Nature has always been a part of Lighthouse histories: the sea, beaches, dunes, inlets, salt marshes and the plants and animals inhabiting them. Humans and lighthouses don’t exist in vacuums. Natural forces influence our lives and shape our actions, our architecture and culture. Engaging school tours and regular visitors in the natural history of the St. Augustine Lighthouse is exciting education.
The Lighthouse has a natural classroom that’s never closed. Six acres of oak hammock now exist on dunes that were, at one time, bare. The present oak hammock is a living classroom and class is always in session. Earlier this year, visitors to the top of the tower looked down to see a mother and two young raccoons curled up in tree-top grape vines to sleep. Tracks of raccoon, armadillo, opossum, gopher tortoise, and mourning doves leave patterns in the parking lot and on the nature trails. We have a pair of box turtles—over the last six years, the female has been seen many times in the garden by the brick wall surrounding the tower. Three years ago, I found a male box turtle trying to cross Anastasia Blvd in front of the fire station and brought him to a safer environment in the Lighthouse garden. Since box turtles prefer a forest habitat and stay put in small home territories, we hope the matchmaking effort has paid off.
Last week, Donna Schleifer on tower duty, spotted a mature bald eagle soaring by the tower. Red- shouldered and red-tailed hawks, black and turkey vultures and bald eagles are attracted to thermals forming within sight of the lighthouse. And, as Kathleen McCormick observed in her blog, wading birds fly to and from the Alligator Farm—early mornings on their way to favorite spots to fish; late afternoons flocking back to the Alligator Farm to nest and roost. We’ve seen swallow-tailed kites, tree swallows, and now chimney swifts, back from South America for spring and summer, dart around the tower snatching insects on the wing.
I hope to get my digital camera up and running soon to record Lighthouse plants, mammals, reptiles, birds, insects and spiders to share with you. Saturday, May 12 we’ll offer a workshop, “Insects and Spiders of the Lighthouse,” 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. Meet in the breezeway to the left of the Visitors Center entrance. Please call for reservations, 829-0745 and ask for Gail. Join me to explore the secret life of the Lighthouse hammock. I look forward to the adventure.