Nature Challenge

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Nature Challenge

My local Florida county – Volusia – is sponsoring a monthly nature challenge at a different county preserve each month on iNaturalist. According to the challenge coordinator Trey Hannah “The Explore Volusia Challenge was designed to get people out to the wonderful Volusia County conservation Lands”, and in my case it has been working.

The challenge started in October and that month’s location was Scrub Oak Preserve, one of the county’s newer properties and one that I had been meaning to visit for some time. So with only three days left in the month, I participated in the first challenge by hiking the one mile trail and making the five observations on iNaturalist as directed by the signs along the trail, as well as submitting observation of several other plants & animals seen along the trail, including a Florida scrub jay.

Aphelocoma_coerulescens_9419.jpg Florida scrub jay framed in green at Lyonia Preserve (2010)

For those who are not familiar with it, iNaturalist is an online social network of people sharing biodiversity information to help each other learn about nature.
I have been using iNaturalist more and more the past several years, both as an aid to identification, but also as a reporting tool as one of my contributions to citizen science by adding to their observation database. Identifications for some observations can be made by the iNaturalist AI (artificial intelligence) which is not perfect, but can often confidently suggest at least the family or genus, it which point the user can utilize other sources to narrow down the ID or other iNaturalist users - many of which are experts in their field of interest - will suggest a better ID.

The second month’s challenge was at Doris Leeper Spruce Creek Preserve. While I have explored several parts of this property, the section where the challenge was taking place was new to me. Due to hurricane Nicole and a family camping trip, the month was nearly over by the time I participated. Not part of the challenge but the highlight for me there was a giant airplant (Tillandsia utriculata) in front of somewhat dry resurrection ferns (Pleopeltis michauxiana) on an old leaning tree trunk.

Tillandsia_utriculata_1437.jpg Giant airplant and resurrection ferns

The thumbnail photo at the top of this post is a great blue heron along Spruce Creek.

In December I scheduled a day for the challenge between my week-long Suwannee River kayak paddle and various late month activities that included a state park kayak tour, Christmas bird count and a traditional family New Year’s camping trip. This time it was to a familiar property, Deep Creek Preserve. I had been there on a number of Florida Native Plant Society field trips with the local Pawpaw Chapter, as the chapter namesake plant – Rugel’s Pawpaw – occurs on the property. But my visits had been before the current three nature trails had been laid out and marked. The challenge was on the 1.2 mile orange trail, along which were several ferns, including one that I have only seen here, drooping forked fern (Dicranopteris flexuosa).

Dicranopteris_flexuosa_1797.jpg Drooping forked fern

After completing the first trail, I hiked the 4.4 mile yellow trail, observations on both trails included some mushrooms. Two of these, one a reddish-brown flat-capped mushroom and another a orangish-red inverted cup-shaped mushroom were both identified as Genus Laccaria. A third very different mushroom came up as Genus Amanita.

Amanita_1977.jpg Amanita mushroom

January brought me to a very familiar site – Longleaf Pine Preserve – having hiked here before including attending a number of native plant field trips, one of which I led. The nature challenge here was on the 0.8 mile long orange trail and included feral hog sign, mosses, and carnivorous plants. My favorite photo of the day was a new species for me, the Florida airplant (Tillandsia simulata) found only in Florida.

Tillandsia_simulata_2147.jpg Florida airplant

And hanging by a thread from a leaf of one of these airplants was something else new, a tiny round eggsack of the Basilica orbweaver spider.

Mecynogea_lemniscata_2173.jpg Basilica orbweaver spider eggsack

I did not get a photo, but the most exciting sighting of the day was a Wilson’s snipe that I accidentally flushed up while passing through a wet area.

The February challenge will be at another familiar location, Lyonia Preserve.

Clicking on any of the links or images above will take you to the Wild Florida Photo page for that species where you can find more photos of and information about that subject.

Paul Rebmann

January 30, 2023