Red Cardinal

Red Cardinals are supposed to be good luck when you see them and this summer there has been no shortage of Cardinals appearing in many places I have visited. I normally write this blog for SW Florida but I have been staying on Long island for most of the summer. Red Robbins seem to be the dominate bird species in my area of Eastern Long island but Red Cardinals have been flying around frequently and making their calls or songs as song birds do.

The Red Cardinal that I photographed above was in the Elizabeth Morton Wildlife Refuge located in Noyac, New York. Noyac is located near Southampton, New York and the preserve which is part of the U.S. National Wildlife Refuge system consists of 187 acres that is located on a narrow peninsula that juts out into the Little Peconic Bay. It is definitely worth the visit because of the beautiful views of a forested nature preserve and the beaches and views of the Peconic and Noyac bays. I also saw several wild turkeys walking along the nature path.

The female Red Cardinal is bright red all over except for the black patch on its face. The male cardinal has a brownish color over its red body. They both have sharp and short bills and a red crest on the top of their heads. They live in nests in short bushes, wooded forests, and backyards with birdfeeders.

You can hear the call and song of the Red Cardinal by visiting the All About Birds website and clicking on the sounds tab and then choosing either of the green arrows below. They make a loud whistling sound with a distinctive series of whistles.

Click on either of the 2 photos above for larger images

 

 

Sea Oats

Sea Oats cover many of the sand dunes and beach areas in SW Florida and coastal communities on the East coast from Maine to Florida. Sea Oats grow up to 6 ft tall and perform an important role in protecting coasts from erosion.

Sand Dunes form on a beach when sediment of sand is blown upwards on a  beach where it accumulates and is suspended around obstacles likes plants, fences, and driftwood. Plants are the best solution to keeping sand dunes in place because their roots hold them in place when flooding from winter storms occurs or severe events like hurricanes happen.  

The pictures above are of Sea Oats on beaches on Sanibel Island, Florida and Southampton New York. Both of these areas see their beaches diminished and reduced because of winter storms, tidal currents and other forces. The Sea Oat plant is a favorite anti erosion plant because they are hardy plants that are tolerant of salt water, winds and their ability to send their strong root structures called rhizomes underground.

There is a good fact sheet describing Sea Oats on the United States Dept of Agriculture web site. There are also other good images of Sea Oats on the Bing Website.

 

https://www.bing.com/images/search?q=sea+oats&qpvt=sea+oats&qpvt=sea+oats&qpvt=sea+oats&FORM=IGRE

 

https://plants.usda.gov/factsheet/pdf/fs_unpa.pdf

 

 

Dry Winter, Rainy Summer

The Dry Winter, Rainy Summer that Southwest Florida has had in Florida this year has had positive and negative impacts. The first four months in South Florida brought almost no rainfall. The lawns in peoples yards turned brown, watering restrictions went into effect and the canals in Cape Coral almost went dry.

Florida normally gets about 60 inches of rain per year with most of it coming from May through October. June of this year has already seen over 11 inches of rainfall in the Sunshine State. Homeowners and state water managers are usually happy with a moderate amount of rainfall but this much in a short amount of time can lead to flooding, fast rising of lake levels in Lake Okeechobee and runoff of harmful chemicals such as nitrogen into rivers and lakes leading to the growth of blue-green algae.

Lake Okeechobee itself has risen by a foot in only a month since the rain started. The 730 sq. mile lake holds 83,000 billion gallons of water with each foot in height. When the water levels approach 15 feet like they do during summer and fall periods, The Army Corp of Engineers starts releasing billions of gallons of lake water laden with nitrogen and other harmful pollutants through the gates of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers. The waters produce blue green algae and slime which covers the estuaries, canals and beaches downstream from these rivers. The pictures shown above are The Caloosahatchee River on the left, Kissimmee River center and Lake Okeechobee on the right.

