Friday, 1 May 2015

Florida Gulf Coast University - Florida Day 6

Our sixth day in Florida saw another very early start. This was because we were heading to the Florida Gulf Coast University main campus to catch some birds!

Bird Ringing

Top - Jerry Jackson in front of a Mist net explaining
 their history. Bottom Left - Yellow Rump Warbler
(Setophaga coronata)
 caught in mist net.
Bottom right- Jerry holding the 'Butter Butt'
When we reached our destination we met up with a semi retired member of staff called Jerry Jackson. Jerry holds the correct licensing and permissions to carry out bird ringing for the US fish and wildlife service using the otherwise illegal mist nets.

Mist nets brought to the US by italian immigrants in the 1900’s caused a rapid decline in small bird populations leading to outrage and banning. Now a days they can be used under licence for research purposes only and under strict guidelines. Their thin monofilament nylon mesh means they are almost invisible to birds subsequently catching and holding them safely until they can be examined and ringed by the researcher.

Jerry had set up three of these nets in a dry slash pine forest on campus and after multiple visits we were lucky.

The nets had captured a pair of Yellow rumped warblers (Setophaga coronata) who also go by the name of ‘butter butts’

Top - Jerrys Albino Red-eared Slider Turtle
  (Trachemys scripta elegans). Bottom - Pete and Repete
a two headed Red-eared Slider Turtle.
Jerry handled the small birds firmly but delicately in order to obtain the required measurements for the Banding to take place.

During the time we were with Jerry he spoke to us about the complex history and development of the bird ringing system in the USA, Canada and Mexico, its applications and how its still evolving today with the advent of GPS tagging.

Jerry ended by treating us to two of his own pets, both with rare genetic mutations. Firstly, an Albino Red eared slider turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans) and secondly a two headed red eared slider turtle, brilliant named Pete and Repete. Pete and Repete were brought to him over 20 years ago by a farmer who said they wouldn't survive but the dedicated care of jerry, and a credit card to separate them at feeding times, means they have survived.

Exploring the Grounds

The second half of the day was spent with Prof. Edwin 'Win' Everham, some what of a legend at FGCU because of his passion and enthusiasm for all of nature and the environment.

He took us for a tour of the university grounds, including the wet bits, blessed relief for us wetland students who thought we might spend another day completely dry!

Left to right - Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta). African Cichlid (Pterophyllum sp.). Swamp Bay (Persea palustris). Prof. Chris Freeman Slogging through a stormwater treatment wetland.

Wins passion and knowledge of the environment around his was very inspiring as he led the charge through the campus and its stormwater treatment wetlands, pine forests, wet prairies and cypress domes constantly finding something interesting to point out to us even if he didn't know what it was!

As we went he also pulled parts of the campus apart (he did also fix them afterwards) too see how nature was making use of them. This was most often the electrical junction boxes in which we found a Cuban Treefrog (Osteopilus septentrionalis) and razer snake eggs to name but a few things. He also has a number of fish traps set up in the stormwater ponds around the campus in order for us to get a full picture of their biodiversity.

What i liked about this is its illustration of how nature will move into constructed wetlands using them as microrefugia, protecting many wetland species, something i knew to be true but had never seen for myself until this point.

As i mentioned he took us into the cypress dome which is a truly stunning place. The presence of the cypress trees is dominating and you grasp why they have been dubbed ‘natures cathedrals’.

This was my second visit to this particular cypress dome having come before in 2012 at the end of the wet season. This time during the dry season it was really noticeable how much the water level changes between seasons.

Of course Dr. Dunn grabbed a soil sample, and then we started heading back towards the university to wash off our legs in the fountain.

Top left to right - My Fellow MSc students and I with Dr. Christian Dunn. Myself in the same swamp at the end of the wet season in 2012 as an illustration of the water level change.
Bottom left to right -  The cypress trees towering above us. Christian never happier than with a bag of soil. Prof Win Johnstone our guide across the campus. 

My thoughts on FGCU

I really enjoyed my visit to FGCU but it left me with alot to think about in terms of its philosophy and questions as to why Bangor University wasn't the same?

FGCU was built with environmental principles in mind, for example they didn't want to export more water than if nothing was there and currently around 50% of the campus is set aside for nature reserve. On top of that every single first year student at FGCU takes a compulsory module on sustainable living, how great is that?

The University also consult their staff and students on any new developments that are being planned, as after all they are either experts or trainee experts in their respective fields. Something that i'm not aware of Bangor doing.

Although it would it is a bit late for bangor to become more like its floridian counterpart in terms of its nature reserve coverage, it would be great if such things like sustainable living, or sustainable business modules became part of the curriculum here, even if it was just too increase general awareness of the world in which we live.

Our group photo at the end of the trip in the FGCU fountain

Species List


Common Name
Latin Name
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Setophaga coronata
Blue Jay
Cyanocitta cristata

Common Name
Latin Name
Cabbage Palm
Sabal palmetto
Salix caroliniana
Poison Ivy
Toxicodendron radicans
Slash Pine
Pinus elliottii
Wax Myrtle
Myrica cerifera
Cabbage Palm
Sabal palmetto
Bayberry Bush
Myrica pensylvanica
Saw Grass
Cladium jamaicense
Utricularia species
Spike Rush
Eleocharis vivipara
Water Lille
Nymphaea odorata
Swap Bay
Persea palustris
Black Eyed Susan
Rudbeckia hirta
Alligator Flag
Thalia geniculata
Pond Cypress
Taxodium ascendens
Black Tupelo
Nyssa sylvatica


Common Name
Latin Name
Red-eared Slider Turtle
Trachemys scripta elegans
Black Rat Snake
Pantherophis obsoletus


Common Name
Latin Name
Gulf Fritillary Butterfly
Agraulis vanillae


Common Name
Latin Name
Flag fish
Jordanella floridae
African Cichlid
Pterophyllum sp.
Mosquito fish
Gambusia affinis
Sailfin Molly
Poecilia latipinna
Sun fish
Lepomis auritus
Golden Topminnow
Fundulus chrysotus


Common Name
Latin Name
Cuban Tree Frog
Osteopilus septentrionalis

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