Hydrology is the study of the movement, distribution and quality of our water resources. Florida is a wetland state with more than 29% of its’ land area covered with lakes, streams, swamps, ponds, and estuaries. Florida has a greater percentage of its land area covered by wetlands than any of the lower 48 states.
The Water Cycle is a continuous recycling of water through the evaporation of water from the surface of land and transpiration of water through plants to the atmosphere and then as rain falling to the ground and eventual seepage into the ground. We could not live without the supply of fresh and continuous water supplies. Hydrologists study the cycle of water through our systems and report on its quantity, distribution and quality.
Hydrologist’s advise water managers like the South Florida Water Management District and Environmental Protection Agency about the movement of water through our land and underground aquifers. They also test the quality of water for contaminants and toxins that may be coming from several sources such as storm runoff that contains pesticides, fertilizers, industrial waste and human and animal wastes.
For a more complete description of Hydrology and what Hydrologists do visit The U.S. Geological Survey website.
Woodstork and Spoonbill
I was lucky enough to see a flock of birds feeding in a shallow drainage swale off the Six Mile Cypress Pkwy in October on a cool morning. I have never seen the Woodstork and Spoonbill together but they often inhabit and feed in the same areas. There were other birds wading in same area like the White Egret, Blue Heron, White Ibis and Little Blue Heron.
The Woodstork is listed on the U.S. list of Endangered birds mostly because of the destruction of wetlands in Florida and its loss of habitat. It has white feathers, black bill and legs and pink feet. There are 6 species of stork in the world but the Woodstork is the only one to breed in the U.S. They feed by submersing their bills in the water and grabbing prey including small fish, amphibians and reptiles when they touch its bill. The Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve located across the street from where I spotted these birds is an 11 mile wetland swamp and hardwood forest where Woodstorks generally nest and call home.
The Roseate Spoonbill is distinguished by its bright pink color and bill that is shaped like a spatula. They are wading birds like the Woodstock and feed on small fish and other organisms. They have very sensitive nerve endings on their bill which they swish back and forth in the water until a fish comes in contact with it. The Roseate Spoonbill was once prized and hunted for their feathers but it is illegal to hunt them now. They have made a comeback in numbers and are not on the endangered list but still are listed on the Florida “threatened” list. There are two websites that I like which give detailed information about these birds. One is the “Birds of North America” by Cornell University. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also always has good information about birds and other wildlife.
click on images for larger view
Muscovy Duck (Cairipa moschata)
The Muscovy Duck is native to Central and South America. Unfortunately they have found their way to North America and specifically the Southeastern United States where these birds have become established. An “exotic” species of a bird or animal is one that is living outside of captivity that did not historically come from Florida. An “invasive” species causes harm to another species or ecosystem where it is introduced. The Muscovy Duck is a large aggressive bird that out competes other ducks for food and shelter in a habitat. It breeds with native ducks which creates hybrid ducks and passes diseases and unwanted traits to our native population of native ducks. The Muscovy Ducks as you can see from this picture have red or warty bumps on their face and head. The males can weigh up to 15 lbs. They made their way into this country by way of migration and through release by pet owners and the exotic trade business in Florida. Type in “Exotic Animals” in your browser and you will see a lot of businesses that would like to sell you animals and birds from other countries. Many of them are illegal to buy or own. People unknowingly feed these ducks and treat them as pets. The feral or wild population of these birds therefore keeps growing and does continuing damage to our wetlands and duck population. The University of Florida IFAS estimates there may be as many as 200 bird species in Florida that came from other countries. Florida is a natural habitat and breeding ground for exotic and invasive animals and plants because of our sub tropical climate. Invasive species such as the Burmese Python snake, Green Gecko lizard and Cuban tree frog are other examples of unwanted and harmful animals that have made their way to our state and become a large nuisance. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has more information about the Muscovy Duck and other invasive species in our state.
