Category Archives: wildlife

Africa’s North Fork of the St Lucie

I felt like I was in Africa…

It’s strange to find perhaps the most untouched part of the St Lucie River in the heart of Florida’s eighth largest city, Port St Lucie. In fact a full trip up the North Fork goes all the way to Ft Pierce. Although many of the trickling branches once running to the river have been developed, some have not, and the immediate area around the oxbows was left wild. 

Poor water quality from agriculture and development’s runoff plague this 1972 designated Aquatic Preserve but nonetheless it is an incredible relic! Today I share phots and videos of this remarkable place. The photos of mangroves and sable palms look a bit flat and repetitive, but the videos really reveal the dimension of the experience. 

Port St. Lucie 1967, mouth of North Fork looking  from south, St Lucie River- Photographer,  Aurthur Ruhnke, Thurlow Archives, Sandra Henderson Thurlow

Ed and I took put the Maverick in at Leighton Park in Palm City. Other than screaming a few times when gigantic wakes almost enveloped us, it was a great trip- a trip I have not taken in many, many years.

This excerpt from  the 1984 Aquatic Preserve Management Plan notes that the North Fork was straightened and channelized by the U.S. Army during World War II, nonetheless much of the fork has the wonderful oxbows as you can see from my phone’s screenshot below. These oxbows are an incredible thing to see and definitely give one the feel of someplace wild and exotic like Africa. Like Florida was not too many years ago…

“Water is the one resource whose characteristics most directly affect this

             estuary’s habitability and healthiness for the plants and animals naturally

             adapted to living there. The drainage basin of the entire St. Lucie River has

             been modified by agricultural drainage and residential development. The North-

             Fork-St. Lucie River receives the outfall of two major drainage canals (C-23

             and C-24) and many other drainage sources in the upper headwaters. The

             freshwater flow from the St. Lucie Canal on the South Fork may also affect the

             North Fork indirectly. The uplands surrounding the preserve area are also

             modified by the extensive Port St. Lucie residential development and the other

             residential developments along the river. The North Fork was also modified by

             the U. S. Army during World War II. Those modifications involved the

             straightening and channelization of the upper section of the river

             (Environmental Quality Laboratory, 1980). The result of all of these

             modifications to the river and its basin is that rainfall that may have taken

             months to get to the river by natural drainage now takes only hours. The

             river that once meandered through a broad floodplain now flows down a deep

channel.” -1969 Internal Improvement Fund via 1984 N.F.A.P.M.P. 

Photos North Fork, St Lucie River January 3, 2021

-Pond Apple 

-My favorite photo! A turtle sunning itself! 

Videos St Lucie North Fork Oxbows

List of Birds/Wildlife/Plants seen 1-3-21 SLR and North Fork

Seagull
Great Egret
5 ibis
Little Blue Heron
Blue Heron (young) 
Pair ospreys
2 Little Blue Herons
Turkey vulture
Floating flock of seagulls
Floating flock of pelicans
Cormorant
Kingfisher-N. Fork
Turtle
Little Blue Heron
7 mullet jumping- Mud Cove
Little Blue Heron and ibis 
Little Blue
Pond Apple 
Frilly fern?
Leather fern
Saw palmetto
Seagulls hunting  S. of PC Bridge
 

 

 

Nature’s Ultimate Transformation

-Newly born MonarchFor me, there have been a few positive aspects regarding “Terrible 2020. “Covid-19’s Zoom World  isolation has given me time to learn to cook and also to study butterflies.

Recently, I decided to learn the difference between the celebrated and now endangered Monarch and the lesser known Queen. Walking my garden, I had noticed two similar but different caterpillars on milkweed that I had not seen together before. When the weather got unusually cold, I decided to bring them inside on their hosts plants.

“You are going to make those butterflies weak!” My husband Ed told me.

I smiled, replying, “Well at least they will live.” I had researched and learned that about ten percent overall make it due to predation and the elements. 

-Queen rust colored (below) all photos JTL-Monarch orange (below) both have white dots and stain glass window patternWith a little convincing, Ed helped me carry a heavy, old, lidded aquarium into my office, and the magic began. Within a few days all of the caterpillars were hanging upside down and turning into chrystalises. I noticed right away that the Queen’s case, although almost identical to the Monarch’s, was smaller and sometimes a cream-pinkish color rather than bright green. All had the distinctive and beautiful gold dots!Ed look!” Suddenly, he was captivated! 

“What are those gold dots for?” He asked.

“Perhaps camouflage, coloring -like many things with these butterflies, science doesn’t really know. An article in Scientific America says, best understood, to transform into a butterfly, a caterpillar first digests itself. But cells called imaginal disks survive, turning the soup into eyes, wings, antennae and other structures. When I look at the gold dots, they seem to line up with designs on the wings. But who knows? “

Ed quietly studied the gold spots and the emerging transformed creature. He like me, was intrigued!

