Category Archives: wildlife

Remembering the Scrub Jays of Our Childhood Backyard

A Florida Scrub Jay: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Florida_Scrub-Jay/id

When I was a kid, my brother, sister and I lived on Edgewood Drive in Stuart. My parents were great about teaching us to appreciate, respect and love wildlife. Today, many of our actions would be frowned upon. We fed the animals, and at one time or another, had wild pets. It was wonderful!

This weekend unable to garden trapped inside by relentless rain, I started thinking to myself “what did the ecosystem of my childhood backyard really look like?” That was the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Could I find anything that looked like it today? Does my yard, today, resemble it at all? 

So I took a drive to the old neighborhood.

St Lucie Estates looks a lot the same but our family house has been knocked down and replaced by one much larger. Also every lot is developed. When I was growing up, our house was surrounded by a number of empty lots and as kids we roamed freely.  These undeveloped lots allowed my siblings and I to have native nature right in our “backyard.” 

I racked my brain to think of where I might find a comparable lot to the ones in St Lucie Estates. I wanted to see what plants were on it. What trees. The color of the sand.

I drove east on East Ocean Boulevard.

Near Kingswood Condominium I found one lot that looked a lot like the ones I ran around in as a kid. Although drained and full of invasives, the space held a few recognizables: a sand pine, a stand of sand oaks, yucca, palmettos, prickly pear cactus, and other flowering plants and grasses whose names I never learned.  

Seeing the Kingwood lot brought back a lot of memories and I thought about how this once familiar habitat is basically gone. This rare Florida Scrub has  been covered with shopping malls and subdivisions most sporting heavily fertilized floratam along with a variety of ornamentals.

I wondered why developers just cleared the natives. I am realizing that my childhood home must have been a Florida Scrub environment. For goodness sake, one of our favorite wild friends was the very smart Scrub Jay! We never thought  that our house may have destroyed their favorite bushes. We just smiled and lifted our arms strong and high -palms perfectly flat balancing one nut. Always, they came. So smart! So consistent!

Of course Scrub Jays are now a threatened species whose habitat is considered to be one of the most endangered in the world…

~The location of my childhood backyard.

After getting the photos from Kingwood, I decided to drive north to Jensen to visit Hawk’s Bluff off of Savannah Road. Here I could walk and remember the some of the sights of my childhood. This is one of the few places the Florida Scrub Ecosystem has been saved.

~The wind whistled through the trees. I felt timeless. The rain had brightened the usually muted colors. I sat on the bench. Lake Henderson’s grey and purple reflection resembled a Monet. It was beautiful!

I was alone in my childhood backyard…

I raised my arms above my head, hands upright bent -perfectly flat.

Would a Scrub Jay come to visit?

I held my arms up until I could no longer -putting them down- I got up to walk my adult path.

My little sister, Jenny, proudly feeds a neighborhood Scrub Jay, St Lucie Estates, Edgewood Drive, Stuart, ca.1972. (Family Album)
Cousin Drew Hudson and I feed the Scrub Jays 1972, St Lucie Estates, Stuart, FL (Family Album)

Visit #1 one of the last undeveloped lots near Kingswood Condominium, East Ocean Drive, Stuart, Florida, still reveals native scrub vegetation:

Somehow this cactus garden has grown and survived! Prickly pear is a common scrub plant and a favorite of gopher turtles.
Prickly pear.. Ouch!
Scrub oak and palmetto in a remaining lot off East Ocean Blvd.
A rare sand pine of the Florida Scrub was once prolific requiring fire for pine cones to open and take seed.
Flower of the scrub
Prickly pear in sandy soil with other ground cover

Florida Scrub:

http://www.sfrc.ufl.edu/Extension/florida_forestry_information/forest_resources/scrub.html

https://www.worldwildlife.org/ecoregions/na0513

Scrub Jays:

https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/florida-scrub-jay

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_scrub_jay

 

Visit #2 Hawk’s Bluff in Savannas Preserve Park is rare gem of the Florida Scrub landscape and it’s wildlife:

New signs including Scrub Jay and Florida Scrub Habitat signs, Florida Park Service, photo album below from Hawk’s Bluff, 11-3-19

 

 

 

Backyard Pythons? SLR/IRL

Skilled hunters, Burmese Pythons are one of the five largest species of snakes in the world and native to South and Southeast Asia. They are a threatened species in their native lands, but today there are breeding populations in a new environment, the Florida Everglades.  Image public domain.

I have this dream that I am enjoying walking around in my garden,  I look down, and there is a seventeen-foot python curled up under my house. Sounds ridiculous, but one day this may not be that far fetched.

This past week, the Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) https://myfwc.com held their meeting at the Hutchinson Island Marriott, just over the Ernest Lyons Bridge from Sewall’s Point. One of the things they discussed was the overpopulation of Burmese Pythons that are ravaging native wildlife in Everglades National Park and other parts of South Florida.

