Smith's Island - For the Birds    
After more than two years of negotiation and legal wrangling, that half of Smith's Island which had been privately owned was sold on March 29 to Friends of St. Marks Wildlife Refuge. The previous owner, Mrs. Alpha Langston Sumner, grew up in a house overlooking Spring Creek, and her family made a living from the waters of Apalachee Bay for many generations. The family's appreciation for Smith's Island was enhanced by the awareness that it hosted a major coastal bird rookery. Refuge biologists have conducted nest census counts on Smith's Island for over 10 years, with counts typically in the 1,000-1,500 range. In essence, Smith's Island is one of the last major rookeries in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
In the near future we hope to receive the other half of the island from its owner, the not-for-profit Apalachee Land Conservancy. Subsequently, the two halves would be combined as one parcel by Wakulla County, and the unified 20-acre parcel would then be donated to the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, for protection in perpetuity.

We are grateful, first, to a former Friends board president, Mr. John Whitton who, with Refuge Biologist Joe Reinman, kept the dream of the Refuge acquiring Smith's Island alive for over 30 years. In 2015 John gave the Friends $5,000 to get the project going. His gift was then matched by the Friends ($5,000 plus closing costs) and by the Florida Audubon Society ($5,000).

We also wish to thank Hancock Bank for helping us obtain a clear title, and Mr. Ben Bush Esq. and Mr. Joe Boyd, Sr., Esq. for their generous guidance. This is a wonderful example of how the Friends help the Refuge achieve its goals.

Thanks especially to the Friends Development Committee members Tom Baird (interim Board President), John Haines (Board Treasurer) and the late Lou Kellenberger (former Board member). The Development Committee certainly experienced its share of disappointments and setbacks getting to this point, but what kept us focused were these many enthusiastic partners who share our conservation goals.

So, the next time you see a heron, egret or brown pelican along our coast, think of John Whitton, who got this project started.
Editor's note:  Paul has been a very crucial part of the Development Committee's work on Smith's Island.  He authored this story, and selflessly left his name out of this feature; however, we are extremely grateful for his tenacity and follow-through on this important land acquisition. 

Article courtesy, Paul Hamilton; bird photos courtesy Paul Hamilton, center photo with John Whitton (left) and Paul Hamilton (right) courtesy Jayne Parker.  

Elusive Spotted Turtle Sighting     
Recently, Refuge Monarch-Milkweed Initiative intern Sophia Fonseca (below left) noticed a small turtle crossing the roadway at the Refuge.  She stopped long enough to move the turtle to safety, but felt that it was unusual in appearance, and she quickly photographed it and had it verified by Refuge Staff and biologists.

Her sighting was significant - it was a Spotted Turtle.  In Florida, these small animals, (usually about 4 or 5 inches in length), have only been documented in 15 counties north of a latitude consistent with Orlando.  Their environment is typical of swampy flood plains, just like that of the Refuge. However, due to their size, low profile and rather elusive nature, they are rarely seen.  Often, when they are found, it happens just as this sighting took place - the turtle was crossing Lighthouse Road from one area of its habitat to another.   

Observations like Sophia's help to put all of us on notice to look for other examples of this turtle species.  With more exposure and sightings come more information about the animal's habitat and way of life.

Article, editor; Photos courtesy, top to bottom, Johathan Mays, Gi-Ting Chen, and Sophia Fonseca. 

Lighthouse Restoration Nearing Completion    
From the rooftop right down to the smaller, interior light fixtures, restoration at the St. Marks lighthouse is nearing completion. All work is now scheduled to come to a close late this month.   To help celebrate this huge achievement, several members of the U.S. Lighthouse Society will visit on April 16. Not long after that, the Refuge will host the Florida Lighthouse Association (one of our major supporters), from June 8-9. 

With completion near, scheduling for any public visitation will be announced to Friends in upcoming Reflections newsletters as well as Friends of St. Marks Wildlife Facebook postings.  

Article and photos courtesy, Tom Baird, Interim Friends Board President.

  April Milkweed Update 

Hiding away from those April showers? Well the plants are not! The nursery has moved into an upgrading and planting mode. All Asclepias incarnata (pink swamp milkweed) has been upgraded to larger pots, and twenty new flats of seeds have been planted. Next on the agenda is the popular A. tuberosa (butterfly milkweed). The nursery wants to grow as much as possible, so different soil mixtures are in play to see which one will grow the species the quickest.

