The extraordinarily wet Winter conditions have proven a barrier to our usual explorations of the ecological wonders to be found at Myakka State Forest (MSF) in Sarasota County, FL. However we threw caution to the winds today and drove our trusty Jeep into the morass and found some wonders indeed.
From the photo of one section of “roadway” or creek-way you can get an idea of how wet it is out there! This is of course a good thing since it shows how the original hydrology of the site is relatively intact. DOF staff continue to do regular controlled burns for which we are very grateful. On the western side of the North Loop Trail there was a recent burn which illustrated how despite the fact that the sapling longleaf pines were severely burned, the beautiful white terminal buds (photo 1) are now breaking out and renewing the growth of the young pines.
In a previously burned area just west of the Myakka River campsite we had been concerned about the survival of many of these slash pine trees, but were relieved to see (photo) that many if not most are alive and the understory herbaceous layer is thriving. Indeed there were hundreds of rare pink spiderworts or roselings (see photo) in bloom, an incredible and unique sight. There were also beautiful blooming bog-buttons and swamp sneezeweeds (see photos) .
This location was also a known breeding site for Bachman’s Sparrow, a rare fire-dependent species and we heard one male calling late in the morning. We also found two other new sites where male Bachman’s sparrows were calling- a good sign of the health of the pine flatwoods in this area. Some other birds in the area were brown-headed nuthatches, bob-white quail, meadowlarks, bluebirds, towhee, pine warblers and white-eyed vireos.
MSF well illustrates the paradox by which pine flatwoods flourish, namely the alternation of regular low-intensity fire at intervals or one to three years, and plentiful water during the wet season. But it is rare that one can observe the proper management of these opposing forces so well as at MSF.
Bill Dunson, Englewood, FL & Galax, VA