So the original goal, the simple visual difference between the two?

The easiest way to show the basic differences between the Monarch and the Queen is to share some photos. It’s very clear when they are not flying around! Seventeen were born by yesterday, December 30th, 2020: seven Queens and ten Monarchs.

Ed and I released them all and all were healthy. It took about twelve days to witness Nature’s ultimate transformation. Certainly an inspiration for whatever is coming in 2021. Transform we must indeed!

-Queen -Above, newly born Queen. Below, Queen & Monarch chrystalises/markings the same but Queen smaller and sometimes cream in color rather than green-Monarch with one Queen and one Monarch broken casings/Monarch caterpillar gets ready to change -Queen caterpillar (below)-Monarch caterpillar (below) -Monarch more orange (below) -Queen more rust colored (below) -Can you tell the difference between the Queen and Monarch? I bet you can! -Release! Videos Queen opens wings to fly off; mating Monarchs in my yard:

Renewal By Fire

Born in the 1960s, I am a child of the Smokey Bear generation taught -at all costs- to avoid forest fires. Times have changed and we now know that fire is a necessary part of Florida’s ecology bringing renewal. As a Governing Board member of the South Florida Water Management District, I decided before 2020 ended, I should learn about this first hand.

Recently, Section Leader, Jim Schuette,  Land Management Department,  was my guide. We met near Cypress Creek in Palm Beach County near the Loxahatchee. We arrived early and were greeted by a small herd of adorable Zebu cattle – like miniature Cracker Cattle! 

Shortly thereafter, Gene Colwell, Senior Scientist, and Land Management Techs, Hal Camp and Marshall Davis arrived. Gene led the detailed safety/info briefing. “I hope I can do this,” I thought. Jim gave me some fireproof clothing and a hard hat. Suddenly, I was just “one of the guys.”

-Senior Scientist, Gene Caldwell leads briefing-Loxahatchee River Area near border of Martin & Palm Beach countiesThe fires were set with cans of diesel and gas and I noticed the pine needles that carpeted the forest burned slowly first. I was concerned about the wildlife. 

When the animals smell this they leave the area,” Jim said. 

“Are there any gopher holes for the smaller animals to hide in?” I inquired. 

“Yes, and the ground is moist.” He placed a handful of soil into my hand and explained that due to time of year and wet conditions, it would not be a towering fire. Jim noted that the team always worked to protect the canopy of the pine trees. I knew that in spite of the best circumstances, sometimes, there must be casualties, but for the health of the forest over-all it’s beneficial. 

Stepping away from the heat, I read my UF handout:” Ecological research shows that fire is an integral component in the function of natural habitats and that the organisms within these communities have adapted to withstand, and benefit from wildfires. In fact, many Florida habitats only exist due to the presence of wildfires. Some were created by frequent fires, others by a few big fires decades apart.” 

As time went on things heated up; I watched as Marshall and Hal used fire guns that ignited diesel filled ping-pong balls that were shot into the woods. Later in the day, I was asked if I wanted to participate under the supervision of the team. 

Getting my nerve up, I grabbed one of the heavy fire-lighting containers.

Mr Calwell instructed me to start the fires a good distance apart along the edge of the forest. The pine needles ignited first, cracking and moving like a living organism all its own. It felt strange lighting the woods on fire.

“There were a lot of things we believed in the 1960s that we no longer hold true.” I thought to myself.

The can was heavy and I used both arms. My neck ached. The sound of the fires popped and cracked as tall tongues hissed in the oily palmettos. Suddenly, liquid like flames traversed the bark of the pine trees creating a windstorm of fiery renewal. I was told the new growth would start coming back within just two days…

-Hal Camp with fire gun-Jim Schuette reports smoke situation on 1-95 “visibility is good” -Palmettos and sable palms are oily and burn quickly  -Post burn using water to cool hot spots-Fire brings renewal. Within just days green sprouts will emerge!  Above Jim wets embers

FIRE VIDEOS: IMG_7289

Thank you to Jim Schuette and the SFWMD Land Management team for this experience! 

 

The Dream of the Sleeping Jellyfish

When I saw them I was immediately struck by their shapes. They looked like hundreds of snowflakes lying at the bottom of the mudflats in the Florida Keys’ Tavernier mangrove swamp.

I became preoccupied with them, checking them during different times of day.

“I’ll be there in a few minutes, I’m going to visit those underwater snowflakes.” I told my husband, Ed.

“Are they sea anemones?” I wondered. “Are they some kind of tropical underwater flower?”

I lay prone on the dock, staring. And there I saw it. I saw upside down jellyfish- yes standing on their heads as if they were sleeping. I realized the beautiful geometric shapes, the snowflakes, were their out folded branching tentacles.