I have been vaguely aware of this for years. My previous Sewall’s Point neighbor was a python enthusiast. Around 2012, he wrote TCPalm a letter to the editor in the python’s defense arguing that the Burmese Python did not bring itself to South Florida, people did! According to FWC pet pythons have been released since the 1960s but it was after Hurricane Andrew’s 1992 destruction that a breeding facility was destroyed, pythons escaped, the population exploded, and a breeding community arose.

I do believe “in all God’s Creatures,” but this is a nightmare-dynamic for Florida’s native wildlife. Public speakers noted Everglades National Park is “devoid of small mammals.” This is not an exaggeration, perhaps down 98%, and “small mammals” are not just what’s for dinner. Meals also include birds, eggs, bobcats, deer, alligators and who knows what else. Mr. Kipp Frohlich of FWC estimates a range from tens-of-thousands to over three-hundred-thousand snakes could be living in the Everglades. We really don’t know. One was even found in Florida Bay all curled up on a buoy. Oh yes, they can swim.

If I were a python and my friends and I  had eaten everything down south, what would I do? I’d slither north…

Opossums, armadillos, and families of raccoons visit my yard a few times a week. ~For now…

python-snake, public image

 

Please see links to learn about what is being done to controll and educate ourselves on the python:

FWC Presentation

Division: Habitat and Species Conservation
Authors: Sarah Funck, Kristen Sommers, and Melissa Miller, Ph.D. Report date: July 2019

https://myfwc.com/media/21029/10b-presentation-python.pdf

 

Smithsonian article shared by SFWMD:  Snake Landia_Smithsonian Article_07-2019

*Florida still allows breeders of Burmese Pythons in Florida, but they can only sell the animals outside of the state. All things considered, at the meeting, FWC Commissioner Gary Lester questioning the wisdom in this. I agree. Considering this is how pythons got out of control in the first place.

The Florida Channel videos of FWC meetings in Hutchinson Island; pythons: day 2:

https://thefloridachannel.org/videos/7-17-19-florida-fish-wildlife-conservation-commission-part-2/

https://thefloridachannel.org/videos/7-18-19-florida-fish-wildlife-conservation-commission/

Silver Manatees Inspire, SLR/IRL

Silver Springs, photo Dr Robert Knight

With the mid-term election behind us, it’s time to get to work, and along the Indian River Lagoon and St Lucie River that means it’s time to get reconnected to Nature during the cool season before the Algae Monster arrives again.

Last week, as the keynote speaker for the Florida Springs Restoration Summit in Ocala, I had an amazing back to nature experience.  On a Silver River Guided Paddle Adventure with Dr Robert  Knight leading the way, five manatees swam underneath my kayak!

Five manatees!

They looked so beautiful, so graceful, so confident, and so powerful!

I could see them perfectly through the clear water of Silver Springs. During the summit, I learned that only recently the spring’s water magnitude had increased to historic levels ~after aquifer recharge of a very rainy 2017, thanks to Hurricane Irma.

Florida springs suffer from lack of water because the Water Management Districts, at the direction of their leaders, over-permit water extraction for more agriculture and development. Also, nutrient pollution haunts the spring-shed due to nitrate leaching of old septic tanks. When flow is low and nitrate high, benthic algae grows on the once white sand bottom of the springs. Almost all Florida springs deal with this issue.

Manatees, Silver River, Dr Robert Knight

But on this recent day, the day of my tour,  Silver Springs was glistening, and its bottom bursting with eel grass. The manatees munched at their leisure, mothers and calves reflecting a bluish hue underneath the clear, streaming water.

As the manatees swam under my little boat, I felt a joy unknown since childhood. “An ancient herd of elephants just swam under my kayak!” I thought, laughing out loud.

And in this moment of pure inspiration, I recalled an image from home of a starving manatee struggling to eat weeds and grasses along the Intercostal. Of course after years of harsh discharges from Lake Okeechobee and area canals, the sea grass forests are dead.

Beyond heartbreaking…

I brought my mind back to this present gift before me. And told the Silver manatees I would  return home inspired to fight for all, and that were were indeed, one Florida water family.

Image pulled off my iPhone, #Toxic18 site 10-28-18, Rita Hendricks Salazar

 

Links:

Silver Springs: http://www.silversprings.com

Springs Institute:https://floridaspringsinstitute.org

2018 Springs Restoration Summit:
https://www.springsrestorationsummit.org

Dr Knight Bio: https://floridaspringsinstitute.org/our-team/

Silver Springs Study Delayed, Gainesville Sun, Dr Robert Knight,:https://www.gainesville.com/opinion/20180118/robert-knight-silver-springs-study-delayed-restorative-action

An Owl In My Kitchen, SLR/IRL

A rather remarkable thing happened. There was an owl in my kitchen. Yes, an owl, a real owl.

