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Searching for Scrubjays Hike

At 8:00 on Saturday, Feb. 9th, 17 people gathered at Bear Pond in Seminole State Forest with park biologist, Ralph Risch. The trees were shrouded in fog but as we gathered a low flying, immature eagle flew overhead, giving us a “under-view”  of the mottling of brown and white feathers.  It was not long before a couple of mature bald eagles soared over the pond.
The walk around the “Bear” was quiet except for an occasional bird call. The birds were waiting for the wind to settle and the sun to break through the fog.  Pine warbles, mourning doves and white-eyed verios were spotted. A small flock of wood ducks flapped across the pond.
Onward to the scrub!  The Jays displayed their cerulean blue wings as they perched on the highest tips of the very short scrub oaks.  Ralph explained the specific habitat that these indigenous birds to Florida require. They live in community and each bird has a responsibility to uphold. Some take turns being the sentinel bird to warn of hawks entering the territory. Others feed the family.  Some privileged families even have caregivers.
As we moved out of the scrub into the pine forest many warblers were seen and heard. This time the sunlight illuminated their yellow feathers.  A red-headed woodpecker was spotted on a dead tree…probably listening for insects.
The hike ended with a delightful picnic under the pavilion at Bear Pond. Our take-away: A  better understanding and appreciation of what it means to manage through protection, preservation, and restoration of this unique habitat, Seminole State Forest.



For many decades, the State of Florida has been purchasing properties necessary to create an unbroken corridor of wilderness connecting Wekiva Springs State Park to the vast acreage within the Ocala National Forest through programs such as C.A.R.L., Preservation 2000, and Florida Forever. Since 1980, the state has acquired nearly 56,000 acres at a cost in excess of $183 million for the Wekiva-Ocala corridor, and more than 25,000 acres are additionally being sought. Acquisition of the land is necessary to provide a wildlife movement corridor and important refuge and habitat for many rare species such as the Florida black bear, the bald eagle, Florida scrub jays, swallow-tailed kites, Florida scrub jays, sandhill cranes, Eastern indigo snakes, Sherman’s fox squirrels, Florida scrub lizards, and gopher tortoises. Another priority is to keep development away from these lands where rain seeps underground to the Floridan Aquifer, which is the source of water for the Wekiva river and dozens of other springs in the area.

FOWR has recently been engaged in efforts to secure funding for acquisition of, and a conservation easement over, several hundred acres located within some of the fragmented parcels still being sought by the state for acquisition in the Wekiva-Ocala corridor. In connection with these efforts, FOWR has learned of a federal grant allocated to the state for a Highlands County scrub jay project where alternative funding has instead been received. FOWR has asked the state to consider allocating the funds to acquire property and establish a conservation easement over two parcels consisting of approximately 200 acres of land in Lake County. Florida scrub jays can be found on one of the parcels, and both scrub jays and Eastern indigo snakes have been documented in the scrub communities on the parcel proposed to be placed under conservation easement.

Several state agencies are involved in the process of reviewing and approving FOWR’s request either because they have a role in allocation of the funds or a role in long-term management of the properties. If re-allocation of the federal grant monies is approved, FOWR will have one year to secure additional funds in order to qualify for receipt of the monies from the federal government. The Conservation Trust for Florida has advised it is willing to assist FOWR with securing preliminary appraisals and the necessary fund-raising efforts. A representative from Florida Fish and Wildlife Service has signed off on FOWR’s request and FOWR is now waiting for permission from the remaining state agencies involved.

Results of the Christmas Bird Count 2018


Summary of the 2018 Audubon Christmas Bird Count

for the Wekiva Count Circle

In the 2018 Wekiva Christmas Bird Count (CBC), 53 people endured a relatively rainy and very cloudy day to identify 132 species, and 14,595 individual birds. The number of species observed was slightly higher than the 128 species we have averaged over the last 10 years.

The 10 species with the highest number of individuals observed on the count were: fish crow (3607), American robin (1142), black vulture (716), tree swallow (668), white ibis (627), red-winged blackbird (575), turkey vulture (346), yellow-rumped warbler (320), boat-tailed grackle (319), and palm warbler (302). We observed more than 100 individuals of 32 species; we saw 5 or less of 38 species and only 1 individual of 18 species.

