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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

 

 

Lovers Key Beach State Park

Lovers Key Beach State Park is a barrier island just south of Ft. Myers Beach in SW Florida. It consists of 712 acres of beach, shrub habitat and salt water waterways winding their way through the island. Beachgoers will find the two mile long beach a great place to find shells of different kinds, clean Gulf of Mexico swimming and interesting places to gaze at the long beach and driftwood washing ashore. There is also an abundance of wildlife on the island and an interesting place to view birds.

There is a nominal fee to enter Lovers Key Beach State Park but it is worth it. One of its’ nice features is a tram that will take you from the parking lot to the beach and across some pretty bridges. No heavy carrying of beach chairs and towels required at this place. There are also concessions to rent bicycles and kayaks at this place. Clean bathrooms are available here also.

Lover Key takes a heavy pounding during the winter storms each year so the beach has to be re-nourished frequently by barges pumping sand back onto the beach. What I liked most about Lovers Key is the cleaner water it has to swim in than other beaches north of there.  I think it is less affected by the large inlets that lie next to Sanibel and Ft Myers Beach which churn up the sand and mud on the bottom.

The Gulf of Mexico  temperature gets pretty warm during the summer months and its easy to drive into without getting cold. Once you drive off the island there are plenty of restaurants just south of the beach in Bonita Springs or north of the beach on Ft. Myers Beach. The website Trip Advisor gives Lovers Key State Beach Park very positive ratings. You can also visit the official state website to learn more about the park.

Click on the pictures above for larger images

 

Burmese Python Elimination Program

The state of Florida  and South Florida Water Management District  has begun a Burmese Python Elimination Program. The Burmese Python Snake is a reptile that came to Florida from S.E. Asia from the pet import business that thrives in Miami and South Florida. It became a threat to the people of S. Florida and native animal species in the Everglades after they were released by pet owners and the release of snakes after the damage that was done by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Burmese Python Snakes can grow  to over 20 feet in length and up to two hundred pounds during their lifetime. Females can lay 100 eggs at a time. The main problem with these snakes is they have no known predators and they can eat and devour animals as big as deer and alligators. They have been decimating the small bird and mammal population in South Florida which makes it harder for other mammals and carnivores such as the Florida Panther to find enough food to feed themselves.

The recent program started by The SFWMD to eliminate the Burmese Python  is to pay hunters $50 for each Python they catch up to four feet in length and an additional $25 for each ft over 4 ft. An eight foot Python would bring a hunter $150 in bounty. An additional $100 reward would be paid to a hunter who catches a female guarding a nest of eggs. The program has resulted in over 53 snakes caught and eliminated since the pilot program began this year.  To learn more about the Burmese Python, visit the National Park Service website. The pictures shown above are courtesy of the South Florida Water Management District. Click on the pictures for larger images.

 

 

 

 

 

Shells of SW Florida

The Shells of SW Florida are a great collection of marine life that have washed up on beaches including Sanibel, Ft. Myers Beach, Naples, Lovers key State Beach and others. Sanibel is one of the best beaches to collect and view sea shells that have washed up on the beach because of its unique shape which has a long shoreline which faces the Gulf of Mexico and whose currents  deposit new shells each day.

Some of the photos above are a partial collection of shells you will see on the beach. One artistic person made a dolphin out of shells on the beach which is not uncommon among the shell collectors on the island. Some of the popular shells of SW Florida include the Lightning Whelk, Lace Murex, Alphabet Cone, Florida Fighting Conch,  Lettered Olive and Banded Tulip. Visit the Ft. Myers Sanibel website to see the “Sanibel Six” Sea Shells.

Technically a sea shell is a hard outer covering that is made by a marine sea creature that lives inside called a Mollusk. Mollusks are soft bodied animals without backbones but contain other organs and have feet or a foot that allows them to crawl into out of the shell. Once a mollusks dies or crawls out of it shell, the shells are carried by the ocean tides to the beach and other places. It is against the law in SW Florida to collect live shells or shells containing mollusks.

The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum on Sanibel Island has a great collection of shells from the local region as well as from around the world. There is a live touch tank inside the museum. The staff at the museum also gives daily walks to nearby beaches. I found another interesting website with great shell art at Pinterest. To see larger images of the shells above, click on their images.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American Bald Eagle

The American Bald Eagle is Americas’ national bird and also national animal. It is printed on our currency, postage stamps and used on the Presidents stationary. I took these photos of an American Bald eagle while on a boat trip in the Estero Bay near Ft. Myers Beach, Florida.

