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Welcome to my Website and Blog Our Wetlands in Florida. This site is meant to inform readers about the importance of wetlands or land that is partially or fully submerged in water for most of the year. Florida was once mostly a wetland consisting of swamps, marshes, estuaries  and shallow bodies of water south of Orlando that flowed south towards the Everglades.  Wetlands in Florida and in other states filter and clean the water we drink, and provides a healthy habitat for wildlife. Included in this blog/website are photos of parks, preserves and wildlife that depend on healthy wetlands.  Browse around to the different posts and pictures by clicking on one of the recent posts, categories or the archives. I have included many links to other websites if you want to learn more about a specific topic.   The pictures are originals that I took with my digital camera unless otherwise noted. Click on pictures for larger images.  Comment are appreciated and make a blog more interesting to readers.   Thanks for visiting.   – Dave Zuhusky

 

 

Sanibel Island Mailboxes

Sanibel Island is famous for the sea shells that cover its’  beach shorelines. Residents and vacationers roam the beaches looking for a wide variety of shells that wash up on the shores each day. The Florida Current and Sanibel’s unique shape allow Mollusks and shells to wash up on its shores. Sanibel Island residents take pleasure in decorating their mailboxes with these shells and artwork with displays wildlife and nature.

Some of the mailboxes are on display in the photo gallery shown above. Click on one of the images for a larger view. Taking a bicycle ride through some of  Sanibel’s neighborhoods gives you a great opportunity to see the artwork and shells. The Bailey Matthews National Shell Museum on Sanibel has a great display of shells from all over the world. It is definitely worth the visit. The museum also gives daily  beach walks  with a marine biologist pointing out the marine life on the beaches. There is also a touch tank in the museum with live shells at Baily Matthews.

While you are on the island,, visit the world famous Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve. You can walk, bicycle or drive through the preserve and see hundreds of migratory birds, alligators and mangrove lined lakes and estuaries. Remember to bring your camera. The Visit Florida website has some good information about where to go and what to do on Sanibel.

 

 

 

 

Snowy Egret

         The Snowy Egret is a small white heron with an impressive plumage of white feathers. Another distinctive feature are their yellow webbed feet and black bills. Its feathers were once prized by the fashion industry for decorating women’s hats. In 1866, the Snowy Egrets feathers were worth $32 an ounce which was twice the price of gold at the time.

The Snowy Egret became an endangered species because of the popularity of its feathers and organizations like the Audubon Society had to step in to protect this bird from extinction. The Snowy Egret population has increased in significant numbers and are no longer listed on the endangered list but are still on the list of bird species of “high concern.”

            The Snowy Egret has migrated to northern states and can be seen in many states in the northeast, along the Gulf Coast and in the western portion of the U.S.  Wading Birds like the Snowy Egret spend much of their time foraging for food such as small fish, insects and crustaceans in shallow water streams, swamps, marshes and tidal flats. They inhabit and feed on freshwater and saltwater fish.

            Snowy Egrets lay about 3-5 eggs per year and both the male and female birds take turns incubating and feeding their young. It takes about 20-25 days for the eggs to hatch and they leave their nest. The oldest Snowy Egret on record was 17 years old. It was banded in Colorado and found again in Mexico.

            I see Snowy Egrets on the beaches near Sanibel Island, the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge and along roadways in shallow drainage swales. Good websites to see more pictures of this bird is the All About Birds website and the Audubon Society.

 

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Snowy_Egret/id

 

http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/snowy-egret

 

Save Our Water

“Save Our Water” has been the title of a series of news articles run by the Ft. Myers News Press during the 3rd week of October which helps to explain the water quality problems that are affecting the coastal communities of Ft. Myers on the west coast and Stuart on the west on the east coast of Florida.

            The problem in short are the massive amounts of water released from Lake Okeechobee which sits in the middle of these two coastal communities. Lake Okeechobee is a very large lake covering 730 square miles and is surrounded by an earthen dike which helps protect the towns around it from flooding. It receives most of its water supply from the Kissimmee watershed to the north which starts near Orlando. The Army Corp of Engineers tries to keep the lake levels to less than 14 ft. and when it surpasses that level billion gallons of water are released through the locks down the Caloosahatchee River to the west and the St. Lucie River to the east. Lake Okeechobee contains excess amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous and other chemicals which create algae blooms and the “browning of the water” . Other harmful effects of the release of water is the killing of sea grasses, destruction of oyster beds, and creation of a harmful bacteria called cyanobacteria.

This past year has seen an unusual wet winter with over 10 inches of rain in January alone. The result has been more water coming into the lake carrying with it chemicals from farms, over fertilized laws and town runoff from communities in every direction of the lake. Large plumes of brown water and a blue-green algae has covered both rivers and the coastal communities they drain into on the west and east coasts of Florida. 

