Tuesday, August 19, 2014

by Anne H Holt
Monticello, FL

Wood Storks on the Aucilla
On boat trip down the Aucilla to Apalachee Bay and up the Pinhook River I saw a gathering of Wood Storks. There were at least nine birds, resting on the limbs of a dead tree. One particular stork turned his back to us and spread his wings. He appeared to pose as I snapped shot after shot. It’s hard to imagine from a picture how big Wood Storks really are—they sometimes show a wing span of eight feet.

A Swift in the old jail
Sleek, black and timid, I first thought this creature was a large bat, but closer it definitely is a bird. It appears to be attempting to hide in the shadows in the basement staircase of the old jail on Dogwood Street. One or two windows in the building are broken so she found a fine home.

A Watch Hawk on High Street
Songbirds usually greet the day with joyous song in our huge oaks. One screams cheap, cheap, cheap until you want to spend the day shopping. One morning I woke to an almost eerie silence. No bird sang. This hawk is the reason. He perched high in a tree among the Spanish moss and seemed to regard me as an unwelcome intruder. Even the squirrels stop chattering and stay hidden until he moves on. He nests in the park across the street.

An Owl in the Monticello Ecological Park
This bird apparently does not like humans in his park. He lies in wait for a certain runner who regularly visits the park in the early morning --bursts from under the boardwalk—beating the air with his wings to make a startling noise—certainly hoping to frighten the human intruder away

Turkeys in the Monticello Ecological Park.
A flock of wild turkeys, I don’t know how many, hide in the old growth forest—enjoying the freedom and safety of acres of dense, untamed wilderness with plenty of water. These birds occasionally forget to be circumspect and gobble their joy at the abundance of food nature places before them.
Mississippi Swallowtail Kite in the Monticello Ecological Park

This bird was just visiting—skimming along -- twitching his tail. Darting away into the tall trees.

Here is a list other watchers have seen in August in the Monticello Ecological Park.

1 Red-shouldered Hawk 1 17 Aug 2014 David Simpson
2 Red-bellied Woodpecker 1 1     7 Aug 2014 David Simpson
3 Carolina Chickadee 2 1 7 Aug 2014 David Simpson
4 Tufted Titmouse 4 1 7 Aug 2014 David Simpson
5 Carolina Wren 6 1 7 Aug 2014 David Simpson
6 Northern Parula 1 1 7 Aug 2014 David Simpson
7 Northern Cardinal 6 1 7 Aug 2014 David Simpson
8 Downy Woodpecker 1 1 6 Aug 2014 Trail Staff
9 Pileated Woodpecker 2 16 Aug 2014 Trail Staff
10 White-eyed Vireo 1 1 6 Aug 2014 Trail Staff
11 Blue Jay 1 1 6 Aug 2014 Trail Staff
12 American Crow X 1 6 Aug 2014 Trail Staff
13 Great Crested Flycatcher 1 3 Aug 2014 Carol Miller
14 Yellow-throated Vireo 1 3 Aug 2014 Carol Miller
15 Fish Crow 1 1 3 Aug 2014 Carol Miller
16 White-breasted Nuthatch 1 13 Aug 2014 Carol Miller
17 Yellow-billed Cuckoo 1 7 Aug 2014 Carol Miller
18 Red-headed Woodpecker 1 7 Aug 2014 Carol Miller
19 Black-and-white Warbler 1 7 Aug 2014 Carol Miller
20 Cattle Egret 1 3 Aug 2014 Andy Wraithmell
21 Turkey Vulture 1 3 Aug 2014 Andy Wraithmell
22 Mississippi Kite 1 3 Aug 2014 Andy Wraithmell
23 Mourning Dove 2 3 Aug 2014 Andy Wraithmell
24 Chimney Swift 1 3 Aug 2014 Andy Wraithmell
25 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1 3 Aug 2014 Andy Wraithmell
26 Northern Mockingbird 2 3 Aug 2014 Andy Wraithmell
27 Hooded Warbler 1 3 Aug 2014 Andy Wrai

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Finding the Red Hills:
The Most Beautiful Scenic Drive in Florida

