Earlham Florida Term 2022's Journal

January 19, 2022

Shark Valley, Shlurping, and Showers

January 15th

The day began with an early departure from Trail Lakes Campground (AKA Skunkape Headquarters). The groups made their way to Shark Valley, located in the renowned Everglades National Park. We set foot down a 1.4 mile walking trail for an up-close look at local species. Tourists were nearly tripping over the American Alligators sunbathing on and near the trail, who didn’t seem to bat an eye at the humans passing by for photos. Over the course of the walk, we also saw many birds, including a wood stork, a few great blue herons, a green heron, many anhingas, double-crested cormorants, boat-tailed grackles, northern mockingbirds, palm warblers, and even a purple gallinule, which was new to many of us. Other intriguing sights included the abundance of gars (a primarily freshwater species of fish), as well as a few baby alligators. After this magnificent spectacle of so many cool species, we set off for Flamingo Campground. Along the way, we spotted an area that had recently been treated with a prescribed burn, which was especially exciting, as we learned details about this process back at Tall Timber’s Research Station a few days back. When we arrived to our campsite, groups split off to prepare their dinner. We went to bed satisfied with full bellies and tired bodies after our journey of the day.

January 16th

After a restless night full of strong winds and flimsy tents, we awoke for our day of rest with another ominous weather forecast hanging over our heads. We were expecting storms for around 4 hours of the day, and were forced to pack up the campsite, leaving no trace for the rain to wet. A group of birders left for a nearby trail shortly after breakfast to see as many species as possible. Chris and Charlie then took off for a bike ride around the local trails within the Everglades National Park, and the 11 remaining campers embarked on a drive to a nearby trail in attempts to add new species to our birding life-lists, as well as enjoy the natural landscape before the expected storm. About 30 minutes into our hike, the rain began to fall with speed increasing at an exponential rate. Campers fled back to the van, and Nathen (AKA Slim Jim) was spotted sprinting down the trail at full speed, both to escape the rain and avoid mosquitoes. The group then visited a dock at the campground, where a family of manatees was spotted “shlurping” the fresh rainwater off the surface of the marina. A large crocodile was also among the species spotted in this area. As we grew delirious while taking cover in the van, we were greeted by other campers, who informed us that half our campsite was flooded (thankfully our tents were elsewhere), drawing in hundreds of black skimmers and laughing gulls. In addition to these species, we spotted a juvenile yellow-crowned night heron, and some upset campers discovering their submerged tents. Once the rain stopped, we returned to our site, set up our tents, and began a pasta cook off. Each group won one of the three categories: best tomato based dish, best use of mushrooms, and best comfort food. Everyone’s a winner! After the competition, Ben worked over a stubborn fire to make a berry dessert for the group.

Posted on January 19, 2022 03:28 by crsmithant crsmithant | 0 comments | Leave a comment

