Orchid tour 2016

Vimeo videos: Biologist John Bente found a single orchid here

Orchid Tour 2016, Deer Lake State Park, FL

On 8/26/2016 Biologists Jeff Talbert and John Bente took eight people from the Facebook Group I <HEART> Deer Lake State Park on a tour celebrating the blooming of White Fringed Orchids. Five movies: Getting Started, Drive Up, White Fringed Orchids, Parrot Pitcher Plant, and Cottonmouth Moccasin Snake. If you prefer, see the Orchid Tour in YouTube videos alternatively to these Vimeo videos.

Getting Started

Orchid Tour: Getting Started, with biologists John Bente and Jeff Talbert

Getting Started with John Bente and Jeff Talbert 8/26/2016 Deer Lake State Park, Florida

John: I think we have everybody. We probably ought to get started, I mean get in vehicles and head out. This is an Atlanta Botanical Garden vehicle so it can go in this park.

Jeff: Real Quick, this is John Bente, head biologist for District 1 for 20 years, working with all the state parks in the panhandle. I'm Jeff Talbert I worked at Graton and Topsail as well. Now we both work for Atlanta Botanical Garden on this project in partnership with the park.

John: This project is to restore basically seepage slopes, wet prairies, the communities that support orchid and pitcher plants and other carnivorous plants. We got our funding to do this project through the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund. The award came throught the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. They are the broker of that pocket of money.

We applied for a grant in 2013 with the intent to restore these areas at Deer Lake, Graton and Topsail Hill. That project was too big to fit into the award size that they wanted to give. They encouraged us to apply again in 2014 and condense the project to Deer Lake.

We're assuming this project will be successful. We're seeing success. So we can move from this project into the other parks. June was the beginning of our second year.

Drive Up

Driving up to the Orchid Tour restoration site - about the project with John Bente

What really happened, what triggered that decline was: we stopped burning. The natural progression of fire in the landscape was stopped. There was this whole Smokey the Bear initiative and everything. Now we've come around, but in that time period of fifty years or more the country was more divided up, you had roadways and stuff like that, that would stop backing fires.

Fire actually kept the uplands pretty free of litter. These are pretty sandy permeable uplands so the rain that would fall on the uplands would just soak in. Because it's white sand there's almost no nutrient in the soil. So you have this seepage soil which is nutrient poor which is an ideal place for carnivorous plants. In the slopes, the kind of gentle topography, whereever it sloped away, water would seep out. Centrally, in these seep areas, these little creeks and streams carry the water to the Coastal Dune Lakes and then out into the Gulf of Mexico.

The lack of fire allowed wetland hardwoods, that previously had mostly stayed in the shrub stage, to actually take over. There wasn't the pruning by fire. The lack of fire also allowed duff and litter to build up in the uplands so that when the water percolates down, it carries nutrients with it. The titi loves nutrients but the pitcher plants and orchids and other plants don't need it. So now you've eliminated the pruning of these hardwood plants and you're also feeding them. They begin to grow better. Now they start shading all the herbaceous plants. So everything is suppressed on the herbaceous side. Stimulates the growth of this unnatural stand of woody plants.

What we're doing in this project is taking out all of that titi. Clearing it so that the ground can again be open to the sun to stimulate the herbaceous component. We're trying to restore the whole sweep of plants. The focal species are these orchids, pitcher plants, butterworts and sundews but we're managing for the natural community. We're trying to get a herbaceous-dominated community back. Now it is in an unnatural state of closed canopy hardwood with two or three species instead of 50 species.

What we're driving through right now is Sandhill: Turkey Oaks, Longleaf Pine. This is sort of a catchment area. We can have up to 70 inches of rain a year in the Panhandle. Except when you have really sustained tropical rain, most everything that falls, soaks right in. We can get to the point where we have surface runoff. But most of the time, all the rain is soaking in. The water level rises up and the topography grades off so it begins to seep right out of there. We're just moving into an area now where there's a north south stream that goes down.

The reason we were able to get funding, you know no oil came up here, the reason we were able to get funding is the water flow that goes out into the Gulf of Mexico. It doesn't only go out of the outlet of the lakes. There's what is called Submarine Groundwater Discharge. This entire landscape was percolating water through sandy soil. It goes under the dunes, and out into this shallow incline out the sandy surface. So if you go down in the sand, the salinity is 0. It's fresh water. And up here (above) it's 33 parts per thousand. At this level (below) there's this flat estuary, this interface between fresh and salt water. Because the Coastal Dune Lakes are utilized by Snowy Plovers and other shorebirds as nesting areas. Those birds are listed and their populations are in trouble. The oil spill damaged those bird populations. So we got the funding to do this. That was a hook.

White Fringed Orchids

Pitcher plant meadow on 5/13/2016

Orchid. Platanthera. Pollinator of White Fringed Orchids Sensor. We know that the flowers are getting pollinated because we've gotten viable seed in previous years. We don't actually know what pollinates them. There is concern about pollinators.

We have this camera. If you stand over here, and smile, every 15 seconds your photo will show up behind the orchid. While we're talking, it's taking pictures. We are partners with the Florida Park Service so Raya Pruner brought those tools. She has the position that I vacated when I retired, as lead biologist for the district office.

Before we started working on this site, we found a single orchid plant in bloom. Someone asks, "What's the official name, tell me." The common name is white-fringed orchid. And the Latin name is platanthera blephariglottis. What we don't have yet are the seed capsules. They open to really fine sandy kind of seeds that just scatter. The Atlanta Botanical Garden grew seedlings that we planted this past April they're blooming in not even a year, a growing season.

Parrot Pitcher Plant

Parrot Pitcher Plant

Everywhere there is a little flag here, something is planted. These are parrot pitcher plants. I'm going to show you something about this. There's a really interesting adaptation on this plant about how it gets the insect. So this thing (one leaf) is sitting down here. The insect can walk along here. This fin is modified, this vertical part of the leaf is like a drift fence. The little ant or whatever, gets on that and he turns and he walks, maybe he walks this way and he gets away. But if he turns right and he walks on the edge of that fence, then look in that hole and the end of it. See that? Hole in the back, right there (points). This fence steers the insect in there. He goes through the little hole. It's just like a fish trap. It's hard to find his way out.

But there's one more thing. It's more translucent on this end, than it is on this end. Insect goes to the light. So goes this way and bumps against the wall until he dies and then the plant eats him. It's a pretty neat adaptation. There's no way water can get into this. It uses a mechanism to trap the insect.

{Note in 2018 some parrot pitcher plants are marked with numbered metal tags to monitor their survival rate. I start following one. }

Cottonmouth Moccasin Snake Story

Cottonmouth Moccasin Snake Story

This range right here, when Jennifer and I walked down mapping, we were down further and coming back up, and had five. Five cottonmouth moccasins about like this (gestures a 3-foot length). But the good thing was, I stepped here and he was there (close). Because you didn't see it. Everyone of them charged and leaped into the creek. But there were lots of frogs. I think they were concentrating on eating the frogs. Frogs were that big (gestures 2-inches long). Running from the giants. Of all the poisonous snakes, I think the cottonmouth gives me the most, especially when they are this big around (gestures 5-inches in diameter) and lift up their head going toward you. Really, the reality is he's trying to get over there. Not going after you. Trying to get to refuge, where they want to be. You're in between. "So you should go sideways," I ask? Just stand still. Let him go.

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