated they had removed about 70% of the lionfish in their area during one tournament. Based on this, the argument that tournaments are effective was supported.  The recent Pensacola LRAD suggest the same.  Local divers who remove lionfish with researchers, tourists, and as a commercial venture for themselves told us that their “sweet spots” – where high numbers of lionfish can be found – are not so sweet anymore.  They are finding lionfish, but prior to LRAD it was not uncommon for some locations to have 50-100 lionfish around them.  These same locations may yield 10-20 now.  Though this information is anecdotal; it does suggest that these intensive tournaments may be having an effect on managing them.  Of course a quantitative study is needed to confirm these observations, but it is encouraging none the less.

 

It is believed the tournaments alone will not solve the problem. With their high reproductive rates, continuous removals are needed.  To encourage this divers can obtain a Saltwater Products License from FWC and sell what they catch.  Some dive charters are now making it a tourism trip – “lionfish hunting”.  As long as it marketed properly (as in they are not going to find tons of them – but will enjoy shooting a few) customers seem to be happy and are enjoying it.  Of course they are still working on an effective trap so that non-divers can participate in control programs.  It is also important to note that you should not get into a commercial venture on lionfish as your main source of income.  To do so would lead to the argument “we do not want to get rid of lionfish because they are my livelihood”.  The objective is to make them uncommon and reduce their impact on our marine resources.

 

Of course it will take time to know for sure just how effective the tournaments have been. Several will be meeting this week in Ocala to discuss the 2017 tournament season.  I have written a longer update on the lionfish, which can be found at the Escambia County Extension Marine Science page.

PG

Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Panhandle Outdoors

Permanent link to this article: http://gulf.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/10/14/the-inaugural-2016-fwc-lionfish-challenge-has-come-to-an-end-so-what-now/

Barred Owls- and other features of the “pretty woods”

Barred Owls- and other features of the “pretty woods”

Beech, magnolia and native river cane (arundinaria) characterize hardwood forests in the Red Hills Photo by Jed Dillard

Beech, magnolia and native
river cane (arundinaria) characterize hardwood forests in the Red Hills
Photo by Jed Dillard

I grew up in the Georgia Piedmont outside Athens, a land of bright red sticky clay, rocks and cold weather. In addition to the ubiquitous Georgia pines, hardwoods including white oaks, hickory and beech grow there. I had no clue the Red Hills of Florida and South Georgia would mimic much of that habitat and provide the benefits of fewer rocks to blunt shovels and less cold weather. Now, I can hardly imagine living anywhere else than in one of its beech – magnolia forests.
A friend of mine was doing some work for my neighbor and took the time to look for wild turkey roosting places and walked down to the creek bed through beech, magnolia, spruce pine, white oak and hickory to where the wild azalea grows. “Those sure are some pretty woods, “he told me.
He was describing the upland hardwood forest described by the Florida Natural Areas Inventory as “a well-developed, closed-canopy forest dominated by deciduous hardwood trees on mesic soils in areas sheltered from fire. It typically has a diverse assemblage of deciduous and evergreen tree species in the canopy and midstory, shade-tolerant shrubs, and a sparse groundcover. “ Blaisdell, et al characterized their location as areas “too steep for logging, farming, or grazing and are mesic (wet) enough so that fire rarely occurs in them. “
Many of these areas are relatively small and have escaped intervention. These small areas contribute to patchwork landscapes which provide the key requirements of wildlife habitat- shelter, food and water. Turkeys roost in the spruce pine over the creek and the hens build nests and forage with their poults on the seeds and bugs of the adjacent open fields. I had always thought of Florida as a sandy coastal environment, but these hills have more clay than most Florida sites underneath them. The combination the canopy’s protection of the moisture in layers of organic matter and the soil’s clay maintain a fertile, well-drained soil profile which supports a wide variety of plants and a varied supply of mast.
Of all its flora and fauna, one of its most intriguing species is the Barred Owl, Strix varia. Judy Biss of Calhoun county’s December 4, 2015 Panhandle Outdoors Article, Owls, Florida’s Remarkable Nocturnal Birds of Prey describes the natural history and biology of owls in Florida. The first time I heard a nearby Barred owl, I thought I was in presence of a fierce beast, surely a panther, at least a bob cat. The Tarzan movies filmed at Wakulla Springs used the Barred Owl calls for jungle sounds.  Barred owls thrive in this habitat. The open forest floor and mature trees give them room to navigate and an abundant variety of prey. Snags and trees whose limbs are broken off by wind, provide cavities for them and other cavity nesters.
Pretty woods? Upland Hardwood Forests? Climax Beech Magnolia Forests? No matter what you call them, they’re one of the jewels of North Florida’s range of habitats. Get out and enjoy them.