Florida has been under attack by the introduction of non-native invasive trees and plants for over 100 year which are displacing our native plant communities and destroying our wetlands. Floridians were responsible for the introduction of many of the harmful plants and trees during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s when people thought swamps and wetlands were useless and didn’t serve any useful purpose for meeting the needs of settlers who wanted to establish farms, ranches and urbanize communities. One tree in particular, the Malaleuca was brought into Florida to soak up the wetlands and make the land dry. The Malaleuca did it’s job well and we now have an uncontrollable spread of these trees which continue to dry out the wetlands and displace native trees. There are many other tree and plant species that are now listed on the Florida Category I list of prohibited and noxious plants. The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council lists these trees and plants as category I or II depending on the harm they inflict on our wetlands and uplands. The FEPPC also categorizes the invasive plants by the letters (P) Prohibited by the Fla. Dept. of Environmental protection, (N) Noxious Weed by Fla. Dept. of Agriculture & Consumer Services and (U) Noxious weed by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. Some of the most common names of invasive and harmful trees and plants that you might recognize include the Malaleuca tree, the Australian Pine tree, Brazilian Pepper, Chinese Tallow, Air Potato and Old World Climbing fern. There are many more plants that have been introduced to our state which we should recognize and help to stop their spread and infestation of our environment. The University of South Florida has a good website which lists and shows pictures of invasive and harmful plants to our state.
click on images for larger pictures
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)
I took this picture of a Snowy Egret at Bowman’s Beach on Sanibel Island. I have seen several Snowy Egrets at the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Preserve. Snowy Egrets live and breed on barrier Islands, salt water tidal marshes, estuaries and freshwater swamps. This bird was standing motionless looking out at the Gulf of Mexico seeming to wonder where its next meal was going to come from. There was guy fishing nearby and the Egret may have wondered if it was going to be treated to some of his catch. The Snowy Egret is actually a medium sized heron with white plumage, black legs and yellow feet with a long sharp bill. They stand and walk through shallow water waiting to spear small fish and aquatic animals with their bill. They were once prized by the fashion industry for their white feathers for decorating women’s hats in the early 20th century. They became a protected species when their numbers dropped and they were put on the endangered and threatened list of birds. Bird Watching is a big business in the United States and especially Florida where there are hundreds of permanent and migratory birds that live and travel to Florida. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has established a number of bird watching sites called the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. It list the best sites in Florida to view and watch year round and migratory birds. It is estimated that bird watching generates about $4.9 billion dollars in revenue for the state annually and $54 billion nationally. People love to get out their camera’s, take pictures, collect photos and compete to have them published in books and calendars. Enjoying the great outdoors and seeing Florida’s natural preserves are added benefits of bird watching.
click on image for larger picture
Saw Palmetto Plant
Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens)
The saw Palmetto plant is one of the most widely seen and popular plants in Florida and in the Southeastern U.S. It is found in sandy coastal areas, pine woods and inland areas in Florida It is a hardy plant, grows well in a full sun environment and is salt tolerant. It has sharp edges on its leaves where it gets it’s name from and can cut a person it they aren’t careful when handling the plant or walking through a dense thicket of these plants. They grow mostly low to the ground but can grow as tall as six feet. The Saw Palmetto is popular with gardeners and landscape companies because of their attractive appearance near homes, buildings and landscapes. This plant has a reputation for providing some herbal remedies for relieving prostate problems in men but their effectiveness has not been substantiated by the Food and Drug Administration. This hasn’t stopped many companies from capitalizing on this plant’s reputation for treating benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). The Saw palmetto was named the plant of the year in 2000 and the plant of the decade by the Florida Nursery, Grounds & Landscape Assoc. It has also been named one of the 50 most important plants in the Ethnobotanical history of Florida by the Institute of Food & Agricultural Studies at the Univ. of Florida. The Univ. of Florida Gardening Solutions website also has some good information about the Saw Palmetto.
