Monthly Archives: June 2015

Gallery of Florida Wildflowers

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The gallery of Florida Wildflowers I have pictured here are only a small sample of the thousands of wildflowers in Florida. Our state got its name from the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513 who named Florida  “La Florida” because of it’s beautiful colors and landscape.

Florida has 20 million people now ( 3rd most populous state) who call this peninsula  home and we almost double in population during the winter with tourists. I think our state officials could improve the looks of our interstate highway system such as I-75 and I-95 by planting large beds of wildflowers along these roads. I’m disappointed by having to look at large billboards and some other unsightly things while I’m traveling through Florida. One of the best display of wildflowers I have seen was along a highway was in North Carolina.

I would  like to mention one of our former first ladies, Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon Johnson and actress Helen Hayes who were concerned about the loss of natural landscapes and wildflowers  throughout the U.S. and so they started a foundation in 1982 to preserve wildflowers. Their foundation also educates the public about the variety of plants and flowers that exist, their biological richness and and their benefit to the environment.  Visit Lady Bird Johnsons’ website wildflower.org to get more information about her foundation.  To register your garden that has natural pollinator plants, go to the Million Pollinator Gardens website and it will be listed in a national database.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since the first European contact was made in 1513 by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León – who named it La Florida ([la floˈɾiða] “The Flowery”)

Wildflowers of Florida

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Wildflowers of Florida are soft stemmed flowering plants that grow each year in many places including roadsides, forests, open grassy fields, along rivers, wetlands and other undisturbed areas. They add a colorful and pretty addition to a barren landscape or one  that is often devoid of color. Wildflowers come in many different shapes and sizes but they are usually in the color groupings of white, yellow, orange, green, red, pink, purple and blue. The wildflowers I have photographed were taken near my home and in parks and preserves I have visited in S.W. Florida. The ecological benefits of wildflowers is the food they provide bees, insects and birds which keep them alive and thriving.  Many of our food crops depend on bees to pollinate them which is necessary for them to grow and reproduce. Wildflowers also provide an important ecological benefit of producing oxygen for humans and animals to breathe and taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis.

The United States Dept. of Agriculture, Dept. of Forestry created a website devoted to promoting wildflowers and educating the public about their importance. The Dept. of Agriculture also created the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge to promote the development of gardens that have plants and flowers that have nectar and pollen. The challenge is an effort to help stop the decline in pollinators such as bees and  butterflies.

 

http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/index.shtml

 

 

http://millionpollinatorgardens.org/

 

 

 

Bumble Bees and Honey Bees

Bumble Bee

Bumble Bee

Bumble Bee

Bumble Bee

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I’ve heard a lot of buzz lately about the decline in the bee population in the U.S. which is making it difficult for farmers to get their crops pollinated and plants to grow. Bees transfer pollen from plant to plant with their wings, legs and other body parts when they forage for nectar and pollen which is their food source and in the process move pollen between crops and plants which is necessary for plants to reproduce and grow.

Bees have been declining in numbers because their habitat has also been declining with a rapidly developing landscape and declining quality of air due to pollution. Bees need large areas to forage for nectar and pollen. Honey Bees which are also important pollinators of plants and a source of natural honey for us have been declining because of the spread of diseases and the harmful effect of mites.

Bumble Bees and Honey Bees differ in shape, size and type of nest they live in. According to the Bumble Bee Conservation Organization, bumble bees can be identified by their color, size and place where they live. Bumble Bees live in the wild in nests of 50 to 400 bees.  Honey Bees live in hives consisting of 50,000 to 60,000 bees. They are both important sources of pollinators of plants and food crops. I was therefore happy to see this little guy getting nectar and pollen from a yellow wildflower in a nearby park. County agricultural offices are holding classes for people interested in starting their own Honey Bee hives. You can learn more about bees at the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forestry Service.   I also liked the Insect About.com website which gives a concise summary of  the differences between Bumble Bees and Honey Bees.

 

 

 

Caloosa Rare Fruit Exchange

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The Caloosa Rare Fruit Exchange held its annual “Taste of Lee” conference in downtown Ft. Myers on Saturday. It was well attended with hundreds of people interested in seeing, tasting and learning more about rare tropical fruits grown in SW Florida.  I have been trying to develop my green thumb and learn more about  growing peach and lemon trees in my backyard and horticulture in general.

