I knew that if I stopped by the exhibition hall for the Wild Amelia event at the Atlantic Avenue Recreation Center I would have something to write about. As it turned out, it was a fun reunion for me with some of the long-term wildlife conservationists on Amelia Island and a chance to meet some of the newer people getting into the act too.
Before I even entered the door I ran into Kathy Russell, with the Fernandina Recreation Department for years and a Fernandina Beach High School biology teacher before that. Many moons ago I gave a presentation to her high school students, and I have respected her intimate knowledge of the Egans Creek Greenway for many years since. This time she was garbed in a turtle hat, leading around Martin Colon, fully disguised as a sea turtle. Perfect.
It didn’t take me long to run into another old-timer, Mary Duffy with her cohort from the Amelia Island Sea Turtle Watch Group, staffing a display of sea turtle artifacts and information. Mary has been leading this group for decades. She filled me in on the current nesting activity this season (17 nests so far) and bemoaned the fact that as of yet she has not recorded a rare Kemp’s ridley turtle on our beaches, although further north and south of us they have appeared. If you want to keep up with turtle nesting activity check out their website where information is always updated.
A bit further along I found Don Hughes, now a volunteer and at one point chairman of the Friends of Fort Clinch. Many years ago he was an official at the Nassau branch of the Florida State College of Jacksonville back when it was a community college. I interviewed with him when I was looking for a job here long ago before I even started writing this column. The years go by. This day he was staffing the Friends of Fort Clinch booth with a new ranger, Lori Slaughter, both eager to talk about the treasures of Fort Clinch State Park.
It was wonderful to see these old friends still hard at work talking about wildlife conservation. And it was inspiring to see younger people involved in these efforts too. I happily chatted with Betsy Harris at the Florida Native Plant booth. She works teaching surfing, but spends much of her time traipsing throughout the woods of north Florida and beyond finding rare native plants and concocting recipes using local plants, fruits and other resources. Every day I happily follow her Facebook posts with new, elaborate cooking ideas and plant identifications. She needs to write a book!
Amy Beach is another conservationist who is making a mark on Amelia Island. She spends hours patrolling our beaches collecting discarded items that she makes into conservation displays. She has initiated a toy drop-off box where people can recycle and reuse discarded beach toys, and this day was staffing her Beach Junki booth and helping kids with coloring projects. Did I mention that she knows many of the Fort Clinch deer personally, having watched three or more generations grow up in one section of the park? Another amazing person.
There were lots of other interesting booths there too, and some animals on display too. I admired the lop-eared rabbits at Babette’s Bunny Rescue and learned that as many as 80% of this rabbit breed are deaf. I was fascinated by the display of an active beehive at the Nassau County Beekeepers Association and spent some time chatting with other exhibitors, too numerous to mention.
But eventually, I was finished with crowds and socializing and needed to drive into Fort Clinch Park to unwind. I was happily cruising slowly down the main park road and noticed two walkers staring at something on the ground. What were they looking at?
I parked my car and got out to join them, and, amazingly enough, they were studying a brightly colored, but dead, snake on the side of the road, an unfortunate road-killed specimen. This snake was beautiful, with red, yellow and black bands, but, sadly a crushed head. But was it a harmless scarlet king snake or a venomous coral snake? These two snakes look similar but there is a rhyme that tells them apart. “Red on yellow, kills a fellow, red on black, venom lack.” Or was it the reverse? At home with my photos, I confirmed that it was a scarlet king snake, a wonderful sight in nature.
Wild Amelia for sure! We still have it!!!!
Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D., is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]