Habitats provide the food, water, shelter and space that animals need to thrive and reproduce. A mosaic of uplands and wetlands provides habitat for the wildlife at Little Gator Creek WEA.
Pine flatwoods habitat predominates but basin swamp, floodplain swamp, dome swamp and other wetlands are present on nearly half of the WEA. The northern boundary of the property encompasses two short segments of the Withlacoochee River. Gator Creek flows through the northeast corner of the property. Little Gator Creek, from which the property derives its name, is close to the southeast corner of the WEA and runs north into Gator Creek and the Withlacoochee River. The wading bird colony occupies approximately 10 acres of the 53-acre basin swamp in the southern portion of the area and is composed primarily of bald cypress and mixed hardwoods.
Biologist at wood stork nest
Water levels in the wood stork and wading bird colony are regulated through a well and an electric pump to provide optimum water depths at various stages of the wood stork’s reproductive cycle. If there is not enough rainfall, the electric pump is turned on to increase the water level. The water at the rookery serves as a protective mechanism: alligators limit the number of raccoons and snakes that are able to reach the eggs and nestlings. Yearly drawdowns at the end of the breeding season in July are required to maintain healthy cypress trees for nesting.
A combination of prescribed fire, mechanical control, slash pine thinning and longleaf pine reforestation is restoring the area to historic natural plant communities. Invasive vegetation such as cogon grass and water lettuce is also controlled as needed.
In addition to the management work described here, biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission rely on a wide range of techniques to ensure that natural areas throughout the state stay healthy for wildlife and inviting to visitors.