Boats in Estero Bay
Dolphins in Estero Bay
Dolphin in Estero Bay
Dolphin in Estero Bay
I had the opportunity to see a large number of dolphins while on a pontoon boat in Estero Bay. Our group was actually on a boat excursion for Birders that were attending a seminar at FGCU. We did see a lot of birds including an American Bald eagle but the most memorable sights I had on that trip was seeing all of the lively and friendly dolphins that swam near and around our boat. We motored out of the Fish Tale Marina on Ft. Myers Beach which has nature boat excursions which I would recommend to anyone wanting to see wildlife and the beautiful Estero Bay.
After about an hour on the water we started to see a group of dolphins surfacing and then diving under the water, There were a few groups of the dolphins swimming together and I rushed to get my camera before I lost sight of them. Luckily they reappeared right next to our boat and seemed to like the attention they were getting from us.
The Defenders of Wildlife website gives some interesting and extensive information about the lifestyle and habits of dolphins. Dolphins are mammals and are part of the toothed whale family that includes Orca’s and Pilot Whales. Dolphins are mostly gray with a few dark spots and they are carnivores and eat fish, squid and crustacean’s. They hunt and navigate through the waters by using Echolocation which is a method of sending out sound waves through the water and waiting for them to bounce off objects and coming back to them.
Dolphins are found mostly in tropical and temperate waters throughout the world. Their mating season is year round and females give birth to calves after a gestation period of 9-17 months. The young are fed by their mothers for up to 2 years and then accompany their mothers for another 3 to 8 years before they head off on their own.
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.
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.
I took this photo of a marsh rabbit in Lakes Park while it was chewing on some grass or other type of vegetation. I learned that marsh rabbits are lagomorphs which include the various classes of rabbits and hares. Marsh rabbits are darker in color, have shorter ears and darker tails than their close relatives cottontail rabbits. They live in wetland areas including swamps, marshes, near lakes and other waterways. They reproduce a lot and have several litters of young rabbits each year. They unfortunately are easy prey to predators in wetland areas such as birds of prey and raptors. Lakes Park on Gladiolus Ave in Ft. Myers is a great place to see well cared for gardens and a large variety of plants, trees and birds. They also have a nice walking trail. There is a blog covering the parks plants and wildlife which has a lot of great pictures and is well worth visiting. You can also learn about Lakes Park on Lee County’s website which gives more information about the park and it’s facilities.
Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)
I saw this squirrel climbing around the trunk of a tree in the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve while I was on the boardwalk. It was scrapping off the bark in some places. I assume it was looking for insects to eat. The Grey Squirrel is a mammal but is also a rodent. I learned that there are about 4,000 different kinds of mammals worldwide and of that number 38% of them or about 1,500 are classified as rodents. The diet of Grey Squirrels consists of insects, nuts, acorns, fruits and eggs. They make their nest in the cavities of trees and in nests they construct in the upper branches of trees. Squirrels can become infected by a parasite called the bot fly which grows under the skin of the squirrel. Do not feed squirrels or try to touch them.
A very good source of information about the natural resources and outdoor science is the Univ. of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences which is a federal, state and county partnership dedicated to developing knowledge in agriculture, human and natural resources and the life sciences. It offers classes in a variety of subjects in many counties in Florida and I have taken one in “Wetlands” which focuses on the land in Florida which is composed of swamps, marshes and estuaries. I learned about the topographical features of wetlands, how they contribute to the natural systems of Florida and the wildlife that is dependent upon them. Other classes offered by the Florida Master Naturalist program focuses on coastlines and uplands.
click on picture and wait for image to adjust for larger view of squirrel
Florida Black Bears – (Ursus americanus floridans) are a subspecies of the American black bear and roams throughout Florida and can sometimes find it’s way into peoples backyards and neighborhoods. They were at one time an endangered species but have come back in number and have increased from about 700 to over 3,000. Watch a video of Florida Black Bears.
Florida Black Bears need a large area to roam, about 60 square miles and can be seen anywhere in the state. They are omnivores but eat mostly plants. They sometimes forage for food where it can be found including garbage areas. They eat up to 20,000 calories per day in the fall season to get ready for winter and may increase their size by 50% during this period.