There were many small growers, and farm owners who were displaying their rare fruits and selling their fruit trees, plants and other items. Some of the fruits on display have been imported from various countries around the world. I tasted a few fruits which were cut up and put out on platters like the familiar mango and papaya fruits and some not so familiar fruits. I also picked up some information from local growers like Miss Potters Place,  Southern Fresh Farms and Pine Island Botanicals where I hope to buy some of my fruits and vegetables in the future.

The Univ. of Florida Lee County Extension Service was there which offers classes and guidance in gardening, fertilizer and pest management. I included this page about rare fruits on my website/blog because farms take up 25% of the land area in Florida and have an impact on the wetlands and environment in Florida. Farms that grow crops and raise animals which use responsible land use practices can improve the water quality in surface wetlands and underground acquifers. Homeowners who grow gardens and fertilize their lawns using nitrogen, phosphorous and other chemicals also impact our water quality and wetlands. County Extension departments like the Univ. of Florida Institute Food and Agriculture Sciences, Lawn and Garden programs offer a lot of useful information on the proper application and use of fertilizers so they will not wash into our streams and rivers during heavy rains.

 

 

 

 

Blue Herons in Florida

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Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) and Little Blue Herons (Egretta caerulea) are impressive birds to look at because of their deep blue colors, plumage and graceful way of flying and wading or walking through shallow water looking for a meal. I got a good view and some pictures of a Great Blue Heron and Little Blue Heron about a week ago while I was taking a bike ride through Lee County’s’  John Yarbrough Linear Park. This long but narrow park runs from Colonial Blvd to the Six Mile Cypress Pkwy for over ten miles. It has a storm water river running straight for over ten miles and attracts a lot of birds and wildlife. I was lucky enough to catch these two herons in flight and photograph their wing span and impressive flight pattern.

The herons are wading birds which means they walk or stand in shallow fresh water areas looking for prey to come by such as fish or amphibians and stab them with their sharp bills and swallow them whole by facing upwards, elongating their necks and letting their meal side down their throats. The wing span of a Great Blue Heron can reach over 6 ft and when they fly and can reach speeds of 30 miles per hour. The Little Blue Heron  has a deep blue color and reddish band running down its neck. Their wing span of up to 3 ½ feet is more than twice their height.  One of my favorite websites to learn more about these birds is Cornell Universities Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds website. You can see more pictures of these birds and learn more about their nesting characteristics, bird calls and habitat at this website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

C-43 Reservoir along Caloosahatchee River gets approval

Paddling on the Caloosahatchee River

Paddling on the Caloosahatchee River

The Caloosahatchee River and Beaches of Lee County got some good news from the South Florida Water Management District and U.S. Army Corp of Engineers recently when they decided to fast track the building and operation of the reservoir called C-43. This reservoir which lies along the Caloosahatchee River is basically an open pit in the ground surrounded by a berm of soil which can hold up to 55 billion gallons of water and will take a big chunk of the water releases from Lake Okeechobee. The plan is to let the polluted water which is high in nitrogen, fertilizers and phosphorous from farming, mining and urban runoff to sit in the reservoir and let plant matter filter out the nutrients before it is released back into the river.  Lake  Okeechobee  which is one of the largest in the U.S. at 730 sq. miles has water released and sent down two rivers one to the east coast and one to the west coast, the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers respectively. The water is released from the lake to keep lake levels below 15 feet  to prevent flooding in nearby Clewiston and other towns. The releases have been partially blamed for creating massive algae blooms and unsightly water scum which damages our rivers, canals and beaches.

The South Florida Water Management District put out a news release on their webpage titled  “SFWMD Approves Cost Credit Agreement for Caloosahatchee Reservoir”  on June 11,2015 explaining the cost sharing agreement between the state and federal government to build C-43 and more about it’s construction and operation. The SFWMD has a good web page explaining the plan and strategies they have to try to keep the Caloosahatchee River clean and healthy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florida Box Turtle

Florida Box Turtle

Florida Box Turtle

The Florida Box Turtle ( (Terrapena Carolina bauri)  which my hiking group found as we were walking through the Caracara Prairie Preserve has the ability to completely retract itself under its’ shell to protect itself from predators. Someone found this Box Turtle off the walking path probably under some leaves or a log which these turtles use for shelter and habitat on hot days in order to regulate their body temperature. Some turtles swim in stream and ponds on hot days but this species of turtles prefers moist areas like marshes, burrows in the ground in forested flatwoods and shady areas with lots of cover. The Caracara Prairie Preserve seems like an ideal habitat for the Florida Box Turtle because of its’ dry flatwood prairies and forests and wet marshes that make up most of the preserve. The turtle has a high back and shell that slopes off toward the edges and has colorful yellow and dark markings.

