Dicromantispa interrupta

Dicromantispa interrupta

Monday, January 28, 2013

Sanchez Prairie’s Western Water Features

Bruce and I visited the western side of Sanchez Prairie last Saturday, riding bikes from the trailhead to the north side of the prairie, and hiking from there counterclockwise around the prairie’s edge and through its adjacent uplands and ravines to Moose’s Echo. The weather was clear, cool, and dry – perfect! Altogether, we biked and hiked 8.3 miles. I had already been over most of what we covered Saturday, but without my GPS unit, so I took that with us. The trails, roads, and sinkholes we encountered will be added to the map of the park’s trails that I have been constructing for the last several years. That map is almost complete and is far more detailed than the park’s own published maps. I intend to publish it here when it’s completed.

There are four ravines on the prairie’s western side, and all are vegetated with mature mixed forested hammock consisting of spruce pine, loblolly pine, live oak, swamp chestnut oak, Shumard oak, Florida maple, pignut hickory, sweetgum, laurel oak, sugarberry, Southern magnolia, red mulberry, persimmon, and others. Ravine bottoms contain all those species but are dominated by swamp tupelo, sweetbay, and red maple. This photo shows a typical scene within the ravines:

Here’s one of the forest’s Florida maples (Acer floridanum) with character:

The four ravines are so karstic that they only occasionally, and only for short distances, exhibit signs of water flow. Their surface waters sink directly into the ground and thus into the limestone containing the Floridan Aquifer. Their headwaters terminate at semi-permanent seeps. Rain percolates through sandy Holocene surface sediments, down to the top of the impermeable Hawthorne formation (a sandy, fossiliferous, phosphatic clay), and flows laterally to the edges of ravines to emerge as nonartesian seeps. These little springs show us where the contact is between the two geological formations. More importantly, the seeps create excellent habitat for primitive plants like ferns, mosses, and liverworts:

Creeping Maiden Fern (Thelypteris reptans):

Florida Tree Fern (Ctenitis sloanei):

More creeping maiden fern (photo by Bruce J. Morgan):

These beautiful ferneries, however, are also prime wallowing habitat for feral hogs. The nearly-permanent presence of seepage waters running over sandy clay evidently makes a good foundation for a feral hog wallow, like this one:

Feral hogs at San Felasco also make wallow-like depressions in clay banks that are moist but not wet. Are these mineral licks rather than wallows? Here’s one:

We spotted an unbaited feral hog trap in the uplands near the prairie:

The entrance of Moose’s Echo Cave has changed since I saw it last year. A columnar slug of the Hawthorne formation sediments measuring about three feet in diameter by about six feet long was last year poised to slide down toward the cave’s entrance. It looked so unstable that I dared not enter the cave lest I cause the slug to collapse and cork me in. On the present trip, I noticed that the slug had indeed slid downward several feet, not to occlude the cave entrance but to land immediately beside and east of the cave entrance. A new cave vent opened up between the clayey cliff wall and the slug directly above the main entrance. It was too small for human entry. The cave’s main entrance and the new vent both exhaled cool airstreams. The cave’s entrance is still as unstable as it was a year ago, and again this year I dared not enter it. This is a shot of me standing on that slug, looking into the new opening and balancing on tiptoes in to keep from stepping on ferns (photo by Bruce J. Morgan):

We saw at least one sounder of hogs. We saw them twice within fairly close proximity, both times within the prairie, so I believe they are likely to be two sightings of the same sounder. (A sounder of swine is composed of a dominant female and her young of potentially several generations; mature boars live alone and separate from sounders except when servicing females). Last winter I saw probably this same sounder passing by me while I was hiding in a blind, and I counted 20+ individuals in the group. On another occasion when I encountered them on a hike, I attempted to scare them away by making threatening gestures and noises. Most of the piggies squealed in freight and ran away, but the alpha female stood her ground about 50 feet from me, and doubtless would have slashed my calves with her tusks if I had pressed the issue. Properly chastised, I backed away from the confrontation.

Sanchez Prairie is a long way from any of the park’s trailheads, which is why I use a bike to get there. I consider it one of north Florida’s most ecologically-endowed poljes (large, wide, flat-bottomed, multiple sinkhole). Its forests are mature and extremely biodiverse, it has numerous kinds of plant communities, perched sinkhole pond habitats, and dry sinks, it drains into a karst swallet, supports hundreds of wood ducks during winter, is habitat for turkey, river otter and at least one nine-foot long alligator, has multiple ravines and streams draining into it, and I have never seen other people in there:

I wish we would eliminate its feral hogs.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Spanish Fernatic’s Vacation

In January of 2011, I ceased posting to this blog and began posting instead to a second blog, “On Rappel!” I listed my reasons then, but they sound irrelevant to me now based on recent observations and conclusions. My guess is that about half my readership is composed of cavers, and that they probably don’t really care about non-caving blog posts. Likewise, I suspect non-cavers prefer not to search through caving posts for stuff about paddling or hiking. It strikes me that perhaps I should maintain two blogs, one for caving and one for non-caving. So, with that introduction, I’ll start the New Year for Florida Nature Adventures with the tale of my latest botanizing trip to find rare Florida ferns.

A few weeks ago, my friend “John” emailed to tell me that a fern aficionado from Spain planned to visit Florida to photograph rare ferns. Alan knew of some neat places containing uncommon ferns, and sent Jose (and me) a map that depicted a couple of locations to visit. John could not accompany Jose as he was planning his own adventure for the same time period. My own ability to identify ferns is embarrassingly primitive, especially with the genera Thelypteris and Asplenium. Since both genera contain species that were on Jose’s bucket list, I could not pass up the opportunity to have an identification expert teach me a thing or two. You can see the quality of Jose’s fern photography at his web site: joseluisperezcalo.com/index.html.