click on picture for larger image
Algae Bloom on Our Beaches
Don’t worry, this picture is several years old and we haven’t seen this kind of algae pile up on our local beaches in SW Florida in several years. However it has happened several times within the last 15 years and it creates lasting impressions of the health of our lakes, rivers and estuaries. Scientists, the Environmental protection Agency and other groups have been studying what causes this problem but the culprit seems to be nitrogen, phosphorous, and human and animal waste being carried into our waterways by storm water runoff and excessive fertilizers being used too close to rivers and streams. The excessive loading of these pollutants causes the massive algae blooms and green scum that covers the water. I have seen thousands of dead fish lying on the shores of our rivers and beaches because of the excessive amounts of nutrients carried into our waterways. Florida is a heavily populated state with yards, farms and mining operations all playing a part in the problem. There are many efforts being made to prevent this excess nutrient pollution including building filter ponds and reservoirs to collect the pollutants and cleaning the water before being released into our estuaries. The Everglades Restoration Project is actually a massive effort to stop water pollution and to restore our wetlands to a healthy state. We can all do our part to stop excess pollution from entering our waterways and to protect our beaches. The Florida Yards and Neighborhoods website published by the Extension Service of UFL provides good advice about using appropriate amounts of fertilizers on our lawns, choosing the right plants to use on our property and slowing down harmful storm runoff. The Environmental Protection Agency has several projects being done to protect our waterways and gives useful information on their website about algae blooms. I have also learned a lot about flood control, water resource permitting and pollution control at the website of the South Florida Water Management District which has responsibility for some of our water quality issues.
click on image for larger picture
Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) The Monarch butterfly is a colorful butterfly with orange and black wings with white spots on the end of its’ wings. I saw and photographed this Monarch in a group of wild flowers on a bush in my neighborhood. The Monarch feeds exclusively in it’s larval stage on the milkweed plant. The milkweed plant gives the butterfly its distinctive colors and also a poisonous chemical mixture in its body that protects it from predators. The Monarchs can be seen all over the United States and Mexico and the ones living in the western part of the U.S. are famous for their 3,000 mile journey from the northern part of the U.S. to Mexico and Southern California during winter. It will not be able to fly if it’s body temperature drops below 86 degrees and will find a warm sunny place to warm up before they continue flying. The Monarch can produce 4 generations of offspring during their lives. The first three generations live only 2-6 weeks and they mate producing a fourth generation which can live up to 9 months. These insects and other species of wildlife are threatened by the loss of habitat caused by human and natural disruptions of their living areas. The Mexican government has stepped up to protect the Monarch by establishing a 217 square mile reserve in the Sierra Madres Mountains to protect their habitat, called the Monarch Biosphere Reserve. I found some useful information about the Monarch Butterfly at the Defenders of Wildlife website and the National Geographic website. click on image for larger picture
Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron ( Ardea Herodias)
The Great Blue Heron is a wading bird found all over North, Central and South America. It is found near freshwater wetlands where it nests and forages for food, mostly fish but also eats amphibians, reptiles and insects. They have slow deliberate movements and wade along a lake, river or swamp until it sees its prey. It then strikes and grabs its prey with it’s long bill and swallows it whole. The Blue Heron can sometimes kill itself by trying to swallow something too large. The Great Blue Heron can be distinguished from the Little Blue Heron and Tri-Colored Heron by it’s long slender neck which can be curled into an S shaped curve during flight or before it strikes it prey. It’s deep blue and grayish color is beautiful to look at and makes a sharp contrast to the grass and banks of wetlands it lives in. It is one of my favorite birds to look at. Carolus Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy or the naming of animals and plant species, listed the Great Blue Heron among thousands of other species in his famous Systema Naturae published in the 1800’s. I found some great pictures of the Great Blue Heron at Bing’s Website of Images . I also like the All About Birds Website by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
click on image to larger view
White Pond Lilly
The White Pond Lily is a perennial aquatic plant that grows in thick colonies in ponds, lakes, marshes and small bodies of water. This aquatic plant is prized for its beauty because of its white petals, yellow center and fragrant smell. I saw and photographed these lilies in a drainage ditch next to a marsh in the morning after a heavy rain the night before. It generally opens its flowers in the morning and closes by mid day. The White Pond Lily can be found from Quebec in the north all the way to Florida and as far west as Washington. It reproduces by dropping seeds and also sending it’s rhizomes or roots spreading underground. The White Lily also has the reputation for its medicinal qualities. The bulb of the flower and stem contain chemicals called tannins which some say helps to cure bronchial problems, sore throats, dermatological problems and diarrhea. The University of Florida Dept. of Food and Agricultural Services has stated that only 10% of plants in the U.S. have been studied for their health benefits. This is a reason why biodiversity is important and why we should keep our forests, jungles and other ecosystems healthy. The Univ. of Florida has rated this plant as one of the 50 plants that is important to the cultural heritage and list of native plant species in Florida. I found a few good websites to see and learn more about White Pond Lily’s at the Texas A & M Agrilife Extension and Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. click on image for larger picture