Monthly Archives: February 2015

American kestrel nestling by Larry R. Goodman

Kestrel, American. Nestling. BRSF, FL 061510

Submitted by Peggy Baker of Francis Weston Audubon Society of Pensacola, the society which completed a 2 year study recently of the birds in Blackwater River State Forest (abbreviated report by Peggy Baker posted in this blog, 2013).   The photo of the nestling was taken by Larry R. Goodman.

Peggy writes:

“Here is a picture of the southeastern subspecies of the American kestrel.

“This bird nested all over the SE US at one time.  In the last 80 years it has lost 70% of its population.  Most of these birds nest in the middle of the state.

“This bird was photographed and thus documented in Blackwater by our survey team after FWC put up nestboxes in an area where we saw pair feeding young.  Now there are numerous pairs in these FWC boxes.   We cannot find another record of these birds nesting in Blackwater.  So with the return of the Longleaf/wiregrass habitat, this bird has expanded it range.  Larry Goodman is our our photographer.”

Comment:  GRASI  EIS notes that the open areas of the forest would be advantageous for positioning of temporary camps.   These are the areas in which the birds would be found.  Although the report by the society was available at the time of the initial EIS, no mention of this report is found in the species to be impacted.

Florida Land Acquisition Trust Fund – Amendment I, Florida Constitution, November 2014

The following passed with over 75% of Florida voters supporting it in November, 2014:

Water and Land Conservation – Dedicates funds to acquire and restore Florida conservation and recreation lands

Ballot summary:  Funds the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands including wetlands and forests; fish and wildlife habitat; lands protectiong water resources and drinking water sources, including the Everglads, and the water quality of rivers, lakes, and stream; beaches and shores; outdoor recreational lands; working farms and ranches; and historic or geologic sites, by dedicating 33 percent of net revenues from existing excise tax on documents for 20 years.

The text:

“Section 28:  Land Acquisition Trust Fund

a) Effective on July 1 of the year following passage of this amendment by the voters, and for a period of 20 years after that effective date, the Land Acquisition Trust Fund shall receive no less than 33 percent of net revenues derived from the existing excise tax on documents, as defined in the statutes in effect on January 1, 2012, as amended from time to time, or any successor or replacement tax, after the Department of Revenue first deducts a service charge to pay the costs of the collection and enforcement of the excise tax on documents.

b) Funds in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund shall be expended only for the following purposes:

1) As provided by law, to finance or refinance: the acquisition and improvement of land, water areas, and related property interests, including conservation easements, and resources for conservation lands including wetlands, forests, and fish and wildlife habitat; wildlife managemetn areas; lands that protect water resources and drinking water sources, including lands protecting the water quality and quantity of rivers, lakes, streams, springsheds, and lands providing recharge for groundwater and aquifer systems; lands in the Everglades Agricultural Area and the Everglades Protection Area, as defined in Article II, Section 7(b); beaches and shores; outdoor recreation lands, including recreational trails, parks and urban open space; rural landscapes; working farms and ranches; historic or geologic sites; together with managment, restoration of natural systems, and the enhancement of public access or recreational enjoyment of conservation lands.

2) To pay the debt service on bonds issued pursuant to Article VII, Section 1(e).

c) The moneys deposited into the Land Acquisition Trust Fund, as defined by the statues in effect on January 1, 2012, shall not be or become commingled with the General Revenue Fund of the state.”



Valentine’s Day Paddle, Womack Creek and all its branches, blue sky, crisp day — what more could we ask for.

The day was glorious, though cool, wind from the north with some chop on the Ocklockonee, but once within Womack Creek, the water calmed.

P1120511We were looking forward to seeing more buds on Womack Creek.  But it is mid-February — it was a hope.


At the first cove on RR, a single golden club plant with one bloom stalk and two others still nestled in its leaves.

P1120519We didn’t expect the pumpkin ash buds, still tight, but promising blooms in two weeks.


And in the first mile upstream, in a secluded, but sunny spot pinxter azaleas were blooming.  The first of the season and an early bell weather.  The other pinxster buds are still tightly closed, waiting for more consistent spring weather.   This was a Valentine’s Day gift!


Not to take these little blossoms for granted, they were already in bud when we last paddled Womack Creek.  Now throughout the whole creek and all of its branches, the Walter’s Viburnum blooms are opening up.   The earliest of spring flowers in the North Florida wetlands.


And the hornbeam trees were full of blossoms.

P1120527Alders putting out their leaves.   As the regular rain cycle has resumed, these alders have taken over many areas previously taken by False Indigo and Azaleas.


And sweetgum leaves will be bursting out soon.

And bald cypresses are now in flower.


P1120562The Florida red maples are starting to develop seeds.   On Womack creek it seems many of the maples are either male or female trees, although maple trees can have both male and female flowers on a single tree.