The scenic, landscaped corridor linking historic districts in Monticello and Tallahassee is best known as Fred Mahan Drive. Easily the most beautiful twenty-five miles in Florida—it started as a tribal path—became the Old Spanish Trail and is now Route 90, once the main east-west route across Florida.
In 1935, at the height of the depression in our area, Mahan’s nursery of Monticello, then one of the largest plant and tree nurseries in the Southeast, donated thousands of shrubs and trees to beautify the right-of-way along this drive. With federal funds, Jefferson County Highway Department employed thirty-five men at 30 cents an hour to plant the donated shrubs, providing desperately needed jobs at what was a fair rate of pay for the height of the great depression.
The highway right-of-way background, middle and foreground plantings consisted of pyracantha, arbor vitae, flowering crape myrtle, ligustrum and some palm trees. Recent additions of smaller crape myrtles, planted every 100 feet, from the intersection of I-10 and US 90 east of Tallahassee, for twenty plus miles to the edge of Monticello present a spectacular range of brilliant colors throughout the early summer months.
For most of the year the shrubs are lush and green. In winter, bare of leaves and flowers, their cinnamon branches are still attractive. In late April crape myrtles are covered in deep green leaves. In mid-May many of the shrubs begin to produce large clumps of conical white flowers followed by old-fashioned “watermelon pinks” and a few days later the gorgeous dark reds. When the crape myrtles are blossoming this two-lane road running east from Tallahassee to the historic City of Monticello, Florida is a never to be forgotten treat, easily the most beautiful drive in Florida.
This beauty is worth seeing and preserving. Some Florida citizens demonstrated their appreciation in the 1990’s when early one Monday morning a Florida Department of Transportation crew discovered vandals had attacked and all but destroyed an expensive, high-tech wood chipping device. Apparently tired of mowing around bushes, the crew started to use this machine to “clear” the shrubbery from both sides of Highway 90 east late that Friday afternoon. After cutting down and chewing up a few crape myrtles and other shrubs they cut the machine off and left for the weekend.
Luckily, a reporter saw the big machine devouring the crape myrtles on Friday and submitted a story to the local paper. The outcry was almost unbelievable. Telephone lines seemed to catch fire from Monticello to Tallahassee to Washington, DC. Angry people called to demand help from Jefferson and Leon County elected representatives to stop the destruction.
Sometime Saturday or Sunday evening, someone—a nature lover I assume, cut the hydraulic lines, rendering the valuable machine useless. This action and subsequent news stories and the frantic, angry telephone calls stopped the desecration and saved the beauty for us to enjoy today.
If you slow down a little so you can enjoy the wonderful view, you can see an occasional sturdy-looking palm tree tucked in behind the crape myrtles. The Ligustrum blossoms just before the Crape Myrtles, the large rounded shrubs appear dusted with snow and smell as sweet as honeysuckle. You will even see a few overgrown and badly misshapen arbor vitae, but not a single pyracantha.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Monticello's Beautiful and Mysterious Setting

The Jefferson County Florida Flatwoods

The Flat Woods of Jefferson County Florida are a world out of time. This remote and mysterious area is almost impenetrable and unknown except by a few hunters, fishermen, and scientists. The Flat Woods are located in South-central Florida, at the edge of the Apalachee Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

These remote tangled woods and swamps are bordered on the east by the Suwanee River and on the west by the Wakulla. The area is split by the mysterious, disappearing Aucilla River and graced by the spring-fed Wacissa and the lost Pinhook.

These woods and swamps boast as diverse a collection of botanical specimens as any place in the world not a rain forest. Sinkholes pierce the porous limestone underlying the jungle-like growth of oak, pine and palm, adding to the ancient mystery.

The treasures of this vast crescent, reaching almost 100,000 acres, lie deep. They are hidden from all but scientists, trained divers and special equipment. The knowledge hidden here is covered by a blanket of rotted plant life to a remarkable depth; a covering that provides anaerobic security for the remains of humans and animals waiting through centuries to tell the story of the settlement of North America.

This area has been of great interest to anthropologists, archaeologists and other scientists for many years. The evidence they have gathered through several “digs” suggests eons of settlement by humans, possibly some of the earliest settlement in North America.

The pressing question developing as all of this evidence accumulates is whether or not the first settlement in North America came from the east or from the northwest. Could the first North American settlers have come across the ice from Europe? The answer lies waiting in the Flat Woods under a deep blanket of plant waste, protected by a lack of oxygen and waiting to be uncovered.