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/
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.
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.
The Snowy Egret is a small white heron with an impressive plumage of white feathers. Another distinctive feature are their yellow webbed feet and black bills. Its feathers were once prized by the fashion industry for decorating women’s hats. In 1866, the Snowy Egrets feathers were worth $32 an ounce which was twice the price of gold at the time.
The Snowy Egret became an endangered species because of the popularity of its feathers and organizations like the Audubon Society had to step in to protect this bird from extinction. The Snowy Egret population has increased in significant numbers and are no longer listed on the endangered list but are still on the list of bird species of “high concern.”
The Snowy Egret has migrated to northern states and can be seen in many states in the northeast, along the Gulf Coast and in the western portion of the U.S.Wading Birds like the Snowy Egret spend much of their time foraging for food such as small fish, insects and crustaceans in shallow water streams, swamps, marshes and tidal flats. They inhabit and feed on freshwater and saltwater fish.
Snowy Egrets lay about 3-5 eggs per year and both the male and female birds take turns incubating and feeding their young. It takes about 20-25 days for the eggs to hatch and they leave their nest. The oldest Snowy Egret on record was 17 years old. It was banded in Colorado and found again in Mexico.
I see Snowy Egrets on the beaches near Sanibel Island, the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge and along roadways in shallow drainage swales. Good websites to see more pictures of this bird is the All About Birds website and the Audubon Society.
Florida Aquifers – Illustration Coutesy of Florida Dept of Envir. Protection
USA Today reported on April 13, an article titled “Audit: EPA Lax in Making Water Safe” . The article states that oil and gas companies are not adhering to safe practices in disposing of waste water from oil and gas wells all across the United States. The article states that a review by the U.S. Government Accountability Office shows the Environmental Protection Agency has failed to provide proper oversight of injection wells where oil and gas companies put their waste water and chemicals. This is a huge environmental and human safety problem because most of our drinking water comes from underground aquifers which are threatened by these injection wells.
This news in the wake of the Flint water drinking water problem and other municipal water supplies that are contaminated by lead shows that our nations’ water supplies are in danger and need greater oversight by our environmental protection agencies. I get angry when there is a call to reduce our national regulations by politicians, make government smaller and cutting the funds that are used to oversee and maintain our environmental programs and agencies. The failure of the U.S. Environmental protection Agency to adequately oversee all the injection wells being drilled by oil and gas companies probably stems from lack of personnel and staff to do their jobs. The damage done to our environment and clean up efforts once the damage is done is far more costly than preventing the unsafe practices in the first place.