Happy first day of spring!

Conradina is a genus of flowering plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae. Its common name is false rosemary. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Conradina is a genus of flowering plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae. Its common name is false rosemary. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Happy first day of springtime in Walton County. Head out along a trail in south Walton, the conradina is in bloom everywhere.

Trail Maps:

North Walton: NokuseTrail BayLoopTrail South Walton: TopsailHillStateParkTrail PointWashingtonTrail GreenwayTrail GraytonBeachTrails DeerLakeTrail

Posted in Biking, Birding, Eco adventure, Kayak/Canoe, Nature, Parks | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Butterfly lecture in Santa Rosa Beach April 1

 Butterflies: Here Today, Flutterbys Tomorrow?

The Walton County Master Gardeners will be hosting butterfly expert, MaryAnn Friedman in Santa Rosa Beach on April 1. The program will be from 10 – 11:30 a.m. in the Community Room at Padgett Park located at 810 JD Miller Road, which runs north off US 98 just west of the intersection with US 331 in Santa Rosa Beach.

MaryAnn will give a beautiful digital photographic record of her experiences in the field searching for butterfly data and will offer suggestions on how to promote butterfly conservation.

The Florida Panhandle is home to some of Florida’s rarest species of butterflies.  Our area offers a variety of different ecosystems and large undeveloped conservation tracts which harbor a rich diversity of wildlife.  Many of these conservation lands have undergone huge changes from both manmade and natural factors.

We’ve become accustomed to enjoying the fall migration of monarchs, but will it always be this way?  Most of our native butterflies seem to be thriving, yet certain species are in severe decline.

For three years MaryAnn Friedman of Niceville worked as the Western Panhandle Regional Coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Grant entitled: A Statewide Assessment of the Current Status and Distribution of FNAI’s Tracked Butterfly Species on Florida’s Conservation Lands. A team of biologists and a group of dedicated “citizen scientists” traveled across Florida to monitor existing populations and to seek out previously unknown populations of our most vulnerable butterflies, compile and map occurrences and draw some conclusions on management techniques which might be helping or harming various species.

These programs are free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served. Master Gardeners will be on hand to take gardening questions. Soil sample supplies and instruction will be available.

Seating is limited and reservations must be made by calling Cheryl at 850-892-8172 by Monday before the event.

Posted in Home/Garden, Nature | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Take a guided hike to No Name Lake at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park March 28

nonamelaketopsail2Date/time: Saturday March 28, 1 – 2 p.m.

Come shake off the winter cobwebs and get outside for this nature hike. Topsail Hill Preserve State Park Rangers will lead you through the various ecosystems that make this park unique. This hike will lead you to one of the lakes in the park, No Name Lake. Be sure to bring your binoculars, sunscreen, and water. Entry fee into the park is $6.00 per car, the hike will leave from Tram Stop 1 in the day use parking area.

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::

Posted in Eco adventure, Nature, Outdoor Family Fun | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Walton county fishing report for March 18

crappieFishing is good!

River/bay: Fresh water fishing is great. Stripers and crappie on the river.

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

Posted in Fishing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Walton County Master Gardeners offering scholarships

masterlogoThe Walton County Master Gardeners will be awarding a scholarship to Walton County Florida high school seniors or Walton County Florida residents currently attending college or technical school and interested in furthering their education in floriculture/horticulture.

Specific areas of interest may include landscaping, nursery/ garden center management, floriculture, forestry, grounds and turf management, parks and natural resources and/or other agriculturally related fields.

Award(s) may range from $1,000 to $2,000 and will be paid jointly to the student and the school.  A good scholastic record, special interests, and commitment to a floriculture/horticulture career are considerations when awarding the scholarship.

Applications are available for the 2015 school year in the Guidance Counselors’ Offices at Walton High Schools, on-line at http://walton.ifas.ufl.edu/, and at the University of Florida/Walton Extension Office located at 732 N 9th Street in DeFuniak Springs (850/892-8172). For more information call Paula Tutwiler at 850-892-2522.  The deadline to apply is April 1, 2015.

Posted in Home/Garden | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Join FWC webinars to comment on black bear management plan March 23 and 26

bearInterested in voicing your opinion on proposed black bear management changes? -

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is hosting two webinars to discuss proposed changes to the black bear management program. Proposed amendments to the bear feeding and conservation rules as well as rule changes required to have a bear hunt in the fall of 2015 will be discussed.

The webinars will be held March 23 and March 26, each beginning at 5 p.m. CST.

Those interested in viewing the webinar must register for either session.

To register for the March 23 webinar, go to: https://normandeau.webex.com/normandeau/j.php?RGID=r6f425b738927bd82065ed4fcc33fd0c1.

For the March 26 webinar, go to: https://normandeau.webex.com/normandeau/j.php?RGID=rf90c298cf66e341482bfb128f5152400. Please register for just one session.