Efforts of by the South Florida Water Management District and other water management officials are building water reservoirs near the lake, drainage canals, and water retention areas to hold excess water from the lake. Organizations such as the Waterkeepers Alliance and cities on both coasts whose beaches and canals are affected are doing everything they can to stop the water releases from reaching their beaches and waterways.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Shells of SW Florida

The Shells of SW Florida are a great collection of marine life that have washed up on beaches including Sanibel, Ft. Myers Beach, Naples, Lovers key State Beach and others. Sanibel is one of the best beaches to collect and view sea shells that have washed up on the beach because of its unique shape which has a long shoreline which faces the Gulf of Mexico and whose currents  deposit new shells each day.

Some of the photos above are a partial collection of shells you will see on the beach. One artistic person made a dolphin out of shells on the beach which is not uncommon among the shell collectors on the island. Some of the popular shells of SW Florida include the Lightning Whelk, Lace Murex, Alphabet Cone, Florida Fighting Conch,  Lettered Olive and Banded Tulip. Visit the Ft. Myers Sanibel website to see the “Sanibel Six” Sea Shells.

Technically a sea shell is a hard outer covering that is made by a marine sea creature that lives inside called a Mollusk. Mollusks are soft bodied animals without backbones but contain other organs and have feet or a foot that allows them to crawl into out of the shell. Once a mollusks dies or crawls out of it shell, the shells are carried by the ocean tides to the beach and other places. It is against the law in SW Florida to collect live shells or shells containing mollusks.

The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum on Sanibel Island has a great collection of shells from the local region as well as from around the world. There is a live touch tank inside the museum. The staff at the museum also gives daily walks to nearby beaches. I found another interesting website with great shell art at Pinterest. To see larger images of the shells above, click on their images.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American Bald Eagle

The American Bald Eagle is Americas’ national bird and also national animal. It is printed on our currency, postage stamps and used on the Presidents stationary. I took these photos of an American Bald eagle while on a boat trip in the Estero Bay near Ft. Myers Beach, Florida.

The American Bald Eagle has a brown body, white neck and head and yellow bill and talons. The talons or claws that it uses for its feet are used to pluck fish out of the water for its meals. It usually tears apart its prey whether small fish or animals with one talon while holding on with the other. It reaches maturity as the age of 3-4 years and can start flying after about 14 weeks in the nest. They usually live to around 20 years.

The eagle creates its nest, the largest of any nest of bird or animal  in North America near shorelines or wetlands where it hunts for its prey. Only about 50% of young eaglets survive because of the failure of their nests, predation from other predators or inclement weather. The eagle was an endangered species and put on a protection list of birds because of over hunting by poachers trying to obtain there feathers for hats and hunted for sport. They were also decimated in numbers by the pesticide DDT which was widely used near their habitat which caused birth defects in young birds.

The American Blad Eagle is the largest bird in North America except for the California Condor. When it flies, it doesn’t use its wings like other birds but floats along thermal currents in the sky. You can learn more information about the American Bald Eagle at the websites of the  Defenders of Wildlife  and the National Geographic.

Click on one of the pictures for a larger image.

 

Mottled Ducks

Mottled Duck and Chicks

Mottled Duck and Chicks

 

 

 

 

 

 

I saw and photographed this brood of Mottled Ducks on Sanibel Island swimming in a freshwater pond swimming on  its way with a dozen or so chicks following in tow. It was amazing to see such a large number of chicks in one group. It is common for a Mottled Duck to have 5-13 eggs in one season.

The Mottled Duck is similar to the Mallard Duck and is in danger of becoming extinct as a unique species because of its mating with the Mallard and subsequent hybridization. The Mottled Duck has an all brown body with a lighter colored head and neck. Its habitat is mostly freshwater wetlands and wet prairies and marshes.  It also has a distinctive greenish, bluish streak on its back,

According to the All About Birds website, its diet consists of seeds of grasses, aquatic vegetation, invertebrates and small fishes. This duck is different than other duck species because it does not travel in large groups but is instead seen in pairs or by itself. Like other animal species, its main threat is loss of habitat. The U.S. has seen a large decrease in the size and number of wetlands areas over the past 50-100 years.

The Audubon Society is an organization devoted  protecting birds of all kinds from over hunting and loss of habitat. Click on their website to learn more of the Mottled Duck and the mission of the Audubon Society. You can also see a larger image of the ducks in the photo by clicking on the photo.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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