Mottled Duck (Anas fulvigula)
I saw and photographed these Mottled Ducks in a drainage canal off Six Mile Cypress Pkwy in Ft. Myers near the Lee County Sports Complex. I have seen some amazing variety of birds there in this unlikely place of bird watching. Today I saw White Egrets, Blue Herons, White and Glossy Ibis’, and an Anhinga. Mottled Ducks are hard to distinguish from feral Mallard Ducks because they are close relatives and look similar. The Mottled Duck is one of the few non-migratory birds or water-fowl that inhabit the Florida Peninsula. I loved looking at the brown and white stripped bodies of the ducks and their yellow bills. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission is worried that the population of native Mottled Ducks are being destroyed by their breeding with feral Mallard Ducks. Go to the Florida Fish and Wildlife website to learn more about these birds and help you distinguish the difference between them and Mallards.
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Fall Colors at the Slough
I was able to catch a view of the beautiful November Fall colors of the Six Mile Cypress Slough while I was riding my bicycle just outside of the preserve on the bicycle path along the parkway. The tree’s in the preserve are a collection of many wetland tree’s including Bald Cypress, Pond Cypress, Slash Pine, Red Maple, Live Oak, Swamp Bay, Sweet Bay, Tupelo, American Elm and Carrotwood. It’s nice to see broad leaf and deciduous trees that change color in South Florida where Pine and Palm trees seem to dominate the landscape. The trees in this picture border part of Gator Lake in the preserve which was excavated when the Six Mile Cypress Slough was saved and redeveloped in the 1970’s. The tree plantings including the ones in this picture are supposed to represent a cross section of trees that inhabit wetlands throughout Florida. If you visit the Six Mile Cypress Slough you can walk on a boardwalk through a swamp and wetland and see close-up many different species of plants, trees and wildlife in a wetland.
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Florida Fire Service Helicopter
Florida Fire Service Helicopter
Florida’s rainy season which runs from June 1st to November is officially over. Lee and Collier counties received 39 inches of rain during this period which is 4 inches below normal. The dry season brings increased chances of drought and the chance of wild fires. The Ft. Myers News Press printed an article “Fire Season is on the horizon” on Nov. 17th which describes the seasonal fluctuations of rain, chances of wildfires and how county and state managers respond to them. I was surprise to learn that our state ranks second in the number of wildfires nationally. The Florida Forest Service closely monitors the dry conditions throughout the state and sometimes performs controlled burns in which they start fires in dry and parched areas to clear the dry vegetation to prevent wildfires. Doing controlled burns also helps to promote the growth of new seedlings and growth of plants and trees in an ecosystem. The News Press article states that at one time Florida was an immense forest with wildfires happening all over the state. This is true also of the rest of the U.S., especially western states where we see fires raging in California, Arizona, Washington and other regions. Preserving wetlands allows the land to hold more water and keep the soil more saturated with moisture which would help to lessen the number of some of our very dry areas. Directing storm runoff to wetlands areas instead of flushing the water into rivers and bays would also help to keep our beaches cleaner. The photo in this post is of a Florida Forest Service helicopter which is stationed at Page Field airport in Ft. Myers. I was lucky enough to speak with one of their pilots who flies this heli to places where there are brush fires starting or spreading out of control. They help to guide crews on the ground to stop or control brush fires with their tractors and fire equipment. The helicopters also carry fire suppressant powder to control fires. click on pictures for larger images and wait for them to resize
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I have heard so much about Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River as being a central part of our water quality problems that I had to go see these bodies of water for myself. One cannot speak about the history of Florida’s wetlands without explaining the impact that the Kissimmee River, its’ destruction and subsequent restoration has had on the Everglades in South Florida and the flow of water throughout central and south Florida.
The Kissimmee River was once a 103 mile long meandering narrow river with a wide floodplain that spilled into it and sent water south to the Everglades. The rapid population growth of Florida called for the changing of wetlands into dry land to allow farms and towns to sprout up. As a result, the 103 mile river was changed into a canal called C-38 that is now 53 miles long, 300 ft. wide and 30 ft. deep. The 1948 destruction of the meandering river also destroyed thousands of acres of wetlands that contained thousands of species of birds, large mouth bass and aquatic plants. The state and federal government realized in 1992 the environmental and ecological damage that was done to the wetlands and decided to pass the Water Resources Development Act to restore parts of the river to it’s original shape and characteristics. As of today, the middle third of the river has been changed back to its meandering curved shape and floodplains/wetlands have been reestablished. Waterfowl, birds, fish and other wildlife are now re-inhabiting the wetlands surrounding this restored part of the river. The South Florida Water Management District which is partially involved with the restoration efforts has a good website to keep us informed of the progress of the restoration. The Florida Center for Environmental Studies has an excellent and brief summary of the history of the river. The picture taken above is of the river reshaped as a canal at its end where it is about to empty into Lake Okeechobee. You can see how the widening of the river into a straight canal has impacted Lake Okeechobee by flushing pollutants from nearby farms, cattle ranches and storm water runoff into the lake. When lake levels get too high, above 16 feet, billions of gallons of water are released into the Caloosahatchee River and St. Lucie Rivers which in turn affects the water quality in our river and beaches.
