We have had two amazing days at Archbold Biological Station, near Lake Placid, Florida. The station’s executive director, Hilary Swain, joined us Sunday night and led us onto Archbold property on Monday. We followed Hilary through about 9 miles of beautiful rosemary scrub and scrubby flatwoods.
Most who know Hilary would say she generally sets a blistering pace, and her approach to hiking is no different. Fortunately Dr. Swain cannot resist a chance to give lessons in the scrub, so whenever we stopped we were treated to some of the amazing natural history of the Lake Wales Ridge.
Upon reaching the station we were welcomed by Highlands County Commissioner and Archbold board of trustees member Barbara Stewart.
We spent the late afternoon with two visiting researchers, Zach Forsburg of the Orriane Society and Jennifer Smith of Virginia Tech. Both are conducting telemetry studies on their respective species of interest.
Forsburg is working for the Orriane Society, which is focused on indigo snake research and conservation.
We watched Zach track one of his study animals to an abandoned gopher tortoise burrow, where he lead us through the natural history of these amazing creatures.
Jennifer is working as a post-doctoral researcher for Virginia Tech, helping continue a long-term research project on caracara. Caracara are a large species of falcon, which thrives on the improved pasture habitat that dominates the this region of Florida. We visited a nesting pair of caracara on the Archbold Reserve, a 5000 acre grassland west of the main station where restoration projects are ongoing and a local leases cattle. The pair of caracara watched us suspiciously as we conducted our interview with Jennifer.
Though we had no traveling scheduled for Tuesday, it was as busy a day as we have had since the launch. First we visited the scrub with two of the station’s long tenured lab heads. Dr. Eric Menges of the plant ecology lab guided us through some of the many rare plants of the southern Lake Wales Ridge. Dr. Mark Deyrup of the entomology lab gave us an overview of the insect pollinators that are constantly at work here. A little later in the morning, Reed Bowman of the avian ecology lab introduced the gathering throng of media and expedition team members to the scrub jay research. Reed and his team are responsible for one of the five longest-termed data sets for a single species.
After a big lunch at the station’s new Frances Archbold Hufty Center, we sat for a round table discussion. Panelists included Tom Hoctor, Dr. Swain, Carlton, Julie Morris of Wildlands Conservation, and Thomas Eason, Director of Habitat and Species Conservation for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Before leaving, Dr. Swain led us to the station’s new black bear diorama. We spent a short while explaining the bear project, which I worked on, and talking about the legacy of Dave Maehr and Mason Smoak, for whom the bear diorama is to be named.
By the end of the round table, after two additional radio interviews, I was ready for a break from the action. Joe Davenport, Tom, Julie and I snuck off to Lake Annie. Though there have been some cool nights recently, and the day wasn’t particularly hot, I had been looking forward to jumping into the lake for too long. After a refreshing dip we took one of the station canoes out so Tom and I could steal a few minutes of fishing before dark. We caught about a dozen largemouth bass and one very nice chain pickerel before calling it a night.