References and additional information.
http://www.sfrc.ufl.edu/extension/4h/ecosystems/upland_hardwoods/upland_hardwoods_description.pdf
“The Role of Magnolia and Beech in Forest Processes in the Tallahassee, Florida, Thomasville, Georgia Area”. Blaisdell, Wooten and Godfrey. Tall Timbers Research Station
http://fnai.org/PDF/NC/Upland_Hardwood_Forest_Final_2010.pdf

PG

Author: Jed Dillard – dillardjed@ufl.edu

Jefferson County Livestock and Natural Resources Agent with a commercial cow/calf background. My degree is in animal breeding, but I do more work wth forage systems. Long time clover/legume booster for both livestock and wildlife

Panhandle Outdoors

Permanent link to this article: http://gulf.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/10/14/barred-owls-and-other-features-of-the-pretty-woods/

Gardening for Pollinator Conservation Workshop – October 13th, Quincy FL

Gardening for Pollinator Conservation Workshop – October 13th, Quincy FL

Bee Balm CompressedA “Gardening for Pollinator Conservation” Workshop will take place Thursday, October 13, at the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center (NFREC) in Quincy. Pollinators are important in conserving native plants, ensuring a plentiful food supply, encouraging biodiversity and helping maintain a healthier ecological environment – – – the so-called “balance of nature.” Come learn how you can conserve and promote pollinators in your own garden, all while beautifying your own little piece of Nature.

As in previous years, nursery vendors will be selling pollinator plants at the Oct. 13 workshop, making it convenient for you to put into practice what you learn at the workshop!  Registration is just $ 15 per person and includes lunch, refreshments, and handouts.

Check out the workshop details and register at: https://gardeningforpollinatorconservation.eventbrite.com/

What: Gardening for Pollinator Conservation

When: Thursday, October 13, 8:30 am to 5:00 pm EDT

Where: University of Florida/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center, 155 Research Road, Quincy, FL. Located just north of I-10 Exit 181, 3 miles south of Quincy, off Pat Thomas Highway, SR 267.

Cost: $ 15 per person (includes lunch, refreshments and handouts)

Registration: https://gardeningforpollinatorconservation.eventbrite.com

For more information, contact: Gary Knox, gwknox@ufl.edu; 850.875.7105

For a printable Flyer click here: Gardening for Pollinators Workshop

Our workshop builds on previous successful pollinator workshops held at Leon Co. Extension last year and in Marianna in 2012. This workshop was developed as a collaboration of county faculty from several extension offices with folks from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission as well as UF/IFAS NFREC. Sponsors helping defray costs include Florida Native Plant Society – Magnolia Chapter, Gardening Friends of the Big Bend, Inc., Mail-Order Natives, and University of Florida/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center.

We look forward to seeing you at the workshop! 

 

PG

Author: Gary Knox – gwknox@ufl.edu

Gary Knox is an Extension Specialist and Professor of Environmental Horticulture with the University of Florida at the North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy. Dr. Knox’s research interests focus on evaluating species and cultivars of woody plants for their invasive potential as well as for ornamental characteristics. In addition to research plantings, Dr. Knox is working with a nonprofit volunteer group to develop “Gardens of the Big Bend,” a series of botanical, teaching and evaluation gardens at the Center.

Panhandle Outdoors

Permanent link to this article: http://gulf.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/10/07/gardening-for-pollinator-conservation-workshop-october-13th-quincy-fl/

I’m so confused about seafood!

I’m so confused about seafood!

