The Central West Region FMNP Workshop
By Joan Landis
Gorgeous spring weather the last Saturday in March provided a perfect backdrop at Weedon Island Preserve, where almost 60 people gathered to enjoy the Central West Region FMNP Workshop. Hosted by Friends of Pinellas Master Naturalists and Weedon Island Preserve, the indoor/outdoor event attracted Florida Master Naturalists from 5 surrounding counties. Regional FMNP Workshops are taking the place of a Statewide Conference this year and are designed to offer a venue to network, stay current with the FMNP and to learn new things.
Saturday’s workshop began with a close-up look at Weedon Island Preserve through the macro photography lens, followed by a broader view of Weedon revealed on a stroll through the estuary and the program concluded with a trip back in time to imagine and discover what life was like on the Island some 12,000 years ago.
Florida Master Naturalist and award-winning photographer Jim Caldwell, along with nature photography expert and teacher Fred Rodgers kicked off the morning sharing their experiences and offering some tips, tricks and techniques on nature macro photography. Their affable style and funny anecdotes took the edge off of anyone’s inhibitions about F-stops, aspect ratios and blowouts! We then practiced what we learned in the beautiful native plant garden and upland area just outside the Cultural Center. Jim and Fred were so generous with their expertise and artistry and everyone had the chance for some one-on-one time with these great guys.
After a casual lunch, we split into two groups and followed either Jeanne Murphy or Brian Lane as each led a stroll through the estuary. Jeanne and Brian are both FMNP Instructors and owners of Sensing Nature, LLC, a local Environmental Education and Eco-Tour company. Perhaps it was the gorgeous weather, or maybe it was the expert interpretive guiding or the particular energy created by so many naturalists enjoying the day, but Weedon’s creatures were out in force! We enjoyed a Green Anole, a Gopher Tortoise that appeared on cue with sand on its head and carapace, a Roseate Spoonbill, Mangrove Skipper, and Mangrove and Fiddler Crabs. It was great to see such a broad spectrum of healthy flora and fauna on the trail and to enjoy such animated interpretation of the habitats and history of the area.
Dr. Brent Weisman conducted the final presentation on the very first human inhabitants of Weedon Island. Dr. Weisman – Brent – offers his qualification as a Florida Master Naturalist proudly and initially, with his scholarly accomplishments as a PhD and USF Professor of Archaeology secondarily! Using artifacts, renditions of ancient tools and age-old watercolor pictures, Brent led us on a journey through time to experience the Weedon Island of 12,000 years ago. He enticed us to look deep into the eyes of the natives portrayed in watercolor pictures, to understand their world so different from ours today and to imagine their thoughts, their priorities, even their ethics. Brent’s provocative approach to archaeology and history was fascinating and his soulful, compassionate interpretation of Weedon’s ancestors really brought them to life for us.
Before it was all over and much to our surprise and delight, the Father of the Florida Master Naturalist Program, Dr. Marty Main joined us! With warmth, humility and his signature machete, Marty commented on the amazing growth of the FMNP and offered some updates on new programs that will soon be available. He was gracious enough to stay afterward to chat and to hang out with all of us. We are so fortunate to have such an approachable, knowledgeable and progressive leader for the FMNP as Dr. Main!
A great time was had by all and true to the purpose of the Workshop, we gathered, we networked, we learned new things and we shared a beautiful place on a spectacular day.