And the deadly water hemlock starting with new growth.



Insect cases, one case already emptied, the other still incubating.

We decided to explore all the branches of Womack creek.  About 2.5 miles from put-in on RL is a branch as wide as the main channel which flows past Nick’s Road Primitive Campsite.  We took this branch first — we had not been on it for a year. It narrowed after about 1 mile and ended as do all these branches into a tangle of mud, branches, trunks — an impenetrable and not navigable dead end.

Exploration in the branches of rivers in north Florida requires saw and clipper.   Downed trees  block further clear navigation, forcing a portage in muck, branches either overhanging or dead can be cut through, strainers (collections of branches in the water like a dam) can be loosened and opened up.  Some trees do not fall directly into the water and allow, depending on water level, for limbo paddling — one gets pretty good at what we call the “turtle scrunch” — receding into one’s cockpit with as much of one’s body and head close to the height of the deck to get under low trunks.   In slow moving waters this is easy; in fast moving waters failure to coordinate and place one’s kayak properly can result in a capsize.

With limbo logs, one has to note,  where the creek or river is tidally influenced, whether one is going upstream in high or low tide.  If one barely makes it under a log on an outgoing tide,  on return in an incoming tide plan B will need to be pursued.   We learned this on Trout Creek, a small tributary of the New River, which drains from the Dwarf Cypress swamp.  We were on one of our exploration trips which required, as usual, cutting through a path up river and found ourselves in an incoming tide on the way back.  The space was barely enough for the kayaks, sans paddlers.

P1120567This required cutting.


And beyond that, more obstacles.

P1120570A lot of situations like this.


Often ending like this, slough 1 or slough 2.

From put-in to Nick’s Road Primitive Camp Site which is a sunny spot with a picnic table, a fire ring and a grill, is 3.75 miles.  This is a good place to have lunch.

But upstream, there are two branches, each of which have increased in navigability in the last 3 years which were wetter than the previous 4-5 years.  We were able to get up to the furtherest point we have ever paddle on the branch on RL (about 1.2 miles) and got much further up the second branch on RR than we have ever been before.

These creek  branches were equally as challenging as the first branch, but we were amply rewarded:   an otter, a white tail deer, a pair of barred owls, a hawk in this section.   And we were 1.2 miles from hway 67, where Womack Creek crosses to the northwest before we had to stop. This is the closest we have ever been to hway 67 on the creek.

Here are the photos:

P1120584 One has to be willing to hope for the best.


But it wouldn’t hurt to test the depth of the water occasionally.


A sharp saw a necessity when one decided to explore small branches.



There’s always that last barrier one is willing to cross.


Nothing convinces more than a series of obstacles in close proximity that its time to turn around and go downriver to take-out.

Today’s paddle was 11 miles.  Our normal paddles on Womack Creek runs from 7.5-8.5 miles, upstream and downstream.

We put in at a temperature of 56 F and took out at 60 F.  The winds had picked up, the tide had turned, and we were ravenous.

The sky remained cloudless, the air crisp — in the protected waters of Womack Creek the 10-12 mph winds were not felt.  A bit of chop leaving Womack into the Ocklockonee, but it was a short paddle to the take-out.

What did you do on St. Valentine’s Day?


East Panhandle Bear Management Unit

From “Florida Black Bear Management Plan, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 2012”

Counties:  Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Jackson, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, Madison, Taylor, Wakulla and Washington

Minimum subpopulation objective                                                                      570 bears  Estimated subpopulation in primary range                                                411-653  bears  Potential bear habitat in Conserved Lands could support                                 297 bears   (page 99, lines 2347-2349)

“Currently, potential bear habitat in conserved lands are insufficient to maintain or increase the minimum subpopulation objective.  Habitat conservation efforts should seek to create two primary landscape connections:  one with the West Panhandle BMU [Bear Management Unit] that incorporates Econfina Creek Water Management Area and Choctawhatchee River conservation areas, among others; and one with the Big Bend BMU using coastal conservation lands. … Continuing to manage St. Marks NWR [National Wildlife Refuge] and Aucilla WMA [Wildlife Management Area] to provide bear habitat would hel support bear numbers for expansion into the Big Bend BMU. ”  (page 99, lines 2352-2359)

Habitat needed for 570 bears                                                                             2,359,856 acres  Potential Bear Habitat                                                                                         4,278,290 acres  Potential Bear Habitat in Conservation Lands                                                   1,229,916 acres  Total area of BMU                                                                                                5,830,664 acres*

*Includes public and private lands.




