Conservation 20/20 Program Adds More Land

 

The Conservation 20/20 Program has added more land to its already existing 25,000  acres that it has under its stewardship. The program has been in existence since 1996 when voters passed a referendum to tax themselves so environmentally sensitive land could be set aside for air and water purification, public recreation and wildlife habitat.

The approximately 25,000 acres now under county stewardship  represents about 3% of Lee County’s 775,000 total acreage. Some Environmentalists and Urban Planners think that a county’s total land area should consist of between 10% to 20% of preserves and green spaces.

The 3 tracts of land that were purchased recently include 12.2 acres in N. Ft. Myers, 91.7 acres in Olga/Alva which has frontage along the Caloosahatchee River and 7.9 acres near the Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve on Sanibel Island.

It is especially important now that available land be added to the conservation program because the county has seen rapid growth of population and land development in recent years. Only 474 acres have been added to the land stewardship program since 2015. Additional tracts of land are currently being looked at for purchase.

The pictures shown above are of the Hickey Mitigation Park which are part of the Conservation 20/20 purchases. Hickeys Creek contains about 862 acres of environmentally sensitive land located just south and along the Caloosahatchee River between Olga and Alva in Lee County. It has excellent walking trails and kayak/canoe opportunities for visitors. Visitors can view pine flatwoods, freshwater marshes,  cypress swamps, hardwood hammocks, and oak-palm forests. Visit

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Gallinule and Mottled Duck

Two duck like birds that I often see in S.W. Florida are the Common Gallinule and Mottled Duck.

The Common Gallinule shown in the picture above also known as the Common Moorhen has a dark body, and red bill and often swims in ponds, lakes, streams and other wetland bodies, feeding upon seeds of grasses and sometimes snails. It is able to walk on top of aquatic vegetation or mud flats with its long toes.  It is also an excellent swimmerand will dip its head in the water looking for food. The Common Gallinule makes a loud screeching call and sound and can be reproduced on the All About Birds website. It is listed on the threatened list of birds in America because of predation by other animals and loss of habitat.

The Mottled Duck is distinguished by its multi-colored feathers on its body, green bluish colors on its tail, lighter colored neck and head and yellow bill. Its picture is also shown above. Like the Common Gallinule, it also makes its habitat in fresh water marshes, ponds, lakes and estuaries. It feeds upon the seeds of grasses, aquatic vegetation, small fish and marine invertebrates.  The Mottled Duck is in danger of becoming extinct because of its breeding with the similar Mallard Duck which produces a hybrid version of the Mottled Duck. It is also hunted throughout the United States for sport. You can learn more about the Mottled Duck and Common Gallinule  on the All About Birds or Florida Audubon websites.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gopher Tortoise

I came across this Gopher Tortoise while riding my bicycle on Sanibel Island along the Sanibel-Captiva Rd.  The Gopher Tortoise was slowly crawling along a grassy area and eating grass. This reptile is a land dwelling animal and lives in a burrow that it digs for itself with its’ strong claws.

The burrow that it digs averages 6.5 feet deep and 15 feet long. The burrow provides refuge or habitat for up to 350 other species. The Gopher Tortoise is called a keystone species for this reason because of its importance for helping to insure the survival of other species in its ecosystem.  The animals that typically live in the Gopher’s burrow include burrowing owls, rattlesnakes, crickets and many others.

The habitats that this reptile lives in include dry uplands, sandhills, pine flatwoods, scrub, dry prairies, xeric hammocks, pine mixed hardwoods and coastal dunes. They depend on natural fires to burn away the brush, dead leaves and shrubs so that new plants and grasses can grow. The Gopher Tortoise has been around for a long time and its estimated to date back  60 milliion years. The Gopher Tortoises’ life time averages 40-60- years.

The Gopher Tortoise itself is as a threatened species in Florida and is protected by the laws of the state against poaching or hunting.  No land clearing or development can take place in an area where a tortoise lives unless it is relocated to a similar environment and permits are issued for its relocation. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has additional information about this animal. http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/gopher-tortoise/

Click on the pictures above for larger images.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Water Storage Proposals are Controversial

State Legislators and Environmentalists recent  water quality proposals are controversial with the various constituencies who have been  affected by the large nutrient laden water releases from lake Okeechobee.  The billions of gallons of  water releases have plagued the beaches and estuaries on the east and west coasts of Florida.