I’ve spent the past 25 years studying and growing fish. When folks find out I’m a fish head, I often get a lot of questions about the safety and sustainability of many seafood products.  It seems that the media and other groups have done a good job of scaring and confusing the American public to the point that some forgo consuming seafood altogether.  That is such a shame because seafood is great for human health. Seafood is typically high protein, low in fat and calories and bursting with good for you stuff like omega-3s.

Seafood is either wild caught, aquacultured (farm-raised), or both. Both wild fisheries and aquaculture have their pros and cons.  Overfishing, illegal fishing, bycatch, habitat degradation and lack of effective regulation have led to declines in wild fisheries.  Aquaculture has been plagued with claims of pollution, disease and escapees.  With all this negative press, what is the consumer to do?

You can choose your seafood based on its sustainability. Sustainable seafood has been caught or farmed in sustainable ways.  And there are several groups today that make choosing these sustainable product easy.  Once such group is the Monterrey Bay Aquarium.  Their Seafood Watch program makes it easy for you to choose seafood that’s fished or farmed in ways that have less impact on the environment.

Using science-based criteria and input from fisheries and aquaculture experts, Seafood Watch has developed standards and guiding principles to develop consumer friendly guides. The guides are specific to each state and there is even one for sushi.  These printable guides fit easily into your wallet so that you can use them anytime you purchase seafood.  The guide shows with seafood items are “Best Choices” or “Good Alternatives,” and which ones you should “Avoid.”  They also have an app for android and IPhone making it easier than ever to get the latest recommendations for seafood and sushi, learn more about the seafood you eat, and locate or share businesses that serve sustainable seafood.

As consumers, we have a lot of power in the seafood marketplace. With over 75% of the world’s fisheries either fully fished or overfished, we need to make smart choices about the seafood we buy and consume.  By supporting fisheries and fish farms that are working hard to limit their impact on the environment we help protect the seafood we love.  By using the seafood guide for your region, you’re making choices based on the best available information and supporting environmentally friendly fisheries and aquaculture operations.

Brotula's Restaurant in Destin, Florida will cook your fresh catch to perfection.

Brotula’s Restaurant in Destin, Florida will cook your fresh catch to perfection.

 

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Author: Laura Tiu – lgtiu@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent – Okaloosa and Walton Counties

Panhandle Outdoors

Permanent link to this article: http://gulf.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/10/07/im-so-confused-about-seafood/

Battling Bat Myths

Battling Bat Myths

Close-up photo of a Seminole bat and her two pups. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson

This close-up photo of a Seminole bat and her two pups exhibits their furry, mammalian traits. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

As we enter Halloween season, one of the most popular images of this spooky time of year is that of a bat. The creepy tales of vampire bats and Dracula are enduring and certainly exciting. Unfortunately, many negative connotations exist around this fascinating species. Perhaps you’ve heard they carry rabies, that they will fly into your hair, or that many of them are considered blood-sucking vampire bats?

In fact, there are many benefits to having bats in one’s landscape, neighborhood, or farm. The predominant role of bats in our local ecosystems is that of insect predator. A single little brown bat (Myotis lucifugis), which is native to the Florida Panhandle, can eat 1,200 insects (including mosquitoes) in one hour of feeding! In Texas, a recent study put the economic value of bats due to their consumption of agricultural pests on cotton farms at $ 74/acre. Extrapolated values of bats’ pest suppression services to US agriculture is in the billions of dollars annually.

Other species in warmer climates eat fruit and play a major role in reforesting rain forests in Central and South America—after digesting the fruit they leave seeds in their droppings (guano is excellent fertilizer, by the way), helping replant 95% of the very trees they feed upon. Some species feed on nectar, filling the same role as bees and helping pollinate bananas, avocados, cashews, and figs.

Contrary to popular belief, bats are not blind and many have excellent vision. However, they do rely heavily on echolocation to sense prey and are extremely accurate hunters. Viewed close up, many people consider the small, furry animals rather cute, as opposed to frightening. They often fly erratically because they are chasing very small flying insects, so the only reason one would end up in a person’s hair is if a mosquito flew through it with a bat in chase! While vampire bats do exist, there are only 3 out of over 1,000 species of bats that feed on blood, and they all live in Latin America. They also tend to feed on the blood of livestock.

