Where to go?

I’ve just finished gleaning information about leafminers from a nice, descriptive paper by Harrison G. Dyar,* describing the moths and caterpillars he found in Lake Worth, Florida in mid-winter, and it removed any doubts I had about there being plenty to see when I travel to the southeastern US in late March.  The problem I face, though, is evident when you look at an aerial photo of Lake Worth: Where is the nature in Florida?  Its disappearance was already underway when Dyar wrote:

The strip of land between Lake Worth and the Atlantic Ocean, in Florida, was visited by me in January and February, 1890, and again in 1900. During this interval of ten years a railroad has been built and two large hotels erected in what, at the time of my first visit, was nearly primitive vegetation.

Yes, I’m aware of the Everglades and other large chunks of federally owned land, but I’ve developed an unfortunate habit of finding things that are new to science everywhere I go, and I would rather spend my time in places where it will be legal for me to collect leafminers and gallmakers so I can try to raise them to adults.  I did just submit an application for a permit to collect in Florida state parks, and I will see how that goes after a month or so of processing.  Based on everything I’ve heard, the bureaucracy involved with trying to get a permit to do anything on federal land is prohibitive.  The fact that I haven’t even received a response to an email I sent to someone at Everglades National Park several weeks ago is not encouraging.

So, I am looking for advice on places to go where my scientific explorations will be allowed (maybe even encouraged?).  Not just in Florida, but anywhere on the way from Massachusetts to Florida, and on the way from Florida to Ohio.  I would also love to hear suggestions of nice places to camp–the less infrastructure (and the less expensive) the better.

Thanks in advance for any leads!  I will of course report back in a few months with photos of strange, wonderful and tiny things from the Southeast.

* Dyar, Harrison G. 1901. Notes on the winter Lepidoptera of Lake Worth, Florida. Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington 4:446-485.

About Charley Eiseman

I am a freelance naturalist, endlessly fascinated by the interconnections of all the living and nonliving things around me. I am the lead author of Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates (Stackpole Books, 2010), and continue to collect photographs and information on this subject. These days I am especially drawn to galls, leaf mines, and other plant-insect interactions.
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9 Responses to Where to go?

  1. Rob Anderegg says:

    Try Pete Corradino. He is a naturalist in Deep Lake, Florida. On Facebook, look for Jungle Pete. He grew up in Florida and returned there after several years in Vermont. I think he would know places to go where you could collect. -Rob Anderegg

  2. Nancy Lowe says:

    Don’t miss Archbold Biological Station in central FL — on the Lake Wales Ridge. Interesting geology> flora> fauna. Also try Highlands Biological Station in NC. For sites in Georgia, try contacting Alan Cressler at USGS, he’s very knowledgeable about the state’s habitats.

  3. Sam Droege says:

    In general, South Florida is very difficult to collect in, on the other hand it is full of endemics. There are almost no abandoned lots or powerline corridors and what do exist are usually mown. I usually collect along roadsides and public access points near refuges and parks if I can. I would also look up plant nurseries and you should be able to collect in any of those by just asking the manager, particularly good are those locations where they are growing their plant stocks. A great diversity of plants are present as well as weeds and water. National Park Service permits are not worth pursuing as the paperwork can be great and the waits long. National wildlife refuges require only a special use permit and those can be obtained usually without any problems with a few e-mails. I would suggest that you definitely hit the national wildlife refuge lands in the Lake Wales Ridge area to the north of Archibald. Super interesting insects in those areas, full of endemics.

  4. daidunno says:

    You can download a Google Earth File here http://fnai.org/gisdata.cfm of all of the managed areas in all of Florida. Yes, in general, the State Parks have been godawful about permits, but they’ve been better lately. I would suggest applying to particular parks rather than for a statewide permit in the interest of time and I think that there are some parks with coastal scrub near where you’re talking about and maybe even a park with a biologist who’s interested in getting bug data-I’ll check. For lands owned by FWC (Wildlife Management Areas and Wildlife and Environmental Areas), all you need is the land manager’s permission and so far they have been very reasonable. For State Forests, you generally only need to fill out a simple special use permit and they’ve been very reasonable also. The Nature Conservancy has been great also; usually requiring a proposal and that you sign a liability release form, but with a quick turnaround time. I would highly recommend the Tiger Creek Preserve in Polk County, which has a lot of Lake Wales Ridge sandhill habitat and a blackwater stream as well as other habitats and has not been sampled anywhere near as much as Archbold’s scrub. On your way in or out of FL, the Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve (TNC) in Liberty County would be a great place to go. Tall Timbers Research Station in Leon County FL, as well as the Wade Tract in S GA managed by the same entity, could be great too. Lemme know if you have specific questions, want more info, or whatever.

  5. Allison says:

    http://ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/jone/main.php
    We stayed there several years ago now and were the sole campers in October…I imagine it would be equally abandonned in March. We thought we’d like to go back someday to spend sometime in the bays. Speaking of bays, find a place to sample some of those (trees) when you’re in the south while there is still a chance.

  6. JW says:

    Dear Charley,
    Definitely contact the individual park you are curious about! Specifically contact the “park ranger” if they have one. I worked for Miami Dade parks for several years and the naturalists and rangers can be of help to you! You’ve also got the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens in Miami- a wonderful resource.

  7. Jessica Walden-Gray says:

    I made a stop at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge off of I-95 on the Georgia coast that was a phenomenal side trip. A mix of salt marsh, freshwater ponds, meadow and forest with a convenient road to drive through the refuge because of its military past. There is a population of Utetheisa ornatrix in the fields and lots of alligators. Pest control companies in FL employ a large number of entomologists that can be very helpful if you are interested in a “pest” species. These folks often document new exotics and range expansions. Their pests are often exotic beauties. Also, Jaret Daniels at the UF-Gainesville is a good person to contact because he is tuned in to the leps in Florida. Be aware that they spray insecticide on everything in the South, especially Florida, and you could end up poisoning caterpillars you collect. Collecting on roadsides can be dangerous and I was told to contact the regional department of transportation office if you’re going to venture into highway medians and to wear an orange safety vest. The DOT employs naturalists that look for endemics and endangered species before they do any highway work so those guys are good resources as well. Enjoy! It’s incredible and central FL is way more rural than you’d expect.

  8. Sara Rall says:

    Not sure if you have any interest, but I can very likely get you access to at least 100 acres (quite possibly a good deal more) of private horse farmland in Maryland north of Baltimore. It’s about 20 from I-95. Mostly lightly grazed (and monthly mowed) pasture, but with many acres of wooded bottomland and roadside brush, along with small ponds.

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