Category Archives: Parks & Preserves

Lovers Key Beach State Park

Lovers Key Beach State Park is a barrier island just south of Ft. Myers Beach in SW Florida. It consists of 712 acres of beach, shrub habitat and salt water waterways winding their way through the island. Beachgoers will find the two mile long beach a great place to find shells of different kinds, clean Gulf of Mexico swimming and interesting places to gaze at the long beach and driftwood washing ashore. There is also an abundance of wildlife on the island and an interesting place to view birds.

There is a nominal fee to enter Lovers Key Beach State Park but it is worth it. One of its’ nice features is a tram that will take you from the parking lot to the beach and across some pretty bridges. No heavy carrying of beach chairs and towels required at this place. There are also concessions to rent bicycles and kayaks at this place. Clean bathrooms are available here also.

Lover Key takes a heavy pounding during the winter storms each year so the beach has to be re-nourished frequently by barges pumping sand back onto the beach. What I liked most about Lovers Key is the cleaner water it has to swim in than other beaches north of there.  I think it is less affected by the large inlets that lie next to Sanibel and Ft Myers Beach which churn up the sand and mud on the bottom.

The Gulf of Mexico  temperature gets pretty warm during the summer months and its easy to drive into without getting cold. Once you drive off the island there are plenty of restaurants just south of the beach in Bonita Springs or north of the beach on Ft. Myers Beach. The website Trip Advisor gives Lovers Key State Beach Park very positive ratings. You can also visit the official state website to learn more about the park.

Click on the pictures above for larger images

 

Burmese Python Elimination Program

The state of Florida  and South Florida Water Management District  has begun a Burmese Python Elimination Program. The Burmese Python Snake is a reptile that came to Florida from S.E. Asia from the pet import business that thrives in Miami and South Florida. It became a threat to the people of S. Florida and native animal species in the Everglades after they were released by pet owners and the release of snakes after the damage that was done by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Burmese Python Snakes can grow  to over 20 feet in length and up to two hundred pounds during their lifetime. Females can lay 100 eggs at a time. The main problem with these snakes is they have no known predators and they can eat and devour animals as big as deer and alligators. They have been decimating the small bird and mammal population in South Florida which makes it harder for other mammals and carnivores such as the Florida Panther to find enough food to feed themselves.

The recent program started by The SFWMD to eliminate the Burmese Python  is to pay hunters $50 for each Python they catch up to four feet in length and an additional $25 for each ft over 4 ft. An eight foot Python would bring a hunter $150 in bounty. An additional $100 reward would be paid to a hunter who catches a female guarding a nest of eggs. The program has resulted in over 53 snakes caught and eliminated since the pilot program began this year.  To learn more about the Burmese Python, visit the National Park Service website. The pictures shown above are courtesy of the South Florida Water Management District. Click on the pictures for larger images.

 

 

 

 

 

Pine Island Sound

Pine Island Sound is one of the five aquatic preserves of Charlotte Harbor that  is nestled between the barrier islands of Sanibel and Pine Island in Lee County. It consists of over 58,000 acres of salt water preserves and islands. Some of the more popular places to visit that are located in or next to the Pine Island Sound are Cayo Costa State Park, Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve and Useppa Island. There are boat excursions to each one of these places if it is not accessible by car.

Pine Island Sound  has been a great boating and fishing location for residents and tourists. Fish that are caught in the sound include, Trout, Redfish, Mangrove Snook, Snapper, and many others. The sound is used also used by paddleboarders, kayakers, wind surfers and others who use the waters for it wide open waterways and plentiful supply of wind. Another popular activity is shelling along the beaches of the sound and barrier islands.

Pine Island Sound has been under attack for many years by pollution from runoff of water from nearby lands and polluted water coming from estuaries such as the Caloosahatchee which carries nutrient laden waters from inland lakes and streams. The sound contains environmentally sensitive mangroves which serves as nesting and feeding areas for fish and birds. The Pine Island Sound also contains sea grasses and oyster beds which are necessary to feed Manatees and marine life and also to keep the water clean. The Enviironmental and Scientific Organization which monitors the health of the ecosystem withn the Pine Island Sound includes the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) They have monitoring locations which tests the water for nitrogen, oxygen, salinity levels and other important water quality measurements.

Click on the pictures above for a lager view. I took these photographs from different locations looking at the Pine Island Sound.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yellow Crowned Night Heron at Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve

Yellow Crowned Night Heron at Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve

Yellow Crowned Night Heron at Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Yellow Crowned Night Heron pictured here at Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve on Sanibel Island, Florida is one of two Herons in the Americas, the other being the Black Crowned Night Heron. They have a pretty display of gray and purple feathers on their body and black and white stripes on their head. The Yellow Crowned Night Heron that I photographed above was wading through the mangrove forests which are located throughout the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge.

