Little Blue Heron
The Little Blue Heron – (Egretta caerulea) I took this picture of a Little Blue Heron in the shallow water off the Sanibel Causeway. The Little Blue Heron is a wading bird which means it spends most of its time looking for food to eat wading through shallow waters such as streams, swamps, marshes, roadside water trenches and other shallow water bodies. It prefers fresh water environments but spends its time around salt water coastal environments as well. It feeds on fish, insects, amphibians and shrimp. It has a grayish-blue body. reddish head and neck and gray bill. They can lay eggs 3-5 at a time which will take 20-24 days to hatch. They are a bird species of “Special Concern” in Florida’s Endangered & Threatened Species Rule. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a lot of useful information about Florida’s wildlife.
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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
Black Vulture – (Coragyps atratus) Black vultures differ from Turkey Vultures by their black heads, shorter tails and white stars under their wingtips. They are more aggressive and usually dominate a dead carcass lying on the ground. They sometimes follow Turkey Vultures to their food source and then chase them away. They soar in groups like Turkey vultures with strong wingbeats followed by glides. They can be seen around coastal beaches, salt water marshes, xeric scrub (dry) prairies, cypress swamps, dry prairies, cypress swamps, mixed pine and hardwood forests and urban environments. I saw and photographed this group of vultures in my neighborhood standing around what looks to be a dead rodent of some kind, squirrel or rat. There is more information about Black Vultures at the All About Birds website.
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Malaleuca Trees – (Malaleuca quinquenervia) – Invasive Plant Species – The Malaleuca tree now covers over four hundred thousand acres of land in Florida and is in Category I on Florida’s invasive plant species list which means it damages native plant species by altering their habitat or crowding them out. The Malaleuca tree was introduced in Florida beginning in 1906 by well meaning people who wanted to dry up the swamps and wetlands of Florida so it could become more habitable for people to live, and for developing agricultural and ranching operations. Unfortunately the spread of Malaleuca became uncontrolled and has wiped out much of the swamps and wetlands which people use for drinking water and native plant species. Florida now spends millions of dollars per year trying to eradicate these trees and it is against the law to bring them into the country. The tree can grow up to 80 ft and forms dense thickets of trees displacing native trees and plants. It’s bark as seen in this picture appears whitish, spongy and pealing. It releases seeds which produces even more trees. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a good webpage describing how and why this tree was brought to America and the damage it is causing to the environment.
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An Estuary is part of a wetland system along with swamps and marshes. Estuaries differ from swamps and marshes because they are filled with water all year. The Caloosahatchee River in Ft. Myers, Fla. is an estuary. It has salt water from the sea traveling inland to meet fresh water from the land. The mixture of the salt and fresh water becomes brackish in color and provides a rich ecosystem for all kinds of wildlife including fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles, crustaceans and other kinds of wildlife. Mature fish often travel up estuaries to lay their eggs or reproduce and this inland and more protected environment provides a safe haven for young fish to feed and survive before they are large and strong enough to travel out to sea. The types of fish which inhabit estuaries include Tarpon, Redfish, Snook, Flounder, Snapper, Grouper, Sheepshead, Spotted Seatrout, Mullet and 13 species of shark. Dolphins, Manatees, Blue Crabs, Shrimp, Oysters, Clams, Scallops, wading birds, diving birds and raptors also use estuaries for their habitat. The largest estuary in the United States is the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland which covers 64,000 sq. miles. Large estuaries in Florida include Tampa Bay, Charlotte Harbor and the Caloosahatchee River. The U.S. Environmental protection Agency has a good website that explains what estuaries are and their importance to our environment. I also like the website at Oceanservice.noaa.gov which has an excellent picture of an estuary and explains it in more detail.
