Many people may wonder why wetlands are important. It wasn’t long ago that land developers, farmers, settlers and even our government agencies looked for ways to dry up the land and make it suitable for economic uses and home steading. Canals were built to divert the water away from large terrains of land covered with wetlands such as swamps and other wetland bodies.
Floridians now realize their mistakes of destroying wetlands because freshwater is becoming an ever-decreasing resource in the state which provides bountiful benefits. The National Park Service has a website that describes the benefits of healthy wetlands. Some of them include an adequate supply of fresh drinking water to provide for 20 million people residing in the state and millions more who visit here annually. Fresh drinking water is probably the most important resource that this country has besides clean air.
Other benefits include providing healthy habitats for wildlife, an ecosystem which protects marine life, coastal storm protection, and recreational opportunities. There are several wetland systems in SW Florida including the Six Mile Cypress Slough which is a slow moving swamp which was restored a few decades ago to protect freshwater supplies as well as provide recreational opportunities to many people who enjoy walking along its wooden boardwalks and viewing wildlife.
Another large wetland in SW Florida is the 60,000 acre Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed. CREW as it is called provides a large underwater aquifer system that provides freshwater to thousands of Floridians who live in the area. There is a staff of people who provide educational opportunities at CREW to people who want to see the area and learn about the benefits of this ecosystem. Visit their website to learn more.
The pictures shown above L-R are of a bunch of wading birds feeding upon marine life in a stream, the Platt Creek Mitigation Preserve and kayakers enjoying some touring through the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge. Click on any picture for a larger view.
The Clinic for Rehabilitation of Wildlife is a teaching hospital which cares for wounded animals of all kinds that are found in and near S.W. Florida. The clinic is located on Sanibel Island. Animals and birds of all kinds are brought to CROW when they are found by people who travel through Florida including fishermen, tourists and Florida Fish and Wildlife Officials. The Clinic offers state of the art veterinary care, research, education and conservation medicine.
The Clinic gives tours and presentations about the hospital and has a series of lectures coming up this winter which feature experts on various topics. The Gulf Breeze Cottages website offers a partial list of some of the upcoming lectures including Conservation Medicine on March 20th and on Ospreys on March 28th in 2018.
Ospreys are called raptors or birds of prey and they are seen everywhere around Sanibel and S.W. Florida. They are often seen standing on a bridge railing near water, branch or other object peering over the water below them and waiting for a chance to swoop down and catch a fish swimming by. Ospreys are large hawks and have long wing spans, and sharp bills and feet called talons.
The American Bald Eagle is another kind of raptor or bird of prey that hunts like the Osprey. They are larger than the Osprey and can sometime steal food that is caught by smaller birds. The photographs above show pictures of an Osprey sitting on a branch and of the American Bald Eagle which I photographed while on a boat in the Estero Bay off Ft. Myers beach.
Visit the CROW Clinic website to learn more about their Veterinary care for animals. Their lecture series this year should be worth the effort to come and listen to experts on wildlife and conservation medicine.
Protecting Pollinators such as bees, birds, butterflies and bats are responsible for pollinating 75% of the crops and flowering plants in the United States according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Pollinators do this by carrying pollen from one plant to another and when they rub their bodies against the inside of flowers when searching for food or nectar they fertilize other flowers. The pollen is moved from the female part (stamen) to the male part of the other flowers (stigma).
The pictures shown above are of a bumble bee and Monarch Butterfly that I photographed on Long Island, New York. They obviously are crawling around flowers looking for nectar and pollinating other flowers in the process. There must have been over 100 Monarch Butterflies feeding on the flowers of this one bush.
The Agriculture Industry attributes the value to pollinators and crop production to over $19 billion annually. Many crops in the U.S. could not produce their seeds or fruits without the help of these bees, butterflies, birds and other flying organisms. Some farms set up bee hives near their crops to ensure their plants get pollinated.
Dangers to the health of pollinators and causes for their decline in numbers which has been happening for years are their loss of habitat, diseases spreading among these organisms, and pesticide use by man. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has some useful information about protecting pollinators on their website which tells citizens how to protect pollinators and prevent the decline of their populations.
The Florida Intracoastal Waterway which runs from Boston to Florida and along the Atlantic East Coast and Gulf Coast is a series of canals, rivers, bays and inlets which runs parallel to the shoreline. I recently visited St Augustine, Fla. and saw part of the coastal waterway that runs through town and along the Atlantic Ocean coastline. The river closest to the ocean is the Salt River seen from the top of the lighthouse which connects with the Intracoastal Waterway which lies further inland.
Some parts of the waterway is naturally made with islands and rivers separated by the mainland and some parts were made by people such as engineers, town officials and land developers. The concept of building a inland/coastal waterway in Florida began in 1885 when the Florida Canal Co. began to dredge a canal between Mosquito Lagoon and Indian River which is just north of Merritt Island. USA Today published an article about the Intracoastal Waterway which described its purposes, location and early designers.
