One side of the farm borders a state park, and the other sides are timber plantations and farms, so there’s quite a lot of wildlife in the area. Being northern Florida, it’s a funny run-together of traditional North American and tropical fauna. The farm itself only sees upland species since we’re about a mile away from any open water– an unusual situation in Florida. This includes the usual snakes, raccoons, bats, ibis, bobwhites, sandhill cranes, and armadillos that you’d see in the suburbs anyway all the way up to coyotes, wild hogs, black bears, and panthers. Our one to three freezes per winter seem to be keeping the Burmese pythons at bay so far….
If you look at an official range map for Florida panthers it only shows them living in the deep southwest around the Everglades. The mama and teenage cub Werner saw at Owl Springs a couple years ago can’t read range maps and don’t know that they’re not supposed to be living just an hour away from the Georgia border.
If you go into the state park down to the river you’ll find gators, manatees, wood ducks, Naked Ed, and otters. As cool as it would be to have wood ducks and manatees out the kitchen window, it’s important for us as a fish farm to be far away from natural water bodies. The first reason is to keep our domestic fish from getting out into the wild and messing with the ecosystem and/or genetic structure of wild populations.
The second is more for our benefit– it gives us a little buffer zone from critters that eat fish. Panthers and bears might get into fish a little bit, and I’ve never heard of a coyote or a hog going fishing. But gators, herons, otters, and snapping turtles will suck fish down for sure. Otters are particularly deadly in that they’re so fun to watch, I don’t know if I would be very good at chasing them away.
By the way, the name Owl Springs comes from the springs in our area and from a GIANT OWL that lives on the farm. We have a lot of large owls– grey and great horned– even in the middle of Gainesville where I’ve been living for the last several years. This one in particular seems to enjoy keeping an eye on people and is a bit of a fixture around the farm.