Monthly Archives: November 2015

Everglades Agricultural Area

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The Everglades Agricultural Area or EAA was built by removing water from the land, building canals to channel the water to farms and other places and building levees around Lake Okeechobee so the water would not overflow its banks and flow south as it naturally did. Twenty Seven Percent of the Everglades was taken away from the huge wetland system and a barrier was established between the northern and southern Everglades which deprived the lower part of the national park of its vital flow of water.

The destruction and harmful alteration of the Everglades became clear to state leaders including then governor Lawton Chiles in 1995 that the changes to the wetlands in central and southern Florida was lowering the quality of life for millions of people, impacting the tourism business and threatening future water supplies to people on the east and west coasts. A new plan called the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan or (CERP) was developed to stop the destruction of the Everglades and restore parts of the land to wetlands again. The new plan which would become the largest environmental restoration plan in the United States was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 2000. Over $2 billion dollars have been spent on this plan already but the funds to continue restoring the Everglades have begun to dry up because of budgetary problems of the U.S. and a change of leadership in Congress.

Work in still continuing on many projects in the CERP plan and one of the bright spots is the work on the Kissimmee River and floodplain which moves the majority of water from near Orlando to Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades. Parts of the river have been restored to a winding river and floodplain and has restored nearby land into healthy wetlands. Much more work needs to be done to fix the decades of destruction that was done to the Everglades and wetlands of Florida. The Everglades Foundation is an organization that is watching and helping the efforts of the restoration of the Everglades. They have started a competition called the Barley Prize which will award millions of dollars to the group of scientists or people who can successfully remove phosphorous from the water in the Everglades. There is plenty of information about the efforts to improve the health of the Everglades on the websites of the Everglades Foundation and the South Florida Water Management District. There is also a good video which summarizes the efforts of the Everglades cleanup.

 

 

Bowmans Beach, Sanibel Island

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Bowmans Beach is one of the few public beaches on Sanibel Island and well worth the visit for beachgoers and shell collectors. The beach is located in the middle of the island at the end of Bowmans Beach Rd. There is a public parking lot a short distance away where parking costs a few dollars an hour. There are also showers and public bathrooms at the beach. The white sandy beach at Bowmans stretches for several miles and the water is usually aqua marine blue and green and very inviting to swim. Shell collectors like the beach at Bowmans also for its variety and abundance of shells to collect. Collecting live shell is not permitted. Fisherman can also fish from the beach. The only other public beaches I know of on Sanibel are located near the lighthouse at the southern end of the island and the beach at Blind Pass at the northern end of the island. Visitors who have been to Bowmans Beach and rated their experiences on Trip Advisor have rated it mostly excellent to very good. Make sure to bring sunscreen, chairs and an umbrella as the suns rays and UV light are very strong. Other attraction nearby are the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge and the Bailey Matthews Shell Museum. There are also many good restaurants on the island.  The Sanibel Island Chamber of Commerce has good information for people that want to stay on the island or do more than just visit the beaches.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fencing to Protect Florida Panther

Florida Panther

Florida Panther

The Florida Panther just got a thumbs up from the Florida Dept. of Transportation which will construct an 18 mile long 10 ft. high fence to prevent these endangered animals from crossing parts of I-75 otherwise known as Alligator Alley which stretches from the east to west coasts of Florida.  The purpose of the fence will be to lessen the chances that Panthers will get hit by automobiles. 23 of these animals have been killed already this year which is close to the record of 25 killed in any one year. The Florida Panther which once roamed for hundreds of miles throughout the state has been hemmed in by the rapid loss of its habitat by human developments of cities, farms, irrigation canals and other man made structures. The new fence will be built near the toll booth on the interstate in Naples. The fence will also have openings or cross ways under the interstate where the Panthers will be able to pass through and under the roadway without the danger of being hit by cars and trucks.

The push for the additional fence was made by the Florida Wildlife Federation to the DOT and the state finally agreed to spend the $5.4 million dollars to help protect this animal. It is estimated that there are only 180 Panthers left in Florida.