Environmental activists and angry citizens affected by these water quality problems have been calling for the state to buy land south of the lake to store and move water towards the Everglades National Park where it once traveled before the dike was built around Okeechobee. State legislators in Tallahassee have been reluctant to do this saying other solutions need to be completed to alleviate the problem instead of more land purchases. In the meantime, our rivers and beaches have continued to be damaged and citizens whose properties have been affected are very angry. Learn more about the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project and efforts to halt the flow of harmful water pollution by the South Florida Water Management District.

 

 

 

 

 

White Ibis

click on pictures for larger images

           The White Ibis is a wading Bird that lives in the deep South of the U.S. . It is easily recognizable because of its’ long curved red bill which it uses to snatch its prey. The White Ibis also has a thick and large white body and red legs.

            I photographed the White and Juvenile White Ibis birds at the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve and near a drainage swale in Ft. Myers, Fla. These birds eat mostly small fish, invertebrates and insects. They are most commonly seen in tidal flats, mangrove swamps, shallow water drainage areas and in peoples yards. The Immature or Juvenile White Ibis has a different color during its early years exhibiting a darkish body.

            The Florida Audubon Society lists the White Ibis as an imperiled bird which means its numbers have declined over the years and bird conservationist s have been keeping a  close watch on its population. Several reasons could be the reasons for their decline including chemicals which are released into their environment and habitat loss.

            This bird  makes a sound that sometimes sounds like a honk or horn while they are flocking together. You can hear their sounds and calls on the All About Birds website.  Click on the audio button and you will hear their audible sounds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red Bellied Woodpecker

Red Bellied Woodpecker

Red Bellied Woodpecker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

            I love seeing and hearing the Red Bellied Woodpecker in nature preserves that I visit because of their bright colors and sounds which bring life to the woody forests where they live. The Red Bellied Woodpecker are a medium sized bird and has a red head with wings that are covered with black and white stripes and dots. Their belly is all white. They have sharp beaks and like a hummingbird have tongues that can extend out to grab and feed on their food.  

The Red Bellied Woodpecker that I captured with my camera in the photograph above was in the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve in  Ft. Myers, Florida where birders often go to see many kinds of birds because of the dense forest canopy. The Woodpecker makes its nest in the trunk and branches of old trees including oak and pine trees. The repeated knocking sound that you hear from this bird comes from its carving out of the wood from trees for its nest. It also makes a high pitched shrill and other distinctive sounds which make them easy to identity. You can see and hear the sounds of the Red Bellied Woodpecker at the All About Birds website which was created by the Cornell Univ. Lab of Ornithology.

            The diet of the Red Bellied Woodpecker consists of insects, spiders and nuts and seeds from plants in the forest. They also eat fruits including grapes, hackberries, oranges and mangoes. They often fly very swiftly and erratically through the tree canopy and scientists think this may be a habit which they practice to evade other birds and predators. Their nests are sometimes overtaken by Starlings who overpower them because of their size. They are commonly seen in forested areas of the Southeastern U.S

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ding Darling Days

The Ding Darling Wildlife Society, Friends of the Refuge will be sponsoring a week of activities beginning Sunday Oct 16th, 2016 to help celebrate the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuges 140th birthday. There will be a week of events including free tram tours of the refuge, films, lectures on migratory birds and fun events such as face painting, and displays of the butterfly house and a  touch tank of fish. Visit the website for a list of events during the celebration.

    The Ding Darling Wildlife Society is a volunteer organization made up of many people who support the mission of the refuge and provide  educational and recreational activities at the  Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge. The DDWS has raised over $3 million dollars to help build the visitor center. It has also helped to pay for the acquisition of more land on Sanibel Island to add to the refuges size. There are many events held in the visitor center including films and lectures by experts that speak about conservation efforts of land, migratory birds at Ding Darling and around the U.S.

     The Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge is one the most visited national refuges in the U.S. with tens of thousands of people visiting the park each year including professional photographers and birding enthusiasts. The Tarpon Bay Explorers is a private concession located within the refuge that rents kayaks, canoes and gives boat tours of the waters in Ding Darling.

    The National Wildlife Refuge System has been around since 1869 when Presidents Ulysses S. Grant created the Pribilof Islands Refuge in Alaska. Florida’s first refuge was established by President Teddy Roosevelt who created the Pelican Island Migratory Bird Reservation on the Atlantic coast of Florida.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cactus

Cactus is usually thought of as a plant that grows in dry desert like climates but many people have grown various species of cacti in their yards as ornamental plants and they have done. very well in our wet and humid climate. There are several species of cacti that are native to Florida cactus including the Opuntia or Prickly Pear cactus. The Prickly Pear cactus can grow to over 3 ft. tall and is a sprawling green cactus with flat stems and branches and has flowers that blossom in the Spring.