Gator Hookers and the Questionable Shrimp

Jan 14

After some of us spent the better part of a day praising the Earth’s beauty and vowing to never again forsake it for kayaks and the open waters, we woke up to the thrill of a “free day”. Earlhamites diverged into two groups and therefore journeys due to separate interests.
The first group decided to take their curiosity to Loop Road where the trailhead to Gator Hook Trail began. The allure or fright of Gator Hook, depending on who you asked, was the immersion it offered with a trail that necessitated wading through knee-deep waters.
The trail began with limestone, most complete with some incredible solution holes, and incredible views on either side of tall grass marsh. As we walked through, we observed an impressive amount of gator… trails. Flattened grass on either side of the path suggested passage of alligators, but we were unable to confirm with a sighting. Soon, the trail led us into the entrance of a wooded area. From here, the growth of cypress knees on the trail controlled our gaze by forcing us to keep an eye on the ground ahead of us. Because of this, we were able to see and identify some beautiful organisms, including a small garter snake, a trove of ferns, a carabid, and many wading birds. Upon encountering the first unavoidable pool of water, some squealed with glee, some with contempt, and some with the realization that we were, in fact, a long way from the plush accommodations of Tall Timbers. The water was cold and crystal clear, giving a clear view into the wood, stone and growth that lay beneath the surface. As we continued down the path, off-topic conversations transitioned to quiet hiking, with the exception of the “Squeak! Squeak!” of Slim Jim’s (Nathen) sandals.
Pretty soon, the water welcomed us and we entered a sensational cypress swamp. As we traversed and trudged through the trail, we saw loads of bromeliads, particularly cardinal air plants, all up and down the cypress trees. The most disconcerting find in the wetland was a tie between a poison ivy plant which opened our eyes to the reality that there was poison ivy everywhere and a fresh boot track obviously laid down by the resident skunk ape as a red herring. After some time hiking the trail became less and less maintained and we decided that, although there was no clear indication, we had passed the furthest point of the trail.
On the way back, we walked with purpose and took a brief pause to see if staying still for a few minutes would bring any wildlife closer to us. We succeeded tremendously, and the mosquitoes that immediately began ravaging us caused us to continue at a brisk and hand-waving pace. Finally, on the way out, a massive python disguised as a small branch cost Charlie his ambition to lead and a pair of underpants. Overall, the wet hike proved to be a memorable experience and a great use of a free day.
The second group tired from our journeys, to and from, and our stay on the island decided that instead of a hike it was time for a day of rest. We set out with intentions of becoming tourists for the day and enjoying our time as so many other visitors do. We set out for Marco Island.
The first destination of the day was a location reported to have had burrowing owls. As we pulled up to the site we all confused to houses. Just like any street the road were lined with mailboxes and driveways, and while the mailboxes were very fun, being in the shapes of pelicans, manatees and dolphins, we were disappointed to realize that this was not where we would find our owls. We turned to leave and noticed something. The lot on the corner didn’t have a house on it, but it did have a few small sections of grass were roped off, and each roped off section contained small pile of dirt, an owl burrow.
With a new hope of owls, took the chance to stop for some truly tourist activities. First we found a local coffee shop for iced coffee and croissants. As we sat on the patio to enjoy, we considered what the other group must be up to, whatever their hike was like it could not be as pleasant as sitting in the sun with coffee and croissants. We took our touristy trek through some of the neighboring shops looking through everything from swimsuits to sunglasses. By the time we got back to the van we were ready to find some owls.
This time we were prepared. We knew what we were looking for. As we turned down new streets, we spotted more and more roped off sections until one of them contained a mound of dirt a good bit taller than the others, a mound that turned its head as we turned down the street. There were shouts of joy and excitement. Everyone had their binoculars pointed out the windows of the van at the bird who stood guard of its burrow just across the street. Pictures were taken, cuteness was appreciated, and we had accomplished the biggest goals of the day.
It was time for a break. We headed to the beach. Everyone was excited to do their own thing at the beach. Josh headed straight for the observation tower with camera and binoculars in hand, Sophia patrolled the beach in search of shells, and Nathan searched the water for anything and everything marine biology. We could tell that the local wildlife was used to getting fed by humans when a snowy egret approached us, seemingly looking for food and when we didn’t provide any stood within arm’s reach of another woman. This stay at the beach was made far more pleasant knowing that at any point in time we could leave the sand behind. We did just that after deciding it was well past time for lunch.
After a meal of Chipotle and Starbucks, we had just enough light left in the day to stop at an ebird hotspot. As we pulled up we notice a few other cars, and just down the trail are several other people with binoculars and cameras pointing out at a field filled with different species of birds. The egrets, herons, and white ibises we had seen countless times along our trip stood alongside limpkins, black-bellied whistling ducks, and roseate spoonbills. The most exciting was the snail kite, which we first noticed perched on a pole, but also got to watch as it swooped down to catch one of its signature snails. Truly a successful day for birding and tourist things alike.
When we reconvened as one big group, we unwound and let the sun set over the tree line. Afterwards, we set out once again, this time all of us went to Loop Road armed with high powered flashlights to see what lurked in the waters and woods at nighttime. Some highlights from this excursion included: disturbing a barred owl mid-bowel-movement, seeing trees full of white ibis and yellow-crowned night herons fishing, spotting a wild Deere (John Deere, that is), and spotting the reflection of multiple gators both above and underwater. Once we got back to camp at Skunkape, Chris cooked up various assortments of “hot dogs” and the group enjoyed these dawgs along with a diverse array of potato salads and chips. Overall, it was a full day and we all went to bed in our tents, hammocks, and vans happy.

