Tallahassee Herping

A pool at St. Marks

A good-sized gator


Gulf FritillaryS

Along the St. Marks River

Manatee waters

In late October my family and I visited our friends Scott and Topi down in Tallahassee, Florida.  I was looking forward to getting out into the field during our stay.  Back home in Illinois, most of the herps had already gone to ground, or mud as the case may be, but down in Panhandular Florida, conditions were still favorable.  As a result I got in a number of productive herp excursions during our stay.

Our first full day there was Sunday, and since Scott was off work we loaded up one of his canoes and headed down to St. Marks NWR, on the Gulf just south of Tallahassee.  The day was sunny, with temperatures in the mid seventies.  Cruising along the refuge road, we spotted a number of alligators sunning themselves on the banks of the adjacent pools and sloughs.  I never get tired of seeing alligators, so we made a number of stops for observation and photos.  A number of them were good-sized beasties.

The bird life along the way was rich and varied, providing another dimension of observation.  A pair of Northern Harriers criss-crossed the wet prairies in low, erratic fashion; Ospreys patrolled the same ground, only several stratas of air higher, and tying sky to ground were the Great Blue Herons and Egrets and other wading birds.

We hiked around the margins of one of the pools, and observed another gator or two, but no other herp life was evident other than the occasional bleat and splash of an unseen frog leaping from bank to pool.  I was hoping to get a glimpse of the Florida Blue Garter, Thamnophis sirtalis similis, which was known from this area.  Surprisingly, no aquatic turtles were out this day.

It was a good day for Lepidoptera, and as Scott and I walked a small trail out by the lighthouse, a number of species were in abundance.  Gulf Fritillaries were everywhere, feasting on the late blooming goldenrod, along with Buckeyes and the large Tropical Sulphurs.   I saw a number of Longtailed Skippers here and there, with a beautiful tint of blue on their backs. Monarchs were here as well, this being a 'jumping off' point for their flight southwest across the Gulf to Mexico.  Putting in the occasional appearance were the beautiful black and lime-green Leaf Wings.

We drove back north a bit and put the canoe into the St. Mark's River just above the refuge.  This was Manatee territory, a creature I was desperate to see.  About a quarter mile upstream, I spotted something under the water near a large patch of vegetation.  Something sofa-sized, its bronzy color almost glowing in the murky water.  Manatee!  All Ahead Stop!  It turned a slow, lazy circle and I entered a period of pure stupefaction.  There may have been two manatee.  I think the one I spotted circled away and headed downstream, and a second passed under our canoe in the same direction, leaving a wake and a trail of bubbles behind.  There might have only been the one sea cow - in my fog of amazement, all observational skills went overboard.  This brief, seconds-only encounter will remain a profound experience for me.

Lunch is worth mentioning - in addition to providing me with a great outdoor adventure, Scott took me to Posey's for lunch.  We sat out on a rickety bench table over the St. Mark's River and ate smoked mullet, an amazing meal and a new favorite of mine.  If you ever find yourself in the little town of St. Mark's, do yourself a favor and stop in at Poseys...

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