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Nine-banded Armadillo, Okeechobee, July 2012

I spent a few days in Florida on my way back from the West Indies to the UK in 1998. My main aim was to see Manatees - which I did. That said, I was pretty disappointed not to find any Armadillos (a recurring theme of several trips to the USA!), alledgedly common in parts of the State.

In May 2012 I returned to take part in the annual Southeastern Bat Diversity Network's annual Bat Blitz. Each year scientists, bat workers and others from across the south eastern USA congregate for a 3 night intensive survey of a poorly surveyed area. Its a part social, part scientific event and in 2012 it was being run in the Apalachical State Forest and its vicinity, not far from Tallahassee.

I have returned several times since then including March 2015.

Blue Spring State Park, January 1998 – West Indian Manatees are easy to see in the St Johns River each winter.

Fakahatchee Strand State Park, January 1998 – Virginia Oppossum.

Gainesville area, March 2015 - I visited Payne's Prarie for an evening to look for Round-tailed Muskrats. I didn't see any but did see my first Marsh Rice Rat. See the March 2015 trip report. Scott Flamand and I returned to Payne's Prarie in May 2016 and found a seeminly active Muskrat lodge at the end of the La Chua trail. But no animals. They are also seen at Sweetwater Wetlands:we looked but didn't see any, though did see a Bobcat.

Miami - the golf course at Coral Gables is still, as at January 2015, home to Florida Bonneted Bats and they can often be heard echolocating (and seen flying high). Try the area around the clubhouse. I was able to hear bats in a roost near here in January 2015 but they didn't emerge (perhaps because the temperature at sunset was in the 60s, relatively cool for this time of year). But I saw some emerging in March 2015. The Miami Bat Squad's facebook page is a good source for more information. What must have been a Cotton Mouse was in a nearby tree (in a suburban garden) just after sunset (see the March 2015 trip report).

Florida Bonneted Bat

Ponte Vedra Beach
The 2012 Florida Bat Blitz survey ran from Monday through Wednesday evenings, but there were some pre-survey trips organised on the Sunday, and I spent the evening helping to mist net at the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Research Reserve near Ponte Vedra Beach. Marsh Rabbits were common in the late afternoon at the park visitors centre on Guana River Road. I saw a White-tailed Deer near here too and also an Armadillo (my first in the USA).

Marsh Rabbit

The bat catching was less successful. We put up 3 nets and caught just one animal - a South-eastern Myotis, which was a lifer for me. Raccoons were common in the forest, and I saw another Armadillo and a big Feral Pig.

South Eastern Myotis

Okeechobee is a couple of hours south of Orlando. Joshua Holbrook, a naturalist (a herper, first and foremost) was generous enough to meet up with me and my kids here for 6 hours in July 2012. My main target was Eastern Spotted Skunk which Josh occasionally 'flips' while looking for herps under pieces of board or other rubbish. We search several spots in the day time and then spent a couple of hours spotlighting around the Kissimee Prairie State Reserve, in an area where Josh has spotlit 'dozens' of Eastern Spotted Skunks along the road while searching for snakes and other herps. We didn't see any Skunks though smelled a few.

Josh did turn up a family of Cotton Mice and he rescued an Armadillo stuck in a pit. Josh also flipped a rat that none of us saw well but may have been a Woodrat.There were a few White-tailed Deer and Eastern Cottontails, and plenty of snakes around the place too. Its fascinating to spend time with serious herpers - there is a good deal to be learned from them I am sure in how to look for mammals, and its a much larger community than I had realised (there are thousands of herpers in the USA alone). Contact Josh through his blog though he has now left Florida.

Cotton Mouse

In January 2015 I returned to Kissimmee reserve for a night and eventually saw a skunk, that was almost all black save for a thin white stripe over the head onto the flanks. I tried very hard to convince myself it was a Spotted Skunk but the expert opinion was it was a Striped Skunk, which have a very large colour variation (Spotted Skunks always have some "spots"). And in March 2015, I added Opossum, Raccoons and Armadillo to my list for the area, but still no Spotted Skunk.

