The Florida Files, University

Florida – Day Six 🇺🇸

Florida Golf Coast University partners with my University in The UK. (Bangor University). Today, we visited and had a tour of their mesmerising campus, which seemed to be a completely different world to the small Welsh town we were all accustomed to.

Arriving at approximately 9am, we were all soon astounded when we viewed the university. Filled with restaurants, tall colourful buildings, home to alligators and with a gym placed on each floor in the halls of residence, it really was a step away from little Bangor!

And I imagine the campus itself was larger than Bangor as a whole!

Two lovely guides (Katie and Rachel) who were current students at the university kindly guided us around the campus, filling our minds with facts about the university and in depth details about courses and student life. Fun fact: The medical campus has a realistic “doll” that gives birth to up to three babies at a time, and it can go off randomly, which gives the students a random and valuable practicing experience, enabling them to learn to deal with given scenarios, as they head towards their chosen careers.

It sounded extremely appealing. I particularly liked and respected the sustainability efforts FGCU engaged in, including food forests and the appliance of solar panels around campus. It’s always inspiring to see Universities encouraging students and staff to engage in more sustainable, better for the planet, changes.

Soon after our typical, tourist-y group photo, we headed up to floor four for a talk from a student, and his work on sword-tail fishes. This lasted for around an hour, as we sat comfortably in reclinable chairs in the most hi-tech computer lab. The talk was interesting and went into in-depth detail about molecular ecology and prey identification, alongside thrilling information about the sword tail species. Admittedly, not my favoured study areas, but an interesting talk all the same.

The afternoon had arisen, it was time for an adventurous swamp walk outside the university campus, which I loved taking part in! (Even if my Lecturer did threaten to drag me in when he almost fell…) And, with wet shoes at the ready, we were soon knee deep in water, surrounded with nature, whilst climbing freely over logs and clinging onto branches and leaves for trustworthy purposes with the *peaceful* sounds of students screaming as they attempted to avoid falling face flat in the murky swamp.

Of course, being Zoologists always up for an adventure and a new challenge, we followed our lecturer who remained enthusiastic to lead us down the pathway clearly labelled “NOT A TRAIL”, which I believe only added to the enjoyment and happy memories formed that day.

After an incredible time wading through the swamp, occupying a range of new bruises and insect bites throughout, we quickly dried ourselves off on the crisp green grass and headed to a nearby shopping mall.

Throughout the short journey, I attempted to remove a collaboration of twigs tucked neatly in my hair. A swamp memorabilia?

We firstly headed into a shop (which I apologetically forgot the name of) which sold a vast range of interesting outdoor items. From walking gear and tents, to guns!!

Of course, guns are legal in The US, but the experience of seeing them closely for a first time was a surreal experience. Guns of all sizes and colours (even pink!) I was personally unaware of how available guns were to the public, so it was reassuring to know that checks on individuals are vitally carried out before purchase. Though, worrying all the same…

After a wander around the first shop, we then headed into a surfers shop which was incredible and had a beautiful range of clothing items and accessories available, for both males and females. I purchased a stunning, colourful tie-dye t-shirt in aid of turtle conservation, with profits going towards helping the endangered species.

Interestingly, we strolled through the surf shop until we reached the exit, soon finding ourselves back outdoors in the blazing heat, surrounded with stunning views and the oddly silent surroundings.

In the not-so-far distance, a puppy shop was facing us, which I (prior to stepping inside) believed to be a common pet shop. However, I soon came to the realisation that this was in fact a puppy farm in disguise after noticing distressed puppies for sale inside, some overly crowded in enclosures whilst others were going mentally insane from the lack of company, alongside both physical and mental stimulation.

And, heartbreakingly, all puppies were away from their mothers, with very few toys to play with. We stayed for a little while, stoking the puppies (they weren’t allowed to be held) and issuing them with entertainment and love.

Again, with puppy farms leading such a huge controversy in The UK, it was baffling to encounter one in a different country which appeared to be completely normalised. It made me wonder about differences in animal rights and welfare across the globe, why some of us were campaigning for places similar to be abolished, whereas others evidently had no issues with them.

The Florida Files, University

Florida – Day Four 🇺🇸

Beginning the day at 7:45am, we embarked on a 45 minute drive to Corkscrew Swamp, listening to our new favourite American radio station (Bob.fm) along the way, excited to find a range of animal species and to gain a further insight into the work carried out throughout the popular attraction.

Arriving at the swamp, we were quickly divided into two groups, each touring with an experienced volunteer. My group had Sharon – who was approachable, very intelligent and knowledgable.

We were shown the drastic alterations in both human and bird populations over generations with looking at three large scaled maps. Evidently, with an increase in human population, meant the (unfortunate) reduction of bird species. It really was insightful to gain a view into just how negatively the Human population can have such drastic and negative implications on our stunning wildlife.

We walked across the boardwalk, witnessing cypress trees in the near distance and then going on to head on into the cypress trees, with the ability to view them from directly above. Listening to insightful talk of how some species of plants and trees at the swamp have adapted to withstand wildfires. And, additionally, some species can only grow with the assistance of fire – but will die three weeks after the fire has died down.

The walk lasted approximately 3-4 hours, with Sharon sharing her wide range of knowledge as our understanding of the swamp and it’s entailments increased. During the walk, we had the privilege of witnessing a wide diversity of animals in the swamp, which were all stunning and characteristic in their own ways. We noticed alligators, carrying out their camouflaging abilities extremely well as they remained immensely still whilst resembling a log.

The green anole – a Native species in Florida, with noticeably few than the Invasive brown anole. It was in Corkscrew we witnessed our first green anole, after days spent counting handfuls of brown ones.

