Scrub Sage and the Devious 'Dillos

Jan 19
One way to describe the morning was: early. A chorus of red junglefowl replaced our alarms and made us quickly get up and break breakfast bread for the day. After stretching our limbs and soaking in the morning sun, we hopped in the van and began the second leg of the long haul north. Our eyes set on Archbold Research Station, we drove up past fields of sugarcane and oranges, as well as multiple teakettle lakes, complete with a high population density of octogenarians. Apart from agriculture and natural landscapes, we saw pump stations in charge of facilitating water levels for the Everglades, which was pretty neat-o.
After arriving at Archbold, the Earlhamites set up the standard sandwich station and served up succulent sustenance. Mark Deyrup, semi-retired ecologist and ant taxonomist, was our guide for the day and after polishing off a hearty peanut butter, lettuce and mayo sandwich, he picked up his tote and beckoned us to join him. We headed to an old fire break to begin faring the Florida scrub. Soon after entering the unique habitat atop some of the highest points in peninsular Florida, Mark told us stories about local flora and how they have adapted to the acidic, sandy environment of the scrub. For example: curled, thick, waxy, hard leaves are present here for water retention. Additionally, characteristics of fauna in the scrub reiterated the dichotomy of fire adaptation. On one hand, plants such as palmettos have a more complex rooted structure which allows them to survive and regrow after fires. Mark told us a story about an ambitious ecologist who was interested in dating the lifetime of palmettos. Much to their dismay, the palmettos never died, which let them to the conclusion that the same roots may have been around for a very long time and sprouted genetically identical growth fire after fire. On the other hand of fire adaptation, slash pine invest in trunk growth to gain altitude early on so that when a fire comes through, the tree may be tall enough to survive the burn.
As we moved through the scrub, Mark shared with us lots of anecdotes from the tracks in the sand to prescribed burn stories to the signs around the paths made to illustrate practical uses of what many conservative passers-by would consider to be a pointless use of conservation. The knowledge he gave us about ecology, conservation and the scrub habitat was deep and very appreciated by the Earlhamites.
Next, we hopped back into our vans and chugged on Publix, where grub was gathered prior to stopping at our home base for the night, Highlands Hammock State Park. Once we set up tents and configured the campsite, some stayed back at camp to prepare for dinner or take some much-needed quiet time and others hopped back into a van with hopes of seeing the elusive scrub jay, an endangered species endemic to the Florida scrubs and Florida’s only endemic bird. Attempts to spot the jay were futile, but birders were able to see “a prickly pear cactus with really long spines” and many a mockingbird who posed as scrub jays.
Dinner comprised of grilled chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, assorted potato salads and mini muffins a la Chef Chris. Once dinner was finished and cleaned up, we realized that it was only 7:30 PM and there was much more time for activities. The group concensed on a night hike through the “Big Oak” trail, and we quickly set out towards the trail head. Soon after arriving, we spotted white-tailed deer and had to pry Firepit (Nathan B.) from a staring contest with them. Some Earlhamites thoroughly enjoyed the hike, comparing the likes of it to Disney World. For others, it was like walking through a prehistoric habitat due to the sheer magnitude of some oak trees and palmettos that surrounded us. Notable animals that we saw/heard on our walk included: armadillos, white-tailed deer, feral hogs, and barred owls. Towards the end of the trail, we took a left turn and entered an ancient graveyard… or so we initially thought. Turns out, planted trees covered with deer-proof netting have an uncanny resemblance to old headstones when viewed from afar with a high-powered flashlight.
After the night trail, the Earlham thirteen got back to camp exhausted and slept like logs.

  • Charlie Burton, Senior
Posted on January 20, 2022 05:50 PM by crsmithant crsmithant


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