Other interesting aspects of this year’s count included:

* “Rare” birds in this year’s count included American redstart, summer tanager, northern waterthrush and yellow-crowned night heron. All these birds are commonly observed in the region or abundant in other seasons in the Wekiva basin, but their lack of regularity in the Wekiva CBC necessitated completion of a rare bird form.

* Three species of birds were not detected during the 2018 count though they had been observed on at least 20 of 28. These included northern harrier, herring gull and eastern meadowlark. There continues to be a dramatic decline in eastern meadowlarks, particularly in the last 5 years – we observed 315 in 2007!

* Black-bellied whistling ducks continue to be observed in relatively high numbers – they have now been observed in the last 9 counts, and 275 were observed this year.

* Wild turkeys, which were not common in the Wekiva basin 30 years ago, have also become firmly ensconced in the count circle, including residential neighborhoods. Nine-two were observed this year, which was near the all-time high.

* Including this year, a single horned grebe has been counted 10 times during the Wekiva count – never any more.

* We had a near low count of the highly nomadic wood stork (8), but they have been observed on every count.

* We observed high numbers of American white pelicans (43), grasshopper sparrow (5) and least bitterns (3), which have only been observed on 4 counts.

* We observed only one northern flicker. Northern flicker numbers have been declining from a high of 55, 25-years ago.

* We have not observed a hairy woodpecker in 9 years, but they were observed in 15 of the early years of the count,

* We only observed one house finch, a bird that has recently become common in central Florida – we observed a high number of 16 in 2014. I had wondered if this species would be more prevalent since it has now been observed in 10 of the latest counts.

March 9: Guided Wekiva River Paddle


March 9: Guided Wekiva River Paddle

Members of Friends of the Wekiva River will lead a paddle from Kings Landing to Kelly Park via Emerald Cut. This is a beautiful section of river that you may not have experienced. This is an advanced beginner paddle. We paddle up stream first. There are a few trees/logs to negotiate although not too difficult. Also, if you choose, you may continue downstream past Kings Landing and paddle back up.

The number of participants will be limited to 20, so you must pre-register by calling Weegie at 407-788-2619 or emailing

Saturday, March 9, 8:30 am

Location: Kings Landing

5722 Baptist Camp Rd.

Apopka, FL 32712


Cost:  ***CASH ONLY***

Launch Fee: $10, (with a shuttle return from Wekiva Island $20)

Canoe Rental: $30 (seats 3 adults)

Kayak Rental: 1 person  $40

2 person  $50   (prices include paddles and flotation devices.)

Bring: water, hat, bug spray, sunscreen, snacks and/or a picnic lunch, shoes/sandals that can get wet…strapped on is best.

Phone/camera in a waterproof container.  Dry bags are good!



March 7 — Free film viewing: Hidden Secrets of Florida Springs


March 7 — Free film viewing: Hidden Secrets of Florida Springs

Friends of the Wekiva River invites you to a special free viewing of a compelling film that explores the mystique and malaise of Florida springs.

Film producers include Emmy award-winning producer Bob Gugiere and Bill Belleville, an award-winning environmental writer, documentary filmmaker and lecturer. Gugiere will be present to answer questions.

Thursday March 7 at 7:30 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall of Markham Woods Church located at 505 Markham Woods Road in Longwood. Call 407-788-2619 with any questions.

Feb. 9 – A scrub and scrub-jay journey with an expert


Feb. 9 — A scrub and scrub-jay journey with an expert

Join Florida scrub jay biologist Ralph Risch on a guided walk through Seminole State Forest for a chance to spot this threatened species, which is the one bird found only in Florida – just about 6,000 left down from an estimated 100,000 in the 1920s. The forest is home to about 100. You’ll learn about its scrub habitat and controlled burns, visit some rare and unique plant locations and stop to see some of the bird territories. You’ll also see other habitats, search for other bird species and hopefully see some other wildlife.

Meet at the Bear Pound parking area north of SR46 at 8:00 AM.  Bring a camera, binoculars, and your favorite field guides.  Also, bring a packed lunch if you wish to eat with us after the hike. Wear closed toed shoes, no sandals or flip-flops, please.

Park entry fee: $2:00

This trip is limited to 20 people. A waiting list will be taken. 

The hiking on this trip is classified as easy. 