“These webinars will give the FWC a chance to reach out to more members of the public than with traditional public meetings,” said David Telesco, bear management coordinator. “The public will have the opportunity to learn more about our bear management program, offer up their comments and ask questions.”

A copy of the agenda can be obtained by contacting Bear Management at 850-922-4330 or via e-mail: BearManagement@MyFWC.com. The agenda and workshop information also will be available at http://www.MyFWC.com/Bear.

Participation in the webinar will require computer access or telephone access. Those without computer access can listen in on the phone. Phone registrations must be made by calling 352-372-4747 and asking for Alexis Hampton.

For more information about the webinars, contact Bear Management at 850-922-4330 or via e-mail at BearManagement@MyFWC.com.

Posted in Environment | Leave a comment

Resurrection ferns a hardy native air plant

Resurrection ferns along the upper branches of live oak trees at Eden Gardens State Park. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Resurrection ferns along the upper branches of live oak trees at Eden Gardens State Park. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

One of the wonderful features of spring is the return of green to the branches of many trees in north Florida. Cypress, poplar, cherry and many others have been defoliated by the cool season which is now retreating.

Buds are breaking everywhere deciduous trees reside and changing the complexion of the landscape. Every day the browns and grays are giving way to intensifying shades of green.

Aside from the pines, magnolias and live oaks, there has been green in the branches of some hardwood trees which went through the winter. Resurrection ferns have remained green in their sheltered perches as the seasons change.

Pleopeltis polypodioides, the scientific name for this native fern, has easily flourished through the recent winter with sufficient moisture. This creeping, coarse textured fern is commonly found in the southeastern United State, but also in some African locations.

It has been commonly identified as a resurrection fern because it has the capacity to survive long periods of drought. During dry times the leaves brown and wither, but the roots and leaves survive by stingily conserving water.

When rains return this fern quickly regenerates by promptly circulating water to the leaves through the plants highly efficient vascular system. To the casual observer, it appears to return from the dead in about a day.

The resurrection fern is an air plant, or epiphyte, which attaches itself to other plants. It receives the necessary plant nutrients for growth from several sources.

Bacterial activity on the outer surface of its plant host’s bark is a major contributor. The outer bark layer of many plants and trees is in the process of being shed and is an ideal location for this fern to grow.

Other tiny particles of nutrients are delivered through rain water and on the breezes. Though meager in life sustaining supplies, the resurrection fern flourishes in this harsh environment where most plants would quickly die.

Though usually located on tree branches, resurrection ferns are sometime seen growing on rocks, bricks or deadfall logs. It is not rare to see this fern growing with another native epiphytic plant, Spanish moss.

This plant’s root system are tiny and shallow, as could be expected of a fern which grows on the outer layer of bark. It uses an intricate mesh of rhizomes which meander just beneath the bark’s surface.

These rhizomes are part of the ferns ability spread along the branches and colonizes new sites on the tree or plant. Periodically the roots will emerge on the bark’s surface and sprout leaves.

The other method of propagation and species preservation is through spores which are produced on the underside of the leaves. Most leaf tips have a mechanism to generate a high volume of tiny wind delivered spores.

During summer and early autumn, the spores ripen and are scattered on the prevailing breezes. While only a tiny fraction make it to a hospitable site, the ones which do quickly establish themselves.

So if 2015 produces a dry or wet summer, resurrection ferns will be here. If only other plants were as easy to tend.

Information provided by Les Harrison, UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Director.

Posted in Home/Garden, Nature | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Learn about animal tracks at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park March 21

raccoontracksmSaturday March 21, 1 – 2 p.m.

This all ages program is designed to be a hands-on learning experience in the art of tracking. You will learn different types of tracks and which animal makes them. Then you will get to make your own tracks using the same techniques utilized at the parks and you will go on a short hike to see tracks in the wild. Enter the park through the main gate and the staff will direct you to the park’s clubhouse, entry fee is $6.00.

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::

Posted in Eco adventure, Nature, Outdoor Family Fun | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

South Walton Fire District lifeguards take to the beaches of south Walton March 14

28 south Walton lifeguards take to the beach starting March 14. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

28 south Walton lifeguards take to the beach starting March 14. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Season runs March 14 – Sept. 27

The South Walton Fire District lifeguards take to the beaches to protect our swimmers on Saturday, March 14. This is the 10th season that the Beach Safety and Education Program, a partnership between the SWFD and the South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC), will be in place. Staffing of the lifeguard towers will take place from March 14th – September 27th 2015.

There are a total of 28 lifeguards at 10 locations from Miramar Beach to Inlet Beach. Seven new lifeguards graduated the training program on March 13.

For a complete list of all of the SWFD Certified Lifeguard Tower Locations please go to http://swfd.org/beach.php.