In May 2016 I spent a night at the dilapidated Uncle Joe's Fishing Camp in Clewiston, on the southern edge of Okeechobee. I was told that there used to be Spotted Skunks "all over the place" until about a year ago when they disappeared for no apparent reason. Needless to say I didn't see any, though did see a Bobcat while spotlighting.

Palm Beach - I'd been told that the canal, bordering Flying Cow Road, in Wellington (west of Palm Beach) used to be a good spot to see Roundtailed Muskrats after dark. I've walked and driven along the canal several times in two visits (December 2013 & January 2015) but failed to see a Muskrat, though I did see a number of burrows that looked about the right size. I am not sure that the Muskrats are there but Raccoons and Virginia Opossums are common, and I saw an Eastern Cottontail and a Gray Fox in the area too.

Tallahassee Area
The 2012 Bat Blitz proper was held near the village of Hosford, at something called the "Woodmen of the World Camp". There were an impressive number of cars in the car park when I arrived and something like 80 people had shown up. It was an impressive survey force and though it was good for data collection, the sheer logistics made it harder (pretty much impossible) to see species that other groups had caught as we were processing all the bats in the field. The protocols in place for White-nosed Syndrome (which has yet to reach Florida) were rigourous and onerous if (as our team did on the first night) we caught a lot of bats. But such is life.

One the first night, our team of 5 people caught more bats than the other 11 teams combined. In part this was because our site (in the southwest of the Apalachical State Forest) was next to a bridge that housed a few hundred Mexican Freetails. But we caught another 4 species, 3 new to me.

Best of which were a few of the robust, furry, and very cool Seminole Bats.

Seminole Bats

We also caught several Evening Bats, a couple of Big Brown Bats, and some more South Eastern Myotis.

Big Brown Bat

The next day we netted over a large pond just south of Tallahassee, and erected an elaborate set of nets over and around the pond We caught a handful of bats just after dusk, all in the net across the middle of the pond. And as the water was several metres deep, they had to be collected from an improvised float tube coracle.

Setting up the nets with a float tube

We caught a Red Bat (my target for the night - the 5th lifer of the trip, which are rather similar to Seminoles, just redder, as well as another Seminole Bat and another Evening Bat.

Evening Bat

Red Bat

Other teams caught a few Raffinesque's Big-eared Bats and Eastern Pipistrelles too, so in 3 days a total of 246 bats, from 8 species were caught. Its a fun event and a great way to see some bats so I'm hoping to make it an annual trip.

Yulee is as far north as you can get in Florida without getting into Georgia. In July 2012 I visited a spot near here when I'd heard a Rafinesque Bat often roosts and I was in luck.

Rafinesque's Big-eared Bat

My more Detailed Trip Reports
36 hours in Florida (March 2015): including Florida Bonneted Bats and Marsh Rice Rat.

See Also
Florida Natural Areas Inventory: useful guide to the rarer mammals (and other wildlife) of Florida.

South Florida & St Croix RFI (August, 2014)

Florida RFI: Manatees and more (March, 2013)

Where to see Florida Bonneted Bats (November, 2013)

Central Florida RFI (May, 2013).

Everglades Information, 2013: including sites for Southern Short-tailed Shrew and Seminole Bats.

Tallahassee RFI, 2012

Results of the Florida trip, November 2011 (with species including Marsh Rabbits).

RFI Florida in late November 2011: a lot of informaiton on sites for various Florida specialties including Round-tailed Muskrat and Marsh Rabbits.

Other People's Trip Reports
Florida, 2013: Mike Richardson, 2 weeks & 17 species including an Eastern Spotted Skunk and Black Bear.

Florida & California, 2013: Romain Bocquier, 10 days & 20 species including River Otter, Long-tailed Weasel and Bobcats.

Florida, 2009: Mark Hows, 2 weeks & 14 species of mammals including Marsh Rabbits.

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