Email for reservations and for more information call 407-788-2619.

Saturday, Jan. 5: Wekiva story walk


Saturday, Jan. 5 WEKIVA STORY WALK
Led by popular storyteller Eddie Williford, learn little-known tales about the fascinating history of Wekiva Springs State Park during an easy hike around the park’s spring area. Bring a picnic lunch; shared grill available. Jan. 5. Meet 10 a.m. at the kiosk near the concession building. Free but $6 park admission applies. 1800 Wekiwa Circle, Apopka. 407-788-2619

Oct. 6 – Sleuthing for Spiders


Oct. 6 — Sleuthing for Spiders

Do you think spiders are cool or scary? Either way, prepare to be fascinated or frightened on a night walk through Wekiva Springs State Park with a spider expert who will reveal all their secrets. Meet at the park’s campground ampitheater at 6 pm, Saturday, October 6. Cost: $6.00 park entry fee and the ranger will provide directions to the site. After a 30-minute slide presentation on spiders, we will hike in the Sand Hill area of the park to find spiders and their intricate webs. Degree of difficulty: moderately easy. Paths are uneven and sandy. What to bring/wear: Closed-toed shoes, long pants and long-sleeve shirt suggested, flash light (preferably head lamp), insect repellent, water, camera. For any questions, call 407-788-2619 or email

Please join or renew your membership


FOWR membership is invaluable because you help keep us strong. Your support helps us defend the Wekiva and educate future generations who will need to take up the work of ensuring this remains one of Central Florida’s environmental jewels.

Many thanks to those of you who have already renewed your membership, and a reminder that it just takes one click (below) for those of you who have not yet had the opportunity to do so.  We would like to recognize those who have thus far renewed at our highest membership levels:

CORPORATE – -Encore Farms

LIFE — Leslie Poole

PATRON — Dick Ashby, Curtis Duffield

Friends of Wekiva River depends upon the income received from annual dues to sustain its many important activities related to protection of the river and basin. Through our efforts, we seek to minimize impacts from fragmentation and loss of habitat, declines in spring flow and degradation of water quality.

Your dues cover administrative expenses, such as paying the rental fee for monthly meetings and insurance for the activities that we lead. Your fees are also critical to programs we sponsor, such as educational materials and research we fund on wildlife and water quality in the basin.

Please click on the following link and renew your membership for 2018-2019. The Wekiva River and the wildlife who live within the basin are depending on you!!!

FOWR Board: Who are they? What do they do?


We’re so glad you asked!

After organizing informally in 1978 and incorporating in 1982, The Friends of Wekiva River, Inc. began with 19 members and an even smaller number sitting on the Board of Directors. Over the 40 years that have ensued, FOWR has grown to more than 300 members residing in Orange, Seminole and Lake Counties. With the most recent election conducted at the Board of Directors meeting held on May 3rd, the Board now consists of 18 members each serving three-year terms, governed by a President, Vice President, Treasurer and Secretary.

We will be launching a series of articles in upcoming newsletters to “spotlight” and introduce each of our Directors to you, but for now we thought you might be interested in some general information about the current make-up of the Board, the different areas of expertise the Board members contribute to FOWR and its mandate, and some of the activities the Board has contributed to and is currently involved in.

Most of the Board members have lived in the Wekiva basin for many years, and several were intimately involved with obtaining designation of the river many years ago as an Outstanding Florida Water, a Florida Canoe Trail, an Aquatic Preserve, and a Wild and Scenic River. In addition to the knowledge acquired over the years from these and other activities, many of the Board members contribute technical expertise in areas relevant to protection of the river, including law, biology, engineering, landscape architecture and media.

Board members are actively engaged in programs related to water quality enhancement, black bear research, land acquisition in the Wekiva to Ocala corridor and assuring design standards for the Wekiva Parkway. We monitor and analyze projects proposed for development within the basin as well as changes proposed to local government development codes and comprehensive plans that could negatively impact the river and basin. We appear at public hearings before local government boards to advocate for the river, and participate in many hands-on projects throughout the year preparing data and analysis related to species and habitat protection, water quality issues and education.

The Board meets 6:15 pm the first Thursday of every month at:

Seventh Day Adventist Church

Markham Woods Road

Longwood, FL.