How bizarre!

Some of the jellyfish were “breathing,” their heads expanding and contracting, pushing water, while others seemed completely comatose, not moving at all.

A few smaller ones were actually swimming heads-up the way I would expect a jellyfish to!

I took lots of photos while hoping no boat would disturb their slumber.

I read, laughing, when I learned that they are indeed known as Cassiopea, the “upside down jellyfish,” ironically, all part of a symbiotic relationship with algae. (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cassiopea)

I really fell in love with this snowflake jelly forest. Now, before I go to bed, I often wonder what they are dreaming about.

Perhaps clean water and a healthy sea…

https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/img_1105-1.mov

119 Miles and Only a Barracuda?

My brother Todd took a family fishing expedition on Saturday, June 28, 2020. 119 miles! His journey may not have revealed many fish out in the deep ocean, but there was tremendous visible life in the Indian River Lagoon and nearshore ocean. Good to see!

http://www.thethurlows.com/Fishing06282020/360%20Pictures/index.html#img=IMG_20200628_120339_00_674.jpg

Todd:

“Beautiful flat day. 119 miles and only a barracuda, but it was fun.

Saw hundreds of Pelicans diving on the silver minnows near the power plant. That is probably to most Pelicans I have ever seen in one place locally, including bird island.

Also in all my life I have never seen the fin of a shark at the sandbar. After looking at my photos, I am pretty sure is was a little Scalloped Hammerhead. I cropped a comparison from the online guide and a link to the entire guide. I couldn’t see the head but the fins seem to match. The few people who saw it thought it was a Bull Shark but I didn’t think so. A Bull Shark fin isn’t as sharp.”

Below are photos of the hundreds of happy brown pelicans and also photos of the juvenile scalloped hammerhead shark. Don’t be scared! It’s just  a young shark. The estuaries are their home. These and all sharks are protected species and many like the scalloped hammerhead, globally endangered due to overfishing. Mostly for shark fin soup! Awful.

Well, there’s nothing like a day on the water! Fish or no fish. 119 miles is never for nothing around here!

The Power of Regeneration; Our Indian River Lagoon 9-Armed Starfish

I have always looked to Nature for inspiration and “regeneration.” A short walk in my yard, my neighborhood, or over the bridge almost always brings positive results.

Today, I wanted to share photos from a recent outing where I unexpectedly came upon a multitude of nine-armed starfish at Stuart Causeway, St Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon. I had not seen them for many years during the almost decade of discharges from area canals and especially Lake Okeechobee. To see these striking creatures once again is a very good sign for the recovery of our waterways! And how cool is it that when they lose an arm they can regenerate?

A powerful story indeed!

“The starfish is a resilient creature that constantly regenerates, intuitively navigates the sea, and directly impacts its ecological community. An ancient name for the Virgin Mary, the Star of the Sea symbolizes guidance, intuition, and vigilance.~Ancient saying

9-armed starfish

______________________________________________________________________

PICTURE c. 1974, MY SISTER JENNY THURLOW FLAUGH HOLDS A FIVE ARMED STAR FISH, STUART, FL  photo Sandy Thurlow. In any era, kids always are amazed by starfish!

Life Returns to the St Lucie River-Indian River Lagoon

ST LUCIE INLET STATE PARK, ST LUCIE INLET & SAILFISH POINT, MARTIN COUNTY 3-14/15-2020, photos Ed and Jacqui Lippisch

It is an amazing thing, what happens, when you give something time to heal. Life rises from the ashes, it returns. After some of the worst toxic discharge years -2013, 2016, 2018- the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon in Martin County is healing.

Let’s be clear. ~She is not flush, but she is healing.

Ed and my weekend aerials and boat excursion show absolutely beautiful water and God’s creatures on the rise! Seagrasses, once completely gone, are visible, but dormant from winter months, it still looks pretty barren. Hopefully, upcoming visits to the same area will reveal plush meadows by June or July.

These are awkward and difficult times, with Coronavirus restrictions quickly bearing down on us; so I wanted to share  some “good news.”

We must not forget to focus on the gift of blue water and  the miracle of resurgent life. Life that always returns if given the chance. ~It is all around us.

SEAGRASS EAST OF SAILFISH POINT & MANY BOATING FAMILIES ENJOYING THE SANDBAR AT CONFLUENCE ST. LUCIE RIVER AND INDIAN RIVER LAGOON

LIGHTNING WELCK & EGG CASING  and other critters by my brother Todd Thurlow-RETURN ALL CRITTERS;THEY ARE PROTECTED BY LAW 🙂

VIDEO OF REDFISH

HERMIT CRAB STOLE A HAWKWING CONCH SHELL! 🙂

BABY QUEEN CONCH ARE RETUNING TO THE SANDBAR! SUCH BEAUTIFUL COLORS!

