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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.  Comments are appreciated and make a blog more interesting to readers.   Thanks for visiting.   – Dave Zuhusky

 

 

J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge

The J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge located in Southwest Florida on Sanibel Island is putting on a series of lectures and films by experts and naturalists describing a variety of birds, endangered species, Manatees, reptiles, amphibians, nature photography and other topics. The lecture and films series are held at the visitor center which is shown in the pictures above.

The Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge is visited by thousands of visitors every year especially bird watchers and photographers and people wanting to see a piece of the old and original landscapes and waterscapes of Florida. Ding Darling consists of 6,400 acres of lakes, rivers, mangroves forests, submerged sea grass beds, salt water marshes, and hardwood hammocks. It was established as a refuge by President Harry S. Truman in 1945. It has gradually been enlarged by generous donations of land by the City of Sanibel and property owners.

The refuge can by seen by visitors by driving through a winding road traversing through the refuge or bicycling and walking along the trails. There is a small admission fee to enter to refuge. The lecture and film series which are very popular with visitors and tourists are held in the winter months from January through April. Visit the Ding Darling Wildlife Society website to see the lecture dates.

There are guides who also take visitors through the refuge by foot or by a tram. I have taken many photographs at Ding Darling of White Egrets, Blue and Green and Yellow Crowned Night Herons and other birds. The Tarpon Bay Explorers located inside the refuge also rents kayaks, canoes and takes people out on motorized boats on sightseeing tours.

 

 

 

Why Wetlands are Important

Many people may wonder why wetlands are important. It wasn’t long ago that land developers, farmers, settlers and even our government agencies looked for ways to dry up the land and make it suitable for economic uses and home steading. Canals were built to divert the water away from large terrains of land covered with wetlands such as swamps and other wetland bodies.

Floridians now realize their mistakes of destroying wetlands because freshwater is becoming an ever-decreasing resource in the state which provides bountiful benefits. The National Park Service has a website that describes the benefits of healthy wetlands. Some of them include an adequate supply of fresh drinking water to provide for 20 million people residing in the state and millions more who visit here annually. Fresh drinking water is probably the most important resource that this country has besides clean air.

Other benefits include providing healthy habitats for wildlife, an ecosystem which protects marine life, coastal storm protection, and recreational opportunities. There are several wetland systems in SW Florida including the Six Mile Cypress Slough which is a slow moving swamp which was restored a few decades ago to protect freshwater supplies as well as provide recreational opportunities to many people who enjoy walking along its wooden boardwalks and viewing wildlife.

Another large wetland in SW Florida is the 60,000 acre Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed. CREW as it is called provides a large underwater aquifer system that provides freshwater to thousands of Floridians who live in the area. There is a staff of people who provide educational opportunities at CREW to people who want to see the area and learn about the benefits of this ecosystem. Visit their website to learn more.

The pictures shown above L-R are of a bunch of wading birds feeding upon marine life in a stream, the Platt Creek Mitigation Preserve and kayakers enjoying some touring through the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge. Click on any picture for a larger view.

 

 

Barn Owl

Barn Owl - Fish and Wildlife Comm

Barn Owl – Fish and Wildlife Comm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Barn Owl or sometimes referred to as the Common Barn Owl was spotted on Sanibel Island for the first time since 2005 according to the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF). Barn Owls are important to ecosystems because they feed upon unwanted rodent populations such as rats and keep their numbers in check.

Sanibel Island has a rat problem because I have seen their numbers increase and recently had to fix my car engine which was used by a Rice Rat as its nest. The rat apparently was looking for a warm and hidden place to make its nest and the inside of my car engine made a good place for it to hide out. It cost me over $300 to have the rat debris removed and cleaned out.

Barn Owls are whitefish or pale in color with rounded heads and medium in size. They are nocturnal birds that hunt mainly at night with very keen hearing skills and excellent low vision eyesight abilities.  They can swoop down and catch mice and eat them whole. They do not pass their food or prey through their digestive tracts but instead cough up the digested food through their mouths as pellets. The pellets are used by ecologists as useful information for what owls are eating in their habitat.

Barn owls make a hissing noise which you can hear on the All About Birds website. If you visit their website. Click on the sound tab and choose one of the sounds it makes. Barn owls are usually found in abandoned barns, marshes, prairies and agricultural areas. The Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation advises residents on the islands not to use rat poison around their homes because it is then ingested by owls which causes harm to the owls.

Photograph was used, courtesy of the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clinic for Rehabilitation of Wildlife

The Clinic for Rehabilitation of Wildlife is a teaching hospital which cares for wounded animals of all kinds that are found in and near S.W. Florida. The clinic is located on Sanibel Island. Animals and birds of all kinds are brought to CROW when they are found by people who travel through Florida including fishermen, tourists and Florida Fish and Wildlife Officials. The Clinic offers state of the art veterinary care, research, education and conservation medicine.