Wet Hike By: Senior Neuro/physics Major Charlie Burton
Marco Island By: Junior Bio Major Abby Shuck

Posted on January 19, 2022 02:56 by crsmithant crsmithant | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 17, 2022

Galavanting to Gullivan

Jan 11

While we were all excited to go to White Horse Key, many of us were dreading the paddle. We had endured around 8 or 10 miles on the Turner River the day before, and were about to go through about 12 more. We got up around 7, had our traditional oatmeal breakfast at 8, and were out of Trails Lake by 9:15. We arrived at the Collier-Seminole State Park around 9:45, and we set out on our kayaks and canoes at 10:30.
The first several miles of our paddle went relatively smoothly; we steered through calm waters, with dense mangrove forests on either side of us. We stopped at a muddy sandbar/oyster bar to have a lunch of muenster cheese sandwiches, hand delivered by Miette, who had stepped into the water, not realizing how deep she would sink into the mud. She decided that, since she was already in the water, she might as well save us the mess and bring us all food herself (like a true Quaker). We finished off our lunch with hot, melty Clif bars, and continued on our paddle.
Around this time, two of our three canoes, steered by Josh, Nathen, Ben, and Hannah, were joined in holy matrimony. They became one being, a single vessel, by holding a tarp up to the wind and making the best damn sail boat any of us had ever seen. While many of us were doubtful, the wind filled their sails (tarp, rather), and they zoomed away, taking the lead of our pack of boats with very little effort, while we watched with excitement and chagrin.
As we left the river and entered the bay, we were surprised by a majestic pod of dolphins, either 2 or 3 of them. They were hunting fish, and breached the surface in the process, giving us a beautiful show. However, as we waved fair well to the dolphins and steered further into the bay, the waters and strong winds became increasingly perilous. Our vessels were being thrown around by the choppy waves like a shoe in a washing machine; constantly rocking back and forth, being turned off course, and filling with salty, salty water.
Against all odds, 13 soggy Earlhamites arrived at an island, although not the one we intended to camp at. We ended our paddle at Gullivan Key, the island immediately north of White Horse Key. We pulled our boats up onto the shore, set up our tents, and Chris made gourmet quesadillas as the sun set beyond the waves. We ate dinner and sat around a beach campfire, and went to sleep shortly after.

Jan 12

We woke to the sound of gentle waves crashing against the sand. While we ate our breakfast of champions (oatmeal, obviously), Chris deemed that it would be a free day to do what we wanted. We all explored in one way or another; while some of us set out to paddle the bay in kayaks, others stayed behind and walked the circumference of the island, looking in the tidal pools at sea shells and marine life. We saw hermit and horse shoe crabs, comb jellies, mollusks and snails, a giant sting ray, ospreys, reddish egrets, brown and American white pelicans, sanderlings, american oyster catchers, ruddy turnstones, anemones, and a fisherman who sold us mullet (the fish, not the haircut) for about a dollar a pound.
After buying about 16 pounds of fish, Chris cooked it up for our lunch (as well as dinner, since there was so much left over), and many of us either ate it on its own, or on bagel sandwiches. Shortly following lunch, most of us got back in the water to keep exploring the tidal pools, but some of us stayed behind and took naps on the sand or in hammocks. As the sun was going down, we finished off our fish in an early dinner, with Nathan "Fish Champ" Brophy leading us to victory, by eating approximately 3 or 4 fish fillets (about 2 fishes worth). We made smores around a campfire, and turned in for the night around 9 or 10.

Jan 13

While we had planned to set for another early morning (estimated leaving time was 8 am), we woke up to rain on our tents and hammocks around 7 am. We ate dry bagels for a quick breakfast, deconstructed camp in the rain, and surprisingly only had about a 30 minute delay, getting back on the water by 8:30.

The water in the bay as we were leaving the island was very calm, much different from two days prior. We paddled through the bay back into the mangroves with much more ease than before, and much less water in our boats. We continued through the beautiful mangroves, where the water stayed pretty calm and still. We made it back into the Collier-Seminole State Park around 12:30, and promptly drove to Pollo Tropical, for a much needed and very delicious lunch.
Following lunch, we retreated to Trails Lake, where we reconstructed camp and took the rest of the afternoon for ourselves. Most of us showered and changed clothes, and did laundry (since we were covered in a layer of salt and sand). We opted for hot dogs and veggie dogs for dinner, eaten around yet another campfire. We finished eating, hung out around the fire to avoid the mosquitos as much as possible, and went to bed around 10.