This bird looks for its prey which consists of crustaceans or crayfish and small crabs during the day or night. The Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve consists of tidal saltwater lakes and marshes which contain plenty of food for the Herons and other birds to eat. There is a road which winds its way through part of the preserve and many people make the trip to see the year round and migratory birds that visit here.

Ding Darling Preserve was named after cartoonist Jay Norwood Darliing who convinced then President Harry S. Truman to include it as part of the U.S. Wildlife Preserve system in the U.S. in 1945. Jay Norwwod Darling was fighting to protect environmentally sensitive land in SW Florida from being developed. It is now the largest environmentally protected mangrove system in the U.S. and is famous for its collection of migratory birds who fly south during the winter.

Cornell Univ. School of Ornithology has a good website called “All About Birds” where you can look and find out about more information about the Yellow Crowned Night Heron and other birds. Click on the picture for a larger viewing image.

 

 

 

 

Clean Water is Priority for Lee County in 2017

Caloosahatchee River and Edison Bridge

Caloosahatchee River and Edison Bridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clean Water is a priority in Lee County in 2017 according to Lee County Board of Commissioners. The Lee County Commissioners layed out their priorities for 2017 and they are 1. Water Quality 2.  Land Conservation and 3. Justice, and improved services for Mental Health and Substance Abuse.

Water Quality has been a contentious issue for Lee County residents for several years because of the unsightly and harmful algae blooms and brown water that has been covering our beaches, canals and estuaries for several years. Last year was an especially bad year for dirty water coming down the Caloosahatchee River which was largely the result of large releases of water from Lake Okeechobee.

The Lee County Commissioners plan to ask for $1.38 million dollars from the state and to add an additional $2 Million dollars from the county for water quality improvement. The money will be spent over 4 projects including plugging wells to help out underground aquifers, rehabilitation of the Caloosahatchee River, improving the filtration system at Lakes Park and hydrological restoration at the Wild Turkey Strand Preserve.

The private sector organization in Lee County, Fla. named Calusa Waterkeepers is part of a worldwide organization called Waterkeeper Alliance which advocates clean water for the rivers, bays, lakes and other bodies of water in and around the Caloosahatchee Watershed. The Waterkeeper Alliance is made up of 300 affiliated organizations worldwide and their stated goal is swimmable, drinkable, and fishable water everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunsets on Sanibel

Sunsets on Sanibel have been popular for vacationers and residents to enjoy because of the wide vistas and open skies in which to enjoy the views. The myriad of colors and variations of lights caused by clouds and the suns vanishing appearance draws many people to the beaches to see the sun disappear below the horizon.

Popular spots to see Sunsets on Sanibel are the beaches on the island along the Gulf of Mexico and the Sanibel Causeway Islands which runs across the Pine Island Sound and carries the 2 lane road which is the only access point to Sanibel by vehicle. It is not uncommon to see groups of people standing or seated along the beaches and causeway islands watching the sun set and disappearing below the horizon.

The actual time of sunrise and sunset varies of course depending on time of year. The City of Sanibel Web Site has a link which gives the time of sunrise and sunset in this area. It has the chart of tidal information for fisherman and the temperature of water for swimmers.

The pictures shown above were taken at different times of the year and display sunsets at different times of the evening. One of the prettiest sights to see are the rainbows across the sky near Sanibel after a rain storm. Click on one of the photos in this post to see a larger image.

http://www.mysanibel.com/Departments/Natural-Resources/Tides

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge Film Series

The Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge Film Series will begin on Jan. 4th 2017. The film series will be held in the Visitor & Education Center auditorium and will be done biweekly on Wednesday’s through April 12th. There will be documentaries on subjects such as “Mullet: A Tales of Two Fish”, ” Million Dollar Duck”, “Sonic Sea”, and several other films. There will also be lectures by well known naturalists, photographers and scientists.  The Ding Darling Society website has a full list of the activities and things to see and do at the refuge.

The Ding Darling Wildlife Society is a non-profit volunteer organization that helps with environmental education, working in the visitor center and conservation of the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge Complex. There are daily walks and tram tours given through the wildlife refuge by experienced guides. I have driven, walked and bicycled through the refuge myself and find any mode of transportation a good one. The road that winds through and around the refuge is several miles so those preferring to bicycle to and through the preserve should be physically fit. Wearing a hat, and wearing sun screen is advisable.