The Clinic gives tours and presentations about the hospital and has a series of lectures coming up this winter which feature experts on various topics. The Gulf Breeze Cottages website offers a partial list of some of the upcoming lectures including Conservation Medicine on March 20th and on Ospreys on March 28th in 2018.

Ospreys are called raptors or birds of prey and they are seen everywhere around Sanibel and S.W. Florida. They are often seen standing on a bridge railing near water, branch or other object peering over the water below them and waiting for a chance to swoop down and catch a fish swimming by. Ospreys are large hawks and have long wing spans, and sharp bills and feet called talons.

The American Bald Eagle is another kind of raptor or bird of prey that hunts like the Osprey. They are larger than the Osprey and can sometime steal food that is caught by smaller birds. The photographs above show pictures of an Osprey sitting on a branch and of the American Bald Eagle which I photographed while on a boat in the Estero Bay off Ft. Myers beach.

Visit the CROW Clinic website to learn more about their Veterinary care for animals. Their lecture series this year should be worth the effort to come and listen to experts on wildlife and conservation medicine.

 

 

Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir Project

The Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir Project was given the thumbs up when Governor Rick Scott of Florida signed the bill into law n May of 2017. The Law provides over $1 Billion dollars of funding to find and develop water storage areas south of Lake Okeechobee.

The Caloosahatchee River and St Lucie Rivers which run east and west have been getting the greatest discharges of water from the lake in order to keep its height within safe levels. The discharges have carried harmful nutrient water flows into these rivers and caused green slime, tainted brown water and foul smelling algae into the communities that these rivers empty into.

The area south of Lake Okeechobee has been turned into a massive agricultural region by farmers and developers over the past century and cut off the natural flow of water from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades National Park. The establishment of the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir Project which is planned to hold 240,000 acre feet of water  will help to clean the water coming from Lake O and re-establish the flow of water going to the Everglades National Park.

I took a trip to the region south of Lake Okeechobee a few years ago to do some bird watching and I saw some of the Storm Water Treatment Areas that are already in use which serve to cleanse and treat water from the lake. The photos above are of one of those water treatment areas and the W.P Franklin Locks on the Caloosahatchee River.  Visit the South Florida Water Management District website to learn more about the water storage conservation and treatment areas currently working or in the planning stages. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan also has a good website to learn about the history and work of restoring the Everglades.

 

 

Protecting Pollinators

Protecting Pollinators such as bees, birds, butterflies and bats are responsible for pollinating 75% of the crops and flowering plants in the United States according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Pollinators do this by carrying pollen from one plant to another and when they rub their bodies against the inside of flowers when searching for food or nectar they fertilize other flowers. The pollen is moved from the female part (stamen) to the male part of the other flowers (stigma).

The pictures shown above are of a bumble bee and Monarch Butterfly that I photographed on Long Island, New York. They obviously are crawling around flowers looking for nectar and pollinating other flowers in the process. There must have been over 100 Monarch Butterflies feeding on the flowers of this one bush.

The Agriculture Industry attributes the value to pollinators and crop production to over $19 billion annually. Many crops in the U.S. could not produce their seeds or fruits without the help of these bees, butterflies, birds  and other flying organisms. Some farms set up bee hives near their crops to ensure their plants get pollinated.

Dangers to the health of pollinators and causes for their decline in numbers which has been happening for years are their loss of habitat, diseases spreading among these organisms, and pesticide use by man. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has some useful information about protecting pollinators on their website which tells citizens how to protect pollinators and prevent the decline of their populations.

 

 

Florida Intracoastal Waterway

The Florida Intracoastal Waterway which runs from Boston to Florida and along the Atlantic East Coast and Gulf Coast is a series of canals, rivers, bays and inlets which runs parallel to the shoreline. I recently visited St Augustine, Fla. and saw part of the coastal waterway that runs through town and along the Atlantic Ocean coastline. The river closest to the ocean is the Salt River seen from the top of the lighthouse which connects with the Intracoastal Waterway which lies further inland.

Some parts of the waterway is naturally made with islands and rivers separated by the mainland and some parts were made by people such as engineers, town officials and land developers. The concept of building a inland/coastal waterway in Florida began in 1885 when the Florida Canal Co. began to dredge a canal between Mosquito Lagoon and Indian River which is just north of Merritt Island. USA Today published an article about the Intracoastal Waterway which described its purposes, location and early designers.

