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The Barrier Islands of the Florida Gulf Coast

Photo diaries about wildflowers and trees, birds and bugs, and maybe some critters as I wander and learn about the natural beauty of our world.
February 3, 2014

Welcome to the St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge

St. Vincent NWR is in Franklin County, Florida, is an undeveloped barrier island just offshore from the mouth of the Apalachicola River, in the Gulf of Mexico. The refuge is managed to preserve, in as natural a state as possible, its highly varied plant and animal communities.

Ten separate habitat types have been identified: tidal marsh; freshwater lakes and streams; dunes dominated by live oak/mixed hardwood understory; scrub oaks; relatively pure stands of cabbage palm; and four different slash pine communities, each with its own unique understory species.

St. Vincent is an important stop-off point in the Gulf of Mexico region for neo-tropical migratory birds. The island is a haven for endangered and threatened species, including bald eagles, sea turtles, indigo snakes, and gopher tortoises. Wood storks use the refuge during their migration. In addition, the refuge serves as a breeding area for endangered red wolves.

A map of the island courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

For those not familiar with the Florida Gulf Coast, this is the bump that sticks out into the Gulf right about in the middle of the Panhandle. It's 100 miles southwest of my place near Tallahassee. To the west is St Joe Peninsula which is almost a barrier island. St George and Dog Islands surround the rest of Apalachicola Bay. Previous diaries on St Joe here and here, and St George.

This area, while more remote than most of FL, keeps seeing more development but then people have always built upon land. If only there weren't so many of us, each with more demands. Still we have St Vincent Island - as wild as it gets around here.


This day was a Florida Trail Association sponsored event. We usually carpool so since we were headed south to the coast, we met at the Park N' Ride on Woodville Highway by the Fairgrounds. While waiting I saw this rainbow. Rain to the west might have meant a wet hike but we knew it would pass before we got to the coast.

And the rain stopped as we crossed the bay, saw another rainbow, and arrived in Apalachicola. Highlight there, after the restrooms and senior coffee, was stepping outside the BK to see a Bald Eagle fly over and land in a pine past the asphalt.

30 more minutes of driving got us to Indian Pass, the name for the spit of land across from the island as well as the pass itself. St Vincent is only 500' away. The water looks like you could wade or swim across but gets vicious during tide changes when the wind and moon are right. Many decades ago I lived a little ways up the beach, but never went over to the island.

I got this sign from the Pace brothers, my neighbors when I lived there. These old-timers were old enough that going up on a roof was beyond them so, me being the always helpful neighbor, I patched their roof for them. I got this and a story in exchange - how the 2 brothers were hired long ago to put Posted signs up on St Vincent Island. They had a few leftover. Looking up the history of the island, I'm guessing this may have been back in the 50s. The island itself was purchased by The Nature Conservancy in 1968 and then resold to US Fish and Wildlife Service.

So here we are on St Vincent looking across Indian Pass to the boat launch and campground. The Feds have their own docks and monster boats and tons of equipment. We had Captain Joey who has been running the shuttle service for 2 decades.  This photo is good example of a bad panorama on a iPhone.  The shoreline is actually straight east-west. Hint -- close-in shots don't pan well despite how many times I try.

Our group getting final instructions from Dawn, the FTA activity leader. Doesn't this look like a Dawn Chorus?  You can see the FWS dock in the background; behind us is their maintenance yard and porta-lets. There's water but it is not potable.

The plan was to hike down Cabin Rd, the main road across the island. These are old logging roads put in by St Joe Lumber Company and other owners. I guess there is a nice cabin at the east end of the island but we did not walk that far. For a heads-down, hike-hard group, we were strolling. We got a couple miles in and then started to split up. At this point some went north to view Bald Eagle nests, I went south to the beach with a few others.

January was a wet month and standing water lay between the old old dunes long ago taken over with trees. At one point during the day we took our shoes off, rolled up pants, and waded thru some very cold water. TY Deb!

At the beach, bundled up in the cold wind, I laughed when I saw the footprints of someone who had beat me there, the dad and son who shuttled before us. View from a tertiary dune looking south thru the secondary dunes to the water, talking and eating lunch.

Oh yeah. Here's some more stuff I read but didn't link to:

The hunting. Sambar deer, an elk, 300-600 lbs; a gift from back when exotic animals roamed the island.

Here's some cool notes on a hunt this winter. They have to carry in (and out) everything they need (and kill).

How about breeding red wolves?
Success! wolf pups

Friends of St Vincent has great photos.

The usual wiki

Franklin County history.

Whoever writes has a lot of info on the island.

And a timeline from

A Look Into the Past
240 - Oldest pottery shreds found on St. Vincent indicate Indians inhabited the island at this time.
1633 - Franciscan Friars named the island while visiting Apalache tribes.
1750 - Creeks and Seminoles, offshoots of the Creek nation, entered area and inhabited the island.
1868 - George Hatch bought island at an auction for $3,000. Hatch's grave is the only marked grave on the island.
1908 - New owner, Dr. Pierce, spent about $60,000 importing Old World game animals.
1920 - Island-grown beef cattle were sold to Apalachicola markets.
1940 - First oyster lease granted. Pierce Estate sold first pine saw timber. St. Joe Lumber Company built a temporary bridge to island for timber removal.
1948 - Loomis brothers bought island for $140,000 and imported zebras, elands, black bucks, ring-necked pheasants, Asian jungle fowl, bobwhite quail and semi-wild turkey.
1968 - St. Vincent purchased by Nature Conservancy for $2.2 million. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service repaid Conservancy with money from"Duck" Stamp sales. Established as St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge.

OK - I don't see a bucket for the day and I have edited this too many times already so here ya go. Wait Wait, there's a typo.

Catch ya in the comments!

"Green Diary Rescue" is Back!

and posted every Saturday at 1:00 pm Pacific Time on the Daily Kos front page.

Originally posted to Backyard Science on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 01:05 PM PST.

Also republished by National Parks and Wildlife Refuges.

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