Monthly Archives: July 2015

Florida’s Water Resources

 

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Florida’s residents and businesses use 15 Billions of water per day. In Lee County the population of just over 500 thousand people use 131 million gallons per day or just over 70 gallons per person. Florida cannot sustain that kind of water use especially with a growing population at 20 million people now and growing . The state estimates it will need to supply another 2 Billion gallons of water to Florida’s residents in the next 20 years. Florida gets most of it’s water from underground aquifers which are filled with water from the 54 inches of rain it gets each year. The problem is that we are pumping it out of the ground faster than mother nature is replenishing it with our rainfall.

40 % of Florida’s water use goes to agricultural interests to irrigate crops and farmland. 37 % is used by homes for their water use. About half of the water that homeowners use is spent watering their lawns. Florida needs to come up with a new strategy to supply the fresh water needs of all Floridians in the future. State water managers, the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency has been on an ambitious program over the past twenty years to restore the wetlands that use to cover South Florida before we started the dredging, building of canals and urbanization that swept Florida during the 20th century.

One project that is in the works to store water coming from Lake Okeechobee and purify it before it is released down the Caloosahatchee River is a water basin called C-43. C-43 will hold billions of gallons of water tainted with phosphorous and nitrogen from the farms, lawns and mining operations in central and northern Florida. The water will be diverted to the water basin and the water will be filtered by plants and others methods before it is released down river. The Kissimmee River which delivers much of the water flow to Lake Okeechobee has been partly restored to a meandering river with floodplains that hold excess water. Floodplains hold water near streams and rivers and recharge the aquifers that provide refuge and habitat for wildlife. Farmers have also helped to recharge aquifers by storing water on their property instead of draining it through canals.

Voters in Florida passed a law called Amendment 1 which requires the state to buy undisturbed land for preservation. This law and previous moves by counties and the state to preserve land for water supplies is a smart move to provide for our water resource needs in the future.

Some information for this post came from an article published in the Ft. Myers News Press, “Water, water everywhere in Florida but whose is it ?”. July 20, 2015 and the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, CHNEP.org summer issue volume 19, issue 2.

The South Florida Water Management District has a list of projects and efforts by the state to preserve water supplies and restore wetlands.

 

 

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

 

 

Blue Gray Gnatcatcher

Blue Gray Gnatcatcher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptile caerulea) is a song bird which lets out a loud shrill when it is calling out to other birds or trying to scare away intruders from their nesting and foraging areas. It is mostly grayish with a white underbelly. It flicks it’s tail back and forth trying to scare small insects and spiders from their hiding places to eat. They are common in forests with a lot of dense tree cover like the one where I saw this one at the Six Mile Cypress Slough in Ft. Myers. This wetland park with a great 1.2 mile boardwalk to view a swampland and forest is also on the Great Florida Birding Trail. The Gnatcatcher quickly flies from tree to tree and is hard to photograph. The second picture in this post is of the bird swinging it’s tail back and forth. There are many other small birds in this swampland and wet forest which allows these small birds plenty of places to build nests and small insects to feed upon. The All About Birds website has some good additional information about the Blue Gray Gnatcatcher.

 

 

 

 

 

Palmetto Berries

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The Palmetto Berry (Sereboa repens) which grows on the Saw Palmetto plant is a much sought after berry in Florida’s State Forests and preserves because it is supposed to have medicinal and herbal supplement benefits that help men with prostate problems and baldness.  The berry is an important food source for bears, deer and over 200 species of wildlife living in Florida’s forests, and preserves. The Florida Forest Service prevents the over harvesting of this small berry growing on Saw palmetto plants by issuing permits to people each year for $10 per day and allows each person to take as many as they can gather. The state decided to stop issuing the permits this year because of over harvesting and the detrimental effect it may have on the wildlife trying to find food.  The Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed website reports that they have had a lot of illegal poaching of Palmetto Berries since CREW’s land contains many Saw Palmetto plants. The powdered form of the berry can sell for $20-70 lb. on eBay as reported by the Ft. Myers News Press.  Many migrant farm workers collect the berries for supplemental income.

The Ft. Myers News Press issued a story “Palmetto Berry. A Bear Market” on July 9, 2015 which speaks about the problem of overharvesting of the berry. The article mentions that people ignore the rules of gathering these berries and sneak into forests to pick the berries anyway.   I took some pictures of Saw palmetto Bushes while I was walking through  Hickeys Creek Mitigation Park. There were some berries on the plants I observed but not all of them. The Saw Palmetto plant  flowers  between February and April and the berries ripen in September and October. You can see the berries I took in these photo’s haven’t ripened yet and are still dark green. The Lee County website for Hickeys Creek Mitigation Park gives some useful information about the type of wildlife and plants that live and exist there.