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Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides)
Looking at Spanish Moss before I moved to Florida from New York always reminded me of the Old South with big plantation houses and immense trees with Spanish Moss hanging from them. Spanish Moss still has that creepy Halloween look that seems to evoke thoughts of ghosts and mystery. Well I did some research on this plant and found out it is not actually a moss but a Bromeliad or Epiphyte( type of air plant). Spanish Moss does not have any roots but instead hangs from the branches of trees such as Cypress or Oak and wraps their stems around the branches forming a commensalism relationship with that tree in which one organism benefits and the other is not harmed. The Spanish Moss absorbs moisture and nutrients from water that washes over the tree and from the air.
Spanish Moss used to be used for stuffing material in automobile seats, furniture and mattresses however this was stopped because the moss contained chiggers or a type of bug. Spanish Moss is mostly seen in the southeastern portion of the U.S. in states such as Florida, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolina’s. The tree in this photo was photographed near Lake Okeechobee in central Florida. Good information about Spanish Moss can be found at Univ. of Florida, Solutions For Your Life, website. Type in Spanish Moss in the Search Box.
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The Ft. Myers News Press reported on Nov. 8th, that high concentrations of a single celled organism called “Kareina brevis” is present in the Gulf of Mexico off SW Florida beaches resulting in a Red Tide or dark bloom of water that is several miles wide. Kareina brevis is a type of algae which causes many harmful effects including fish die offs and respiratory illnesses in people when it reaches high concentrations such as 1,000 cells per liter in the salt water. Red Tide has been around for a long time and occurs on the east coast of Florida and further north but in low concentrations is not particularly harmful. In some years such as 2013, it occurs with harmful consequences and over 200 Manatees died. The article “Scientists peg red tide sources” states that scientists have recently discovered that this plant like organism consumes many more types of nutrients and chemicals than once thought. We have trying to point the finger at the smoking gun to pin point how and why this red tide occurs but it is probably a combination of several factors and environmental sources that causes this harmful outbreak. Many people think the problem is caused by pollutants being flushed into our waterways from fertilizers containing nitrogen, septic tanks located near beaches, and canals, storm water runoff after heavy rains and animals waste from farms. Amendment 1 which just passed in Florida gives the state the ability to clean up our waterways and stop some of the excess nutrients from being sent into the Gulf of Mexico.
Floridians voted yes with a 75% majority to pass the Land Conservation and Preservation amendment in this years 2014 midterm elections to fund the cleanup, restoration and preservation of lands in Florida over the next 20 years. The Conservation and Preservation efforts are expected to cost $600 million dollars annually over the next 20 years. The money will come from doc stamp taxes on real estate transactions so the average Floridian will not see any increases in their taxes. The money will go towards buying sensitive lands to provide wildlife habitat, restore wetlands to their natural state, improve water quality in our estuaries and fund the Everglades restoration. This restoration and preservation effort is expected to be the largest in U.S. history. SW Florida stands to benefit from this amendment by the improvement of water quality going into the Caloosahatchee River and ultimately to our beaches and shorelines. The Tampa Tribune on November 8th, printed an article about the passage of the amendment and how it will improve the wildlife corridor in the state. I am excited to see how it will improve the restoration of our wetlands including the Everglades and waterways throughout the state. The amendment is also designed to improve public access and recreation of public lands.
Click on pictures for larger images Paddle boarding in the Caloosahatchee
The Caloosahatchee River is an estuary that extends from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Okeechobee 70 miles inland. It is surrounded by a watershed that has many streams and tributaries that feed into the river. The Caloosahatchee has a long history of being a living and hunting area for Calusa Indians for several hundred years. It served as a vital waterway for humans as well as an important habitat for wildlife and fish. It was once a curving and meandering waterway much like the Kissimmee River but was changed and straightened into a canal in the late 1800’s. It was dredged and straightened into a canal so that it could be used for navigational traffic for boats, irrigation for farms and flood protection. The river was connected to Lake Okeechobee and also serves as a waterway for passage of boats to the east coast of Florida. The altering of the river and the large influx of people who built homes and farms along the river has had some harmful effects to the quality of water in the estuary. The river today supports the irrigation and water supplies for citrus and sugarcane farming, beef cattle production and drinking water supplies for humans. The water quality of the river has been unfortunately degraded from the storm water runoff containing pollutants, excess nitrogen and nutrients and animal and human wastes. It has been the subject of many complaints from concerned citizens and environmentalists who want to preserve and protect the estuary. Fresh water releases from Lake Okeechobee to prevent the lake from overflowing it’s banks has adversely affected water quality in the river as well. There are several government agencies who are responsible for the health and protection of the Caloosahatchee including the South Florida Water Management District, Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers. The towns of Ft. Myers, Cape Coral, Lehigh Acres, LaBelle, Moore Haven and Clewiston lie along the banks of the river. The estates of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford are located along the river in Ft. Myers. A few websites which contain historical and cultural information about the river are Protecting Our Water, and Florida Sportsman. The South Florida Water Management District contains updated information about their efforts to protect the water quality of the Caloosahatchee. The pictures in this post were taken on a calm day with clear and sunny skies. I was standing on the north side of the river at the north end of the Caloosahatchee bridge where there is a small pier and a sailing club. A lot of people come here to park, walk along the edges of the water and relax in a very scenic environment.
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