Their diet consists of insects, worms, snails, and vegetation which is plentiful in this habitat. I found out that these turtles can live up to 100 years. You can see pictures and learn more about Box Turtles at The Florida Museum of Natural History or the Smithsonian Reptile and Amphibian website.  There is also a good website with specific information about the Florida Box Turtle and it’s care if you want to keep it as a pet at Austins’ Turtle Page.

 

 

 

 

Caracara Prairie Preserve

Crested Caracara

Crested Caracara – photo courtesy of Fish and Wildlife Service

Crested Caracara

Crested Caracara – photo courtesy of Fish and Wildlife Service

This past weekend I joined a group of people led by a tour guide from the Conservation Collier organization who took us on a 3 mile hike through the Caracara Prairie Preserve in northern Collier County. Caracara Prairie Preserve is named after the rare Crested Caracara bird which is often seen in the prairies and forests in this part of Florida and the Southwestern U.S. . This bird resembles a vulture in some ways because it is a raptor using its keen eyesight and sharp claws and bill to hunt and kill its prey. It feeds on dead animals or carrion as well as insects, small animals and eggs. We weren’t lucky enough to see a Caracara but the hike was very enjoyable because of the pretty terrain, well managed hiking paths and variety of plants we saw along the way. Some of my pictures of the preserve are shown in the previous post of this website. This preserve was donated by a private landowner (Judge Starnes) and Crew Land and Water Trust. It is now owned and managed by Conservation Collier which has many different parks and preserves set aside for ground water recharge, wildlife habitat and public recreation.

The 2.6 mile loop trail is marked by red and blue stakes but we managed to get lost or turned around at some point and we added an hour to an already 2 ½ hour tiring hike on a hot and humid day. Some of the things I enjoyed seeing were the variety of plants, and trees along the way, a Swallow Tail Kite flying overhead and views of prescribed burning in the dense brush that the county does to manage the growth of exotic vegetation and to lessen the danger of wildfires. The preserve acts as a grazing area for many cows and we had to sidestep cows pies as they are called which was one of the less enjoyable aspects of the hike. I would recommend walking this trail with a tour guide because it is easy to get lost and not a place you want to be without water for long in the hot weather. Two excellent websites to view and learn more about the Crested Caracara is the AllAboutBirds website by Cornell Univ. and the Florida Birding Trail website by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caracara Prairie Preserve Hiking Trail – Picture Gallery

Hiking Path

Hiking Path

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Red Shouldered Hawk

Red Shouldered Hawk

Red Shouldered Hawk – click on image for larger picture

The Red Shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)  that I photographed at the Bird Rookery Swamp in Naples was one of the most predominant birds in this preserve that I visited a few weeks ago. At one point during my hike a hawk flew right over my head and acted as though they own the forest. They have a loud screeching call which you can hear on an audio clip at the AllAboutBirds website.  The Red Shouldered Hawk is often found in forests with tall trees and swampland. The trees and terrain make an excellent habitat for this birds hunting methods which is to view the understory below them and to swoop down and catch their prey which includes frogs, mice, small fish and snakes and grab them with their sharp feet which are called talons. They can tear apart their catch with their sharp beaks.

Red Shouldered Hawks have a distinctive color with a  reddish-brown chest and underbelly. The feathers on their back are dark and light colored in a striped or banded pattern. They look like other Hawks in the U.S. The Audubon Society has some great pictures of the Red Shouldered Hawk along with pictures of other Hawks that live in the U.S. The Red Shouldered Hawk lives primarily in the Southeastern U.S. and California which has large open forests and wetlands.

The female Red Shouldered Hawk often lays about 3-4 eggs per year which take about 33 days to hatch. Both the male and female look after the eggs before they hatch by taking turns sitting on them in the nest, while the other one eats. The eggs hatch after about 33 days and the young stay in the nest for another 5-7 weeks. The parents continue to feed the young birds for about 8-10 weeks during their infancy.