Thursday, March 31, 2011

Natural Landscapes?

A Roadside Ditch
Driving on the Lower Suwannee NWR loop road a week ago, I was impressed by the way the landscape, and especially the hydrology appears to have been altered by human activities. Roads were built to get to the timber and later to get logs out. Except in the uplands, every road is bordered by water-filled ditches, the result of dredge-and-fill operations needed to move people and vehicles through swampy terrain. Consequences of road-building may include a greater area and distribution of open water than would have occurred under natural conditions and a possible lowering of the water table, making for drier uplands.

Shell Mound
Then on Saturday we heard a talk by Univ. of Florida archaeologist Dr. Ken Sassaman and his graduate students. They believe that much higher ground along the Refuges' coastline was altered by the activities of prehistoric residents. 

Activities of both the Paleoindians and much more recent lumbermen have apparently served to increase habitat diversity, and thus are probably favorable for wildlife. Nevertheless, one is led to wonder how different the area might have looked 12,000 years ago.

Except for occasional prehistoric shell mounds along the immediate coastline, paddlers will likely see landscapes much less affected by anthropogenic change than hikers.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fifty Years Later

 Next June 26 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of my high school graduation. Exact counts vary, but that night approximately 47 of us were launched into the wider world from Clifton-Fine Central School in Star Lake, NY, on the all-but-forgotten western edge of the great Adirondack wilderness. The event will be celebrated in a social gathering the weekend of August 12-13.

Excitement has been growing since classmate John Phillips has climbed a steep learning curve and acquired a high level of skill in social media. In its brief existence, the facebook page he manages has garnered over 450 followers and done wonders to help reunite the Clifton-Fine Diaspora. It has not only brought together semi-centenarians like us, but has strengthened linkages across the generations.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)
Here's another common wetland plant of freshwater habitats of the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge. Not quite a local specialty, we enjoy it also when we visit the Adirondacks in August. There it is common in the "Newton Falls pond" reach of the Oswegatchie River and likely also in the nearby Chaumont Swamp.

We might marvel that this plant thrives as well 1,200 miles north in New York State's Adirondacks as it does in Florida, but in fact its geographic range is even broader, extending from Nova Scotia to Argentina. Surely pickerelweed is another of Nature's winners.

They're Back!

We had heard the swallowtails (the American Swallowtail Kite Elanoides forficatus) were back, but these photographed last Monday on the refuge were our first of the year. We saw four, but they steadfastly refused to pose together for a picture. And regrettably, images made against the background of the sky offer no clues that these are birds with four-foot wingspans.

It is always a thrill to see these remarkable birds for the first time in the season, and almost as thrilling to see them the second, third, fourth, etc. times.

Spadderdock and Arrowhead

Arrowhead, in a Clump of Sawgrass
Spadderdock (Nuphar luteum) and Arrowhead (Sagittaria spp.) are extremely common freshwater wetland plants found in ponds, ditches, creeks, and in shallower parts of the main channel of the Suwannee. I photographed these earlier in the week on the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Fringe Tree

Here's a photo we made today of fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) at San Felasco State Preserve, near Gainesville. Most blossoms on the tree were not at their peak, but this cluster was close. We don't know whether this pleasing plant occurs on the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, but enthusiasts should be on the lookout for it.

Friday, March 11, 2011


At the Cedar Key Arts Center 3/5/2011
We have been offline for a while, in part because we have been preoccupied with a series of presentations and tastings. We hosted a tasting for 13 participants at Gainesville's Oak Hammock retirement community, and one for 25 at the Arts Center in Cedar Key, Florida. We were fortunate to obtain 14 American artisan cheeses, chosen to provide a good overview of available styles and to illustrate the unique qualities of individual artisan cheeses.

Through Cheese to You in Lexington, VA, we got the following:

Capri Goat Cheese from Westfield Farms in Hubbardston, MA
Kunik from Nettle Meadow Farms in Warrensburg, NY
Hudson Valley Camembert from the Old Chatham Sheepherding Co. in Old Chatham, NY
Appalachian from Meadow Creek Dairy in Galax, VA
Vella Dry Jack from the Vella Cheese Co. in Sonoma, CA
Old Quebec Vintage Cheddar from Quebec, Canada, and Lancaster County, PA
Capri Blue Bonnet from Westfield Farms
Grayson also fro Meadow Creek Dairy

The following were graciously provided by the Winter Park Dairy, Winter Park, FL

Florida Tomme
Bleu Sunshine
Black and Bleu

Our other great new Florida artisan cheesemakers at Cypress Point Creamery, Hawthorne, FL provided the following:

Heart of Palm

The final cheese, Humbolt Fog from Cypress Grove Creamery we were able to obtain at a local wine and cheese shop

How did the tastings go? Well, everyone had fun, almost everyone loved almost all the cheeses, and they would like us to do it again. Hmm, whatever could we do for an encore?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

American Snowbell

 We saw this small flowering tree yesterday while walking with a group on the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge's River Trail. The plant was abundant and flowering profusely on relatively dry sites along the swamp trail as it proceeds from the trailhead toward the Suwannee River. Checking our field guides, we soon were able to identify it as American Snowbell (Styrax americanus).

 An informal group of volunteers within the Friends of the Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuges recently placed signs along the trail identifying many of the diverse kinds of trees there. The list is growing as additional species are identified and markers placed. American Snowbell will surely be a future addition.

The exercise of placing signs of educational value to hikers leads to questions about the kinds of information that should be provided to best add value to the experiences along the paddling trails. Placing signs along them would be impractical and perhaps undesirable. Figuratively and literally, paddlers seem more likely to be seeing the forest than the trees. Conveying the sense of the forest (or marsh) with both scientific and aesthetic integrity will be a considerable but not unwelcome challenge.