I woke up, went outside to get the newspaper, and then I fed my fish. When I looked from the dining room into the kitchen, I saw the silhouette of a little owl patiently seated on the back of a chair in our sunroom open to the kitchen. Of course, I did a double-take! And then I thought to myself: “Is it that owl? Is Ed playing a trick on me….?”

Why a trick?

Just a few days ago, I had bought a fake, feathered owl at the Lamp Shop. I attached it to a fake palm tree in my sunroom. You know, the kind of thing with wire for feet, so you can twist it around the branches?

So, in the darkness of early morning, I wondered if Ed had put that thing on the back of the chair just to freak me out.

He had not. I looked again and again, and for certain, a living screech-owl was sitting in my sunroom, in my kitchen. Unbelievable!

I quietly snuck over and closed the surrounding pocket doors to that area. And then quickly went to find my husband, Ed.

From afar, I whispered sounding panicked: “Eddie! Eddie!”

Ed got up out of his chair, leaving the computer with the dogs gleefully trailing behind him.

“Put the dogs in the crates, now!” I said.

Ed looked at me,  confused.

“In their crates! ” Again, I stated.

“O.K. he said.” Looking bewildered.

“Turning around, Ed took Luna, an 80 pound, black, German Shepard, and Bo, an old and now crippled Corgi, to the other side of the house…

Ed returned.

“What’s up with you?” He inquired, irritated. Not even a  “good morning” ?”

“Ed, there’s an owl in our kitchen.”

“What?” He inquired.

“An owl!”

“Do you mean that owl you bought at the store?” Ed snickered.

“No.  A real owl. I think it was attracted to the other owl.”

“What are you talking about?….” He said…

I slowly slid open one of the pocket doors. Sure enough, the beautiful little owl sat there with its head turned towards the fake owl.

Ed let out an explicative and shut the door.

“The owl must have seen the other owl from outside.” I whispered.

” How did it get in?” Ed quietly asked.

“I don’t know, from you? When you let the dogs out? I don’t know, but we have an owl in our kitchen!”

Ed and I looked incredulously at one another, then smiled.

Gently opening the door, we slowly snuck over, as quiet as could be. Ed started removing the screen from behind the joulosy windows. The owl lifted off the chair and flew about the kitchen landing by the fake owl, but the plastic branch sunk under its weight so it flew off and around the kitchen in high circles without a whisper. Ed and I were transfixed, fascinated. When it landed, we took pictures.

Ed  finally got the screen off and cranked the window. It popped open, braking the silence of the morning. Wind blew inside the room.

The owl looked back to its friend, and then, without a sound, flew through the window, and was gone.

same owl with ears up and lit up when it landed a top the refrigerator arrangement

The River of No Return, Idaho

Boundary Creek, Middle Fork/Salmon River, Idaho. Photo courtesy of Jeanne Gasiorek.

I am back from the “River of No Return,” and before I return to writing about the toxic algae crisis, I’d like to share my experience…

Camping? Are you kidding me?! I had not been camping since my parents took the family to Boy Scout Island to see the full moon over the Indian River Lagoon ca. 1978. Five nights, six days camping and rafting in Idaho with friends, the Wigleys, was great fun, but I am certainly aware that I am in no condition to survive in the wilderness!

Let’s remind ourselves – Where’s Idaho? Far out west, just east of Washington and Oregon, and just west of Montana and Colorado. Although a different world, dealing with fires not hurricanes, we do have a connection. We both have federally protected scenic rivers.

The Middle Fork of the Salmon River, A.K.A. the “River of No Return,” was one of the first eight rivers to be protected under the federal Wild & Scenic Rivers Act in 1968: (https://rivers.gov). In Florida, we have two designated Scenic Rivers: Indian River Lagoon neighbor, the Loxahatchee River,  and the north central Florida’s Wekiva River: (https://www.rivers.gov/florida.php). Only a handful of U.S. rivers hold this special, protected status.

The Middle Fork of the Salmon with clean, clear water, challenging rapids, and spectacular mountain and desert scenery flows free for 104 miles. Nonetheless, due to dams along the connected Snake River, the salmon, for which the river is named, are far and few between compared to the pre-gold rush times when the native Shoshone “Sheepeater” people could “walk across” this river of salmon.

There is much talk in Idaho about removing dams, and of course a huge conflict with stakeholder farming entities. Sound familiar? Whether is the Florida Everglades’ River of Grass diversion to the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers, or Hells Canyon Dam in Idaho, people are looking for ways to undo some of what has been done to kill the rivers of the United States. Water is meant to flow, and when it does not, eventually sickness sets in, not only for wildlife and fauna, but for people too. It was Stuart’s famed environmentalist and Stuart News editor, Ernie Lyons, who said it best: “What people do, they can undo…” and this I believe is our journey, everywhere.

