Florida-Part 2

So I’m back in Texas!

After being gone for 4 weeks, it is nice to be back in my own apartment, in my own bed, in a familiar location. Living out of your car and hotel rooms for 4 weeks can be exhausting, not to mention all the driving and field work too! 

So what exactly have I been up to these last 4 weeks? Well the last time I left off, I was in the panhandle of Florida at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. After my first night at the Best Western, I decided to take a trip before I had to meet up with my help that afternoon. I took a short drive up the road to Wakulla Springs, one of the deepest and largest freshwater springs in North America. I thought it was so cool to see a river just bubbling up right out of the ground when I first arrived in San Marcos, Texas, but this spring in Florida was putting out almost 3 times as much water!! I didn’t get a chance to ride boat for a tour of the river, but I did get a chance to walk around a bit and climb the dive tower to take photos of the huge alligator and manatees. YES! TWO MANATEES! Another first for me!

That afternoon I met up with my collaborator and committee member Dr. Susan Walls and one of her technicians, Luis, to scout out some ponds. They had driven in from Gainesville that morning to meet me and help out. Unfortunately, the first few ponds we sampled did not have any of the tadpole species I was looking for. Though this winter was a very wet one for Florida, the last few months were quite dry and warm, so the ponds were all drying up much faster than normal. This meant my tadpoles were most likely already gone from the ephemeral (temporary/seasonal) ponds and wetlands. However, late that afternoon we were finally able to find 2 ponds that had some tadpoles. The next day we went back to the ponds and were able to collect enough at each for a good sample size. Though I was striving for 3 ponds at each location, I was happy with finding what we did after no luck earlier. In addition to my tadpoles, I saw my first Mole Salamander larvae and that evening went to the workcenter and saw captive Flatwoods Salamander larvae. These were a different species from the ones I had seen at Eglin AFB, so that added another 2 species to my list!

The next morning we were all headed back to Gainesville. We took a scenic route and drove out through the main region of the St. Marks NWR to the old lighthouse on the coast. The refuge was beautiful! We started out in a long-leaf pine savannah, then moved through a cypress swamp and into a grassy marsh with palms before reaching the brackish wetland area and the sandy coast. There were alligators everywhere and I even saw a bobcat intently staring into the marsh at some prey! After a stroll around the trails, we took off for Gainesville and my new “basecamp.”

After arriving in Gainesville, I stayed in a nice hotel called the Lodge for the first few nights and finished the paperwork and picked up my ID at the USGS office. I also had to finish extracting hormones from the water samples I collected, so I set up shop in one of the wet labs in the building. It was really nice to finally have a lab table, sink and supplies to work with instead of a bathroom or small table in a hotel room!

After the weekend, I moved out to Dr. Walls’ and her husband, Dr. Joe Mitchell’s home. They had a vintage camper in their backyard that became my little home away from home for the next week or so. It was adorable and just the perfect size! Gainesville then became my basecamp for the nest week as I visited 3 other potential locations throughout central Florida looking for Ornate Chorus frog tadpoles. As you’ve probably guessed, I didn’t find any at either of the first two locations, and that’s after sampling at 6+ ponds. I thought I was out of luck at the third location as well, because out of 4 ponds surveyed, I only found 1 with tadpoles and then only collected a total of 9 individuals. There were plenty of Cottonmouth snakes though! Fortunately, Susan and I were able to return the next day to the same pond and sample a second time. With both of us dipnetting, we were able to find enough to get 30 individuals total for the pond. All that work for only 1 pond site! Oh well, I’ll take what I can get.

This past week I took a trip up to the Jones Center in southern Georgia (this was all after spending the weekend in WV surprising Beth). After having a rejuvenating weekend, I was excited and ready to finish my field season strong. I first set up shop at the Days Inn in the nearby town and then drove the next morning to my last field location. Upon arrival at the Jones Center at Ichauway, I was immediately enamored with the high-quality habitat of the Center’s land. I was met with towering Long-leaf pines that were old and mature with a thick understory of yellow grasses. It was obvious from the lack of messy, unwanted shrubs and the smoke in the air that the area was being managed well by prescribed burning: just what is required for many threatened species that call the pine flatwoods home, including my tadpoles. I met up with Dr. Lora Smith who was my liaison and guide for the next 2 days. She had already picked out 3 ponds that were most likely to have the best populations of Ornate Chorus frog tadpoles. We went to 2 ponds the first day and, to my excitement and amazement, collected more than enough tadpoles at each pond for a full sample! In addition, I saw my first Tiger Salamander larvae! Thenext morning I went back to finish up at the third pond and, after about 1:00pm, I was all finished with my field collection! For the season! 

I stayed overnight with my aunt and uncle in Georgia, which it was great to be able to see them again, and then rove back to Gainesville the next morning. The following two days was all spent in the lab working on extraction which I finished up on Friday evening. I was now completely done with my first field season of my PhD!! On Saturday, I drove 11 hours back to Louisiana, stayed with Dr. Jaeger, and then headed back to Texas on Sunday. And now I’m back, frantically trying to catch up with what has been going on since I left and jump right back into the real world of student life. Data analysis, papers, grants, and homework await, but for now, its the bed. 🙂

I will leave you with pictures from the second half of my trip…

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