West Panhandle Bear Management Unit

Florida counties:  Escambia, Holmes, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, and Walton

“Bears in the West Panhandle BMU [Bear Management Unit] are part of the Eglin subpopulation, named after the Eglin Air Force Base that represents the majority of occupied bear range in this BMU.  The subpopulation estimate is below the minimum subpopulation objective, and there the management objective is to increase the current bear subpopulation.  However, Eglin Air Force Base is probably at or near its biological carrying capacity, and therefore increases in bear numbers would likely occur in suitable habitats in other parts of the BMU. [Blackwater River State Forest and any Northwest Florida Water Management areas west of the Choctawhatchee River.] (“Florida Black Bear management Plan, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 2012”, p. 94, lines 2273-2279.)

“Minimum subpopulation objective                                                                       200 bears   Estimated subpopulaton in primary range                                                       63-101 bears   Potential bear habitat in Conserved Lands could support                                    121 bears

“Currently, potential bear habitat in conserved land is approximately 74 percent of that needed to support the minimum subpopulation objective.  Habitat conservation efforts should seek to expand occupied range and create the following critical landscape connections: along the Yellow River to Blackwater River State Forest; with the Apalachicola [National Forest] population by building on existing conserved habitat toward the Choctawhatchee River; and Alabama’s Mobile bear population through Cunecuh NF [National Forest]. … Increasing genetic interchange with the bears in Alabama would benefit both of these small subpopulations.” (page 94, lines 2286-2293.)

Minimum subpopulation objective is what is needed to maintain a sustainable population.  “In order to maintain a sustainable population of bears throughout Florida, we must provide adequate habitats, promote viable subpopulations, [emphasis theirs] provide connections among subpopulations, manage human impacts, and influence human behaviour.  It a subpopulation drops below a certain level, it becomes increasingly susceptible to negative effects like inbreeding and environmental variability.”  (p. 1, lines 556 to 565.)

Habitat needed for 200 bears                                                                             1,198,461 acres  Potential Bear Habitat                                                                                           1,886,289 acres Potential Bear Habitat in Conservation Lands                                                        723,051 acres Total area of the BMU                                                                                            2,686,289 acres*

(page 96, lines 2297-2300)

*need not be only public lands, but a mix of private lands and public.




Consider large mammals in conservation and restoration of forests

The following is from “Florida Black Bear (Ursus americanus floridanus) Management Plan of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission which was approved on June 27, 2012.  [Those wishing to read this interesting and well written report can download this report.  Florida black bear management plan, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Tallahassee, Florida, 215 p.)

“The use of fire by land managers to promote restoration and maintenance of fire climax communities provides well-established benefits.   The frequent applications of fire creates a plant community structure and successional sere that is beneficial to an array of wildlife.  However, bears and many other species benefit from habitat patches with prolonged fire intervals.  Several studies have indicated the importance of saw palmetto and oak mast for food, … and the use of dense understory including palmetto as concealing cover for natal dens….  However, fire can be fatal to oaks … and reduce fruiting of palmettos when burned more frequently than every five years….  Consequently, bears in Florida use areas that have at least five years between burns more frequently than they do areas with shorter burn cycles. … Land management compatible with bear needs would include a diverse mosaic of forest communities where some forest compartments are burned less frequently than every five years.  Conversely, the frequent application of fire could help reduce the abundance of bears in areas where that is a management objective. [my emphasis](pages 53-54, lines 1708-1724)

“… Present efforts to enhance red-cockaded woodpecker populations, for example, involve controlled burns and longleaf pine restoration; however, frequent, large-scale winter burning may reduce the diversity and abundance of foods available to bears and kill cubs in dens.  A coordinated management effort will provide much needed habitat for bears, scrub-jays, snakes and other wildlife species that will require alternate while burns are underway.  Therefore, coordinating land-management activities that span the landscape, address the seasonal conditions, and the varying requirements of individual species is important for establishing successful habitat conservation efforts for bears and other wildlife species.” (page 54, lines 1730-1739)

“Management goals and desired conditions for other wildlife species, particularly listed species, may not always result in prime bear habitat.  However, many species with seemingly divergent needs can be accommodated if a variety of land management regimes are used to provide diverse forest communities at the landscape level.” (page 54, lines 1740-1744.)

“The Florida black bear thrives in habitats that provide an annual supply of seasonablly available foods, secluded areas for denning, and some degree of protection from humans. Harlow (1961) described optimal bear habitat in Florida as ‘a mixture of flatwoods, swamps, scrub oak ridges, bayheads and hammock habitats, thoroughly interspered.'” (page 8, lines 717-721).

“…approximately 80 percent of the natural bear foods in Florida are plant material. … Although 66 different plant species have been identified in bear diets, the fruit and fiber of saw palmetto are important throughout Florida and throughout the year. … Insects make up around 15 percent of Florida black bear diets, usually in the form of colonial insects (e.g. ants, termites) and beetles. … The remaining five percent of a typical bear diet in Florida is animal matter, which includes medium-sized mammals like raccoons, oposssums, and armadillos as well as small livestock and white-tailed deer. …” (pages 10-11, lines 784-792.)