Building a bat house is a great activity to do with kids interested in wildlife. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

Building a bat house is a great activity for kids interested in wildlife. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

Human contact with bats is rare unless the bats are sick, which is why one found on the ground should be left alone. Rabies transmission from bats accounts for only one death per year in the United States—a statistic much less than that of deaths from dog bites, bee stings, and lighting strikes! In fact, several towns in Texas with the highest populations of bats in the country have recorded zero human bat-transmitted rabies cases.

Bat populations are declining in North America due to disease (particularly white-nose syndrome), loss of habitat, and the slow reproductive cycle of bats. However, you can help the world’s only flying mammal by installing a bat house in your yard. Keep in mind that bats attracted to bat houses prefer to be in open areas away from trees (where their predators hide), and the house should be installed at least 12 feet in the air. Bat houses can be purchased or built rather simply—this UF IFAS Extension publication outlines several types, or visit Bat Conservation International’s website for simple instructions.

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Author: Carrie Stevenson – ctsteven@ufl.edu

Coastal Sustainability Agent, Escambia County Extension

Panhandle Outdoors

Permanent link to this article: http://gulf.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/10/07/battling-bat-myths-2/

Seafood… What’s in Peak Season for October?

Seafood… What’s in Peak Season for October?

It’s October and it feels great outside. Time to fire up the grill and enjoy football with your favorite local seafood.  So what’s in peak season this month?

 

Clams – cultured Cedar Key clams are always in season and can be purchased at some local markets.

Oysters – they like the cooler months, there are a lot of ways to prepare them but we recommend cooking them

White Shrimp – other varieties of shrimp are not in peak season at this time but still available

Spiny Lobster – the Florida (Spiny) lobster is still in peak season but more available in south Florida

Stone Crab – we are JUST entering peak season for these guys, but like lobster – they are more common in south Florida.

Flounder – a local favorite this time of year – we are in peak of peak season – enjoy.

Mullet – This is a local favorite with those along the Florida panhandle.

Snapper – these are in peak season year round, but harvesting regulations reduce their abundance at the markets – so you will need to check.

Yellowfin Tuna – these have been in peak season for most of the summer; we are on the down side of it.

 

The Striped Mullet. Image: LSU Extension

The Striped Mullet.
Image: LSU Extension

 

SPECIES OF THE MONTH…. MULLET

 

This is one of those – “either you love them or you hate them” fish. It is not news that these are not a popular food fish in much of the Gulf region.  In some locations that have an oily/muddy taste that does not appeal to many.  In those areas the fish is still abundant but is used as bait.  They are an oily fish and are preferred fried or smoked when fresh.  Mullet that sit too long develop a strong fishy taste.  Mullet roe has its fans… and its enemies.  Andrew Zimmern (Bizarre Foods) – did not care for them.  They were very popular in the Orient for a period of time, and the local mullet population suffered for it, but that fad has waned.

 

We actually have 3 species found in the northern Gulf. There are two that frequent the estuaries – the white and the striped mullet.  As the name implies, striped mullet does have body stripes as adults.  They grow a little larger than the whites and are the one of choice for eating.  At times though, the stripes on the striped mullet are hard to see.  What then?… well – the white mullet has 9 soft rays on their anal fin, the striped have 8… have fun counting those.  Another way is to look at the operculum (the bony plate covering the gills).  On FRESH mullet, the white will have a gold spot here that is missing on the striped.  The iris of the white mullet has a gold stripe that runs vertically… on the striped mullet the entire iris is gold.

 

Both species are what we call euryhaline – meaning that can tolerate a wide range of salinities. Striped mullet have been found several hundred miles inland and in Baffin Bay TX (where the salinities can reach 70 ppt).  The white mullet prefer saltier habitats and do not frequent the upper estuaries and rivers.  White mullet gather and spawn in the spring, striped mullet spawn in the fall – both spawn offshore on the continental shelf.

 

If you have not tried fried mullet, or smoked mullet dip, give a chance and see what you think. As always – enjoy our local seafood.

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Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Panhandle Outdoors

Permanent link to this article: http://gulf.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/10/07/seafood-whats-in-peak-season-for-october/

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