There is a concession business called Tarpon Bay Explorers that operates near the refuge that offers kayak and canoes for rent and also has boat rides through the wildlife refuge. Click on their link to learn more.  The pictures shown above can be enlarged by clicking on them.

 

 

 

 

Red Bellied Woodpecker

Red Bellied Woodpecker

Red Bellied Woodpecker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

            I love seeing and hearing the Red Bellied Woodpecker in nature preserves that I visit because of their bright colors and sounds which bring life to the woody forests where they live. The Red Bellied Woodpecker are a medium sized bird and has a red head with wings that are covered with black and white stripes and dots. Their belly is all white. They have sharp beaks and like a hummingbird have tongues that can extend out to grab and feed on their food.  

The Red Bellied Woodpecker that I captured with my camera in the photograph above was in the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve in  Ft. Myers, Florida where birders often go to see many kinds of birds because of the dense forest canopy. The Woodpecker makes its nest in the trunk and branches of old trees including oak and pine trees. The repeated knocking sound that you hear from this bird comes from its carving out of the wood from trees for its nest. It also makes a high pitched shrill and other distinctive sounds which make them easy to identity. You can see and hear the sounds of the Red Bellied Woodpecker at the All About Birds website which was created by the Cornell Univ. Lab of Ornithology.

            The diet of the Red Bellied Woodpecker consists of insects, spiders and nuts and seeds from plants in the forest. They also eat fruits including grapes, hackberries, oranges and mangoes. They often fly very swiftly and erratically through the tree canopy and scientists think this may be a habit which they practice to evade other birds and predators. Their nests are sometimes overtaken by Starlings who overpower them because of their size. They are commonly seen in forested areas of the Southeastern U.S

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ding Darling Days

The Ding Darling Wildlife Society, Friends of the Refuge will be sponsoring a week of activities beginning Sunday Oct 16th, 2016 to help celebrate the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuges 140th birthday. There will be a week of events including free tram tours of the refuge, films, lectures on migratory birds and fun events such as face painting, and displays of the butterfly house and a  touch tank of fish. Visit the website for a list of events during the celebration.

    The Ding Darling Wildlife Society is a volunteer organization made up of many people who support the mission of the refuge and provide  educational and recreational activities at the  Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge. The DDWS has raised over $3 million dollars to help build the visitor center. It has also helped to pay for the acquisition of more land on Sanibel Island to add to the refuges size. There are many events held in the visitor center including films and lectures by experts that speak about conservation efforts of land, migratory birds at Ding Darling and around the U.S.

     The Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge is one the most visited national refuges in the U.S. with tens of thousands of people visiting the park each year including professional photographers and birding enthusiasts. The Tarpon Bay Explorers is a private concession located within the refuge that rents kayaks, canoes and gives boat tours of the waters in Ding Darling.

    The National Wildlife Refuge System has been around since 1869 when Presidents Ulysses S. Grant created the Pribilof Islands Refuge in Alaska. Florida’s first refuge was established by President Teddy Roosevelt who created the Pelican Island Migratory Bird Reservation on the Atlantic coast of Florida.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Platts Creek Mitigation Project

Platts Creek Mitigation Project is an environmental restoration project in Port St. Lucie, Florida. This 102 acre piece of land once served as an orange grove and has been restored into its original shape as a wetland and dry prairie. I took the Conservation Science class offered through the Florida Master Naturalist Program at the Oxbow Eco Center where most of the indoor classes were held. Expert instructors led the classroom lectures and took us on field trips to nearby restoration preserves.

The highlight of the course I thought was the trip to the Platts Creek Mitigation project which was few miles away from OxBow. The orange grove was given back to the city and county of Port St Lucie for mitigation purposes when a land bridge was built across town connecting the beach to the mainland. Platts Creek has been re-established as a wetland and prairie which now helps to move water through various rivers and watersheds. It also acts as storm water management area when flooding occurs. Environmental land managers have planted native shrubs and trees that are native to Florida, giving the tract of land a more natural look and purpose and giving needed habitat to wildlife. We saw marshes and ponds that help to filter polluted water from the nearby St. Lucie River. There were many apple snail shells on the ground which were probably put there by Snail Kites which are unique birds to South Florida and The Everglades.

 I wasn’t able to finish all 4 days of the course which included a trip to the restored portion of the Kissimmee River which feeds Lake Okeechobee with most of its fresh water. The Kissimmee River Restoration Project  is one of the biggest land and environmental restoration projects occurring in the state and nation. I hope to go back and see the Kissimmee River as it is being restored to its natural state.