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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



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 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 – 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.






American Alligator

Young Alligator

American  Alligator






I photographed this small alligator at the Otter Pond at the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve in Ft. Myers. The American Alligator is the largest reptile in North America according to the defenders.org website. The alligator can be confused with the crocodile which is a much more aggressive and dangerous animal. They both can be found in Florida but the more friendly alligator is a much more common sight.

Alligators are generally slow moving creatures and hunt by laying in wait for its prey to move by them and then snapping its large jaws on its prey which consists of small mammals, other reptiles, birds and animals inhabiting swamps, marshes and wetlands areas where they live. Adult males are usually seen by themselves in the wild. They build their nests in ponds, swamps and other wetlands areas by moving their large tails back and forth creating a depression in the underwater mud. The holes they create sometimes becomes homes to other types of wildlife living in swamps and wetlands. They are considered a keystone species for this reason and are considered essential for the health of a wetland ecosystem.

The lifespan of these large reptiles can be 35-50 years in the wild and longer when kept in captivity. There are many wildlife refuges where you can see alligators in their natural habitat in South Florida. They also live in Southeastern states such as Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, Texas and the Carolinas. They were once hunted for their hides to use as clothing and accessories but that is no longer legal.  It is also illegal to feed alligators and by doing so they lose their fear of humans making them more dangerous. Adult alligators can grow as big as 18 feet long and weigh over 500 lbs.






Algae Closes Beach in South Florida

“Reeking Algae Closes South Florida Beaches” was the title to an article written in the New York Times newspaper on Sat. July 2, 2016, regarding the green and blue algae that is covering the waters surface near houses in Stuart, Florida. The algae which also has a very bad smell to nearby homeowners is created by discharges of water from lake Okeechobee which is located 35 miles inland near Clewiston. Scientists and citizens blame the environmental hazard on the lack of action by state and federal leaders to find a way to send Lake Okeechobee’s rising water levels south towards Everglades National Park where it historically went.

Persons interviewed for this article say Big Agriculture in Florida is largely to blame for the algae build up in the lake because of the fertilizers and chemicals spayed on their crops which eventually find their way in the states lakes and rivers.  The watershed surrounding the lake and the Kissimmee River which brings much of the nutrient laden water from farms brings excess nitrogen, phosphorous and other chemicals which cause the algae growth. Billions of gallons of water from the lake are discharged every year to the east via the St. Lucie River and west through the Caloosahatchee River.  Beaches, rivers and canals on both coasts have been adversely affected by these water releases especially this year since Florida received abnormally high levels of rain in the winter months. City leaders, homeowners, businesses and environmentalists have been crying foul for much of the year as our waterways have become unusable due to the algae growth and slime. They also blame state and federal leaders for not doing enough to prevent this environmental disaster by refusing to purchase land south of the lake from U.S. Sugar when they had the chance so it could be used as a reservoir for some of these water discharges.

The National Park Service has a website which explains the cleanup efforts of the Everglades and nearby areas which is costing over $10 Billion dollars. Critics say the restoration of areas around lake Okeechobee is going too slow and is not effective in stopping the pollution of the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers and the towns and beaches they impact. The South Florida Water Management District which is also responsible for water resources and for flood protection also has some good information about the current wetland restoration strategies they are implementing.



Apple Snail

There are 4 species of Apple Snails found in Florida of which the only native species is the Florida Apple Snail. The other three species are the Titan Apple Snail, Spike Topped Apple Snail and Island Apple Snail.  The species that I photographed and posted above is I believe the Spiked Topped Apple Snail. I saw many of these snails during my walk through the Platts Creek Mitigation Project in Port St. Lucie, Florida. The 100 acre mitigation project has many fresh water marshes and ponds throughout where these snails live and reproduce and are used as the main food source for Snail Kites. Snail Kites are also an interesting species of bird in Florida because they are only found near the Everglades in South Florida and feed exclusively on Apple Snails. They are raptors with sharp bills which are suited to carve out the snails from their shells.

Most of the Apple Snails were brought to the United States for the pet trade. They are popular  with aquarium owners because they add an interesting life form to the fish tanks and they also help clean the glass by eating away the dead and dying vegetation in the water. The Island Apple Snail and native Florida Apple Snail perform important economic and environmental functions for the aquatic ecosystems and wetlands in Florida. They eat and feed on the invasive weeds and vegetation which cover the surfaces of rivers and swamps  which creates oxygen depletion  and dead zones in wetlands. To learn more about Apple Snails I found the Univ. of Florida Featured Creatures website to be helpful. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website provides excellent pictures and information about the Snail Kite.