Gopher Tortoise at Bunche Beach in Ft. Myers
Gopher Tortoise at Bunche Beach in Ft. Myers, Fla
Gopher Tortoise – (Gopherus polyphemus) is a cold blooded reptile that can live up to 40-60 years. It digs deep burrows in sandy soils for shelter which also provides home for up to 350 other species of animals and insects. Mice, snakes, opossums, rabbits, frogs and crickets are just a few of the other species that share the tortoises burrow. It is called a Keystone Species because there are so many other animals that depend on the tortoise for its survival. I saw this tortoise on a sandy dune on Bunche Beach but it can also be found further inland and upland areas including forests, pastures and yards. The tortoise feeds on vegetation including different kinds of grasses, blackberries and fruits that grow on shrubs. It has very strong legs and a hard outer shell which protects it from predators. The website of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission contains some additional information about the Gopher Tortoise.
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Sandhill Cranes in Ft. Myers
Sandhill Cranes – (Grus canadensis) These birds are mostly migratory birds from Canada but Florida has Cranes that also live here all year long. They are distinguished from other birds by their gray bodies, red crown on their heads and black legs. The Sandhill Crane spends most of its time in undisturbed areas near water such as marshes and wet prairies. The area I saw these two Cranes was in a dry open grassy area that is flooded during the summer. It feeds on insects spiders, small mammals, roots and grain. Sandhill Cranes are some of the tallest birds in the world standing up to 4 ft. tall and have wing spans of up to 7 ft. These birds were spotted in a large grassy area probably looking for some small prey to eat. They were walking by as I came out of a church and continued on their way as I snapped a picture. The National Geographic website has some good information about the Sandhill Crane. The All About Birds website has some additional information and an audio clip of them calling out.
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Kayaking at Bunche Beach
Gopher Tortoise, Bunche Beach, Ft. Myers, Fla.
Sandbar Bunche Beach
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Bunche Beach is part of Lee County’s system of parks, preserves and beaches. It is located off of Summerlin Rd. at 18201 John Morris Rd. in Ft. Myers. It has over 700 acres of beaches, mangrove forests and salt flats. The beach is pretty narrow in places but is long and good for beach walkers. You can see the north end of Ft. Myers Beach, the Sanibel Island Causeway, and entrance to Gulf of Mexico while standing on the beach. There are bathroom facilities, kayak and paddleboard rental services and a boardwalk to see the back bay area of the park. Bunche Beach is a considered a great place to photograph birds and is designated a “Great Florida Birding Trail Site” www.floridabirdingtrail.com . Parking is $2 per hour. For more information visit www.leeparks.org then click on the link to Facilities, Beaches and then Bunche Beach.
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The Florida Panther – (Puma concolor coryi) is Florida’s state animal and was placed on the endangered species list in 1967 because of hunting and continued loss of habitat. It is one of Florida’s most popular animals besides the American Alligator and one that is most protected. The Florida Panther can weigh up to 150 lbs., breed about every 18 months and have litters of 2-3 kits. They feed on white tailed deer, rabbits, raccoons, wild hogs, armadillo and birds. They are closely related to Mountain Lions, Puma’s and Cougars. Panthers are actually one of 32 subspecies of the Puma concolor. Cougars from Texas have been introduced to Florida to add to the Panther population since they interbreed and to add to genetic variability. Panthers require a large territory to hunt and roam (200 sq. miles) and use to occupy the entire southeastern U.S. Their territory has been reduced to the interior and lower parts of Florida, mostly the Florida Everglades and Big Cypress Basin. Every year the population of Panthers declines because of automobile accidents, loss of hunting grounds or other factors. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fixes radio collars to some Panthers to track their movements and to try and determine their movements and migration habits. This picture is from the Ft. Myers News Press. The Defenders of Wildlife website has some good information about the Florida Panther besides the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Lubber Grasshoppers – (Ramalea guttata) also known as Eastern Lubber grasshoppers are native to the Southeastern United States. This group of lubbers are actually the young or immature version of Lubbers that I saw and photographed along a Pinewoods trail in the Corkscrew Marsh of the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed. The grasshopper is wingless and moves about by walking and jumping up to 20 times its length. It can grow up to 3 inches in length. The lubbers feed on insects and plants and can cause damage to orchids and other plants. The Lubbers protect themselves by ingesting chemicals from plants that then become poisonous to birds and other predators. They can also give off a foul smelling odor when threatened.
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