  • Sophia Gilkey and Nathan Brophy, first years

Posted on January 17, 2022 23:12 by crsmithant crsmithant | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 14, 2022

Jan 9-10: Trey and Jay's Jungle Cruise

The group began the trip towards south Florida in good spirits, after clean showers and multiple loads of laundry. "Bye Tall Timbers!" we called out in unison as we waved to the Lion's Mane and Longleaf Pine. I-10 to I-75 South was often a monotonous drive, full of pines, country clubs, and Florida drivers. Chris kept the group awake with some walkie-talkie banter: placing McDonald's orders, asking questions in Spanish, or sometimes just making static noises to confuse and annoy. Pennsylvania residents were delighted by the familiar sight of Wawa gas stations, but sadly, Cade missed the exit, and the group resigned themselves to stopping at a very French gas station: Café Risqué. After refueling, the travelers broke bread (and Pringle) before hitting the road once more.
As the vans neared Tampa, one of the vans had a run-in with an unfortunate turtle who had wandered too far into the road. Miette led the leading van in three ‘Hail Mary’s before pressing on. Nearing Naples, Snowy Egrets became as frequent as pigeons, and golf courses even more so. One such egret fell prey to a Ford F-150 that had just whipped around both vans, in a somber display of the fragility of the Everglades.
Finally, we arrived at Trail Lakes Campground, the Skunk Ape Headquarters and the gate to the Everglades. The group was greeted by a man in a Ball State t-shirt, reminding them that it is, in fact, a very small world. Despite the mosquitoes, the group made camp, cooked in their groups, and prepared themselves for a full day of paddling to follow.
We started the morning by browsing the tchotchkes at Skunk Ape HQ and visiting the resident reticulated python. We then drove a few minutes down the road to Big Cypress National Preserve to begin our adventure in the Everglades.
We met up with our guides at the put-in: Trey, a friendly dude with an enviable beard, and Jason, a self-proclaimed “beach-rat” who loved mother nature and ex-wife jokes. We paddled the Turner River in double kayaks, which Jason dubbed “polyethylene divorce machines,” but all of our partnerships remained intact by the end of the day.
First, the group explored some of the coolest plant spots upstream in the mangroves, lush with orchids, bromeliads, and air plants. We continued down the river, getting up close and personal with alligators, shorebirds, and crabs. Paddles were broken down to enter the mangrove tunnels, a tight and twisting maze of roots and branches. As the mangroves closed in over our heads, thick branches became more helpful than paddles, and we quickly became practiced at branch-steering. Even the most skilled Tarzan-ers, however, were often vulnerable to kayak-jams.
After a river-side sandwich lunch and a brief encounter with a Sierra Club trip, we continued our paddle into the widening river and across the bay, reaching our pick-up spot in time to watch the sun setting across the water. We drove to our first non-campsite dinner and ate on a beautiful but buggy patio, giving a few of our members an opportunity to try alligator in their tacos. After a grocery run at Publix, rated by Charlie as the best bathrooms on the trip, we returned to Trails Lake for the night, in preparation for our next big adventure.

Posted on January 14, 2022 00:02 by crsmithant crsmithant | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 09, 2022

Winging it On The Wacissa

The morning started before dawn for a handful of bird-obsessed students. Their quarry an endangered, black and white checkered, flying fellow known as the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. Their quest was fulfilled when they came across a trio of the birds shortly after sun up. The Red-cockaded was by far the most notable species observed on the early morning venture, but others such as the Red-headed Woodpecker, Loggerhead Shrike, and American Kestrel were among the notables of the 25 species seen on the walk, all before breakfast!