BIRD ISLAND, JUST OFF SEWALL’S POINT, SEE THE HUNDREDS OF WHITE SPECKS!

CROSSROADS AREA 2019-20 OFFERS BLUE WATER FLOWING IN FROM INLET RATHER THAN TOXIC BROWN OUTGOING FROM LAKE OKEECHOBEE WORSENED BY AREA CANALS

SOUTH- DOWN JUPITER NARROWS -PASSING ST LUCIE INLET STATE PARK & ARRIVING AT PECK’S LAKE ~A CONTINUATION OF THE INDIAN RIVER LAGOON.  ~SLOW SPEED ZONES, MANY OSPREYS, JUMPING FISH, A FEW MANATEES &DOLPHINS. PEACE AND QUIET. ~SO NICE TO RETURN AT SUNSET KNOWING LIFE IS SLOWLY RETURNING TO THE ST LUCIE. LIFE RETURNS.

 

 

From Girl Scout to Activist, Rediscovering the Seeds of Jonathan Dickinson State Park

In the 1970s, my girl scout troop often spent the night in Jonathan Dickinson State Park. At the time, almost all of Martin County was undeveloped so it really didn’t hit me – the value in this very special place.

We girls collected dried flowers, seeds, and grasses to be bound with ribbons and given to our mothers; we lay our packs on bunk beds in musty cabins; we hiked through the pines; we sat around the campfire telling ghosts stories and speaking of bears until too scared to  sleep; we sat in a rare silence, together, staring at the bright stars while eating marshmallows…

Last weekend, I went back to Jonathan Dickinson ~45 years later, this time with my husband Ed, and our dog, Luna.

Although I have aged, the place was even more beautiful!  Almost immediately, I  knew that even though I hadn’t walked it’s piney paths in such a long, long time, it had been an inspiration all my life. A seed growing within me. 

Ed and I chose to walk the trail of Kitching Creek. My attention was captured  by the beauty of the small flowers and I took as many pictures as I could. Slash pine trees abounded, like sentinels, second generation, the magnificent virgin forest cleared in the the 1920s.  Woodpeckers flew from tree to tree looking for insects or maybe a place to set up house. Ed walked far ahead with Luna, stopping every time he came upon a number; I would catch up and read aloud from a pamphlet available at the trail head. 

On our walk, I recognized some of the same grasses I used for my bouquet in 1974. But I knew this time I would not pluck them from the Earth, but take them to heart as inspiration in our fight for clean water, -the St Luice and Loxahatchee-, and the future of Florida.

~I then I realized that long ago, I already had. 

Before drainage there were times the surrounding wetlands, the St Luice, and the Loxahatchee Rivers were wet enough that people could  paddle between them. Today the Loxahatchee suffers from too little water and the St Lucie too much. 

The Return of the Majestic Mastic

The mastic tree had been in my yard for many years before I noticed it. Cradled next to a giant strangler fig, the trees’ high branches are mixed together in a very high canopy. Over the years,  I realized it was a special tree that I should know more about. Mastic trees are high hammock trees native to Florida, attracting much wildlife and growing slowly to great size. The mastic tree, the hammock tree, the forgotten tree, the tree mindlessly chopped down in my hometown of Sewall’s Point…

There used to be a large mastic at the entrance to High Point at River Road. It was cut a few years ago in favor of pentas and mulch. A few months ago, I  discovered another one on an empty lot located at about Ridgeview and River Roads. Covered in a thorny vine, few would notice the huge trunk covered in different colored fungi, like a piece of God’s art. Ancient and otherworldly. A reminder of days long past before non-native plants, floratam grass, fertilizers, and pesticides would replace a tangled forest and contribute to the death of the St Lucie River.

Just recently, my mastic dropped gooey, orange berries and the wildlife ate them with relish. I have been trying to grow the seeds, now wrinkled and brown, in my quest to bring my yard closer to what it was prior to development and help the river and soil, but the squirrels and raccoons raided my pots! Proud to outsmart my four-legged friends, I “ingeniously” figured out how to protect the seeds in an old aquarium. But just today,  I learned that mastic trees are male and female. Dropping the orange seeds, I believe I have a female.

I am afraid I might have one of the last mastic trees in Sewall’s Point. She needs a companion if there is to be the return of the majestic mastic. We are calling your name…

http://sfrc.ufl.edu/extension/4h/ecosystems/_plants/Mastic/index.html

Historic photo of Sewall’s Point’s once “tangled forest”: Andrews in Sewall’s Point Hammock, approaching a giant mastic tree, 1905. Courtesy Thurlow Archives, Sandra Henderson Thurlow.

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