Learn about birds of prey at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park Aug. 22

hawkDate/time: Friday August 22, 2014, 2 -3 p.m.

Topsail Hill Preserve State Park invites you to come learn about our birds of prey. This area plays host to a large number of winged hunters. This program will help you to identify them, and it will also cover types of prey, habits, where to find them, and much more. This is an all ages program and will take place in the clubhouse.

A $6.00 entry admission per vehicle into the park. Topsail Hill Preserve State Park is located at 7525 W. Scenic Highway 30A, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida 32459. For more information, call (850) 267-8330 ::MAP::


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Choctawhatchee Audubon Society events for September

CAScolorlogoOn Thursday, September 4, the Choctawhatchee Audubon Society will host a special program on the History of our Rivers and the Role of our Forests with a presentation by Barbara Albrecht, Volunteer Watershed Coordinator for the University of West Florida.  Panhandle rivers and forests are biological treasures and are critical to the health of our estuaries and adjacent gulf waters.  Albrecht is Founder and Director of the Panhandle Watershed Alliance and President of the Bream Fishermen’s Association.

The Choctawhatchee Audubon Society meets the first Thursday of the month in room 130 of the NWFSC Student Services Center at 6:30 PM.  The program starts at 7 following conservation topics at 6:45.  The meeting is open to the public. Contact Gary Parsons, at parsonskg@cox.net or by phone at 850 699-0977 for additional information.

September 20: Bird Walk at the Ft. Walton holding ponds. Join experienced birder, Malcolm Mark Swan, for a bird walk at the most productive site for shorebird species in Okaloosa County.  Also see ducks, wading birds, and various raptors. Meet at the Coach and Four Restaurant at 1313 N. Lewis Turner Blvd, FWB, at 7:30 AM. Bring a hat, water, sunscreen and insect repellent. Call Mark at 210-343-9082 for more info.

September 27: Bird Walk at Niceville bayous and spray fields. Lenny Fenimore will lead a bird walk in the Niceville area searching for a variety of water birds, migrating songbirds, and even Wild Turkeys. Bring a hat, sunscreen, and any spotting scopes or binoculars which you may wish to use, since some of the birds will be observed at longer ranges. Call Lennie at 850-863-2039 for more info.

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Fall tomato school offered by Walton County Extension office

tomatoesDates: Sept. 2, Sept. 23, Oct. 7, Oct 28
Time: 6 – 7:30 p.m.

This fall don’t miss the opportunity to learn, while getting your hands dirty, how to grow tomatoes. Gulf Coast Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises presents Fall Tomato School beginning September 2nd.  This workshop is intended to teach small farmers and other interested participants how to produce high quality tomatoes for fresh market. Not only will participants learn from University of Florida/IFAS specialists on the topic but will also get the chance to try their new skills in a working tomato production high tunnel with hybrids varieties and heirloom varieties.  The following subjects will be discussed:
September 2 – Transplanting, Plasticulture and Drip irrigation, and Varieties
September 23 – Nutrition (fertigation and deficiency symptoms), Diseases and control, and spraying and calibration
October 7 – Staking and trellising, Pruning, IPM and insect scouting.
October 28 – Harvesting, Post-Harvest and storage, and marketing.
Location: UF/IFAS Walton County Extension Office, 732 N. 9th Street, DeFuniak Springs, FL 32433
$10 per class for an individual
$30 for all 4 classes for an individual
$45 for all 4 classes for a couple
*Pre-registration is required by Friday, August 29th. Call 850-892-8172 to register. For more information about this workshop contact Eddie Powell or email pep5@ufl.edu

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Walton county fishing report for Aug. 13

Triggerfish illustration courtesy FWC.

Triggerfish illustration courtesy FWC.

Fishing is great!

Choctawhatchee Bay area: Speckled trout being caught and redfish bites have gotten better.

Offshore: Good bites of shallow water reef fish.

River: Bream bites have never been better. Fly fishing is through the roof

Click here for fishing forecast

Bay and river report brought to you by Copeland’s. “Where the locals shop and the tourists are welcome.”