Some parts of the waterway is used for commercial purposes to transport ocean freight, marine cargo and some parts of it are used exclusively for recreational purposes. Fort Lauderdale’s Intracoastal Waterway which lies between a barrier island and the mainland is called Millionaires Row because of the expensive homes and boats that line the waterway. There are many people who take their boats up through the Intracoastal Waterway for several states. In my area of SW Florida the Caloosahatchee River runs from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Okeechobee inland and then through the St. Lucie River until its connects with the waterway on the east coast. Wikipedia also has a lot of interesting facts about the Intracoastal Waterway.

 

 

St. Augustine Lighthouse

The St. Augustine Lighthouse shown in the pictures above replaced the old Spanish Watchtower that was constructed in 1824 which was also the first official lighthouse in Florida. The St. Augustine Lighthouse was finished in 1874, took over 1 million bricks to build and stands 14 stories tall.

I didn’t have much time to visit St. Augustine and there is a lot to see and enjoy especially if you are a history buff so I chose the historic lighthouse for my short visit and I was not disappointed. The winding staircase inside the lighthouse with 219 steps is wide enough for two people to walk abreast or past one another. When I made it to the top, there was a circular walkway around the top where you can  see for miles and enjoy the panoramic vistas of the city of St. Augustine, Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal waterway. 

I found out from reading Wikipedia that St. Augustine was founded by Spanish explorer Admiral Pedro Menendez de Avites who named the city St. Augustine because some of his sailors sighted land eleven days earlier on August 28th which is the Feast Day of St. Augustine. St. Augustine who lived around 354-450 was a very important person in the development and foundation of the early Christian Church and religion.

The grounds around the St. Augustine Lighthouse have the original Innkeepers house, now a museum, artifacts from shipwrecks off the beach, an active boat building area where volunteers are building small boats of earlier times like the “Skipjack” and “Yawl” which were used by local fishermen and British Warships. St. Augustine was once the center of the shrimp fishing industry in the U.S. The website VisitSt.Augustine has some good information about what to see and do in this town. Floridahistoriccoast is another good travelers website. 

 

 

Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation

The pictures shown above are of the visitor center and paths through the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation on Sanibel Island, Fla. SCCF is one of the many attractions on Sanibel because they have several preserves, trails, a garden center and exhibits that show and explain how coastal and inland habitats live and thrive under unique conditions. The main mission of the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation is to conserve the coastal resources and aquatic habitats on Sanibel and Captiva and surrounding watershed. 

The SCCF has several scientists on staff who monitor the water quality around Sanibel and report on the amount of pollution, dissolved oxygen, salinity and other factors of the watershed. The waters around Sanibel were once filled with healthy oyster beds but they have been diminished and threatened by the amount of pollution coming from nearby places. 

The Visitor Center at the SCCF is a great place to see the native animals and plants that live on Sanibel-Captiva including the turtles who nest on the islands. There are live turtles to view and exhibits of habitats. If you have the time and like hiking, there is a trail that winds through the several hundred acre preserve where you can view fresh water habitats, native birds and trees on Sanibel. The trail is well marked and you can take a short stroll or walk the whole length of the preserve which can take an hour or two. The trail contains an observation tower as well. 

One of the best well known and cared for parts of SCCF is the Native Garden Center which was recently moved to a better and larger location on Periwinkle Way which contains several acres of plants and shrubs to view or purchase. It is managed and cared for by employees of SCCF and many volunteers. 

The SCCF has a Facebook Page and visitor comments on Trip Advisor as well. 

 

 

Monarch Butterflies

I came across a large number of Monarch Butterflies while bicycling along a road in Southampton, Long Island this summer. The amazing thing that caught my eye was the number of Monarchs that were flying around and feeding on the flowery shrub along the road. There must have been over a 100 Monarch Butterflies feeding on the nectar of the flowers. The Monarch has black and orange wings with whites dots on the tips of its wings and on its head. There are also black veins running lengthwise down its wings. The pictures shown above are the butterflies I photographed this summer. Click on any one of them for a larger image. 

Monarch Butterflies are unique in the Butterfly kingdom because they only feed on the milkweed plant during its caterpillar or larval stage. The chemicals from the milkweed plant make the Monarch toxic to any predator that might want to feed upon it.  Monarchs are also unique because of their migratory patterns. They fly over 1,200 to 2,800 miles each year from northern states and California to Southern California and Mexico. They also make the return trip when warmer weather returns. They can fly over 20 miles in a single day. I saw this batch of Monarch Butterflies in August which is the start of their trek south from northern states. 

This butterfly is an endangered species because the change in climate which is happening due to global warming disrupts their habitats. The loss of habitat due to human causes such as over development in rural areas also hurts the lifestyle of the Monarch. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service shows the migratory patterns of the Monarch on maps on its website along with other interesting information of this unique butterfly.