The loose, sandy soils of the longleaf pine
sandhills are easily excavated by gopher tortoises; look for the
mounds of sand that mark the burrow entrance. A number of other
sandhill residents find refuge within these burrows. Indigo snakes,
eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, gopher frogs, pine snakes and
Florida mice may occur at Fort White. Look for them near the burrow
or observe tracks left behind in the soft sand.
Bluebirds, woodpeckers, kestrels, pine warblers and
nuthatches are common residents of longleaf pine sandhills.
Openings attract white-tailed deer and wild turkey.
Scan ponds for wood ducks in the winter. Barred
owls and red-tailed hawks hunt in the hardwood swamp along the
river and migratory warblers pause here during migrations. River
otters, beavers and an occasional manatee ply the waters of the
Santa Fe River. Watch for swallow-tailed and Mississippi kites in
Blazing star, goldenrod, milkweed, aster and other
fall wildflowers attract butterflies. Look for fox squirrels
foraging on the ground in the sandhills. The longleaf pines produce
an abundance of seeds that attract these protected squirrels, the
larger and more variously colored cousins of the common gray
Wildlife Spotlight: Fox
If your squirrel watching has been limited to the
ubiquitous gray squirrel, you'll be surprised by the large size and
color variations of another Florida native, the fox squirrel. Fox
squirrels are much less common than gray squirrels, which makes a
sighting a special occasion. They also have a heftier body, a
longer tail and fur that ranges in color from tawny to gray to dark
brown to completely black. A white nose and ears give the fox
squirrel's face a mask-like appearance.
Fox squirrels spend more time on the ground than
gray squirrels and are slower moving. They forage for acorns, nuts,
fruits, insects, mushrooms, buds and tubers, so they require
habitats with an open understory. These include open pine
flatwoods, sandhills, mixed pine-hardwood areas and rangeland
interspersed with trees. Like the gray squirrel, fox squirrels
prefer to nest in hollows in trees, but will also construct bulky
nests of twigs and leaves in treetops. Young are usually born in
late winter/early spring and in the summer.
Fox squirrels are most common in the Panhandle and
northern part of the state. Of the three subspecies found in
Florida, two are listed as threatened or endangered. One of these,
the Big Cypress fox squirrel, occurs only in an area south of the
Caloosahatchee River in southwest Florida. The other, Sherman's fox
squirrel, is found from southeastern Florida to Georgia and west to
about the Choctawhatchee River.