Long Leaf Pine Tree click on picture for larger image
The Longleaf Pine Tree ( Pinus palustris) use to cover over 90 million square acres in the Southeastern U.S. but has only 3% of that amount remaining due to the logging industry and development of land by settlers. The Longleaf Pine Tree prefers sandy, dry and acidic soil. They need lots of sun to grow and can last up to three hundred years during their lifetime. The tree is an evergreen conifer that is named after it’s long needles which can grow up to 18 inches long. They produce pine cones with seeds which drop to the ground or are blown by wind to establish new trees. They have thick scaly dark trunks. A close relative to the Longleaf Pine is the Slash Pine which exists in large numbers in Florida and the Southeast U.S.
The wood from this tree was sought after to build ships and railroad ties in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s because of it’s sturdiness and resistance to pests. There has been a restoration effort going on to re-establish the Longleaf Tree forests. The Longleaf Pine tree also has excellent qualities to combat climate change because of their carbon dioxide absorption qualities. They are also resistant to wildfires and windstorms and after a natural event. It is common to see only these trees remaining after a wildlife.
I see Longleaf Pines in my area that have been planted in neighborhoods, county parks and other areas to keep out invasive trees and to improve the looks of the landscape. The Longleaf Pine in this photo was planted in a grassy area in my neighborhood. Birds like them to provide cover and to establish habitats.
More information is available about this tree at the National Wildlife Foundation website.
Sanibel Island Shelling
People come to Sanibel Island from all over the world to collect shells. walk it’s beaches and to see it’s sunsets. There are millions of shells that wash up on the beaches because of the unique shape of Sanibel and how it lies along the coastline. It’s banana shape and curve allows it to scoop up shells that are carried by the currents and tides of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. Some of the more commonly seen shells are Lightning Welks, Conch’s, Junonia’s, Cockles and Scallops.
Shells can have living animals in them called mollusks which secrete a liquid which then form’s that hard outer covering we recognize as a shell. Not all shells have living mollusks in them but the ones that do are prohibited from collecting. Shells can be single shells such as welks and conchs or bi-valves whose shells open and close. Bi-valves include clams, oysters and scallops.
The best time to collect shells are at low tide after the currents have deposited them on the beach or at Spring low tides at new or full moons. Another good time to collect shells are after storms. The smaller shells are located at the southern or east end of the island near the lighthouse. The larger shells are located near the western or northern part of Sanibel and Captiva Islands, however any place on the island is a good place to collect shells. The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum is a great visit for those who want to see shells from around the world.
Some travel companies have rated Sanibel Shell collecting as the 7th best attraction in Florida. You can read about the list and more about shell collecting on Sanibel at Sanibel-Captiva.org. So what do wetlands have to do with salt water shells ? Estuaries which are a mixture of fresh and saltwater and originate inland carry nutrient laden waters to the coastlines and affect the marine life and water quality of the Gulf of Mexico and our beaches. That’s what all the hub bub has been about lately in the news regarding citizens wanting the state to buy more land in Florida to collect this contaminated water before it affects our shores.
Sanderlings (Calidris alba) run back and forth on the beach near the wave line looking for small invertebrate marine life to feed upon. They move very quickly and tend to move about as flocks. They are also called sandpipers. They have black bills, gray backs and white bellies. They breed in the Artic but migrate south to the warmer climates during winter. They are a common sight on Florida’s beaches. I caught this flock on a Sanibel beach and they were also pretty to look at as they were flying. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology “All About Birds” website has some excellent information about Sanderlings and other birds.
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Pelican at Ft Myers Beach
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I saw and photographed this Brown Pelican at Ft. Myers Beach. Brown Pelicans are large seabirds that are often seen gliding over salt water bays, coastlines and other bodies of water. They are impressive birds to watch fly as they seem to glide with the wind without much effort. They hunt for food by looking for fish from above and then suddenly dive into the water head first with a big splash which stuns their prey which gives the Pelican time to grab a fish with it’s long bill. Pelicans were once in danger of becoming extinct because of the widespread use of the pesticide DDT which damaged Pelicans eggs and their offspring. When Pelicans aren’t flying and swooping into the water they are common sights looking for scraps of fish on fishing docks or standing on wooden pilings, or other types of supports. A close relative of Brown Pelicans are White Pelicans. White pelicans forage for fish not by diving into the water but by other means. You can see and learn more about Pelicans at All About Birds.
Fishing in Lake Okeechobee
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Lake Okeechobee means “big water” in Seminole Indian language. The lake is one of the biggest freshwater lakes in the U.S. covering 730 sq. miles on its’ surface. Its’ average depth is only 9 ft. but can vary substantially with the rainy season and with the canals, tributaries and sheet flow of water feeding into it. The canals and tributaries bring with them harmful quantities of phosphorous, nitrogen and pollutants from nearby farms, cattle ranches, mining operations and urban areas. The lake has many thousands of tons of phosphorous in the bottom which makes the lake harmful for fish, drinking water or release into the Everglades for which it was intended.
The U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers and South Florida water Management District has been working for years to help purify or make cleaner the lakes water by creating Water Conservation Areas (WCA) and Storm Water Treatment Area’s (STA) which are used as storage basins for some of the lakes water. The WCA’s and STA’s which are composed of thousands of acres of land are used to help filter the polluted water of nitrogen, phosphorous and other pollutants before it is sent to the Everglades or communities where it may be used as drinking water or marshes and wetlands which serve as habitat for wildlife. When the lake reaches dangerous levels approaching 15 ft., the USACE has no choice but to use the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers as release points to flush billions of gallons of lake water out of the lake so that nearby towns surrounding lake Okeechobee will not be threatened with flooding.
The area around the lake has been in the news lately because of the option for the state legislature to buy large tracts of land surrounding the lake for environmental purposes. The state legislature has not been unanimous in their effort to buy land for millions of dollars. They have been urged by environmentalists and those who want to continue the cleanup efforts to buy this land and direct the flow of water southward towards the Everglades and not through the estuaries east and west of the lake. The South Florida Water Management District has some good information about the cleanup efforts about Lake Okeechobee on their website.