My neighbor across the street collected bits and pieces of cactus that were being thrown away by other homes in the neighborhood and created a very colorful garden of a variety of cacti. Cacti have an advantage over other plants because they require little maintenance and can often survive in extreme weather conditions of heat and cold. The Gardening Solutions website from the Unlv of Fla Institute of Food and and Science provides some helpful information on growing cactus.

The species of cactus in the picture include a Yucca Cactus, Prickly Pear, Echeveria, Desert Rose, Blue Agave and another one that I haven’t identified yet. Cactus requires a dry soil that drains well and usually lots of sun. Florida’s weather suits many types of cactus because of our plentiful sunshine and well draining soil which is very sandy. The Christmas Cactus is a popular plant to give around the Christmas season because of its reddish flowers it produces.

Cactus grows well indoors in sunny locations in the home. I look for plants in a couple of popular garden stores and nurseries in the Ft. Myers area including Driftwood Nursery in South Ft. Myers on U.S. 41 and the Riverland Nursery on Rt. 80 in N. Ft. Myers.

 

 

 

 

 

Zika Bug Spray Giveaway

tiger-mosquito

tiger-mosquito – photo courtesy of UFL/IFAS Featured Creatures

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Harry Chapin Food Bank has been giving away free containers of bug spray as part of a state wide effort to prevent the spread of the Zika virus. The popular food bank has given away  22,000 bottles of bug spray and has distributed them to Southwest counties including, Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades.

The Ft. Myers News Press reported that Florida has over 900 people infected with the Zika virus as of today but most of them have contracted the virus by traveling to other countries. Most of the cases are in the Miami-Dade counties and that of the 900 cases reported thus far, 109 of them were infected here in Florida. There have been 12 reported Zika infections in Lee County and 7 in Collier county but all were by people who traveled outside the country and were infected there.

The free bug spray being distributed has the chemical Deet in it and goes by the name of “Deep Woods Off.” SW Florida and South Florida as a whole is in a sub tropical zone and has always had  a heavy concentration of mosquitoes because of the hot weather, humidity and heavy annual rainfall. Homeowners are encouraged to keep the mosquito population breeding habitats to a minimum by getting rid of anything in their yards that contains pools of standing water such as pots, toys, pools and outside containers or receptacles. The National Geographic News website provides some information about the Tiger Mosquito which is one of the nasty mosquitoes that spreads the virus. The popular bug spray “Off” is manufactured by Wisconsin based SC Johnson which is the worlds largest producer of insect repellent.

 

 

 

Green Herons

The Green Heron photographed in these pictures was taken at the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve in Ft. Myers. There are great opportunities to see and photograph Wading Birds, Song Birds and other kinds of birds of Florida at the preserve. The preserve has a one and half mile boardwalk that loops around the narrow slough which winds its way around a heavily forested swamp  which provides lots of nesting and roosting areas for birds.

            The Green Heron is a relatively small size Wading Bird but has pretty colors such as a velvet green back, a chestnut brown chest and yellow legs. They perch themselves on branches or some object above shallow waters in lakes, ponds, estuaries and other bodies of water and snatch their prey with their sharp bills. They also feed upon insects, amphibians and other marine invertebrates. The Green Heron is  one of the few birds which uses tools such as lures to catch their food. They may use bread crusts, worms or insects which they drop on the surface of the water and wait for fish to come up to the surface which they then catch with their bills.

            The All About Birds website states that the oldest Green Heron found was estimated to be 8 years old when it was seen in Mexico. The website has very useful information for bird watchers and others wanting to learn more about birds in Florida and North America. They also have an audio clip of the birds sounds and calls. Birds that may look like the Green Heron in S. Florida are the Least Bittern, Black Crowned Night Heron and Yellow Crown Night Heron.  

 

 

Birds of Prey

Birds of Prey in Florida include several different species  of raptors as they are called who feed upon various kinds of wildlife. They are usually large birds with impressive wingspans and can fly and swoop down quickly to grab their prey. They are often seen perched on branches in trees or other sturdy objects looking for their next meal. They feed upon fish, small mammals, reptiles and invertebrates such as crabs.

Other birds of prey include owls, falcons, red shouldered hawks and kites. The ones I have seen live near large bodies of water where fish are plentiful and where they can use their keen eyes, and strong and sharp talons or sharp feet to grab their prey and bring their catch back to its nest or feeding ground. Their sharp bills are well adapted for tearing apart the flesh of their catch.

Birds of Prey such as the American Bald Eagle were almost hunted to extinction because of their feathers but bans on hunting and the new laws against the  pesticide spray DDT helped them to rebound in numbers. There is a center in Maitland Florida run by Audubon Florida which helps people to learn more about Birds of Prey and their lifestyles. I also like the Cornell Univ. School of Ornithology All About Birds website which has an excellent website about birds.

The American Bald Eagle and Ospey shown in the pictures above were photographed in Estero Bay this past summer while I was with a  group of naturalists taking a boat ride out of the Fish Tale Marina located on Ft Myers Beach. Click on the pictures for a larger view of the birds.