FERNANDINA BEACH WEATHER

Pat’s Wildways: One fine morning

By Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D.
August 12, 2021

A gopher tortoise burrow is easily viewed along the road to Fort Clinch’s beach parking lot.

My recent day started with a routine medical appointment, then I had a couple of hours to kill before meeting friends for lunch. Instead of going directly home, I took the long way, through Fort Clinch State Park, and never made it home at all that morning.

I was in a good mood after my check up and good moods bring good things forward. Fort Clinch State Park was no exception. Bucko and I have a volunteer job at the park, keeping an eye on nature happenings there. So, this morning I did my rounds. First I drove to the two Inlet Parking areas to survey the scenes–beautiful scenes complete with well-located viewing benches. At one spot, though, I photographed a swallowtail butterfly on a flower, then realized it was an invasive lantana plant, often used in landscaping and to attract butterflies, but not welcome in natural areas like Fort Clinch State Park. Ah, a volunteer sighting duly reported to the management, great.

And then on a drive towards the beach parking area I spied the usual tortoise near its burrow, and got out of my car to photograph it, but it dove back into its hole, alas. Another car stopped by too, and I had a chance to tell them all about this keystone species that inhabits our dunes. Whenever I see these tortoises or any turtles crossing the Fort Clinch roads I always stop, get out of my car and alert others coming down the road. More than one tortoise has been killed by cars in the park and I never want to see another.

The “Triangle Tree” is an impressive live oak tree at a main crossroad in the park.

My next observation point was the Triangle Live Oak, as Bucko and I call it, a majestic tree at the major intersection in the park. Usually I just drive by, but this time I got out of my car again, photographed the tree, and scanned the resurrections ferns on the higher branches for orchids, which I’ve recently learned live up in the canopy. Not long ago a member of the island’s Bartram Garden Club discovered a Bartram’s tree orchid among the ferns on a broken oak branch near the Women’s Club, nurtured it, and reported on its yellow bloom a few months later. These orchids are in the park, no doubt, but even their blooms are inconspicuous and I have yet to find one. It doesn’t stop me from looking.

A bit further down the road I checked out another more conspicuous epiphyte on the live oak branches– a prickly pear cactus that has taken root high over the road. It amazes me how adaptable these cacti are to different living conditions, even in the sparse environment of the forest canopy where its shallow roots must have spread along the entire limb. This cacti has been there for years, but I always admire its fortitude when I drive by.

On the way out of the park, heading to the front gate, I stopped again to photograph a purple blooming ironweed plant, which also had a contingent of swallowtail butterflies, on a native plant this time, great. But when I got close to the plant I noticed that some inconsiderate slob had tucked an empty beer can in and among the foliage. I removed it. Another volunteer task accomplished.

The “Walking Dune” (aka Walk-In Dune) is a feature along the main road into Fort Clinch State Park.

My last sight in the park was the “Walking Dune.” Or maybe it is called the “Walk-In Dune,” Bucko has heard both versions, and both are apt names. This large sand dune beside the main road marks one of the closest accesses to nearby homes, and in the past people have “walked in” to the park from here. But also, when the winds blow, the sand from the dune sometimes has to be removed from the road. Thus, the dune is “walking”. Whichever term you use, it’s a fine sight to admire.

At this point it was getting too late for me to drive home, so I went directly to my friend’s house to pick her up and drive together to our monthly meeting with our Ladies Out to Lunch (LOL) group that has been meeting for years now, outside dining, Covid be damned.

On this fine morning I once again was thankful for my good health, the beautiful natural world I live in, and the friends that share it with me.  I am indeed blessed, and it takes a perfect morning like this to remind me. We should all be so lucky…..

Pat Foster-Turley is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]

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