After the birders reconnected with the rest of the squad, the baker's dozen fueled up and whipped down to the Wacissa river. A quintet of solo kayaks, pair of double kayaks, and a couple of canoes dipped their bellies in the water shortly before noon. While paddling about, reptiles, and more birds, were plentiful. American alligators, Anoles, and Map Turtles were seen soaking up the Saturday sun, as multiple species of Egrets and Herons, a pack of Vultures, and a Bald Eagle ('Merica!) flew overhead. The gang briskly paddled up stream for a short bit to reach what has been dubbed as Big Blue, a 50-foot-deep spring caused by the karst formation of the area. Big Blue is one of a number of springs that feed the Wacissa. Upon arrival at Big Blue, lunch was unpacked and consumed, and then the crew engaged in a swinging time.

Nathen (Slim Jim) Peck was the first to mount the platform and grab hold of the rope. He began a monsoon of launches, as everyone took turns swinging from the platform and flying into the depths of Big Blue, only to resurface moments later. The highest rated launches were Slim Jim's pike, Hannah's plummet, and Thea's scoot. Once the Quakers returned to their vessels, they began to paddle back to the boat launch location. The voyage was knocked back only slightly by the wake of one of Florida's famed fan boats. This was one of the least enjoyable "new encounters" of the day. However, some friendly locals enlisted the crew in heaving the hull of a fan boat back to an upright position, and the gratitude of the Floridian's, as well as a less disruptive encounter with a fan boat, boosted the gang's morale before dinner time. As the evening meal was prepped, guitar strings were plucked, and Earlham's most novice choir hollered a number of tunes such as "Cows Have Guns" by Dana Lyons, heard earlier in the day on Florida State University radio. The meal satisfied all hunger, and the squad then dispersed to prepare for tomorrow's travel.

The day's most notable sights were certainly Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, American Alligators, White Ibis, a large Eastern Snapping Turtle, a Bald Eagle, and Big Blue!

  • Reece Zonts, first year from Elgin, IL and Ben Sniegowski, third year from Media, PA

Posted on January 09, 2022 02:35 by crsmithant crsmithant | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 08, 2022

Jan 7: Chef Firestorm and the Pineland Caper

As the sun rose over Tall Timbers Research Station, 13 cold, groggy gremlins gathered outside Jim Walter Lodge. Morgan Varner, research director, and Kevin Robertson, fire ecologist and historian, took us to the station's prescribed burn "Stoddard plots," which each are assigned a different burn frequency (from 1 to 4 years). The native pine savannas of the southeastern United States are fire-dependent and these plots allow researchers to assess the impact of burn frequency on woodland health. Morgan and Kevin pointed out the differences in vegetation among the plots as they explained the historical use of these ecosystems. The Red Hills region, which spans the Florida-Georgia line (good band by the way), historically had much of their pinelands converted into bobwhite-hunting estates for northerners' getaways. Today those properties provide ample opportunities for conserving native species. After visiting several of the station's study sites and discussing the political tendencies of McCook, Nebraska, we broke for lunch.

In the afternoon, we met two alums: Todd Engstrom, class of 1976 and ornithologist/ecologist, and Wilson "Bake" Baker, class of 1963 and biologist/master naturalist. We followed them to Greenwood Plantation, one of the last remaining untouched old-growth pine savannas. This woodland is managed by Paul Massey, whose appearance and forestry philosophy are both reminiscent of the Lorax. Paul practices an uncommon style of management that emphasizes ecological health of the property over short-term economic gain. The result is a beautiful landscape capable of fostering greater diversity than any other southern ecosystem, essentially a "forest superimposed over a grassland," as Todd put it. This ecosystem is an important habitat for red-cockaded woodpeckers (an endangered species) and if managed right can also be used to selectively harvest timber, or as Paul put it, "if you use your noggin you can have your cake and eat it too." Todd and Wilson took us for a walk through the forest in search of the elusive woodpeckers, magnificent trees, and interesting plants to identify. Sadly, we did not find any woodpeckers but we did see some very spectacular pitcher plants, and brown headed nuthatches, (another bird specific to this habitat) and we learned some useful tips to differentiate the local pine species. After the walk, we said thank you and farewell to Todd and Wilson and headed back to the lodge for dinner where Reece (Chef Firestorm) grilled us some CHAR-broiled ham burgers.

Posted on January 08, 2022 02:41 by crsmithant crsmithant | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 07, 2022

Jan 3-6: Okey dokey Okefenokee!