The American Bald Eagle has a brown body, white neck and head and yellow bill and talons. The talons or claws that it uses for its feet are used to pluck fish out of the water for its meals. It usually tears apart its prey whether small fish or animals with one talon while holding on with the other. It reaches maturity as the age of 3-4 years and can start flying after about 14 weeks in the nest. They usually live to around 20 years.

The eagle creates its nest, the largest of any nest of bird or animal  in North America near shorelines or wetlands where it hunts for its prey. Only about 50% of young eaglets survive because of the failure of their nests, predation from other predators or inclement weather. The eagle was an endangered species and put on a protection list of birds because of over hunting by poachers trying to obtain there feathers for hats and hunted for sport. They were also decimated in numbers by the pesticide DDT which was widely used near their habitat which caused birth defects in young birds.

The American Blad Eagle is the largest bird in North America except for the California Condor. When it flies, it doesn’t use its wings like other birds but floats along thermal currents in the sky. You can learn more information about the American Bald Eagle at the websites of the  Defenders of Wildlife  and the National Geographic.

Click on one of the pictures for a larger image.

 

Mottled Ducks

Mottled Duck and Chicks

Mottled Duck and Chicks

 

 

 

 

 

 

I saw and photographed this brood of Mottled Ducks on Sanibel Island swimming in a freshwater pond swimming on  its way with a dozen or so chicks following in tow. It was amazing to see such a large number of chicks in one group. It is common for a Mottled Duck to have 5-13 eggs in one season.

The Mottled Duck is similar to the Mallard Duck and is in danger of becoming extinct as a unique species because of its mating with the Mallard and subsequent hybridization. The Mottled Duck has an all brown body with a lighter colored head and neck. Its habitat is mostly freshwater wetlands and wet prairies and marshes.  It also has a distinctive greenish, bluish streak on its back,

According to the All About Birds website, its diet consists of seeds of grasses, aquatic vegetation, invertebrates and small fishes. This duck is different than other duck species because it does not travel in large groups but is instead seen in pairs or by itself. Like other animal species, its main threat is loss of habitat. The U.S. has seen a large decrease in the size and number of wetlands areas over the past 50-100 years.

The Audubon Society is an organization devoted  protecting birds of all kinds from over hunting and loss of habitat. Click on their website to learn more of the Mottled Duck and the mission of the Audubon Society. You can also see a larger image of the ducks in the photo by clicking on the photo.

 

 

 

 

Pine Island Sound

Pine Island Sound is one of the five aquatic preserves of Charlotte Harbor that  is nestled between the barrier islands of Sanibel and Pine Island in Lee County. It consists of over 58,000 acres of salt water preserves and islands. Some of the more popular places to visit that are located in or next to the Pine Island Sound are Cayo Costa State Park, Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve and Useppa Island. There are boat excursions to each one of these places if it is not accessible by car.

Pine Island Sound  has been a great boating and fishing location for residents and tourists. Fish that are caught in the sound include, Trout, Redfish, Mangrove Snook, Snapper, and many others. The sound is used also used by paddleboarders, kayakers, wind surfers and others who use the waters for it wide open waterways and plentiful supply of wind. Another popular activity is shelling along the beaches of the sound and barrier islands.

Pine Island Sound has been under attack for many years by pollution from runoff of water from nearby lands and polluted water coming from estuaries such as the Caloosahatchee which carries nutrient laden waters from inland lakes and streams. The sound contains environmentally sensitive mangroves which serves as nesting and feeding areas for fish and birds. The Pine Island Sound also contains sea grasses and oyster beds which are necessary to feed Manatees and marine life and also to keep the water clean. The Enviironmental and Scientific Organization which monitors the health of the ecosystem withn the Pine Island Sound includes the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) They have monitoring locations which tests the water for nitrogen, oxygen, salinity levels and other important water quality measurements.

Click on the pictures above for a lager view. I took these photographs from different locations looking at the Pine Island Sound.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conservation 20/20 Program Adds More Land

 

The Conservation 20/20 Program has added more land to its already existing 25,000  acres that it has under its stewardship. The program has been in existence since 1996 when voters passed a referendum to tax themselves so environmentally sensitive land could be set aside for air and water purification, public recreation and wildlife habitat.

The approximately 25,000 acres now under county stewardship  represents about 3% of Lee County’s 775,000 total acreage. Some Environmentalists and Urban Planners think that a county’s total land area should consist of between 10% to 20% of preserves and green spaces.

The 3 tracts of land that were purchased recently include 12.2 acres in N. Ft. Myers, 91.7 acres in Olga/Alva which has frontage along the Caloosahatchee River and 7.9 acres near the Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve on Sanibel Island.