Click here to find out more about Copeland’s.
Copeland’s Gun and Tackle Shop
17290 U.S. Hwy. 331 S
Freeport, Florida 32439
(850) 835-4277
Store hours:
Mon. – Fri.: 6 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Sat.: 6 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Sun.: Closed

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What is up with all the sharks? Florida Sea Grant explains

The Scalloped Hammerhead is one of five species of hammerheads in the Gulf. It is commonly found in the bays. Photo: Florida Sea Grant

The Scalloped Hammerhead is one of five species of hammerheads in the Gulf. It is commonly found in the bays. Photo: Florida Sea Grant

Since the beginning of the summer, panhandle residents and visitors have been reporting numerous sharks hanging out along the sandbars near the passes, cruising between the 2nd sandbar and the beach. One visitor was even bitten; raising the question – What’s up with all the sharks?

Actually, over the years sharks have been feeding along on the sandbars. While tagging sharks at Dauphin Island Sea Lab we would send an ultralite aircraft up to spot their locations. The pilot often reported seeing sharks hanging out on the sandbars near the pass. The sharks generally moved slowly until the shadow of the aircraft would hit and spook them into swimming off. Surfers and fishermen alike know that sharks frequent the inshore waters near the beach during the warmer months. Some or the larger sharks certainly enter the bays where feeding and breeding probably occur. So, finding them in these locations is not that unusual.

The Bull Shark is considered one of the more dangerous sharks in the Gulf. This fish can enter freshwater but rarely swims far upstream. Photo: Florida Sea Grant

The Bull Shark is considered one of the more dangerous sharks in the Gulf. This fish can enter freshwater but rarely swims far upstream. Photo: Florida Sea Grant

What seems to be unusual this year are the numbers. Locals who have worked these waters for years say they have seen more sharks on the sandbars than they remember in the past. We do not have data on how many sharks typically are found on bars, so there’s no conclusive proof that the number seen this summer is significantly more. However, if the folks out there every day say they are seeing more, then there may be something to it.

The gathering of sharks may be due to feeding. Like any other animal, they gather where the food is. I have seen Jack Crevalle gather at the mouths of our bayous feeding after a fish kill. The big flood this summer dropped salinities below normal and many estuarine animals died; Big Lagoon was littered with dead clams. It is possible that the sharks are feeding on these with the outgoing tides. If there is more food there would be more sharks. Another possible explanation could be temperature control. Like all fish, sharks are ectothermic (cold-blooded) and need warm water to keep maintain their body temperature. Divers searching for lionfish this spring indicated that the bottom temperatures have been colder than normal this year; again, possibly due to the flood waters or an upwelling from the deeper Gulf. The sharks may be gathering where warmer water can be found: shallow water over bars. Outside of nurse and lemon shark species, breeding in sharks has rarely been observed. However, now is the time of year when this occurs and the National Marine Fisheries has considered the estuaries of the northern Gulf potential breeding areas for some species of shark.

As far as the threat of attacks are concerned, there is really not a high risk. Certainly sharks in feeding mode in shallow water could be a potential threat. But according to the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History only 21 attacks have occurred in panhandle waters since 1882 and 2 were fatal; 1 in Bay County (1988) and 1 in Walton (2005) . Following some simple rules will reduce your risk of shark bite. Swimming in or near baitfish or where recreational fishing is going on could increase your chances; avoid these. Though shark attacks occur all hours of the day and night there seems to be more during dawn and dusk, as these are their primary feeding times. Lifeguards along the coast are constantly watching for these fish along with other hazards. Following these simple rules should allow you to enjoy the water without concern. If you have any questions about sharks contact your county Sea Grant Extension Agent.

Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu, Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

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Relocated gopher tortoises arrive at Nokuse Plantation in Freeport

FWC biologist Dan Greene (L) takes measurements of one of the new gopher tortoises and Nokuse director Matt Aresco documents. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

FWC biologist Dan Greene (L) takes measurements of one of the new gopher tortoises and Nokuse director Matt Aresco documents. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Twelve relocated gopher tortoises have arrived at Nokuse Plantation in Freeport Aug. 8 to enjoy a new permanent habitat. As part of an ongoing rehabilitation project at Nokuse, the endangered species will have a second chance on life due to conservation efforts on behalf of Nokuse, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and a new grant funding from St. Joe Community Foundation.

The gopher tortoises were relocated from a development area in Brevard county and near Apopka, Florida. When new development occurs in an area where gopher tortoises exist, they must be relocated.

In its natural habitat many years ago, the gopher tortoise was a thriving species in Northwest Florida. This medium-sized tortoise with a gray or amber to dark brown shell is as old as the sandhills it loves. It is one of the oldest species on Earth, dating back to the Pleistocene Epoch – the Ice Age. Gopher tortoises are long-lived reptiles that occupy upland habitat throughout Florida including forests, pastures, and yards. They dig deep burrows for shelter and forage on low-growing plants. Gopher tortoises share these burrows with more than 350 other species, and are therefore referred to as a keystone species.