For further information regarding the south Walton lifeguard program, contact Sammy Sanchez, Fire Marshal at 850-267-1298 or visit their website at www.swfd.org.

Posted in Beaches | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Point Washington alligator trapper

Alligator trapper George Morgan rarely wore shoes when he was called out to trap an alligator. Photo courtesy Lorraine Barrett Morgan

Alligator trapper George Morgan rarely wore shoes when he was called out to trap an alligator. Photo courtesy Lorraine Barrett Morgan

By DeLene Sholes

Note: This story was originally published in the historical book Of Days Gone By – Reflections of South Walton County, Florida by South Walton Three Arts Alliance. Republished with permission. You may find a copy of the book that includes many short stories about our area’s colorful history at the Coastal Branch Library.

Long ago, when it was legal to trap alligators, and sometimes when it wasn’t, Point Washington native George Morgan and his father-in-law, Alfred Barrett, would go to the rivers at night to hunt the reptiles. In later years, George’s friend, Franciel Dickey, or his teenage son Clay would accompany this bold and daring man when he went to rivers and lakes to trap gators. The trappers would shine a light in the gator’s eyes and shoot it with a gun. They claimed they could tell how big the gator was by the size of its eyes.

When the alligator population decreased and the alligator became an endangered species, the State made it illegal to trap them. George had a hunter’s instinct, having trapped gators, raccoons, otters, and other animals all his life. The tall, rugged, retired Navy man with the grizzly beard and a sailor’s salty language, applied to the State’s Fish and Game Commission for the job of alligator trapper, and received a commission. His territory extended from Panama City Beach to Ft. Walton Beach, and if the State agency got a complaint about a gator troubling people his area, they contacted George.

A recent photo of a young alligator sunning itself along the Choctawhatchee River. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

A recent photo of a young alligator sunning itself along the Choctawhatchee River. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

The trapper made few preparations for the hunt – the only things that he needed were his hook and his bang stick, a long stick with a bullet projectile on the end. It was illegal to use a shotgun to kill a gator, because of the danger to other people. George seldom wore shoes when he went for the gators. When he received a call about a nuisance alligator, George would go to the specified place and set a hook. The hook looked like a fishhook, and was about the size of a man’s thumb and forefinger.

When the alligator went for the piece of rotten chicken on the hook, he pulled it under water and chewed on it for a day or two. A few days later, George would go back to check the hook. If George found a gator, he would kill it with has bang stick, which went off like a shotgun.

George cared little for social amenities, and sometimes his salty language and less than tactful comments offended and frightened newcomers, who may have convinced themselves that their nuisance alligator would only be relocated-not killed. He didn’t hesitate to tell the callers that the alligator had eaten their missing dog or to give them gory details of the killing. His boss, Jimmy McDaniel, who from time to time had to smooth feathers that the trapper had ruffled with his comments, said that George “was the most colorful trapper” that he had.

One of the biggest alligators that George ever killed was on Peach Creek. His wife Lorraine answered a call from the Blackwell home. Their daughter Treiska had a pony grazing down by the creek. It was late afternoon when Treiska saw a big alligator, and she thought it was after her pony. Lorraine couldn’t imagine that the gator was after the horse. “Maybe he’s after her little dog,” she thought. Nevertheless, she went with George when he answered the call. A couple of days later when he checked the hook, he found a twelve foot alligator on it. When Lorraine saw how big the gator was, she thought it might have after Treiska’s pony after all.

One time Lorrraine went with George to trap an alligator at Grayton Beach. When they got to the beach, they found tracks in the sand where someone had dragged the alligator. The couple followed the tracks in the beach vehicle. It was the first time Lorraine had ridden on the beach, and it seemed like a very long ride. She was afraid they would find whoever had gotten the gator and there would be a confrontation between the trapper and the poacher.

They followed the sandy trail up into the dunes in the Campbell Lake area. Lorraine was greatly relieved to find that nobody was there except the alligator. The poachers had killed it for the beat in its tail and left its carcass to rot. It was unusual to see an alligator on the beach, and this one’s killers had dealt with it poorly by leaving it in the sand. There was no confrontation with the poachers, but if there had been one, the alligator trapper would doubtless have made them feel the contempt that he felt for their irresponsible behavior.

George Morgan was a true hunter who believed in making the most of his catch. He skinned and salted the alligator hides to be auctioned by the State each year and sold the meat to local restaurants. Lorraine was not always happy to receive the squirrel or rabbit that George brought home for her to prepare for dinner. When she protested, George would proudly reminder her, “We’re living off the land, Babe.”

Side notes:
• Learn more about living around alligators by downloading this brochure: Alligator_Brochure

• In the State of Florida, live American alligators cannot be taken from the wild without a valid Alligator Trapping License. Learn more by clicking here.

Posted in Environment, Home/Garden | Tagged , , | Leave a comment