Picture day! With a high in the mid-70’s yesterday it would have been a crime to spend it indoors working on a blog post. I think normally highs in the 70’s isn’t uncommon for Florida this time of year, but like just about everywhere else this has been the coldest winter this area has seen in years. Yesterday marked the first day it happened that I’ve been around to enjoy it, so enjoy it I did. There was reading a book outside on my kindle and enjoying the warm sun and wind through the trees, jogging at sunset, and taking a few minutes after nightfall to marvel at the stars which are actually easier to see here than I thought they’d be – I guess I am a half hour away from the nearest city.
Since I arrived here in Florida I’ve been slowly accumulating pictures at work. A commenter on a previous post said he’d like to see more of where I am, so here it is: a little bit more about the OSBS, as told by pictures. This counts as your science credit for today. I’ve numbered the descriptions to go with each picture, 1 is for the first picture, etc.
1) The station has two basic types of lakes, dark water lakes and clear water lakes. The dark water lakes on site are fed by the marsh, and the water in them contains tannin from trees and brush growing in the marsh and along the edges of the lake, making them, well, darker. These lakes are considered more ‘productive’, as in they host more marine life. These lakes are also more likely to have alligators, because there is more for them to eat. Pictured here is a clear lake, which is ground and rain water fed. The water is clearer and it’s much easier to photograph because it’s not surrounded by marsh. Water levels have been low in north-central Florida for decades, it’s come back a bit this year but is still nowhere near where it use to be.
2) A tortoise shell, found one day while I was out hunting old fence. If you look closely you can see bones inside the shell. The Gopher Tortoise is the only species of tortoise native to North America, they are classified as Vulnerable due to habitat destruction. As their name implies, they like to burrow, and abandoned dens provide shelter for numerous other animals.
3) A coworker setting up a camera and direction marker to take a pre-fire picture. There is a post mounted in the ground that the camera pole is screwed onto, and then the camera is rotated at 90 degrees intervals to get a picture from the spot facing the four cardinal directions. After the fire, which is slated in the next couple months, pictures will be taken from the spot again for comparison. The OSBS has been doing this for years, and these pictures can be compared to years past to see how the habitat is changing over time.
4) Two coworkers put out a stump still smoldering after a controlled burn the day before. It’s not uncommon to find bits of wood still smoking or on fire the day after a burn, whether these are allowed to burn themselves out or get put out depends on a few factors. How close they are to the road and other unburned sectors, whether the smoke is going to blow into a residential area, and if weather conditions are going to change to make letting them burn unsafe (as in a increase or shift in wind direction, or a drop in humidity).
5) Up until the 30’s, long leaf pine were harvested for turpentine used to seal cracks in wooden boat hulls and later to thin paint. This is an old pine with a mostly healed turpentine harvesting scar, you can still see bits of metal in the center of the wound. Trees with these scars are called cat faces, because the harvesters would cut X shaped hashes in the wood of the trees, and from a distance the marks looked like whiskers on the nose of a cat.
The bark of long leaf pine is very fire resistant, but the wood inside is not. Because they are a part of our cultural history, the OSBS tries to help these old “cat faces” out before a burn by sending people out to rake the needles and debris from around the base to prevent fire from getting at the wounds.
6) Baby long leaf pine will stay in a grass stage for 7-10 years while they send down a tap root before growing upward and looking like a proper tree. Their long needles act as a heat sink to keep fire from burning the growing bud in the middle of the tree. As long as this bud doesn’t burn, the tree will recover from a fire.
7) In 2011 OSBS leased some land to the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) to build this tower, which collects ecological data (science-y stuff, I don’t know all the details). It was completed about three months ago, the first of 20+ such units which the project is building across the country.
8) I’ve seen deer, turkey, possums, racoons, armadillo, turkey vultures, hawks, and small birds of all sorts during my stay here so far, and also several of these little guys, which I would call a green tree frog but I’m not sure if that would be the official species name. This one snuck under the door into the bathroom at the barn when I was getting ready to take a shower.
9) The habitat type that the OSBS is best known for: Sandhill. It’s an open forest of mostly long leaf pine with native grasses growing underneath. Only frequent fires allow a habitat like this to exist, it use to cover large swaths of lightning-prone Florida until wildfire suppression became a big thing. When it doesn’t get burned, oak and brush move in and the grass dies out. This plot was burned last summer. Oh, and open forest like this? Less mosquito infested. That’s a win in my book.