Speaking of quick-growing milkweeds, beginning back in February, researcher Tonya Van Hook (near left with volunteer, Clayton Crabtree), began assisting the Monarch-Milkweed Initiative by sampling A. perennis (aquatic milkweed) within the refuge. Nursery volunteers recently discovered that this species was up and growing much earlier than all other milkweed species and may have stayed up all winter. If this species was up during the colder months, it could have provided food and egg-laying sites for monarchs in quite an unusual time of the year. Tonya has asked for volunteers to survey two A. perennis sites each month to monitor the growth of these plants. The next survey will take place on Tuesday, April 24. Any volunteers interested in helping out with the survey should meet at the nursery at 9 am, and be prepared for an all-day battle against mosquitoes.  
A few of the species in our beds will be flowering soon, including A. perennis, A. variegata, and A. lanceolata. Come by the nursery and see their progress during one of our workdays. Our planting parties for the rest of April will be on Mondays and Tuesdays from 9 am-12 pm. 

You can always be kept up-to-date on future planting and transplanting workdays by liking Monarch-Milkweed Initiative at St. Marks NWR on Facebook or contacting us via email.  
 Article and photo courtesy Sophia Fonseca

Friends April 28 Annual Meeting, Last Call
The Saturday, April 28, 2-4 pm Friends Annual Meeting is only about two weeks away - you won't want to miss it. We look forward to seeing you there. 

Please RSVP by calling 850-925-6121 by April 24.

Photo courtesy the editor 

Family Fishing Day, May 5

As you can see, everyone is on their way to join in on Family Fishing Day.  This Refuge event has been revived and revitalized recently, and it's a great family activity.

Last year's fishing day was a huge success, and the coming, May 5, event should be bigger and better than ever.

Once again, David Moody, Federal Wildlife Officer / Refuge Ranger, will be active during the festivities. He will demonstrate the proper way to clean a fish, and then provide some savory techniques he uses to prepare your catch for the table.  

This Refuge activity is a wonderful way to bring entire families together to enjoy the rich, local environment, practice fishing skills, and show children, first-hand, the excitement of fishing. 

Join us, Saturday, May 5, 9-11 am at the Double Dikes - bring the whole family with you.

Photos courtesy Betsy Kellenberger

The Nature Store Streamlines Sales    

The Nature Store, located at the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, has recently streamlined its store sales' system. The need for a modern system had been discussed for a long-time, but it took the skills and dedication of Nature Store Manager Rita LeBlanc to translate that talk into reality. She has expertly tailored the new Shopkeep iPad-based, point-of-sale system to match Nature Store needs. 

The application simplifies the workload for store volunteers, and in addition, it reduces possible errors since prices are now entered using a scanner.  Shopkeep also tracks the inventory of every item in the store (meticulously counted and entered by Rita, Yvonne Zola, Carol Phillips, with help from Cyndi Johnstone and Vicky Sharpe).

Inventory is updated as items are sold so that Rita is aware of what items are selling and what items need to be reordered.  This new system was put in place April 1, and Rita has been at the store during almost all open hours to ensure that volunteers at the Visitor Center understand how the system works.

Since the nature store is the largest source of revenue for the Friends, we welcome this new efficient system. "Though it's been just a little more than two weeks, Yvonne Zola and I have been amazed at how 
streamlined our reordering process is now that we can instantly see our inventory. We love it!"

Thank you, Rita LeBlanc.  Your Refuge volunteer activities are appreciated on so many levels.   
Article courtesy Melissa Jacoby, Friends Board of Directors Secretary

Creative Artist Wanted   

We would like to hear from someone with basic art/design/writing skills who would consider volunteering to change out the Lighthouse Kiosk exhibit, approximately 4-5 times during the year. The kiosk theme is flexible, but it needs to fit with the mission of both the Refuge and the Friends' group. If you would like to consider this, or know of someone who would, please contact the editor of Reflections, Philliip M. Pollock, via email, or simply reply to this email.

Refuge News   
Congratulations to Robin Will  
Robin Will received the prestigious National Project Learning Tree Leadership Award. Congratulations, Robin!

First Sunday, May 6, at 2 pm in the Barred
Owl Room 

On Oyster Farming in Wakulla County, with
Tim Jordan.

April 21 - St. Marks Photo Club
9:00 a.m. in Nature's Classroom.  

April 22 - Earth Day

Have you considered including the Refuge in your will?  We would appreciate hearing from you if so. The Friends of St. Marks Wildlife Refuge can provide information and guide you through the process. Just call the Refuge at 850-925-6121, and ask to be contacted by the Friends' Development Committee, or email us.
Reflections newsletter is a benefit of membership for Friends of St. Marks Wildlife Refuge. It also serves as an important supplement to  
Both the newsletter and the web site provide members and the public information about volunteer activities and events at the Refuge.

Reflections Editor, Phillip M. Pollock