Early on Thursday, January 17, Jose met another person who showed him a population of Blechnum occidentale, a fairly rare fern in the US. A little later, he and I met at a parking lot for our first jaunt out into a vast low hammock somewhere along Florida’s western peninsular karstlands (it is a given that I cannot reveal online the locations of these rare taxa). We struck out through the woods toward John’s first waypoint through low hammock, a humid and diverse subtropical forestland dominated by live oak and other hardwoods. Gentle rain accompanied us on this and the other jaunt of the day, but we were prepared with rain gear. Along the way to our first waypoint, we spotted Osmunda regalis, Phlebodium aureum, Vittaria lineata, Thelypteris palustris, Thelypteris ovata, and Polypodium polypodioides, all of which are common Florida species. Here’s a pic of new Vittaria sprouts growing from the base of a cabbage palm:

And a pic of the most abundant fern of the day, Thelypteris ovata:

Reaching our first station, we saw numerous limestone rocks and boulders lying about on the surface, most of which were spotted or covered with ferns and bryophyte mosses. The commonest ferns on the rocks were Thelypteris ovata, Thelypteris dentata, and Thelypteris tetragona, among which we spotted our real quarries. The first was Pecluma dispersa:

Then we spied Asplenium abcissum:

And then we found Asplenium cristatum:

The latter three are fairly rare in Florida. Unfortunately, there was also a small patch of Boston fern, Nephrolepis exaltata, which is a dreaded invasive exotic. The only taxon that we didn’t see here that was expected was Trichomanes, a genus of tiny ferns whose foliage is only two cells thick. We hoped to find it at the second waypoint that John had given us, but we found no new species at the second site although we did add Pteridium aquilinum pseudocaudatum to the day’s fern list.

From there we drove a while to a restaurant serving frozen broiled grouper and a decent steak, and then continued on to our campsite where we spent the night in our vehicles. The next morning we arose a little after dawn to the screaming of a pair of red-tailed hawks. I had decided to take Jose canoeing to a site that John also knows about and had suggested in case we had time to do it. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring a few things. Without going thru the entire litany, I’ll just say that one item forgotten was the second paddle. But I had a shovel. Did you know that a shovel propels a canoe just fine? Did you know that you can scull with a shovel? But do you know how much heavier a shovel is than a paddle? Too, the current and chill wind were against us going to the next site, but what a nice and easy laze it was floating back! It should be noted that this was the first canoe trip Jose ever took in his life, and let it be known that he is a “natural” at it. Here he is at the bow of the canoe:

Our third site is a pedestal of limestone within a wetland, and nearly all its exposed rock is covered with primitive plants. This bryophyte shows its primitive leafy contribution to the evolution of vascular plants:

This habitat supports low hammock vegetation dominated by Shumard oak and Southern magnolia, with an admixture of cabbage palm, live oak, diamondleaf oak, Southern red cedar, and others. The ferns here are also dominated by Thelypteris ovata, while Thelypteris dentata and Thelypteris tetragona are common. Here we found Pecluma dispersa again, but also found Pecluma ptilodon var. bourgeauana. Below is a shot of the base of the latter taxon, showing its basal pennae in their characteristic shape and configuration:

 More Asplenium abcissum was found here, along with Asplenium cristata. A single specimen of possibly Thelypteris reptans was spotted:

Another life fern for me in this place was Asplenium x curtissi, a rare hybrid:

We also found a single specimen of Dryopteris ludoviciana, which was a new species for Jose.

The last time I was at this location, I spotted a single individual plant of Pteris cretica, a Southeastern Asian species commonly found around the world as a house plant, but on this occasion, I saw several dozen individual plants. I don’t know if it is considered an invasive species, but it is doing quite well in this little corner of Florida. However, it does not appear to be “taking over,” but instead blending into the fern community and adding to its species richness:

I had taken Jose to this location specifically to find Asplenium heterocroum, which I thought occurred here, but all the plants I had identified as such turned out to be Asplenium trichomanes. That was fine for me, though, it being a life fern, but I think Jose was a little disappointed. He certainly jumped at the chance to visit a fourth site where John and I had previously found and photographed Asplenium heterocroum.

So, we returned to the canoe to paddle back to the boat ramp. Along the way, we saw a Northern Flicker, which was a life bird for Jose and a species that I see only once a year or two. Then, right in front of the canoe was a river otter! The shoreline trees harbored many Black Vultures that were too lazy to wing off into the cold wind, instead letting their Turkey Vulture cousins be the early birds. A Belted Kingfisher flew rapidly toward us, chattering loudly, and landed on a branch only a few feet from the boat. Usually, they won’t get anywhere near canoeists. I have always admired the robustness of aquatic mosses, so was glad Jose pointed out the name of the common bryophyte pictured below as water willow, Fontinalis sp.:

Back at the boat ramp Jose pointed out Thelypteris kunthii.We drove to a friend’s house and struck off a fourth time together through the woods, this time to a mesic hammock I have visited a hundred times before. I strode straightaway to a limestone outcropping I knew of, and there, among the very common Asplenium platyneuron plants, was the prize of the day, Asplenium heterocroum:

I had a great time counting 20 kinds of ferns over the two days, and I wish Jose the best of luck on the rest of his ‘fernatics’ vacation.