Despite surviving the perils of geological time, during just the past three decades, the rate of decline for the species exceeded 30 percent, prompting the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to list the gopher tortoise as threatened, and taking regulatory action to help protect the species. To assist in protecting the species, FWC established a management plan for the tortoises, which includes relocation of the species from development areas.

The historic declines of the gopher tortoise throughout the southern portions of the State have been caused by land development. In the Florida Panhandle it was due to severe and unsustainable human harvest of tortoises for their meat.

Gopher tortoise. Photo courtesy Matt Aresco.

Adult gopher tortoise. Photo courtesy Matt Aresco.

Nokuse Plantation, a private preserve in Freeport is the perfect habitat for the gopher tortoise. Its well-drained sandy soils, open canopy, abundance of herbaceous groundcover forage available on 22,000 of the preserve’s 51,000 acres, has been the new home to many relocated tortoises from across the State of Florida; more than 3,700 since 2006.

This year, several hundred have been relocated to the preserve. Nokuse is permitted by FWC to relocate gopher tortoises at a density of 3 tortoises per acre.

“We only had about 300-500 native gopher tortoises on our preserve prior to the start of the relocations” said Matt Aresco, director of Nokuse Plantation. “Historic (pre- European settlement) gopher tortoise density on Nokuse Plantation was probably more than 50,000 adults (2 per acre). Nokuse Plantation is actively restoring gopher tortoise sandhill habitat by removing plantations of off-site pines, conducting prescribed burns, restoring native groundcover plants, and replanting longleaf pine.”

It will take a several years for the population to increase on its own at Nokuse. Gopher tortoises have delayed sexual maturity (15-20 years), low rates of reproduction and recruitment, and are spatially isolated at low densities (reducing mating opportunities), the only way to restore depleted and extirpated populations is by translocation. Thus, translocation of gopher tortoises from development sites to reestablish or augment populations on public and private conservation land is a critical part of State and federal conservation plans for the species.

A gopher tortoise hatchling at Nokuse Plantation. Photo courtesy Matt Aresco.

A gopher tortoise hatchling at Nokuse Plantation. Photo courtesy Matt Aresco.

Most of the gopher tortoises that Nokuse relocates come from pre-2008 incidental take permits issued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission from lands that are only now being developed (mostly in central Florida and northeast Florida). From 1991 to 2007, Florida issued incidental take permits to developers in exchange for habitat mitigation fees that were used to purchase gopher tortoise habitat elsewhere, but resulted in the loss of an estimated 103,000 tortoises and a net loss of gopher tortoise habitat. New FWC permitting requirements in July 2007 eliminated the incidental take permit policy and replaced it with a new permitting system designed to protect suitable, managed habitat and require translocation. However, the old incidental take permits issued prior to July 2007 have no expiration date and although many of these lands currently remain undeveloped, an estimated 22,000 gopher tortoises will be legally entombed in the future as these lands are developed. Due to the lull in the housing market and the resulting slowdown in development, thousands of these tortoises are still living on properties where developers hold a permit to bury them alive. The housing market is currently in recovery and development has started once again throughout many areas of Florida, placing these tortoises back in harm’s way. FWC allows a modification to the original incidental take permit to allow for off-site relocation. However, most developers will not pay any additional cost to relocate the tortoises as they already paid significant fees for the original incidental take permits.

The cost to relocate these tortoises includes backhoe excavation of burrows on the development sites, transport to Nokuse Plantation, and construction of temporary enclosures to ensure site fidelity of relocated tortoises. Nokuse Plantation and the Humane Society of the US have partnered to save these gopher tortoises since 2007. The Humane Society of the United States has received grant funding and donations over the last four years to cover the cost of these relocations.

Nokuse Plantation is a 51,000-acre private preserve that connects to Eglin AFB on the west and Chocatawhatchee WMA on the east. The purpose of Nokuse Plantation is to provide a wildlife preserve and habitat linkage area between existing State and Federal lands in an effort to support historic biodiversity. To learn more about Nokuse Plantation, go to: nokuse.org

Click here to learn more about gopher tortoises: gopherinfo

To learn more about gopher tortoise permitting, click here.