The Florida Panther is a  carnivore and its’ diet consists of white tailed deer, feral hogs, raccoons, small mammals and reptiles.  They generally need at least 200 sq. miles to roam and hunt for food. They will mate in the winter season and females will produce liters of between 1-3 kittens. The kittens are especially vulnerable to other predators because they are born blind. They have dark spots when born to provide camouflage in the wild. They will eventually gain their eyesight and stay with their mother for 1 ½ years until they venture out on their own.  The National Wildlife Federation has some additional information about Florida Panthers. Some information for this post came from an article that was published in the Ft. Myers News Press on Sunday Nov. 8th. 2015, called “Study to extend Collier Panther Fencing”.  The Photo shown above is courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florida Water Moccasin

Florida Water Moccasin

Florida Water Moccasin

Florida Water Moccasin

Florida Water Moccasin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

click on pictures for larger images

The Florida Water Moccasin or Cottonmouth – (Agkistrodon piscivorus) – can be found in the eastern United States from Virginia to Florida and Texas. It lives  in both water and terrestrial environments. It likes to inhabit freshwater ecosystems such as swamps, streams, lakes, and drainage canals but can also be seen on land usually near one of these freshwater bodies of water. They feed on insects, rodents, rabbits and other small creatures.  The Florida Water Moccasin is one of 50 species of snakes in Florida but there are only 6 that are dangerous to humans and should be avoided. The Florida Museum of Natural History lists the snakes of Florida, their characteristics and how to identify them. I am not a snake lover and usually avoid them whenever I can. People often confuse the Water Moccasin to the common Watersnake which is harmless.

The Florida Water Moccasin can bite you if provoked and the venom it injects in you must be treated in a hospital by a anti-venom medicine. That is one reason I wear thick footwear and pants if I am hiking through an area where I might encounter these snakes.

I liked learning more about the Cottonmouth at another website at the Univ. of Florida Dept. of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation. It shows pictures of Watersnakes and Water Moccasins next to each other and defining characteristics of each. The Cottonmouth has a much thicker body than the Watersnake, a short thick tail and blocky diamond shaped head. Watersnakes and other non-venomous snakes have bodies that are much slender for their length. There are very good descriptions of The Cottonmouth and other snakes at the Florida Dept. of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation.  The pictures of the Water Moccasins in this article were taken at the Calusa Nature Center in Ft. Myers. and are live snakes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Southern Leopard frog

Southern Leopard Frog

Southern Leopard Frog  –   click on picture for larger image

 

 

 

 

 

The Southern Leopard Frog –  (Lithobates sphenocephalus)  –  is found throughout Florida mainly in freshwater habitats  but it also inhabits areas within Hardwood and Pinewood forests. I photographed this one at the Calusa Nature Center in Ft. Myers where they have a good collection of amphibians and reptiles in aquariums and terrariums. I was awestruck by the spots and colors of this frog because it had brown spots all over its’ body and seemed different than the plain looking and single color of other frogs. The Southern Leopard Frog is green and brown in color and they have brown spots all over their body. They also have raised ridges on their sides, and like all true frogs they have large eardrums and webbed feet. I learned more about these frogs at the Univ. of Florida Dept. of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation website.

The Southern leopard frog is nocturnal which means they are active at night and their diet consists of insects, crayfish and other small aquatic invertebrates.  Wildlife Biologists look at frogs as an “indicator species” of the health of an ecosystem. These frogs are very vulnerable to toxins that enter their ecosystems. Toxins such as pesticides, herbicides and other pollutants can kill off these amphibians rather quickly.

The Southern Leopard frog lays its eggs in clusters that are attached to some type of vegetation. They are unique in that their call sounds like a laugh or chuckle. It would be interesting to trace back the evolutionary history of this amphibian and try to determine how it developed from other forms of life and what species branched off from this frog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

White tailed Deer on Display

 

 

 

 

click in picture for larger image

The Florida White Tailed Deer (Odocailes Virginia) have been roaming through the state of Florida for hundreds of years and their numbers have gone up and down depending on the number of animals killed for sport and the regulations created by the state of Florida to protect this species. They are an important animal for the Florida Panther because they are their main  source of food.  The deer population declined rapidly in Florida especially during the rapid population and urban growth of Florida during the 20th century. The number of deer fell to around 20,000 in the 1930’s. The Florida Game and Fresh water Fish Game Commission came to their rescue by limiting the amount of hunting for deer by sportsman. Deer populations can increase to large enough numbers that states develop deer hunting seasons to regulate their numbers. Deer are probably the number one game hunted in North America with over $50 Billion dollars spent annually by sportsman. During a recent trip to Long Island in New York State, I saw more deer roaming through farm land and peoples yards than I have ever seen before. Homeowners had to actually build cages and fences to protect their shrubs and gardens from being foraged upon by deer. Deer can also be a health hazard because they carry a tick borne illness.

The exhibit shown above at the Calusa Nature Center shows a White tailed Deer in its native Florida habitat. I found some facts about the deer interesting regarding their stomachs and feet. Deer’s are ruminants like cows which means they have a 4 chambered stomach, each with a specific function and they can eat something and digest it later when they are under cover. The 3rd and 4th toes of each foot or hooves support the entire weight of the deer.  Only males grow antlers except for 1 in 10,000 females. The Univ. of Florida Dept of Food and Agricultural Sciences has some additional information about this animal.