Florida Gulf Coast University Campus visit
Today we travelled to the FGCU campus and met with a number of staff members for a tour of some of the ecosystems they have present on campus! How many UK universities can boast that?
We first met with Drs. Jerome “Jerry” Jackson, and Bette Jackson world renowned ornithologists. They had been up early in patch of woodland near the carpark at FGCU setting up mist nests. These fine mesh nets are designed to gently catch flying birds that fly into them and hold them without damaging them.
After an introduction to their history of use in the USA, ranging from Italian immigrants to the experiements of General Sutton and his redwing Blackbirds.
After a number of sweeps of the nets we found two birds and Jerry and Bette showed with extreme skill and care the way to extract and handle the birds. Light pressure on the back of the two birds kept them placid and prevented any undue stress.
The birds caught were Yellow Rumped Warbler’s otherwise known as Butterbutts due to the patch of yellow on their rumps. Another interesting fact, was the high metabolic temperature of 110°F (43°C).
Whilst handling the birds Jerry told us about the history of bird ringing, or bird banding as it is known in the States, which began with the legendary american naturalist J J Audubon.
Audubon used silver thread on a family of flycatchers he knew about and used it to track them around his local area. This humble beginning is now an international affair with countries globally keeping databases on movements and records of ringed birds.
These data-sets give insights into migration, avian diseases, and avian transmitted diseases. A powerful tool for ornithologists going into the future.
Then Jerry gave us all a surprise. Two pet Red Eared Slider Turtles, with a difference. Firstly the pair were 25 years old; remarkable in itself. The first was a true albino.
The second was the remarkable, Pete – Repete, a two headed turtle which against all odds has survived 25 years. Partially through the use of a credit card. Pete – Repete.. geddit’ ?
The credit card was slotted between the two heads so each head could feed in peace. As despite sharing one stomach both heads competed for food when hungry.
This signaled our hand over to Professor of Environmental Studies Edwin “Win” Everham and Amy a 2nd year Grad student at FGCU.
Win was an extremely charismatic speaker and evidently passionate about the world around him and showing it to us. His quick fire and snappy delivery, reminiscent of the late Robin Williams guided us through the campus storm water ponds, past the state wildflower, the tickseed, or more scientifically the flower of the Coreopsis genus due to its abundance in Florida. Florida has state, flowers, wildflower, seals, reptiles and more.
Interesting to me were the Wax Myrtle shrubs, with a resemblance to the Bog Myrtle (Myrica gale) found in wetlands in the UK; even down to leaf morphology and characteristic smell when the leaves were crushed, which has led indigenous peoples in Florida and Scotland to use it as a repellent to their various insect pests.
Again another semi familiar plant cropped up and Win revealed it to us as the Swamp Bay, whose leaves smelled like… you guessed it… Bay leaves!
Win illustrated the impact a small 20 -30 cm change in relief could have on communities as we passed from Slash Pine Scrub-lands into the Cypress Dome with the interaction between water and fire creating an area of Prarie inbetween.
As Win said to us; the Cypress Dome had the stately air of being similar to one found in a cathedral, with an open area in the center where the Alligator Flag (Thalia geniculata) plant grew in the deepest parts. Where the Alligators would lie in the hottest parts of the dry season!