by: Ellen Batchelor, Head of Security, Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum
When you think of the Ah-Tha-Thi-Ki Museum, the last thing most people would think of would be wildlife, but the fact is, IF, you time it right, are really quiet, and VERY lucky you just might get a chance to see some. Visitors a couple weeks ago from Germany actually got to see a panther and a bobcat on the same visit! At first we were thinking someone just had a very active imagination, but when investigating it further, we discovered tracks and then actually saw the bobcat while returning to the museum!
On most mornings it is not unusual to see several squirrels, a variety of birds, alligators and raccoons, while hearing the frogs, crickets, cicadas and birds but ,we have occasionally been able to spot, bear, deer, hogs, fox, opossums and turkeys. Rey Becerra, our resident animal expert, is available to answer any questions visitors might have about local wildlife. We have 2 hawks in residence. Ellen a Red shoulder hawk that was found on the boardwalk, as a very young bird, and then there is the Red tailed hawk Sable , we also have a crow, Charlie. They are all part of the animal presentations given here on campus from time to time, along with several turtles, various snakes (venomous and non-venomous) and various other “critters”.
We also have a resident alligator we call Sally. Each year, she hatches a couple dozen baby gators who “hang around” until she hatches babies again. They then move to the other pond or to other areas of water on our campus. (Museum staff refers to them as the 1-year-olds, or the 2-year-olds, etc.)
Another big attraction at the museum each year is the arrival of hummingbirds. They arrive in late April and stay until mid to late July. It is quite a treat to see them zooming around in front of the museum and in the cypress dome. They “dive bomb” each other while feeding from the fire plants that are planted around the museum campus. Visitors and employees alike seem to be fascinated with their activities. There are over 300 species of hummingbirds, but only a few breed in the United States. A few hundred however, travel into the states as part of their migration. We feel so lucky to part of their route.
Let’s not forget that there are other kinds of wildlife! The flora of the Ah-Tah- Thi-Ki Museum is spectacular. The beautiful and lush ferns that take over the floor of the cypress dome at different times of the year are quite a sight as you wind your way around the twists and turns of the raised boardwalk. Parts of the dome stay wet for a few months out of the year making the plant life more lush and full than usual. You can find many species of ferns in the confines of the acres that make up the rear portion of the museum’s boardwalk. There are also guava, fig, plum, Custer apples, bananas, and grapes that grow in the area.You will also find several varieties of orchids.
There are also many trees and plants that are used by the Seminoles for medicine. Both modern and traditional medicines are used today. Signage along the boardwalk tells about some of the more commonly used plants, while also informing the visitor of the local wildlife that inhabits the area.
Our winding boardwalk is just a little over a mile long. It is open to visitors year round, except when we have to close it due to lightening, or the occasional emergency repair. It winds through a cypress dome located directly behind the museum and was once home to Chairman James Billie’s camp. The twists and turns are themselves interesting enough, however, you add the element of not knowing exactly WHAT is around the next curve, making it a new experience every time! Most of my mornings start out with a trip around the boardwalk, and I must say it is a grand way to start the day. You can find me there on hot, cold, even rainy days. I keep waiting to turn the corner and get the photo of my life!