Monthly Archives: July 2016

Birds of Prey

Birds of Prey in Florida include several different species  of raptors as they are called who feed upon various kinds of wildlife. They are usually large birds with impressive wingspans and can fly and swoop down quickly to grab their prey. They are often seen perched on branches in trees or other sturdy objects looking for their next meal. They feed upon fish, small mammals, reptiles and invertebrates such as crabs.

Other birds of prey include owls, falcons, red shouldered hawks and kites. The ones I have seen live near large bodies of water where fish are plentiful and where they can use their keen eyes, and strong and sharp talons or sharp feet to grab their prey and bring their catch back to its nest or feeding ground. Their sharp bills are well adapted for tearing apart the flesh of their catch.

Birds of Prey such as the American Bald Eagle were almost hunted to extinction because of their feathers but bans on hunting and the new laws against the  pesticide spray DDT helped them to rebound in numbers. There is a center in Maitland Florida run by Audubon Florida which helps people to learn more about Birds of Prey and their lifestyles. I also like the Cornell Univ. School of Ornithology All About Birds website which has an excellent website about birds.

The American Bald Eagle and Ospey shown in the pictures above were photographed in Estero Bay this past summer while I was with a  group of naturalists taking a boat ride out of the Fish Tale Marina located on Ft Myers Beach. Click on the pictures for a larger view of the birds.

 

 

 

 

 

American Alligator

Young Alligator

American  Alligator

 

 

 

 

 

I photographed this small alligator at the Otter Pond at the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve in Ft. Myers. The American Alligator is the largest reptile in North America according to the defenders.org website. The alligator can be confused with the crocodile which is a much more aggressive and dangerous animal. They both can be found in Florida but the more friendly alligator is a much more common sight.

Alligators are generally slow moving creatures and hunt by laying in wait for its prey to move by them and then snapping its large jaws on its prey which consists of small mammals, other reptiles, birds and animals inhabiting swamps, marshes and wetlands areas where they live. Adult males are usually seen by themselves in the wild. They build their nests in ponds, swamps and other wetlands areas by moving their large tails back and forth creating a depression in the underwater mud. The holes they create sometimes becomes homes to other types of wildlife living in swamps and wetlands. They are considered a keystone species for this reason and are considered essential for the health of a wetland ecosystem.

The lifespan of these large reptiles can be 35-50 years in the wild and longer when kept in captivity. There are many wildlife refuges where you can see alligators in their natural habitat in South Florida. They also live in Southeastern states such as Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, Texas and the Carolinas. They were once hunted for their hides to use as clothing and accessories but that is no longer legal.  It is also illegal to feed alligators and by doing so they lose their fear of humans making them more dangerous. Adult alligators can grow as big as 18 feet long and weigh over 500 lbs.

 

 

 

 

 

Algae Closes Beach in South Florida

“Reeking Algae Closes South Florida Beaches” was the title to an article written in the New York Times newspaper on Sat. July 2, 2016, regarding the green and blue algae that is covering the waters surface near houses in Stuart, Florida. The algae which also has a very bad smell to nearby homeowners is created by discharges of water from lake Okeechobee which is located 35 miles inland near Clewiston. Scientists and citizens blame the environmental hazard on the lack of action by state and federal leaders to find a way to send Lake Okeechobee’s rising water levels south towards Everglades National Park where it historically went.

Persons interviewed for this article say Big Agriculture in Florida is largely to blame for the algae build up in the lake because of the fertilizers and chemicals spayed on their crops which eventually find their way in the states lakes and rivers.  The watershed surrounding the lake and the Kissimmee River which brings much of the nutrient laden water from farms brings excess nitrogen, phosphorous and other chemicals which cause the algae growth. Billions of gallons of water from the lake are discharged every year to the east via the St. Lucie River and west through the Caloosahatchee River.  Beaches, rivers and canals on both coasts have been adversely affected by these water releases especially this year since Florida received abnormally high levels of rain in the winter months. City leaders, homeowners, businesses and environmentalists have been crying foul for much of the year as our waterways have become unusable due to the algae growth and slime. They also blame state and federal leaders for not doing enough to prevent this environmental disaster by refusing to purchase land south of the lake from U.S. Sugar when they had the chance so it could be used as a reservoir for some of these water discharges.

The National Park Service has a website which explains the cleanup efforts of the Everglades and nearby areas which is costing over $10 Billion dollars. Critics say the restoration of areas around lake Okeechobee is going too slow and is not effective in stopping the pollution of the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers and the towns and beaches they impact. The South Florida Water Management District which is also responsible for water resources and for flood protection also has some good information about the current wetland restoration strategies they are implementing.

 

 

Apple Snail

There are 4 species of Apple Snails found in Florida of which the only native species is the Florida Apple Snail. The other three species are the Titan Apple Snail, Spike Topped Apple Snail and Island Apple Snail.  The species that I photographed and posted above is I believe the Spiked Topped Apple Snail. I saw many of these snails during my walk through the Platts Creek Mitigation Project in Port St. Lucie, Florida. The 100 acre mitigation project has many fresh water marshes and ponds throughout where these snails live and reproduce and are used as the main food source for Snail Kites. Snail Kites are also an interesting species of bird in Florida because they are only found near the Everglades in South Florida and feed exclusively on Apple Snails. They are raptors with sharp bills which are suited to carve out the snails from their shells.

Most of the Apple Snails were brought to the United States for the pet trade. They are popular  with aquarium owners because they add an interesting life form to the fish tanks and they also help clean the glass by eating away the dead and dying vegetation in the water. The Island Apple Snail and native Florida Apple Snail perform important economic and environmental functions for the aquatic ecosystems and wetlands in Florida. They eat and feed on the invasive weeds and vegetation which cover the surfaces of rivers and swamps  which creates oxygen depletion  and dead zones in wetlands. To learn more about Apple Snails I found the Univ. of Florida Featured Creatures website to be helpful. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website provides excellent pictures and information about the Snail Kite.