Lafayette Forest - Wildlife
Wildlife viewing is good at most spots on the WEA, especially in and around the wetlands. Diverse bird species include both year-round residents and migratory species such as northern bobwhite, wood duck, indigo bunting, yellow-billed cuckoo and ruby-throated hummingbird. The hardwood forests provide habitat for white-tailed deer and turkey, while drier uplands support numerous gopher tortoises. Clear-cut areas create good edge habitat and opportunities to enjoy seasonal wildflowers and the butterflies they attract. Check the skies over the open area near the entrance for vultures and swallow-tailed kites (summer).
Check out other species recorded from Lafayette Forest WEA, or add observations of your own, by visiting Lafayette Forest WEA Nature Trackers Project.
Add your bird observations to the Lafayette Forest WEA eBird Hotspot.
Wildlife Spotlight: Gopher Tortoise
Within the dark, cool, tunnel-like burrows of the gopher tortoise, more than 350 kinds of organisms find food and protection from predators, weather extremes and fire. The list includes insects, snakes, frogs, mammals and birds, some of which could not survive without the gopher tortoise. This long-lived reptilian earthmover uses its strong, flattened forelimbs like hoes to excavate the burrow, approximately 15 feet long and six feet deep. Females lay eggs in May and June in the sandy mounds surrounding burrows or in nearby open, sunny spots.
The gopher tortoise is found from extreme eastern Louisiana to southern South Carolina and throughout Florida. Unsuitable habitat and increased urbanization restrict its distribution in the southern parts of the peninsula. Though found in a variety of habitats, natural stands of longleaf pine and scrub oaks are favored. Loose, sandy soils for burrowing, an abundance of low-growing herbs for food, and open, sunny areas for nesting characterize the best habitats.
Over the last 100 years, the gopher tortoise population has been reduced by an estimated 60-80 percent. Habitat loss or destruction from urbanization, agriculture, and forestry practices; human predation; and habitat degradation from the exclusion of fire are the primary culprits. After careful scientific study, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission listed gopher tortoises as threatened in 2007 and created a program that ensures their long-term survival. The gopher frog, eastern indigo snake and Florida mouse are some of the other state or federally protected burrow residents that also benefit by conserving gopher tortoises.
Frequent prescribed burning is essential to provide tortoises with open sites for nesting and with low growing grasses and herbs for forage. Protection of the gopher tortoise and its habitats extends a measure of protection to hundreds of other organisms as well