It is especially important now that available land be added to the conservation program because the county has seen rapid growth of population and land development in recent years. Only 474 acres have been added to the land stewardship program since 2015. Additional tracts of land are currently being looked at for purchase.

The pictures shown above are of the Hickey Mitigation Park which are part of the Conservation 20/20 purchases. Hickeys Creek contains about 862 acres of environmentally sensitive land located just south and along the Caloosahatchee River between Olga and Alva in Lee County. It has excellent walking trails and kayak/canoe opportunities for visitors. Visitors can view pine flatwoods, freshwater marshes,  cypress swamps, hardwood hammocks, and oak-palm forests. Visit

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Gallinule and Mottled Duck

Two duck like birds that I often see in S.W. Florida are the Common Gallinule and Mottled Duck.

The Common Gallinule shown in the picture above also known as the Common Moorhen has a dark body, and red bill and often swims in ponds, lakes, streams and other wetland bodies, feeding upon seeds of grasses and sometimes snails. It is able to walk on top of aquatic vegetation or mud flats with its long toes.  It is also an excellent swimmerand will dip its head in the water looking for food. The Common Gallinule makes a loud screeching call and sound and can be reproduced on the All About Birds website. It is listed on the threatened list of birds in America because of predation by other animals and loss of habitat.

The Mottled Duck is distinguished by its multi-colored feathers on its body, green bluish colors on its tail, lighter colored neck and head and yellow bill. Its picture is also shown above. Like the Common Gallinule, it also makes its habitat in fresh water marshes, ponds, lakes and estuaries. It feeds upon the seeds of grasses, aquatic vegetation, small fish and marine invertebrates.  The Mottled Duck is in danger of becoming extinct because of its breeding with the similar Mallard Duck which produces a hybrid version of the Mottled Duck. It is also hunted throughout the United States for sport. You can learn more about the Mottled Duck and Common Gallinule  on the All About Birds or Florida Audubon websites.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gopher Tortoise

I came across this Gopher Tortoise while riding my bicycle on Sanibel Island along the Sanibel-Captiva Rd.  The Gopher Tortoise was slowly crawling along a grassy area and eating grass. This reptile is a land dwelling animal and lives in a burrow that it digs for itself with its’ strong claws.

The burrow that it digs averages 6.5 feet deep and 15 feet long. The burrow provides refuge or habitat for up to 350 other species. The Gopher Tortoise is called a keystone species for this reason because of its importance for helping to insure the survival of other species in its ecosystem.  The animals that typically live in the Gopher’s burrow include burrowing owls, rattlesnakes, crickets and many others.

The habitats that this reptile lives in include dry uplands, sandhills, pine flatwoods, scrub, dry prairies, xeric hammocks, pine mixed hardwoods and coastal dunes. They depend on natural fires to burn away the brush, dead leaves and shrubs so that new plants and grasses can grow. The Gopher Tortoise has been around for a long time and its estimated to date back  60 milliion years. The Gopher Tortoises’ life time averages 40-60- years.

The Gopher Tortoise itself is as a threatened species in Florida and is protected by the laws of the state against poaching or hunting.  No land clearing or development can take place in an area where a tortoise lives unless it is relocated to a similar environment and permits are issued for its relocation. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has additional information about this animal. http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/gopher-tortoise/

Click on the pictures above for larger images.

 

 

 

 

Yellow Crowned Night Heron at Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve

Yellow Crowned Night Heron at Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve

Yellow Crowned Night Heron at Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Yellow Crowned Night Heron pictured here at Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve on Sanibel Island, Florida is one of two Herons in the Americas, the other being the Black Crowned Night Heron. They have a pretty display of gray and purple feathers on their body and black and white stripes on their head. The Yellow Crowned Night Heron that I photographed above was wading through the mangrove forests which are located throughout the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge.

This bird looks for its prey which consists of crustaceans or crayfish and small crabs during the day or night. The Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve consists of tidal saltwater lakes and marshes which contain plenty of food for the Herons and other birds to eat. There is a road which winds its way through part of the preserve and many people make the trip to see the year round and migratory birds that visit here.

Ding Darling Preserve was named after cartoonist Jay Norwood Darliing who convinced then President Harry S. Truman to include it as part of the U.S. Wildlife Preserve system in the U.S. in 1945. Jay Norwwod Darling was fighting to protect environmentally sensitive land in SW Florida from being developed. It is now the largest environmentally protected mangrove system in the U.S. and is famous for its collection of migratory birds who fly south during the winter.

Cornell Univ. School of Ornithology has a good website called “All About Birds” where you can look and find out about more information about the Yellow Crowned Night Heron and other birds. Click on the picture for a larger viewing image.