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Learn about coastal dune lakes at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park Aug. 15

campbelllakesmDate/time: Friday August 15th, 2 -3 p.m.

These globally imperiled rare coastal dune lakes are found only in a few places worldwide, including right here at Topsail Hill Preserve. Come learn what makes these lakes so special and what is being done to protect them. Enter the park through the main gate and the staff will direct you to the park’s clubhouse.

A $6.00 entry admission per vehicle into the park. Topsail Hill Preserve State Park is located at 7525 W. Scenic Highway 30A, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida 32459. For more information, call (850) 267-8330 ::MAP::

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Learn about coyotes at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park Aug. 13

coyoteDate/time: Wednesday August 13th, 2014 Coyotes 2 – 3 p.m.

Topsail Hill Preserve State park invites you to come learn about our most ubiquitous exotic mammal, the Coyote. This program will cover everything you need to know about Coyotes, where they live, how they survive, and how we manage them in our parks. This is an all ages program Park entry fee is $6 and the park staff will direct you to the clubhouse where the program will be held.

A $6.00 entry admission per vehicle into the park. Topsail Hill Preserve State Park is located at 7525 W. Scenic Highway 30A, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida 32459. For more information, call (850) 267-8330 ::MAP::

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Annual Alys Beach 5K & 1 Mile Fun Run Aug. 31

alysbeachfunrunThe 3rd Annual Alys Beach 5K & 1 Mile Fun Run, presented by Visit South Walton, on Sunday, August 31, 2014 in Alys Beach, Florida. Located along Hwy 30A, the course winds through the resort town. The event also features an oversized obstacle course for kids of all ages and will end with music, food, and beverages available in the Amphitheatre. The price to participate in the certified 5K is $35 and the 1 Mile Fun Run is $15 (kids 12 and younger only, please).
The 5K is limited to 400 participants and the 1 Mile Fun Run is limited to 150 participants.
If you choose to donate you will be benefiting The Alys Foundation. It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization established to support the long-term community values of Alys Beach. Funds may be used to finance community, environmental, cultural and educational programs at Alys Beach as well as to support nonprofit organizations in the greater Walton County community.  Proceeds from this year’s race will benefit the Autism Society.
A few notes:
• T-shirts will be provided with each registration.  However, shirt sizes cannot be guaranteed.
• No dogs or strollers are allowed in the race.
• On race day, please park along the slip roads that run parallel to 30A or as directed.
• Water will be provided.
• Packet pick up time is Saturday, August 30th at Fonville Press from 10am-2pm, or Sunday, August 31st at 6:00 am at the Alys Beach Amphitheatre. Advanced registration closes Friday, August 29th.  If any race registrations remain, they will be sold on Saturday, August 30th from 10-2pm for $50 for the 5K and $25 for the 1 Mile Fun Run.
• The Course runs through the Nature Trail, and is not entirely paved.
• Awards will be presented at the Alys Beach Amphitheatre at 9:15 am in the following Categories:
◦    Overall Male and Female for 5K and 1 Mile
◦    Male and Female in 1 Mile: Ages 5 & under, 6-9, 10-12
◦    Male and Female in 5K: Ages 20 & under, 21+

• Stick around for the awards presentation at 9:15 am to listen to the music by Shane from Rock The House, have a beer from Grayton Beer, and sign up for the Raffling of John Starkey’s art work.  Additional beverages will be available at Piper’s.
Event schedule and times

The 5K Race begins at 7 am and the 1 Mile Fun Run begins at 8:30 am in the Amphitheatre. Please arrive 30 minutes early upon the day of the race.
Click here to register.

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E.T. lands in the DeFuniak Springs Lakeyard Aug. 15

defuniakspringsThe Special Events Committee of the City of DeFuniak Springs is pleased to present a movie night on Friday, August 15, 2014. This annual family-oriented event has become a tradition and will be held in the amphitheatre at the Lake yard again this year.

The movie is “E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial.” Produced and directed by the world renowned Steven Spielberg, this 1982 blockbuster film walked away with four Oscars and numerous other awards. The story of the lonely boy who encounters an alien accidentally left behind by his comrades is at once sweet and surreal. How “E.T.” gets back home is exciting and poignant.

The film will start at 8 p.m. on the big screen. There will be concessions available so plan to come early, spend a pleasant evening by the lake, and then stay for the movie!

Further information is available by calling DeFuniak Springs City Hall at 850-892-8500.

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