 

 

Picayune Strand State Forest

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Picayune Strand State Forest and Wildlife Management Area is a tract of land composed of 76,000 acres or approximately 124 sq. miles that is undergoing a restoration program to put the land back into its’ natural state which is a hydric forest and swampland. The strand in the 1950’s and 1960’s was partially developed by unscrupulous land developers and sold off to unwitting land owners who could not use their property or build there because the land was under water most of the year. The developers did build a series of canals and roads which removed water and damaged a natural wetland system. The state had to locate thousands of landowners who owned lots and buy back their land in order to restore this wetland system which is vital to the ecosystem and environmental health of South Florida.

The South Florida Water Management District and other agencies have so far removed 65 miles of canals and roads and put in pumps to help channel  water through the strand. The Picayune Strand is located next to the Big Cypress National Preserve and is located in it’s water basin. I drove through part of the Picayune Strand in the rainy month of July and took some pictures of the forest and trail areas which is open to the public for hiking, horseback riding and camping when weather permits. The Florida Forest Service which manages the park along with other agencies has a good website describing the history of the state park.

Picayune Strand is located in Collier County about 2 miles east of Naples, north of U.S. 41 and south of I-75. The area is part of the Florida’s’ wetland restoration efforts included in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yellow Crowned Night Heron

Yellow Crowned Night Heron

Yellow Crowned Night Heron

 

Juvenile Yellow Crowned Night Heron

Juvenile Yellow Crowned Night Heron

 I saw these two Yellow Crowned Night Herons at the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel. The bird with the two white stripes on its’ head is the adult Yellow Crowned Night Heron and the other is called a juvenile or immature Night Heron. It is a nocturnal bird and looks for it’s food in the mangroves or shallow waters of coastal areas of Florida and the southeastern United States. Its’ diet consists of crustaceans, small crabs, fish, lizards, snakes and other small prey. Ding Darlings Birdwatchers named this bird one of it’s “fab five” birds to see at the refuge. You can find out what the other four are it’s website. Another good source of information about the Yellow Crowned Night Heron are All About Birds published by the Ornithology lab at Cornell Univ.

 

 

U.S. National Wildlife Refuge – Ding Darling on Sanibel Island

 

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The U.S. National Wildlife Refuge System of Parks and Preserves are public lands set aside to protect wildlife from extinction, over hunting and habitat loss. The National Wildlife Refuge System (NWR)  is different from the National Park Service.The NPS is composed of 59 national parks scattered across the U.S. with unique land features and ecosystems. The the National Wildlife Refuge System has over 500 preserves in all 50 states with much more land and marine environments to protect and manage.

The first NWR, Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida was established by Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. Teddy Roosevelt was an avid outdoorsman and environmental conservationist. There were many more lands added to the NWR as it became clear that many forms of wildlife including mammals, birds, reptiles etc., were being wiped out by the rapid urbanization of land, industrialization, habitat loss and pollution.

Florida is home to over 20 NWR’s and one that I am familiar with is Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island. Ding Darling NWR takes up a large part of Sanibel Island at just over 6,400 acres of mangrove forests, sea grass beds, and salt water lakes and rivers. Ding Darling NWR was named after Jay Norwood Darling who resisted efforts to have the land turned over to commercial interests and land developers. Harry Truman designated the area as a national refuge in 1945. The refuge is now home to thousands of migratory birds and marine life and is visited by thousands of people every year.

There is a great visitor center at the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge  with full size replicas of mangrove forests, birds and other wildlife. They have guest lecturers every year to talk about birds of Florida and national conservation efforts and an active volunteer group called the Ding Darling Wildlife Society.  If you like to kayak, or take nature trips to see dolphins and birds there is the Tarpon Bay Explorers who rent out kayaks, and give boat tours in the preserve. Most visitors take a drive through the preserve, about a five mile loop and stop to look at various parts of the preserve where migratory birds are wading, swimming or nesting. It’s one of the only places I have seen white pelicans. If you are there to take pictures of birds it’s best to bring a telescopic lens to get full size pictures but you may be lucky to get close up pictures of birds that are walking or standing on the lakesides, mangroves or roadsides.