Summer is a busy time on the St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge. The sea turtle patrol is operating full time, the red wolves are being carefully monitored with hopes for a new litter of pups, several research projects are underway, and several summer interns are working on the island. There are no tours of the island during the summer months because of the heat and bugs, but the refuge will be offering a special week of island tours during National Wildlife Refuge Week in October.
WILD WEEK, which stands for Wonder - Inspire - Learn - Do, all of which can occur on St. Vincent Island, will take place during National Wildlife Refuge Week. During the week of Oct. 14 – 18 there will be a themed tour of the entire island each day. Each tour will have a narrator and a specialist who share their knowledge about the island and the featured theme of that day's tour. The focus of each of the five tours will be Photography, History of St. Vincent Island, Birds, Native Plants, and a Kids/Family oriented tour. More specific information about the WILD WEEK tours will be posted on the Events page on the Supporters website – www.stvincentfriends.com after Labor Day. Reservations for the tours will be on a first-come / first-served basis. Beginning Wednesday, September 3, reservations for WILD WEEK island tours can be made on the Supporters of St. Vincent Island's web page – www.stvincentfriends.com .
Sea turtle nesting got off to a slow start this season – perhaps because of the cool spring weather? It will be interesting to see if the numbers catch up to last year’s record pace as the season progresses. As of Aug. 1 the turtle patrol volunteers and staff had confirmed 51 sea turtle nesting sites, all of which have been loggerhead sea turtles (the most common sea turtle in this region). The nests hatch approximately 60 days after the eggs were laid. Thus far two nests have hatched. Of those 51 nests, 22 have been adopted through the Supporters' Adopt a Nest program. There is still plenty of time to adopt a nest. A $25 “adoption donation” will help pay for the cost of the wire cages, supplies, and fuel for the patrol vehicles. A donor will receive an “adoption certificate”, a photo of the nest, and a complete activity report at the end of the nesting season. To adopt a nest call 229-6735.
This summer St. Vincent Island has served as an outdoor laboratory for several interesting research projects.
1. A doctoral student at Florida State University is studying several venomous reptiles on the island to determine if the snakes' specific dietary limitations (prey) drive an evolutionary response and changes to their venom composition. By comparing specific island populations to mainland venomous snakes the study will help provide more information about the limits of genetic change given the geographic isolation on an island. This should help increase the understanding of local adaptation.
2. A post-doctoral student from the University of Amherst (MA) is conducting a long term study of the Gulf Coast Box Turtle. This research is to establish a baseline for population numbers as well as to better understand the effects of habitat changes.
3. Researchers from Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, FL are collecting seeds from the Lupinus Westianus (Gulf Coast Lupine). They hope to increase knowledge about the species and to secure the species into the National Collection for preservation.
4. John Murphy from the Florida Ornithological Society is conducting visual and audio surveys to catalog the bird species present on the island. He will also be conducting specific breeding surveys to identify any species missed in the initial visit. This long term study will be completed and published in 2017 as part of the Breeding Bird Atlas for the state of Florida.
For those of you waiting for hunting season, here is the Hunt Schedule for this winter (2014-15 ) on St. Vincent Island.
Nov. 20 – 22 (Thurs-Sat) Archery Hunt
Dec. 4 – 6 (Thurs-Sat) Sambar Deer Hunt
Jan. 22-25, 2015 (Thurs-Sat) Primitive Weapons Hunt
Permits are available on a first-come, first served basis for the Archery and Primitive Weapons Hunts. The Sambar Deer Hunt is “limited entry” - hunters are chosen by lottery from those who have applied for a permit. You can apply for any of these hunts on the Florida Fish and Wildlife web site – www.myfwc.com/hunting .
Remember registration for the WILD WEEK tours (Oct. 14-18) begins Wednesday, Sept. 3. Until then you can always visit the island on your own. Do remember that the island is primitive – bring everything you need, including drinking water – and leave only your footprints behind. This monthly column is provided by the Supporters of St. Vincent Island National Wildlife Refuge. Please visit our web page for more information and volunteer opportunities – www.stvincentfriends.com - and never miss an opportunity to visit St. Vincent Island.