The pandemic has brought many changes to Earlham's campus, and so many opportunities have been lost. However, Earlham's proliferation of opportunities has persevered with creativity and the hard work of dedicated professors. This January, we start off 2022 on a hopeful note with a journey to Florida. We gathered around a table in Richmond on the 3rd for dinner. The next day 12 students, 2 vans, and 1 Ant Man Chris Smith departed Richmond. We were off to a good start when we intercepted Mike and Driver 501 on walkie-talkie channel 19. Earlhamites make friends wherever we go, but we decided to move our party to a different channel and left Mike to go back to his coffee.
9 hours later... we arrived at our first Pioneer Campsite in the darkness and spread the knowledge of how to set up tents (or hammock!). Looking back, we really had beginner's luck with the rice for dinner...
Next day we had a destination in mind- the legendary Okefenokee swamp! At 438,000 acres, it is one of the largest intact wetlands in the world. We rented some motorboats in order to explore up close. At a request for drivers, many hands shot up... only the strongest would survive. The boat containing a couple skilled boaters and Chris sped away, leaving two boats of bewildered students with the simple instructions "Be back at 5:00."
Chris's boat took a narrow inlet through the swamp for quite a distance. After two long days of driving, we floated downstream into the setting sun, a few bird chirps the only sound breaking the silence.
A couple boats spotted two baby raccoons climbing a tree! All the boats were treated to a plethora of unfamiliar flora and fauna. The swamp consisted mainly of cypress trees that have wide bases and tall straight trunks. They have odd growths called "knees" that look like cones of wood coming out of the water. Chris informed us that their purpose is still unknown, but probably related to stabilization. Decomposing leaves add tannin to the water, making it dark red. Chris supposed this may prevent the growth of hydrilla, an invasive algae that unfortunately clogs many waterways. We also saw many birds, including a pied-billed grebe, a wood stork, double-crested cormorant, great egret, snowy egret, little blue heron, white ibis, turkey vulture, red-shouldered hawk, belted kingfisher, red-bellied woodpecker, eastern phoebe, american crow, northern mockingbird, american robin, and yellow-rumped warbler.
The boats reunited. It was quite the picture: Three motorboats full of students motoring along like a formation of geese in dark red water reflecting the setting sun.
Our second campsite is also designated "Pioneer"- but we are more blessed than the pioneers by the modern innovation of running water and a pavilion. We split into three groups for dinner, with varying success (see above, rice). Halfway through cooking we were called by a shout to look at the stars. Okefenokee is designated a Dark Sky Park, and the stars were absolutely fantastic.
Evening activities included an hours-long foray into fire starting. This group has no shortage of fire experts, lighter fluid, and firewood, but it was not cooperative. We had John Henry style contest starting fire with kindling vs. a high-tech Esbit cube... and the winner goes to Miette, with good ol' home split kindling! By late evening the fire was big enough for smores.
The other activity was an impromptu owl prowl. We happen to have Joseph Moore Museum's very own Owl Prowler Extraordinaire (AKA Nathen). He seduced several barred owls with his "lady owl impression."
The next morning some of us went birding... but one of the highlights (simultaneously a low-light) was a baby deer (not too young- it isn't breeding season) that approached us and let us pet it and licked our hands. Clearly campers have been feeding them, despite the many signs... we ended up shooing it away. We also saw some birds on our bird walk, notably a brown-headed nuthatch and a red-shouldered hawk pair with nest.
After a short hop to Tall Timbers Research Station, we went to see "Ant Heaven"- site of Chris's master degree research. There were ants. It was Chris's heaven.
We learned that ants have an alarm response to carbon dioxide i.e. if you blow down their ant hole they freak out. We also learned that many ants collect things, such as charcoal. We saw nests with a neat circle of charcoal surrounding a hole down into the nest. It's possible the charcoal raises the temperature of the nest, but after counting thousands of ants, Chris is... still unsure.
Finally, we sat down to grilled perogies and listened to Nathen's lovely guitar. There was an audible gasp when we saw the beds with sheets and showers at our lodge at Tall Timbers. Here's to a good night's sleep!
All together...
Okey dokey? - Okefenokee!

-Thea Clarkberg
senior Biology major from Ithaca ,New York

Posted on January 07, 2022 02:22 by crsmithant crsmithant | 0 comments | Leave a comment