Wildlife and Birding in Lakes Park, August 2020
Want to learn more about the least bittern? Visit the All About Birds guide at Cornell University: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Least_Bittern/overview
It’s hard to google with gardening gloves, so sometimes a critter photo will be texted from the Botanic Garden to our Executive Director for identification. She knew it was a moth caterpillar, but could not find one with this pattern on any of the usual sites.
Facebook to the rescue! An expert on one of the Florida butterfly ID groups said “army cutworm” – a phrase that strikes fear into the heart of gardeners. Cutworms can do a lot of damage if left unchecked. You can bet that our volunteer “A Team” will be on the lookout for these little guys!
LEARN MORE about the different types of cutworms from IFAS: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_family_noctuidae
GOPHER TORTOISE HABITAT UPDATE
Conservation 20/20 Land Stewardship Coordinator Felicia Nudo submitted a series of photos depicting the results of some habitat improvement activities that commenced in the park along Summerlin Road in the winter of 2019. Mowing can be important in reducing the amount of fuel available to feed a wildfire, and it also helps the mobility of the tortoises, allowing them to roam, feed, and burrow without hindrance. Here’s what Felicia has to say about the activities and their positive impact in the park –
February 2019 – facing north along Summerlin Road – mowing improves the habitat for gopher tortoises and other wildlife that call the park “home”.
In February of 2019, heavy equipment mowed this area of Lakes Regional Park to increase habitat quality for gopher tortoises and other species of wildlife within the park. Before the mowing took place, dense palmetto covered this area, providing little room for forage plants to grow. Historically, the palmetto would have been reduced through wildfires caused by lightning strikes. Since the park is sandwiched between development on all boundaries, prescribed burning is not an option for this area. Heavy equipment staff exercised extreme caution while mowing around the burrows and Conservation 20/20 staff marked the burrows before the mowing occurred. Although the mowing looked quite destructive immediately after, the following months provided opportunities for other plants to grow. Notice the regrowth in the photo from July of this year.
Gopher tortoise habitat regrowth begins, May 2019
Why does this matter?
This reduction of overgrown vegetation reduces the amount of fuel in the area. This in turn lessens the severity and intensity of a wildfire. Should a wildfire occur in that area, it will be much easier for emergency personal to access and control. Dense patches of palmetto shade out the herbaceous plants that gopher tortoises eat. Now that the palmetto has been reduced, the area has been opened up to allow for these plant species to grow. In addition, the tortoises now have room to expand and dig new burrows.
January 2020 view of regrowth in the mowed wildlife habitat
Measured impacts from the mowing:
In 2019 a gopher tortoise burrow survey was conducted in the project area and 29 burrows were recorded. After the mowing occurred, 38 burrows were recorded. This indicates that the new burrows were a result of the vegetation reduction. Additionally, forage plants such as shiny blueberry, netted pawpaw, persimmon, winged sumac, beauty berry, and a variety of wildflowers are now growing in the area where it used to be a solid wall of palmetto.
July 2020, 17 months after mowing
However, the increased opportunity comes an increase in non-native, invasive plants as well. The opened area not only allowed many great native plant species to flourish, but it also opened up the opportunity for invasive plants such as cesarweed, earleaf acacia, guinea grass, and Brazilian pepper to sprout up. The good news is that Conservation 20/20 staff can spot these plants quickly now that the area has been opened up and treat them before they become a real problem.