The Great Egret.

Raccoon.

We then had the option of walking on the boardwalk again, or taking water and soil samples from a nearby location. My friends and I opted for the boardwalk, which seemed to be a refreshing decision as we witnessed more animal species we failed to see the first time around, whilst also viewing a feeding raccoon up close in the habitat of the stunning, tiny hummingbirds.

SPECIES LIST

  • Racoon
  • Great Egret
  • Alligator
  • Ruby throated hummingbird
  • American bittern
  • White ibis
  • Blue heron
  • Blue dragonfly
  • Red bellied tortoise
  • Lampkin
  • Green anole
  • Painted bunting
  • White spotted deer
  • Cardinal bird
The Florida Files, University

Florida – Day Three 🇺🇸

Today, we ventured out at 8:45am, filling our backpacks with cameras, swimwear, binoculars and (of course) plenty of water, amongst other zoologist necessities. Essential in the dazzling 40°c heat!

The day was spent at Lovers Key, a barrier island consisting of three islands (Lovers Key, Inner Island and Black Island) – approximately a ten minute, scenic, drive from our accommodation where we saw unique mailboxes, ranging from dolphin and manatee themed to mermaid themed.

Evidently, Americans truly embrace their individualities and it was a delight to see.

Following a talk from our fabulous Lecturer, Christian, about Lovers Key, mangroves and fascinating barrier islands we perched ourselves excitedly on the bridge, keen to witness manatees in their natural environment, following the success of other students in previous years.

Binoculars at the ready, hopes running high, it wasn’t long before we joyfully encountered a manatee swimming elegantly in the distance. My first manatee sighting! Unfortunately not close enough for a high quality photograph, but enough for a breathtaking experience and long lasting memory. We manoeuvred quickly to another area close by and luckily witnessed another manatee within close proximity of us.

We walked for roughly 4 hours around Lovers Key, embracing high abundance’s of the stunning nature (including mangroves – which consist of 3 types) we had the privilege of experiencing. Also spotting more gopher tortoises, a juvenile included, anoles, butterflies and dolphins. I adored seeing such a wide diversity of animals up close, Florida is blessed with such fascinating wildlife!

We then made our way to the beach, accidentally becoming caught up in a man’s fishing net, to his disapproval, and being taken in by the biggest crashing waves.

Later on in the evening, promised a good view of the sunset, we made our way to the beach, walking the short route together as a friendly group of 16 students. The sky was a very pale pink and the bright sun was heading down, approaching it’s setting. I loved spending time with friends, whilst embracing our surroundings and having thrilling conversations. The sunset was truly stunning and an exceptional way to end another magical, fulfilling day.

We spent a while on the beach, relaxing and laughing. It was great fun!

SPECIES LIST OF THE DAY

  • Manatee
  • Dolphin
  • Brown anole
  • Turkey vulture
  • Black vulture
  • Black racer snake
  • Orange barred butterfly
  • Mangrove crab
The Florida Files, University

Florida – Day Two 🇺🇸

BAREFOOT BEACH RESERVE

Following a well needed sleep after a lengthy (though enjoyable) travelling period, we were ready to embrace our first full day in Florida, whilst fending off jet lag!

Meeting at 8am, lathered in sun cream and covered in protective gear, filling two buses we eagerly headed off to The Barefoot Beach Reserve. The drastic temperature increase was a delight, the sun was beaming down blissfully. Although it felt odd to be wearing minimal layers after succumbing to Bangor’s identifiable declining temperatures.

We had a scheduled talk from Jimmie Trulock – an (extremely knowledgeable) ex park ranger at The Everglades and a current volunteer at the reserve. And Florida’s Master Naturalist.

Jimmie kindly guided us around the reserve, showing us an array of beautiful fauna and tree species, aswell as telling us about their histories and their uses. Ie: some trees being used for pharmaceutical purposes. The talk was super interesting and Jimmie displayed a strong passion for nature and his work, which we made notes about in preparation for our assessed blog posts.

We were blessed to see animals freely inhabiting their natural environments, some of which included stunning gopher tortoises, brown anoles, raccoons and feeding pelicans.

We then had another lecture, listening to another naturalist talking about sound pollution, the different types of sound and the ways in which we can be kinder to our senses.

Following a few insightful hours at the reserve, we had 3/4 of an hour free time to roam around the reserve as we pleased. The majority of us headed to the beach, captivated by the stunning, soft, white sand and the dashingly beautiful blue water. We swam, splashed, and experienced animals feeding naturally – and peering for fish, whilst laughing lots and creating wonderful new memories.

Canoe time! We paired up and ventured out on the canoes, it was my first time canoeing so I was a little rusty; I soon grasped the concept of manoeuvring around the peaceful reserve, after frightening Carla a handful of times with my unpredictable steering methods (oops!) and it turned out to be a pleasurable experience, navigating around mangroves and embracing our surroundings.

Rowing our way eagerly around the calm waters, we witnessed gorgeous dolphins (my favourite marine mammal!) swimming both elegantly and closely to our canoes. The experience was incredible, it felt magical and captivating – to say the least. We also saw a number of magnificent bird and fish species, boats, and bubbly Americans.

Our accommodation gratefully has a pool, which we all went in afterwards for a swim and a cool down, before a debriefing about the day we’d experienced and the plans for the upcoming day. It was incredible to spend a day with wonderful people who share my passions and my admiration of animals, whilst experiencing new things and visiting new places!

SPECIES LIST OF THE DAY

  • Dolphins
  • Gopher tortoise
  • Brown anole
  • Ospreys
  • Red breasted woodpecker
  • Cuban tree frog
  • Raccoon
  • Ant lion