The Ft. Myers News Press published an article “State May Pump Extra Storm Water Underground” , on Feb. 3rd  2017,  which explained how the South Florida Water Management District , (SFWMD)  may pump excess water underground  in deep injection wells  or use (ASR’s),  Aquifer Storage and Recovery Reservoirs to store large quantities of water that would have been released into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers. These measures would help the dirty water problems that have damaged the cities of Ft. Myers, Cape Coral and Sanibel on the west coast of Florida and Stuart on the east coast. Last year was a particularly bad year for the water releases from Lake Okeechochobee because of the large amount of rainfall we received in January which caused the lake levels to rise and the decision by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to open the flood gates to release large quantities of water.

Florida State Legislator and Senate President Joe Negron has stated that he wants to buy up to 60,000 acres of land south of the lake to build a reservoir to hold large quantities of water. Building a reservoir south of the lake has also been a top priority of people who are affected by the water releases from Okeechobee, The problem is that no agricultural land owners want to sell their land for this purpose and also say large job losses would occur if they sold their farmland. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan or (CERP) states that land purchases south of the lake is part of the strategy to restore the Everglades.

The pictures above show the Caloosahatchee River, Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River which are all part of the watershed which affects the water quality problems in SW Florida.

 

 

 

 

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 Shouldered Hawk

The Red Shouldered Hawk is a  medium sized hawk that can be found along the eastern portion of the U.S., California and northern Mexico.They are raptors and hunt by swooping down from elevated positions in trees and the sky and eat fish, mice, snakes, crustaceans, snakes , frogs and other small animals. They grab their prey with their sharp and strong talons (clawed feet) and tear apart their prey with their sharp bills.

The All About Birds website created by the Cornell Univ. lab of Ornithology has very useful information about how to identify this bird , its life history and sounds that it makes. Click on  the Sound tab in the website and listen to its calls and sounds.

The Red Shouldered Hawk likes to inhabit areas in forests with tall trees and near water where a plentiful supply of fish and land animals can be found. It is very distinguishable from other birds by its white and brown checkered wings, reddish streaks on its wings and whitish belly.

Female Red Shouldered Hawks can lay up to 3-4 eggs per year. The female sits on the eggs during incubation period, usually 33 days. After the young hawks hatch they are cared for and watch by their mother for another 1-3 weeks in the nest. The male hawk will bring food to the mother and young during this time. The hatchlings will remain in the nest for about 5-7 weeks and be fed by their parents for 8-10 weeks.

Another good website to learn about Red Shouldered Hawks is the Audubon.org website. Click on the pictures above for a larger view.

 

 

http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/red-shouldered-hawk

 

 

 

 

SW Florida Beaches

SW Florida Beaches are what brings many of the visitors to Naples, Bonita Springs, Ft. Myers Beach and Sanibel Island. The blue-green tranquil waters of the Gulf of Mexico and  white sandy beaches attracts thousands of winter weary northerners every year.

SW Florida Beaches often rank in the top ten in the nation by travel magazines, Some of them include Lovers Key State Beach, Wiggins State Park, Naples Beach, Barefoot Beach, Clam Pass Park, Bowmans Beach, Sanibel Beach and Captiva Beach.

One of the favorite pastimes of beachgoers is shell collecting besides walking along the pristine white sandy shorelines and looking at the thousands of shells that wash up on the beach every day. Some of the shells include the Horse Conch, Lightning Whelk, Junonia, Lettered Olive, Angel Wing and Lions Paw to name a few. If you visit Sanibel Island, there is a famous shell museum called Bailey-Mathews National Shell Museum, www.baileymatthews.org  The museum has a collection of shells from all over the world, a live touch tank and guided walking tours of nearby beaches.

Another good website to visit for information on beaches of Lee County is “The Beaches of Ft. Myers and Sanibel”. Click on one of the photos above for a larger image.