Some parts of the waterway is used for commercial purposes to transport ocean freight, marine cargo and some parts of it are used exclusively for recreational purposes. Fort Lauderdale’s Intracoastal Waterway which lies between a barrier island and the mainland is called Millionaires Row because of the expensive homes and boats that line the waterway. There are many people who take their boats up through the Intracoastal Waterway for several states. In my area of SW Florida the Caloosahatchee River runs from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Okeechobee inland and then through the St. Lucie River until its connects with the waterway on the east coast. Wikipedia also has a lot of interesting facts about the Intracoastal Waterway.
The St. Augustine Lighthouse shown in the pictures above replaced the old Spanish Watchtower that was constructed in 1824 which was also the first official lighthouse in Florida. The St. Augustine Lighthouse was finished in 1874, took over 1 million bricks to build and stands 14 stories tall.
I didn’t have much time to visit St. Augustine and there is a lot to see and enjoy especially if you are a history buff so I chose the historic lighthouse for my short visit and I was not disappointed. The winding staircase inside the lighthouse with 219 steps is wide enough for two people to walk abreast or past one another. When I made it to the top, there was a circular walkway around the top where you can see for miles and enjoy the panoramic vistas of the city of St. Augustine, Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal waterway.
I found out from reading Wikipedia that St. Augustine was founded by Spanish explorer Admiral Pedro Menendez de Avites who named the city St. Augustine because some of his sailors sighted land eleven days earlier on August 28th which is the Feast Day of St. Augustine. St. Augustine who lived around 354-450 was a very important person in the development and foundation of the early Christian Church and religion.
The grounds around the St. Augustine Lighthouse have the original Innkeepers house, now a museum, artifacts from shipwrecks off the beach, an active boat building area where volunteers are building small boats of earlier times like the “Skipjack” and “Yawl” which were used by local fishermen and British Warships. St. Augustine was once the center of the shrimp fishing industry in the U.S. The website VisitSt.Augustine has some good information about what to see and do in this town. Floridahistoriccoast is another good travelers website.
The pictures shown above are of the visitor center and paths through the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation on Sanibel Island, Fla. SCCF is one of the many attractions on Sanibel because they have several preserves, trails, a garden center and exhibits that show and explain how coastal and inland habitats live and thrive under unique conditions. The main mission of the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation is to conserve the coastal resources and aquatic habitats on Sanibel and Captiva and surrounding watershed.
The SCCF has several scientists on staff who monitor the water quality around Sanibel and report on the amount of pollution, dissolved oxygen, salinity and other factors of the watershed. The waters around Sanibel were once filled with healthy oyster beds but they have been diminished and threatened by the amount of pollution coming from nearby places.
The Visitor Center at the SCCF is a great place to see the native animals and plants that live on Sanibel-Captiva including the turtles who nest on the islands. There are live turtles to view and exhibits of habitats. If you have the time and like hiking, there is a trail that winds through the several hundred acre preserve where you can view fresh water habitats, native birds and trees on Sanibel. The trail is well marked and you can take a short stroll or walk the whole length of the preserve which can take an hour or two. The trail contains an observation tower as well.
One of the best well known and cared for parts of SCCF is the Native Garden Center which was recently moved to a better and larger location on Periwinkle Way which contains several acres of plants and shrubs to view or purchase. It is managed and cared for by employees of SCCF and many volunteers.
I came across a large number of Monarch Butterflies while bicycling along a road in Southampton, Long Island this summer. The amazing thing that caught my eye was the number of Monarchs that were flying around and feeding on the flowery shrub along the road. There must have been over a 100 Monarch Butterflies feeding on the nectar of the flowers. The Monarch has black and orange wings with whites dots on the tips of its wings and on its head. There are also black veins running lengthwise down its wings. The pictures shown above are the butterflies I photographed this summer. Click on any one of them for a larger image.
Monarch Butterflies are unique in the Butterfly kingdom because they only feed on the milkweed plant during its caterpillar or larval stage. The chemicals from the milkweed plant make the Monarch toxic to any predator that might want to feed upon it. Monarchs are also unique because of their migratory patterns. They fly over 1,200 to 2,800 miles each year from northern states and California to Southern California and Mexico. They also make the return trip when warmer weather returns. They can fly over 20 miles in a single day. I saw this batch of Monarch Butterflies in August which is the start of their trek south from northern states.
This butterfly is an endangered species because the change in climate which is happening due to global warming disrupts their habitats. The loss of habitat due to human causes such as over development in rural areas also hurts the lifestyle of the Monarch. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service shows the migratory patterns of the Monarch on maps on its website along with other interesting information of this unique butterfly.
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.
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
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/