Since pictures speak louder than words, I will stop here, and say that even though the river was beautiful, and I was super excited to sees two bears, mountain sheep, eagles, and a plethora of other awesome animals – the most memorable experience I have no photo of, ~just a memory~ of endless stars in a black velvet sky with the Milky Way so thick and bright I felt like I could touch it, that I was it…

Remembering that we all are but a flicker in the grand scale of time, and most certainly, part of something much greater than ourselves.

Mexican night. Thank you to the Wigley family for inviting us on this trip!

Links:

USDA, Salmon River – Middle Fork, IDAHO: https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/scnf/recreation/wateractivities/?cid=stelprdb5302105

The Middle Fork of the Salmon River is not dammed ~running free, but connected to the Snake River that is: Dammed Rivers of the US: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_dams_and_reservoirs_in_United_States

Breaking Through Water and Sky, Believe

If you feel anything like me, you’re not just tired, but sick of heart from looking at dead animals. The atrocities of our estuaries this year, especially for the Caloosahatchee, are Armageddon like in nature.

It is natural to be saddened, but we must stay strong and find inspiration. When we look around, even on the bloody environmental battlefield, it is there.

Today, I share the beautiful photos of local St Lucie River photographer Stephen Duffy, his Anhinga series shows this symbolic bird in all its glory. These special, yet common birds have no oil on their feathers, so they can both swim underwater and fly above the Earth. Thus the Native People held them sacred.  ~The bird that can fly and swim. The bird that can do “anything.” The bird that breaks the wall of water and sky.

When you see the anhinga remember: fly, swim, break through walls, and most important, believe.

Links:

https://www.nps.gov/ever/learn/nature/anhinga.htm

https://childrenofthesunnativeculture.com/cosnc/?q=node/187

Documenting the Discharges, June 2018, SLR/IRL

When the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon start to deteriorate due to discharges, things start going downhill fast. And when my husband Ed and I start taking and sharing aerial photos, my world becomes a bit chaotic.

Sometimes there are days of hundreds of photos to look through, and knowing the importance of getting them out immediately, choices have to be made. Facebook is a better medium than my blog for real-time info as it takes less time, but my blog is better for historic documentation as it is “permanent.”

So today I am sharing more of Ed’s photos from 6-5-18, and some you may have already seen. Mind you, after heavy rains, stormwater has been pouring in from many canals but, always, like clockwork, after the ACOE starts discharging from Lake Okeechobee, the river looks not just cloudy-coffee brown, but contaminated.

The ACOE started discharging from Lake Okeechobee on  6-1-18, and as most of you know, now, there are not only algae blooms spotted in the lake, as Ed accidentally found on 6-2-18, and others also documented, but also in the St Lucie River. More than likely, there will be more and more  algae bloom popping up as the Lake O water makes its way down the estuary, over the tip of Sewall’s Point, towards the St Lucie Inlet. Algae floating down the river is disgusting enough, but toxicity is the real question…

Ed and I will take and share more aerials  in the future, to document the algae blooms should they explode, but until then, here are some photographs from 6-5-18 that I had not yet archived on my blog. Sadly enough, although there is no algae in these pictures, I cannot say they will make you feel any better.

Never take the pressure off politicians to build the EAA Reservoir and get it to where it needs to be to clean and filter this water to send south as Nature intended.  Government knowingly contaminating its citizens is not an option. Health, Safety and Welfare is a responsibility.

Photos taken 6-5-18 showing SLR/ILR near Sewall’s Point; Jupiter Narrows; Atlantic Ocean/beach over nearshore reefs along Jupiter Island just south of St Lucie Inlet; out in ocean near Peck’s Lake; Sailfish Point/Sailfish Flats area; and Bird Island, a Critical Wildlife Area, for many threatened and endangered birds.

SLR on west /IRL on east – looking towards Sewall’s Point
Jupiter Narrows near St Lucie Inlet
A Coffee Ocean along Jupiter Island just south of St Lucie Inlet
Discharges in waves looking east to Peck’s Lake
Discharges going over near shore “protected” reefs
Discharge plume
Plume out about 2 miles in Atlantic/documented at 5 over days by fisher people
Similar photos give felling of flying over
Reefs with plume coming on
Selfish Point and Sailfish Flats area one the “most biologically diverse in North America.” Seagrass is gone due to receptive discharges episodes
Circling home- close up souther tip of Sewall’s Point
Again circling ove Sailfish Flats on way back to Witham Field.
Bird Island just off of southeast Sewall’s Point is home to hundreds/thousands of birds. Many threatened and endangered species raise their young on this island that was designated a CWA or Critical Wildlife Area by FWC in 2014. At the time it was the first to be designated in 20 years.