The urban sprawl of Florida’s population which has increased in size from 5 million people to over 18 million today has put an increased pressure on the bear population to hunt in secluded areas. Visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Commission to learn more about Florida’s bear population.
Picture and video courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
The Ft. Myers News Press published an article titled “On the Prowl for Panthers” on April 24th 2014 which was written by Chad Gillis in the Go Coastal section of the newspaper. Panthers are a rarity to see in Florida because there are so few of them and they are predators who camouflage and hide themselves very well in their environment. According to the article there are only about 150 breeding adults left in Florida which is actually a rebound from the very few who were left in the 1990’s. Florida officials think that large preserves like the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve with 85,000 acres which is a wetland wilderness will help to preserve the Panthers need for a large roaming area to hunt for its food and establish its territory. Other protected preserves will help the Panther as well such as the Big Cypress National Preserve which has 730,000 acres of swamps, prairies and marsh land. Big Cypress sits next to the Everglades National Park which contains almost 1.5 million acres. There is also the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge http://www.fws.gov/floridapanther/panther_faq.html with 21,000 acres and serves as a crossroads between Big Cypress National Preserve and The Everglades.
The best time to see Panthers is at dawn and sunset since Panthers are nocturnal. Panthers will go to great extents to protect its habitat from intruders even by killing other Panthers. Occasionally Panthers wander into areas they don’t belong such as trying to cross the I-75 highway, A Panther also showed up at the Clam Pass Beach in Naples. The Fish and Wildlife Service attaches electronic collars to some Panthers to study their movements and to protect them. They will rescue, rehabilitate and release them after an accident. See a video of the Florida Panther
Visit one of the Panther Preserves and Wetland areas below;
Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve http://www.stateparks.com/fakahatchee_strand_preserve.html
Big Cypress National Refuge http://www.nps.gov/bicy/index.htm
Okloahatchee Slough State Forest http://www.freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Florida-Forest-Service/Our-Forests/State-Forests/Okaloacoochee-Slough-State-Forest
Collier County Parks http://www.colliergov.net/index.aspx?page=439
photo of Panther courtesy of www.fws.org
The Bobcat – (Gelis rufus) has a red brown coat and dark spots. It has a short tail and tufted ears. It is about twice the size of a house cat but is a fierce hunter and will stalk and pounce on its prey. The Bobcat is not seen too often because it hunts at night for food and rests during the day in dense thickets, trees and shrubs. They are located all over North America and can live in a variety of habitats including forests, swamps, deserts and mountains. It’s cousin is the Lynx. The Bobcat is similar to the Florida panther because of its needs to hunt in a large area and roam for food. Bobcats hunt for squirrels, rabbits, rats, oppossums and small racoons. They will occasionally go after feral cats and land birds. They do not approach humans and usually run away if they see people. The femal bobcat can breed after one year and their litter after a gestation period of 50-60 days is usually 2-3 kittens. More information about Bobcats can be found at Defenders.org.
photo by Fish & Wildlife Conservation Service http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/profiles/mammals/land/bobcat/
The Florida Panther – (Puma concolor coryi) is Florida’s state animal and was placed on the endangered species list in 1967 because of hunting and continued loss of habitat. It is one of Florida’s most popular animals besides the American Alligator and one that is most protected. The Florida Panther can weigh up to 150 lbs., breed about every 18 months and have litters of 2-3 kits. They feed on white tailed deer, rabbits, raccoons, wild hogs, armadillo and birds. They are closely related to Mountain Lions, Puma’s and Cougars. Panthers are actually one of 32 subspecies of the Puma concolor. Cougars from Texas have been introduced to Florida to add to the Panther population since they interbreed and to add to genetic variability. Panthers require a large territory to hunt and roam (200 sq. miles) and use to occupy the entire southeastern U.S. Their territory has been reduced to the interior and lower parts of Florida, mostly the Florida Everglades and Big Cypress Basin. Every year the population of Panthers declines because of automobile accidents, loss of hunting grounds or other factors. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fixes radio collars to some Panthers to track their movements and to try and determine their movements and migration habits. This picture is from the Ft. Myers News Press. The Defenders of Wildlife website has some good information about the Florida Panther besides the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.